It’s about time for the Royals to play ball!

The Kansas City Royals 2012 season is about to begin, but some questions still remain.

Friday night in Anaheim, the Kansas City Royals begin their 2012 season against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After a relatively quiet off-season, spring training featured the signings of Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon to long-term contracts. But the spring also featured a major knee injury to Salvador Perez and season-ending Tommy John surgery for Joakim Soria. As the 2012 season begins, some questions remain for the Royals.

How will the starting rotation fare?
The Royals starting rotation is LHP Bruce Chen, RHP Luke Hochevar, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, RHP Luis Mendoza and LHP Danny Duffy. They’re not going to strike much fear in the hearts of opposing teams, but it should be a better rotation than last year. Bruce Chen is the Opening Day starter and while he’s not an ace, he’s a better Opening Day starter than Scott Elarton (ahh, those were the days). Hochevar improved during the second half of the 2011 season and hopes to improve in 2012. Sanchez should be a solid contributor if he cuts down on his walks. Luis Mendoza played his way into the rotation with a good spring. Duffy is a work in progress, but still has a lot of upside.

The starting rotation is the weak link of the Royals. But if the starters can pitch deep into games and not give up a lot of runs, the bullpen and offense have a chance to win games. And if any of the starters falter, pitchers like RHP Felipe Paulino, LHP Mike Montgomery and RHP Nate Adcock could join the rotation sometime in 2012.

Who will be the Royals closer now that Soria is gone for the year?

The loss of Soria isn’t good, but it’s not devastating. RHP Jonathan Broxton, RHP Greg Holland and RHP Aaron Crow have the ability to close games. Broxton closed for the Los Angeles Dodgers and has the experience. Holland hopes to improve on his successful rookie season and Aaron Crow hopes to bounce back from last year’s second half struggles and regain his first half All-Star form. And some believe RHP Kelvin Herrera has the stuff to be a closer and may have an opportunity to close this year. Yost is non-committal about choosing a closer, preferring to let the guys decide who plays their way into the role.

Who will be the backup catcher when Salvador Perez returns?
It’s likely to be around the All-Star break before Perez returns as the starting catcher. Meanwhile, Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero will share catching duties, with the possibility of catching for certain starting pitchers. Pena did a serviceable job behind veteran Matt Treanor last year and Quintero makes up for his weak hitting with good defense. Yost will likely give both players a chance to play their way into the backup catcher job or end up catching in AAA Omaha.

Will Johnny Giavotella stay in the Omaha gulag forever?
No, but he needs to improve his defense at second if he wants to stay in Kansas City. Many fans see the “power” of Chris Getz fading quickly and if Giavotella’s defense is in the same neighborhood as Getz, Giavotella will be back. Unless Yost falls in love with Yuniesky Betancourt and makes him the starting second baseman. Well, let’s hope not.

Will the Royals outfield repeat their success of 2011?
Not exactly, but unless injuries come up, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur should play close to their 2011 levels. Gordon has found his position in left field and Cain’s strong spring shows what he could do in center. Of the three, Francoeur is the most likely to regress but if he stays consistent, he’ll be fine. And the Royals have the capable Mitch Maier and the speedy Jason Bourgeois to back up Francoeur, Gordon or Cain if needed.

So how will the Royals fare in 2012?
Many baseball pundits believe the Detroit Tigers are the team to beat in the A.L. Central. The Cleveland Indians might be a good team, or they might not. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are in a down year and aren’t expected to do much.

If the Royals starters don’t give up a lot of runs, if the bullpen doesn’t blow leads, if the defense is solid and the offense plays up to their expectations, the Royals have a chance to win the A.L. Central. But if the Royals stumble in April and May like they have in the past and the other Central teams stay around .500, the Royals might find themselves in a hole they can’t get out of.

My optimistic prediction: 89-73, winning the A.L. Central by a couple of games over Detroit and making the playoffs. The Royals become the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, shocking the baseball world with a game seven walk-off home run by Chris Getz, winning a World Series Championship over the St. Louis Cardinals. (ok, the Getz home run might be a bit too optimistic).

My realistic prediction: 82-80, second place in the A.L. Central behind Detroit and missing the playoffs. Not a World Series Championship, but still a good season and something to build on for the future. Even that may be too optimistic, but after many years of futility, I’m ready for the Royals to be a competitive team. Whatever happens, I’m ready for the 2012 season to begin.

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