(Sports Network) - For the first time in more than two decades the Kansas City Royals may become relevant again.
The Royals begin what they hope is a memorable season on Monday when they lift the lid on the 2013 campaign against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
For years we have heard how deep the Royals' farm system was. Little by little we have seen the fruits of their labors with the development of Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
Although their 72-90 record from a year ago may indicate otherwise, things are on the uptick for the Royals, who have improved their win total in each of the last four seasons. Their third place finish in the AL Central in 2012 was also the team's highest since 2003.
General manager Dayton Moore realized that the Royals are getting close and this offseason overhauled the starting rotation, acquiring righties James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. That group combined with returning right-hander Jeremy Guthrie gives Kansas City as talented a rotation as there is in the American League.
"If you get too fired up, then the first little rough spot you've got, you lose interest,"manager Ned Yost said. "It can't happen. I like our team. I really like our team. I think we're going to be able to compete."
Shields, who will be on the hill Monday, may not have the dominating stuff that Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez or even his former teammate David Price has. But he is a genuine staff leader who eats innings and can anchor a rotation.
However, his 4.76 ERA in 11 career appearances against the White Sox is his highest against any AL team.
Chicago, meanwhile, exceeded everyone's expectations in 2012. Yet its season still had to be considered a disappointment.
In first place for 117 days and the better part of the second half, the White Sox crumbled down the stretch and eventually lost control of the American League Central to the Detroit Tigers with two weeks to go in the season.
The 4-11 finish may have left a bad taste in most people's mouths, but still Robin Ventura's club ended the year 85-77 and was in playoff contention up until the final few games of the season.
First-year general manager Rick Hahn didn't make any drastic offseason changes, but he did re-sign former NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy, while letting popular clubhouse leader A.J. Pierzynski walk as a free agent.
Offensively, the club is still veteran heavy led by Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and boom-or-bust slugger Adam Dunn, while lefty Chris Sale hopes to follow up a breakout 2012 campaign.
Sale, who will be making his first-ever Opening Day start on Monday, went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and made the All-Star Game in his first season as a starter last year. However, he was just 6-6 after the break with a 4.32 ERA.
"My knees are shaking now just thinking about it," Sale said of his Opening Day start. "I'm definitely going to have to collect myself, stay focused and take a lot of deep breaths. The last couple of Opening Days, I've been a kid in a candy shop. And now, being part of it, it could be overwhelming, but I'm going to do everything to collect myself and stay on an even plane. You know it's going to be electric, though."
Kansas City took the season series last year, going 12-6.