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2020 MLB season: 6 White Sox players who could thrive in 60-game schedule

2020 MLB season: 6 White Sox players who could thrive in 60-game schedule

It remains difficult, if not impossible, to predict what’s going to happen in this most bizarre of baseball seasons.

Major League Baseball has been off for three months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a money fight that wouldn’t end — and quite honestly never did end. Now, the 2020 season is finally a go, though it will feature just 60 regular-season games in a sprint to the postseason.

There’s a list of unknowns a mile long, but there are certain attributes about certain players that could point to them thriving in such a format. The White Sox have some such players.

Dallas Keuchel

He’s done it before. Just last year, as a matter of fact.

In 2019, Keuchel had to wait until June for a job, his free agency saddled with draft-pick compensation that kept teams away until after the draft. He ended up signing with the Atlanta Braves and performed well, with a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts. He made two starts in the playoffs, allowing four runs in eight innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.

So while Keuchel won’t be pitching for a job this time around after signing a three-year deal with the White Sox over the winter, he’s one of the few players with experience when it comes to sitting around and trying to stay in shape while waiting into the summer for his season to begin.

With all the changes that could be coming to how teams handle pitchers this season — especially veteran arms with more mileage on them — perhaps Keuchel's 2019 experience will translate. While everyone else is trying to navigate uncharted territory, in some way it could be more like business as usual for him.

Yasmani Grandal

The player set to benefit from the unknown condition of pitching is the player who takes his walks.

The biggest mystery heading into the season seems to be how pitchers will fare, if they’ll be in good enough shape to be their typically effective selves. Well, if they aren’t, or even if just some aren’t, they could struggle with their command. And the guy who ranked fourth in baseball in walks last season could reap the benefits.

Grandal brings something that the White Sox have lacked, and that’s someone who gets on base via the free pass. They ranked dead last in that category last season, with 378 walks, while Grandal walked a career-high 109 times all by himself. He was expected to improve the lineup in that category even when the season was supposed to be 162 games long.

Now that pitchers could potentially be missing all over the place, someone with a patient eye at the plate and willing to take a free base could get on base, get into scoring position and give his team a chance to score more runs.

Grandal can be expected to have a good season for a number of reasons. Additionally, his pitch-framing skills behind the plate could help any White Sox pitchers going through any command issues due to the layoff.

But his on-base skills could benefit him and the White Sox even more in an unpredictable campaign.

RELATED: Why shortened season could work against Luis Robert in rookie campaign

Michael Kopech

Will Kopech be allowed to let it loose?

Caution was the name of the game when it came to how the White Sox were planning on handling Kopech back in the spring. He threw all of one Cactus League inning, and the plan was to start him in the minor leagues to strengthen his arm after his more than yearlong layoff while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Was that how the White Sox were going to limit his innings, through limited use in the minors? Or were there further in-season precautions they were going to take to keep him available for meaningful games come August, September and even October? We never got to find that out.

We don’t know exactly how strong his arm will be three months removed from spring training's abrupt end, but he’s three more months removed from the surgery, too, which should have him as healthy as he’s been.

So with only a small amount of innings needed from all their pitchers, will the White Sox let Kopech crank it up to full go?

That one inning he threw back in spring training was an electric one, featuring numerous triple-digit readings on the radar gun. While the White Sox obviously see him as a starter in the long term, how might they utilize Kopech in this most unusual of seasons? We’re not sure what to expect in that department from any member of this pitching staff.

But Kopech figures to be an elite weapon, and if there’s no innings limit to worry about, perhaps we’ll see him at top form, mowing down hitters all over the place.

Lucas Giolito

Giolito would be a safe bet to thrive in a season of any length following his All-Star campaign from a year ago. But here’s a reason he might be especially well suited to help the White Sox in 2020: the Kansas City Royals.

The White Sox will play one-sixth of their season against a team that Giolito absolutely dominates. In his career, he’s got a 2.75 ERA in 12 starts against the division rivals. Seventy one of his career 398 strikeouts have come against the Royals. That’s more than 17 percent.

Now, obviously, the White Sox always get to play a lot of games against the Royals. In a typical season, they play them 19 times. This year, it will be 10, but those games account for a much larger percentage of the schedule, meaning every game has more meaning.

We still don’t know exactly how those 10 games will be divvied up into series — two five-game series would be smart, to limit travel — but the White Sox should try to get Giolito as many starts as possible in those 10 games. And depending on how Rick Renteria uses his pitching staff in these very odd circumstances, maybe a starter throwing twice in five days — especially if they’re not throwing their usual amount of innings — isn’t as crazy as it’s been in the past.

With one-sixth of the schedule coming against the Royals, Giolito could feast.

RELATED: Why White Sox should still think playoffs heading into shortened 2020 season

Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion has been described as a slow starter over the course of his career, and certainly the numbers back that up. Here’s his career OPS by month:

— April: .752
— May: .827
— June: .932
— July: .879
— August: .881
— September: .850

Now, there are multiple ways to look at this: Is the typical slow start a factor of Encarnacion getting into the swing of the season, or is it related to the cold weather in April and May that rarely favors hitters?

Cold weather often slows down even the game’s best hitters, which Encarnacion has been, with at least 30 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. He won’t have to worry about that this season, with Opening Day coming in late July.

With Encarnacion stepping right into the hitter-friendly hotness of summer, perhaps he fast forwards right to that June number and starts slugging from the jump.

Carlos Rodon

Much like Kopech, Rodon is a guy who was thought of in the spring as a mid- or late-season addition.

But the layoff that paused baseball didn’t pause Rodon’s recovery from Tommy John surgery, and it’s possible the White Sox will be able to utilize him for a greater percentage of their season than they initially hoped.

Much like with Kopech and Gio Gonzalez and any number of pitchers across the major leagues, we don’t know how managers will manage their staffs and utilize certain guys during these odd times. If starting pitchers are only going three or four innings per game, what happens? The White Sox, because of the returning health of Kopech, Rodon and even Dane Dunning, could be uniquely positioned to benefit from a glut of starting-pitching options, deploying more than one of them to eat up chunks of innings on a regular basis.

Or, maybe Rodon becomes a late-inning option for Renteria. The South Side skipper has been vocally opposed to the idea of an opener, like they use down in Tampa Bay, but maybe in this weird season he allows for a change in his stance. Rodon could factor into that kind of strategy, too.

The point being that Rodon is going to do something for the White Sox in 2020, and with a potentially targeted use of pitchers coming up, Rodon could be deployed in really effective ways.

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Veteran pitcher Clayton Richard back with White Sox on minor league deal

Veteran pitcher Clayton Richard back with White Sox on minor league deal

More than a decade after he was traded for Jake Peavy, Clayton Richard is a South Sider again.

The White Sox inked Richard, the 36-year-old left-handed pitcher and 11-year major league veteran, to a minor league deal Monday, assigning him to the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg.

Richard was an eighth-round draft pick of the White Sox all the way back in 2005, and he pitched in 39 games for them in 2008 and 2009. Along with Aaron Poreda and Adam Russell, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Peavy at the trade deadline in 2009.

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All told, he's pitched for four different teams in his big league career, with a pair of multi-year stints in San Diego sandwiched around two years with the Cubs in 2015 and 2016. He was released from the eventual world champions in August 2016. Richard pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, making 10 starts and posting a 5.96 ERA.

Richard's addition comes as the White Sox much discussed starting-pitching depth is already being tested just nine games into the 60-game 2020 season. Reynaldo López was placed on the injured list with shoulder soreness after getting just two outs in his first outing of the campaign. Gio González was plugged into the vacated spot in the rotation, but he made it through just 3.2 innings in his first start for the White Sox on Saturday. Jimmy Lambert, who started in the minor leagues before making the Opening Day roster as a part of the bullpen, was put on the injured list with a forearm strain and transferred to the 45-day injured list Monday.

Past the current five in the rotation — Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodón and González — the White Sox starting depth has been slimmed down to Ross Detwiler, who's had a very nice start to his season out of the bullpen, and Dane Dunning, a highly regarded pitching prospect training in Schaumburg.

Richard adds to that list. And with pitcher injuries piling up across the league in the wake of a brief ramp-up period before Opening Day, more pitching depth is proving to be a good investment for every club. The White Sox, north of .500 after a weekend sweep in Kansas City, are no exception.


Field of Dreams game between White Sox, Cardinals reportedly cancelled

Field of Dreams game between White Sox, Cardinals reportedly cancelled

Though Major League Baseball went ahead and built a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, it will have to wait before two teams actually play a game there.

According to a report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the Field of Dreams game, slated to take place a week from Thursday in Dyersville, Iowa, has been cancelled. The White Sox were scheduled to take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the nationally televised showcase, but Rosenthal said that logistical reasons in a year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the league to call the game off.

According to the Des Moines Register, the game will be moved to the 2021 season, with the White Sox still expected to play in the event against a currently undetermined opponent.

Rosenthal made sure to mention that the cancellation of the event was not due to the Cardinals' growing number of positive COVID-19 tests. According to Monday reports, 13 members of the Cardinals organization have tested positive for COVID-19, including seven players. The team didn't play its scheduled three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers this past weekend in Wisconsin, and its four-game series with the Detroit Tigers in Michigan was postponed Monday.

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The report of a cancellation comes just three days after MLB tweeted out a video of the progress being made on the field in Iowa.

With the All-Star Game, as well as the league's planned series between the Cubs and Cardinals in England, cancelled this year, it seemed the Field of Dreams game was the only showcase baseball would have left to show off to a national TV audience during this shortened season played amid a pandemic, and it figured to be a nice opportunity for the White Sox to show off their rebuilt roster to that same wide audience.

Originally, the game was supposed to pit the White Sox against the New York Yankees, but after the league shifted to a regional schedule, with teams only playing their division rivals and teams from the corresponding division in the opposite league, the Cardinals were used as a substitute.

The game in Iowa was supposed to be the start of a three-game set between the two teams, with the White Sox playing hosts to the Cardinals on the South Side the following Saturday and Sunday. Even with the Field of Dreams game called off, the White Sox are scheduled to play the Cardinals in that three-game series two weekends from now. The Cubs are scheduled to play the Cardinals in St. Louis this upcoming weekend.

Whether the Cardinals' rising number of positive tests — which have already forced the postponement of seven games — has any effect on the White Sox schedule remains to be seen.

The White Sox are in Milwaukee for the start of a four-game, home-and-home set Monday, where the Cardinals were supposed to play over the weekend. The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, the White Sox division rivals, played a four-game series in Minneapolis over the weekend, where the Cardinals played before traveling to Milwaukee.