Before you ask, yes I am truly a Royals fan. No, I’m not a fair-weather fan. I’ve been following them since 1998. You don’t make it through the mid 00’s Royals without being truly committed to the cause. I really, truly hope they win it all again, this year. But the odds are not in their favor.
The Royals could get injured
I’ve already written about how being injured last season isn’t a great excuse. But since the Royals didn’t really do much to address their depth issues beyond at least filling them in as well as they did prior to last season, there’s every reason to believe that injuries could be their downfall again. It won’t take all 25 guys coming down with chicken pox, either.
If Salvy goes down for any period of time - a scary possibility highlighted when he left Saturday’s Italy vs USA WBC game with a knee injury - Drew Butera is now your starting catcher. We don’t even know who his backup would be, but I can guarantee it’s not someone you’ll want getting a lot of at bats. For that matter, Drew is an adequate backup catcher with great hair, but he’s likely to do very poorly in a starting role. If Alcides Escobar goes down that probably means the return of Raul Mondesi, ready or not. As not-amazing as he actually is, if Eric Hosmer suffers a season ending injury your starting first baseman probably becomes Brandon Moss and your every day DH will be Cheslor Cuthbert; a combination that will somehow strike even less fear in the hearts of opponents.
On the pitching side, Sure Travis Wood or Nate Karns can step in if someone gets hurt in the rotation, but if two guys go down at once - ala 2016 - then Chris Young will be back in there. After him it’s just a bunch of silhouettes with question marks. Kelvin Herrera will probably be one of the best relievers in baseball, this year. But if he gets hurt you better be prepared to see Joakim Soria take over the closer’s role.
Maybe they’ll have the same injury luck they had in 2014 and 2015, but it could definitely get ugly in a hurry.
They could play poorly
The Royals are counting on career or near-career seasons from pretty much all of their starters if they want to go back to the post-season. That, however, may not be possible. 2016 Alex Gordon could be the new Alex Gordon. Mike Moustakas might not be fully recovered from the ACL injury, or the time off may have ruined his swing. Second base is already ticketed for poor production no matter who starts there. Brandon Moss isn’t getting any younger. Jorge Soler may not turn the corner the Royals are counting on. Salvy might be so exhausted from never getting a day off that his first half is as bad as his second halves usually are. Eric Hosmer could set a new career high in groundball percentage. The possibilities are endless!
The pitching side has a host of possible issues in this category, too. Jason Hammel’s scratched start from last year could come back to haunt his effectiveness or availability. Danny Duffy has kind of an even-year-good/odd-year-bad thing going on and, you might have to check my math, but I think 2017 is an odd year. Kelvin Herrera got worse as the season went on last year; that might be a fluke, or maybe he can’t handle the pressure of the closer’s role. The fifth spot in the rotation is a question mark for a reason. Joakim Soria.
They might just not be the best team on the field
I hate to break it to you, but Cleveland didn’t get any worse during the off-season. Detroit is going to have a killer rotation of their own if Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris each take the next step and they don’t lose anything from Justin Verlander or Michael Fulmer.
There’s no getting around the fact that Chicago appears to be punting on this season. Minnesota seems likely to continue to be atrocious, too; but what if all their promising young guys suddenly figure it out at once? They could become a juggernaut in a hurry.
If the Royals find their way into the playoffs it seems very likely they’ll have to do it from a Wild Card spot while Cleveland has their team. That means being better than a lot of good teams in the other two divisions, too.
The season hasn’t even started, yet. The Royals are by no means out of playoff contention, already. I like to think of this as a kind of pre-catharsis. If we imagine now how poorly the season might go it might allow us to be pleasantly surprised by better outcomes. That’s the kind of thinking that led to Royals fans finding potential happiness in .500 seasons, after all. If the season goes as badly as all this, we can say that at least we saw it coming and maybe it won’t hurt so bad.
Of course, as Buddy Bell would say, “I never say it can’t get worse.”