Flourishing Royals Good for the Game

For a couple of decades, the Kansas City Royals floundered among the also rans of the American League. In 1996 they finished last in their division for the first time since entering the league in 1969. The glory days of George Brett,Frank White, Amos Otis, Dan Quisenberry, and Bret Saberhagen faded into history as the inglorious days of Joe Randa and Jeff Suppan dragged on. Then, finally, in 2013 the Royals started to be good again, finishing ten games over .500. In 2014, they made it to the World Series, losing to San Francisco. I thought they would be the best team in baseball last season and they were, winning the World Series for the first time since 1985.
The formula is ancient, really, with a few modern modifications. The Royals play good defense all around, employ good if not spectacular starting pitching, create runs with speed and timely hitting, and have a very solid bullpen. Kendrys Morales was an effective designated sitter,driving in 106 runs last year with 41 doubles and 22 home runs. Alcides Escobar was among the elite defensively at shortstop and contributed at bat with 17 stolen bases despite low on base and slugging percentages. Salvador Perez was a gold glove catcher and steadying influence who hit with power to make up for walking about twice a month. Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon provided offensive firepower to go with their sterling defensive play. It may be time for young Christian Colon to replace aging second baseman Omar Infante, who dropped to a .220 batting average that wasn’t helped by his season total of nine bases on balls. Wade Davis was other worldly out of the bullpen with an ERA of 0.94 Kelvin Herrera was also a good reliever but Greg Holland did not duplicate his sensational 2014 season. Joakim Soria is back to help again in the bullpen this year, and the Royals are probably just one really good starter away from dominating the Central Division. They owe it all to good management despite the fact that owner David Glass is the odious former CEO of Wal-Mart who was justifiably vilified in Dave Zirin’s excellent book Bad Sports.
Detroit is threatening to compete again. Whether or not the Tigers do that may be highly dependent on how many games graceful young shortstop Jose Iglesias plays. Injuries have plagued him in his short career so far, but when he’s in there, he’s good. He bats a soft .300 but that doesn’t bother anyone when you can make the plays at short. If Victor Martinez has some big hits left at age 37 he will join Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and J.D. Martinez in creating lots of runs for the Tigers. Nick Castellanos upped his production at third base in 2015 and continued improvement from him would be important. Justin Verlander is another important key for Detroit because if he can be as good or better than his 20 starts showed last year, manager Brad Ausmus will sleep better. Frankie Rodriguez, no longer a kid, has been brought in to shore up a seemingly perpetually shaky bullpen and the real prize addition in the winter was starter Jordan Zimmermann, who pitched well for the Nationals the past few years. Lefty Blaine Hardy has been good in short relief stints. The Tigers are using veteran Jarrod Saltalamacchia at catcher while waiting for James McCann to come back from the disabled list. McCann is a good defensive catcher with some pop in his bat.
The Cleveland Caucasians are an interesting team that will probably overachieve thanks to optimistic manager Terry Francona, but it’s not as though they lack talent. In fact, shortstop Francisco Lindor seems to be on the verge of super stardom. The pitching staff is young and impressive even though they don’t get the hype some other (Mets)staff might. Currently injured Michael Brantley is very good in left field and veteran first baseman/DH Carlos Santana has more career walks than his namesake does hit songs.This is a team that will likely improve as the season wears on and perhaps remind people of last year’s big surprise, Houston. They have Juan Uribe and Marlon Byrd on hand now for veteran leadership, so it’s hard not to like these guys despite the fact that they have to wear that ridiculous, demeaning Wahoo Sam logo during games.
In an odd turn of events, the Chicago White Sox suddenly appear to have a cohesive plan about what they want to put on the playing field. The winter acquisition of Todd Frazier got everybody’s attention because the guy had 79 extra base hits for Cincinnati last year, but the addition of catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro and now shortstop Jimmy Rollins have also been noteworthy. Rollins is well past his prime but, as he did with the Dodgers last season, he will provide a steady, winning presence. It helps a lot to have lefty starter Chris Sale around, and Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon are solid starters now joined by the enigmatic Mat Latos. Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, and Melky Cabrera will all be helped by the presence of Frazier in the lineup. The Pale Hose will be doomed, however, by their lack of one key ingredient–defense.
Minnesota was one of the pleasant surprises of 2015, remaining in contention through September despite the fact that besides Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier—who the hell are these guys? Well, there’s a lot to be said for letting the kids play and get some experience. Especially when you have no choice. Torii Hunter, of course, was no kid. He has now retired. Eddie Rosario, now 25, had a solid all around season in the outfield and should get better. Eduardo Escobar has become yet another Escobar playing shortstop, and he will be adequate. Miguel Sano,23, is being hidden in right field though he should probably be a DH. The DH is a Korean import,Byung-ho Park, who is big and hits them far. The entire pitching staff, including Ervin Santana, Tommy Milone, Phil Hughes,and Kyle Gibson, could be described as mediocre. The Twins weren’t scoring much as the season began, but many of us know that Spring doesn’t arrive in Minnesota until some time in August, and the winter returns after Labor Day. This is no argument to building another dome, however. Thanks to Paul Molitor for an excellent managing job last season, and we hope he remains patient. Remember, the Royals did it.

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