The 2014 MLB postseason was special.
It was special because there were no bad guys. There were no Yankees. There were no teams riding a spending spree to a predictable deep playoff run. The Cardinals were there for a while, and bummed everyone out by shelling the baseball robot that is Clayton Kershaw, but they were quickly neutralized by the Giants in the championships series.
But just because there were no bad guys doesn’t mean there weren’t any good guys. And those good guys were the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals ended a 29-year playoff drought, and immediately became the favorite team of anyone who wasn’t playing them. They had the perfect mix of likable veterans (James Shields, Billy Butler) and players no one had even heard of before the playoffs began (Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson). That group of guys won eight straight games in the playoffs and nearly took down the Giants in the World Series.
If the Royals proved so much down the stretch, then expectations around the league for the team’s 2015 season were probably at all-time highs, right?
Wait, this team was picked by many to finish no higher than fourth in their division this year?
That’s right. The AL Central has a pair of sneaky-good contenders going into this season, and the Royals are not one of them. Hell, I put them 23rd out of 30 teams going into opening day.
So, naturally, this team has started the season 6-0.
Kansas City is one of two teams who remain perfect one week into the season, clinching the 6-0 start with a 9-2 throttling of the Angels this afternoon. There’s a good chance that record is going to just get more and more impressive, too. The Royals begin a three game series with the hapless Twins tomorrow, then hosts a decent Athletics team for three games, before getting to play three more against the Twins and four more against the White Sox, whom they swept to begin their season. With that schedule, this team could reasonably win 16 or 17 of its first 19 games.
So if they seemingly look the same as they did last October, why did no one give them respect in the preseason? And why am I still saddling them at just 19 out of 30 teams?
Well, it starts with the losses this team suffered after it played its final game of the 2014 season.
Both of those “likable veterans” I mentioned earlier are gone, and Kansas City replaced them with Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez. The team also dragged Alex Rios’ career out of the nursing home and brought him in to replace Nori Aoki in right field.
Even last year, this lineup wasn’t an intimidating one. They hit the least home runs out of anyone in the American League, and were below league average in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. And without Shields’ name at the top of the rotation, this team doesn’t have a true ace in their pitching staff.
Now consider who the Royals play with in the Central. The Tigers are stacked, the Indians have the reigning Cy Young champ, and the White Sox have Jose Abreu hitting taters that don’t land in this solar system.
When a team doesn’t have star-power, they need to do something flashy as a group to get people’s attention. And with an undefeated start, that’s what the Royals have done. Now the question becomes whether this first week was a fluke.
First, let’s start off with what’s sure not to last. The Royals have hit eight home runs, second most in the American League. They also have three starters hitting .400, and Rios is raking at .360. Volquez probably won’t pitch another game like he did this week, and the bullpen will eventually start giving up runs, something it hasn’t done in 13.1 innings of scoreless baseball in six games.
Fortunately for Kansas City, though, not all of Danny Duffy’s starts this season will yield five runs in five innings.
Six games aren’t nearly enough to judge a team’s prospective season on. The pitching staff is still very young, and the Indians and Tigers won’t go down as easily as the Twins are about to.
But what does seem to be evident early on is that the Royals are still a team that can run circles around you, play well above average defense, and still come up with clutch hits like the ones they got last October.
So if you want stay on this team’s bandwagon, that’s awesome. There hasn’t been much of one for 30 years in Kansas City, and who in their right mind wants fewer .gifs of George Brett celebrating in the press box?
And if you’re still skeptical, well, you’re not completely crazy. But for now, it doesn’t matter what people predict for this team. They’re going to win games regardless.