Kansas City, Mo. With 1999 still fresh in their minds, Kansas City fans know better than anyone how deceptive spring training records can be.
A young Royals team that appeared to offer great potential came out of Florida four years ago with a major league-best 22-9 exhibition record and said it was brimming with newfound confidence. Kansas City then went out and lost 97 games.
This year the Royals went 19-10 during their first spring training in Arizona and head into today's opener against the Chicago White Sox with, well, confidence.
"For us to put up that record in spring training, we had to do a lot of things right," manager Tony Pena said. "And we did things right. It was not only about winning. It was about playing the game the right way. We did that. And good things will come from that."
Coming off the first 100-loss season in franchise history, the Royals will start right-hander Runelvys Hernandez, 4-4 as a rookie last year, against Chicago lefty Mark Buhrle (19-12).
Hernandez is part of a five-man rotation that has just 21 career major league wins.
"These guys are just puppies, but it's very, very exciting to see how much potential there is in those young arms," said Pena.
While the Royals would consider a .500 record a major breakthrough, the White Sox acquired veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon and reliever Billy Koch in hopes of improving last year's 81-81 finish. Colon was 20-8 with Cleveland and Montreal last year, while Koch had 44 saves and 11 wins with Oakland.
The White Sox are also hoping for a comeback season from Frank Thomas, who hit .221 in 2001 and .252 last year.
"The optimism is very high in this locker room, and that's good," said Thomas. "As a team, we have everything. No team will be perfect, but we can play with anyone on any day. That's a little different than how it has been the last couple of years."
A big pitching boost might be just what the White Sox need to overtake Minnesota in the AL Central because they've shown no weakness in scoring. Led by outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who has 491 RBIs in the past four seasons, they ranked third in the AL in run production.
"Right now we're a pretty darn good team on paper. But paper doesn't throw strikes and paper doesn't hit the ball," said Koch, the first man in major league history to have 40 saves and 10 wins in the same season.
Manager Jerry Manuel said the White Sox haven't had such good chemistry since the 2000 team that won the AL Central.
"This team really gets along well. Even if you have a young club, with chemistry, you have a chance because you know every day they'll fight," said Manuel, who is 414-395 in five years as Chicago's manager.
|When: 2:05 p.m. today.Where: Kauffman Stadium.Television: Channel 38 (Sunflower Broadband Channel 15).Pitchers: Runelvys Hernandez (0-0) vs. Mark Buehrle (0-0).KC record: 0-0.|
The Royals, who haven't had a winning season in nine years, know they're taking a chance with such a young staff. The idea is to have everybody grow up together.
"This is going to be an interesting team," said third baseman Joe Randa, an eight-year veteran. "There's a lot of opportunity for young guys to establish themselves at the big league level."
Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who lost a coin flip that decided whether he or Hernandez would start on opening day, insists there's hope.
"They've put together a good team here that has shown in spring training it can win," said Affeldt, who was 3-4 as a rookie last year. "Now we just need to show it in the season. I really believe we can win. You can't go out there and believe you're going to lose."