Ten questions surrounding the Kansas City Royals as they begin defense of their World Series championship on Sunday in a rematch with the New York Mets.
1. Will the Royals still be as hungry as they were last year?
A — Say what you will, but I have a feeling this team is going to be emotionally drained after the euphoria of the last two seasons — it's human nature. I know spring training isn’t an indication of the regular season, but from the spring games I’ve seen they don’t quite have the same spring in their step. They have nearly played into November each of the last two years, which means their offseasons have been much shorter than everybody else. They’ve had a lot of people patting them on the back and made a lot of public appearances. I just get a sense the team finally accomplished its goal and a letdown is inevitable.
2. Can the bullpen possibly continue the amazing pace of the last two years?
A — There’s no Greg Holland, but Joakim Soria is back and he’s been lights-out in the spring. Kelvin Herrera is still the bridge and Wade Davis is the best closer in the game. There’s no reason to believe that trio won’t come close to the last two years. Even a slight falloff is better than most. The support group may not be quite as strong (no Ryan Madson or Franklin Morales), but those last three are dynamite.
3. What do the Royals do with Danny Duffy?
A — Duffy is the Royals’ most enigmatic player and it’s not even close. He appears to have as much natural talent as any pitcher on the staff, but sometimes you wonder what is going through his head. When I see that he’s starting (which he won’t do at least early in the season) or coming out of the bullpen, I switch the channel. He pitches at a plodding pace and has little command of the strike zone. I keep thinking one of these years he’s going to emerge, but until he can get it figured out between the ears, he’s going to be mediocre.
4. Who is going to play right field?
A — Until Speed-Do Jarrod Dyson comes back, it’s going to be Paulo Orlando or Raymond Fuentes. Orlando is pedestrian, though he plays hard and goes full blast. Fuentes leads the team in RBIs in the spring and has been spraying hits all over the lot, but more often than not it doesn’t carry over to the regular season. I think Dyson will be the guy once he’s healthy. It will be interesting to see what he can finally do given a full chance to start.
5. Is the starting pitching good enough?
A — I don’t think it’s as good a group as last year. Edinson Volquez is about a 15-win guy, max. Yordano Ventura is a right-handed Duffy, but a little more reliable. KC broke the bank for Ian Kennedy, who is a .500 pitcher and he now has a bad hammy. It’s hard to imagine Chris Young approaching last year and Kris Medlen has been getting lit up in the spring. Duffy is still a candidate as the rotation needs a lefty.
6. What player is going to improve the most this year?
A — This needs to be Eric Hosmer’s breakout performance. He’s been good, but not the 30-homer, 100-RBI, .300 average guy that’s been expected. He goes through extended power droughts where he rolls over the top of everything. He’s at the point, if he wants the big payday after next season, that he has to put up big numbers. So he might be the guy.
7. Who is going to be the player to fall off?
A — Mike Moustakas. I believe we saw the best of Moustakas last year. I’m not sure he’ll be able to display the same patience. I would take another year like last one and call it good.
8. Who is going to play second base?
A — It's Omar Infante's job to lose, but don't look for the Royals to give him a lot of rope even though the money they're paying him is way too much. World Series hero Christian Colon has patiently waited for his chance. Infante gives you more pop, but we've never really seen what Colon can do on an extended basis. He once was a high draft choice (who was a reach) and a guy Ned Yost just doesn't seem to trust on a permanent basis. What ever he does, nobody will ever forget his game-winning hit in Game 5 of the World Series.
9. What about the AL Central Division this year?
A – It may be the most competitive in baseball from 1 through 5. I believe all four teams other than the Royals made moves to get better. I still think Detroit has the most talent and will win the division if the bullpen gets squared away. Cleveland has all those great arms and Chicago should be a bit better. Minnesota is about two years away from being what the Royals have been the last two years.
10. How many games will the Royals win?
A — I think they’re going to be 83-79 and miss out on the playoffs. At some point the magic has to wear off.