I looked at the comments to this post during the game yesterday, and following the blown save Saturday, and 4 runs given up in the first inning Sunday I think there were a lot of people thinking that it was time. Minus Jim, it looked like people were already expecting a collapse similar to last year’s catastrophic beginning. Then Billy Butler went crazy and the Royals knocked out Cole Hamels. We were feeling good…until the bullpen was shaky again, but Kelvin Herrera slammed the door in the end. Since then, my main thought has been that this team is different. Finally this team may have the talent and maturity to bounce back rather than going into a death spiral, I hope.
There are some pretty obvious differences to this team that have been beaten to death. Mostly it boils down to a rotation at the beginning of the season where the pitcher who opened on the road and at home were not good enough to make the rotation. Let me say that again in case it didn’t sink in. Last year Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar started opening day and the home opener and neither could crack the rotation this year. That is a huge difference, setting aside the huge price paid to pull this feat off, and makes it significantly less likely that this team will fall apart for an extended period of time. Better talent leads to good outcomes. Usually this is the biggest thing that leads to winning.
Still, I felt like something else was contributing. During the early part of the season last year when the team was in a double digit losing streak a deficit felt like a loss long before the 27th out was made. This year the fans seem to still feel it, as 20+ years of conditioning has primed them to feel. The team did not look like it felt that way at all though. Batters were still approaching the game normally rather than flailing and striking out at ridiculous rates like they did when pressing last year. Eventually this lead to runners, and then to a Country Breakfast slam (how has Denny’s not signed Billy to a deal yet?). The bats did not roll over and die, they carried the day along with James Shields being perfect after the early problems. Everyone pointed to a better rotation as a reason for optimism, and maybe that has carried over to the batters who now believe that they have a chance even when down four runs in the first. Oh yeah, we just did this on Friday, down four, roar back and win it, no problem.
The bullpen almost coughed it up and spoiled everything. That could be a point of concern, but should it be? J.C. Gutierrez struggled, which we all are expecting. No one thought he should make the team, outside of the Royals front office. We didn’t get too worked up about it because it still the last bullpen spot, but there are options hanging out in Omaha to replace J.C. This is not a concern going forward as he will be replaced given more struggles. The second part is more concerning. For the second time in as many days Greg Holland came in and struggled. He was really, really good last year, and I would love to see him have another year like that, but if he doesn’t the Royals will be fine. Bullpens vary a lot from year to year and one reliever having a down year is to be expected. Herrera came in a bailed him out, Tim Collins was good again, and there is still Aaron Crow. A down year from Holland will not sink this team, especially with guys like Donnie Joseph hanging out ready to get their shot.
The opening road trip was really uneven, but at the end of it I am very encouraged. The offense scored 5 runs a game after two really bad games out of the gate. The Royals ended up even, 3 and 3. The rotation got off to a pretty darn good start mostly. Is this team different? Should we stop worrying about the inevitable collapse. I believe the answers are yes to both of those questions. My lifetime of Royals fandom keeps me from completely letting go of the worry of collapse, but this team feels different. There is a long time to go to prove if my faith is misplaced, but for now I can’t wait for the game to start each and every day.