Royals ready to welcome White Sox on opening day

(Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images)

Salvador Perez has been on Kansas City Royals teams that were picked to lose 90 games, finish last in the AL Central and struggle so much that a total rebuild would have been apropos.

Matter of fact, a lot like this one.

But those teams usually exceeded expectations, winning the AL pennant one year and the World Series the next, before starting to backtrack. And the veteran catcher with the quick smile and quicker throw to second base believes the Royals can do the same thing this season.

They'll start that chase on opening day against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

"It happens every year. Nobody believes in Kansas City. That's what I saw on my internet, the social (media)," said Perez, who will begin the season on the disabled list after sustaining a freak knee injury while carrying a suitcase up some stairs in his home Tuesday night. 

"We need to come play hard," Perez said, "and see what happens after the last out."

The Royals and White Sox both have high hopes, even if nobody else does.

Kansas City lost star first baseman Eric Hosmer and outfielder Lorenzo Cain as free agents, and big questions remain elsewhere in the lineup. The starting rotation is shaky behind opening day starter Danny Duffy, and nobody in the bullpen seems to have their spot entirely locked up.

"We're loving it. We think we're going to surprise a lot of people," said outfielder Alex Gordon, who more than perhaps anybody else is desperate for a bounce-back campaign.

"I know a lot of people aren't expecting a lot out of us," he said. "With baseball, any time, you're going to have people leave. It's going to happen and you're going to have changes."

The White Sox have been in that cycle the past few years. But a wave of top prospects, headlined by second baseman Yoan Moncada, grew exponentially while going 67-95 last season, and manager Edgar Renteria is hopeful that those growing pains will pay off this year.

"It's the beginning of whatever story line you want to give it," he said ahead of opening day at Kauffman Stadium. "I'm sure with ups and downs, but you're always entering it with an optimistic viewpoint. I think we're very happy with the way all these guys have gone about their business this spring and you're just ready to get the regular season going."

As the Royals and White Sox prepare to open a three-game series, here are some things to know:

DUFFY'S HEALTH: The Royals' ace left his final spring training start with shoulder tightness, but he threw on the side Sunday and reported everything was OK for the opener. He'll be going against his former teammate James Shields, who is the opening day starter for the White Sox.

SAL'S HEALTH, TOO: Perez was carrying a suitcase up some stairs on Tuesday night when he missed a step, spraining the medial collateral ligament in his knee. No surgery is required but the five-time All-Star is expected to miss up to six weeks. "I'm sad," he said Wednesday afternoon.

BIG BOUNCEBACKS: Gordon continued to struggle throughout the spring, though manager Ned Yost has been steadfast in his corner. In the opposite dugout, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson hopes to rebound after batting .257 during his first full season in the majors.

"I believe in Alex," Yost said. "I think he looked really, really good the last couple days in spring training and I was pleased about that."

WAITING ON RODON: Left-hander Carlos Rodon will start another season on the disabled list, this time as he recovers from shoulder surgery in September. The former No. 3 overall pick has shown immense potential when he's been healthy, but shoulder and biceps issues that began a couple years ago have kept him from making a big impact on the Chicago rotation.

FAMILIAR FACES: Few expected shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mike Moustakas back in the Kansas City lineup this season. But the soft free-agent market dropped their price to the point it made sense for the Royals to make an offer.

NEW PLACES: While the White Sox could be adding new faces from within the organization, as their top prospects matriculate to the big leagues, the Royals are adding from outside. Jon Jay is expected to start in center field and Lucas Duda will likely get the call at first base.

"We're going to be a really good team," Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield said. "Obviously, a lot of people don't feel that way outside of our clubhouse. Inside the clubhouse, we know we have a lot of talent and guys itching to go prove themselves and itching to play and go win."