The Royals embark on a new season today, a title defense of their American League pennant. We gathered the Royals Review staff in the parking lot of the Truman Sports Complex the morning of Opening Day to smoke some ribs and discuss the upcoming season.
What should Royals fans should be most excited about going into this season?
Josh Duggan: Pennants being raised, (deserved) self-congratulation going around, and a team that could win anywhere between 75 and 90 games.
Max Rieper: Royals fans get to watch the best defensive outfielder in the game in Lorenzo Cain, the best bullpen in baseball, and the best overall left-fielder in the game in Alex Gordon. Yordano Ventura has a real chance to take a step forward and become one of the elite young pitchers in the game. Jarrod Dyson is a treat to watch on the basepaths. Esky still makes highlight-reel plays. And oh yea, we're raising a pretty important flag this afternoon that reads "2014 American League Champions."
Matthew LaMar: I think, more than anything on the field, Royals fans should be excited about the atmosphere. For years, the Royals were an afterthought and being a fan was almost embarrassing. Everything's different now--the atmosphere surrounding this season is going to be incredible. Also, the Royals are in a unique position, as they are reigning American League Champions and yet are still underdogs. This will be an exhilarating season.
Joshua Ward: Baseball being a thing again. The greatest sport in the history of whatever. But really, the development of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy, along with the treat of watching Alex Gordon all the time, are going to be interesting and exciting to watch all year.
Kevin Ruprecht: They should be excited about the prospect of mostly relevant baseball for the entire season. The division is generally up for grabs.
Shaun Newkirk: The new Craft and Draft bar? Really not sure. The team doesn't project to be that great, and chances are they aren't going to return to the World Series. It'll be interesting to see if Hosmer and Moustakas are as good as they were once touted, meanwhile 162 games (hopefully) of Gordon/Cain/Rios/Dyson seems like it'll be fun to watch, especially if Dyson supplants Rios (thinking of just defensively). Also, the Chicago series against the Cubs!
Also, this is a really really really important season for some of our prospects.
What worries you the most about the Royals going into this season?
Joshua Ward: The offense, whether or not it will actually improve, whether or not the playoff power spike can translate even a little bit, whether Ventura stays healthy, and whether the bullpen can be nearly as great as they were last season.
Kevin Ruprecht: The performance of the entrenched starting rotation. I am relatively more confident in the performances of stalwarts Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas than most, but those guys could become ineffective quickly. They're not good enough if Ventura and Duffy don't take that step forward.
Josh Duggan: Everything? The biggest problem would be if all three of Dayton Moore's big dice rolls in the offseason crap out. If Eric Hosmer ascends to his throne, it might be enough to withstand failures from both Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios, but even then Edinson Volquez probably needs to recreate his 2014 season, not his 2013 or 2011 campaigns.
Matthew LaMar: The rotation. Ventura is likely to be good, but unless he utilizes his secondary pitches more efficiently he won't take another step. Duffy is a big enigma and could lose a major battle with regression. Vargas, Volquez, and Guthrie are three guys with poor strikeout ability, all of whom are at least 31 years old. We could be looking at one above average starter and four very poor starters in a realistic worst-case scenario, to say nothing of injuries.
Max Rieper: The lineup has a real chance to be downright atrocious this year. The team was rather lucky last year with the sequencing of hits in 2014, finishing ninth in the league in runs scored with "clutch" hitting, but their luck could run out this year. I think the off-season additions of Rios and Morales are a wash, and maybe even a downgrade from the disappointing Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. Lorenzo Cain could very well regress this year. It could be the worst offense in the league when its all said and done.
Shaun Newkirk: The rotation is still a bit scary and if Ventura or Duffy get hurt then it'll be tough to watch this team for however many remaining games. The offense also isn't that good (as usual) and it's not like the Morales for Butler swap was an upgrade.
What one player do you think needs to perform well for the Royals to succeed this year?
Kevin Ruprecht: Eric Hosmer.
Matthew LaMar: I recently wrote about this very question. I think that guy is Danny Duffy. Though he's in his fifth year in the big leagues, we still don't really know what kind of pitcher he really is. The Royals need him to be the 2014 Duffy (or better) this year.
Joshua Ward: Yordano Ventura needs to step up in a big way. He's entering his second year, and is being counted on as the Royals' number one starter. Being healthy and throwing fire would be a boon.
Max Rieper: I vote Hosmer. The offense really has to generate more runs this year, and Eric Hosmer needs to be a big part of that. He has shown flashes of being an All-Star-caliber player - particularly during the post-season - but his poor starts each season have doomed him. He really needs to be better than the below-average first baseman he has been thus far.
Josh Duggan: Barring catastrophic injuries elsewhere, probably Danny Duffy. The rotation could easily struggle, and Duffy probably needs to be healthy and effective for the Royals to make up for the loss from last year.
Shaun Newkirk: Alex Rios. Hoping that Rios goes back to the above average or so player he had been in 2012 and 2013, which would make for an outfield of likely 3 above average players.
Is Ned still a liability at this point or do you have confidence he can manage this club?
Josh Duggan: The handful of times he incensed me are no different from what any other manager would do. He should have pulled Guthrie after one time through the order in Game Seven, but most managers would have screwed that up.
Kevin Ruprecht: I don't think Ned is a liability. He's probably somewhere around average to maybe below average in terms of in-game strategy. Every manager makes mistakes like throwing Scott Downs against Jonny Gomes. However, Yost seems to have a good ability to keep the guys playing hard and the clubhouse loose. I realize that's a nebulous narrative, but I suppose it's what I believe.
Joshua Ward: I think he is still a liability. There's an argument to be made that he left Guthrie in too long in the World's Series, which proved costly. There will be curious decisions throughout the season. But overall, it is a plug-and-play roster, so it is marginal harm at best.
Max Rieper: I have long thought the criticism of Ned was a bit overblown, but he is really testing me with this Escobar/Moustakas as the top of the lineup business. In what universe does that make sense?
Matthew LaMar: If he starts managing the club more like he did in the playoffs--quick trigger with starters, unafraid to use bullpen arms outside of their 'assigned' innings--he'll be fine. If he reverts back to Old Ned, the one that was fired from Milwaukee and the one which prompted Shaun's Fire Yost article then he is a problem.
Shaun Newkirk: I've kinda come around, but it's not Ned. I don't think really any managers are good managers, and those that are completely stand out. It's basically just guys who are bad and the guys who are really good. Ned's firmly in the bad column, but hopefully he can just avoid the terrible and only hurt the team a little.
What Central rival do the Royals have to worry about the most?
Josh Duggan: While the Tigers and Indians might be better on paper, the Royals' lefty-heavy lineup has struggled against top-tier left-handed starting pitching. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and soon Carlos Rodon, Chicago could be a bigger thorn in the Royals' side than they probably should be.
Max Rieper: I think the Indians are the team to beat in the division. They have a bunch of talented hitters in the prime of their career, and their starting pitching staff struck out hitters at a better rate than anyone in the league last year. Their only real weakness is horrendous defense.
Matthew LaMar: The Tigers, until they are dethroned, are always the target. They've got Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Kinsler. That's a fantastic core, and could be even more ridiculous if Justin Verlander returns to form a little bit. I think the Twins will be awful - flirting with 100 losses awful - and I think that the White Sox might be a .500 team if things go well for them (though others disagree). The Indians also have a lot of talent, but neither they, the Tigers, or the Royals had significant turnover. The AL Central is the Tigers' spot.
Joshua Ward: Well, since I picked the White Sox to win the Central, I guess I would have to say them. But, I think the Royals are the third, and maybe fourth best team in the division now, considering the improvements other clubs made in the off-season.
Kevin Ruprecht: The Indians. They have a young, skilled rotation with offensive upside if some guys rebound.
Shaun Newkirk: I don't truly believe it, but let's just say the White Sox. They've got some really solid pieces, and although I see them as basically as good as the Royals, maybe some of their ancillary pieces have a break out and they go from a mediocre team to hot playoff magic like the Royals in 2014.
How do you see the 2015 Royals season playing out?
Joshua Ward: Overall improvement without much tangible reward, a competitive season that sort of fizzles out toward the middle of September to a winning record but no playoff appearance.
Kevin Ruprecht: The Royals will probably hang around for most of the season and then fade near the end.
Max Rieper: I see them getting off to a slow start, which probably means a hitting coach will be fired. They'll probably have an injury or two that will prove to be costly. They'll go on another run in July, but it will be too little, too late. I think the league will have a lot of contenders for the Wild Card, and the Royals will fade away in September to finish under .500.
Who knows though, I was wrong about them last year. Would certainly love to be wrong again.
Matthew LaMar: I think 2015 will play out a lot like 2014. The Royals will be a streaky, low-scoring team that overperforms its Pythag to some degree through defense and an elite bullpen. In the end, they'll be on the outside looking into October.
Josh Duggan: No clue. There are so many huge question marks that it's not hard to envision a disaster, and it's just as easy to picture another entrance into the postseason. It feels like this is a third-place team in a tighter Central where Chicago has closed the gap. Probably Cleveland edging out Detroit with a relatively pedestrian win total of 87 or 88 with the Royals sitting at 83 or 84 wins.
Shaun Newkirk: Gordon and Cain will be their usual awesome. Hosmer will be an okay player. Moustakas will last until July before somebody else takes his place (not Hunter Dozier). Duffy and Ventura will be better than their 2014 seasons. Guthrie, Vargas, and Volquez will be a warm pile of meh. Rios will be a 2-win player. Morales will hit 20 home runs, but still be a below average player. Infante will get hurt. Greg Holland will be traded. The Royals will draft a hitter. Kyle Zimmer will be back to being Kyle Zimmer. Raul Mondesi will still be too damn young for his level. Bubba Starling will probably be Bubba Starling still. Sean Manaea will jump into peoples top-20. I'm gonna go to Chicago and watch the Royals beat the Cubs at Wrigley and probably have too many alcoholic drinks.