Really, the only thing we know for certain about the 2020 baseball season is that we have no idea what's going to happen during the 2020 baseball season.
This is a season unlike any other, played under the most unusual, and in some cases dangerous, of circumstances. The sport's typical 162-game marathon has been squeezed down to a 60-game sprint. Players have been sitting around for months and will only get three weeks' worth of "Summer Camp" to get back into game shape. And all along, the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic worsening or penetrating the walls of major league stadiums casts doubt that the season will even able to be finished.
But should the show find itself able to go on, there's an opportunity for some exciting stuff. Or, as Tim Anderson put it:
"Something dope definitely can happen in 60 games."
I'm honestly not trying to serve as hype man for Major League Baseball's 60-game season, one that has some fans irked they're missing out on more than 60 percent of a normal schedule and that the league is using illegitimate means to determine a champion. But there's a good argument to be made that the two-month sprint to the postseason could provide a fascinating contrast to what can at times be described as a six-month slog.
That's what we've come to understand baseball as being, of course, a seven-month marathon for whichever team ends up the World Series winner. But this year, that understanding has been chucked out the window. There's no opportunity for teams to rebound from slow starts, like the eventual-champion Washington Nationals did last season, when they were in fourth place after 60 games. Those fast April starts that peter out by May — the 2019 Seattle Mariners were a first-place team after 30 games and finished the season with 94 losses — could this year earn a team a trip to the playoffs. Every game in a 60-game schedule carries an insane amount of weight, counting as much as two or three games in a normal season. A three- or four-game losing streak could send a team tumbling down the standings. A three-game sweep of a division rival could shake up the playoff picture.
Nobody's saying these circumstances are good ones. But a 60-game sprint to the finish line could be absolutely thrilling.
"It’s possible for anything to happen," Anderson said of this hopefully one-of-a-kind year in baseball. "I just think it’s the right time for us to try to jump on it and take off running. There’s no time for trying to get a feel for it. We have to jump in and take off running to try to beat them to that spot. Anything is possible in 60 games."
Anything? How about the White Sox getting to the playoffs? How about the White Sox going all the way?
To be fair, this was the conversation back in spring training, when everyone at Camelback Ranch was talking about bringing an end to the franchise's more than decade-long postseason drought. The emergence of the young core last year teamed with the offseason's veteran additions had the White Sox looking capable of doing it before the idea of a 162-game season was dashed by the pandemic.
And those opinions haven't changed, at least not on the corner of 35th and Shields.
"Anything is possible in 60 games," Anderson said, asked specifically if the White Sox could be a playoff team. "You’ve seen the lineup from top to bottom, you know the names. It’s there. All we’ve got to do is go out and continue to play hard every day and pick one another up and take off running when it’s time to go. I think we’ll be just fine then.
"Yeah, it’s possible. Definitely. We’re definitely not playing (only) for fun."
We'll see what kind of effect the condensed schedule has on the product. With an eye toward making the game more appealing to fans, as well as the health and safety of players this year, other changes have swept into the game. The designated hitter has come to the National League. Extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. And those changes could be sticking around.
Is there room in that same discussion for shortening the schedule to create some more excitement?
Like that idea or not, we're getting a test drive of it this season. It's time to see just how dope it will be.
"We’ll see what happens at the end of the 60," Anderson said, keeping his mind on October. "Hopefully it’s not just 60."
There will be some games before the games start counting at the end of the month.
It's no Cactus League, but White Sox general manager Rick Hahn did say Friday, the first day of the team's MLB-branded "Summer Camp" at Guaranteed Rate Field, that the South Siders will play three exhibition games before the regular season begins.
Logically, the Cubs make a ton of sense as the opponent for those games, as both squads can minimize travel — one of Major League Baseball's goals while playing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — by playing their Crosstown rivals.
Hahn said that the White Sox exhibition schedule won't be announced until after the league announces the regular-season schedule, which could come next week.
"We're going to wind up playing three exhibition games before the start of the season, as I believe most clubs are going to," Hahn said. "At this point, we're not prepared to announce the specifics of those plans. Those are going to come out after the regular-season schedule is finalized and announced.
"So hopefully in the next week or so, we'll be able to announce our exhibition-game plan, at least the specifics of it. But at this time, we're planning on three."
The White Sox and Cubs will square off six times during the regular season, with the Crosstown rivalry accounting for 10 percent of each team's schedule. Games that typically provide citywide fun and a chance for fans to earn bragging rights this time could weigh heavily on both teams' chances at reaching the postseason at the end of the abbreviated regular-season schedule.
But if six games and 10 percent of the schedule still isn't enough Crosstown action for you, you might get even more when the teams announce those exhibition games.