MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox

White Sox v. Royals Opening Day: This Time, It’s Academic

For the bulk of the last decade at least one of these two teams had some realistic dream of contention.  To be sure, and to their credit, the Royals haven’t abandoned all hope in 2018, doing what more teams should have done and adding free agents simply because it made their team better.  Lucas Duda isn’t Joey Votto but he’s pretty good, so the Royals signed him, even if the chances they crack .500, let alone make the playoffs, are dubious.  Ditto for Jon Jay, and once it was clear nobody else would beat their offer, Mike Moustakas was a no-brainer for Dayton Moore’s outfit.  But even with their best pitcher, Danny Duffy, on the mound, this Royals team is a husk of what it has been.  Eric Hosmer is in San Diego. Lorenzo Cain is in Milwaukee. Sal Perez fell down a flight of stairs or something.

Perhaps a glance at the Opening Day lineup captures the 2018 Royals Feeling adequately:

  1. Jon Jay – CF: Sure, he’s a competent major leaguer. I checked, he didn’t fall off a cliff yet.
  2. Whit Merrifield – 2B: Hey! He was quite good last year! If that wasn’t a fluke he’s a nice piece.
  3. Mike Moustakas – 3B: Moose doesn’t really get on base much and I’m not sure how long he can stay at third, but for 2018 he should continue to be a solid player.
  4. Lucas Duda – 1B: If the Royals aren’t up against a lefty, this 3-4 combo is quite menacing.
  5. Cheslor Cuthbert – DH: Hmm. Uh, well…he’s only 25 and was decent in 2016?
  6. Jorge Soler – RF: I thought Soler was going to be really good once upon a time. Then the next three years happened.
  7. Alex Gordon – LF: I also thought Gordon would bounce back from a down 2016 but then everything got even worse.
  8. Alcides Escobar – SS: Is he the worst hitter in baseball?
  9. Drew Butera – C: He might not be the worst hitter in his own lineup!

This group looks like it will struggle on both sides of the ball, particularly if Merrifield regresses and the older players continue to decline.  There isn’t much help on the way either, unless you count Perez coming back from injury in a few months or Jorge Bonifacio coming back from suspension for the second half of the season.  That said, there’s plenty here to beat James Shields on any given day.

Even if the White Sox and Royals project to finish a few wins apart from each other, 2018 likely represents an intersection of one team sinking into the ocean while the other ascends.  Yes, 2018 is quite similar to 2017 as a “Wait And See” season, with even less likelihood for blockbuster trades in this year’s edition.  Still, for all of my pretensions of being a cerebral, objective analyst, this is still Opening Day, and this is as exciting a collection of talent on the upswing as the White Sox have had in some time.

I can’t wait to see what Yoan Moncada does in a second look at the majors.  I can’t wait to see if Tim Anderson can return to form.  I want to watch Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carson Fulmer fight to be the core of the next good White Sox rotation.  I am eager to see newcomers like Welington Castillo and even Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. I look forward to Carlos Rodon and Zack Burdi coming back from injury, and for the arrival of the next wave of prospects, whether elite or not.

We have to wait a little longer, but I want to see Luis Robert play stateside.

Win or lose, this is so, so much more fun than staring out the window at freezing rain, and it should only get better from here — and Moncada is leading off.

Lead Image Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

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