Royals flush with wins, but what's in the cards?
Players offer differing opinions on the significance of their 11-0-1 spring start
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- How important is a nearly perfect record at this point in Spring Training? Check with the unbeaten 11-0-1 Royals and you get different views.
The games, of course, don't count. Especially at this early point, they're played quite differently than regular-season games. But the Royals are a team that hasn't won much of anything in recent years.
"You've got to learn how to win somehow," closer Greg Holland said. "And winning is the best way to do that."
Hall of Famer George Brett, in camp as an instructor -- and team vice president -- is admittedly fired up by the Royals' success. He sees a long-term benefit.
"The longer we play well, the more confidence these guys will have," Brett said.
The Royals have not been in the postseason since winning the World Series in 1985, when Brett was there.
"We all know what Spring Training is, it doesn't mean anything," Brett said. "But still we're winning and, in order for us to be a good team, we have to expect to win every time we go out on the field. That's what we did in the '70s and '80s. Every time we went on the field, we expected to win. Are you going to win every game? No. But you go out there trying to win and expecting to win, rather than hoping you don't lose. And I think the more games we win down here, guess what? They're going to expect to win every time they walk out on that field."
Maybe so. It can be a state of mind.
"I know the games don't count here, but if you keeping winning here and playing hard, when the season starts you'll be doing the same thing," shortstop Alcides Escobar said. "You get in your mind that you're going to win and it comes easier."
It doesn't always carry over into the season. For example, the 1999 Royals led Spring Training with a 22-9 record, but then finished last in the American League Central with a 64-97 mark. The 2003 Royals topped the spring standings with a 19-8 record and finished third, albeit at 83-79, their only over-.500 record in the last 18 years.
There are positive instances as well. Since 1984, there have been 14 teams with spring winning percentages of .700 or better and eight of them made the playoffs. Five of those teams reached the World Series and two of them won it all: the 1997 Marlins and the 2009 Yankees.
Royals manager Ned Yost usually sidesteps questions about spring records, but when asked the other day if the winning energizes his team, he referred to the offseason pitching additions made by general manager Dayton Moore.
"I don't want to say it energizes everybody, because everybody was energized coming in with all the moves that Dayton made this winter," Yost said. "But if you go back and look at what we've done, it's been a team-wide effort. It hasn't been three or four guys. Everybody we've put in there has done a great job. So it makes it fun."
A lot of fun that has to co-exist with the underlying purpose of Spring Training -- polishing skills and trying to peak as the regular season opens.
"Yeah, it's great to win but it doesn't really mean anything," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "It's like some guys hit .100 in Spring Training and then when the season starts, they bat .300. We're trying to get our work in, we're trying to get ready for the season. Yeah, we're going out there trying to win and it's good that we're winning, but it doesn't mean anything to the regular season."
Second baseman Chris Getz gave the winning experience of Spring Training some perspective.
"Obviously, you play to win the game but, with that being said, you want to play fundamentally correctly," Getz said. "You want to be playing well defensively and baserunning and all that stuff. You don't want to just win to win out here. You want to make sure you're hitting on all cylinders, because that's what you're going to need to do when the real season starts.
"Things are so funny out here with the elements -- you've got the [hard] ground, the high sky, a lot of changing with the pitchers, a lot of Minor League guys that won't be in the big leagues. There are a lot of different elements, so you want to make sure, fundamentally, that everything's there. The winning is certainly not secondary, but it's nice to do both."
The 11 straight wins in Arizona are certainly creating a stir of interest back in Kansas City.
"They'll sell a few more tickets," Getz said, "But, in the long run, this certainly isn't reality."
Indeed, regulars are playing perhaps half a game and replaced by reserves or Minor Leaguers. Starting pitchers go two or three innings and are succeeded by a parade of relievers. Pitchers maybe are working on a certain pitch. Batters might be testing a new stance.
But for the Royals, so far at least, everything is working right.
"It's really exciting, because everybody's playing really good right now. Everybody's playing hard and everybody's playing with their heart," Escobar said. "And I'm very proud of this team."
Pride was very much a part of the successful teams in Brett's time.
"We were very competitive and every year we thought we were going to win the World Series," Brett said. "I don't think the last few years anybody on this team ever thought they were going to win the World Series. They were hoping to be in contention. Well, that's accepting mediocrity."
So for this year's Royals, even Cactus League wins have value.
"Would I rather win every game in spring than lose them all? Absolutely," pitcher Jeremy Guthrie said. "Would that have a positive effect on a team going into a regular season? Absolutely. Do any of the wins matter? No, because they all get erased. Do any of the losses matter? No, because they all get erased. But, mentally and physically, winning games and playing good baseball to be able to win those games is all good preparation and helpful for a regular season."
Or, as Holland put it: "It's important because I think winning itself is pretty contagious."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. Paul Casella also contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.