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.
After getting to D-Backs pitcher Ian Kennedy early in the first, the Cardinal offense faded and Arizona cruised to a 6-2 win. It was not a happy opening day for baseball fans on either side of the Show-Me state.
Arguably, the Cardinals are still in a "transition" period. In consecutive seasons, St. Louis has lost: Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, Lance Berkman, Skip Schumaker, Kyle Lohse, and Chris Carpenter.
Normally those kinds of veteran losses would cripple an organization, but St. Louis and GM John Mozeliak have done a phenomenal job locking up the important core players and surrounding them with promising young talent.
Matt Holliday is locked up until 2016 with a team option for 2017.
Yadier Molina signed an extension last year that keeps him a Cardinal through 2017 with a club option for 2018.
Allen Craig just signed a team-friendly extension to keep him in St. Louis through 2017 with a club option for 2018.
Wainwright just signed a deal that should take him to the twilight of his career in 2018.
(David Freese, are you next?)
But what will really make this a seamless transition into a new era without Pujols and LaRussa is the young, ascending talent ready to provide significant (and cheap) contributions around those core players.
The bullpen is stocked with 20-somethings that touch 95+ on the radar gun: Mitchell Boggs – who will fill in as the de facto closer while Jason Motte tends to a sore elbow to begin the year, Trevor Rosenthal, and Joe Kelly.
Waiting in the minor leagues to fill-in immediately if needed are promising young arms like Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Eduardo Sanchez, and Seth Maness.
Wacha, a 2012 first round pick out of Texas A&M, pitched 24.2/3 combined innings this spring in the major league and minor league camps. He allowed 13 base runners, one unearned run, and struck out 28 hitters. Ridiculous.
For the longest time, Shelby Miller – a first round pick out of high school in 2009 – has been considered the crown jewel pitching prospect in the organization. Miller, in fact, was good enough in camp this spring to earn the fifth spot in the starting rotation that opened after Carpenter's injury.
Wacha, however, may be even better.
Then there is OF Oscar Taveras.
Just 20 years old, Baseball Prospectus claims Taveras has the "best pure bat" in all of minor league baseball. This is a hitting prospect the caliber of which the St. Louis Cardinals have not had since Albert Pujols began his quest to the major leagues.
If you'd like to read more about Taveras and his status as one of the elite prospects in all of the game, click here to read Jenifer Langosch's thorough article on MLB.com from early March.
St. Louis is good enough to compete this year. I think this team is back in the playoffs again in 2013, whether it be as NL Central champs or as one of the two NL wild cards.
But the Cards have positioned themselves to be most dangerous in the years to come.