Bob Lutz

Even Royals fans need reasons for optimism

Every year, I write a preview column about the Royals and every year it's negative.

Well, just once I'd like to give Royals fans something to be hopeful about, a reason they can pull into the parking lot at Kauffman Stadium and pull on their team gear with pride.

Something not obvious. Of course, Zack Greinke is reason alone for a Royals fan to be pumped, but he pitches once every fifth day.

First baseman Billy Butler had 20 homers and 50 doubles last season and is still just a pup. Sure, he's a source of excitement.

So is closer Joakim Soria, who is good enough to lead a league in saves except he plays for a team that doesn't win enough games to rack up much of a total.

Oops, was that negative?

I promised myself I would dig deep to find validation for a Royals fan's optimism as the 2010 season prepares for take-off. I will come up with a hidden jewel or two that should assure the downtrodden followers of this franchise that all hope is not lost.

Drumroll, please. Because I'm just about ready to give you the reason.

First, let's talk about the offseason acquisitions of catcher Jason Kendall, outfielders Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields.

They are all baseball players and have been for some time. Kendall, in fact, will be 36 this season and once upon a time, for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he batted .319 or higher in five seasons.

Podsednik, 35, once stole 70 bases for the Chicago White Sox and was a World Series hero.

Ankiel, when he was 19, had the best fastball and curve scouts had seen. But by the end of his rookie season with St. Louis, he was throwing both to the backstop, unable to command his pitches and ultimately switching to the outfield. He has home-run power, evidenced by the 25 bombs he hit for the Cardinals in 2008.

Notice the positive spin so far? Everybody can find something negative to say or write about the Royals; finding the pearls of hope is a job.

Now for the really positive stuff.

Did you realize that Kansas City is hitting .311 as a team in spring training? That's the best batting average of any of the 30 teams. The Royals also are first in hits, tied for first in runs and third in slugging percentage.

They have been the Big Blue Machine in Cactus League games, ripping opposing pitching staffs for one extra-base hit after another.

Mike Aviles is batting close to .500 in spring training; outfielder Mitch Maier is at .444. They look like the '27 Yankees down there in Surprise, Ariz.

Seriously, how can this team be picked to finish last in the American League Central? That's where many pundits have them landing.

Crazy, I tell you. Don't these people read spring training box scores?

OK, so the Royals' pitching has been abysmal in Arizona. Their 6.07 spring ERA ranks ahead of only one team — and I use the word "team" loosely — the Washington Nationals.

And yes, there are those who don't think the Royals' offense will hold up. They point to last season's .259 average and the fact that KC scored the fewest runs in the American League with the second-fewest number of home runs.

People who use statistics to feed their negativity bother me. I'm much more interested in what the Royals have done this spring in the thin air of Arizona against a bunch of rag arms than I am in what they did during the 2009 regular season.

The Royals have the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Greinke, who was 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA. Dig deeper and the numbers look even better: 242 strikeouts and 51 walks in 229 1/3 innings.

Yes, the rest of the five-man rotation — Gil Meche, Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies — returns intact. OK, so they were 28-44 last season with a collective 5.41 ERA. At least manager Trey Hillman won't roll the likes of Sidney Ponson, Bruce Chen and Lenny DiNardo out to the mound. At least, I don't think he will.

For some, the Royals are a punch line to a bad joke. To me, they're a team on the cusp of something special.

Do you know that the Royals haven't lost 100 games since 2006? Or that they haven't finished last in the AL Central the past two years?

Yes, some of you point out that in the past 15 seasons, Kansas City has been below .500 14 times.

To that, I simply type the numbers 1-9-8-5. Yes, folks, it was only 25 years ago that the Royals won their only world championship by beating (if you call it that) the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

It was a high point for a franchise that had quite a few of them in winning 951 games and losing 772 from 1975-85.

Ancient history, you say? Not to those of us who dig our ancient history. I remember those great Royals teams and I say there's no reason the Royals can't be great again.

There it is, folks, a Royals preview column unlike any I've written. Kansas City is destined to win games. The Royals will hit the ball. Their pitchers will throw and their fielders will catch.

I could go on much longer with reasons for optimism. But I think you get the point. At least I hope you do.