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 12, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Livan Hernandez hasn’t pitched since 2012, but he hadn’t officially retired yet. Now he will reports Bill Ladson of MLB.com. The official papers will be filed and Hernandez’s playing career will, administratively speaking, be no more. Hernandez pitched for 17 seasons in the big leagues, compiling a record of 178-177 with an ERA of 4.44.…
Mar 12, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Kansas City Royals. The Big Question: Are the Royals finally ready to contend? Kansas City made a big jump…
Mar 12, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Twins prospect Miguel Sano has been on camera a lot, first as part of a documentary showing the process by which international players sign with MLB teams and now as part of a follow-up documentary tracking his rise to the majors. Sadly his rise to the majors has been delayed due to Tommy John elbow…
Mar 12, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
If Ellen and the Oscars didn’t kill the idea of the “selfie” I suppose it’ll never die. So why not let the independent league Kalamazoo Growlers make a jersey out of fan-submitted selfies: You had no idea you wanted a “Selfie Jersey” until just this instant (via @kzoogrowlers): pic.twitter.com/7Rh76CgsiD — NBC Sports Network (@NBCSN) March…
Mar 12, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
As recently as two weeks ago Tom Gorzelanny said his recovery from shoulder surgery was going well and he expected to be ready for Opening Day, but now the Brewers left-hander is expected to begin the season on the disabled list. Gorzelanny was shut down in September and underwent December surgery, with manager Ron Roenicke…
Mar 12, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
This never would’ve happened if the Mets signed him. Unless, of course, there are sharp grapefruits out there: Francisco Rodriguez stepped on a cactus yesterday. First freak incident of camp. Status for tomorrow’s game unknown right now. #Brewers — Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) March 12, 2014 A letter in Francisco Rodriguez’s writing doesn’t mean he’s not…
Mar 12, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, whose $48 million contract with the Phillies was reworked into a $12 million contract because of concerns about the health of his arm, is now sidelined with shoulder problems. Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports that Gonzalez complained of soreness during a throwing session Tuesday and the Cuban right-hander was scratched from today’s…
Mar 12, 2014, 12:06 PM EDT
A story about Twitter engagement with televised sports shows that (a) half of all Twitter comments about TV shows are sports-related; but (b) baseball lags the other sports: One league that should be somewhat concerned, however, is Major League Baseball. In addition to the fourth-worst television ratings in history, the 2013 World Series failed to…
Mar 12, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Jeremy Hellickson made 25 throws from flat ground today for his first action since undergoing elbow surgery in January and afterward the Rays right-hander told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that “it felt really good.” At the time of the surgery to remove “loose bodies” from his elbow Hellickson was expected to be…
Mar 12, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Brett Wallace, who ranked as one of Baseball America‘s top 40 prospects in back-to-back seasons as a minor leaguer, has been released by the Astros after hitting just .242 with a .704 OPS in 311 games through age 26. At one point Wallace looked like a good-hitting third baseman, but his defense required a shift…
Mar 12, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
There’s been no official announcement yet because he’s seeking a second opinion, but Braves right-hander Kris Medlen told reporters today that he expects to undergo Tommy John elbow surgery. Medlen injured his elbow on a pitch Sunday and actually remained in the game for two more pitches, but eventually exited after bouncing a ball to…
Mar 12, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
I guess artists are just misunderstood. How else to explain where Ryan Braun falls in the world of popularity of celebrity spokesman? From Darren Rovell’s story about Braun signing with a little-known cleat manufacturer, Braun’s first endorsement deal since his suspension: As of December, Braun — who lost $3.3 million in salary as a result…
Mar 12, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos had some interesting comments about Ervin Santana after the free agent right-hander turned down a similar offer from the Blue Jays to sign a one-year, $14.1 million deal with the Braves today. John Lott of the National Post passed along Anthopoulos’ quotes from this morning’s appearance on Sportsnet 590 radio…
Mar 12, 2014, 9:33 AM EDT
Cole Hamels has had a wonky shoulder and folks in Philly have been worried about his health. Breathe a bit easier this morining, you guys, because Hamels threw a successful bullpen session this morning. He described it as being “free and easy” with no discomfort or laboring like he felt the last time he threw.…
Mar 12, 2014, 9:14 AM EDT
It wasn’t exciting, but a call was overturned by replay yesterday. It was a call on second base in which the fielder bobbled the ball, the runner was called out nonetheless, and then upon replay the umps reversed themselves: Note that the replay itself — from the time the review was initiated until the safe…
Mar 12, 2014, 7:44 AM EDT
Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports that the Atlanta Braves are completing a deal with Ervin Santana. Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that an announcement by the team is scheduled for later this morning. Multiple reporters are saying it’s a one-year deal, though the money has not yet been revealed. UPDATE: It’s a one-year,…
Mar 11, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin suffered a right shoulder strain near the end of February and hasn’t progressed as quickly as hoped. So, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writes on Tuesday, it’s “almost a certainty” that the right-hander will begin the 2014 regular season with a 15-day disabled list stint. Chacin played catch at 90 feet on…
Mar 11, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
The Indians announced Tuesday, via Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that right-hander Justin Masterson will start for the club on Opening Day against the Athletics. That game is scheduled for Monday, March 31 at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum. It was an easy decision for the Tribe, who will likely follow Masterson this season with…
Mar 11, 2014, 8:31 PM EDT
From MLB.com beat reporter Mark Bowman … LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed on Tuesday that Brandon Beachy will not make his next scheduled Grapefruit League start. Beachy exited Monday’s start against the Phillies after grueling through two innings during which he was burdened by tightness around his right elbow and biceps muscle. Beachy…
Mar 11, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday that Josh Hamilton — who has been sidelined because of an early-spring calf strain — was on track to make his Cactus League debut this week. It won’t happen. Scioscia was asked again about Hamilton’s status on Tuesday in camp and told Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register that…
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