As I pondered possible topics for my weekly column, I perused the MLB standings for possible intriguing storylines. Thankfully, the entire American League stood out (I am thankful because I detest the National League, for both its style of play and fans who clamor for the eradication of the Designated Hitter in the AL), as the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Royals currently lead each division.
Of course, the sample size is far too small to make any definitive judgments, but, suffice to say, baseball fans are confounded by this. That being said, I have little doubt that the Mariners will fall back to earth, but the Royals and Blue Jays might just maybe perhaps possibly conceivably have what it takes to stick around for 162 games – for very different reasons.
While the Blue Jays are stuck in a division with three legitimate top tier teams (well, two, and arguably the Rays if they ever right the ship), the Royals may just survive and succeed in the woebegone AL Central. While my beloved White Sox reside in the Central, I won’t hesitate to denigrate both the organization and their division. With a Mauer-less Twins (up until this week), an inept front office in Chicago, a hopeless Tigers squad, and the ever-underachieving Indians nipping at the heels of the Royals, it will be no surprise if Trey Hillman’s squad can somehow win the division.
Yes, it is May; yes, September and October are far away; yes, the Royals’ rotation features both Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez (I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that Luke Hochevar – the thrice drafted number one overall pick from 2006 – is mowing down hitters with a 1.13 ERA in AAA and will soon rescue the Royals from such a detestable back end). At this point, is there any reason to believe the Royals aren’t the best team in the division?
Sure, the offense sucks (Jose Guillen in right with David DeJesus in left?), and the bullpen does not look stellar, but it won’t matter with perhaps the most formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in the AL in the form of Zack Greinke and Gil Meche. Many scoffed at the Royals when they signed Meche (including my seventeen year-old self in December of 2006), but things are unfolding nicely for them, as it appears he is providing more than many anticipated in his age 31 season.
As for the ace of the staff, Greinke appears to have finally outgrown his Conor Oberst-esque depression and insecurity and blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the game. He is 6-0 in six starts with an ERA of 0.40 and a K/BB ratio of 54/8.
For the Royals, it is an odd feeling. For many years, Central teams despised the Twins for their Rule V selection and further development of Johan Santana, as a somewhat menial pick turned into the best pitcher in the majors. Now, as Santana has bid the division farewell (and his supposed second-coming, Francisco Liriano, looks to be an eternal health risk), Greinke has assumed his role.
This is not 2003, as Jose Lima played the role of Greinke (Lima Time!) and the Royals eventually faded and finished a measly two games above .500. While the 2009 Royals may suffer the same fate, they may just win the worst division in baseball.