2008: The Year We Tread Water

I spent all day expecting a return to Royals baseball tonight, only to discover the boys in blue have an extra days rest. Doubtlessly many of you have already seen this post from Marbotty, but if not, its a nice pot-boiler for another sleepless night. --RR

Long-time readers of Royals Review (and short-time readers who like to use the search function) may have stumbled upon this pre-season article in which I predicted that the Royals would win between 72-77 games this year, a 10-15 game improvement from 2006.   As of today, the Royals are on pace to win 70 games this season.  Considering the Royals are coming off of their most successful month in 4 years, and another good start in July, it's not hard to see them settling into that magical 72-77 win range, and making our favorite patriarch very happy and me look like less of an idiot.      

Yes, it's nice that the Royals are making some progress, and while there's nothing classier than using the internets as a medium to brag to strangers  about the accuracy of one's pre-season predictions, it is time for Royals Fans to forget about 2007 for a second and look to see what the future has in store for our team.  

More specifically, it's time for us to partake in what's become an annual mid-season ritual known as "Dreaming About Next Season Since This One's A Disaster" or DANSSTOAD, for short.  (Ritual pictured below).

eh... close enough

Now, while it's not necessarily fair to call 2007 a "disaster," the fact that we're unlikely to finish higher than 4th in our own division means that we cannot in good conscience classify this season as a success.   Clearly, in our own little cocoon known as "Royals Fandom" it's been a pleasant season, in that we've improved to the point where we won't finish dead last in the league, but to the rest of the baseball world, our team still sucks.  

However, (and I realize by saying this that I may be going out on a limb of a Crazy Tree planted in Insanity Orchards,) I think conditions might just be such that we can make another giant leap forward in 2008, and not just into .500-ville, but perhaps all the way to the Upper End of .500-ville.  You know, where teams like the Red Sox live. The Upper-Crusters.

Sounds absolutely batty, doesn't it?  

It's not as crazy as it seems, however. Consider the case of the following three teams and their ascent from mediocrity to non-mediocrity:

2006 Record:  78-84 (.481)
2007 Record:  52-36 (.591)
Key Additions in 2007: Josh Barfield, David Dellucci, Trot Nixon

How they improved:

Let's face it, the Indians' additions have been busts.  Dellucci and Nixon have both been subpar, and Barfield's being outhit by guys like Tony Pena, Jr.    The pitching staff, while still better than average, has actually given up slightly more runs per game this season (although we're only talking a tenth of a run here).  

Why are they better, then?   It looks like the only real difference is a huge improvement offensively from Martinez and a bounce back season from Jhonny Peralta.  

Seriously, that's it.  Almost everyone that was a regular last year is hitting as well as they did in 2006, and the new additions are hitting as poorly or worse than the guys they replaced (Boone, Belliard, and Michaels).

Can the Royals Replicate their Success?

Initially, it didn't seem there were too many parallels that you can draw between the two teams.  They host one of the premier CF's, an offensive shorstop, and a bigtime DH/1B combo.  And if you look at the team's 2005 performance, 2006 looks more and more like a fluke.

But take a look at those pitching staffs -- they're almost identical:   Sabathia is our Meche, Carmona our Bannister.  Thomson could probably do a pretty decent Byrd impression, complete with high ground ball ratios and "caw"-ing noises.  The bullpens are both stellar, with perhaps the edge going to the Royals.  And the Team ERA's are so close this year (4.52 and 4.47) as to be virtually indistinguishable.  That could get closer once Hochevar finally makes it up next year.

On the offensive side, an outfield of Teahen, DeJesus and Lubanski/Brown looks like it would outclass this year's Cleveland crop, even with Sizemore's individual superiority.  Gordon, should he continue to hit well, could easily match Blake's production at 3rd.  German already is outperforming Barfield, albeit probably not with the glove, and Butler could potentially match Hafner's output, as early as 2008.   Buck is easily Martinez's equal this year.  

So really, it looks like the big difference will be at SS and at 1B.  Signing Adam Dunn would obviously put us a little closer, but we'd still have a bit to go.  In a year or two, though, we may have Moustakas or Bianchi filling that hole, which means that while we're not exactly where we want to be with respect to Cleveland, we're not as far away as it may look.

2006 Record: 78-84 (.481)
2007 Record: 49-36 (.576)
Key Additions in 2007:  Miguel Batista, Jeff Weaver, Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro

How they improved:

Adding Weaver and Vidro hasn't worked out.  Guillen's been a huge upgrade over Jeremy Reed, and Miguel's pitching about as well as Meche did last year for the Mariners.  

Aside from Guillen, they haven't really done much to get that much better.   Vidro's an upgrade over Carl Everett, but that's only because Everett couldn't post a .700 OPS.  The pitching is doing a bit better this year, 4.47 ERA vs 4.60 ERA, but really nothing too substantial there.

Can the Royals Replicate their Success?

It would seem so. The Royals are on pace both to outscore and outpitch the 2006 version of the Mariners.  You take off either Elarton or Wellemeyer from our roster, and we're outpitching the Mariners this year.   We're lagging behind offensively from the 2007 version of the Mariners, but that's to be expected when you've had such drags on the lineup as Gordon, Shealy, Sweeney, Brown, etc.   We don't even necessarily need a new bat (although, again, Adam Dunn would help) to be as competitive as the Mariners are in 2007 -- we just need guys like Teahen, Butler, and Gordon to play to their potential.  

2006 Record: 75-87 (.463)
2007 Record: 49-39 (.557)
Key Additions in 2007: Jeff Suppan, Ryan Braun (R), Yovani Gallardo (R)

How They Improved:

Part of the improvement came from replacing Brady Clark and Corey Koskie with Corey Hart and JJ Hardy, both of whom have exploded this year.  But the big help (literally) has been Prince Fielder, who single-handedly is going to make up for the presumed void in the lineup that appeared once Carlos Lee left.   The pitching's also gotten a whole lot more steady, although they haven't had too many personnel changes there.

Can the Royals Replicate their Success?

Hmm... do you think one of our hitters can belt out 55+ homeruns next season?

Putting that aside, let's look at the two teams.  What's not surprising, considering the AL/NL disparity, is that the 2007 Royals are on pace to outscore the 2006 Brewers.  What is surprising, however, is that we're also going to allow fewer runs.  

But this year, while our pitching is probably on par with the 2007 Brewers (4.10 ERA) once you adjust for the leagues, our offense is lagging really far behind.  This year, seven of Milwaukee's eight positional players have a legitimate shot at hitting over 20 homeruns each.  I just don't see us coming close to matching the Brewers impressive 2007 offense in 2008 unless we sign both a guy like Dunn AND a guy like Andruw Jones.  This team is a monster.

In Summary:

We may not win the pennant, but it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to see that we've got a legitimate shot at a breakout season in 2008, especially when you use Seattle as a measure of performance.  

It would appear we're only a player or two away from making it happen, and fortunately we have a general manager who seems dedicated to bringing in the guys we need to compete.  The big question will be whether our young players can play to their potential, whether we can avoid injury, and whether our pitching can remain consistent.   In other words, the same issues we face every year.  But hey, stranger things have happened.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.