Positivity is filling the air here in Kansas City it seems. With the Chiefs retaining some of their more popular free agents last week (Dwayne Bowe, Dustin Colquitt, and a franchise tag on Branden Albert), and the impending arrival of Alex Smith—which I wrote about last week in a positive fashion—2013 looks quite a bit brighter than the dismal mess that was 2012.
But across the way at the Truman Sports Complex the Royals are conjuring up a level of excitement not seen in at least a decade. Based on some offseason moves the Royals have made they truly do appear to be “all in” for 2013. Or better yet, it seems they did “come to play” (see what I did there?). But as well know World Series’ aren’t won in December. “All in” or not means little until you actually put things together on the field.
Now, spring training games have the predictive value of claiming Lindsay Lohan is America’s next great actress circa ‘Mean Girls,’ but what the Royals are doing is quite impressive nonetheless. The Royals are absolutely destroying the Cactus League and have a three game advantage on the entire league for best record in Spring Training.
As fans of one of the most floundering organizations in all of professional sports we have been trained to extol the virtue of small victories. Relevance is only a few triumphs away and the colossal failure of the organizations recent history makes any significant winning all the more jarring.
Just about all of the players the Royals need to be hitting are hitting. Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez are all hitting above .380 in spring training. Not that meaningful really, but you like to see a team that struggled offensively last year show some signs of being who we thought they’d be.
It’s important to remember we’ve been here before. While I can’t remember the last time the Royals dominated something so meaningless in such a meaningful way, they’ve had their fair share of pre-season success stories. Other teams have as well. Just last year the Toronto Blue Jays got off to a similarly scorching start in the spring and wound up with only one more win than our very own Royals.
I could go on and on about how objectively worthless spring training is from a predictive standpoint. But we’re going to stick with the positive here. First of all, they have spring training for a reason. If it was entirely 100% worthless then they simply wouldn’t have it or it would only be a couple of weeks. But it’s not. There is a purpose behind Spring Training and it’s to get the players ready and in shape for the marathon that is a 162-game baseball season.
There are many factors that can lead you to discount the things that happen in the spring—inferior competition, different players working on different things, split squads, chief among them—but on some level it’s all relative. All teams are doing the same things and while the playing field isn’t equal all the way around, it’s not as big of a disparity as some might lead you to believe.
Next, we have the pitching. Mr. Magoo could have told you the Royals biggest problem from 2012 was a lack of productive starting pitching. Whether you like the Wil Myers/James Shields trade or not, it ended up netting the Royals a VERY good pitcher and even helped fill out the rotation on the back end with Wade Davis. Through their first couple of appearances this revamped rotation of Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and Davis has looked good. Even the five spot which is a competition between Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Will Smith, and Luis Mendoza isn’t quite the dumpster fire you would think from that motley crew of names. It’s especially encouraging when you know that two of those players were in competition for the opening day starter role in 2012. What a difference a year makes.
But quite possibly the biggest difference is the “feel” of this team. It’s different. I’ll spare you the indignity of me breaking into song but there’s something in the air. Maybe it’s delirium from a Chiefs season gone awry. Maybe it’s after effects of a bachelor party in New Orleans. Maybe its re-opened wounds of painful memories of a disappointing 2004 (after a winning season in 2003) and a 19 game losing streak in 2005. Then again, maybe something actually is different this time.
For the first time in a long while the Royals have a roster in which you could objectively look at it and say they can compete. It’s not without its holes, but based on what we know, most people would feel decent-to-good about going out there with the Royals lineup every day.
That’s worth getting excited about. The Royals won’t be delegated to little league standards of success this year, despite their 2013 motto of “Come to Play.” Anything less than 80 wins this year would be a failure and even that wouldn’t seem like much of a success. While nothing the Royals could do would surprise me-- including laying an egg to the tune of 70 or fewer wins this season—the fact that the expectations are that of a legitimate baseball team portends to excitement we haven’t seen in these parts for a long time.
There’s plenty to look forward to in 2013. Between Shields starting opening day, Hosmer, Moustakas, and Perez continuing to develop, and the stalwarts like Alex Gordon and Billy Butler continuing to assert themselves as stars it should be an intriguing year. While I’m not ready to buy the Royals as a playoff team in 2013, I’m certainly excited for the coming season.