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Early Returns Look Good

Now that’s the way to start a season. Okay, Thursday wasn’t the way to start a season, but the next three games will do wonders to keep Kansas City engaged and interested in the Royals for awhile. If they continue to play the way they did this weekend, this could be an even more fun season than I anticipated. I’m not going to sit here and change my prediction for the season. It’s still a mere four games, but the thing that was obvious to anyone who even looked at a box score in any of the games so far is that the Royals have a lot of heart and a lot of fight. Some people mock the idea of team chemistry and heart, but I think it’s important for teams to at least have some in order to be able to have weekends like the Royals had.

Before I get into the guy who is already almost assured of fan favorite status, I’d like to talk about how likeable this team is to the average fan. I heard this in multiple places, so I know it isn’t just my opinion or one other person’s opinion. The difference between this year’s team and last year’s team is night and day in how much you want to root for these guys. Last season, you had guys like Jose Guillen patrolling right field, Jason Kendall behind the plate and Zack Greinke clearly growing more and more disinterested by the start. Yuniesky Betancourt is likeable, but he’s such a polarizing figure that he was changing the amount people liked the team as well. This year, it’s players who are super easy to root for. For example, after Matt Treanor hit the game winning homer yesterday, he thanked the fans for sticking around through 13 innings* and seemed genuine about it. Tim Collins did the same thing.

*Why do people leave a tie game that gets deeper and deeper into extra innings? The odds are pretty good that it’s going to be an exciting ending. I get that people have babies and they can’t stay, but I saw adult families just leave in like the 12th. I just don’t get it.

Now let’s talk about Tim Collins. The little guy can certainly pitch. When he came in on Opening Day, it was fun to watch him work, but yesterday was a different level. He was in total command. I never felt for a second that the lead was in any danger because he was simply dominant yesterday, and it showed in the stat line as he struck out five in three innings and gave up just two base runners. He’s a fan favorite already, and if he keeps this up, it’s going to be for way more than the fact that he’s a little guy. Though it was pretty funny watching him walk out to the bullpen with Nate Adcock before Opening Day.

The bullpen as a whole, though, looks like it has the potential to be absolutely dominant. I said it after Opening Day, but after seeing a whole weekend’s worth of action, I can safely reiterate it. There are weak links out there, and I don’t expect the big guns to keep a 0.00 ERA all season, but all in all, that’s a bullpen in which I have supreme confidence. You all, at this point, probably know how I feel about Sean O’Sullivan. He’s a weak link. I like Kanekoa Texeira, but he’s not long for the bullpen when the Royals decide to bring up Louis Coleman. The other key characters, though, I think are going to be outstanding over the course of the season. The scary thing for opponents is that they’re going to get better as the prospects start to round out the bullpen.

The starting pitching was not quite as bad as I envisioned, but I have to say that Kyle Davies was not the least bit impressive on Saturday. Typically he has a strong start to the season, but Saturday’s action was not indicative of his typical behavior. I think he has a longer leash in the rotation than I would like for him, but there are pitchers at AAA who are closer to ready than people think. I’m not sure if there’s any particular meaning behind this, but it looks like Mike Montgomery will be on a similar schedule to Davies to start the season. That is 100% idle speculation, but it could potentially be something to watch out for in the coming months. Bruce Chen yesterday was not good. He was efficient in the first, but after that left balls up, had a little trouble with command and struggled to get through five. His performance yesterday is why the win statistic is overrated. If the bullpen didn’t give up the lead, Chen would have gotten the win for a 9.00 ERA performance in which he gave up three homers.

I haven’t mentioned the offense yet, but the very encouraging statistic is that they lead the American League in walks taken. Now, they’ve also played one more game than everybody but the Angels, but they are second in the American League in walks per game. Yes, the sample size is small, and if this was a four game stretch in mid-July, the odds are good that nobody would notice. But it’s still a positive sign nonetheless. And I would notice in mid-July. It’s just sort of my thing. They stole six bases yesterday and now have nine steals on the season with a 90% success rate. The odds are pretty good that they get caught at some point a little more often, but the aggressive stealing is paying off already.

It’s early, but the results are encouraging out of Kauffman Stadium. The team is hitting well, pitching decently, playing pretty good defense (after the first 14 or so innings of the season), running the bases well and generally just playing some solid, inspired baseball. They’re still not likely to even crack 80 wins, but the fact is that we were all correct in the offseason that they may be bad, but they’d be fun to watch. I don’t think we can count on Matt Treanor to hit the game winning three run homer too terribly often, but the team looks like a group of guys who enjoy playing together and want to do everything in their power to get wins. For now, I’m going to enjoy looking at the standings that read Kansas City at the very top of the American League Central. It is only four games, but so what? We’ve suffered as fans for long enough that we need to enjoy the little successes.

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