The three biggest Royals stories early in the season
From 2013 to 2016, they Royals outperformed their projected win totals. They reached the World Series in 2014, losing in Game 7, and winning the World Series in 2015, after 95 wins. Even after these two seasons, they won more than their projections at 81 wins. They dealt with a slew of injuries in 2016, with many of their key players missing large chunks of time. After a few moves in the 2016 offseason, they Royals have retooled. Will they succeed in beating projections yet again?
1st Story: Will they have the power bullpen they use to win in the playoffs?
In previous Kansas City playoff runs, you could always look to their bullpen as a position of strength. During their back to back World Series runs, if you were down towards the 6, 7, 8, or 9th innings, it was practically over for you. The three-headed beast of Holland, Davis, and Herrara was just better than your offense was.
Now, however, that monster is no more. Holland has dealt with injuries and never quite returned to his peak. Davis was traded to the Cubs for Jorge Soler. Herrara is still around and slides into the closer role. Who will pitch in front of him?
Currently, the Royals seem to have put their trust in a combination of Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm. Soria has had a track record of success as a closer and has pitched well in a setup man role as well. Strahm had a fantastic stint with the Royals last year and figures to be a good 7th inning man, with high strikeout rates throughout his minor league career and his 21 games last season with the Royals. While it won’t be as impressive as the three headed beast was, but it figures to be a solid back end of the rotation as long as Soria can have a bounce back year.
2nd Story: Who can lead this team offensively?
Last season, the Royals were near the bottom of the league in runs scored. With 675 runs scored, they ranked 23rd in the league. Pitching wise, even with losing Chris Young and Wade Davis for part of the year, the Royals pitching only allowed 712 runs, which placed them 14th in least runs allowed.
The Royals should have more offensive pop this year. Mike Moustakas started his 2016 season with a quick power surge, then once he got hurt he lost his season. To date, he’s hitting .290 with 3 HRs in the early season. A full season of this will likely provide plenty of extra runs.
Jorge Soler, once healthy again, is likely to provide some solid offensive value. Whenever he was able to get consistent playing time in Chicago, he had a strong bat and a good arm in the outfield. He’s likely to have a home run reduction since moving to a more pitcher-friendly ballpark, over time Soler will make an adjustment and will be a good run producer.
Lastly, Eric Hosmer has solidified himself as a very good first baseman. He’s had a slash line of .297/.363/.459 in 2015, and .266/.328/.433 in 2016. He’s projected for .276/.338/.441 this year, and if he can match that or beat it, the Royals are likely to have a much better offensive year.
3rd Story: Can they even get to the playoffs?
The loss of Yordano Ventura was incredibly hard to swallow. An up and coming ace level pitcher being pulled away from his pitching staff this way definitely hard for the Royals to take. The Royals loss of their ace dramatically reduced their starting rotation depth. A team that struggled to maintain its starting rotation now has to cover this loss, and their internal options are not very good. Danny Duffy is a decent option, but he really fits best into the No. 2 slot. Ian Kennedy is a veteran who showed promise before as a younger talent, but injuries and inconsistency left him at a place of mixed results. It’s possible that he can return to a great pitcher, but again he fits a 3 or 4 slot better.
In addition, they have to rely on multiple sources on offense to provide support of this staff. Hosmer, Cain, Moustakas, Gordan, and Perez must have good years to support this pitching staff will likely give up a high number of runs.
In a division that features last year’s World Series runner-up, an AL East that looks to pack at least two powerhouses near the top, and a Detroit Tigers team that will be tough to compete with, the Royals definitely have a long road ahead to make it back to the playoffs. Of course, they’ve been underdogs before.