KC Royals lose 2021 finale, but with some silver linings
The KC Royals didn’t end their 2021 season Sunday the way they started it six months ago—with a win—but some good things made the club’s 7-3 loss to Minnesota easier to take.
One KC Royals star reached a big milestone, but one didn’t quite make it.
Sunday’s focus was, of course, on Salvador Perez. The American League MVP candidate came into the day without a home run since tying Jorge Soler’s single-season club record with his 48th homer Wednesday; unfortunately, he couldn’t make it to 49. How much the sprained ankle he suffered navigating the dugout steps later in Wednesday’s game affected him the rest of the week isn’t known, but he never looked comfortable after the mishap.
Perez finishes 2021 tied with Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the major league homer title, but still led the big leagues with 121 RBIs.
Nicky Lopez, on the other hand, entered the game with his quest to hit .300 in danger. After a disappointing 0-for-3 performance Saturday night forced his average down to .299, he needed a hit or two to finish the campaign at .300 or better.
He struck out in the first, then beat out an infield single in the third to reach .300. Manager Mike Matheny let Lopez enjoy a standing ovation for a few moments, then pulled him for pinch runner Kyle Isbel.
Lopez became the silver lining to the cloud of Adalberto Mondesi’s injury-plagued season—had Mondesi not suffered the first of two oblique injuries just before spring training ended, Lopez was headed for the minors to work on what used to be an insufferable bat.
The KC Royals’ starter had a bad first inning, then proved he can be better.
Where Jackson Kowar, one of Kansas City’s top pitching prospects, will start next season remains to be seen—his nine-game 0-6, 11.27 ERA rookie performance doesn’t assure him a spot in next year’s Opening Day rotation—but he showed in an excellent few innings Sunday how good he can be.
Kowar’s good came in spite of a rough first inning. By the time he struck out Brent Rooker for the game’s first out, the Twins led 4-0, and scored one more run before he managed to escape the first inning. But including the two Twins he retired to end the first, Kowar retired 11 in a row and struck out five before Matheny chose to end Kowar’s season on an upbeat. He replaced his rookie starter with Joel Payamps to begin the fifth.
The two relievers who form the back of the KC Royals’ bullpen finished well.
Josh Staumont setting up Scott Barlow to close out Kansas City wins became a familiar sight this season. And although they didn’t appear in those now-customary roles Sunday, both their seasons ended quite well.
Barlow, the club’s closer, entered the game in the eighth without a lead and promptly struck out Josh Donaldson and Max Kepler, then retired Miguel Sano on a fly to center. Staumont faced only three in the ninth, getting Nick Gordon on a liner to right after Andrelton Simmons’ leadoff single before inducing an inning-ending double play grounder from Ryan Jeffers.
Barlow finishes with a team-best 16 saves and a 2.42 ERA in 71 games, and Staumont with a 2.88 ERA in 64 appearances.
A struggling newcomer to the KC Royals completed the season on a high note.
It isn’t news that first baseman Carlos Santana, who joined Kansas City in the offseason and now has one year left on his contract, fought his bat throughout the second half of the campaign. But he went 3-for-4 with an RBI Sunday.
Whether the Royals choose to move him this winter is an open question. Resurgent minor league first baseman Nick Pratto slugged 36 homers, drove in 98 runs, and slashed .265/.385/.602 between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha this year, and could force the team’s hand.
The Royals finish 2021 with a 74-88 record, good enough for fourth place in the American League Central. They open the 2022 campaign March 31 in Cleveland.