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.”
Mar 8, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT
Over his 15-year career, Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano has logged time at five of the eight non-pitcher positions on the diamond. The only three positions he hasn’t played are catcher, first base and right field. He might make it six this season. ESPN’s Andrew Marchand reports that manager Joe Girardi has kicked around the idea…
Mar 8, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Outfielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla had miserable 2013 campaigns for the Braves, finishing with a .557 and .671 OPS, respectively. Both players finished with batting averages well under the Mendoza Line with 150-plus strikeouts. It was ugly. As the Braves flipped the calendar over to 2014, there was a sense of optimism…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
Yesterday, Brewers starter Kyle Lohse criticized the qualifying offer system. Lohse rejected a $13.3 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals after the 2012 season, hoping to get a lucrative deal in free agency. He ended up jobless well into march until the Brewers jumped in and signed him to a three-year, $33 million deal. This…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Many are anxious to see how the new instant replay system will affect the way baseball is played. They may have to wait a week. According to the Associated Press, replay won’t be available when the Dodgers and Diamondbacks open the regular season in Australia. Standard replay, for home run and boundary calls, will be…
Mar 8, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
The Phillies had the fourth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball last season at 4.19, according to FanGraphs. Don’t tell that to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who thinks the Phillies will have a top-five bullpen in 2014. Via CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury: “I will be very, very surprised if this is not a much better bullpen this year,”…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Edwin Jackson gave up three runs on four hits in his start against the Indians on Friday, but that wasn’t the shocking part of what happened. Unbeknownst to manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Chris Bosio, Jackson threw all fastballs in his outing — 50 of them. Via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat: “I think maybe, as…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton has been sidelined for the past week and a half after straining his left calf during a baserunning drill, but he’s getting closer to making his spring debut. According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, Hamilton is scheduled to take batting practice on the field tomorrow. If all goes well, Angels…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
You may recall that the Marlins were reportedly “outraged” at the Red Sox for sending a substandard lineup to Thursday’s Grapefruit League game at Roger Dean Stadium. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has since apologized for the incident, but owner John Henry thinks the Marlins should issue an apology of their own: They should…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
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Mar 8, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
Doug Fister gave the Nationals and their fans a bit of a scare yesterday when he was scratched from a Grapefruit League start due to a sore elbow, but an MRI showed that he’s only dealing with inflammation. Fister told Andrew Simon of MLB.com today that he’s not worried about the situation. “It’s typical inflammation,…
Mar 8, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Zack Greinke has already been ruled out as an option to pitch against the Diamondbacks in Australia after straining his right calf last week, but he took an important step in the right direction today. According to J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group, Greinke threw 35 pitches in a simulated game against a…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
Shane Victorino gave up switch-hitting down the stretch last season and Red Sox manager John Farrell told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe today that the veteran outfielder is considering hitting exclusively from the right side of the plate this season. Nothing is official yet, but this would be a positive development for the Red…
Mar 8, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
What does Josh Donaldson get after finishing fourth in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting last season? The major league minimum salary. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Athletics have renewed Donaldson’s contract at $500,000 for 2014. It’s a modest raise from the $492,500 he made last year, which was just above the…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
The Royals gave Wade Davis a chance to win a rotation spot this spring even after he struggled as a starter last season, but Royals manager Ned Yost told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star this morning that the 28-year-old right-hander is out of the fifth starter competition and will pitch out of the…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
We heard yesterday that the Cardinals and infielder Matt Carpenter were in talks about a long-term contract extension and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports this morning that the deal is done. The Cardinals will hold a press conference later this morning to formally announce the agreement. Per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports,…
Mar 8, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
Dogged by shoulder issues, Michael Pineda has yet to throw a regular season pitch for the Yankees since being acquired from the Mariners two offseasons ago, but he showed a glimpse of his old form last night. Making his spring debut, Pineda tossed two scoreless innings in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. Topping…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:08 AM EDT
The Ervin Santana saga is reaching its conclusion. According to Dionisio Soldevila of ESPN Deportes, Santana will sign a one-year, $14 million contract with an American League team. This report comes less than 24 hours after Soldevila passed along word that a frustrated Santana fired his agent, Bean Stringfellow, and could negotiate his own contract.…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:51 AM EDT
Matt Harvey‘s starts quickly became an event with Mets fans, so much so that the day that he would start began to be called “Harvey Day.” There’s a very good chance that there won’t be another “Harvey Day” until 2015 after his Tommy John surgery, but the ace right-hander indicated on his Twitter account this…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Billy Hamilton hit .368 in 22 plate appearances in September last season, but some in the know say that Hamilton will struggle to hit in the Majors. In his first season against Triple-A competition last season, Hamilton hit .256 with a .308 on-base percentage and a .343 slugging percentage. Hamilton’s signature has always been his…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Marco Scutaro was scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Sunday or Monday, but his back problems are persisting and now the Giants are keeping him out for the time being, Alex Pavlovic reports for the Mercury News. Manager Bruce Bochy says that if Scutaro isn’t ready to go at the end of next…
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