Jorge Soler’s entire season has been one career-changing offensive outburst, and the Royals slugger added another accomplishment to the most productive power-hitting season in franchise history.
With a pair of home runs on Saturday, the sixth multi-homer game of his career, Soler became the American League’s home-run leader and also tied the mark for the most homers in a season by a Cuban-born player (47).
Soler’s power display wasn’t enough to lift the Royals to victory as they fell 4-3 to the playoff-bound Minnesota Twins in front of an announced 21,995 in the second game of the season-ending three-game set at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals (58-103) moved up the start time of Saturday’s game in order to avoid a rainstorm.
Soler, who turned 27 in February, broke Mike Moustakas’ previous franchise record of 38 homers on Sept. 3. Barring an outlandish homer barrage by another AL hitter, Soler will become on Sunday the first Royals player ever to win the AL home-run crown.
As of the end of Saturday’s game, Soler (2 for 3, two home runs, one walk) had a seven-home-run lead on the next closest active players in the AL, Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz and Houston’s Alex Bregman (41 homers each).
“It’s not over yet,” Soler said of the home-run title. “There’s still one more game left, but I feel really good about what I’ve done.”
Soler entered the day with a six-game hitting streak, but hadn’t homered since Sept. 16 in Oakland. He crushed a 2-2 first-inning pitch from Twins starter Cody Stashak to straight-away center for his 46th home run.
That blast moved Soler ahead of Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, who had season-ending surgery earlier this month, and into sole possession of the AL home-run lead.
Soler’s second homer on Saturday pushed his season total to 47 and tied him with Rafael Palmeiro for the most homers in a season by a Cuban-born player. Palmeiro hit 47 in 1999 and 2001.
“It means a lot,” Soler said with assistant strength coach/Latin American coordinator Luis Perez translating. “There’s a lot of pride in tying him at 47. It means a lot for the organization, for my family and the people of Cuba.”
Soler’s family, including his father Jorge Sr., have been in town for the final homestand. Soler pointed to them after each of his home runs on Saturday.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-handed hitting outfielder/designated hitter has enjoyed a career year on multiple fronts. His time in the majors had been hindered by injuries — he signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and made his debut in the majors late in 2014 — but he’s played in all 161 games this season.
Along the way to establishing personal bests for homers and games played, he’s also set career highs for RBIs (116), hits (155), walks (73) and runs scored (94).
He entered Saturday among the top 10 in the AL in homers (tied for first), RBIs (fourth), total bases (fifth, 323), slugging percentage (eighth, .555) and extra-base hits (fifth, 79).
“Just continue to grow,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of the next step for Soler. “I told him when he hit that home run I thought he was becoming a singles hitter. He was just racking up singles and doubles. But he’s going to be a guy who hits .295-.300 with 120 RBIs and 40-45-50 homers. He’ll continue to get better in terms of plate disciple and pitch recognition.”
The Twins (101-60) tied the score in the top half of the second on an RBI double down the left field line by Willians Astudillo.
It remained a 1-1 game until the fifth when Ian Miller scored on Jorge Polanco’s sacrifice fly. The Twins carried a 2-1 lead into the sixth, and Astudillo hit an RBI single up the middle off of left-handed reliever Tim Hill.
Soler’s second homer, a two-run blast, tied the score 3-3 in the seventh inning. But the lead was short-lived as Cruz hit a solo homer off reliever Jacob Barnes in the eighth. Cruz’s 41st homer of the season was his ninth against the Royals.
The Royals and Twins play their regular-season finale on Sunday afternoon. Right-hander Jorge Lopez (4-9, 6.35 ERA) will start for the Royals, while left-hander Martin Perez (10-7, 5.13) is listed as the Twins scheduled starter.
Glass family recognized
After recognizing retiring manager Ned Yost on Friday night, the Royals had a modest recognition of outgoing owner David Glass and the Glass family prior to Saturday’s game. A video presentation played on the Crown Vision screen recognizing the Glass family for their contributions to the local community.
Players and staff on the field as well as fans in attendance gave David Glass an ovation when he appeared on the video board.
Glass has agreed to sell the team to Kansas City businessman John Sherman, and the deal is pending approval of MLB owners this offseason.