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MLB 2012 Season: Royals Open Season As Third-Best In AL Central, 20th In Power Rankings

The Kansas City Royals are on the move, and it's reflected in the first installment of the 2012 Major League Baseball Power Rankings compiled by SB Nation staff writer Chip Rouse.

Luke Hochevar, starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals
Luke Hochevar, starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals

The Royals join the rest of Major League Baseball on Friday as they open the season under the lights in Southern California against the Los Angeles Angels, one of the teams projected to be a strong contender for the American League pennant some seven months from now.

The Royals and Angels will be the final two teams to get the new season under way when the first pitch is thrown Friday night at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. The way the schedule worked out this year, Friday officially will mark the fourth opening day of the 2012 season. Seattle and Oakland played a two-game series in Japan a week ago before the traditional stateside opening of the season. The new-look, new-name Miami Marlins and the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals played Wednesday night as the former Florida Marlins debuted their uniquely designed new $650 million ballpark.

It was opening day again on Thursday, this time for four American League teams and nine more NL clubs. Friday's major-league slate completes the season-opening cycle for the remaining 12, including the Royals, which most baseball experts are predicting will be much improved in 2012.

As it turns out, Kansas City has one of the more difficult opening-day assignment, having to take on the always-tough Angels, who clearly aren't as forgiving as their name suggests, and in the Halos' home park. The Angels were already one of the elite teams in the junior circuit, and over the offseason they went out and beefed up some more, acquiring top free-agent Albert Pujols and left-handed starter C.J. Wilson.

It's very important that the Royals get off to a good start, meaning that they don't want to be swept in their opening series in Los Angeles. They're going to have their work cut out for them, however, as they will probably face Jared Weaver, Dan Haren and Wilson, three of the better starting pitchers in the AL.

Offensively, Kansas City should stack up favorably, or at least hold its own, against all of its AL opponents. It's the Royals' starting pitcher which concerns everyone the most. We'll get a glimpse at how this is going to go when left-hander Bruce Chen, right-hander Luke Hochevar and newcomer Jonathan Sanchez, who throws from the left side, take the mound for the Royals in the Angels series.

The Angels of Anaheim start the season ranked third in the American League (behind the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, who also loaded up in the offseason. But Los Angeles' AL team also stands third in all of baseball in the season-opening Power Rankings (see below), which underscores how much stronger the AL appears to be this season over their NL brethren. Six of the top 10 teams in the initial 2012 Power Rankings are from the junior circuit.

The first National League team in the first overall MLB Power Rankings of the season is St. Louis, which trails the Yankees, Tigers, Angels and Texas Rangers. Kansas City starts the season at No. 20, which is a good six or seven spots higher than the Royals found themselves most of last season, as well as several before that.

After the season-opening series against the Angels, Kansas City will head up north for three more games against the Oakland A's before returning home for the home-opener at Kauffman Stadium against the division-rival Cleveland Indians.

The first installment of the 2012 MLB Power Rankings, which will appear at the end of every month, follows:

2012 MLB Start-Of-The-Season Power Rankings

1. New York Yankees - Starting rotation took a hit with injury to Michael Pineda, but Bronx Bombers are still class of both leagues.

2. Detroit Tigers - No one in AL Central will come close to this group of offensively-minded Tigers.

3. Los Angeles Angels - Could be best team in baseball this season. Just too early to tell.

4. Texas Rangers - Many feel the Rangers are World Series-bound for third straight year.

5. St. Louis Cardinals - Loss of Pujols has to hurt, but won't keep the Cards from contending.

6. Philadelphia Phillies - Best rotation in baseball, but scoring runs will be a challenge.

7. San Francisco Giants - Posey's return will be a big boost for this pitching-rich team.

8. Tampa Bay Rays - Even with a much smaller payroll, Rays are second best team in tough AL East.

9. Boston Red Sox - New manager Bobby Valentine knows his stuff, but not the answer to the Red Sox problems.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks - D-backs have the talent to win the NL West, but still have to prove it.

11. Cincinnati Reds - Reds should be tough out offensively, but pitching will have to come through if they want to stay in race

12. Atlanta Braves - Disappointing spring, but this should change when the games start for real.

13. Milwaukee Brewers - Defending NL Central champs will have a hard time repeating; probably will come up 5-10 wins short of 2011 win total.

14. Miami Marlins - New stadium, new name and logo, new team colors, new manager and a new lineup. Look out for this team.

15. Toronto Blue Jays - Minimal roster changes means same old, same old for the Jays.

16. Colorado Rockies - Pitching is the key to Rockies chances in 2012. They were the third-best team in the majors last season in run production.

17. Washington Nationals - This team is gradually becoming the best in the NL East, but they're not there yet.

18. Cleveland Indians - Worst spring-training record in both leagues, but I wouldn't count on that to continue.

19. Los Angeles Dodgers - Ownership quandary is now settled, but problems on the diamond aren't.

20. Kansas City Royals - Team's 2012 promotional tag line is "This is our time," and it just may be, but Royals are still probably a year away from hitting their stride.

21. Chicago White Sox - The Pale Hose are hurting and will continue their steady decline.

22. Minnesota Twins - Too many issues beyond the health of stars Morneau and Mauer will keep the Twins teetering and looking up at rest of AL Central.

23. San Diego Padres - With pitching as the team's strength last season, losing two starters and their closer does not bode well for the Pads' prospects in 2012.

24. Chicago Cubs - The Cubs' front office claims the team is not in rebuilding mode. If that's true, things may be worse than we thought in Wrigleyville.

25. Seattle Mariners - 100-loss seasons should be a thing of the past, but the M's happen to be in the same division as the Angels and Rangers.

26. Pittsburgh Pirates - Bucs have some good, young talent, but still not enough to get over the .500 hump.

27. New York Mets - Mets have some real issues. Low expectations for this stepchild NY team are well justified.

28. Oakland Athletics - Amid seemingly insurmountable odds, the A's usually manage to surprise. Not this year, though. Weakest team in baseball's second best division.

29. Baltimore Orioles - O's are an unsettled team, with marginal talent in a very good division. You can take it from there.

30. Houston Astros - Worst team in baseball bar none.

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