Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s recaps of each month of the 2021 KC Royals season. Today we remember September and October.
The preseason PECOTA projections predicted the KC Royals would finish fourth in the American League Central with a record of 71-91. While a great April start put those predictions in doubt, it was only for a brief moment as a disastrous May and worse June stifled any hopes the Royals had of making a playoff push.
The Royals, however, made sure to avoid another 100-loss season. Thanks to an action-packed July, a .500 August, and a near-.500 (15-16) September and October, they ended the season 74-88 to secure the fourth place finish PECOTA predicted. September and October featured some stellar individual play and some award winners.
Andrew Benintendi was lava hot to finish out the KC Royals 2021 season.
Andrew Benintendi, acquired from Boston in a February trade, started slowly in April but slashed .340/.377/.433 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in May.
After a rib fracture sidelined Benintendi for three weeks, he dropped off, hitting .183 in July. But Benintendi caught fire in September and October, slashing .343/.398/.570 with five homers and 29 RBIs.
What was really telling of Benintendi were his two five-RBI games in the span of three days. He hit a three-run homer and two run-scoring singles against Baltimore Sept. 8, then slammed another three-run blast followed by a two-run homer against the Twins two days later.
Two KC Royals broke club or major league records and one had a 40-40 year.
Nicky Lopez finished out a strong breakout season by becoming the first qualified Royals shortstop to hit .300 in a single season—he secured that mark by batting .323 in September-October. No Royals fan probably predicted Lopez would have that great a year after his poor spring training (.118/.231/.142 with 13 strikeouts in 16 games), but the second chance Adalberto Mondesi’s injury-plagued season gave him was all he needed to change his game for the good.
Whit Merrifield made another mark for himself when, to go with the second All-Star berth he earned in July, he doubled 12 times and stole two bases in September-October to secure his second 40-40 season. He had 41 doubles and 40 steals to join Johnny Damon as the only Royals to achieve this particular 40-40.
Then there’s Salvador Perez, who cemented himself in Royals and baseball history when he tied Jorge Soler’s single-season club record by clubbing his 48th homer Sept. 28 after breaking Hall of Famer Johnny Bench’s record for the most homers by a primary catcher in a single year with his 46th home run Sept. 27.
The KC Royals organization boasted some September & October award winners.
Salvador Perez won the first of his postseason awards in October when he was named recipient of the Luis Aparicio Award, which is given to the best Venezuelan player each year. He certainly deserved it, slashing .273/.316/.544 and leading the majors with 121 RBIs and tying for the lead in homers with 48. (In November, he nabbed a club-record fourth Silver Slugger and the club’s Les Milgram Player of the Year award).
The Royals also had some winners of important minor league awards.
MJ Melendez, KC’s No.4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, smashed 41 home runs to become the first catcher to win the Joe Bauman Award for leading the minors in home runs.
Jackson Kowar, despite struggling in his two stints in Kansas City, was named the club’s 2021 Paul Splittorff Minor League Pitcher of the Year after posting a 9-4 record, a 3.46 ERA, 115 strikeouts, and a .220 OBA in 80.2 innings at Triple-A Omaha.
And then there’s Pipeline’s No.1 Kansas City prospect, Bobby Witt Jr., who was named the organization’s 2021 George Brett Hitter of the Year after slashing .290/.361/.575 with 33 home runs, 97 RBIs, and 29 stolen bases across the Double and Triple-A levels.
(And although they didn’t win in them in September or October, Andrew Benintendi and Michael A. Taylor later grabbed their first Gold Gloves, Nicky Lopez won the team’s Joe Burke Special Achievement Award, and Scott Barlow was named the club’s Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year).
The Royals may have finished the year 74-88 and fourth in the AL Central, but several players and some key prospects proved the future is bright for the club.