Skip to content

The Unbeatable Kansas City Royals

Mar 6, 2013, 9:23 AM EDT

Eric Hosmer Reuters

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.”

Latest Posts
  1. Bill Simmons’ depressing take on “Bull Durham”

    Jul 28, 2014, 11:08 AM EDT

    Bull Durham

    Sportswriting’s biggest star around reduces one of the most interesting and well-drawn female characters in all of sports movies to “a tramp.”

  2. Rangers drawing lots of trade interest in Alex Rios

    Jul 28, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT

    Alex Rios AP AP

    With an MLB-worst 41-64 record the Rangers are obviously looking to sell at the trade deadline and right fielder Alex Rios seems likely to be moved before July 31.

  3. Felix Doubront tells the Red Sox: Start me or trade me

    Jul 28, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

    World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Four Getty Images

    First baseman/outfielder Mike Carp has asked the Red Sox for a trade and apparently left-hander Felix Doubront wouldn’t mind leaving Boston either.

  4. Must-click link: do fans care more about the hot stove than the game action?

    Jul 28, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT

    Click Here large

    Kids once grew up wanting to be star athletes. Now they grow up wanting to be GMs.

  5. Rich Gossage would purge all of the modern home run records if he were in charge

    Jul 28, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT

    Gossage

    And his reaction to PED users in the Hall of Fame? “Are you f***ing kidding me?”

  6. Sleeping Yankees fan explains his lawsuit. And still isn’t convincing

    Jul 28, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 7.23.03 AM

    Local man goes on national TV to complain that he was humiliated by being put on national TV.

  7. Word Crimes: The Hall of Fame — arguably — made a grammatical error on Greg Maddux’s plaque

    Jul 28, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 7.11.36 AM

    It’s “less” vs. “fewer” time in Grammatical Thunderdome.

  8. And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

    Jul 28, 2014, 6:32 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 6.29.38 AM AP

    The Dodgers sweep their rivals in San Francisco, the Rays complain about Big Papi and I complain about Southwest Airlines messing with my kids’ vacation.

  9. Ian Kennedy to miss Monday’s start with an oblique injury

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT

    Ian Kennedy Getty Images

    Ian Kennedy’s left oblique is bothering him, so he’ll miss tomorrow’s start against the Braves.

  10. Padres expected to activate Jedd Gyorko, DL Carlos Quentin on Monday

    Jul 27, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT

    Jedd Gyorko Jedd Gyorko

    The Padres are expected to get Jedd Gyorko back from the DL, but lose Carlos Quentin on Monday.

  11. Josh Harrison escaped yet another run-down

    Jul 27, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT

    Josh Harrison Josh Harrison

    Josh Harrison kept the PIrates in the mix in Sunday’s game against the Rockies by using his legs.

  12. Carlos Santana is unfathomably hot right now

    Jul 27, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Carlos Santana Carlos Santana

    Pitchers do not want to be facing Carlos Santana right now.

  13. Baseball’s controversial plate-blocking rule strikes again

    Jul 27, 2014, 7:50 PM EDT

    Arizona Diamondbacks v Philadelphia Phillies Getty Images

    Baseball’s implementation of home plate collision rules, meant to protect catchers, hasn’t gone as smoothly as expected this season. There was yet another example on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.

  14. Chris Archer is unhappy David Ortiz admired his three-run home run

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT

    Chris Archer Chris Archer

    The Rays and Red Sox have been nipping at each other throughout the season, so it was no surprise that Chris Archer took exception when David Ortiz gawked at his three-run home run.

  15. Report: Red Sox contemplating trading for Matt Kemp

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT

    Matt Kemp Matt Kemp

    According to an ESPN report, the Red Sox are considering a trade that could bring Matt Kemp to Boston.

  16. Video: Frank Thomas gives emotional Hall of Fame speech

    Jul 27, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT

    frank thomas hall of fame

    Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas gave a tremendous speech — reflecting on his parents and upbringing in Georgia — Sunday at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York …

  17. The six new Hall of Fame plaques …

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT

    maddux plaque

    Via the National Baseball Hall of Fame Musuem’s official Twitter feed, here are the six new plaques that will be added to the walls in Cooperstown after Sunday’s induction ceremony …

  18. Derek Holland set to begin rehab assignment this week

    Jul 27, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT

    derek holland getty Getty Images

    Rangers left-hander Derek Holland is scheduled to throw a full-effort bullpen session on Monday at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. If it goes well Holland will be cleared to embark on a 30-day minor league rehab assignment later in the week.

  19. Throwback: Ted Williams’ Hall of Fame speech

    Jul 27, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT

    ted williams hall of fame ap AP

    On this Hall of Fame induction Sunday — Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre are going in — we give you Ted Williams’ speech from 1966 …

  20. Mariners’ interest in Matt Kemp is “very real”

    Jul 27, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT

    matt kemp getty Getty Images

    The Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Twins on Thursday for right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor, and they’re not done trying to beef up their offense.

Featured video

Three legends off to Cooperstown
Top 10 MLB Player Searches