Today I stumbled across the following post on a Kansas City Royals message board that I frequent:
“Just remember when the team started 18-11 a few years back, how good that felt, then reality set in and the true Royals showed up…it could still all fall apart.”
This is perhaps the most difficult war that Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, Eric Hosmer, the Royals marketing department, and the cute girl they added to the K Crew this season have to fight these days. Apathy in the face of success. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Pessimism despite cause for optimism. “Same old Royals”-itis. It is like the time you asked out that good-looking [girl/boy] and [s]he said YES (ZOMG!!!) and then you spent too much time waiting to become the victim of a scheme like the one from “She’s All That” where it turns out it wasn’t real. (BTW, Laney Boggs was an absolute smokeshow once they did her up).
For the rest of us who haven’t had that happen to us, this is just the everyday tortured life of the modern Royals fan. We expect them to fall apart because that is what they do. Don’t get your hopes up because they WILL be crushed by The Empire. Do not dare to hope-your hopes will be destroyed. Your inner child will be wounded like it is every year that you try to have some optimism. Ladies and Gentlemen, YOUR Kansas City Royals!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So let’s lay on the shrink’s couch and talk about it. That was 2009, we’ve seen other people since then, and some time has passed to heal our last broken heart. Is it really better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Mark Teahen says, “NO.” But Garth Brooks says, “Life is not tried, it’s just merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire.” So is it OK to love again? Garth says “YES!” (but I don’t want to hear from him the 6th inning anymore at The K!).
Just to open the wounds that have [mostly] healed (at least physically), let’s take a look at that 2009 team. That team started out 18-11 and built a decent enough record to lead the AL Central on May 7th. Royals fans are used to disastrous starts, so surviving April and being 7 games over and in first place on May 7th was cause enough for celebration. That was the last day of a 6-game winning streak when Brian Bannister beat the Seattle Mariners 3-1. That quickly came to an end as the Royals lost 6 in a row and 11 of their next 14.
The season effectively ended with everyone pointing and laughing as Royals fans stood embarrassed when the good-looking date revealed the evil plot. It wasn’t real. It was all a ruse. Freddie Prinze, Jr. (though impressive with a hackey-sack) wasn’t interested in us after all. Why, then, is it OK to get involved with the Royals again and risk another heartbreak?
That 2009 team was built quite a bit differently than the current version of the Royals. If you want to draw parallels that will make you feel better this time around, note that the 2009 club got off to that start and then injuries hit with a team that had little to no depth to make up for the injuries and then it was curtains. The notable injuries: Alex Gordon, Coco Crisp, and Gil Meche.
The Meche injury probably hurt worse than anything because the remaining suspects for the starting rotation after Zack Greinke and Meche were Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, and Kyle Davies’ twin Luke Hochevar. It was basically “Greinke and Meche and forget the rest” back then. On top of that, the bullpen (Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth) failed to stay healthy/live up to expectations and one of the team’s perceived strengths weakened as the season progressed due to overuse. Only Joakim Soria was worth a damn that season.
This squad has a lot more depth from 1-5 in its starting rotation as well as a legit extra starter in Bruce Chen in the bullpen in the event of an injury. Will Smith also remains in AAA and has shown he can be average at the MLB level at times, along with Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino eventually returning from elbow injuries. To go with that, Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer could move quickly through AA ball this summer and be ready to help out after August 1st. The 2009 Royals didn’t have anything like that for depth in pitching.
Then you look at the 2009 offensive losses in Crisp and Gordon (though not yet an established productive hitter) being gone for 110 games and suddenly the only established bats in the lineup that lived up to expectations were Billy Butler and David DeJesus. If you want to draw a parallel now and say that Butler and Gordon are the only ones doing anything, the difference is that the 2009Royals were counting on older players then who had reached their ceiling and/or had no previous track record of production at the MLB level. Mitch Maier, Mike Jacobs, Miguel Olivo, Jose Guillen, and the Yuni Bomber……puke.
Look at this year’s offense and in the place of those guys you have Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Moose, Salvy Perez, and Alcides Escobar. Frenchy and Getz may be turds but there are only 2 turds in this lineup and they are at the bottom of the order. Make your comments about Hosmer and Moose and how they’ve started this season (and how 2012 went for them) but you still can’t deny that they have a lot of upside as early 20’s aged players.
This set of players is young, has potential to do more than the guys from 2009, and is also less injury prone due to youth. Not to mention that there is some actual depth around with a guy like David Lough in Omaha and Elliott Johnson/George Kottaras on the bench. Miguel Tejada can play for a month full-time in the event of a minor injury to an infielder but that is a spot of concern if there is a long-term injury.
You can certainly make arguments that none of these guys can be counted on to improve offensively or perform consistently and that all this team has on offense is Butler and Gordon. You might even be right, but that is still not disastrous because of the one glaring difference between 2009 and 2013: the starting pitching. The Royals have LOTS more of it these days and if you have solid starting pitching you are in every game. Improved defense behind the pitching also is helping and there is no reason to forecast a significant defensive dropoff barring injury. There will be a few games where the Royals kick the ball around and it will cost them (see, Detroit on Wednesday night), but it will not be the norm.
It is to be expected that the starting rotation will regress some after an excellent start. However, the track record of most of the pitchers in the starting rotation indicates that they are not pitching incredibly above their heads compared to their career numbers. They are striking out a TON more batters this season and that is not all that irregular for many of the current starters. And what if they don’t really regress?
By the same token, the offense is also extremely unlikely to continue to sputter at this rate. The young hitters have struggled for most of April and that list includes one notoriously slow starter (Moose) and another hitter trying to rebuild his swing and confidence after a disastrous 2012 season (Hosmer). Even a minor improvement from Moose to get above a .200 batting average would be a boost, some extra base hits to go with that would be even better. His typical “start slow, get hot” career norm would be a major help right now. Hosmer has shown signs of 2011 by driving the ball much better in the past week. These two players are what the Royals’ future hopes are riding on, but there is enough production from other spots in the lineup right now to where it isn’t sink or swim with Moose and Hosmer. Escobar and Cain are helping make up for Moose and Hosmer and neither is playing way above their head.
In sum, the Royals have improved starting pitching and that stabilizes things and covers lots of other deficiencies. When your starter is going to go out and give a quality performance more often than not, it helps cover up the nights when the offense can only score 3 runs or the bullpen blows a game here and there. When the offensive production picks up this team could become dangerous in an instant.
This year, the risk of loving the Royals isn’t all hanging by a thread. The rope actually has more than a few strands bearing the weight of winning expectations. Hang over the fire at the end of that rope, Royals fans. You’re not going to want to use the rope to hang yourself this time around.