CHICAGO -- The first snow of the winter hasn't even arrived and already attention is being directed toward Opening Day 2013 at U.S. Cellular Field.
With all apologies to the recently re-signed Jake Peavy and the recovering John Danks, we'll just go head and pencil in the Opening Day probables as White Sox left-hander Chris Sale vs. Royals right-hander James Shields on April 1, during what is sure to be a brisk afternoon on the South Side.
While the Royals have received major criticism for mortgaging their future to acquire Shield, fellow pitcher Wade Davis and a player to be named later, they did make themselves better for 2013.
For the White Sox and Detroit Tigers, they are now dealing with a Royals team that is another legitimate contender for the American League Central title.
And the last thing the White Sox need to see is a Royals team that is even better.
According to Tigers manager Jim Leyland, it was the Royals who had one of the biggest influences on last season's AL Central race.
The Tigers went 13-5 against the Royals last season and pulled away over the final month to earn a playoff berth.
The White Sox went 6-12 against Kansas City. That's a seven-game difference in the standings. The Tigers won the division by three games.
The good news is that Shields has gone 5-1 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts against the Tigers. Against the White Sox he has gone 3-3 with a 4.76 ERA in 11 starts. It's the Davis acquisition that could cause more problems.
The right-hander is 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA over seven appearances (four starts) in his career against the White Sox.
No matter how you break down the numbers, the White Sox's challenge in 2013 -- and more specifically, their 19 games against the Royals -- appeared to get tougher. The stakes will be raised from the very first game of the season.