Royals Rundown: Infectious Perez serves as unrivaled bright spot for 2021 Royals

By Todd Fertig
Special to The Capital-Journal
Unquestionably the biggest bright spot in what's become a disappointing 2021 season for the Kansas City Royals, catcher Salvador Perez brings an infectious personality to the game that helped him to a landslide victory in All-Star voting in the American League.

A disastrous month of June leaves the Kansas City Royals with very little to feel good about at the halfway point in the 2021 season. 

Unbelievably, less than one month ago, the Royals were still considered one of the better teams in baseball. On June 5, the team woke up with a 29-26 record and in great shape to compete for a spot in the playoffs. 

But a 4-20 end to the month wrecked all that. What went wrong? Well injuries, awful starting pitching and a few dreadful performances by key players caught up to the club in June.  

The halfway point — 81 games into the season — provides the perfect opportunity to look at some individual statistics. Unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, those individual numbers are about as ugly as the team’s overall record. 

2021 Projected Team Leaders at Midseason (based on 162-games) 

Hits: Whit Merrifield, 186

Home Runs: Salvador Perez 40

RBI: Salvador Perez, 98

Stolen Bases: Whit Merrifield 44

Wins: Brad Keller, Mike Minor, 12

Saves: Greg Holland, Josh Staumont, 10

Strikeouts: Mike Minor, 190. 

The bright spots

Salvador Perez continues to defy age and is now head-and-shoulders above the rest of the catchers in the American League.  

Perez’ status, both as a great catcher and fan favorite, is so well-established that he actually finished third in All-Star Game voting among all players. He received 62% of the All-Star Game votes for American League catcher, trailed by a distant 20% by the runner-up.

The last time the Royals had a player so much better than his American League positional peers was probably George Brett in the early 1980s.

“I’m completely biased, but there’s no other answer,” manager Mike Matheny said of Perez winning the All-Star balloting. “It’s pretty lopsided. That’s the kind of year (Perez) is having. I’m just a fan of this guy as a person ... and as a player. This guy is special all the way around."

Matheny said Perez’ infectiousness, as much as his production, makes him a favorite to fans not just in Kansas City, but across the country — thus the huge vote total. 

“I believe he’s endearing to baseball fans in general because he plays the game the way we would all would want to," Matheny said. "His smile is magnetic. He’s a great ambassador for the game.  

“He’s the most recognizable player we have by name, and by personality. Throw him into a position where he’s standing out. He’s having the kind of season you can’t turn a blind eye to.”   

At the halfway point, Perez had 20 homers and 49 RBIs, on pace to easily set personal bests in both categories.  While Jorge Soler’s season record of 48 is probably out of reach, 40 home runs would rank second in team history.  

Unfortunately, Perez is just about the only Royal really excelling at the plate. 

Free agent signee Carlos Santana is doing about what the Royals hoped he would. Though his batting average was just .246 through half a season, Santana was on pace to hit 26 home runs and drive in 94 runs.

But more importantly to Santana’s game, he’s getting on base at a .364 clip and is on pace to draw more than 100 walks. The Royals signed Santana in large part to teach his Royals teammates how to get on base. No Royal has drawn 100 walks since 1989. 

Whit Merrifield is having a good, not great, season by his standards. He is currently on pace to drive in a career high 90 runs. He’s leading the league with 22 stolen bases. And he’s currently in sixth place in the American League in hits, a category he has led twice in his career.  

A surprise has been Jake Brentz, who just a few months ago was unemployed. Brentz leads the American League in appearances.

Injuries kept outfielder Andrew Benintendi from accumulating impressive stats, but he’s been one of the team’s brightest spots. 

On the hill, Danny Duffy stands out for posting a 2.44 earned run average, albeit in just 10 games due to injury. 

The disappointments

Sadly, that’s just about it when it comes to positives. Outside of Duffy, the starting pitching has been abysmal, and lately the work by the bullpen has fallen off as well.  

The presumptive ace of the staff, Brad Keller has lost his way. His ERA entering the season — a nifty 3.50 — is a distant memory. This year, he’s surrendering 6.67 runs per contest. The 25-year-old is leading the American League in walks.  

Of the position players, it would be hard to pick the biggest disappointment, with Soler, Hunter Dozier and Adalberto Mondesi all deserving of consideration.  

It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Soler set the club record with 48 home runs. He’s a shell of that player today. The 29-year-old is on pace to hit just 12 homers despite playing in nearly every game. The Royals desperately needed Soler to provide power in the middle of the lineup, but he’s been a non-factor in 2021.

As bad as Soler has been, Dozier has been worse. Moving between third base and the outfield, Dozier batted a pathetic .168 during the first half. He had seven homers, but seems unable to make consistent contact. 

Mondesi was outstanding ... for 10 games. His repeated trips to the injured list have been sad, disappointing and infuriating all at once. There’s no point in talking about how phenomenal Mondesi was in those 10 games. His unavailability is crippling to the team. 

In the disastrous 2017 and 2019 seasons, Mike Moustakas and Soler kept fans interested by chasing the team record for home runs. In the past few seasons, Merrifield pursued the league lead in hits and stolen bases.

Unlike those previous years, there isn’t anything about the Royals’ individual stats to hold fans’ interest in the second half. Apart from a career year from Perez, no one is doing anything worthy of note.  

Fans will probably have to root for the promotion of top prospects to make the second half of this season interesting. 

Gardner-Edgerton Grad Makes Olympic Team

Bubba Starling’s professional baseball career has been a disappointment.  

Now just a few days short of his 29th birthday, it’s pretty safe to assume he won’t live up to the expectations placed on him when he was the fifth amateur taken in the 2011 draft. The multi-sport star from Gardner-Edgerton High School reached the big leagues for 91 games in 2019 and 2020, but the fact he isn’t on the Royals’ 40-man roster will make it hard for him to get back to Kansas City. 

But Starling received an honor Friday that will be a career highlight. The outfielder was named one of 24 players on the 2021 Olympic Team, which will play in Tokyo, Japan, starting July 30.  

For the record, Starling has been pretty good at Triple-A Omaha this year when healthy. In 24 games, he’s hitting .271 with seven home runs.