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.”
Jul 25, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Issues caused by pre-existing injuries could lead to more disagreements, such as the one between Brady Aiken and the Astros that was played out on a public stage.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT
At age 41 he’s at risk to break down, but Colon has a 2.98 ERA in his last 12 starts with a 62/14 K/BB ratio and .217 opponents’ batting average in 85 innings.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Greg Maddux was a magician on the mound, and now he’s going to the Hall of Fame, writes Joe Posnanski.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT
[but watch that bat-flippin', buddy]
Jul 25, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Rollins also has the ability to block any potential trade, so even if contending teams think having him locked into place for 2015 adds to their interest level it may be a moot point.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
They are obviously deserving of induction, but their induction also serves some political ends too.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Greg Maddux looked like a guy who should be riding a Metra commuter train to his 9-to-5 job in the Loop, maybe sneaking out later to catch a Cubs game and have a few beers at Wrigley Field.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
OK, we’ll just accept that you have not at least talked about taking one of the few options you have regarding Howard, Ruben.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Kyle Gibson has had an up-and-down first full season for the Twins and now he may wind up on the disabled list with a back injury.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:38 AM EDT
He’s a double threat: bad and expensive.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
After a huge spring training that won him the Mariners’ starting shortstop job Brad Miller has struggled mightily, hitting .205 with a .599 OPS and 74/25 K/BB ratio in 86 games.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:57 AM EDT
Injuries are mounting for the first place Giants.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:34 AM EDT
A great, great ballplayer seems to be in denial about his career being over.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
With Joakim Soria watching from the sidelines, the Tigers embattled closer shuts down one of the best offenses in baseball.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:17 AM EDT
Ryan Raburn is gonna be buying Corey Kluber steaks for the foreseeable future.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:47 AM EDT
It was a day of blowouts and fine pitching performances.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:19 PM EDT
The Yankees are reportedly considering a reunion with right-hander Ian Kennedy.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:18 PM EDT
Jonathan Papelbon was booed by Phillies fans this afternoon, but it didn’t bother him. In fact, he says bring it on.
Jul 24, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
Chad Qualls quietly owns a 1.78 ERA this season. The Astros are reluctant to deal him.
Jul 24, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel tossed a baseball to a heckler during today’s game against the Athletics. And the ball contained a clever message.
- How’d he do that? Magician Maddux fooled hitters all the way to Hall 5
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 45
- MLBPA files grievance against Astros in regard to draft pick situation 35
- The eyes have it: Thomas’ greatness built on patience 14
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams 193
- Mariners re-acquire Kendrys Morales from Twins for Stephen Pryor 22
- A’s designate $10 million reliever Jim Johnson for assignment 35
- Everything you need to know about next week’s trade deadline 35
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (193)
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (162)
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres (108)
- Who is the next Face of Baseball? (97)
- David Ortiz passes Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time home run list — is he a Hall of Famer? (92)