Mar 6, 2013, 9:23 AM EST
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.”
Mar 7, 2014, 3:50 PM EST
Angels right-hander Dane De La Rosa went for an MRI exam after getting knocked around and being pulled from his appearance Thursday, but the initial news is good. Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports that the MRI exam showed no structural damage and De La Rosa is hopeful that he can avoid beginning the season on…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:44 PM EST
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips isn’t talking to the Cincinnati media, but he’s willing to talk to the national media and willing to talk to the national media about why he’s not talking to the Cincinnati media. Case in point, this Phillips quote to Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com: I don’t have nothing to say to…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Bad news for Royals fans. And for Luke Hochevar, of course: Hochevar, the 30-year-old former No. 1 overall pick, felt a twinge in his elbow on Monday. On Tuesday, he felt soreness in the joint, and an MRI revealed his condition, which also includes strained muscles around the elbow. On Thursday, he was scheduled to…
Mar 7, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Because of course he is: In Jeter’s retirement call, Hal Steinbrenner said he said, “I know everybody says this, but I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life.” — Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) March 7, 2014 Guess that means Brendan Ryan isn’t going to get as much playing time as he hoped.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
Brad Penny‘s comeback attempt didn’t last very long, as the Royals just released the 35-year-old right-hander. Penny didn’t pitch in the majors at all last season and hasn’t been effective since 2010, when he made nine good starts before getting hurt. Since then he has a 5.41 ERA in 210 innings and Penny got knocked…
Mar 7, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
FORT MYERS — I have seen the future of spring training complexes, and its name is Jet Blue Park. Or maybe it’s not the future, because frankly, I’m not sure who else is going to shell out the kind of dough this place likely cost besides big money teams like the Red Sox (or the…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:50 AM EST
By now, most baseball fans know the story of Tommy John surgery. In 1974, John — a solid pitcher for a decade — blew out his elbow while pitching for Los Angeles against the Montreal Expos. “Blew out his elbow” is not a medical term, of course, but there was no need for medical terms…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:19 AM EST
A whole lot of people said a whole lot of good things about the Nationals’ trade to acquire Doug Fister from the Tigers, but now there’s this: Fister was scratched from today’s scheduled start and sent for an MRI exam after complaining of elbow soreness. No structural damage was found during the MRI exam and…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer checks in with an update on Carlos Santana‘s progress trying to transition from catcher to third base and … well, it ain’t going perfectly: Right now, Lonnie Chisenhall and every other third basemen in camp look better than Santana when it comes to defense. No.1 Santana hasn’t gotten…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Mariners third base coach John Stearns was expected to miss the early part of the season after undergoing hiatal hernia surgery last week, but instead he’s decided to step down from the job altogether. Stearns explained that he felt it would be unfair to the players and coaching staff to reclaim the position in mid-April…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:59 AM EST
A friend of mine once said that this profession is filled to the brim with unrealistic mother[expletives]. Mother[expletives] who thought their [expletive] would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don’t. Exhibit A, Manny Ramirez, who said this to Enrique Rojas of…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:42 AM EST
Just about every ballpark you go to plays that Blake Shelton song, “Boys ’round here” during warmups or batting practice: Yeah the boys ’round here Drinking that ice cold beer Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks Runnin’ them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust The boys ’round here Sending up a prayer to the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:49 AM EST
CC Sabathia has a new trick in his bag: Andy Pettitte did more than simply watch CC Sabathia‘s bullpen session on Monday. The guest instructor actively instructed, primarily helping to teach Sabathia a cut fastball, something the Yankees’ ace hopes to add to his repertoire this season. “He was showing me a grip with the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:12 AM EST
FORT MYERS — A day after we learned of the stink the Marlins are raising about the Red Sox not bringing a sufficient number of major leaguers on their long road trip to Jupiter, the Braves are traveling here to Fort Myers to face Boston. Here’s who is making the trip: #Braves travel roster for…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:25 AM EST
You’ve probably read about Hank the Dog, the Brewers’ unexpected spring training mascot who showed up as a stray at their camp in Maryvale. He’s been a big hit with the team and its fans, even racing in the sausage races last week while wearing a hot dog costume which, holy crap, is the cutest…
Mar 6, 2014, 11:28 PM EST
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has hired Adam Katz and Andy Mota of Wasserman Media Group as his new agents. He was previously represented by Jaime Torres. Puig signed a six-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers in June of 2012 and remains under contract through 2018, so there’s no…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:31 PM EST
Sad news to pass along this evening, as Tommy John surgery pioneer Dr. Frank Jobe has passed away at the age of 88. Jobe worked for the Dodgers for 50 years and is best known for performing the first-ever unlar collateral ligament reconstructive elbow surgery on left-handed pitcher Tommy John on September 25, 1974. While…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:20 PM EST
It was originally thought that Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin would be lost for 2-3 months after he suffered a torn left biceps tendon while making a diving catch Sunday, but there’s a chance he could be back sooner. According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said that Maybin opted against surgery…
Mar 6, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Troubling news for the Angels this evening, as Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports that right-hander Dane De La Rosa has left Angels camp to undergo an MRI on his right forearm. De La Rosa was hit hard in today’s Cactus League game against the Dodgers before he was pulled due to right forearm tightness. Gonzalez…
Mar 6, 2014, 8:20 PM EST
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? You decide. Baseball fans were provided with a heaping slice of awesomeness in this afternoon’s Cactus League matchup between the Dodgers and Angels, as Mike Trout‘s attempt at an inside-the-park home run was dashed thanks in part to a throw from Yasiel Puig. In the bottom…
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