As the Kansas City Royals prepare to head to the West Coast for the first time in 2016 (and strangely the second to last time), they do so on the heels of a really fantastic start to the season. I was listening to Buster Olney on The Border Patrol on 810 in Kansas City yesterday and he was talking about the World Series hangover that a lot of teams feel. This is now two consecutive seasons that the Royals have come out of the gates strong. It lends some credence to what Ned Yost was talking about in spring training about how this team is just different. I would say I completely agree with that. Let’s get to the notes:
- The Royals have started the year 7-2, and they’ve done so with an offense that has been mostly stagnant in the first week and a half. They’ve struck out more than in the past, and they’ve had trouble with runners in scoring position, and they just haven’t scored many runs. Outside of Saturday night against the Twins and the sixth inning last night against the Astros, the Royals haven’t really put on an especially competent offensive performance this season. It’s kind of funny considering they didn’t hit a homer for three games to start the year, but it seems like they’ve kind of lived by the long ball ever since then. My point here wasn’t to admonish the Royals offense but rather to express confidence that they won’t have these issues all season long. I have issues with Alcides Escobar hitting leadoff and Omar Infante being in the lineup at all (though he’s been better than I thought he would be to this point), but there’s still a lot of talent in the middle part, and they’ll eventually get it going. Alex Gordon is showing signs, Eric Hosmer will eventually hit for some home run power (we think) and Kendrys Morales is a pretty safe bet to get going too. My point here is that when this offense does start firing on all cylinders, watch out. This team could be really good, maybe even better than we thought.
- Of course, the pitching staff has maybe been performing a bit above their heads in the early part of the season, which has allowed the Royals to start off 7-2 in spite of their slow bats. You can make some small arguments about what they’ve done, like hoping for more innings from the starting rotation, but as a whole, the staff has been about as good as anyone could have expected. What’s gotten me is the strikeouts. Hunter Samuels wrote about those the other day, so I won’t get into it too terribly much, but they’ve put on quite a show. Now, they’ve faced the Twins and Astros, both teams that swing and miss quite a bit and strike out quite a bit, but they’ve still actually gotten the strikeouts. If they can keep up some semblance of this, that could make this pitching staff way better than we had talked about heading into the season. I don’t want to get into an argument about pitch counts and strikeouts here, so let’s just think on a basic level. What better way is there to get an out than a strikeout? 100 percent of the time (okay, maybe more like 99.8 percent of the time), a strikeout is an out. Even the best pitchers at limiting hard hit contact can only look for a 75 to 77 percent success rate on a ball that’s been hit. Between the strikeouts and the Royals amazing defense, this could be a special year for the pitching staff if they can keep getting more strikeouts than were projected.
- The question of the hour around the Royals is who they will keep on the active roster and who they will send down when Jarrod Dyson is activated from the disabled list, whenever that is. The prevailing thought prior to Opening Day was that Terrance Gore would be sent down, and there would be no questions about it. But now I’m not so sure that’s the case. It doesn’t seem the Royals have been all that impressed with Reymond Fuentes and some of his defensive routes. I don’t say that from inside knowledge but just from the fact that Paulo Orlando has been starting in right field against righties and lefties alike, and he’s definitely not good enough to be a starter, yet he is starting. I would highly doubt Gore stays on the big league roster for the entire season, but I think he might get the opportunity to stay up when Dyson returns, even if it’s just for a couple more weeks. Even though Dyson possesses similar game changing speed to Gore, if he’s starting, he can’t pinch run, and Ned likes to have that option. I’d still go with Cody Decker over Gore, but the way Yost runs his roster, I’m not sure what good he’d be.
- In my weekly chat with Cody Tapp on 1510AM, we were talking about how good the Royals bullpen actually is and how many teams would employ the Royals top relievers as closers. Obviously Davis would be the closer on just about every team. I think Kelvin Herrera would be the closer on at least 22 teams and probably more like 26 or 27. He’s that good. Soria, as the Proven Closer™, would get a lot of interest. I think about 15 teams would probably employ him as their closer. Luke Hochevar hasn’t done it before, so I think he’d probably be the closer on 8-12 teams. Even Danny Duffy would likely get a look as closer on all of the rebuilding teams in the National League. Yeah, the Royals have four guys who could be closers on many teams and another who has closer-type stuff and would get a chance to show it on some bad teams. This is a talented bullpen.
- I said this on Twitter after the game ended, but the series that the Royals just completed was as big a statement a team can make in April. The Astros are one of the trendy picks in the American League, and the Royals had trouble winning there last year, getting swept in the regular season. All the Royals was did was punch the Astros in the mouth and take three out of four games on their home field. The results of the series don’t mean that the Astros are bad or that the Royals are on their way to 115 wins, but it did send the message that the Royals are still the team the beat in the American League and that nothing had changed. I was concerned about this series leading into it and especially after game one, but the Royals answered the bell and did some serious work in this series.