It’s been weeks now since the Royals began the drumbeat for the coming summer by touting the 2012 season as “Our Time” in their promotional efforts. Even players now routinely punctuate twitter messages with an “our time” hashtag.
Well, all right.
That time starts Friday night against a financially refortified host of Angels and with much of the baseball world watching – albeit largely because this marks the start of Albert Pujols’ decade under a halo.
The Royals are cool with that.
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“There’s a lot of potential here,” left fielder Alex Gordon said, “but I still think we have a lot to prove. There are a lot of young guys who could step up. We have a lot of guys who have the potential to be great. That’s what is so exciting.
“At the same time, we haven’t done anything yet. We feel confident, but we’re trying to keep that in the clubhouse. We’re not trying to say too much.”
It’s been nine years since the Royals produced a winning season, 17 years since they finished higher than third in a division race, 23 years since they won more than 84 games in a season and 27 years since they reached postseason.
None of that it matters, by the way, to a core group of homegrown players who instead point to sustained minor-league success in rising through the system over the past few years. The pipeline suggests cream rising to the top.
The club’s lowest full-season affiliate won the Class A Midwest League in 2008; its high Class A affiliate posted the best record in the Carolina League in 2009; its Double-A affiliate won the Texas League in 2010; and its Triple-A affiliate won the Pacific Coast League in 2011.
“We go out on a daily basis expecting to win,” said third baseman Mike Moustakas, who played on all four of those minor-league clubs. “We don’t expect anything less than going out there and beating the other team by 10 runs.
“That’s how we played throughout the minor leagues, and that’s kind of how we’ve been playing since we got here.”
Manager Ned Yost raised the bar last December at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., when he dismissed the suggestion that .500 was a reasonable goal for a developing club coming off a 71-91 season.
“Playing .500 has never entered my mind,” he barked back at the time. “I think we’re going to play much better than .500. But who knows? These kids have to continue to develop and grow, but it’s time to take that step and start dealing with expectations.”
Those expectations, at least from within, didn’t diminish when the club suffered a series of spring injuries that already offers a contrast a remarkably healthy 2011.
All-Star closer Joakim Soria is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery earlier this week in nearby Los Angeles to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Starting catcher Salvy Perez, whom many regard as the club’s most irreplaceable player, might not return before the All-Star break after suffering torn knee cartilage last month when his cleats caught in the dirt while he shifted to catch a pitch in the bullpen.
Starting pitcher Felipe Paulino and reliever Blake Wood will also open the season on the disabled list. So will catcher Manny Piña, who figured to start the season at Omaha.
“Nobody can replace Soria,” said veteran left-hander Bruce Chen, who will start tonight’s opener at Angel Stadium. “But we’re lucky we signed (Jonathan) Broxton, and we have guys like (Greg) Holland, (Aaron) Crow and Kelvin (Herrera) who can step in.
“Losing Salvador hurts a lot but, unlike Soria, we’re not losing him for the whole season. It’s just three months. When we get him back, it will be like adding a good player. It would be like we just traded for somebody.”
Sure, that might be some major-league spin, but it underscores a widely-held belief within organization that they are now deep enough to weather a major injury to a key player (or two).
“We’ll recover from those injuries,” Yost said. “You have to cover it, but we have the depth to do it. Injuries are going to be a part of the game. Ask the Cleveland Indians (who have been similarly affected). You’re going to have to deal with that.
“They were big hits. There’s no doubt about it, but you can’t dwell on it. You just move on. My worst nightmare coming into spring training was something happening to Sal. And it did. I would never have dreamed that. But it did, and now we move on.”
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur declared, “We have talent. Last year, I think you looked at us, and there were so many unknowns. This year, you look at us – there are some roster cuts that are tough to handle. There are guys who deserve to be here who aren’t here.
“It stinks for them, but when you go to good organizations, that’s what starts to happen. We’ve got six or seven guys sitting at Triple-A who, at any moment, could come up here and be very successful.”
We’re about to find out whether that confidence is merited. The Royals play 13 of their first 16 games against opponents with legitimate postseason aspirations. Our Time is about to go real time in no time.
That starts this weekend with three games against the Angels, an 86-victory team from a year ago that purchased Pujols and left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson on the free-agent market and also regains a healthy Kendry Morales.
“It’s going to be fun,” Moustakas countered. “It’s a fun time to be a Royal. We’ve got a lot of great talent in this organization right now, especially on the big-league team.
“If we can just play our game – play the game the right way and do the small things that we need to do – we’re going to be in really good shape at the end of the year.”
The ride starts tonight, and it’s open to all. The Royals make it clear “Our Time” is meant to be inclusive. You want in? You’re in.
“This city deserves it,” Chen said. “The fans deserve it. This organization has been working very hard to put together a winning team. We know nothing is going to be given to us. We have to earn it, and we have to work very hard. But we have all of the pieces.
“What you saw in spring training was the confidence that we know we can play with everybody else in our division and in the big leagues. We’re confident that we have the talent. We’re confident that we have the tools, and we’re confident we’re ready to play.”
Time to find out.