Royals look like they could finally catch the Tigers
KANSAS CITY — There’s no secret that the Royals’ offseason moves the past two years were designed with one purpose: To catch the class of the Central Division, the Detroit Tigers.
And finally, it looks like general manager Dayton Moore’s moves — along with the maturation of his youngest players — are enough to close the gap on Detroit and give the Royals a realistic chance of claiming the Central.
As the Royals get set for the season opener Monday in Detroit, here’s a quick look at how these two teams match up:
The Tigers’ loss of Prince Fielder will hurt their offense, obviously. And while adding Ian Kinsler (second base) and Rajai Davis (left field) gives Detroit a bit more speed than they have had in the past, there’s no guarantee that Kinsler’s offensive slide won’t continue or that Davis will suddenly learn patience at the plate.
Detroit still has the best player in the game in Miguel Cabrera. And that’s a big plus obviously. But the Tigers are hoping Nick Castellanos won’t flop at third, and that veteran leader Torii Hunter won’t fall into decline.
For the first time in a long time, it’s not a guarantee that the Tigers will dominate offensively.
Meanwhile, the Royals, one of the worst offensive teams in the league last season, seemed to have improved with the additions of Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante, though Infante could be headed for the disabled list to start the season.
The Royals also are praying that Mike Moustaksas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain can improve upon dreadful offensive years. That’s a lot of praying.
EDGE: Still the Tigers, but not by that much.
The Tigers got more athletic defensively with Davis in left and Castellanos at third, and they certainly will benefit moving Cabrera back to first base. Kinsler might be a slight upgrade in terms of range over Infante.
But the loss of shortstop Jose Iglesias is huge — there is a massive drop off from him to Alex Gonzalez.
The Royals are far superior defensively with Gold Glovers Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Sal Perez. And the Royals have other Gold Glove candidates in Escobar, Cain and Moustakas.
EDGE: Royals, and it’s not even close
The Tigers traded away Doug Fister but Drew Smyly replaces him and could be even better. That’s bad news for the division since the Tigers already have Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcellol.
The Royals will miss Ervin Santana but are hoping either Jason Vargas or young stud Yordano Ventura more than make up the difference. The Royals still can counter with ace James Shields at the top of the rotation and crafty Bruce Chen at the bottom.
EDGE: Tigers, slightly.
The Royals certainly weren’t thrilled when the Tigers acquired closer Joe Nathan, who has been a Royals killer throughout the years. In 66 games lifetime against the Royals, Nathan is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 41 saves. But then again, Nathan is 39 years old. Perhaps his skill set will begin to fade.
The Royals counter with one of the game’s top closers in Greg Holland, and a support staff that was as good as any in the American League last season. The Royals will miss Luke Hochevar (Tommy John surgery) but are counting on Wade Davis to take that spot. They also are counting on Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins to bounce back from late-season slides.
EDGE: Royals and not even close.
The Royals may be more hungry right now than the Tigers. And for all those fans that thought Jim Leyland versus Ned Yost had been a complete mismatch, the gap certainly closed when the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus, who has no managerial experience.
These two teams played some highly competitive and entertaining games last season, and don’t expect that to change. But this time around, especially if Infante can get healthy, the Royals now believe they are the better team.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org