— A: Bottom line, every game counts the same, Kevin. So mathematically, it makes no difference how you get there. Let's just look back to last season, for example.
The surprising San Diego Padres confounded experts by leading the NL West most of the way. But they couldn't hang on in September, and coughed up a huge lead to the San Francisco Giants, who added Buster Posey in late May, got better as the season went on, and turned out to be world champions.
The AL champion Texas Rangers began last season with Scott Feldman and Rich Harden at the top of their rotation, and Neftali Feliz as a setup man, and were 11-12 in April and 26-24 through May. But injuries created opportunities, Feliz and others stepped up, the team went on a 21-6 roll in June, ran away with the AL West, acquired Cliff Lee and won the first pennant in franchise history.
All of that said, there definitely can be a long-lasting positive affect to getting off to a good start. Winning does foster a yes-we-can mentality that can carry through a long season — especially for a team that has been down for awhile, or hasn't won before, and needs reasons to believe in themselves.
The 1995 Colorado Rockies are a great example. In only their third season of existence, they won the NL wild card, and it started on opening day, when Dante Bichette hit a 14th-inning walk-off home run in the first regular-season game at Coors Field.
From that day on, they believed they could win any home game in the late innings, and thanks in part to the crazy pre-humidor hitting conditions at Coors Field, staged many big late-inning rallies that produced walkoff victories.
A: In a word, no. This will be a transition season for the Cubs. It's Mike Quade's first season in charge, and the roster probably will go through an overhaul as this season wears on, setting the stage for a major off-season signing or two.
Follow the money, Patrick: You've already seen the transition begin with the late-spring release of Carlos Silva, even though he was owed $13.5 million in 2011 salary and a 2012 buyout.
Kosuke Fukudome's four-year, $48 million deal (oops!) expires after this season, and barring some remarkable transformation, he won't be returning in 2012, and could be dealt before this season ends.
Aramis Ramirez is in the final guaranteed year of his five-year, $75 million deal, and it remains to be seen whether the Cubs will exercise a 2012 club option at $16 million, or let him become a free agent.
Carlos Zambrano is guaranteed another $36 million for this year and next, and has a vesting option for 2013, but the possibility of him being dealt mid-season certainly exists.
They're stuck with Alfonso Soriano through 2014 (at $18 million annually), but the Cubs would have plenty of payroll flexibility without Silva, Fukudome, Ramirez and Zambrano. Carlos Pena and Matt Garza also are on one-year deals, although in the latter case, the assumption is that the Cubs will want to sign him long-term.
With the Ricketts family wanting to make its mark as relatively new owners, you hear the speculation about them being in position to offer Albert Pujols huge money if he becomes a free agent this winter.
So the Cubs may not be in the playoff chase, but it's going to be an interesting year on the north side of Chicago.
A: It's the consensus opinion of the prospect gurus that the Royals have the majors' best farm system, so there is at least some legitimate reason for optimism for the long-downtrodden Royals franchise.
In particular, they have four almost-ready prospects who are widely regarded as being among the top 20 in the game: 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Mike Moustakas, C Wil Myers and LHP Mike Montgomery. You could see all but Myers, 20, at some point later this season, and all four should begin having some solid impact during the 2012 season.
Combined with 27-and-under big-leaguers Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar, Kila Ka'aihue and Jeremy Jeffress, there is a decent young talent base in place.
The problem I see for the Royals moving forward, however, is their pitching staff. Even if Montgomery eventually fits into the No. 1 or 2 spot in the rotation, the Royals don't have anybody else who projects higher than a No. 3-type starter.
Their opening day starter this season — former No. 1 pick Luke Hochevar — is 27 and has a 19-33 career record with a 5.58 ERA. Kyle Davies, another key rotation member at 27, had career numbers of 42-56-5.50 entering this season.
The Giants won a World Series behind four dominant young starters. The Rays made two playoff appearances in three years behind some excellent young arms led by David Price. The Orioles might be on the verge of something good with their group of emerging starting pitchers. The Royals need the arms to follow a similar path.