Published March 04, 2013
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Alex Gordon smiled at the notion that the Kansas City Royals many never lose again.
Sure, it's just spring training, where pitchers often last an inning or two, starters are pulled after three or four, and the outcome of games is usually left in the hands of longshots just trying to find their way onto a major league roster.
But this is also a franchise that hasn't had a winning season in a decade, hasn't finished better than third since 1995 and hasn't been to the playoffs since winning it all in 1985.
So, yes, the Royals are enjoying the fact that they're the only unbeaten team left in spring training. As they headed into a day off Monday, they had won nine straight games since playing to a draw with the Texas Rangers in their opener.
"It's pretty impressive," Gordon said, the Gold Glove outfielder breaking into a grin. "Might as well go out and try to win games like we're doing. Hopefully we can continue it."
Therein lays the problem.
Spring training results don't always translate into regular-season success.
The Royals haven't had a losing spring training since 2007, and have had just two in the last 10 years, yet the best they've done over that span was 83-79 during the 2003 season. Instead, there's been a stretch of three straight 100-loss years and the current run of four straight 90-loss seasons.
They had the best winning percentage in spring training two years ago, at 20-10-1, but wound up with a regular-season record that was better than only four other big league teams.
"This isn't the place to be undefeated," first baseman Eric Hosmer admitted, "but we're playing good. That's all you can ask for, to play the game right."
Hosmer may be onto something there.
While results ultimately don't matter, and spring statistics are skewed by dozens of factors, the fact the Royals are winning at least indicates that they're playing fairly sound baseball.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who struggled to a .242 average last season, is 11 for 19 with a homer, three doubles and six RBIs. Hosmer is trying to rebound from a sophomore slump that saw him hit just .232 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs, and is so far 8 for 20 with a homer and seven RBIs.
Even light-hitting second baseman Chris Getz, who has just two career home runs, managed to send a pitch over the wall this spring.
"Results do matter, but everyone's spring training stats are usually higher than they will be," Gordon said, pointing out the fact that most pitchers this early in spring are throwing a steady diet of fastballs and changeups, and won't throw any breaking stuff until later in camp.
"It's about being comfortable," Gordon said. "That's where you try to get."
The Royals seem to be getting there.
They're hitting .338 as a team, by far the best average in spring training — and no, they're not playing their starters any later than anybody else. They're also among the top five in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases.
"In spring training, you want to make sure everyone gets their work in, and you want to make sure everyone plays. That's my view, anyway," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "And if you look at the games we've played, everyone's been a part of it."
What may excite Yost the most has been the way his starting rotation has looked.
James Shields, acquired from Tampa Bay to be the ace of the staff, pitched a perfect inning in his debut on Thursday. Fellow right-hander Wade Davis, who also came over from the Rays, has allowed just three hits in five scoreless innings.
Ervin Santana, acquired in the offseason from the Angels, also tossed two scoreless innings.
"It's nice to see wins," right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, "but I think the thing I'm most excited about is the pitching. I feel like we have guys on this team between Hos, myself, Moose, they can bounce back and have good years. When you look at what our pitching can do, get those guys in there, the confidence of our offense knowing what we have out there is huge.
"Not to say we didn't have it last year," Francoeur said, "but to me, when you know you can have five guys go out there and throw well every day, it's a huge confidence booster."
Wins and losses may become even more baseless this week as rosters are thinned by top players heading to the World Baseball Classic. The Royals are losing nine guys to various teams.
But as long as there are games to be played, Kansas City intends to win them.
And with every victory, confidence continues to climb.
"Everybody's been playing," Yost said after beating the Reds on Sunday. "Everybody is playing regularly, and everyone is contributing, and it makes for a fun clubhouse."