COLUMBIA, Mo. -

Opening Day in Major League Baseball, a rite of passage that marks a new beginning for fans in every city in America, has come and gone.  It is officially baseball season, a season that touches every other major North American sports season.

In honor of this annual new beginning, I will debut a new column on ABC17news.com. 

It’s time to get "In the Zone."

MLB OPENING DAY

**The Kansas City Royals lost their opening day assignment, 1-0 to Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox.  No shame in that.  Sale is one of the best starting pitchers in the American League.  In his first season as a starter in 2012, the 23-year old was 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and made the AL All-Star team. 

Despite the disappointing loss Monday, there are reasons for legitimate optimism with this team.

-----------------------------------------------

This from the 2013 ZiPS team projection at fangraphs.com (Here’s the link to the full article which is thoroughly fantastic for stat geeks like me):

“It’s not that the additions of Wade Davis and James Shields won’t help the Royals: they will. It’s to what degree they’ll help — especially considering the cost (i.e. Wil Myers). While ZiPS projects the Toronto Blue Jays’ renovated starting rotation (featured yesterday) to produce about 10 more wins than in 2012, Kansas City’s starting rotation is forecast to post a collective mark only about one or two wins better than last year’s version (which recorded a 7.6 WAR, all told, it appears).”

That was my initial hesitation with the big trade GM Dayton Moore pulled to bring James Shields aboard as the anchor of the Royals starting rotation.  I thought it was a year too early for Moore to go “all-in” on getting the Royals over the hump.

After a record-breaking spring, I’m starting to re-think my projections.

Shields is a very good starter.  Playing in the brutal AL East for the first seven seasons of his career, he crafted an 87-73 record, a very respectable 3.89 ERA, and most importantly, he’s averaged 207.2 IP pitched per season. 

Dude is a horse, which is one of the most underrated aspects of a qualifying a quality starting pitcher.  It’s like accuracy with a NFL quarterback.

And the Royals opening-day starter had a tremendous debut: 6 IP, 8 H, ER, 0 BB, 6 K.

Their lineup, though muted on Monday afternoon, should be more potent than it was last year. 

I expect Eric Hosmer to put up numbers closer to what scouts expected out of this middle-of-the-order bat. 

Billy Butler is an All-Star. 

Alex Gordon has become a legit All-Star caliber two-way player. 

Mike Moustakas provides punch at the hot corner. 

And then there’s catcher Salvador Perez, who some scouts think will soon be in the same class as Yadier Molina and Buster Posey.

Biggest question in 2013: Will the rest of the rotation follow Shields' lead?  That I cannot predict with as much confidence as I can this team’s hitting and defense (Gordon, Perez, and SS Alcides Escobar could all win Gold Gloves in 2013).

I have KC winning 83-85 games. 

I don’t think it will be enough to get an AL Central crown or one of the wild card spots, but the first winning season in many young fans’ lifetime should make the summer of 2013 very enjoyable for Kansas City fans.

**The St. Louis Cardinals opened the season in the desert against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright got roughed up literally (when he took a Gerardo Parra liner off the right arm) and figuratively.