The Royals? Really?
I know what you're thinking. There is no way the Royals are this year's version of the Tampa Bay Rays. Not even close.
Well, they aren't the only contenders for Cinderella of the Year. I'm going to have a series of articles coming for each contender to the throne the Rays placed into the baseball mind when they went from perennial disaster to World Series participant.
But of all the teams vying for the honor, Kansas City's once proud franchise has the best chance.
I'll put it to you simply, even though it might shock you to hear this.
The Royals aren't that bad—and they weren't that bad last year either. In a baseball world judged on superstar names and glitzy new ballparks, perspective seems to have been lacking.
The reality behind all the bright lights and shiny ballparks is that baseball teams like the Royals, with less to work with than the Yankees or Cubs, aren't half bad anymore. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies have hope these days.
Will the Royals get to and win the World Series this year? I doubt it. Will they get to the playoffs? There's doubt there as well.
Will they contend in the murderously competitive AL Central? That is where the doubt stops in its tracks.
Kansas City has the pitching to get into the pennant race. With Zach Greinke throwing up zeros and Gil Meche turning in stellar performances, the Royals have teeth at the top of the rotation. Kyle Davies is underrated, and Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez (not to mention Brian Bannister waiting in the wings) have the potential, if not the results.
If the starters give you pause, watch out for the bullpen. Joakim Soria closes their games. There aren't too many better closers out there in baseball. If that's not enough, Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth, both able setup men, have joined the cause. Add in Ron Mahay and some other interchangeable parts, and suddenly you have a mighty tough-looking 'pen.
Then there are the hitters. This, to be sure, isn't the club's strong suit, but there's a lot more here than meets the eye.
Mark Teahen is back at third for now while Alex Gordon gets himself healthy again. Mike Jacobs is over at first to provide power (if not average) to the lineup. Coco Crisp has the speed at the top of the order too. Also, don't sleep on Mike Aviles, the young shortstop.
Once Gordon and Jose Guillen, still able to hit well at his age, get healthy, and if Billy Butler gets hot, the Royals will start putting some fear into opposing pitchers more often. If that happens and the pitching stays on track, watch out.
The best part? Just like with Tampa Bay, there is help on the way from the farm. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are coming on strong, and Luke Hochevar, Tim Melville, and Daniel Cortes aren't far from joining the pitching staff.
The Royals aren't baseball's deepest team, but they are certainly getting deeper as their prospects develop.
In short, don't sleep on Kansas City. They may not be this year's Cinderella story, but they just might not be the guys who'll turn into pumpkins at midnight.