Pitching holds key to Royals' success

By Steve Sell
March 28, 2018

Let the transition begin in Kansas City.

What are we to make of the 2018 Royals? There’s no Eric Hosmer, no Lorenzo Cain, no Jason Vargas.

To a lesser extent, there’s no Joakim Soria, no Brandon Moss, no Scott Alexander, no Peter Moylan.

That’s a pretty big turnover.

The Royals are now 3 years removed from reaching the mountain top in 2015 when they won the World Series, a year after they were the American League champion and fell to San Francisco in the seventh game of the World Series.

That same core of players made spirited runs in both 2016 and 2017, but were eliminated in late September. Royals GM Dayton Moore made the decision to stay with his core group and not have a fire sale at the trade deadline, believing they had one more run left, but it fizzled out.

As with most successful small-market teams, the Royals couldn’t afford to keep their stars, but did receive a break when the market dried up for slugger Mike Moustakas and he re-upped for one more year. Also, ironman Alcides Escobar re-signed, assuring the Royals of being solid on the infield as they join Whit Merrifield and new first baseman Lucas Duda, a proven commodity.

While the infield can match most of the top teams and catcher Salvy Perez has few peers, the outfield is a huge question mark, there’s no regular DH at this point and the pitching, as it was last year, is shaky, especially the rotation.

A focal point is going to be Alex Gordon. Since signing his monster contract before the 2016 season, his production has fallen off the planet, though he’s still very good defensively. But it was almost painful to watch him last year as he’s lost his bat speed.

Jon Jay was a good pickup and it is hoped Jorge Soler can deliver since the Royals gave up Wade Davis to acquire him. Paulo Orlando will get more at-bats, but he’s more of a reserve. There’s no Jorge Bonifiacio for the first half of the season due to suspension.

The rotation of Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Nate Karns, Jason Hammel and Jake Junis is a problem because most of the them have high pitch counts by the fifth inning. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on an unproven bullpen which is dearly going to miss Alexander and Moylan, as they ate up a lot of innings. Don’t be surprised if the Royals give up more late leads than any team in baseball as there’s simply no bridge to closer Kelvin Herrera.

Fortunately, the Royals still have Ned Yost at the helm. He’s one of the most even-keeled managers in the game and his patience is going to be a virtue this season.

Luckily, the Royals are in a division that after Cleveland should be a mixed bag. Minnesota played well beyond expectations last year and probably will fall back. Chicago and Detroit are in the midst of massive rebuilds. Remember, KC plays 76 games within the division and if it can have a winning record against the Central, maybe 80 wins is attainable.

But if the pitching performs as I expect, I’m looking for somewhere between 72 and 75 wins.