Finally, after months of waiting, the 2009 Major League Baseball season is upon us. And with that, I feel obligated to write a Royals-centric post.
Here are the five signs of the coming apocalypse... no wait... Here are the five reasons why the Royals can win the AL Central this season!
5. Trending upward - The Dayton Moore GM era has seen the Royals improve in each season under his guidance. The longer he spends here, the more he chips away at the prolonged period of idiocy being the Allard Baird era. The Royals are looking more and more like a franchise instead of a brand new team each year to "see what happens - we can always just start over next year" type of team. That old mentality appears to be long gone. Moore quite obviously has a plan and it is actually exciting watching it develop. The team is improving at all levels and there is realistically only one direction to go and that's up. Last season, the Royals didn't finish last in the division. Now it is time to keep the trend moving in the right direction.
4. Off-season moves - Moore traded away one of the major strengths of the team from the 2009 season in the the form of the solid bullpen for hitting. In order to shift the team's paradigm from just preventing other teams from scoring to just scoring more offensively, Moore traded away Leo Nunez and Ramon "RamRam" Ramirez for Coco Crisp (a legit lead-off hitter) and Mike Jacobs (a pure power hitter). I won't lie - I was worried after these moves. Yes, they look better offensively, but a strong bullpen is an absolute requirement. I should have had some patience because shortly afterward, in a stroke of genius, Moore picks up three relievers - Juan Cruz, Kyle Farnsworth and Doug Waechter - and what looks like a severely weakened bullpen has suddenly become (possibly) even stronger than last season. Moore also did one more thing in the off-season that previous Royals teams never managed to do - re-sign the young talent to long term deals. Zach Greinke and Joakim Soria each signed multi-year deals after having breakout seasons. This, above all else, is proof that Moore is committed to building a long-term competitive franchise.
3. More talent - The Royals actually had to make cuts at the end of Spring Training this season. They had MORE talent than they are allowed to carry on their roster. Typically, just prior to Opening Day, the Royals are deciding how many rookies are going to be filling the ranks of the club to carry the team through this season into next year. This season, they traded their 2008 opening day starter at first base just to clear roster space. The 2009 Royals are a young club but are currently carrying ZERO rookies into opening day. They are young, but not raw. This is an improved team at almost every position through replacement or experience.
2. Better offense/Better pitching = more wins - The 2008 Royals went into the season with two solid starters (Meche/Grienke) and a pretty iffy closer closer Joakim "The Mexicutioner" Soria. This season they have three solid starters (Meche/Grienke/Davies) and slight improvement in the back end of the rotation. The bullpen is anchored by Cruz setting up the on-the-verge-of-being-a-star Soria. On offense, the addition of Coco Crisp as a speedy center fielder/lead-off hitter should result in more runs at the top of the order. Mike Jacobs gives a power tandem with Jose Guillen that opposing pitchers won't be able to work around. Consider this - last season's offensive breakout player, Mike Aviles, will be hitting ninth in the lineup. Amazing! They ARE going to score more runs than last season, the pitching staff should be at least as effective as they were last season. Scoring more runs will almost have to translate to more wins.
1. The analysts are still picking the Royals to finish in the bottom half of the division. Nobody outside of Kansas City expects anything from this team. There's still no pressure on this team from outside the organization. The team can have the mindset that they're out to prove themselves because they know they can win... they don't have to live up to the hype anybody is forcing on to them.
So, why might these five reasons lead to the Royals winning the AL Central this season? The other teams in the division haven't made drastic moves in any direction. The division is basically up for grabs, even by most "expert" opinions. The White Sox took the Central last season with 89 wins. If the Royals' improve by as few as 8-12 more wins over last season, they just might have a shot at the 2009 post season. A ten win improvement isn't absurd, the 2008 Rays improved by an unbelievable 31 wins over their 2007 season. The Royals don't need a fluke season to have a shot this year, it is a very real possibility.
Despite my lofty hopes of the Royals winning the Central this season, I am trying to keep myself and my prediction grounded in reality.
Season prediction: 83-79, 3rd place in the Central
For the record -
Last season's prediction: 76-86
Last season's actual record: 75-87
Not too shabby. Maybe, I just might know what I'm talking about... right?
With that final statement - I am off to "lunch". And by "lunch", I mean I'm going home to watch KC/Chicago opening day game. I love having a job with semi-flexible hours.