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The Royals “Come To Play,” but will they have “game” this season?

In a few days, the Royals begin their 2013 season in Surprise, Arizona. The pitchers and catchers report early next week and the position players a few days later. While there was optimism last year, the team believes 2013 is the year they will contend in the American League Central.

Come To Play 2013

The Royals focused their offseason on starting pitching, trading for starting pitchers Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis. Jeremy Guthrie stayed with the team and signed a three-year, $25MM deal. Except for signing a few veteran position players like Miguel Tejada, Xavier Nady and Endy Chavez to Minor League contracts, the position players are pretty much set. Despite these moves, there’s still some questions coming into Spring Training.

How much will the starting rotation improve? Last year, the Royals starting rotation was the weak link with a 5.01 ERA and 890 total innings pitched, which was 13th in the American League. The Royals bullpen had a 3.17 ERA and pitched 561.1 innings, making them the most worked bullpen in the A.L.

General Manager Dayton Moore wants the starting rotation to pitch at least 1,000 innings this year, an 110 inning improvement. Last year, only two teams had their starting rotation pitch at least 1,000 innings, the Seattle Mariners (1002.2) and the New York Yankees (1001.1).

If Shields pitches like an ace, Guthrie pitches like he did the second half of 2012, Davis and Santana find their starting pitching mojo and Luke Hochevar finds some consistency, it’s possible the starting rotation pitches 1,000 innings. But that’s a lot of if’s and if there is long-term or season ending injuries, the Royals season could be in jeopardy.

Will Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer improve in 2013? Moustakas played pretty well the first half of 2012, but ended up with a .242/.296/.412 average. His defense was good, but his offense fell short. Hosmer struggled all season, ending up with a .232/.304/.359 average. During the offseason, Hosmer worked with his brother to help improve his swing, so there’s hope for improvement. The Royals need Moustakas and Hosmer to live up to their potential if they want to contend this season.

Will Jeff Francoeur bounce back from his dismal 2012? Frenchy is the player fans love to hate, but like it or not, he’s the starting right fielder this season. He has good outfield defense, and if he just plays league average offense, he’ll be better than last year. But if his downward spiral continues, we’ll be seeing Jarrod Dyson, David Lough or someone else patrolling right field.

Can the Royals keep their key players from long-term injuries? Every team has to deal with injuries, but long-term injuries are especially painful for teams like the Royals. Part of the disappointing 2012 season were the injuries to catcher Salvador Perez, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino. Perez and Cain missed the bulk of the 2012 season and Duffy and Paulino won’t return until the middle of the 2013 season. Injuries happen, but the Royals can’t afford to have injuries like they had last year.

Can the Royals stay away from losing streaks? We all know about the 12-game meltdown last April, but the Royals also had a five-game losing streak in July and a six-game losing streak in September. That’s 23 games worth of losing streaks. If the Royals went 11-12 in those games, they would finish with an 83-79 record, which they haven’t done since 2003. Yes, they wouldn’t make the playoffs. But we’d be talking about the improvements the Royals made in 2012 and the moves the Royals made this offseason would be met with more optimism. And if the Royals have another 12-game losing streak in April, Ned Yost and Dayton Moore might be out of a job by May.

The Royals are a better team than last year, but they have to stay away from long-term injuries and multi-game losing streaks. Moustakas and Hosmer have to improve and Francoeur can’t repeat his 2012 performance. There’s more reason to hope than ever, but the Royals are still a young team and they have their work cut out for them this season.

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