Do you feel it? It’s in the air. Oh surely you’re getting a little edgy, a little antsy.
No, your rich uncle didn’t die and the reading of the will is tomorrow. No, your wife isn’t piling up a dozen oysters on the half shell for your indulgence this evening. No, a smooth putting stroke with precision accuracy didn’t magically appear.
It’s baseball, silly. Can’t you just inhale the vapors of America’s national past-time. You should, even though the frost delays your tee time, the chill wind brings tears to your eyes and hot soup is replacing a trip to the barbie.
The Royals will not only compete in the World Series this season, they will win it. Huh, you doubt that. Oh ye of little faith. Well, the road to the baseball throne room begins on February 19 when the pitchers and catchers report to the Royals camp in Surprise, Arizona. The full squad is due on February 24. The first exhibition game will be March 4 against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium. The regular season will start April 6 against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
In the meantime, rack your brains, go over the stats and analyze the positions. Oh, and of course, continue to second-guess whether you would have sent Alex Gordon home against the San Francisco Giants. Is that too long ago for you to consider? Oh my no.
With the Giants clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game, Gordon slapped a sinking liner. Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco misplayed it—badly. The ball skipped past Blanco all the way to the wall, where left fielder Juan Perez tried and failed to pick it up, then recovered and heaved it back toward the infield. After all those mistakes, it seemed like a disappointment when Gordon stopped at third, just 90 feet away from tying the game. A collision at home plate, dust flying, umpire signaling, fans gawking. That’s the way you end a series.
Or do you? The game just would have been tied. Oh well.
Two outs. Send him home. Maybe something good would happen. Nope, didn’t happen. Instead, Salvador Perez fouled out weakly to third and the second-guessing began: Should Gordon have tried to make it home?
Pundits, experts, analysts jumped into the fray after the game and most said that Gordon would have been out by a mile. That certainly seems true given how long it took him to make it to third base. But it’s worth noting that the Royals left fielder wasn’t running as hard as he possibly could out of the box.
If Gordon had tried to stretch his hit, he would have been rounding the bag as the throw hit relay man Brandon Crawford in shallow left. A decent throw would have cut him down, right. Maybe. Out and the World Series would be over. Maybe Crawford’s hypothetical toss home was off line. Yeah, the Royals tie the game and Kansas City goes crazy. It didn’t happen.
Gordon did reach third base with two outs and a 3-2 San Francisco lead. The situation did bother the Giants. Should Madison Bumgarner remain as pitcher to face Perez? Bumgarner was relieving after a couple of days of rest. However, he had shut down the Royals, retiring 14 straight at one point.
Dick Tidrow, San Francisco Giants vice president of player personnel, thought about the reports his scouts filed before the series. Sports Illustrated wrote, “Two defining characteristics stood out. The first was that the Kansas City hitters were crushing pitches on the outer half of the plate. Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Perez … they all were diving into pitches with full-blown confidence. You had to pitch them inside.”
This worried the Giants because two of their starters, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, no longer threw with the kind of velocity needed to pound hitters inside.
“The second characteristic,” SI wrote, “was that the Royals were eager to play the hero. They brimmed with such youthful confidence that they would expand the strike zone to get a hit rather than take their walks and leave it up to the next hitter.”
Bumgarner’s fastball and cutter inside could be effective. He had such precise control of his fastball that he could place it just above the strike zone. He threw six fastballs to Perez — every one to a target so high that catcher Buster Posey rose from his crouch to reach them. Perez swung at all but two, the last one resulting in a foul-out to third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
So, in spring training maybe the coaches will discuss coming out of the batter’s box with aggression. Too often last season you watched as Royals batters sauntered out of the box after putting bat on ball. You gotta go all-out.
And please learn the strike zone.
Oh, that is so important for them to do this season. The left-handers need to pick up the sweeping curve balls. Yeah, it brings to mind the old cliché, swatting at flies. The Royals really do need to work on picking up the breaking ball.
There is much to talk about in spring training. How about the Billy Butler deal? Yeah, interesting. He signed a three-year $30 million contract with Oakland. Hmm, the A’s must think Butler will rebound from what was an off-year for the first baseman-designated hitter.
Were you glad to see him go? Hey, the guy can hit.
Consider this. To replace Butler, the Royals signed Kendrys Morales to a two-year $17 million contract. Hmm — Butler $10 million a year, Morales $8.5 million. Could the Royals not have worked out something with Butler, who says he loves Kansas City? Obviously, friction existed between Royals brass and Butler. There can be no other explanation. Look, Morales hit just .218 with eight home runs and 42 RBI with Minnesota and Seattle. Go figure.
The Royals need a power-hitting outfielder so they signed Alex Rios to a one-year $9.5 million deal. He hit only 4 home runs and batted .280 last season. The Texas Rangers declined Rios’ option for 2015. He can handle right field defensively. But is he the answer for power?
So many questions. Will Mike Moustakas really hit? Can Eric Hosmer become a star first baseman? Will Gordon become a leader and a consistent hitter? Can Christian Colon dislodge Omar Infante at second?
Oh yes, the pitching. What’s all this talk about James Shields? Teams don’t want to pay him free agent money. No way. He’s on the downside of his career. Why would the Royals think of him? Maybe they’re concerned about the pitchers they brought in, like Edinson Volquez, who was 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA last season with Pittsburgh. The Royals signed him to a two-year $20 million deal.
Then there’s right-hander Kris Medlen, one of Atlanta’s best starters. But he had Tommy John surgery for the second time last spring and the Braves didn’t keep him. The Royals decided to take a chance and signed him to a two-year deal that contains a mutual option for the 2017 season. He received an $8.5 million guarantee. He’ll earn $2 million in 2015 and $5.5 million 2016.
He may see action later in the season as the arm heals. In the meantime, the Royals will go with a five-man rotation, the three V’s — Volquez, Jason Vargas and Yorduno Ventura — and Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie. With maturity, Ventura and Duffy could develop into top-level starters.
The bullpen? No problem. The terrific triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland are back.
There is intrigue. Can Luke Hochevar and Brandon Finnegan boost the staff? Hochevar missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring. The Royals must believe he can contribute this year because they signed him to a two-year $10 million deal. Finnegan, the first player to participate in a College World Series (with TCU) and an MLB World Series in the same year, threw well at the end of last season and could get more time.
Was it just a fortunate set of circumstances that allowed the Royals to reach the World Series last year or do they really have talent, enough so that they can get there this season?