Opinion: Royals poised to make the playoffs

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This is it. This is the year. This is the year the Royals break their 28-season playoff drought and make it into the postseason. No doubts. This team has the tools in place to win 85-90 games and either win the American League Central or a Wild Card spot.  I know, I know. I predict the Royals will make it to the playoffs EVERY year, but this year, I am more certain than ever. As long as the guys on the roster avoid the injury bug, they should be able to power the Royals to the playoffs.

I’ve never seen the Royals in the playoffs. I started following them in 1987. I copied Bo Jackson’s batting stance whenever I went up to hit on my Little League team, mailed in baseball cards to pitcher Mark Gubicza for his signature (thanks for taking the time to sign and send them back to me, Guz!). I wore T-shirts with caricatures of Bret Saberhagen and George Brett; I listened to Denny Matthews call the games while sitting in the driveway in my 1980 tan Volare station wagon, jumping up and down in my seat whenever the Royals scored a run.

But then the Royals acquired Cy Young award winner Mark Davis and Storm Davis and they stunk it up, they got rid of Saberhagen and Kevin Appier, George Brett retired, and David Glass refused to spend money to upgrade the roster. I suffered through losing season after losing season but stayed true to my boys in blue. And now, after years and years and years of suffering, the Royals are about to reward me and the rest of their fans in a big way.

Here’s why I know they will win this year. Pitching. That’s it.  All the top baseball men repeat the same mantra year in and year out: pitching wins World Series. Look at the Texas Rangers. The San Francisco Giants. The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. All these former World Series contenders had great pitching. Last year, our pitchers stunk. We had one of the worst team ERA’s in the league. So General Manager Dayton Moore went out and fixed it. Big time.

I am one of the few who think trading Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis was genius. Our minor league system is still stocked with great potential, but none of our young starting pitchers are ready now. Some might never be.  It’s better to get proven major league pitchers than wait for potential that might never pan out. James Shields has been one of the best pitchers in the majors the past five years, and now he’ll be anchoring our staff. He proved on Opening Day that he is ready for the task, holding the White Sox to one run. And while he didn’t get the win, I predict he will end the season as a legitimate Cy Young award candidate. Wade Davis is a bulldog on the mound and has been pitching great this spring. I expect both these guys to win 12-15 (hopefully more) games this year.  Same with Ervin Santana and Jeremy Gutherie. These four experienced pitchers will be able to eat up a lot of innings and relieve the pressure off our bullpen. As for the fifth starter, I love Luis Mendoza.  He pitched really well in Triple A and after a year of seasoning int he big leagues, I think he’s ready to step up and help the Royals win every fifth day.

As for the rest of the line-up: Salvy Perez is a stud in the making. The guy can do it all.  Call games. Play defense. Hit. Not since Mike MacFarlane sat behind home plate have we had a catcher who could actually hit for average and help us win games with his bat. The fact he signed a below average contract extension to stay in Kansas City for a while shows he is a team player who is loyal to this team.  Just an all-around good guy.

Many believe Eric Hosmer will have a bounce-back year. He really struggled last year and never came out of his funk. Praised as the next great Royal, he succumbed to the pressure and ended up hitting a miserable .232 with 14 HRs. Ouch. For a guy regularly penned in the number three or four spot on the batting order, that lack of production killed the team. It was a horrendous sophomore slump. There is no doubt Hosmer has the tools to have a great rebound year, but I am a little more optimistic. I saw how Alex Gordon struggled his first four years before it all finally clicked, and now he’s one of the team’s cornerstones. I think Hosmer will struggle again this year but not as much, and I hope he can hit closer to .280 with 20 HRs and 100 RBIs. We shall see.

Let’s give Chris Getz his due. Every year, we want Johnny Giovetella to win that spot but Getz does just enough to secure that starting role. He is a hard, humble worker who is streaky at the plate but gives you solid defense at second base. I have an affinity for hard workers who fall under the radar, which is why I am rooting for Getz to have a solid year.

Whenever I see Alcides Escobar make another unbelievable play at shortstop, I can’t help but think we got the better of the deal in the trade for Zack Grienke. The money-hungry Grienke is now pitching for the Dodgers and admits he wanted to play for the team that paid him the most cash. A sellsword. A gunslinger for hire. As fun as it was to watch him pitch the year he won the Cy Young, I think the Royals are now much better without him. Escobar started hitting the ball well last year and if he keeps up this pace at the plate, he could be an All Star for years to come.

Our defense has also massively improved with Mike Moustakas at third base. I admit, I miss Joe Randa there, but Moose is a hard-nosed grinder who loves to get dirty and leads by example. He’s been hitting the cover off the ball in Arizona this spring and while Hosmer slumped his second year, Moose could explode. His past performances suggest he always gets better once he adjusts to the league he’s in, so I expect a monster year from him. He’s a natural leader. It all starts with belief.  Believing in yourself and your teammates, and Moose brings that mindset and attitude to the Royals.  He won’t take our history of losing as an excuse for not going to the playoffs, and I LOVE that about him. If only every one of the Royals felt the same way.

When you look at our outfield, you see three great defenders with the arm strength to throw out anyone who tries to take an extra base. I LOVE watching our guys throw people out! To throw from that far away right on target is true skill. There are a lot of offensive questions with Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francouer, so hopefully they can be as consistent at the plate as they are on the field. I love Alex Gordon. He works harder than anyone on the team and you see the results when he plays the game. He should hit .300 this season with 25 HRs, and don’t be surprised if he wins another Gold Glove.

Is there a better DH in baseball than Billy Butler? I’ve been critical of Butler in the past simply because he doesn’t run out ground balls and he doesn’t play first base that well.  I think he would’ve been great trade bait to get a top line starter. But now that the season is starting, I am glad we have him in our line-up. Butler is a force to be reckoned with, and no pitcher wants to face him with runners in scoring position. Butler will be the X-factor that gets us the extra wins we need to rise to the top of the Central Division.

As for the bullpen, I am worried about Greg Holland struggling in spring training. Guys are hitting off him, and that’s not good when you are the closer. Tim Collins is also struggling, which is concerning since he’s been so consistent for us the past few years.  Hopefully we’ll be winning most our games 8-0, so the bullpen won’t feel as much pressure to perform as they have in the past. If only Joakim Soria had never gotten hurt…

So there it is. My fearless prediction for 2013. Playoffs or bust, baby! Finally. Hope.  True hope. It’s going to be a fun year, and who knows? Maybe THIS is the year we make it back to the World Series!

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