Mar 6, 2013, 9:23 AM EDT
SURPRISE, Ariz. — When I was columnist for The Kansas City Star, I would write an annual column where I predicted the Kansas City Royals to win the division. It wasn’t quite an inside joke … and it certainly wasn’t a serious prediction. It was, instead, my best effort to capture a little bit of spring hope in a baseball town that had been beaten up over the years. It’s that time of year for baseball hope. Every player is in the best shape of his life. Every manager is thinking pennant. Every fan is imagining that this will be the year this guy hits 25 homers and that guy strikes out 200 and the other guy gets 30 saves.
I think that’s the whole point with March baseball. The season — and grim reality — will come soon enough.
Well, the problem with writing the Royals’ hope column in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s was simply that it was really hard to come up with an even remotely plausible scenario where Kansas City won anything. They always needed so many crazy things to happen. They would need Chad Durbin and Jimmy Gobble to become stars. They would need Reggie Sanders or Juan Gonzalez to hold off the hands of time. They would need to win every single one-run game they played and to suddenly become a great fielding team and to magically start getting on base more.
After a while, I referred to it as “hitting on 20 in blackjack” hope. If you hit on 20 in blackjack, you might — MIGHT — draw the ace and win. It could happen. But it’s no way to go through life.
This year — warning: I’m about to break one of my major rules about baseball analysis and quote a spring training statistic — the Royals are unbeaten. They tied their first game of spring training (which, in itself, tells you how meaningless this all is) and they have won every game since. They pounded a split-squad Oakland team on Tuesday — battering the shell of Bartolo Colon for four runs in the first inning — to make it 10 victories in a row. “Everybody’s contributing,” Royals manager Ned Yost said after the game. “That makes it fun.”
Now, let me make this clear: I believe this 10-game spring training winning streak means almost exactly nothing. It means about as much as an NBA player making 20 three-pointers in a row during warmups or an NFL kicker making a 68-yard field goal in pre-game. It might buoy the confidence a bit. It might sell a couple more early season tickets. It might help create a more positive atmosphere in the clubhouse. But that’s it. The Royals began last year by losing their first 10 home games in the regular season — THAT means something.
But … hey winning 10 in a row is better than losing 10 in a row. And there is something exciting about this team. That exciting thing is, paradoxically, something kind of boring: For the first time in what seems like forever, the Royals don’t enter a season needing miracles. They don’t need some crazy-good year from Emil Brown or Dan Reichert, they don’t need supernatural comebacks from Chuck Knoblauch or Jose Lima, they don’t need for anybody to transform into one of the Avengers. Few are expecting the Royals to really compete for a playoff spot this year … and they might not. But for the first time in forever, they COULD compete without an inconceivable series of magic tricks and freak occurrences and James Bond luck.
For one, the bullpen should be dominant — especially in the eighth and ninth innings. The eighth is held down by Kelvin Herrera, whose name might not ring a bell yet, but who had the fastest average velocity in American League last year at 97.1 mph. He has already hit 100 this spring — he’s in shape early for the World Baseball Classic — and he dominated most of last season. The ninth is owned by Greg Holland, another new name to many, and he struck out 91 batters in 67 innings last year, and the league hit .194 against him after he became the closer. They have other guys in the bullpen — Aaron Crow, Tim Collins among them — who consistently throw in the mid-to-high 90s. “Where do the Royals get all these guys?” one American League scout asks.
The starting rotation has questions, certainly, but James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie all have been above average major league starters over their careers — and all have had good seasons in the not-so-distant past. Wade Davis was really good in the Tampa Bay bullpen last year and could be a very good fourth starter. The last time the Royals went into a season with just three starting pitchers who you might reasonably expect to be average or better was probably 1994.
*Kevin Appier, David Cone and Tom Gordon … to give you an idea how long ago it has been.
The lineup is young — which makes it both volatile and exciting. Alex Gordon is one of the better players in baseball, even if few people have caught on yet. Billy Butler hit .310 with 32 doubles and 29 homers last year. Young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were Top 10 prospects and have All-Star talent, and catcher Salvador Perez is probably the best throwing catcher in the American League at age 22 and he has been an offensive wonder in limited time. Of course, it can go bad — Hosmer had a shockingly bad 2012 season and Moustakas wore down and Perez was injured and hasn’t established himself yet. But, pretty much across baseball scouts love those three players. As the American League scout above said, “I’d start my team with those three right now.”
Does this mean the Royals definitely will compete in 2013? Of course it doesn’t. They still need all the things teams need — they need to stay healthy, especially in the starting rotation. They need for some young players to break through and get better, Hosmer in particular. They need for some veterans to repeat what they’ve done in the recent past. They need some luck. But these are the things all teams need going into a season. As one Royals executive said Tuesday, “This camp feels more businesslike than any I can remember.” That might not sound like much, but having been around the Royals for a long time I thought what he was really saying was: “Hey, look, we actually have good players.”
Sep 17, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT
And the Braves and their announcers bear some of the blame for this baloney.
Sep 17, 2014, 7:08 AM EDT
Beer showers on the Beltway as the Nats and Orioles both clinch
Sep 17, 2014, 12:34 AM EDT
CSNBaltimore.com has some exclusive video of Orioles manager Buck Showalter getting showered with beer and champagne after his club clinched the American League East title on Tuesday night …
Sep 17, 2014, 12:07 AM EDT
Bryce Harper came prepared for the Nationals’ division title celebration with a custom helmet sent to him from the Washington, D.C. Fire Department. These photos come courtesy of CSNWashington.com …
Sep 16, 2014, 11:41 PM EDT
Watch as Astros second baseman Jose Altuve sets the franchise record for most hits in a season with a single through the middle of the infield on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston …
Sep 16, 2014, 10:53 PM EDT
Watch the Orioles make the final out of Tuesday night’s AL East title clincher …
Sep 16, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT
A first in 17 years.
Sep 16, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
Congratulations to the Washington Nationals, who’ve clinched their second NL East crown in three years.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:49 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s retirement tour continued on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field with another set of cool gifts. Along with a $16,000 check for his Turn 2 Foundation and a framed Don Zimmer jersey presented by the widow of the former Yankees bench coach, Jeter also got this custom 16-foot pinstriped kayak …
Sep 16, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez has been scratched from Tuesday’s game against the Rockies due to an elbow strain. It’s not clear when he suffered the injury or how serious it might be.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Lagares has dramatically out-performed expectations offensively this season, hitting .283 with four homers and a .706 OPS in 115 games, and his defense in center field has always been Gold Glove caliber.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Castillo played a total of 10 games in the minors, participating in the playoffs at three different levels while hitting a combined .297 with four doubles and two steals.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT
Tony Gwynn Jr. is batting leadoff for the Phillies on Tuesday night in San Diego. It’ll be his first appearance in his hometown since the death of his Hall of Fame father.
Sep 16, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker departed his sensational start Monday night against the Mariners after experiencing discomfort on the left side of his rib cage in the top of the eighth inning. He underwent an MRI on Tuesday and the diagnosis is in …
Sep 16, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT
Nate Schierholtz, who replaced Harper mid-game Monday, will be on stand-by again with the Nationals able to clinch the NL East division title tonight.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT
Rockies trainer Keith Dugger told Nick Groke of the Denver Post on Tuesday evening that third baseman Nolan Arenado has been diagnosed with pneumonia and is at home resting while Colorado continues a three-game series against the Dodgers.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:28 PM EDT
Choo’s ankle apparently bothered him for most of the season, which helps explain why he hit just .242 with 13 homers and a .714 OPS in the first year of a seven-year, $130 million contract.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton is in the Angels’ starting lineup on Tuesday night against the Mariners for the first time in 10 games, batting sixth and serving as the club’s designated hitter. Hamilton had been sidelined since September 4 with a left shoulder injury.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT
Teixeira initially played well after returning from an April disabled list stint, but he’s been a mess since the All-Star break while hitting .179 with 43 strikeouts in 42 games.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
In a real game. Not a simulation.
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 17
- Jose Altuve breaks Craig Biggio’s franchise record, tallying his 211th hit of the season 8
- Orioles beat Blue Jays to clinch AL East title 33
- Tanner Roark dominates as Nationals clinch NL East 21
- Masahiro Tanaka to pitch on Sunday 11
- Astros shut down George Springer for the season 0
- The Blue Jays will make a qualifying offer to Melky Cabrera 26
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 34
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- A few thoughts about the discrimination lawsuit against the Mets (91)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (88)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)