Royals Win a Wacky One and Jorge Soler is Ready for a Surge
It's been a slow road back to hitting rockets, but Soler is there and seems like he's about to really take off.
I really want to talk about Jorge Soler, but that game last night was just too crazy to not say anything about before I get going on the slugger. The Royals seemed to want to give the Rays another win to give them the series sweep, but one thing about this team that we saw from the very first day is that they don’t quit, which is a fantastic quality. It also doesn’t hurt that Carlos Santana is absolutely on fire. Soler is too, but I’ll get to him and there’s a lot to say there.
It isn’t often you can spot a team four runs in the first and win, but the Royals have now been down by at least four twice before they even come to the plate and they’ve won both games. There’s just something about this team. Before I get into it, let’s take a look at the trusty win probability chart because it tells the story in a single picture.
What a wild ride. You guys all saw it, so I want to go through a few of the highlights before I get to the real meat of what I’ve been dying to talk about for days.
It was literally two days ago that I wrote about how the Royals simply weren’t hitting the ball hard, like ever. Last night, they barreled eight balls. If you’ve forgotten, a barrel is when comparable hit types by launch angle and exit velocity result in a minimum batting average of .500 and a minimum slugging percentage of 1.500. This is the most barrels in a single game the Royals have ever had. Okay, ever is a little bit weird since barrels have only been tracked for a few years, but still, they had a lot of crazy contact.
But it wasn’t just the loud contact. They only swung and missed four times all game long. This is a team that had been swinging and missing way too much to start this season. Honestly, the fact that they scored nine runs is surprising because they likely should have scored a few more. Think back to the sixth inning (so sorry, Sonic Slam contestant).
Santana hit a ball 103.6 miles per hour that traveled 395 feet. It was caught. Salvador Perez hit a ball 107.1 miles per hour that traveled 394 feet. It went off the top of the wall, but he thought it was gone and tagged out while trotting to second. Jorge Soler hit a ball 109.6 miles per hour that traveled 395 feet and went off the wall about a foot from a home run. He ended up with a double. Hunter Dozier just missed a hard hit ball, but still was out and the Royals somehow hit 1,184 feet of fly balls and didn’t score a run. It seemed unlikely they would win.
The seventh, though, that was fun. Andrew Benintendi actually hit a ball hard and singled. Then Michael A. Taylor walked. With a lefty on the mound, Mike Matheny sent up Hanser Alberto to pinch hit and after a long ball, he hit a two-run triple to right center to score two and get the Royals within one. It looked like Alberto might get stranded there after two absolutely miserable at bats from Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield, but Santana came up big and smoked another home run to give the Royals the lead. Take a look at this mistake.
Of course, in this game, leads didn’t last. So the Rays immediately tied the game at seven. It was quiet again until the ninth when the Rays went all 2015 Royals again and scored a run to take the lead. They were all set to turn it over to their closer, Diego Castillo, who came into the game with a 1.00 ERA in nine innings with 13 strikeouts. Naturally after approximately 29 hard hit balls that didn’t find grass, Taylor dropped a 68.8 MPH single into right field.
Jarrod Dyson came on to pinch run, which didn’t make sense to me at the time because Taylor is actually faster, but of course it worked. Dyson stole second and then was bunted to third. Then Lopez atoned somewhat for his terrible at bat earlier and laid down a beautiful squeeze bunt to score Dyson. After Merrifield grounded out and Lopez moved up to second, the Rays walked Santana to get to Salvy, which, I mean come on.
Here’s what happened. You can be forgiven if you thought this was Wild Card game footage.
What a freaking game. The game itself is the biggest story, but now let’s take a look at one of the most important longer-term ramifications that came from this game and it’s Soler finally getting to the point I thought he was getting close to more than a week ago. I want to dig in to his progression from ice cold to lava hot, where I have a hunch he is now.
The thing about Soler is that he’s predictable. He doesn’t start fast and when he’s not going well, oh boy do we all know it. There are ugly swings and bad takes and more ugly swings and then some more bad takes and then some really ugly swings. But you can also tell when he’s on the verge of something really big. The swings get a bit more controlled. The ball travels off the bat a little bit harder. And usually it starts with someone pretty small.
You might recall that Opening Day was a big one for Soler with two hits, including a home run, two walks and a hit by pitch. He walked twice more the next day. And then he struck out 16 times in his next 24 plate appearances. As Kevin McCallister might say, woof.
Let’s start this adventure in the last game of that 24 plate appearance run, which was the first game of the Royals long homestand that just ended. Against the Angels, he was still struggling early against Alex Cobb. Take a look at this swing for strike three in his second at bat of the game:
I noticed something in that swing that I thought was interesting. It was big and wild and all that, but I think he saw the pitch a little better than he had been, in spite of swinging over the top because it wasn’t defensive like we’d started to see from him. The result was obviously not there, but it looked like something may have started to lock back in for him.
Then in his next plate appearance, he was facing Steve Cishek, who is tough on righties because of that arm angle. And the pitch was in a similar spot to the one he struck out on in the previous at bat. But this time, he dropped it into center field. It wasn’t a rocket. It was only hit at 86 MPH off the bat, but it was a start.
Over the course of the next couple days, the swings got better. This one didn’t result in a rocket either, but it was much more like the powerful Soler we’ve seen in the past.
He just missed it. But it was controlled violence in the swing that had me interested. The next day, the rockets started. Here’s one hit 109.8 MPH to the right side against the Blue Jays. I think if he was truly right, that would have been in the fountains, but the hard contact is a great sign for him.
The rainout on Friday night didn’t stop him from hitting this ball on Saturday at 104.6 MPH. Again, he’s not quite right because that ball could easily have been rattling around in the corner, but he hit it hard and stayed within his swing much better than we’d seen during that brutal first week.
Sunday was the day when I was sure it was coming together. Keep in mind, it’s a long process with Soler, but he does get hot and stay there for awhile once he locks in. These two balls were hit at 106 MPH and 110.1 MPH.
The first was just some bad luck, but I love the swing. The second was an absolute rocket that I thought would be the one that propelled him, though it took a couple extra days.
(I only have a couple more, I promise!)
Monday he hit this ball in the ninth inning that ended up a sacrifice fly. That’s his home run swing. He’s still just missing here, but my oh my is he close. That was 101.8 off the bat.
Then Tuesday night, I thought he had it. I really thought this was the one, but the weather just didn’t cooperate with him. If he had hit this ball like three innings later, I think it would have been gone, but the wind was blowing in early and just knocked it down. It still went 392 feet and was hit at 107.3 MPH.
And that brings us to last night. Soler was able to right the wrong that the wind caused him on Tuesday night and finally put a ball over the fence for the first time since Opening Day. And just look at this swing and the ball flying out of the park. When he gets into one, it’s really beautiful.
And because I care and you can never have enough gifs, here’s his double that would have been a home run on almost any other night.
He ended up going three for four with four hard hit balls, all 100 MPH or harder. Heck, three of the four were 109.4 MPH or harder. Good things happen when you hit the ball that hard. He’s locked in.
And now the Royals head to Detroit for four games after the off day, which seems like great news for Soler. He’s a career .347/.440/.733 hitter in Detroit with seven home runs and eight doubles in 91 plate appearances over 23 games. Yes, some of that is absolutely some terrible Tigers pitching over the last few years, but some of it is that he really just genuinely seems to love hitting there. The damage is even crazier when you look at 2019/2020 only. Then the numbers jump to .400/.443/.891 with all seven homers and six of the eight doubles.
So while the Royals don’t seem to be playing terribly well right now, they’re still 10-7 and in first place. Plus it looks like we might be about to see a lineup about to hit its stride. It’s amazing what a big win can do to lift spirits heading into an off day.