This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 11: The Kansas City Royals. You can find previews for teams 30 through 12 here.
2013 Record and Finish: 86-76, third place in AL Central (13th overall)
2014 Projected Record: 88-74, second place in AL Central
The Case For
The Royals' second-half surge—they finished with their best record since 1989—was no fluke. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are ready to take the next step, and Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, off subpar seasons, will rebound. Mike Moustakas has been raking this spring, and looks like he could have that breakout season (finally), and the Royals have finally have a dynamic leadoff hitter in Norichika Aoki, an ideal tablesetter for Ned Yost’s lineup. The defense and the bullpen (which posted an AL-best 2.55 ERA last year), anchored by the league’s best closer, Greg Holland, will be excellent again. James Shields, in in the final year of his contract, could be a Cy Young contender. For all those reasons, the Royals' playoff drought—they haven’t made the October dance since '85—will end this year.
The Case Against
New acquisition Jason Vargas doesn't have the upside of Ervin Santana. The Royals' hitters remain terribly impatient at the plate—last in the league in walks in 2012, second-to-last in 2013—and still don’t have enough pop in the lineup. It's time to stop waiting for Moustakas to break out, and accept he'll never be the All-Star everyone expected him to be. Danny Duffy isn’t quite ready to be an impact starter, and Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie round out the rotation. For those reasons, the drought and the heartbreak will continue.
X-Factor: Yordano Ventura
Of all the young arms in Kansas City, Ventura, who hit 101 mph in his debut last September, has the chance to be an elite starter in the rotation. Can he be that guy this year?
Number To Know: Five
The Royals have burned through five hitting coaches since 2012, but problems on offense persist nonetheless. Kansas City ranked last in home runs with 112; the next closest team was the Yankees, with 144.
Most overrated: Mike Moustakas
"Mike Moustakas, from all the hype that he's got. He gets in funks where it's hard to say what the heck's wrong. He doesn’t seem to be able to make adjustments."
Most underrated: Kyle Zimmer
"Don’t sleep on Kyle Zimmer—he's underrated as one of the best young phenoms in the game. I think he could make an impact this season. He's got elite stuff, and in a few years, he's their ace. He'll be on an innings cap and they'll need to pace his innings, but if they're in the hunt in September—and I think they will be—he could be an X-factor for them."
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