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2013: Do or die for the Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals 2012 season started with a lot of hope and optimism. But after April’s 12 game losing streak, it turned into despair and pessimism. And in some ways, it wasn’t a surprise. Most of the rookies of 2011 were in their sophomore campaigns and the League caught up to them, with Eric Hosmer‘s disappointing season as an example. The weak starting rotation wasn’t improved during the offseason. And when the team’s main offseason moves included trading for a back of the rotation starter who didn’t like being a Royal (Jonathan Sanchez), a closer who had success in the past and recovering from injuries (Jonathan Broxton) and injuries to key players during Spring Training and the regular season, it’s not a surprise the team finished 72-91, third in the A.L. Central.

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With all the moves the Royals made so far this offseason and increasing payroll, you’d think fans believe the Royals will have a better season and a chance to make the playoffs. But looking around the Royals blogosphere and comments from some fans, there’s less optimism than this time in 2012, when the roster wasn’t as good.

On paper, the Royals are better. Trading for James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana and resigning Jeremy Guthrie dramatically improves the rotation. Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar will likely fight for the fifth spot in the rotation. And it’s possible Luis Mendoza or Will Smith gets the fifth spot. The bullpen is still good and the improved rotation means they pitch less innings. A full, healthy season of Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer bouncing back and solid performances by Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Alcides Escobar should score more runs.

But it doesn’t mean anything until the team wins more games. And there’s plenty of reasons the Royals could have another disappointing season. Shields and Davis could get injured. Santana might end up pitching like, well, Santana. Guthrie could pitch like he did in Colorado. The bullpen may regress, giving up more late-inning runs. Moustakas and Hosmer could continue their struggles or become injured. Gordon, Butler and Escobar could have disappointing seasons. Jeff Francoeur could make 2012 look like an All-Star season. And with the Royals, that’s usually the rule, not the exception.

And it’s understandable. Being a Royals fan is like being Charlie Brown when Lucy pulls away the football. Fans expect the team to lose or fail because many times the Royals lose and fail. Some fans believe the team spends too little money on players, or too much money on the wrong players. Or the team relies too much on prospects who fail, or if they’re traded, they don’t bring enough value and succeed with other teams. Can’t miss prospects many times miss. The strained relationship of fans and ownership doesn’t help either. This creates and environment of skepticism, followed by cynicism. Until the Royals win more games and contend in their division, it’s warranted.

It’s hard to say what 2013 will bring for the Royals. Will they turn a corner, or turn right into a wall and come crashing down? And if Royals lose like they did early in the 2012 season, how much more will the fan base take?

For the Royals to succeed, many things have to go their way. They’re still a young team and the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians aren’t pushovers. There’s more reason for hope and optimism in 2013, but until the Royals become winners, that’s all it will be.

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