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Previewing the 2024 Season for the Royals, Who Have Lofty Goals

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BY ANNE ROGERS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Royals.com) – The 2024 baseball season begins this week.

It’s been a long but busy winter. It’s been a busy but even longer Spring Training. Now it’s time to get the real thing started.

The Royals were one of the most active teams this offseason and did a lot of work to turn over their roster. They have not been shy about their intentions to win, putting 2023 behind them and focusing solely on improving in ‘24.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the team and the organization, and we’ll get answers to those questions throughout the year. Here’s a quick season preview and a couple of predictions.

What needs to go right?

The roster additions need to prove they were worth the financial commitment, and the offense needs to improve, especially with runners in scoring position. But the Royals really need to get off to a better start to the season this year. It’s true that all 162 games matter, and the most meaningful games are down the stretch. But the Royals have gotten off to a cold start in recent years, and last year, it especially sank their season when they went 7-22 in the first month.

This year, the Royals will play 19 of their first 32 games against teams that went to the postseason last year:

• Three games against the Twins (reigning American League Central champs)
• Three games against the Astros (reached the AL Championship Series)
• Six games against the Orioles (reached the AL Division Series)
• Seven games against the Blue Jays (reached the AL Wild Card Series)

The other 13 games are against the Mets, White Sox and Tigers, so the Royals have a chance to make a statement in their division against the latter two and the Twins.

The Royals are rightfully focused on one game at a time. But if they can emerge from the first four to six weeks of the season still fighting in the standings, momentum could start to roll — and that could make it a fun summer.

Great unknown: Power in the bullpen

The Royals remade their bullpen with strike-throwers who know how to pitch, adding veterans Will Smith, Chris Stratton, Nick Anderson and John Schreiber. Smith will be their closer to begin the season, but others will get opportunities, including James McArthur.

To be clear, all have good stuff, and McArthur sits 94-95 mph with nasty secondary pitches. They all pound the zone and will be reliable in the back end of games. The rest of the bullpen is expected to be Jordan Lyles, Angel Zerpa and Matt Sauer.

But the Royals are missing a fireballer — somebody who can dominate hitters with high velocity. They looked for one on the free agent and trade market but never found a fit. It will have to come internally.

Those options include Carlos Hernández, who will begin the season on the injured list with a shoulder injury, as will hard-throwing lefty Jake Brentz, who is sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring strain. Prospects John McMillon (No. 18) and Will Klein (No. 19) both reach triple digits but will open the season in Triple-A Omaha. All four should be able to help Kansas City at some point in 2024, but when and how much is still to be determined.

Team MVP will be … Bobby Witt Jr.

Who else? He’s coming off a 30-homer, 49-stolen base season. He finished seventh in MVP voting. And this offseason, Witt signed a mega-extension that will keep him in Kansas City through 2030. He’s going to be the heartbeat of this lineup and the anchor in the infield. As Witt goes, the Royals will go.

Team Cy Young will be … Cole Ragans

The Royals pegged Ragans as their Opening Day starter over the veterans they brought in this offseason because they view Ragans as their budding ace. He earned it after 12 starts with the Royals last year, with a 2.64 ERA and August Pitcher of the Month honors. Kansas City will count on Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha to be their reliable starters, and Brady Singer needs to have a solid bounceback year, too. But the expectation is for Ragans to lead this staff.

Bold prediction: The Royals will win the AL Central

There have been others who have predicted this, but let’s be honest: It’s bold. The Royals won 56 games last year (second worst in baseball) and finished 31 games behind the Twins.

If the Royals manage a 20-win swing in 2024, they will still finish 10 games under .500. The Twins won 87 games last year. The AL Central is a weak division that has only gotten weaker with injuries and departures, but the Royals would still need to finish above .500 for a division title and a shot at the playoffs. That would be a massive difference from last year, and a lot would have to go right. Pitching and defense need to be the identity. Witt needs to continue what he did last year, and the young hitters need to step forward, too.

It’s no longer an evaluation year. The Royals want to win. On paper, we’ll say they could. Will they? It’s time to find out.