(From "Lord Protect My Child," The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3)
Is this the year? That's the question, of course. Will the Royals rise up and surprise an unsuspecting nation by reaching the playoffs for the first time in 24 years? Can the team that once employed luminaries like Ken Harvey, Kerry Robinson and Mark Redman make true blue believers throughout the Midwest rush to sporting good stores for official AL Central Champions merchandise? Will October be the time when "all will be well"?
OK, probably not. I'm not even sure they can compile a .500 record, although I think they will be close.
I do know the Royals came closer to .500 last year than they have since the magical summer of 2003. The last time before that they won even a modest 75 games? 2000. So this is a roster full of players who haven't had much success at the major league level. Not that that means they can't win, but it does make me wonder how they would handle a pennant race.
It's getting in a pennant race that's the trick. As I've said before, it looks like the division is evenly matched enough that any of the five teams can win it. So the Royals may be in a pennant race by default.
I wrote yesterday I was predicting a 79-83 record for the Royals this year. That's four games better than last year. I've had trouble all spring reconciling my heart with my head in regards to this team. In fact:
- My heart says that they can improve even more than that, since the roster seems to be upgraded offensively.
- My head says that the Royals still lack players who get on base consistently, which is the basis for any good offense.
- My heart says Alex Gordon and Billy Butler will have big years, while Jose Guillen is bound to improve his numbers, giving the Royals three big bats to go with Mike Jacobs.
- My head says Jose Guillen is in decline and still swings at everything. And speaking of Jacobs, my head also says his lack of plate discipline will offset the 30 or so homers he should hit.
- My heart says the Royals' impressive spring training offense is a sign of things to come.
- My head says those numbers are a result of high altitudes and thin air.
OK, that's enough debate on the offense. What about pitching and defense?
- My heart says Zack Greinke and Gil Meche will win 17-18 games each, and challenge for a Cy Young award.
- My head says neither one has won more than 15 games in a season.
- My heart says Kyle Davies will be the guy we saw in September (4-1, 2.27 ERA, 0.92 WHIP).
- My head says Kyle Davies will be the guy we saw before September (5-6, 5.43 ERA, 1.89 WHIP).
- My heart says the bullpen will make up for the losses of Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez with the help of Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz.
- My head says Farnsworth was not good last year and Cruz is on his fifth team in seven years for a reason.
- My heart says the outfield defense will be improved, and Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon are at least average defenders on the left side.
- My head says Jose Guillen is still roaming right field, Coco Crisp has no arm, the Billy Butler/Mike Jacobs mix at first base is terrible, and the Royals have a third baseman playing second base. Oh, and John Buck can't throw anyone out and Miguel Olivo can't do any of the other stuff you want a catcher to do.
I suppose all of this internal debate is a sure sign the Royals will be around .500. But...if my heart is right more than my head, this could be an interesting season. We'll find out starting on Tuesday, now that the opener in Chicago has been postponed due to some more lovely spring weather.