One of the Slightly Famous People I Actually Know is the baseball writer Rob Neyer, whom I knew in college. He writes regularly for ESPN.com and has several books out. With his compadre Dr. Rany Jayazerli, who writes for the Topeka Capital-General and works as a dermatologist, they put out my favorite sports blog, Rob and Rany on the Royals. I'm biased, of course, because I'm a Royals' fan, but for baseball analysis these guys are hard to beat. With spring training and then Opening Day before we know it, they'll be posting much more regularly. (My second favorite, a very close second, is Aaron's Baseball Blog. This guy, Aaron Gleeman, is a college kid up in Minnesota and a huge Twins and T-Wolves fan. He's already picked up a couple of professional writing jobs on various Web sites. Aaron knows what he's talking about and I like the way he writes. Watch out for this guy as a real writer in a few years.)
I seriously think the Royals have a chance this year. If--
--Neither LF Juan Gonzalez nor 1B/DH Mike Sweeney gets hurt. If these guys can play 140 games, they'll hit home runs--say 25 for Sweeney, 35 for Juan Gone--and rack up OPSs of well over 900. With Berroa leading off, Beltran second, Sweeney third, Gonzalez cleanup, and the Stairs/Harvey DH platoon fifth, there are going to be some serious runs driven in at the dop of the order.
--CF Carlos Beltran does what most people think he's going to do and has a career year. He's just entering the prime of his career and this is his last season before free agency. Carlos will likely be wearing pinstripes next season and he wants the big contract.
--Jeremy Affeldt turns out to be the starting pitcher we think he can be, Darrell May and Brian Anderson come through with solid seasons, as they usually do, and two of the other four candidates for the starting rotation don't suck too bad.
--Nobody else--C Benito Santiago, 3B Joe Randa, SS Angel Berroa (2003 Rookie of the Year), RF Aaron Guiel, and the two platoons at second base and 1B/DH--really sucks it up big-time.
--The relievers perform adequately.
All of these things are more than possible. If most of them happen the Royals can win 90-92 games and compete in the AL Central. Nobody else in the division is going to be much good. The Twins are capable of winning 85-95 games and might well win again. Chicago is not going to be much good and Detroit and Cleveland are going to just blow. The Royals are going to rack up the wins against those two teams this year just like last year.
A few other things make me like the Royals. They're deep. If somebody gets hurt, the Royals can sub him with an adequate player who will do the job. They have a couple of fine young players, corner outfielder David DeJesus (who will either sub Juan Gone or compete with Guiel for the RF spot) and starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who will likely start the season in Triple-A and come up in June or so. If either of these two guys plays well this year, that's gravy, more than we were expecting. Also, the relief corps is made up exclusively of professionals. A couple of years ago Jason Grimsley, the personification of "adequate" or "mediocre", was their best reliever. Now he's their worst, their mop-up man. Finally, Tony Pena is a good manager. Nobody claims he's a brilliant strategist; he basically just lets the guys play and gives them plenty of support. The players respect him, and he was an important piece of the change that happened last year, when Pena replaced Tony Muser, the worst manager ever to live. Anybody would have been better than Muser, of course, but Pena has been pretty successful so far.