The Kansas City Royals are off to a great start. They're 7-0 after demolishing the hapless Minnesota Twins 12-3 on Monday, the first 7-0 team since the 2003 Giants and ... 2003 Royals. That squad was comprised of a bunch of upstarts who won their first nine games and were actually in first place as late as Aug. 20, before fading down the stretch (still, that was the only season Kansas City finished over .500 from 1995 through 2012).
But are the Royals a great team?
Does winning your first seven games mean anything more than winning seven at any point in the season? From a logical standpoint, it shouldn't. The Royals' streak is just more noticeable since it comes at the start of the season. As I pointed out earlier when reviewing teams that won six in a row at any point last year, the Astros, Braves, Rangers, Rays and Red Sox also had seven-game win streaks last year and ultimately finished under .500.
Still, 7-0 to start the year is a fun accomplishment. Since 1980, only 11 other teams have done so:
2003 Giants: 100-61
2003 Royals: 83-79
1996 Rangers: 90-72
1994 Braves: 68-46
1990 Reds: 91-71
1987 Brewers: 91-71
1984 Tigers: 104-58
1982 Braves: 89-73
1982 White Sox: 87-75
1981 A's: 64-45
1980 Reds: 89-73
Prorating the win totals for the '94 Braves and '81 A's over 162 games, these 11 teams averaged 92 wins, so that's a good sign for the Royals. At the minimum, the Royals have already pushed their win expectancy up a few wins from where it was before the season -- when the projection systems weren't high on the Royals, predicting a finish under .500.
Right now, we're seeing the same Royals team that played well the final two months of 2014 and into October. The Royals are playing terrific defense, especially from Lorenzo Cain in center with several highlight-reel catches already. The bullpen has been phenomenal and has yet to allow a run in 19 innings (while allowing only seven hits with 21 strikeouts). They have team speed. The starting pitching, even minus James Shields, has been solid. They're not striking out at the plate, with just 38 strikeouts in seven games, well below the MLB average of nearly eight per game. It's a lovely brand of baseball, evoking the great Royals teams of the '70s and early '80s that had speed, defense and line-drive hitting.
The one big difference from 2014: This team is hitting home runs, with 10 in seven games. Last year, the Royals hit just 95 and then started cracking them in the postseason, hitting eight in their first eight postseason games, all wins. In the World Series, they hit just three and lost in seven games. So if this team can continue to add some pop to go with all the other pluses, it's going to be a lot better than us experts predicted.
One thing that's interesting: You hear the Royals described as a young team. This isn't true. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Royals actually had the second-oldest average age on Opening Day rosters at 30 years, 100 days (the Giants at 31 years, 100 days were by far the oldest). Now, that's not weighted by job role or expected playing time, but it does tell us that the Royals are a team in their prime, built to win now. Indeed, even the "young" veterans like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez have plenty of big league experience.
You also wonder if last year's playoff run will create a new level of confidence. I don't like using that word, because most major leaguers are imbued with high levels of self-confidence, a reason they reached the majors in the first place. But maybe the Royals learned how to win last year; I think there's something to winning organizations. Why do the Cardinals win every year? How have the Giants put together these playoff runs? Maybe the Royals, contending in 2013 and then making the playoffs last year, got over the hump.
While the projection systems didn't like the Royals, it's also possible some of their key players can improve, even if they're no longer young guys. Hosmer, Moustakas and Perez, in particular, weren't good at the plate last year. Moustakas and Perez posted horrible .271 and .289 OBPs and Hosmer hit just nine home runs. While I'm not counting on veteran free agents Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios to do much after poor 2014 seasons, both aren't that far removed from being productive offensive players.
But my biggest concern is the rotation. Even assuming Yordano Ventura holds up and takes over as staff ace -- he's looked great so far -- and Danny Duffy continues to improve, I don't have a ton of confidence in Edinson Volquez, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas. Of course, that outfield defense will make up for a lot of mistakes.
There's a potential solution down the road if the Royals need rotation help, however: How about if the Royals go after Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto if and when they become available on the trade market? In their only home series so far, the Royals drew more than 20,000 for two midweek games following Opening Day. Last year, their first two midweek games drew 12,00 and 13,000. So there's a good chance attendance will be up quite a bit this season, especially if the team keeps winning. Let's see the historically cheap Kansas City ownership spend some money and improve the team at some point.
So, to the original question: No, I'm not going to say the Royals are a great team. It's too early to overreact to one winning streak. But I hope we get a great team this year. Why not the Royals?