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.”
Oct 24, 2014, 11:51 PM EDT
Ryan Vogelsong will start as scheduled in Game 4 of the World Series against the Royals. Madison Bumgarner will not pitch on short rest.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:27 PM EDT
The Royals’ bullpen was solid, allowing only two base runners in four innings to preserve Jeremy Guthrie’s win in Game 3 of the World Series against the Giants.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT
Brandon Finnegan achieved a rather rare feat with his first appearance of the World Series in Game 3 on Friday night against the Giants.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT
Cole Hamels is updating his 20-team no-trade list, which will dictate if and how the Phillies shop him over the off-season.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
The Giants fought back in the bottom of the sixth inning with two runs, making it a one-run game again. The Royals lead 3-2 heading into the seventh inning.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
The Royals extended their lead over the Giants to 3-0 thanks to an Alex Gordon RBI double and an Eric Hosmer RBI single in the top of the sixth inning of Game 3 of the World Series.
Oct 24, 2014, 9:50 PM EDT
The Twins are expected to consider free agent manager Joe Maddon for their managerial vacancy.
Oct 24, 2014, 9:08 PM EDT
The Royals have a narrow lead through the first three innings of Game 3 of the World Series against the Giants.
Oct 24, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Victor Martinez is going to use his monster 2014 season to attempt to get a four-year deal over the off-season.
Bruce Bochy, Dave Righetti have discussed using Madison Bumgarner on short rest if Giants lose Game 3
Oct 24, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT
The Giants have kicked around the idea of using Madison Bumgarner on short rest if they lose Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.
Oct 24, 2014, 7:43 PM EDT
No word yet on the exact role Towers would fill in Cincinnati.
Oct 24, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
Paul Konerko and Jimmy Rollins are your co-winners of the Roberto Clemente Award.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
The Royals bullpen is really good. So good, in fact, that you can’t really use it incorrectly, Joe Posnanski writes.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:37 PM EDT
Being in the World Series hasn’t stopped the Royals from tweaking the margins of their 40-man roster.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Joe Maddon is looking to become at least the second-highest paid manager in baseball.
Oct 24, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT
Jordan pitched well in nine starts for the Nationals as a 24-year-old rookie last season, but then went 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA in five starts this year before being shut down in June.
Oct 24, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
Joe Maddon is a good manager. But he’s just a manager.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:23 PM EDT
Earlier this week the Cardinals insisted there was nothing wrong with Adam Wainwright’s elbow and he wouldn’t require surgery.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Needs more Pixies. I have no idea which song, but any list needs more Pixies.
Oct 24, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
And he wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.
- Behind strong bullpen, Royals edge Giants 3-2 to take a 2-1 World Series lead 21
- Paul Konerko, Jimmy Rollins named co-winners of the Roberto Clemente Award 2
- The greatest trick this Royals bullpen ever pulled … 3
- Adam Wainwright underwent elbow surgery to “trim” cartilage 12
- World Series, Game 3: Royals vs. Giants lineups 1
- Andrew Friedman got $35 million to leave the Rays for the Dodgers … and he might be underpaid 13
- Shocker! Joe Maddon to opt out of his contract and leave the Rays 142
- World Series Reset: On to AT&T Park 14
- Shocker! Joe Maddon to opt out of his contract and leave the Rays (142)
- Erroneous Narrative Alert: no, the Giants are not a “gritty,” anti-stats organization (122)
- Pedro Martinez has some opinions about who the new “face of baseball” is (112)
- PANTY RAID! Homeland Security agents confiscate unlicensed Kansas City Royals underwear (109)
- The World Series ratings are low. So what? (101)