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MLB preview: The Kansas City Royals

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How are things shaping up for the defending American League champions?

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This week we're going to take a look at each of the Tribe's AL Central rivals, getting help from our SB Nation cousins. Today, a Q&A with Max Rieper, managing editor at Royals Review.

As you may recall, Kansas City made a surprise run to the AL Wild Card Game, as "trusting the process" finally paid off with the team's first postseason appearance since 1986. The Royals fell behind in that game, but their comeback put the wild in Wild Card and they advanced to the ALDS. There they swept the Angels, with two of the three wins coming in extra innings. Next they faced the Orioles in the ALCS, and again they swept, winning the four games by a combined total of just six runs. They made it to Game 7 of the World Series, and one of the most charmed runs in postseason history was on the verge of complete triumph, until Madison Bumgarner rewrote the ending.

Still, the Royals enter 2015 as the defending American League champions.

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Are you old enough to have qualified as a "long suffering Royals fan" heading into last year? What was 2014 like for you, especially the Wild Card Game and Game 7 of the World Series?

I was 7 years old and not really a baseball fan when the Royals won it in 1985. I figured the Royals must win it every year, so what was the big deal? Little did I know that would be the last post-season appearance in 29 years.

2014 was an amazing performance that I'll never forget. It was amazing to see the entire city come together. In a way, it reminded me of the Indians in the 90s when Cleveland began its urban revitalization, capped off by the Indians playoff runs in downtown Cleveland at Jacobs Field. Kansas City has really had a great decade as a city, rebuilding its downtown and putting itself on the map with art and cultuer, and it was awesome to see that capped off by one of its sports teams finally enjoying some success.

Should Alex Gordon have tried to score???

I don't think there is any serious baseball fan that thinks Alex Gordon should have tried to score on his three-bag hit in Game 7. Had coach Mike Jirschele sent him, he would have been out by 30 feet, Jirschele would have been run out of town, and everyone would have asked "should they have let Salvador Perez hit?" People forget that Perez, struggling as he was, had homered off Bumgarner earlier in the series. The Giants later revealed Bumgarner was gassed and Perez would have been his last batter no matter what. Its just unfortunate Salvy couldn't come through.

But when I'm alone with my thoughts, I think about what would have happened had Juan Perez bobbled it just one....more....time. I get goosebumps.

If the Royals could have kept James Shields by matching the 4-year, $75 million deal he signed with San Diego, should they have? Do you expect Alex Rios, Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez to provide significant value?

The Royals reportedly did offer a similar deal to Shields, but he was looking for $100 million, and by the time the market deflated and Shields had to take San Diego's offer, the Royals had already moved on. Such a deal would have put the Royals in a pretty tight bind financially for the next few years, even with their increased payroll, and they would have had to make some very tough decisions on guys like Alex Gordon (who could be a free agent next winter) as well as expensive arbitration-eligible players like Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Eric Hosmer.

The three main free agents the Royals signed are not likely to make much of an impact. The Royals hitched their wagons to players willing to sign one- or two-year contracts, meaning players that had some major red flags around them. Rios had a poor year in Texas last year with just four home runs, but the Royals are banking the 34-year old was hurt by nagging thumb and ankle injuries and can bounce back. Morales was about the most worthless player in baseball last year, but the Royals are banking that missing spring training and the first two months of the year holding out for a contract hurt Morales and he can bounce back from that. Edinson Volquez was solid for the Pirates last year, but was released by the Padres the year before and is moving to the American League. The Royals don't really need any of these guys to be great, but they can't be disasters either, and that risk looms large.

Kansas City's bullpen was incredible last year. They seem to have all the key pieces back. Do you think they can maintain their performance level?

I think there is a possibility of some regression from Kelvin Herrera and maybe even a bit from Wade Davis, but they will still likely be excellent relievers. The Royals actually improved the depth of their pen significantly. Outside of Herrera, Davis, and closer Greg Holland, there was a big drop-off in performance to the rest of the pen. This year, they have Jason Frasor all season (acquired mid-season last year), and they bring back Luke Hochevar, who missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery. Former starting pitchers Chris Young and Kris Medlen (scheduled to return from Tommy John surgery in June) bring additional depth. The Royals could suffer some regression or injury and still be a top-tier bullpen.

What's it like to root for a team with incredible defense? I can no longer recall.

I was kind of a skeptic on the importance of defense until I saw a team great at it every day up close. Having three of the best ball-hawks in the league roaming your outfield in Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, and Lorenzo Cain is like carrying around a security blanket. And its not even in the balls they catch or the throws they make that makes them valuable, Gordon's mere presence has prevented runners from taking extra bases. I have never seen a player consistently play caroms off the wall as brilliantly as he does.

The infield defense is probably closer to average, but Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Eric Hosmer are all capable of making flashy plays on a regular basis.

Is there anyone one the Indians you particularly admire? Anyone who particularly drives you nuts?

I have deep respect for Carlos Santana mostly because his numbers are astronomical against the Royals. I am part of the Nick Swisher fan club because we went to school together at Ohio State and I even got to meet him a few times, and he seemed like a genuinely good dude who has fun playing the game. Corey Kluber has earned our respect. Also, this face he made when Ryan Raburn had his defensive shenanigans against the Royals was amazing.

I don't know that anyone annoys us from Cleveland anymore with Chris Perez long gone. I would suspect Trevor Bauer has that potential, although we haven't seen it yet.

Despite the Royals having won the AL Pennant last year, few seem to expect a return trip to the postseason. Many seem to expect a losing record even. What do you expect to happen in the AL Central year?

I expect the Royals to be around .500, possibly even with a losing record. They have a lot of swagger coming into this season, but they really overachieved last year in a weakened American League, and they lost some key components. I can squint my eyes and imagine a scenario where they return to the post-season, but it takes their free agents to not be disasters, for Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy to develop into frontline starting pitchers, for Eric Hosmer to finally breakthrough as an All-Star caliber first baseman, and for the Royals to avoid major injuries. That seems like a tall order, so I would predict the Royals win around 78 games and finish firmly in third place in the Central, with the Indians running away with the division, the Tigers in the hunt for the Wild Card, the White Sox breathing down the Royals neck, and the Twins with the worst record in the league.

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A big thank you to Max for taking the time to provide such in depth answers to my questions. I sure hope he's right about the AL Central!