Whit Merrifield is currently in the midst of the quietest 31-game hitting streak you’ll ever see. The Royals 30-year-old second baseman carried a 21-game streak to end 2018, in a miserable slog of a season in which the Royals went a putrid 58-104, has continued his torrid pace into 2019.
Last September, Kansas City managed a solid 15-13 record, led in no small part by Merrifield, who delivered hits every game from September 10th until the merciful end of their season. Merrifield has carried his production into 2019 and is off to a red-hot start for a Royals team that continues to underwhelm, and currently sits in last place in the Central with a 2-9 records. Merrifield is more than halfway home to matching one of baseball’s most well-known record streaks, and is bringing some much-needed positivity to Kansas City baseball.
There are some MLB records that will likely never be broken in our lifetime. Based on how the game has evolved, no one is touching Cy Young’s 511 career wins, and matching Hack Wilsons 191 RBIs in one season is highly unlikely. Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, which remains a baseball milestone, however, is surmountable. If we squint and are a bit imaginative, we can see a consistent player potentially reaching that number via staying healthy, and receiving some favorable bounces. Creativity also plays a part, as we saw in Wednesday night’s game, in which Merrifield continued his streak by taking advantage of defensive positioning and bunting an infield single down the line.
Merrifield was 0-3 with a walk heading into the seventh inning, when he dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line, leading to Terrance Gore scoring from third base and tying the game (the Royals eventually lost). Reaching game number 31, he surpassed George Brett’s 30 game hitting streak which was was the previous Royals franchise record.
It’s not that surprising that Merrifeild’s streak has large been overlooked. The streak has been spread across two seasons, and with the quick downfall of the Royals, Kansas City hardly make national news these days. At this point however, it’s worth paying attention not only to the streak, but to Merrifield’s production and breakout in general.
Over the course of the streak, Merrifield has a 140 wRC+, posting a .328/.379/.508 slash line, and mashing 15 extra-base hits in 140 plate appearances. Additionally, during thhis time, he has been a nuisance to opposing pitchers on the basepaths, stealing 17 bases in 20 attempts, a cool 85 percent success rate.
Merrifield’s breakout came later than most players, last season at the age of 29, he posted a five-win season, cementing his ascension into the league’s stars after a near-three-win season in 2017.
It’s good to see Merrifield get the recognition he deserves, even if it’s because of a hitting streak and not just because the player he is a super-talented everyday utility man. Merrifield is continuing to do what he’s been doing for the last 18 months, he’s just receiving additional attention for it now.
The last time MLB saw a streak of this length in 2011, when Dan Uggla put up a 33 game hitting streak between July 4th and August 13th. The reality though, is that Uggla had struggled mightily at the plate until that streak came-about in early July, making him a surprising candidate to suddenly breakout into a productive hitter. Through the first three months of 2011, he hit .173/.241/.327, posted a 55 wRC+. He suddenly caught-fire on Independence Day, getting hits in 49 of his next 150 plate appearances and posting a 222 wRC+ during that time.
However, and whenever Merrifield’s streak ends, we can hopefully enjoy the ride now that people are paying attention. The pressure will really start to build once Merrifield gets to the 40-game mark, and hopefully he can keep it going from there.
It’s good to see energy back in Kansas City, where it seems the back-to-back AL Pennants and World Series championship teams were a lifetime ago.