By nearly any metric, Joakim Soria has had a poor 2016 season. By the opinion of Royals fans, he has had a disastrous 2016 season. Soria has entered the game with a lead or tie twelve times this year, only to see the Royals losing by the time his damage was done. With the season slipping away, let's look back at the twelve times Soria left having given the opponent the lead and think of better times.
April 8 vs. the Twins
Joakim Soria opened the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie against the Twins by striking out Trevor Plouffe. Then Korean rookie Byung Ho Park deposited a pitch over the fountains into the teeth of a wind for his first career home run.
Soria would collect three strikeouts in the inning, but would also give up a triple to Kurt Suzuki that would threaten another run, although he was left stranded. Luckily, the Royals would get to face the Twins bullpen, and Salvador Perez would triple home the tying run, before scoring himself to give the Royals, and Joakim Soria, the win.
April 17 vs. the Athletics
Soria entered the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie with Oakland, and after battling future Royals outfielder Billy Burns, allowed Burns to slap a ball down the right field line for a leadoff triple. Soria induced a weak groundout from Coco Crisp, bringing up the left-handed Josh Reddick. The Royals elected to pitch to Reddick rather than walk him to setup a double play and face Danny Valencia. Soria gave up a flyball to center that was deep enough to score Burns and give the A's a 3-2 lead they would hang onto for the win.
"It was a good pitch. It could have been a fly to shortstop, but he has the strength to get it out there."
May 10 vs. the Yankees
The Royals were in free fall, having dropped 10 of 13 when Soria came into the eighth inning with a 6-5 lead in Yankee Stadium. He retired Chase Headley, and seemingly retired Ben Gamel, but Alcides Escobar booted a routine ground ball to put him on base. Brett Gardner then doubled to tie the game. Soria plunked Starlin Castro and gave up a single to Brian McCann to drive home two more runs. To top it all off, Soria balked to allow McCann to second, before stranding him there. The Royals would go on to lose 10-7.
June 2 vs. the Indians
Wade Davis had to be brought in the ninth inning the previous night of a 10-5 win over the Rays, so he was unavailable when the Royals took a 4-3 lead into the ninth in Cleveland. Carlos Santana opened with a single, advancing to second on a blunder by rightfielder Paulo Orlando. Orlando would exacerbate his gaffe by diving for a sinking line drive from Francisco Lindor, missing the ball, and allowing a game-tying triple. On an 0-2 pitch, Mike Napoli lifted a flyball to score Lindor and win the game.
"We were on a run, feeling pretty good, and we feel that we could have won this one, too. But this is baseball and things happen."
June 22 vs. the Mets
Not content to blow leads in the late innings, Soria was brought into the sixth inning of a 3-3 tie against the Mets. He struck out Wilmer Flores, and allowed a long fly ball out to James Loney, and was on his way of getting out of the inning unscathed, scheduled to face light-hitting infielder Matt Reynolds. Reynolds drilled a 1-0 pitch to right center field for his first career home run, giving the Mets a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.
"Anybody with a bat can do some damage."
June 29 vs. the Cardinals
With Davis and Herrera having already been used, Ned Yost turned to Soria to protect a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the tenth in St. Louis. The first hitter was Steve Piscotty, who destroyed a 1-0 pitch to dead center field for a home run to tie the game. Soria would work around a walk to Kolten Wong to retire the rest of the side, and the Royals would rally in the twelfth for a 3-2 victory.
July 17 vs. the Tigers
Joakim Soria replaced Kelvin Herrera to pitch the bottom of the ninth of a 2-2 game in Comerica Park in Detroit. Tyler Collins led off with a ground ball single, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia quickly ended things with a two-run walk-off home run for a 4-2 Tigers win.
"You don't want to lose, but I made the pitch I wanted and he hit it. Nothing you can do about that."
August 4 vs. the Rays
With Wade Davis on the disabled list, the Royals had Kelvin Herrera closing games, so Joakim Soria was brought on in the eighth inning to protect a 2-0 lead against the Rays. Logan Forsythe led off with a single, and Soria walked Kevin Kiermaier to get into immediate trouble. He was able to strike out the dangerous Evan Longroia before Brad Miller launched a three-run home run to give the Rays the lead. Tampa Bay would hold on to win 3-2.
"It wasn’t a bad pitch. In my view, it was a good pitch. But he hit it out, so it wasn’t a good pitch."
August 30 vs. the Yankees
The Royals were in a must-win situation against the Yankees, and they clawed back after a long rain delay to tie the game in the eighth inning off dominant reliever Dellin Betances to carry the game into extra innings tied 4-4. Soria was brought in to start the tenth. He gave up singles to Brian McCann and Chase Headley to put the game in jeopardy. He was able to strike out the next two hitters, giving Royals fans hope he could wriggle out of the jam. A walk to Brett Gardner would load the bases. Soria would get Jacoby Ellsbury to hit a sharp ground ball back to the mound, but Soria mishandled it to allow a run to score, a run that would make the difference in the ball game.
"It was an easy ground ball right to me. I don’t know if I slipped or something, but I ended up on the ground and didn’t catch the ball. It’s frustrating."
September 4 vs. the Tigers
The Tigers, who have their own bullpen issues, imploded in the seventh inning, coughing up a 4-1 lead thanks to some poor pitching by reliever Alex Wilson. The Royals carried a 5-4 lead into the eighth inning, and Yost brought in Soria to preserve the lead and get the game to Kelvin Herrera in the ninth, since Wade Davis had pitched the previous two nights. Soria gave up a leadoff single to Miguel Cabrera, but retired the next two hitters, putting the Royals four outs away from victory. Justin Upton then drilled a pitch over the right centerfield fence to give the Tigers a 6-5 win.
"I’m happy with the pitch. If he hit it, I can’t control it."
September 7 vs. the Twins
The Royals were looking for a sweep of the Twins as they carried a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh in Minnnesota. The Twins had the heard of the lineup, and sure enough, they brought their bats. Brian Dozier led off with a single, then stole second base with one out. Miguel Sano drilled a pitch off the wall for a game-tying double. Soria would exit the game in favor of Matt Strahm, mystifying Royals fans who figured Strahm must have been unavailable if he didn't start the inning. Strahm would give up a single to Eduardo Escobar to give the Twins a 6-5 lead they would not relinquish, hanging Soria with the loss.
"Obviously you look at yourself and see what is wrong. What are you doing wrong? For my part, I’ve been doing all I can."
September 13 vs. the Athletics
With the Royals's season hanging by a thread, Soria entered the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead against the struggling Athletics. Ryon Healy led off the inning with a home run, but the Royals still had a one-run lead. Soria seemed set on escaping the inning with Brett Eibner at first base when he retired the second out of the inning. Then Chad Pinder singled. Yonder Alonso doubled. Marcus Semien singled. When the dust had settled, the Athletics held a 5-3 lead. Fans booed. The Royals lost. The season was seemingly over.
"I got confidence in all my players. That’s just the way it is. If I don’t have confidence in a player, I’m not going to have him on this team. I had confidence in Jack."
In summary, Joakim Soria has blown the lead six times with a tie game (although the Royals went on to win two of those games) and six times with a lead. Now, even a good reliever may have blown some of those leads. But that is a terrible track record for a late inning reliever. Joakim Soria is not the sole reason the Royals will not make the playoffs this year - the offense hasn't been good, the starting pitching was horrendous in July, and they have had some key injuries. But it is pretty clear that had they pitched someone else, they might have a few more wins. Soria has been a stand up guy, but there is no denying he has been a failure as a reliever this year.