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.”
Apr 19, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT
Fans, be warned: Bryce Harper will stare you down until you do the right thing.
Apr 19, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Who can stop Nelson Cruz?
Apr 19, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Travis d’Arnaud suffered a fractured hand in Sunday’s game against the Marlins, so the Mets promoted prospect Kevin Plawecki.
Apr 19, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
More Athletics/Royals drama unfolded on Sunday.
Apr 19, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
White Sox pitching prospect Carlos Rodon is expected to be promoted on Monday.
Apr 19, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
A’s right-hander Jesse Hahn made an early exit from his start Saturday against the Royals with a blister on his pitching hand and it sounds like he may miss a turn in Oakland’s rotation.
Apr 19, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT
“Counting games in St. Louis since the start of the 2003 season, the Reds are 3-29-2 in series against the Cardinals.”
Apr 19, 2015, 4:17 PM EDT
The 26-year-old d’Arnaud had a terrific second half last season for New York and he was off to a very promising start in 2015, hitting .317/.356/.537 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 11 games played.
Apr 19, 2015, 4:01 PM EDT
Brutal news here for the NL East-leading Mets.
Apr 19, 2015, 3:34 PM EDT
Jon Lester appears to have found a solution for his problems making throws to first base …
Apr 19, 2015, 2:52 PM EDT
And why should it?
Apr 19, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
There’s so much gold in this new Red Bull spot for Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant …
Apr 19, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Puig, who boasts an .886 through 34 plate appearances, is considered day-to-day.
Apr 19, 2015, 12:41 PM EDT
Carrasco was lucky to avoid a serious injury. These reschedulings seem to be completely precautionary.
Apr 19, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
Span underwent surgery for a sports hernia in December and then needed a followup procedure for a core muscle injury in early March.
Apr 19, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT
It’s been a rough first couple of weeks for the 2015 Giants, who sit in last place in the National League West with a record of 4-9 and a -21 run differential. But they got to do some celebrating Saturday night …
Apr 19, 2015, 10:18 AM EDT
This will be the first start for Richards since he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee last August in Boston.
Apr 19, 2015, 9:25 AM EDT
Jason Heyward hit his first home run as a member of the Cardinals on Saturday in St. Louis …
Apr 19, 2015, 8:33 AM EDT
Mark down seven straight wins for the Mets, who will try for a four-game Citi Field sweep of the Marlins on Sunday afternoon behind staff ace Matt Harvey.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:26 PM EDT
Grant Balfour was designated for assignment following a disastrous Saturday night against the Yankees.
- Five Royals ejected in Sunday’s series finale against the Athletics 44
- White Sox will promote Carlos Rodon on Monday 12
- Another one bites the dust: Mets lose young catcher Travis d’Arnaud to fractured right hand 10
- National League GM says Phillies’ asking price for Cole Hamels hasn’t dropped “one bit” 12
- Giants receive their 2014 World Series championship rings 20
- Angels activate Garrett Richards for Sunday debut 2
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 38
- Video: Watch Kris Bryant get his first major league hit and RBI 12
- The Commissioner’s Office thinks that the Angels could indeed go after Josh Hamilton under his contract (153)
- “Why Ted Cruz is like the Atlanta Braves” (150)
- “We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.” (143)
- Another argument in favor of making the DH universal (127)
- When it comes to Josh Hamilton, Arte Moreno is a craven opportunist, not a “smart businessman” (116)