Two weeks ago Saturday, Royals outfielder Jorge Soler traipsed off the Kauffman Stadium field, drenched in water that Salvador Perez had dumped over his head in celebration.
Soler had launched a game-winning home run that afternoon, a two-run blast that he almost didn’t believe had left the ballpark until he saw A’s outfielders stop tracking the ball.
Soler rounded the bases for the ninth homer of his resurgent season — he hasn’t experienced such a steady campaign since his first full season with the Cubs in 2015, when injury limited to 101 games — and experienced relief. The Royals were 16 games under .500 then, four wins better than the White Sox and Orioles.
The standings weren’t ideal, but the Royals had won 7 of 11 games. For a few weeks, things seemed brighter.
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The script has flipped in the 14 days since.
The Royals will be without Soler, who now owns crutches and can't skip off the field in victory, for at least the next six weeks because of a fractured left first metatarsal. A CT scan on Saturday confirmed the injury, which happened as he tripped running out of the batter’s box in Friday’s loss at Kauffman Stadium.
Although it’s not severe enough to require immediate surgery, the Royals will re-evaluate the break in a week.
There’s a chance the bone might heal on its own, a process that would require more time than inserting a pin or screws to repair the break. But if next week’s CT scan reveals further separation of the bones, they would opt for surgery.
At any rate, the Royals will place Soler on the disabled list on Sunday. He won’t see game action until August at the earliest.
“It’s not ideal where we’re at right now,” Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy said after allowing seven runs in Saturday’s 10-2 loss to the Astros. “It’s pretty much the opposite of what we drew up coming into the year.”
Duffy meant that in the macro sense. Few things have gone right for the Royals this year.
They started the season without Jorge Bonifacio, who in about two weeks will complete the 80-game suspension he was dealt after violating MLB’s joint drug prevention and treatment program. Perez sprained his knee after spring training and missed the first three weeks of the season. Duffy, the leader of the starting rotation, struggled to the point where his ERA was the worst among all qualified starters.
But Duffy’s words can be applied to Soler’s absence, too.
Soler had entered this campaign ready to solidify himself at the major-league level after stumbling through his first year in the Royals organization. He was on his way, making progress in the outfield and at the plate.
All he needed to do was stay healthy for the first time in his career. He even avoided catastrophe last week after taking a foul ball off his foot in Oakland; the diagnosis was a simple bruise that healed within seven days.
But a fluke injury has thrown a wrench into the 26-year-old’s development. Soler was so frustrated after his tumble in Friday's game that he threw his helmet across the Royals dugout, manager Ned Yost said, and spit out "lots of words in numerous languages."
For a team that has been outscored 62-23 in the last 12 games, the next month and a half will prove even more challenging without the second-most powerful cog in their lineup. Soler’s production — .265 batting average, 18 doubles, 28 RBIs, 28 walks, nine homers and a .354 on-base percentage — might not have led the team across the board, but it did spark an offense that has scuffled all season.
The Royals own the second-worst record in baseball and are languishing in the cellar of the American League Central division. They rank 27th in the league with 258 runs scored.
They will have to find a new way to tread water.
“There’s just not much you can do,” Yost said. “You just keep trying to stay positive, you keep encouraging, keep working. We were struggling when Jon Jay was here and Soler was here, too.”