Five questions to ask on Royals Opening Day

So it’s here…finally…the Kansas City Royals will be playing actual Major League Baseball!

It feels like it has been forever since COVID shut down play back in March, but it’s exciting to see the Boys in Blue back on the field, even if they will be starting the season at Progressive Field in Cleveland rather than at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

That being said, with it being Opening Day, what should Royals fans be paying attention to by first pitch at 6:00 p.m.? What are the major storylines on Opening Day from a Royals perspective? And what should Royals fans be looking for when it comes to generating hope in Kansas City in regard to the abbreviated 2020 regular season?

Let’s take a look at five questions Royals fans should be asking themselves by first pitch tomorrow against the Indians.

How will Danny Duffy perform as the Royals’ Opening Day starter?

Duffy was named the Royals’ Opening Day stater by a process of elimination: due to COVID and injuries, it was between him and Mike Montgomery for the Opening Day slot. Duffy had a better season in 2019 in comparison to 2018, but it’s obvious Duffy is on the downswing of his career, especially considering he’s 31-years-old and entering his 10th season with the Royals. Duffy is far from his 2016 self, which earned hims a 5-year extension at the conclusion of the season. That being said, Duffy showed promise in 2019, and there is hope that he can be a dependable starter for the Royals this year in a shortened campaign, which would be much needed considering the question marks regarding their staff overall.

If Duffy can have a great Opening Day start, that could be a good sign that Duffy is in the process of building on his improvement from a year ago. However, if he struggles, then it could be a sign that not only is Duffy destined for the bullpen sooner rather than later, but that the Royals’ pitching woes will be more dire than expected.

How will Jorge Soler look at the plate?

Opening Day is just one game, so Royals fans shouldn’t judge too rashly, especially in regard to hitters. That being said, Opening Day can serve as an indicator of what could be on the horizon for a team, especially during a shortened season like 2020. And with that being said, no player will be more fascinating to watch than designated hitter Jorge Soler, who not only set a Royals single-season home run record last year, but also set a home run record for Cuban-born players in a single season as well (he passed Rafael Palmeiro).

Soler didn’t have a great Spring Training, as he struck out 14 times in 32 plate appearances and posted an average of .172 and an OPS of .698. The power is certainly still there for Soler, as he proved a year ago. That being said, it will be interesting to see how pitchers adjust to Soler after his breakout 2019. While it will be only one game, Soler could ease the anxiety of Royals fans if he has a solid 2020 debut.

How will the Royals respond to new manager Mike Matheny in game one?

Mike Matheny has done everything right so far as the new Royals manager. He seems to say the right things, and he has a new perspective on sabermetrics and coaching young players that makes it feel like he’s learned a lot from his days as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Honestly, Matheny was not my first choice as Ned Yost’s replacement. That being said, I think Matheny has done a lot since taking over to put a lot of Royals fans’ minds at ease, including myself.

However, once the games begin, a manager or coach’s true colors can be revealed, and no manager in baseball currently has a bigger challenge than Matheny. Not only was this club expected to struggle during a rebuilding campaign, but COVID has hit this roster hard, as projected starting first baseman (Ryan O’Hearn) and right fielder (Hunter Dozier) will be out due to COVID, and there pitching staff will be also short-handed due to COVID as well as injury. Thus, how will Matheny react once the games count? Will he continue to trust this young team? Or will he be the veteran-reliant manager that he was notorious for during his days as the head honcho in St. Louis?

While I want to be optimistic with the Royals, it will be interesting to see what Matheny will do when things go south, and if he will show that he is indeed a changed manager or if his “growth” was just a publicity stunt.

Who will step up in the bullpen?

The Royals bullpen will be interesting to follow in 2020. Ian Kennedy is the slated closer, but it feels like that he’s on borrowed time, as he will be jettisoned as soon as Dayton Moore finds a suitor for his services. Add that with the recent trade of Tim Hill, and injuries to Randy Rosario and Chance Adams (as well as the addition of Jesse Hahn to the bereavement list) and the bullpen feels like it will be thinner than expected on Opening Day.

That being said, this could be an opportunity for the Royals to find new dependable options out of the pen. Could Kyle Zimmer figure it out? Will Josh Staumont finally harness his control? Is Scott Barlow the closer-in-waiting in Kansas City once Kennedy gets traded? Can Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal recapture the magic in Kansas City and be the elite relievers they once were years ago? Is Tyler Zuber on his way to being a Holland or Rosenthal 2.0? And is newly-acquired Ronald Bolanos an underrated arm who could perhaps be a dependable option in the 7th and 8th innings?

The Royals bullpen was a strength of the team in the second half of 2019, but suffered through its share of inconsistency during the first half of last season. Thus, it will be interesting to see which reliever step up on Opening Day in 2020 and show that they could be depended on for the remaining 59 games this year.

What will be the theme of this Royals season?

On Opening Day in 2018, a few friends and I went to the Peanut and watched the Royals Opening Day game on TV against the White Sox. We didn’t get tickets to the game at Kauffman, but we wanted to celebrate the start of the Royals season. However, Duffy struggled immensely, and the Royals dropped a rough Opening Day in 2018, 14-7 to the White Sox. We knew, while filled with wings and Miller lite, that the loss would be a brutal indicator for the 2018 season overall (which it was, as the Royals went 58-104).

2019 had a much better Opening Day, as the Royals surprised and won 5-3 over the White Sox, sweet revenge from their Opening Day fiasco a season ago. And while the Royals lost 100+ games again for a second straight year, 2019 Opening Day showed this: while it would be another tough season, they would surprise Royals fans in more ways than one. And despite the lackluster record, that proved to be true: Dozier stepped up to be a dependable hitter; Soler broke home run records; and Whit continued to be one of the best overall players in the American League.

Thus, what will the story of 2020 be for the Kansas City Royals on this Opening Day? Will the Royals struggle and set the tone for a slog of a campaign, much like 2018? Or will they surprise and show that improvement is on the way, much like in 2019?

I guess Royals fans won’t know what that 2020 story will be until late Friday evening.

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