The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 6, 2013

BLOG: Looking at the good and bad of the Royals

By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer

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Fans are a reactionary sort.

After two Kansas City Royals losses to open the season, the Twitter world was ready for manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore to sign their walking papers and to declare young hitters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas busts.

What a difference a couple of wins make.

Now 2-2 on the season, the Royals have renewed hope that this is the season they will break through and compete for their first playoff appearance since 1985.

But the reality is that the Royals are probably better than the team that scored two runs over the first two games, and at the same time they likely won’t live up to the standards of a team that scored 13 runs off 19 hits in Friday’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

As is usually the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

That’s not to say I’m immune to the rollercoaster ride that is a baseball season. There are times I’m convinced Kansas City is destined to lose forever. Then again, I watch budding stars like Salvador Perez and believe the losing days are near their end.

It is the constant struggle I believe many of us have in life. I try to be a glass is half full guy, but frequently someone is tapping me on the shoulder reminding how empty that glass really is.

So after four up and down Royals games, I thought it would be a good exercise to evaluate Kansas City through both ways of thought.

The Royals’ glass is half full

·         The Royals pitching staff has improved considerably as they acquired James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana and re-signed veteran Jeremy Guthrie. Heck, the starting rotation has improved so much that last year’s top two starters – Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar – have been moved to the bullpen. With Shields, who has won at least 11 games in each of the past six seasons, leading the way, the Royals should have the chance to win more ballgames.

·         The bullpen may be the best in baseball. With Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow, the Royals have three pitchers who are capable of being closers in the major leagues. Those three, along with lefty Tim Collins, all had strikeouts per nine inning ratios above 8 last season. If the starters are able to hand the bullpen the lead after six innings, the Royals should win a lot of games.

·         Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are building blocks for a playoff team. Both former Royals first-round picks, Butler has become an All-Star and Gordon has been worthy of that status. The two have combined for 172 doubles and 85 homers over the past two seasons. Each is capable of hitting over .300 while hitting more than 20 home runs. While both players are still in their 20s, they give the Royals two veteran bats in the lineup.

·         Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are highly-touted prospects who are bound to figure it out. Both were top 10 prospects entering the 2011 season, and they both dominated in the minor leagues. Hosmer hit .338 with 20 homers and 86 RBI in 2010, while Moustakas hit .322 with 36 homers and 124 RBI in the same year. Despite poor seasons in the majors in 2012, Hosmer (23) and Moustakas (24) are both young and have all the tools to become successful major leaguers. Friday

·         With two-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon and potential Gold Glove winners in Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Hosmer at catcher, shortstop and first base, the Royals have one of the best defenses in the game. Jeff Francoeur is a former Gold Glove winner, and Moustakas was nominated at third base last season.

The Royals’s glass is half empty

·         While there’s no doubt Kansas City’s starting rotation has improved on paper, it’s questionable whether it’s improved enough to propel this team from 72 wins to the playoffs. Shields has been a productive pitcher in the major leagues, but the reality is that he was the second or third best pitcher on a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year. So how does bringing him in as the ace make this a playoff team? As for the other additions, Davis didn’t even make Tampa Bay’s starting rotation last year, and Santana had a 5.16 ERA while allowing a league-worst 39 homers. Yes, the pitching staff is better, but this isn’t exactly the Braves teams of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz either.

·         The Royals made significant changes to the starting rotation, but kept the status quo for the position players. Kansas City scored only 676 runs last year for third worst in the American League, but management saw no need to upgrade the offense. The only way for the Royals to get better at the plate is for their current players to make significant improvements. If Hosmer and Moustakas pan out as stars, things should be fine. If not, the Royals have three glaring holes in its lineup as Hosmer, Moustakas and Francoeur each hit .242 or worse last season. Besides Butler and Gordon, Kansas City’s lineup has no proven consistent hitters. Escobar still must show that 2012 wasn’t a fluke, and Perez hasn’t played a full season yet. No one is really sure what the Royals have in Lorenzo Cain.