Royals begin defense of AL pennant at home vs White Sox
It has been four long years since the Kansas City Royals opened a season at home.
They'll certainly enjoy this one.
The American League champions will celebrate last season's dramatic run to Game 7 of the World Series on Monday before facing the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. It is the first game in a 162-game odyssey that they hope will deliver them right back to the playoffs.
Kansas City snapped a 29-year postseason drought in a big way. After squeaking into the wild-card game, the Royals knocked out Oakland with an epic extra-inning comeback. Then, they swept all the way to the final game of the Fall Classic, where they were finally stopped by Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants.
''I just expect for us to go out and compete,'' Royals manager Ned Yost said. ''I think we're a much more experienced team. It's a very confident team. These guys know that they can produce under the most intense situations, under the brightest spotlights, and that's what playoff and World Series experience does for you. I'm excited to get started.''
So are the White Sox, who spent the offseason retooling just about everything in the hopes of catapulting from a fourth-place finish in the AL Central.
They signed right-hander Jeff Samardzija to boost their rotation and left-hander Zach Duke to help out in the `pen. They inked first baseman Adam LaRoche to provide some power, Melky Cabrera to solidify the outfield and right-hander David Robertson to close games.
Among many other moves that make the White Sox look nothing like they did six months ago.
''Everyone is settling in guys are getting used to each other on and off the field and I think we're jelling together as a team,'' said center fielder Adam Eaton, one of the notable holdovers. ''Hopefully that translates to wins in April.''
The Royals will send 23-year-old Yordano Ventura to the mound on opening day, and the touted flamethrower is sure to get quite the reception from a sellout crowd.
Sure, fans will remember his masterful performance in Game 6 of the World Series, when he shut down the Giants and kept Kansas City's postseason hopes alive. But they are also sure to thank him for the long-term deal he signed Saturday, a $23 million, five-year pact that includes two option years and could keep Ventura pitching for the Royals for quite a while.
''For me he's a complete package, a guy that I think is going to be very, very successful in major league baseball,'' Yost said. ''There's no telling what he's going to be able to achieve.''
Samardzija will get the opening day nod for the White Sox, in part because ace left-hander Chris Sale is recovering from a fractured bone in his right foot. Samardzija started on opening day for the Cubs the past two seasons, holding Pittsburgh without a run each time.
The Royals will try to change his fortunes with a slightly different lineup than they trotted out a year ago. Designated hitter Billy Butler is gone, replaced by Kendrys Morales. Alex Rios is not in right field, signed to replace Nori Aoki and provided some pop.
Otherwise, the rest of the Royals return largely intact. That means a bunch of guys who put together a dream season a year ago will get to celebrate it in front of their home fans.
Right before they start trying to prove it wasn't a fluke.
''We're a real close team. Our team chemistry is off the charts,'' Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said, ''and over the course of a year, 162 games, you really do need that. It's a group of guys that are used to playing with each other. We feel like that's an advantage and I think we can use that to help us throughout the season.''