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."
The NBA and NBPA have come to an agreement on social justice-related messages players can display on the backs of their jerseys when the league resumes play in Orlando on July 30, ESPN’s Marc J. Spears reports.
Here is the list of approved terms, according to Spears:
Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can't Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor
Per Spears, players will have the choice to brandish said messages above the number on the backs of their jerseys in place of their names for the first four days of the restart. From there, messages will still be permitted, but with players’ last names included underneath. TBD if more messages are to come.
The Premier League provides some precedent for this initiative; all players participating in its season restart, which began on June 17, are donning jerseys with “Black Lives Matter” on the back in place of their names.
Meanwhile, prominent NBA players including Kyrie Irving, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley have voiced concerns that play resuming could distract from the fight against racial injustice. Others contend that the attention the league’s restart will command can be leveraged into advocating for change.
Ultimately, the league has left that assessment up to players on an individual basis. Commissioner Adam Silver has publicly said the NBA is deliberating on social justice programming for the bubble, and future investment in social justice causes, though no concrete plans have been made public. On June 24, the NBA and NBPA announced in a joint statement that leadership of both sides had met to “further advance the league’s collective response to the social justice issues in our country.”
“I think ultimately we can accomplish a lot (for social justice causes) by playing,” Silver said on a panel with Caron Butler, Magic Johnson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in June. “But as I said, I know there’s some roiling going on within the Players Association, and I respect the point of view of those who are saying let’s make sure that in returning to basketball, a larger, broader message about social equality, racial issues are not somehow lost.”