The surprise of the KC Royals’ 2021 season has a good shot at a big feat.
After the first two years of his big league career, the thought of Kansas City infielder Nicky Lopez hitting even .260 in this or any other season bordered on fantasy. He hit .201 in 2020, a paltry performance that gave him a .228 career average going into spring training. His .118 Cactus League effort was too meager for the Royals, who sent Lopez to the minors before camp closed.
But an injury to Adalberto Mondesi just days before the Royals were set to open the season changed KC’s plans and pressed Lopez into everyday big league service. The chance was there for Lopez to prove his ability to hit just well enough to help the club until Mondesi returned, and then be a bench player.
He seized the opportunity and, after two more injuries deprived Mondesi of almost the entire campaign, did more than anyone had right to imagine. Unless things change drastically, Lopez should be declared Kansas City’s shortstop for next season.
Lopez, whose defensive prowess has never been questioned, and who just might win a Gold Glove this season, is slashing .334/.392/.407 since June 1, and has a .352 average and .400 OBP in September. He’ll start Friday night’s game with a season average of .304.
So, with 10 games left, can Lopez become the unlikeliest Royal to hit .300 in a long, long time?
Like the chance to prove himself that Mondesi’s misfortunes gave him, the opportunity to bat .300 is there for Lopez’s taking. Against the Tigers, Twins and Indians, the three teams he’ll face before the season ends, he’s hitting .291; if he slumped and went just 11-for-40, he’d finish at .301.
Nothing in Lopez’s last four months at the plate suggests, however, that he’s headed for a downturn. Instead, expect Lopez to reach, and perhaps eclipse, .300.
The KC Royals aren’t headed for the playoffs, but there’s much to entertain their fans over the last 10 games of the season.