It’s finally upon us. The start of baseball’s glorious regular season is so close that if it were an umpire, Roberto Alomar would have no problem hitting it with a disease-riddled loogie. (Timely reference, to be sure.)
But all phlegming aside, it’s hard to beat this time of year. The weather is changing, the birds are singing, and optimistic and delusional (and sometimes both) Kansas City Royals’ fans are ebullient with the prospect of a World Series victory… or a playoff spot… or, at the very least, a winning season.
Last season’s triumphs tucked securely under their arms like the newspaper under the arm of a fat man heading into the restroom in order to unleash the fury, the boys forge on, ready to capitalize on their first winning season in a decade.
How do I think they’ll do? I’m glad you asked.
The bottom line is, I don’t think they’ll exceed last year’s win total.
Last week, I spoke in some depth about the starting pitching. James Shields will be great, I’m expecting huge things from young Yordano Ventura, I’m not high on Jason Vargas (despite his outstanding spring, BECAUSE IT’S SPRING), I think Jeremy Guthrie will be below league-average, and the less said about Bruce Chen as a starter, the better. And yeah, Danny Duffy could be bringing his Duck Dynasty beard back to the K at some point, and Kyle Zimmer has a shot as a midseason call-up, but I’m not so sure you want young guys cutting their teeth in the middle of a “playoff hunt.”
I’m just not confident that this is the rotation of a real contender. I think they fall back five games on account of the starting pitching, which puts them at 81-81.
Now for the good news: I think that the offense will show marked improvement.
If you’ll recall, last year’s opening day starting right fielder was Jeff Francoeur. And while I’m tempted to say that his departure is good for 15 wins, that’s just not scientifically true. It IS, however, a boost to have Norichika Aoki in his place. A HUGE boost. It’ll also be nice to have a real, at-least-average second baseman instead of ________ (provided that Omar Infante isn’t a candidate for arm-amputation).
I also think Mike Moustakas is poised for a semi-breakout season, Eric Hosmer will provide his biggest offensive contributions yet, Billy Butler will have a power bounce-back that could see him hitting 30 HR, and Salvador Perez will only continue to flourish. Alex Gordon will do Alex Gordon like things—and possibly more, since he’ll be moved out of the leadoff spot—and I think Alcides Escobar will probably find middle-ground between his surprisingly effective 2012 campaign and the disappointing regression of 2013. Oh, and Lorenzo Cain NEEDS TO STAY HEALTHY. (I’ve said this every year since his acquisition, and I’ll continue to say it until, well, it actually happens.)
Overall, I think the offensive improvement is good to add five wins back to the record. So, if we’re keeping track, that’s back to 86-76.
The bullpen—which was the envy of every other team in the league in 2013, and arguably, one of the best in team history—is still anchored by one of the best closers in baseball, Senator Greg Holland. So, no worries there. Unfortunately, they’ll be without the services of surprisingly terrific setup man Luke Hochevar. BUT: Wade Davis—who was the “make or break piece” of the Shields-Meyers trade (LOLZ)—has been an excellent back-end BP guy in the recent past. So, Hochevar/Davis is a push. The other pieces are still there, but I do worry about inconsistent fire-chucker Kelvin Herrera. He wiggled out of a lot of tight spots last season (and sometimes, wiggling wasn’t enough), and you can’t stay lucky forever.
In short, I think that the bullpen will STILL be very good. That said, it will be nearly impossible to replicate last season’s dominance. I think they’ll drop two victories from 2013. Back to 84-78.
And finally, the defense. Man, that defense. Three Gold Glovers. Resolute, impenetrable, steady, and sexy. So how do you improve on something already so perfect? By adding a sleek, speedy right-fielder, that’s how. As long as everything else stays even remotely the same—and barring any sort of debilitating injuries—I think the defense is good to improve by one win. Now we’re at 85-77.
And that’s where we end up, sports-fans.
Probably good for second place (though the Indians could assume that spot if things align properly), but not good enough to overtake the Detroit Tigers.
And that saddens me. But I can’t argue with my own reasoning, right? All I can hope is that I’m wrong. Regardless of the fact, GO BASEBALL!