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Baseball 2013: Five keys to the Royals’ season

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, March 30, 2013, at 7:27 p.m.

2013 Royals schedule

April 1 at Chicago (AL), 3:10 p.m.

April 3 at Chicago (AL), 1:10 p.m.

April 4 at Chicago (AL), 1:10 p.m.

April 5 at Philadelphia, 3:05 p.m.

April 6 at Philadelphia, 6:05 p.m.

April 7 at Philadelphia, 12:35 p.m.

April 8 Minnesota, 3:10 p.m.

April 9 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

April 10 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

April 12 Toronto, 7:10 p.m.

April 13 Toronto, 6:10 p.m.

April 14 Toronto, 1:10 p.m.

April 16 at Atlanta, 6:10 p.m.

April 17 at Atlanta, 11:10 a.m.

April 19 at Boston, 6:10 p.m.

April 20 at Boston, 12:10 p.m.

April 21 at Boston, 12:35 p.m.

April 23 at Detroit, 6:05 p.m.

April 24 at Detroit, 6:05 p.m.

April 25 at Detroit, 12:05 p.m.

April 26 Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

April 27 Cleveland, 6:10 p.m.

April 28 Cleveland, 1:10 p.m.

April 29 Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

April 30 Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m.

May 1 Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m.

May 2 Tampa Bay, 1:10 p.m.

May 3 Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

May 4 Chicago (AL), 6:10 p.m.

May 5 Chicago (AL), 1:10 p.m.

May 7 at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m.

May 8 at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m.

May 9 at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m.

May 10 New York (AL), 7:10 p.m.

May 11 New York (AL), 6:10 p.m.

May 12 New York (AL), 1:10 p.m.

May 13 at L.A. Angels, 9:05 p.m.

May 14 at L.A. Angels, 9:05 p.m.

May 15 at L.A. Angels, 9:05 p.m.

May 17 at Oakland, 9:07 p.m.

May 18 at Oakland, 8:07 p.m.

May 19 at Oakland, 3:07 p.m.

May 20 at Houston, 7:10 p.m.

May 21 at Houston, 7:10 p.m.

May 22 at Houston, 7:10 p.m.

May 23 L.A. Angels, 7:10 p.m.

May 24 L.A. Angels, 7:10 p.m.

May 25 L.A. Angels, 1:10 p.m.

May 26 L.A. Angels, 1:10 p.m.

May 27 St. Louis, 1:10 p.m.

May 28 St. Louis, 7:10 p.m.

May 29 at St. Louis, 7:15 p.m.

May 30 at St. Louis, 7:15 p.m.

May 31 at Texas, 7:05 p.m.

June 1 at Texas, 3:05 p.m.

June 2 at Texas, 2:05 p.m.

June 4 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

June 5 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

June 6 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

June 7 Houston, 7:10 p.m.

June 8 Houston, 6:15 p.m.

June 9 Houston, 1:10 p.m.

June 10 Detroit, 7:10 p.m.

June 11 Detroit, 7:10 p.m.

June 12 Detroit, 1:10 p.m.

June 13 at Tampa Bay, 6:10 p.m.

June 14 at Tampa Bay, 6:10 p.m.

June 15 at Tampa Bay, 3:10 p.m.

June 16 at Tampa Bay, 12:40 p.m.

June 17 at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m.

June 18 at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m.

June 19 at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m.

June 21 Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

June 22 Chicago (AL), 1:10 p.m.

June 23 Chicago (AL), 1:10 p.m.

June 25 Atlanta, 7:10 p.m.

June 26 Atlanta, 7:10 p.m.

June 27 at Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

June 28 at Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

June 29 at Minnesota, 3:10 p.m.

June 30 at Minnesota, 1:10 p.m.

July 2 Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

July 3 Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

July 4 Cleveland, 1:10 p.m.

July 5 Oakland, 7:10 p.m.

July 6 Oakland, 1:10 p.m.

July 7 Oakland, 1:10 p.m.

July 8 at New York (AL), 6:05 p.m.

July 9 at New York (AL), 6:05 p.m.

July 10 at New York (AL), 6:05 p.m.

July 11 at New York (AL), 12:05 p.m.

July 12 at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m.

July 13 at Cleveland, TBA

July 14 at Cleveland, 12:05 p.m.

July 19 Detroit, 7:10 p.m.

July 20 Detroit, 6:10 p.m.

July 21 Detroit, 1:10 p.m.

July 22 Baltimore, 7:10 p.m.

July 23 Baltimore, 7:10 p.m.

July 24 Baltimore, 7:10 p.m.

July 25 Baltimore, 7:10 p.m.

July 26 at Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

July 27 at Chicago (AL), 6:10 p.m.

July 28 at Chicago (AL), 1:10 p.m.

July 30 at Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

July 31 at Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 1 at Minnesota, 12:10 p.m.

Aug. 2 at New York (NL), 6:10 p.m.

Aug. 3 at New York (NL), 12:10 p.m.

Aug. 4 at New York (NL), 12:10 p.m.

Aug. 5 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 6 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 7 Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 8 Boston, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 9 Boston, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 10 Boston, 6:10 p.m.

Aug. 11 Boston, 1:10 p.m.

Aug. 12 Miami, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 13 Miami, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 14 Miami, 1:10 p.m.

Aug. 15 at Detroit, 6:05 p.m.

Aug. 16 at Detroit, 6:05 p.m.

Aug. 17 at Detroit, 6:05 p.m.

Aug. 18 at Detroit, 12:05 p.m.

Aug. 20 Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 21 Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 22 Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 23 Washington, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 24 Washington, 6:10 p.m.

Aug. 25 Washington, 1:10 p.m.

Aug. 27 at Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 28 at Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 29 at Minnesota, 12:10 p.m.

Aug. 30 at Toronto, 6:07 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Toronto, 12:07 p.m.

Sept. 1 at Toronto, 12:07 p.m.

Sept. 2 Seattle, 1:10 p.m.

Sept. 3 Seattle, 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 4 Seattle, 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 5 Seattle, 1:10 p.m.

Sept. 6 Detroit, 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 7 Detroit, 6:10 p.m.

Sept. 8 Detroit, 1:10 p.m.

Sept. 9 at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m.

Sept. 10 at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m.

Sept. 11 at Cleveland, 11:05 a.m.

Sept. 13 at Detroit, 6:05 p.m.

Sept. 14 at Detroit, 6:05 p.m.

Sept. 15 at Detroit, 12:05 p.m.

Sept. 16 Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 17 Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 18 Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 20 Texas, 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 21 Texas, 6:10 p.m.

Sept. 22 Texas, 1:10 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Seattle, 9:10 p.m.

Sept. 24 at Seattle, 9:10 p.m.

Sept. 25 at Seattle, 9:10 p.m.

Sept. 26 at Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 27 at Chicago (AL), 7:10 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Chicago (AL), 6:10 p.m.

Sept. 29 at Chicago (AL), 1:10 p.m.

Note: If you would like a schedule of any other major-league team, call 316-268-6251 or e-mail sportsdesk@wichitaeagle.com.

It’s almost time for the games that matter.

Sure, the Royals blitzed their way through the Cactus League, but we’re now about to see whether that is a harbinger or mere hokum. The regular season starts Monday against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

“We’ve got a good group here,” left fielder Alex Gordon said, “good chemistry going on, and I don’t think that’s going to change.

“There will be more excitement, but hopefully everyone just takes it as a continuation of spring training.”

The Royals, on paper, are better than at any point in the last two decades after revamping the rotation by pushing their payroll to a franchise-record $77.5 million. Their youthful core is still young but no longer green.

“There’s a lot to like about this team,” manager Ned Yost said. “We’ve got a great defense. I think our starting pitching, a focal point, is going to be a strong asset to our club.

“Our relief pitching has always been dynamite in my mind. I think where we’re at offensively now is more the team I envisioned it to be — a team that can score runs, drive the gaps and hit the ball over the fence.

“I love the enthusiasm that we have in our clubhouse. For me, this could be the very first time that I’m leaving spring training or had a team where I feel really good about every aspect. It’s a nice feeling.”

Can that feeling last?

Here are five things that need to happen — or in some cases not happen — for the Royals to be playing meaningful games in September for the first time in a generation:

1. Hosmer bounces back

A rebound season by Eric Hosmer looms as the single biggest key to the season. A productive Hosmer — merely a return to his rookie level; nothing spectacular — would have an enormous ripple effect throughout the lineup.

If the Royals can reinsert Hosmer into the No. 3 spot, and drop DH Billy Butler back to cleanup, everything works so much better. That probably shifts Mike Moustakas back to sixth, where his streakiness plays better.

For now, though, Moose bats cleanup, behind Butler and in front of Salvy Perez, while Hosmer bats sixth. For now.

2. Rotation pitches to career norms

For the first time since the late 1980s, the Royals can look at their entire rotation with no need to cross fingers in hopes somebody (or several somebodies) “puts it all together” or has some sort of “major breakthrough.”

The Royals should be fine if James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza simply remain healthy and pitch to proven levels. (If they do more, all the better.)

The rotation has reasonable depth. Bruce Chen is available for recall from the bullpen. Will Smith is fronting the Triple-A Omaha rotation. Top prospect Yordano Ventura is fast-tracking.

Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, barring setbacks in their recovery from elbow ligament surgery, should be available by mid-July. The Royals aren’t counting on them, but either or both could provide a real boost.

3. OF more than Alex Gordon

A season filled by injuries to center fielder Lorenzo Cain and crippling disappointment from right fielder Jeff Francoeur created a severe decline last year from the record production the Royals’ outfield produced in 2011.

So it’s pretty simple.

Cain needs to stay healthy and play to his potential, and Francoeur needs to get the last laugh on his high-volume critics. (And if he doesn’t, the Royals need to find a solution.)

Oh, and Alex Gordon needs to be Alex Gordon.

4. No crippling injuries

In short, no repeat of last season, when three regulars — catcher Salvy Perez, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and second baseman Chris Getz — each played fewer than 80 games because of various injuries.

Or losing two starting pitchers (Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino) and an All-Star closer (since-departed Joakim Soria) for all or nearly all of the season because of torn elbow ligaments requiring Tommy John surgery.

The Royals do have reasonable depth for the first time in years. They can plug virtually any hole on a short-term basis. Maybe even a couple of holes.

But they can’t lose key players — Perez, Butler, Gordon or Shields — for extended periods. There are still a few teams that can simply buy their way through a major injury. The Royals aren’t one of them.

5. Tread water through May

It should go without saying the Royals must avoid burying themselves in April — as they did a year ago with a 12-game losing streak that effectively killed their season.

But the bigger test figures to come from April 30 through June 2, when they play 29 of 32 games against teams that posted winning records in 2012.

If the Royals can reach their June 3 open date — 56 games into their season — at or near .500, it could be a fun summer here in the Heartland.

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