KANSAS CITY -- Throughout Spring Training, Royals players sang a familiar chorus: Get off to a better start this season.
The Royals lost 14 of their first 17 games in 2018 on their way to a 104-loss season. The first of those losses came at Kauffman Stadium against the White Sox, a 14-7 thumping.
The two teams will go at it again at Kauffman Stadium on Opening Day in 2019 on Thursday.
“I think it is so important for us to get some wins early,” Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield said. “For the young guys, it will give them confidence. Last year, we lost so much early, it just kind of zapped us.”
The White Sox, who lost 100 games in 2018, see a chance for improvement.
“I think you will [see it],” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "I think you are going to see continued progress from some of the young guys who were here last year, whether it was [Yoan] Moncada or [Lucas] Giolito or certainly [Reynaldo] Lopez, [Carlos] Rodon and [Tim Anderson], who we project to play big roles going forward. You will continue to see progress from all of them.”
Added White Sox manager Rick Renteria, “I think they are coming together. I think they are working alongside of each other. They are communicating very well. Conversations they are having are solid. I think they want to do some positive things and I think they understand that some of the younger guys who have been here for the last couple of years have gained a lot of experience. They are more comfortable in their own skin.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Thursday, March 28, 3:15 p.m. CT; MLB.TV; FOX Sports Kansas City and NBC Chicago Sports.
The starting lineups
White Sox: The Eloy Jimenez era has officially begun, as the No. 3 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline will be in left field on Opening Day. James McCann has caught Rodon frequently during Spring Training, so he might get the Game 1 nod. With a right-handed hurler on the mound for the Royals, switch-hitting Leury Garcia is likely to start.
- Leury Garcia CF
- Yoan Moncada 3B
- Jose Abreu DH
- Yonder Alonso 1B
- Eloy Jimenez LF
- Daniel Palka RF
- James McCann C
- Tim Anderson SS
- Yolmer Sanchez 2B
Royals: Manager Ned Yost said he will be actively moving super utility players Merrifield and Chris Owings around the infield and the outfield. Yost also could have DH candidates in left-handed-hitting Lucas Duda and right-handed-hitting Frank Schwindel, if either make the team.
- Whit Merrifield 2B
- Adalberto Mondesi SS
- Alex Gordon LF
- Jorge Soler RF
- Hunter Dozier 3B
- Ryan O’Hearn 1B
- Frank Schwindel * DH
- Martin Maldonado C
- Billy Hamilton CF
Who are the starting pitchers?
White Sox: Rodon is ready for a completely healthy campaign and he's set to make his first career Opening Day start. The left-hander has an elite slider and is a tough pitcher to beat when throwing it for strikes. When Rodon struggled at the end of last season, he was missing with the slider and hitters were sitting on the fastball.
Royals: Right-hander Brad Keller’s remarkable ascension continues as he gets his first Opening Day start. Keller went from a Rule 5 Draft pick in 2017 to making the Royals’ roster out of Spring Training in '18 to becoming the team’s pitcher of the year to this.
Keller, 23, is taking his early success in stride, but he admits he is thrilled to be the Opening Day starter.
“It’s an honor and just very exciting,” Keller said.
Keep an eye on Keller’s new addition to his repertoire: A changeup, to go with his fastball and slider.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
White Sox: Alex Colome, who topped the American League with 47 saves for the Rays in 2017, has been named the closer at the start of 2019. But the White Sox have a strong core of late-inning, high-leverage options in Nate Jones, Kelvin Herrera and southpaw Jace Fry. Manny Banuelos and Dylan Covey are long relief possibilities, while Caleb Frare and Ryan Burr make their first career Opening Day appearance.
Royals: Yost said he won’t have any defined roles for his bullpen, at least for a while. Yost instead will be identifying who his high-leverage relievers will be, and presumably that will be Wily Peralta, who finished last season as the closer, Jake Diekman, Brad Boxberger, Tim Hill and converted starter Ian Kennedy.
“It will take some time to sort it out,” Yost said. “But that’s kind of typical of most bullpens coming out of Spring Training. Eventually everyone kind of settles in.”
Any injuries of note?
White Sox: Michael Kopech, who probably would have started Game 2 against the Royals, continues his rehab from last September’s Tommy John surgery. Reliever Ian Hamilton, who some consider a closer of the future, dealt with shoulder soreness in camp after a car accident involving the hurler and his fiancee. He is a few weeks behind. Veteran outfielder Jon Jay will begin the season on the injured list because of soreness in his right hip/back.
Royals: Left fielder Alex Gordon came out of Friday’s game because of a left calf injury that Yost later described as more of a cramp. He should be OK for Opening Day.
Left-hander Danny Duffy will remain in Arizona finishing up a throwing program after an early-camp bout of shoulder tightness. Duffy will begin the season on the injured list and he likely will go on a Minor League rehab assignment sometime in April before rejoining the Royals.
Who is hot and who is not?
White Sox: Leury Garcia was one of the top hitters in the Cactus League. Jimenez had four hits in two games following the press conference to announce his new contract, after going 4-for-26 in Arizona beforehand. Moncada also seemed locked in at the plate, being more aggressive in the strike zone and earlier in the count.
Royals: Owings, after a slow start, began scorching the ball and he finished with a team-high 16 runs scored. He hit .333 with eight doubles and 13 RBIs.
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn had a .411 on-base percentage.
Right fielder Jorge Soler had a team-high 18 RBIs and a team-high five home runs.
After a strong start to spring, right-hander Jorge Lopez struggled in his final Cactus League outing, giving up seven hits and six runs in two innings. Lopez likely will be No. 3 in the rotation.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• Moncada played second base throughout 2018, but he has moved to third base for ’19.