Hoping to turn disappointing projections into promising reality, the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals open the 2019 season with plenty to prove.
The two clubs will open with a three-game series in Kansas City, Mo., beginning on Thursday. They finished the 2018 season with two of the three worst records in Major League Baseball. They spent the offseason taking two different approaches to rebuilding, and they'll get to measure progress against one another.
The White Sox tried to spend big money in free agency, looking to add power bats and star power. They were rumored among the pursuers of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Both players signed elsewhere, so the White Sox will look to their young core, including Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, to blend with veterans such as Jose Abreu, John Jay (signed as a free agent) and Yonder Alonso (acquired by trade).
The Royals looked for discount deals, hoping to add speed. They signed outfielder Billy Hamilton after he was released by the Cincinnati Reds. Hamilton is considered the fastest man in baseball.
They brought back outfielder Terrance Gore, whose primary role has always been pinch-runner. Adalberto Mondesi stole 32 bases in 75 games last year, and Whit Merrifield led the American League with 45 stolen bases.
The projections around baseball are that both clubs will be better than last year. The White Sox finished 62-100, the third worst record baseball. Some computer projections call for them to win 70 games this season, which would mark an eight-win improvement.
The Royals are projected to finish slightly ahead of the White Sox, third in the American League Central. They finished 2018 with a 58-104 record, only surpassing the win total of the Baltimore Orioles.
They hope the focus on speed will pay off.
"We felt that we needed to improve speed and defense," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It could make a difference. It could force teams to prepare for us.
"Speed and defense are really important to us at Kauffman Stadium. We're going to take advantage of that. We like that style of play. Our fans like that style of play. Plus I think it gives us an advantage because a lot of teams aren't built like that."
The Royals will have seven different starters from last year's opener, beginning with the starting pitcher. Brad Keller (9-6, 3.08 ERA last year) was a surprise success after coming to the Royals in the Rule 5 draft.
Other different starters from a year ago include catcher Martin Maldonado, first baseman Ryan O'Hearn, third baseman Hunter Dozier, Mondesi, Hamilton and whoever starts at designated hitter. Also, left fielder Alex Gordon returns to his normal spot after starting last season in center. Gordon, Merrifield and right fielder Jorge Soler are the only players returning to the starting lineup.
The White Sox will be more stable, with seven repeat starters at their positions from last year's opening day. Carlos Rodon (6-8, 4.29 ERA last year) will get the start on the mound for Chicago.
"It's something any pitcher would aspire to do," he said earlier this spring. "I would love to be slotted for that. I'd like to lobby for it by the way I perform this spring. I'm not going to talk my way into it. I'd rather just show them how I pitch."
While manager Rich Renteria gave Rodon the start, it was hardly a ringing endorsement.
"He's been with us, we know what he's capable of doing," Renteria said. "The good thing is, we've started the year where he's nice and healthy. We're looking forward to a good season starting off. The way we slotted it, it just ended up being the right person for it."
On Thursday, it all changes from projections to reality.
--Field Level Media
Royals, White Sox eager for positive start to 2019
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