Royals open season with intensity of postseason club
Kansas City completes sweep against White Sox with defense, power
By Mike Bauman
KANSAS CITY -- In the first week of the 2015 season, the Kansas City Royals are not in midseason form. They are in postseason form.
The Royals completed a sweep of the Chicago White Sox in the opening series of the season with a 4-1 victory on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Against the American League, Kansas City is on a 12-game winning streak, dating from last Sept. 28, the final game of the regular season against these same White Sox. Then there was the remarkable 8-0 run through the AL postseason. Now there is the three-game series-opening sweep of the White Sox.
It is as though the intervening winter never occurred. The Royals went from winning in Autumn 2014, to winning in Spring 2015, without missing a beat. All aspects of their game are still working supremely well.
"If somebody said, 'Boy, you're really firing on all cylinders,' I'd have to agree," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "We are. We're hitting for power, we're clutch hitting, we're playing great defense, we're running the bases well, our bullpen's been excellent, our starting pitching has been excellent.
"To get off to this type of start, it's exciting and it's fun, but we know that it's a long year, and you ride it as long as you can."
The Royals sparkled in the series against Chicago, playing well in all facets of the game, occasionally playing spectacularly in the field. In the first three innings Thursday, Kansas City had four defensive plays that ranged from exceptional to terrific.
In the first, second baseman Omar Infante's lunging grab of a line drive started an inning-ending double play. In the second, center fielder Lorenzo Cain ran into the wall coming up with a deep drive, but he held on and was unhurt. That was the first out of the inning. The third out of the inning came with third baseman Mike Moustakas diving to his left to make a stop. In the third, Cain again ranged far and again hit the wall, although not as forcefully, to make the third out.
Starter Edinson Volquez pitched a highly effective and efficient eight innings, giving up only one run, throwing only 95 pitches. He was consistently pounding the lower half of the strike zone.
Volquez, who came to the Royals after a fine season with the Pirates, repeatedly doffed his cap on Thursday to salute his teammates after fine defensive plays. How many times did he remove his cap?
"Too many," Volquez said with a smile. "I got tired. It was great, man, to see those guys behind you, all the time making the plays. It's the best feeling in the world.
"I think we got the best defense in baseball right now. Everybody sees what it did last year. It was great. It gives a lot of confidence to the pitchers."
In total, this was a completely impressive series for the defending AL champions. They outscored the White Sox, 21-7. How did this club manage to start the season at what looks like full capacity?
"I think a lot of it is their work ethic, a lot of it is their focus, their attitude as a team," Yost said. "They showed up in Spring Training definitely focused on returning to the playoffs. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year and they want to do it again. From the first day of Spring Training, there was no break-in period, no building into it slow. Their focus and their concentration and their intensity have been there since Day 1."
Kansas City seems to be playing with playoff intensity. Can this be the case?
"Oh, absolutely," Yost said. "It's a confident intensity. You match those two things together and you see what you get. We saw it in the playoffs and we're seeing it at the beginning of the year."
To the combination of solid starting pitching, a dominant bullpen, outstanding defense and superior speed, the Royals added power, at least in this series. This has not been a routine element of their winning equation.
Last year, while Kansas City was qualifying for the postseason as a Wild Card team, the club was last in the AL with 95 home runs. In the first three games of this season, the Royals hit five homers, including a decisive two-run shot by catcher Salvador Perez in the sixth inning Thursday.
Yost has not been overly impressed by the early show of hitting for distance.
"The power thing gets overrated for me," the manager said. "We can win games in a bunch of different ways. Talk about power, power, power. Is it great to have? Absolutely. Do we want to have it? Yeah, everybody would. But it's not a key component with our club. We can do things offensively on the basepaths with our speed and athleticism that help us win ballgames."
In the opening series of 2015, against a division opponent widely regarded as a genuine contender for the AL Central title, the Royals won in every way possible. These may only have been three games in April, but there was no better way to start.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.