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Who will be the Royals starting second baseman on opening day? (Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE)

Get Your Popcorn Ready - Royals 2012 Season Storylines

The Royals 2012 season is going to be like a good book or movie.  Lots of intersecting plotlines, intriguing drama, memorable heroes, wild action scenes, and despicable bad guys.  The major difference between this year and seasons past is that the story of the Royals in 2012 has the potential for a happy ending.  No other Royals season for the past umpteen years can say that.

Many of the story lines will be decided in the next several days, but others will hold our attention for months – and that’s another thing that makes this season different from most others.  If the story plays out the way we expect, we’ll still be watching and listening with rapt attention until the last game against the Tigers on October 3.

Here’s an enticing potential storyline for us to begin with.  What if (now just humor me for a moment, this could happen), what if the Royals are within 3 games of the Tigers when the final series with them begins on October 1?  Does it make this storyline even more fascinating if you know these games will be played in Kauffman stadium?  You couldn’t plan a better outcome for 2012, could you?  I bet just the thought of it has your juices flowing already.  I think it’s a very optimistic thought, and few if any Royals fans I know are expecting the team to be in contention down the stretch, but we’re all hoping for it aren’t we?  And I think all of us would say that it COULD happen, which makes this storyline one that will likely keep our attention well into the season.

And if you’re wondering why I’m using the Tigers as the team I’m suggesting will lead the AL Central this year, well… Verlander, Fielder, Cabrera – that’s why.

Who is going to play second base for the Royals this year?  The smart money is on Johnny Giavotella who finished the year at second last season, but it could be Chris Getz or (knock on wood), Yuniesky Betancourt.  Giavotella has the potential to be clearly the best hitter of this group, but his defense is suspect and he may still be recovering from surgery to correct a labral tear in his hip that hindered his ability to move side to side.  Alex Gordon underwent similar surgery in 2009 and so far, I’d say his defensive capabilities have not only recovered, but have contributed to raising his status to one of the top left fielders in the league.  (Who would you rather have in left field than Alex Gordon, MLB’s 24th ranked player in 2011 according to ESPN’s player ranker?  No one?  That’s what I thought.)

Chris Getz has changed his “swing path” and his stride to the ball this Spring, which so far is showing promising results, but he’s still an underdog to usurp the position from Johnny.  One other frightening prospect is the hopefully very slight possibility that because both Getz and Giavotella have options remaining the Royals have the flexibility to send either Johnny or Chris to Omaha (or both – Yikes!) and let so-called utility player Yuniesky Betancourt play second base.  (I say “so-called” because he’s never really played all the positions he’s being asked to backup.  And why would we want him to anyway?)   Without going into great detail in this post regarding how I feel about this possibility, you can read what I think here.  You can also read how Kevin Scobee feels about it here.  Suffice it to say, it alarms both of us.

Will the Royals still be in the race at the All Star break?  I just finished writing (or maybe dreaming) in the 3rd paragraph that the Royals could potentially be within 3 games of the Tigers at the end of the season, so obviously I think the Royals will be in the race at the All Star break.  There are many positive and negative aspects of a team comprised of mostly young, enthusiastic, but somewhat inexperienced players.  The energy that comes off this team is infectious and I love watching them chest bump each other and feed off of their teammates’ play.  But teams like this can be emotional, and streaky, and an 8 game losing streak could jeopardize everything they’re trying to accomplish.

Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer share a little love (Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE)

Will one of the Royals beat Steve Balboni’s 1985 single season 36 home run record?  (Balboni also led the league in strikeouts that year with 166.  Ay caramba!)  There are few records in baseball that are begging to be broken more than this one.  I know Kauffman stadium is a pitcher’s park, but come on guys, somebody needs to break this record, please!  Mike Moustakas has the pedigree to break the record.  He hit 52 homes runs during his high school career (a California state record) and he led all minor league players with 36 home runs in 2010 while playing in just 118 games.  Back in late January, one of the guys on the MLB Networks’ Inside Pitch program predicted that Eric Hosmer would eventually win the triple crown.  I believe both Moose and Hoz have the potential to break the record, and very possibly both of them will break the record…  someday, but probably not in 2012.

Will Alex Gordon repeat his All Star worthy performance from 2011?  The respected ZiPS projection system has Gordon pegged to backslide from his 2011 performance and end 2012 with a .278/.358/.464 line (he hit .303/.376/.502 in 2011) and 20 home runs.  Those stats are decent, particularly for a guy expected to turn in a strong defensive performance, but probably not All Star worthy.  On the other hand, I think ZiPS may rely too heavily on past performance when creating their calculations and not enough on the intangibles or the fact that someone “figured it out.”  If you look up “figured it out” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Alex Gordon.

Few people have come into the league with higher expectations or potential and in my opinion it has been more of a surprise that Gordon hasn’t been performing at an All Star level prior to 2011 than it should be a surprise if he performs at an All Star level in 2012.  In addition, I believe his chances of making the squad this year are increased because many people took notice last year to how loudly RoyalNation squawked when Gordon didn’t make the team and this should raise his visibility a little in 2012.  Put me down as a believer and firmly in the camp of disagreeing with ZiPS, at least where Gordon is concerned.  I think he’ll be hovering around .290/.295 by the All Star break with 12-14 dingers, which should be good enough for consideration.

Will the Royals place more than one player on the All Star team?  We all know Gordon was robbed last year, but in all likelihood, if he had been selected to the All Star team Aaron Crow probably wouldn’t have gone.  One of the drawbacks of having a young team is that few people know about you and it’s hard for your players to get votes in Baltimore or Phoenix if the fans don’t recognize their names.  And if the fans don’t vote for them, no All Star manager is going to select more than one Royal when he can nominate players from his own team.  And Ron Washington will probably have plenty of deserving Rangers to pick from.

Until the Royals make the playoffs and put themselves on a national stage, I can’t imagine one of them getting the most votes, so I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.  But, there is one possible wild card in the selection process this year – the game will be played in Kansas City at Kauffman stadium.  If Ron Washington wants to make a good impression with the home crowd, he could possibly pick an extra player from the Royals.  The only way to ensure this happens is if a couple of the Royals step up and earn it, forcing his hand to the point that he would have no alternative but to select a couple of the boys in blue.

Will one of the Royals promising minor league pitchers join the rotation?  There are several young pitchers in the minor leagues that could earn the right to be considered for the rotation in 2012.  Many people believe Mike Montgomery is the most likely candidate for this honor, although consensus opinion is that unless he’s “lights out” in Spring Training, he’ll begin the season at AAA.  Going back to ZiPS, they predict that if Montgomery plays for the Royals in 2012, his line will be almost identical to Danny Duffy’s, beginning with a projected ERA of 4.92.  Between you and me, I’d be very happy if Mike could achieve that in his first major league season, although based on his performance in Omaha last year, I’d be mildly shocked if he did that well.

Not including the pitchers who’ve played at least a few games already in KC, there are several additional guys that could make the club sometime in 2012, including John Lamb (his 2011 Tommy John surgery makes his 2012 debut unlikely, although not impossible), Jake Odorizzi, Chris Dwyer, and a few others.  I’m very excited for these guys to all earn their way to KC, but in my opinion, none of them deserve a promotion yet and with the probable exception of Mike Montgomery, I don’t think we’ll see any of them in the starting rotation in Kansas City in 2012.

Will Lorenzo Cain be able to fill Melky Cabrera’s shoes?  If you consider that a player’s value is more than just his production at the plate, I say yes, Lorenzo Cain will be very close to Melky’s equal in 2012.  (Mike Engel said that Melky won’t even be Melky’s equal in 2012, so there’s that.)  Cain plays lights out defense, and while he hasn’t spent enough time at the Major League level to prove himself yet, he’s at least shown that he can hold his own at the plate.  ZiPS says Cain will bat .258 this year, but I think that’s a pessimistic prediction.  I may be surprised, but if the Royals don’t break .500 this year, I’m confident it won’t be because of Lorenzo Cain.

Will the Royals break .500 this year?  As we all know, the last time the Royals broke .500 was in 2003.  Most of the oddsmakers have the Royals pegged at 79-81 wins in 2012, and these are the people who make their living off of predictions like this.  We all know that a clutch double or a blown call can make the difference between at least a couple of games each year, so yes, it’s very, very possible the Royals could break .500 this year.  I’m saying 83 wins this year, and a playoff run in 2013, which I believe is realistic.

Will Sports Illustrated eat their words?  A few weeks ago, I was infuriated by a Sports Illustrated article entitled “Hope Doesn’t Spring Eternal for These Teams”, which listed the Royals, Orioles, A’s, Mets, Pirates, and Cubs as the teams that never have any chance of competing.  The writer of this story obviously knows nothing about baseball history and the periods of time where the major leagues were dominated by the Royals, Orioles, and A’s, and the unexpected championships of the Mets.  And there are more Cub fans who dream of bringing home the trophy each year than there are grains of sand on the beach.

Let’s all answer this together – How many World Series have the Red Sox won in the past 90+ years?  Two.  How many championships have the Rangers won in their entire existence?  None.  How many times have the gigantic market Angels hung the flag in the past 51 years?  One time, the same as the Royals.  If you want to get all caught up in “what have you done for me lately?” then let’s throw all the teams into the pot and consider them equally, and not just the teams that it has become politically correct to bash.

But, beyond these historical slights, the writer obviously hasn’t kept up with what’s been happening in Kansas City in 2012.  Not only are Royals fans fired up beyond any year in recent memory, but the Royals have a very realistic chance to compete, and if a handful of breaks go their way I could see them in contention right up to the wire.  I think it’s highly probable that Sports Illustrated will have no choice but to pay more attention to Kansas City before this season is over.

Spring Training has begun and it feels like we’re watching a preview of coming attractions.  It’s almost time for the book to be opened, the movie to begin, and the curtain to be drawn on the 2012 Royals season.  It’s been years since Kansas City had so many baseball storylines to watch, and longer since the storylines could potentially hold our interest for months to come.  I for one can’t wait.  Get your popcorn ready!

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Tags: Aaron Crow AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Chris Getz Eric Hosmer Johnny Giavotella Kansas City Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Lorenzo Cain Mike Montgomery MLB Royals Steve Balboni Yuniesky Betancourt

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