By now you’ve probably noticed that the regular season is starting in less than a week. And because of that, there will be no more spring training questions to be asked and for me to attempt to answer. As you know, there will be plenty more questions to be asked during the season, but I think we’ll wrap up this series with a very simple question. But first, let’s look back on the questions already asked.
So what’s left to discuss? There’s really just one question left.
How Good Are the Royals?
Over the past four seasons, the Royals have won 351 regular season games and lost 297. That’s a winning percentage of .542. Over 162 games, that’s roughly an 88-74 record. They’ve won two American League pennants in that time and one World Series. This team has, by basically any account, been among the very best in the AL over that time. And yet, the consensus is that this team will range from somewhere around average to bad.
You know what? I get it. This is a team without a superstar to build around. This is an aging team. This is a team that traded its closer and tragically lost one of its best starting pitchers. This is a flawed team.
But you know what else? I think they might actually be pretty good. Maybe the championship years have turned me from a sourpuss to a wide-eyed optimist, but I actually see a lot of promise in this team. The rotation features one pitcher who many believe will be excellent this season in Danny Duffy and a bunch of guys who slot somewhere from the middle to the back of a rotation. And I have my fears that if the ball is flying out of the yard at the rate it did last year that they could be in trouble, but I also like what they have there. It really could work.
I believe the bullpen is going to surprise some people. We know Kelvin Herrera is good and we have a good idea that Matt Strahm is too, but then there are quite a few questions. I’ve been impressed with Joakim Soria’s work this spring. I mentioned the other day that I’m really excited about what Mike Minor can do out of the bullpen. I think he’ll be quite a weapon. And having Travis Wood to either pitch to one lefty or go three innings is a huge plus for this team. I don’t feel like they’ve had a lefty specialist like this during the entire run of success (though Franklin Morales was really good for about four and a half months in 2015). There isn’t the certainty in the bullpen that we’ve seen in the past, but I like the way the unit is shaping up. The key, as it was when spring started, is Soria.
Maybe more importantly, I like this offense’s chances of scoring some runs. Three pieces of news broke from Royals camp Monday. The first is that Raul Mondesi has won the starting second base job. I’ll get to that shortly. The second is that Ned Yost is 90 percent sure Alex Gordon is going to be his leadoff hitter. If you’ve followed the Royals, you know that if Yost is thinking about something, he’s already made up his mind. And if he’s 90 percent sure of something, he’s done whatever is more permanent than making up his mind. The third is that Jorge Soler will likely start the year on the disabled list, which is a blow given that he seems to be coming around right about now. I’ll get to that too.
I talked about the lineup last week and mentioned how important it is for Gordon to lead off for this team, and it looks like he will. Now at the top of the lineup, the Royals have two guys in Gordon and Mike Moustakas who see a lot of pitches and get on base and hit for power. Remember the lineups that featured Alcides Escobar and Whit Merrifield at the top? Yeah, these won’t resemble that at all. After them is Lorenzo Cain, who while not a traditional middle of the order bat, has hit .300/.347/.436 in 1540 plate appearances the last three seasons. After Cain is Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Brandon Moss.
If you buy the power outbreak from Hosmer last year, the Royals have five guys in the first six spots who can and probably should hit 20 home runs. They also have four guys in the first six spots who can and probably should post a walk rate better than league average, and that should lead to maybe the best OBP we’ve seen from this team in quite some time. Guys who get on base and guys with power is a pretty good recipe for an offense, and I think the power is real.
Now, it’s not ideal that Soler appears ticketed to start the season on the disabled list because I saw him as a guy who could walk a fair amount and hit 20-25 homers for this team. He’s always dealt with injuries, but if this one is as minor as the Royals are making it sound, I don’t think it changes much. If it’s worse than it sounds, a bottom three in the lineup of Paulo Orlando, Escobar and Mondesi could be cringe-worthy and could halt some rallies started by the top of the lineup.
But if Mondesi is as good as the Royals think he could be, placing him at the bottom of the order could make this lineup dynamic and could lead them back to the top half of the American League in runs scored, which would be a very good thing given the uncertainty around the pitching staff.
Defensively, Soler’s injury probably improves the Royals. I think everyone knows I’m not exactly a fan of Orlando defensively, but I also think Soler is pretty bad out there. Putting Mondesi at second gives the Royals a potentially elite defender at seven of the eight non-pitcher positions around the diamond. If Cain and company can stay healthy, this defense has a chance to once again be special, and that makes every pitcher better.
And finally, there’s the stuff you don’t see on a stat sheet. I don’t know what this is worth, but this seems like a team on a mission. I had the opportunity to just watch them practice on Saturday morning before their spring training game. I’ve seen big league teams practice. This was different. There was a focus there that you don’t see that often. I think it’s very telling that this was happening toward the end of spring training when guys tend to really let down. Again, I don’t really know what it means, but I know this team, and I think there’s something to the stuff off the field with these guys.
So you know what? I like this team. I like this team a lot more today than I did before I got the chance to see them in spring training for a week. I’m not sure if they can make the playoffs, but if I had to put a number on their record, I’d predict a record of 86-76. But given what this team can do, it wouldn’t surprise me if they win 92 or 93 games. A fast start could be the springboard to another great season like 2015.
I guess to answer the initial question of how good they are, the answer is that I think they can pretty good. If you want to know how good they can be, the answer is that I think they can actually be really good. My guess is they’re fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot and, knowing this team, I wouldn’t put anything past them.