Were we all wrong about the Kansas City Royals?
By Randy Holt
Rushing to judgment about the success of a particular player or a specific team after only a week of the Major League Baseball season is always a rather questionable endeavor. This is particularly true in the event of declaring a team to be a contender or otherwise after such a limited sample size of games. However, in the case of the Kansas City Royals, that may not necessarily be the case.
The Royals are obviously coming off a very memorable postseason in which they shook off the last several years of futility in reaching the World Series, falling just short of Madison Bumgarner’s brilliance and allowing the San Francisco Giants to claim their third title in the past five years. When it came time for predictions related to how teams would perform in the upcoming season, few acknowledged the Royals as a team that could find that type of success again.
In fact, they were largely dismissed throughout the entire baseball world. With the emergence of the Chicago White Sox, the continued improvement of the Cleveland Indians, and the constant presence of the Detroit Tigers, it didn’t seem like the Royals would have the chops to complete in the American League Central. How wrong we were. How very, very wrong.
As limited as the sample size may be, in terms of the number of games (just seven to date), the Royals are quieting their doubters by the thousands. They’ve cruised to a 7-0 record, winning each of their games by at least a pair of runs. They’ve scored at least five runs in five of those seven games, with three of those five featuring run totals of at least nine runs. That, in conjunction with one of the top groups in the field and a pitching staff that is nails, particularly in terms of their relief corps, and this is a very dangerous team.
Let’s break it down.
Their lineup came into the season quite underrated, especially in terms of their power. A team that had an extremely difficult time hitting the ball over the fence last year has brought the power to each of their contests this year, with their 10 home runs tied for fifth in the league.
For all of the talk about teams like the Miami Marlins or Pittsburgh Pirates having the best outfield in baseball, the Royals might be right there in the mix. While Alex Rios going down with his hand injury will hurt, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain are top-notch talents. Both are absolutely exceptional fielders, as was on display on a national scale during last year’s postseason. Gordon has also made strides as an offensive player in the last couple of seasons, while Cain has reached base at a .500 clip early on in the year. Paulo Orlando already has three triples, so that’s something.
The infield isn’t exactly any sort of slouch either. The defense is there collectively, which is a given for a team that ranked second overall in the bigs in their Defensive Efficiency Ratio (.771). Mike Moustakas has already matched his fWAR from last season in just seven games (as if it isn’t a number that can’t come down). Alcides Escobar is coming off of a strong 3.3 fWAR season from last year, and has also gotten off to a strong start as the team’s leadoff man. Eric Hosmer is a steady bat at first, though an uptick in power would be a welcome addition to the mix. Kendrys Morales has been a surprisingly good addition early on.
Obviously, the exploits of the pitching staff are well-known. Even after losing James Shields in the offseason, the Royals still boast a quality staff, led by breakout candidate Yordano Ventura. Danny Duffy is emerging on his own, with a nice fastball/curveball combination, while the remainder of the rotation is filled out with capable veterans in Edinson Volquez, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie.
Then there’s that bullpen. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland are absurdly good at the back end of the ‘pen. Ryan Madson and Chris Young have been nice buy-low additions that have looked terrific early on. Luke Hochevar is on his way back as well. If you don’t have a lead before the sixth inning, this Royals team is as difficult as they come to find runs against.
When it comes down to it, teams win because of pitching and defense. When you add in even an average offense, the results can be really quite something to behold. In the case of the Royals, they’re an elite defensive team with a slightly above-average starting staff and elite bullpen. If their offense can continue to produce at anything near the levels we have seen thus far, this team is absolutely going to be back in the mix to defend their American League pennant by the time the fall rolls around.
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