Welcome to the first Royals week in review/preview of the year. The title pretty much describes what you will expect to find, however I will be experimenting with the format throughout the season to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The idea is that if this was the only Royals related thing you read all week, it should provide you with everything you need to know. If there's anything you think is missing or would like to see, let me know in the comments
It's only the first week of a very long season, but the Royals are in first place right now. It's not likely going to last, but it gives us one more week to dream and keep our hopes alive. Crazier things have happened than this year's Royals contending for the division.
- White Sox -0.5
- Indians -1.5
- Tigers -1.5
- Twins -1.5
Game 1: Angels 4 – Royals 2 - Boxscore
Opening Day. Everything is over-analyzed on this day. The Royals lost, so everyone assumed they would never win again. The Royals faces Jered Weaver who is one of the best pitchers in the American League. The Royals never scored when he was in the game, but they were patient and ended up scoring two runs off of the Angels bullpen. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough as the Angels scored 4 runs against Royals starter Luke Hochevar.
Game 2: Angels 1 – Royals 2 - Boxscore
The Royals signed Jeff Francis as a free agent hoping he would pitch close to the way he did prior to his injuries. On this day, he did just that. He went 7 innings, walked 1, stuck out 4 and allowed one earned run. It was the only run the Angels scored as the Royals bullpen again kept their opponents scoreless. With the game tied at 1 in the bottom of the ninth, Kila Ka’aihue smashed a solo homerun to give the Royals their first win on the season.
Game 3: Angels 4 – Royals 5 - Boxscore
Royals starter Kyle Davies gave up four earned runs in 5.1 innings, but again the bullpen stopped the Angels offense in their tracks. The Royals scored a pair of runs on singles by Matt Treanor and Chris Getz in the bottom of the 8th to take their first lead of the game. Joakim Soria earned his first save of the year by shutting out the Angels in the 9th inning.
Game 4: Angels 9 – Royals 12 - Boxscore
On a very windy day, runs were plentiful. At the end of the 9th inning, the game was all knotted up at 9. In what was déjà vu all over again, Royal relievers Joakim Soria and Tim Collins combined for four scoreless innings and in the bottom of the 13th Matt Treanor again got a clutch hit. This time, it was a three-run homerun that sealed the series for the Royals.
Position Player of the week: Kila Ka'aihue
He hit .231/.412/.538 in 4 games with a game-winning walk-off homerun. He currently leads the team in walks with four.
Starting Pitcher of the week: Jeff Francis
He pitched seven innings, gave up one earned run while striking out four and walking only one.
Relief Pitcher of the week: Tim Collins
The diminutive rookie reliever threw four scoreless innings in which he struck out six and walked only one. Three of those four innings were in extra innings with extremely windy conditions.
On The Farm
None of the Minor Leagues have actually started their seasons yet, however two of the Royals affiliates faced off against each other in an exhibition game at Kauffman Stadium Saturday. The Omaha Stormchasers (AAA) beat the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (AA) by a score of 4-1.
The Week To Come
The Royals will get their first taste of Division play when they face the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. If they have any hopes of holding onto first place for another week, winning three of the five games this week is a necessity. The Royals will send their Opening Day starter Luke Hochevar to the mound to face the White Sox to begin the week on Tuesday at 7:10.
4/5-4/6 vs Chicago White Sox
4/8-4/10 @ Detroit Tigers
Prior to the 2010 season, I had predicted that the starting rotation would easily be the most productive part of the Royals team. On that point, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Going back and trying to understand why I was so wrong is enlightening. Primarily it started with the fact that Zack Greinke was coming off one of the finest pitching performances Royals fans have ever seen. I also envisioned a step forward for Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies which didn’t come to fruition
I’m not making the same mistake in 2011 and I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this rotation will almost assuredly not be the strength of the team. They lost Zack Greinke in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers which alone would make that an easy prediction. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if the rotation performed better than it did in 2010. I say this for two reasons:
Improved Defense – The defense in 2010 was abysmal. It was one of the worst collections of defensive players ever assembled. However, in 2011 the most egregious offenders should be upgraded. Aviles over Betemit at third. Ka’aihue over Butler at first. Escobar over Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop. It’s not a team filled with Gold Glovers, but it should boost the effectiveness of the entire pitching staff.
Prospects – The Royals pitching prospects are getting close to being ready for Major League action and if there are injuries or the team is somehow in contention near the All-Star Break it’s possible we could see some guys promoted. Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Aaron Crow and John Lamb all have a legitimate chance of starting some games for the Royals in 2011. Each would likely be an improvement today in the rotation, but they do need further work in the minors.
Let’s take a look at the rotation as it’s going to be on Opening Day.
Luke Hochevar – The 2006 first overall draft pick has been a disappointment in relation to his draft position. He’s a ground ball pitcher that didn’t really get that many ground balls in 2010. It’s possible he changed his approach or wasn’t exactly confident in the defense behind him. He’s probably best positioned to take advantage of an upgraded defense.
Jeff Francis – Acquired via free agency from the Colorado Rockies on a one year deal. Francis has had some injury problems and missed the entire 2009 season. Before he was hit with the injury bug, he was an emerging ace. He doesn’t have a high velocity fastball, but relies on using command and pitch selection to get hitters out. If he can regain any semblance of the form he showed prior to his injuries, the Royals will be thrilled. If he can’t get it back, there is very little risk. It was the best off-season signing the Royals made.
Kyle Davies – Davies has been a whipping boy of the Royals fanbase for going on four years now. He’s still relatively young and has fantastic stuff, but he can struggle with command and when he’s not on he can’t seem to muddle through and survive. That, however can skew his numbers. He puts up a lofty ERA, but can give his team a chance to win more often than people realize. He had 14 quality starts in 2010 which was good for second on the team behind Greinke. He’s not a great pitcher, but he’d represent an upgrade for many rotations in the MLB. He’s at the point in his career where he is what he is. Projecting great improvement out of him is likely futile. For now, he is an asset to the Royals at the back of the rotation.
Bruce Chen – He’s as likeable a baseball player as there is in the game today. He’s funny, personable and someone that everyone roots for. He’s of Chinese descent, however he was born and raised in Panama and I always get a kick out of hearing a Latin accent coming from an Asian guy. Beyond being likeable, he was very valuable in the rotation for the Royals in 2010. He’s the definition of a crafty lefty, who uses deception, different arm angles and experience to get hitters out. However, when that fails it fails spectacularly. I think that the numbers over-rated Bruce Chen in 2010 and he’s likely due for a significant drop in production in 2011. I believe he’s in the bullpen by the time the All-Star Break rolls around.
Vin Mazzaro – Due to the way the schedule works out, the Royals won’t need a fifth starter until April 16, so Mazzaro will hang back in Surprise, AZ for extended Spring Training. When he does make it to Kansas City, he’s going to be one of the more intriguing pitchers on the staff. He was acquired in the off-season from the A’s in the David Dejesus trade. He’s young, and was a pretty decent pitcher in 2010. He would’ve led the Royals in the percentage of his starts that were "quality"with 67%. That’s a higher rate than Zack Greinke had in 2011. He represents a departure from old-retread pitchers being acquired by the Royals, so he'll be interesting for that at least.
It’s not a good rotation; in fact it could be quite horrible, but I don’t think it will be as bad as some are predicting. If some younger guys like Mike Montgomery or Danny Duffy have a good start to their Minor League seasons they could be promoted and be instant improvements. It’s hard to improve when you lose one of the best pitchers in the game, but it’s possible the defense could be enough to even out that curve.
According to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, the Royals have cut four more players in the quest to get closer to the roster size of 25. He reports that right-handed bullpen candidates Blake Wood and Greg Holland have been optioned to the class AAA Omaha Stormchasers, as was catcher Manny Pina. Left-handed prospect Mike Montgomery has been reassigned to Minor League camp.
Pina and Montgomery aren't surprises. They're still young and need to spend some more time in the Minor Leagues before making the jump to the Royals. Wood seemed to be on the outside looking in, but Holland seemed to be a lock for the bullpen.
Right now, we know that Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda and Sean O'Sullivan are in the bullpen and that the Royals plan on having an eight man bullpen to start the season. That leaves eight players vying for five remaining spots. Here's how I'd rank their likelihood of making the pen: Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Nate Adcock, Robert Fish, Kanekoa Teixera, Luis Mendoza, Louis Coleman and Aaron Crow.