This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Royals, the underdogs of last October who won the hearts of the world, but lost the World Series. Naturally, there’s only one goal this year: to win it all. Can the improbable playoff run happen again?
And just to get this out of the way right now: no, they shouldn’t have waved home Alex Gordon.
Projected Lineup: SS Alcides Escobar, LF Alex Gordon, CF Lorenzo Cain, 1B Eric Hosmer, C Salvador Perez, DH Kendrys Morales*, RF Alex Rios*, 3B Mike Moustakas, 2B Omar Infante
Projected Rotation: RHP Yordano Ventura, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Jeremy Guthrie, LHP Danny Duffy, RHP Chris Young*
* new additions
The Royals had a magical season last year.
From their miracle comeback in the Wildcard game, to all of Ned Yost’s questionable decisions that inexplicably always worked, all the way to bringing the winning run to the plate in Game 7 of the World Series.
What’s more, the Royals accomplished this remarkable feat: all nine starters appeared in at least 130 games in the regular season, the first team since the 2007 Red Sox to have achieved that. It’s almost impossible to have such consistent production from all of your players, not to mention a clean bill of health, that you never have to sit anyone for any extended amount of time.
What I’m getting at is that it’s very unlikely the Royals catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row.
The problem is the Royals have no bench to speak of. Their dependency on everybody playing every day worked last season because they got incredibly lucky. No one got injured, and guys like shortstop Alcides Escobar and catcher Salvador Perez were happy to grind through the regular season, playing in 162 and 150 games, respectively.
That level of endurance is clearly unsustainable.
Yost has already made it clear that he plans to rest his catcher more often this season. That decision may be partially based on Perez’ offensive production as the dog days wore on last year. In the second half, Perez batted .229/.236/.360 with only six home runs.
Which brings us to the Royals’ very thin bench. At the season’s outset, the bench will potentially consist of just Erik Kratz, Christian Colon and Jarrod Dyson. Not much in the way of major league talent, and made thinner by the Royals’ plan to possibly experiment with an eight-man bullpen.
But when the regulars play, they’re among the best in the game.
Lorenzo Cain will be looking to build on his career year in which he became one of the key hitters in the middle of the Royals’ lineup. Cain is one of the best in the league at going to the opposite field, so he cannot be suppressed by any shifts, and will always be helped out by a high BABIP (.380 last year). He’ll be a .300 hitter for many years to come, so Royals fans should be excited.
And as always, defense is central to the Royals’ game plan. Perez and Eric Hosmer will each be looking to receive their third straight Gold Glove award, while Alex Gordon is gunning for his fifth. And don’t be surprised if the Royals add a couple more guys to the club this season: Cain in center field and Escobar at short are both very worthy of some defensive recognition.
The rotation will be missing departed workhorse James Shields, but they’ve got a couple young guys who should be able to step up and take on more of the load.
Yordano Ventura, now the de facto ace, will be let loose this season. The Royals have been understandably cautious with him, as when you’re the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball and still in possession of your original elbow ligament, it kind of makes you a walking time bomb. But he’s slated to be the team’s Opening Day starter, which means his responsibilities will be extended this year. He’ll be called on to go deep into games, extend his pitch count, and save the bullpen when needed. It all comes with his new job title of “The Man”.
A bit of an under-the-radar pickup for the Royals was 35-year-old starting pitcher Chris Young, whom they signed to a one-year, incentive-laden deal. Originally expected to be a safety net, he may very well have earned the role of fifth starter with his good spring showing. Young is a perfect fit for the Royals, an extreme fly ball pitcher who relies on good outfield defense to get outs. Look for him to thrive in Kansas City and be a big part of the Royals’ pitching staff.
One more guy whom most people don’t realize the Royals signed is Kris Medlen, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and should return sometime in the second half. He’ll give the Royals some added depth for any type of playoff push on which they should wish to embark.
The bullpen continues to be a strength for the club, as Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland all return for an encore of last year’s historic showing. The trio shuts down the opposition, and when the Royals have a lead, they essentially shorten the game by three innings, putting opponents at a severe disadvantage.
But this year, the Royals may have an even stronger middle relief corps to support their three stars.
Coming back from Tommy John surgery is former starting pitcher Luke Hochevar, who will be in the bullpen this year and has looked strong this spring. He’ll be a guy with whom the Royals can play match-ups, or extend for multiple innings if needed. And on top of that, he gives the ‘pen another “H” name, which quite honestly changes the whole game.
The only thing the bullpen is lacking is a consistent lefty arm. Brandon Finnegan, who was a star during last year’s playoff run, earned a ticket to Triple-A after a poor spring. He’ll be back in due time, but until that happens, the Royals will have to rely on Bryan Flynn or Franklin Morales if they want that lefty matchup.
Pitching and defense will keep the Royals in the hunt this season, but some level of regression is bound to stop them short.
Give it about 28 more years, and the Royals will be due for another World Series.
Projected Finish: 84-78, Third place in AL Central