Leftridge: Bring on the Baseball

2014-Royals-slogan-be-royalIt’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.

Danny+Duffy+Kansas+City+Royals+Photo+Day+WfXVGJUuqNslLast 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).

2014HosmerI 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.

RAWLINGS GOLD GLOVE AWARDAnd 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.

85-77.

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!

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13 Responses to Leftridge: Bring on the Baseball

  1. Paul says:

    Good argument for 85 wins.

    As you alluded to, Brandon, the acquisition of Aoki didn’t just give the Royals a good lead-off hitter, it gives them a good middle of the line-up guy in Gordon, who is freed up from batting first. That’s worth a lot. It’s a deeper lineup 1-7.

    The defense is excellent, a boost to Vargas and Chen. Like you, I hope Cain stays healthy, but the thought of Dyson ready on the bench lets Ned breathe easier. I believe Dyson will be an above average starting outfielder in the bigs within the next three years, though likely not for the Royals.

    There’s parity in the AL Central, more so than in several years. I think 88 wins takes it, and hope the Royals find three more than you’re predicting.

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      And I TOTALLY think they can… it’ll take a lot of “best case scenarios,” but it’s absolutely possible.

      One thing you mentioned that I keep forgetting (and a co-worker keeps point out when we discuss it): the defense could very easily help Vargas like it helped Santana. If he gets a big enough boost– plus a few other things fall KC’s way– 88 is definitely doable.

  2. mike t. says:

    Lefty… you forgot one major element in your analysis. while I can’t argue with your reasoning at all, and it makes very good sense – especially to a guy who has just in the last couple of seasons gotten back into Royals baseball – I kept hearing over and over again about… Ned Yost. so, the manager can’t really win and lose games right? but he sure can make some brilliant, or bonehead moves to put the team in a better position to win or lose. I understand Yost made several of the bonehead variety last season. so… your take on The Manager? +1 or 2 wins, or -1 or 2 or 3?

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      Solid point, and a great question. The way I was writing this, I was looking specifically at whether I was anticipating an increase or a decrese for the individual units. Now, while I’m sure there are certain things managers can do to get better (or worse) from year to year, I don’t know that it would make a noticeable impact in a 12 month period. Basically, for the purposes of this exercise, he’ll be a push; no better or worse than last year.

      • mike t. says:

        sounds reasonable. you’re right to point out ‘better or worse’. in some people’s book, he CAN’T get worse and won’t get better.

  3. Libertarian says:

    Brandon, I sure hope you’re wrong!

  4. Mysterious J says:

    I tend to agree with your assessment. The pitching is destined to take a step back, the big question is whether offense can improve enough to compensate. If Escobar or Infante go down for any period of time (and obviously both have battled injuries this spring), we can all look forward to a black hole in the lineup AT LEAST as bad as Francoeur. Not only is there no replacing either of those guys, there is not anyone the organization likes well enough to even back them up!

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      Yeah, infield depth is discouraging, to say the least. I’m sure we’ll see Gio more than once this season, he’ll struggle to get his footing, and then -POOF- he’ll be gone again.

  5. PB says:

    “The defense is excellent, a boost to Vargas and Chen.” – Paul

    While this is true for those two and Guthrie, I still have some concerns about this rotation and unless Big Game has another really good year and Ventura quickly makes that jump up to a legit #2, then I think they might struggle to even duplicate the success of last season. As said though, maybe the improved lineup steps up and offsets my anticipated drop from the pitching staff.

    Playoffs still seem like a bit of a long shot to me, but I’d like to see this team at least maintain last season’s success and stay in the playoff mix until well in September. I think a setback (less than 80 wins) would be devestating to this organization and might even be cause to start a dismantling of this current group of players.

    • mike t. says:

      agree PB. last thing this team needs is a setback. would mess with their minds. winning begets winning – the confidence, the attitude. the Royals finally broke through years of ‘losing begets losing’ and it wouldn’t take much, in my mind, for them to spiral down… or dismantle as you put it.

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      Agreed, PB. I think postseason is a long shot. ALTHOUGH– were it not for last year’s absolutely horrid May, 2013 could have been a totally different story. Even if they’d been just OKAY throughout the month… well… now I’m depressed.

  6. mike t. says:

    Lefty… care to change your opinion about Yost’s impact on games? another bonehead move with the pitching yesterday and on opening day. maybe he CAN get worse… in which case, I’m at -2. if he starts continually fine-tuning (er “messing with” that is) the batting order, another -1.

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