The KC Royals open the 2020 major league season tonight in Cleveland. Here are some of my hopes for the club’s campaign.
I get excited about Opening Day. I have ever since 1964, my first full season as a fan after coming to the game sometime in 1963; although the precise moment I became smitten with this great game escapes me, I vividly recall watching Sandy Koufax pitch on television during the Dodgers-Yankees World Series. Now, 57 years later, I’m ready for KC Royals baseball tonight, and have been for a long, long time.
This will be a strange season. Anything and everything can occur in a short, three-month regular campaign, and anything and everything probably will. A team otherwise incapable of contending could get hot and win it all; great teams could slump early, not have time to recover, and miss a postseason they should have made. Six slots were added to this postseason field via the reported agreement the players and clubs reached Thursday afternoon, so maybe the Royals have an outside chance to play in October. I don’t think they’ll make it, but hope they do.
Here are some of my other hopes for the 2020 Royals.
Danny Duffy. I’m an unabashed Danny Duffy fan and unapologetic for it. He’s the Royals’ $65-million man, the promising hurler the club went all-in with by signing him to an early mega-extension shortly before spring training started in 2017. Duffy, since plagued by inconsistency and injury, hasn’t pitched like $65 million, but he may be the loyalest of Royals and has made no secret of his wish to spend his whole career in KC.
My hope for Duffy is that he has the kind of excellent season he and the team know he’s capable of. Consistency and health are the keys; he has the stuff and the will. A successful season will go a long way to making him a Royal for life.
Alex Gordon. For Alex Gordon, the Royals’ wildly popular quiet leader who’s cornered the market on left field Gold Gloves, I’m hoping for a stellar “one for the books” season because this one might be his last.
Like Duffy, Gordon’s performance suffered after signing a big contract (his was a four-year, $72 million deal that ran its relatively unproductive course in 2019). But he bounced back before it expired, hitting .266 (his best since hitting .271 in 2015, and far better than his .220 in ’16, .208 in ’17 and .245 in ’18). He proved he still has occasional power with 13 home runs; his 76 RBIs were his best since 2013. And he won his third straight, and seventh total, Gold Glove.
Gordon is entering his 14th big league season and is 36 years old; those milestones mean there’s far more career behind than ahead of him. He’s said he wants to play past this season, but time tends to catch up with ballplayers in their mid-to-late 30’s more often than they evade it. There’s a stable full of talented outfielders knocking on the Kauffman Stadium gates; if Gordon, who’s on a one-year contract, doesn’t have a decent year, and as I’ve written before, the Royals may have to make a hard decision.
Time is why I wish Gordon a stellar season, just in case there aren’t many left.
Adalberto Mondesi. My hope for Adalberto Mondesi is simple: a season free from the injuries that feed talk of him being too fragile to realize his star potential. Although he hasn’t displayed the consistent power he’s capable of, he’s a good hitter, an excellent fielder, and a superb base stealer. Imagine what he could do without injuries, such as the shoulder issues that sidelined him twice last year and required offseason surgery. Mondesi deserves a healthy 2020.
Salvador Perez. I hope to see Salvy playing well and splashing again, but it won’t surprise me if the KC Royals discourage him from personally participating in the post-victory liquid bath that bears his name. But no matter who the ringleader is, a Salvy Splash means a Royals win, so the more Splashes the better.
And I hope he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. If his intrasquad and exhibition game performances are any indication, his elbow and bat are ready after a one-year absence.
Ian Kennedy. If my hope for Ian Kennedy is fulfilled, he won’t be a Royal after the August 31 trade deadline. I want him to perform so well as KC’s closer that other teams come calling and want him for the stretch run; he’s in the last year of his contract and, considering the incredible collection of pitching talent making its way to Kansas City, he really hasn’t a future with the club.
And the Royals might be able to turn Kennedy for a good prospect or two. I’m not a fan of trading everyone away for prospects toward the end of their contracts, but it makes sense here.
Of course, if Kennedy’s piling up saves, it means the team is winning a lot. In that case, they might be in contention, so hanging on to Kennedy would also make sense. But I’m not expecting it.
Ryan O’Hearn. First and foremost, I hope O’Hearn recovers fully and soon from COVID-19. All indications are that he’ll be back before long.
My other hope for O’Hearn is that he regains the 2018 form that made him the KC Royals’ first baseman; nothing against Ryan McBroom, mind you, but I’d like to see O’Hearn re-stake his claim to the job.
Brad Keller and Jakob Junis. I have faith in Brad Keller and Jakob Junis; both have the talent to be good major league starting pitchers. I hope they bounce back from COVID-19 and establish themselves, once and for all, as consistent winners and rotation mainstays.
Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips. I hope, for their sake and the team’s, that the Bubba-Brett competition ends this season. That probably means one, or both, of the likeable outfielders will be gone (they’re both out of options), but it’s time to put the issue to rest.
Mike Matheny. Did new KC Royals manager Mike Matheny get a bad rap in St. Louis? Unless you were in the Cardinal clubhouse when he managed that club to three straight division titles and a National League pennant, that’s an open question. But the fact he didn’t have a losing campaign in six and a half seasons proves he can manage.
What’s my hope for Matheny this year? That he has a good inaugural season, leads well, improves his in-game tactics and puts the Royals on the path to success.
The Royals. I hope the KC Royals compete. I really don’t expect them to contend, but I expect them to be better. I think they will be. And I expect they’ll show us better days aren’t that far away.
My greatest hope. Above all else, I hope the Royals stay safe and healthy. I hope the same for everyone.
The season starts tonight for the KC Royals. Let’s hope it’s a great one.