“Know Your Division” is a series of evaluations for the 2016 season. We will preview each team in the NL and AL Central as the Cubs and Sox prepare to match up against these foes, breaking down each part of the game and what to look for going into the year.
No better place to kick off this series than with the reigning champs. The Kansas City Royals are looking to repeat as AL Central winners and make their third straight trip to the World Series. In 2015 the Royals won 95 games and went 11-5 in the postseason for the franchise’s second World Series title. Once again the Royals have their doubters despite bringing back most of their starters from the year prior, particularly the PECOTA projection system which has them coming in last with 76 wins.
Their biggest additions came on the pitching staff. Ian Kennedy will slide into the second or third starter role behind Edison Volquez and every White Sox fan’s favorite pitcher Yordano Ventura. Kennedy has had quite the up and down career, but given the dominance of the Royals’ pen they won’t need much out of a mid-rotation starter. Joakim Soria will add to that dominance this year, re-joining the team where he made his bones as a closer from 2007-2011. All in all, not quite the amount of splash on paper as the White Sox, but we saw how little eye-popping offseason signings can matter just last year.
The Royals are team that prides itself on making contact and avoiding strikeouts. Because of this, it’s important to note that they’re bringing back virtually their entire offense after the resigning of Alex Gordon. The only real competition among positional players is in right field where Jarrod Dyson is currently projected to be the starter. It’s hard to imagine the Sox matching this team offensively, so the starting pitching will have to be very good against the Royals because getting behind is a death sentence.
They will have the best defense in the division, possibly the American League, again this year. Their outfield is going to take away a ton of hits, and Salvador Perez is just a notch below Yadier Molina behind the plate. The infield is also filled with above average to great defenders. Even with the upgrades the Sox made to their defensive game, they don’t come close to how good this Royals team will be in the field. Might as well forget about out-defending them on any given day.
The White Sox have the superior starting pitching, but the Royals have a bullpen that continues to be historical. Relief pitching is becoming more important every season in today’s game, and the Royals are clearly ahead of the curve. As much crap as he gets (most of it being deserved) Ned Yost has mastered the management of his pitching staff. I haven’t watched a second of Royals spring training baseball but I can almost guarantee that Danny Duffy becomes the next very average starter turned lights out bullpen pitcher on their staff. I don’t think it’s possible for Wade Davis, who was also a super average starting pitcher, can keep giving up like three runs a season. But considering he’ll have to be worse this year to have an ERA of 1.00, I think he’s going to be okay. I would call this mostly a wash between the two teams, maybe with a slight edge to the Sox as their bullpen shouldn’t be too shabby as well.
The Meat and Potatoes
The Royals are every old baseball fan’s dream. They constantly defy projection systems as the people behind those algorithms haven’t found a way to quantify how the Royals win baseball games. I really don’t see any reason this team shouldn’t win 90 games again this year. Of course, baseball could always baseball so I can’t say they’re a lock to win the division. However, I do think it will take a couple of career years plus almost everything else going right for the Sox to compete. I just hope Chris Sale stays in his own clubhouse this year.