This past offseason, the Royals lost Nori Aoki, Billy Butler, and, most notably, James Shields. To replace these departed pieces, all of whom contributed to Kansas City’s World Series run, the team brought in Edinson Volquez (13-7 3.04 ERA with Pirates in 2014), Kendrys Morales (.218/.274/.338 +8 HRs between Twins and Mariners in 2014), and Alex Rios (.280/.311/.398 with Texas in 2014).
Immediately, comments flew that the Royals were now bound to take a step back, that 2014 breakout players like Lorenzo Cain and Volquez were bound to regress in big ways, and that the team had not done enough to keep up with the rest of the AL Central.
On Monday, the Royals opened the 2015 season against the new-look White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. By Thursday evening, the Royals had swept Chicago in their three-game series by scores of 10-1, 7-5, and 4-1. Furthermore, Thursday’s win came on the back of Volquez’s strong start (8 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, and 5 strikeouts).
These leads to one of two thoughts: either the White Sox aren’t as good as people thought, or the Royals are still the real deal. This isn’t to say the Royals are bound for another World Series appearance, because there are no guarantees in baseball and three games is a very, very small sample size. But I think they are still a solid team.
Through three games, newcomers Rios and Morales are slashing .625/.625/1.000 and .286/.500/.429, respectively. Again, small sample sizes, but they are doing their jobs and contributing nonetheless. Also, contrary to popular belief, Lorenzo Cain appears to still be a force, as he is currently slashing .500/.600/.875 with one home run, one stolen base, and three runs batted in, so expect the 28 year-old to have another strong season.
The White Sox are a newly assembled team and are still getting their legs under them, so the real test for the Royals will come in their upcoming three-game series against Mike Trout and the Angels, starting Friday night in Anaheim. The fact of the matter is that this is a young team looking for its second straight taste of October, a team that is going to once again fight tooth and nail to get there. They’ll need that fight all the same, because even though the Royals haven’t necessarily taken a step back, the rest of their division has gotten stronger, and the road to October will be no cakewalk.