Heading into the 2021 season, Nicky Lopez’s career was on the bubble. With Kyle Isbel coming on strong, it looked as though Whit would move to 2nd base, leaving Nicky without a job after two miserable seasons.
Then Adalberto Mondesi got hurt, giving Lopez one more opportunity. He started hot, came back down to earth, and then settled into an offensive groove of mediocrity that was just good enough to give him value with his plus defense at shortstop. He was a pleasant surprise.
Then the All-Star Break happened. And Lopez apparently decided to take it a step further. He entered the night hitting .330/.379/.415 in the 2nd half, good for a .794 OPS. And that was before going 3-5 with a homer and an RBI single as his revenge tour continued, leading the Royals to a 6-0 win.
The win gives Kansas City a series split in Baltimore.
While Lopez’s resurgence has largely been fueled by singles and walks, he has shown a bit more power of late. It was somewhat well documented that Nicky’s OBP was higher than his SLG% in the first half of the season, coming in at a lowly .326 mark. It held his OPS down at .676 despite a .350 OBP that led the team.
However, since the All-Star break, Lopez has been slugging a reasonable .415, thanks in part to his only two homers of the season and 12 total extra-base hits in 176 at-bats. He had just 11 total extra-base hits in 230 first-half at-bats. That 2nd homer came via an 0-1 first-inning fastball from Orioles starter John Means to put the Royals up 1-0.
Aside from his bomb in the first, it was a slow offensive game through the first 2/3rds of the game for both teams, as the Royals and Orioles combined for just 11 base runners.
Means settled in nicely after his first-inning homer. Aside from two (!!) walks to Hanser Alberto (!!!!!) and two singles, Means cruised through his next five innings after the homer.
And just for a bit of context, Alberto came into tonight’s game with two walks on the season in 220 plate appearances. He doubled that total in his first two plate appearances tonight.
Royals starter Carlos Hernandez also continued to shove, holding off Baltimore all night with the exception of two real threats.
The first trouble came with two outs in the 2nd when he gave up three consecutive singles. Through his first six innings, those were the only hits he had given up. The last single from Jahmai Jones looked like an RBI single before Andrew Benintendi canned him at the plate. It’s been quite the defensive series for Benny.
He walked two Orioles in the 4th with just one out but was able to escape. Despite striking out just one Baltimore hitter, he gave up just three hits and walked three more in six innings of scoreless ball. The strong start continued the longest stretch of prolonged success that Hernandez has experienced as a big leaguer.
We all know that Hernandez had the stuff. But he has put it all together since the end of July. In his last seven starts, including tonight, Hernandez has logged a 1.68 ERA in 48.1 innings of work
Unlike his counterpart, Means pitched into the 7th, where he ran into his first trouble since the first. Hunter Dozier led off the inning with a double, forcing Orioles manager Brandon Hyde to replace Means with Tanner Scott. Unfortunately for Scott, he ran into the unstoppable freight train that is Nicky Lopez, giving up a one-out RBI single to increase the Baltimore deficit to 2-0.
A Salvador Perez single put runners on first and third with one out for Andrew Benintendi, who stayed hot with an RBI single. Carlos Santana’s RBI groundout increased the lead to 4-0 before the Royals broke it open in the 9th thanks to a Hunter Dozier two-run homer, making it a 6-0 lead.
After getting two scoreless innings from Domingo Tapia, the Royals completed the combined shutout with a scoreless 9th from Scott Barlow.
The record is 63-77 as Kansas City heads to Minneapolis.
Up Next: Royals at Twins, Friday, September 10, 7:10 PM CDT, Target Field. LHP Daniel Lynch (4-4, 5.29 ERA) v. RHP Griffin Jax (3-3, 6.79 ERA)