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.”
May 23, 2013, 10:47 AM EDT
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Angels reliever Ryan Madson was finally making some progress in his rehab from last season’s elbow surgery, but he’s suffered yet another setback. Mason felt soreness in his elbow after a one-inning rehab appearance at Single-A last week and hasn’t pitched since. As you’d expect Madson sounds…
May 23, 2013, 10:33 AM EDT
The Mets first baseman is having a train wreck of a season thus far. He’s hitting .147/.236/.245, which is horrible even on a horrible Mets offense. And his poor hitting seems to be infecting his fielding too. See, yesterday’s non-play on a ball he though was foul but which he turned into a game-killing double.…
May 23, 2013, 10:15 AM EDT
Francisco Liriano was terrible for the Twins and White Sox last season and then lost out on a ton of guaranteed money with the Pirates when he broke his right arm trying to prank his kids on Christmas morning. That all led to a whole lot of jokes at his expense and caused Liriano to…
May 23, 2013, 9:45 AM EDT
Good news, Miami! Pretty soon all of those Marlins shutout losses are going to turn into losses in which the Marlins score one on Giancarlo Stanton home runs: On Wednesday, slugger Giancarlo Stanton took live batting practice at Marlins Park for the first time since straining his right hamstring on April 30. Redmond tossed the BP session…
May 23, 2013, 9:15 AM EDT
A day after fearing the right field wall in AT&T Park, Bryce Harper went back on a drive much closer to the bricks and made a nice catch. He also had an opposite field home run. You can see both of those plays here. Funny what happens when Davey Johnson doesn’t make his best hitter bunt.…
May 23, 2013, 8:55 AM EDT
So torn here. I love what Evan Gattis has done with the Braves so far. Highlight reel moments, power when it has been needed and he is a great story. But I almost wonder if he’s too great a story. We cant’ seem to go a day without hearing some new Gattis-is-Kane-from-Kung-Fu tale. Stuff about…
May 23, 2013, 8:23 AM EDT
Like the guy needs any help. UPDATE: Sorry about the video glitch. MLB.com has this as embeddable, but for some reason it won’t embed as it’s supposed to. So here’s the link. God, this day is not starting out well.
May 23, 2013, 6:57 AM EDT
Phillies 3, Marlins 0: Cliff Lee shuts out the Marlins on three hits. Granted, it doesn’t take anyone as good as Lee to shut out the Marlins, but that’s nothing that Lee could help. He was dominant. Just like Benedict Cumberbatch in that scene when he killed all those [alien race redacted to avoid spoilers]…
May 23, 2013, 12:17 AM EDT
This is on the short list of the most horrifying stories ever posted at HardballTalk. An Aramark vendor at Monday’s Royals-Astros game at Minute Maid was caught bringing his tray of snow cones into a bathroom stall with him. Click2Houston.com has the video taken by a concerned onlooker. Remarkably, this happened in the first game…
May 22, 2013, 11:42 PM EDT
OK, so there hasn’t been any actual All-Star ballot results released yet. That doesn’t mean I can’t do my fun little exercise here. What follows is my best guess at the All-Star Game starting lineups. National League CF Andrew McCutchen 2B Brandon Phillips 1B Joey Votto LF Justin Upton RF Bryce Harper 3B David Wright…
May 22, 2013, 11:09 PM EDT
Don Mattingly had some harsh things to say about the club he manages on Wednesday afternoon, leaving many to guess that he might be officially canned at some point during Thursday’s scheduled team off day. But that apparently will not happen. Via the Los Angeles Times: Don Mattingly will be managing the Dodgers on Friday when they open a…
May 22, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT
Josh Rutledge showed signs of promise in 2012 when he hit eight home runs, stole seven bases and registered a .775 OPS in 73 games as a 23-year-old. But the middle infielder has failed to meet the hype so far in 2013 and was officially optioned Wednesday evening to Triple-A Colorado Springs according to beat…
May 22, 2013, 9:13 PM EDT
The Cardinals learned today that Jaime Garcia needs what will likely be season-ending shoulder surgery. And now another starter is in trouble. According to MLB.com beat writer Jenifer Langosch, sinkerballer Jake Westbrook was unable to make it beyond 20 pitches in a bullpen session this evening because of lingering discomfort in his right elbow. He…
May 22, 2013, 8:27 PM EDT
Indians first baseman Nick Swisher was placed on the paternity leave list Tuesday following the birth of his daughter. After getting a few days to spend with his family’s newest addition, he will return to the Tribe’s starting lineup on Friday night in Boston. This according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. Swisher, 32, is batting…
May 22, 2013, 7:34 PM EDT
David Freese suffered a gash on his right thumb Sunday when he lunged to tag Norichika Aoki on the left leg during a rundown along the third base line. It was only a minor cut, but he got stitches after the game and has not made an appearance since. Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports that Freese is…
May 22, 2013, 6:40 PM EDT
Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that Orioles infield prospect Jonathan Schoop has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back and is likely to need 6-8 weeks of rest. He will meet with another doctor this week for a second opinion, but the initial diagnosis probably won’t change. Schoop is hitting .268/.331/.386 with three…
May 22, 2013, 5:32 PM EDT
Jered Weaver threw 5.2 innings of one-run ball in an extended spring training game today, potentially setting him up to come off the disabled list and rejoin the Angels’ rotation next week. Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times reports that Weaver threw 75 pitches, 62 for strikes, and struck out nine versus zero walks.…
May 22, 2013, 5:02 PM EDT
Superman has kryptonite. Matt Harvey has Zack Cozart. Despite being a nearly unhittable pitcher this year, the Reds’ Cozart got four hits off Harvey today en route to a 4 for 5, two-double performance. Overall Harvey had his worst outing of the season, allowing four runs on nine hits in six and a third. One…
May 22, 2013, 4:31 PM EDT
Kinda feels like a lot of Rays farmhands get suspended for drugs: The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced today that Tampa Bay Rays Minor League right-handed pitcher Angel Yepez has received a 50-game suspension without pay after testing positive for metabolites of Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug…
May 22, 2013, 4:16 PM EDT
UPDATE: Las Vegas police issued the following statement: The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is currently investigating a Sexual Assault case. Jose Conseco [sic] has been named as the suspect in this investigation. At this time no charges have been filed and our investigation remains ongoing. Per department policy neither victim information or investigation details…
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 70
- Astros vendor brings snow cones into bathroom stall, gets fired 39
- Don Mattingly will still be the Dodgers’ manager on Friday 14
- Jake Westbrook feeling lingering discomfort in right elbow 5
- Las Vegas police investigating Jose Canseco as a suspect in sexual assault case 70
- MLB is putting players in camouflage uniforms on Memorial Day. Which is kinda weird. (117)
- Barry Bonds: Miguel Cabrera is the best … but not as good as me (111)
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (81)
- Albert Pujols doesn’t matter anymore (74)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (70)
- Lochte says Phelps will return soon
- LeBron stuns Pacers with OT winner in Game 1
- Pens overwhelm Sens, take 3-1 series lead
- Tiger calls Sergio's comments inappropriate, hurtful
- Bears great Urlacher announces retirement
- HBT: Canseco suspect in Vegas sexual assault
- Posnanski on Golf: Sergio shows disdain for Tiger