I have to admit I was one of those who believed that the Kansas City Royals caught lightning in a bottle last year, and a near-duplication or even a replication of their trip to the World Series was a long shot at best heading into 2015.
I picked the Royals fourth in their division, though I thought it was entirely possible that at least four teams in the AL Central could win 81 games, given the AL East and West have some holes and I thought Minnesota was a 60-win team that other teams in the Central could feast on, though that hasn't come to fruition.
But we’re now at baseball’s quarter pole — 40 games into a 162-game season — and the Royals don’t just look as good as last year, they look better.
My chief concern was starting pitching, since “Big Game James” Shields took his 200 innings and unquestioned leadership qualities to San Diego. My distrust in Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy to headline the rotation actually has surfaced, though Ventura quelled the waters with his last performance. Duffy, though, is one bad outing away from being handed a bus ticket to Omaha, if for nothing else to get his always questionable head together. When I watch him pitch, I always wonder what goes through his mind as there’s times he’s a million miles away.
Newbies Edinson Volquez and Chris Young, though, have been revelations to the rotation, though manager Ned Yost has to be careful not to overuse the veteran Young, who’s probably good for about 140 innings before maxing out. I think now that Ventura has quit trying to act like some kind of tough guy and settled down that he’ll be all right. Jeremy Guthrie, who looked on his last legs five starts into the season, has found his form and Jason Vargas will return soon.
Remember, all the Royals need is six decent innings from their starters. Their bullpen, which supposedly couldn’t raise the bar any higher, has done exactly that. Wade Davis actually is the star and that makes me wonder if the time isn’t right to deal Greg Holland while he’s at his premium worth and get another starting pitcher. Just something to float out there, but the Royals would still be plenty strong with Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Ryan Madson and Jason Frasor. I’m not sold on Franklin Morales as the lone lefty out there, but he’s adequate and there’s still Brandon Finnegan down on the farm just waiting for his call-up.
The big surprise is the offense. I think we all know the Royals are in the midst of a sensational run and sustaining it just isn’t possible. Alex Rios is going to be back soon and all he had done is drive in eight runs in his first seven games and filled the one questionable hole, right field. Paulo Orlando and Jarod Dyson have been adequate, but Rios is far superior. Hopefully he'll pick up where he left off and he'll have fresh legs.
For years Royals fans have been waiting for cornerstones Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to emerge. Hosmer has had flashes, but was always too hyper and anxious, often getting himself out. Moustakas was just plain stubborn, refusing to hit the ball to left field and pounding grounder after grounder to the right side. He was pedestrian at best.
But lo-and-behold, somebody finally got through to him. He’s hitting an astounding .342 with seven games of at least three hits. He’s also struck out only 15 times, so he’s putting the ball in play.
Hosmer is on the verge of being a monster. He’s at .321 with seven homers and 30 RBIs. He is on pace to walk about 80 times, which I didn’t think was possible since he’s like an unbroken colt.
Kendrys Morales has been a steal at the DH with 32 RBIs in 40 games, again another figure that he can’t keep up. But an 80-85 RBI season from him would be huge. Overall, eight of the nine Royals starters are hitting at last .264 and the exception is Orlando, who soon be replaced by the .321 Rios.
Most overlooked for the Royals, still, is their defense. The outfield routinely turns in highlight-reel catches (Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon should win Gold Gloves), Salvador Perez is the best defensive catcher in the American League, and Infante and Esobar are reliable up the middle. Moustakas does have some indifferent moments and Hosmer sometimes tries to get too fancy, but there’s no question they’re in the upper half of defenders.
Kansas City fans have embraced this team, as it’s averaging about 30,000 fans. Royals supporters stuck with this team for a long time and they’re finally being rewarded.