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2020 MLB season could reportedly feature more playoff teams, more doubleheaders

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

2020 MLB season could reportedly feature more playoff teams, more doubleheaders

There continues to be a lot of discussions — and limited answers — on what the 2020 baseball season could look like once it finally gets going.

The owners and players reportedly reached a deal Thursday that could be finalized Friday which would allocate money for player payment and secure the existence of the 2020 draft, albeit in a shortened version.

But most pressing for fans is when their favorite teams will be playing and what the schedule will look like. It's important to note that those kinds of things are nearly impossible to lock into place with so much uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But that hasn't stopped discussions from taking place, and MLB Network's Jon Heyman offered up a host of new details about some of the possibilities being discussed.

Ideal start date

According to Heyman, the "best-case scenario" at the moment would be for baseball to restart in late May and play a 140-game regular season that could bleed into October.

In a perfect world that could mean Opening Day would come in late May or that the expected "second spring training" ramp-up period would start in late May, with a hoped for Opening Day in early June, as was reported earlier this week.

The regular season lasting more than a few days into October hasn't been seen since 2001, when the final month of the season was paused for a week following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

While 140 games is less than 162 games, it's still a pretty big number and would be a pretty good outcome to all this uncertainty surrounding not just the future of the Major League Baseball season but the future of the global situation, in general. That, of course, is why it's a "best-case scenario," and things could get very different very fast.

More doubleheaders

Even in that ideal situation, however, the regular season would lose two months and only 22 games. So how would they cram 140 games into four and a half months?

Heyman tweeted that there could be significant changes made, including the expansion of rosters, fewer days off and an increased number of scheduled doubleheaders.

ESPN's Jeff Passan reported earlier this week that players would be all about playing an increased number of doubleheaders if it means getting as close to that 162-game mark as possible, as many as two per week. That's a lot of doubleheaders, but it's also the easiest way to assure the highest number of games are played.

The idea of expanded rosters has been talked about, and it deals mostly with pitching. That "second spring training" would be mostly for the benefit of starting pitchers, who would need to get back into in-season shape after ramping up in February and March only for the sport to be shut down. In place of allowing them the necessary time to do that, which could be almost an entire month once the sport is finally able to restart, there would be more pitchers on each roster. So maybe for the first month of the season, starters are only going four innings at a time instead of seven.

More teams in the playoffs

Heyman tweeted it's possible the postseason could be expanded to include 14 teams instead of the typical 10.

We've heard in the past that baseball has been mulling adding teams to the playoffs, with that odd and somewhat confusing "choose your opponent" format that was reported a while back. And, as Heyman mentioned, this would be an opportunity to test that out, potentially with it lasting past these unprecedented circumstances of a shortened season.

Last month, the New York Post's Joel Sherman reported that the commissioner's office was "seriously weighing" a new playoff format that would involve seven teams from each league and feature teams with better records picking their first-round opponents.

If you missed that back in February, here's the Cliff's Notes version:

— A best-of-three wild card round would basically be added to the existing bracket. The team with the best record in the league gets a bye into the existing Division Series round.

— To seed the new wild card round, the division winner with the next best record gets to pick which of the bottom three wild card teams it wants to play in a best-of-three series hosted at its home ballpark. The remaining division winner picks from the other two teams. And the wild card team with the best record gets to play host to the remaining wild card team not selected by the two division winners.

— Still with me? All this opponent picking would be broadcast live on TV to create some sort of Selection Sunday-esque drama.

Why would it be a good idea to launch this new format during these odd times?

It would allow certain teams that might have been able to create a postseason appearance out of a regularly scheduled 162 games a shot to win a championship in this shortened season.

But it also provides a test case for the league. The union might be more willing to accept this format for one shortened season rather than for the foreseeable future when the next CBA is hashed out. And then if it doesn't work, the league hasn't committed to it for years to come with television partners and other stakeholders.

Neutral-site playoff games

If the regular season is going to last into October, then the postseason is going to last into November. And that means teams are going to have a tough time playing the most meaningful baseball games in cold-weather cities.

To avoid an onslaught of rain and snow delays — not to mention simple low temperatures, which are unfriendly to baseball, even if they don't delay games — the league might stage playoff games at neutral locations, in domed stadiums or warm-weather cities, Heyman tweeted.

That would be a dramatic departure, obviously, and playoff baseball without home fans is a tough thing to imagine. But the NFL manages to create a neutral-site spectacle every year with the Super Bowl. Why couldn't the World Series follow suit?

The biggest difference is the Super Bowl is one game and the World Series is as many as seven games. But by playing in one warm-weather locale, without the need for excessive travel, those games could be squeezed together into a single week.

The whole thing might be moot if the World Series is between the Los Angeles Dodgers (who play in a warm-weather location) and the Houston Astros (who have an indoor stadium). But if the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals are the two teams playing in the Fall Classic — or if we get the much dreamed about Crosstown World Series between the White Sox and Cubs — November in Miami sounds a lot more conducive to championship baseball than November in the Northeast or the Midwest.

Games without fans?

Before social distancing measures became increasingly stringent in the United States, there was thought to the Major League Baseball season continuing as scheduled, just without fans present.

Recommendations from public health organizations since grew to restrict public gatherings of at least 50 people — and in many cases, gatherings smaller than that — which would include every Major League Baseball game, what with two 26-man rosters getting together. So fans or no fans, forging ahead was impossible.

But in the event conditions change to allow those sizes of gatherings again, while still preventing 30,000 people from congregating in the same building, the league would consider playing games without fans, Heyman tweeted, though it's something it really doesn't want to do.

The obvious downside is the lost revenue from ticket sales, and if the best-case scenario already involves chopping 22 games from the schedule, teams will already be experiencing a good deal of lost revenue already.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: With a little help from old friend Tony Graffanino

White Sox 2005 Rewind: With a little help from old friend Tony Graffanino

In the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 2000 ALDS, the White Sox inserted Tony Graffanino into the game as a pinch-runner.

He was erased when Paul Konerko hit into an inning-ending double play. Graffanino stayed in the game at third base and was on the field when the Seattle Mariners walked off Keith Foulke and the White Sox.

The White Sox didn’t get back to the postseason for another five years.

But when they did, Graffanino was there again, this time playing for the opposing Boston Red Sox. He started at second base and had one of the best seats in the house to watch the South Siders beat the defending champs’ brains in for a 14-2 win in Game 1 of the 2005 ALDS. The next night, he factored into things a bit more prominently, though certainly not in the way he hoped.

Graffanino played for the White Sox from 2000 to 2003. He started the 2005 season as a division rival, suiting up for the Kansas City Royals before being dealt to the Red Sox in the middle of the campaign. He had himself an excellent season, and his good numbers with the Royals got even better when he went to Boston. He hit .319 and reached base at a .355 clip in his 51 regular-season games with the Red Sox.

But his defense, or lack thereof, would be his key contribution to the ALDS that season, unintentionally helping turn the tide in the middle of the series’ second game — for his old mates.

After torching Matt Clement for eight runs in Game 1, the White Sox offense wasn’t finding things quite as easy against another former South Sider, David Wells, who had the bats well silenced through four innings. Meanwhile, Mark Buehrle was atypically hittable in the early going of this one, giving up two first-inning runs — he only gave up six first-inning runs in his 33 regular-season starts — and two more runs in the third.

But the same White Sox lineup scored two touchdowns the day before and was obviously capable of banging around Boston’s lackluster pitching staff. The White Sox strung some hits together against Wells in the bottom of the fifth to cut the deficit in half, and Juan Uribe came up with a runner on first and one out. He tapped a grounder to second, hitting what appeared to be a pretty routine double-play ball.

Except Graffanino whiffed.

RELATED: White Sox 2005 Rewind: Underdogs? 14-run ALDS coming-out party said otherwise

Instead of an inning-ending double play, Graffanino’s error kept the inning alive. And after Scott Podsednik popped out to third base, the bill came due. Tadahito Iguchi hit a go-ahead, three-run homer that sent the South Side into pure chaos.


All three runs were unearned, but they still counted.

Buehrle settled down nicely, and after giving up his fourth run, he retired 13 of the final 15 hitters he faced, allowing just a couple singles. Bobby Jenks was stellar in his first career playoff game, called upon for a two-inning save in a one-run game. No matter. He retired six of the eight batters he faced, including Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, the only hit he gave up a ninth-inning double to, who else, Graffanino. But with the tying run 180 feet away, Jenks got a pop out and a ground ball to put the White Sox a win away from an ALDS sweep.


Now, I’m not trying to revive the one-time trend of jumping all over a guy who lets a ball roll under his glove during a key playoff game on the right side of the Red Sox infield. That’s, as the kids say, tired and not at all wired.

And the White Sox deserve plenty if not most of the credit. They were no strangers to comebacks of all stripes during that 2005 season. It's one thing to be gifted an opportunity. It's another to be able to capitalize. Iguchi was clutch as could be, and his defensive plays at second base in this one were important, too, earning him an enthusiastic hug from Buehrle in the dugout after the seventh inning. Buehrle and Jenks’ efforts on the hill were just as important as a big inning at the right time.

But how funny does the world work — the baseball world, in particular — that with the White Sox attempting to erase an 88-year title drought, who should be there to turn the game around in their favor but a former teammate and a guy who was on the field the last time they were this close, half a decade earlier?

That’s team-of-destiny stuff right there.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 3 of the ALDS, airing at 7 p.m. Monday on NBC Sports Chicago.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

MLB The Show: White Sox complete sweep of Twins as power surge continues

MLB The Show: White Sox complete sweep of Twins as power surge continues

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Twins 13-4
Record: 24-29, T-3rd in A.L. Central (5.5 GB of Twins)

W: Dylan Cease (3-3)
L: Rich Hill (3-4)

Game summary: Things couldn’t have gone any better for the White Sox in this weekend’s four-game series vs the Twins. The South Siders took the first three games by offensive force and the finale was no different.

Nick Madrigal’s unlikely tenure in the cleanup spot has mostly been underwhelming, until Sunday afternoon. The slight-in-stature second baseman ripped a three-run homer to left to give the White Sox the lead in the first.

Chicago doubled the advantage in the second, when Edwin Encarnacion slugged a two-run homer and Eloy Jimenez drilled a solo shot. Jimenez remains the gift that keeps on giving, as he now has 19 long balls on the season, second in the American League and already a career-high. The White Sox led 6-0 after two frames.

Meanwhile, Jose Abreu continued his torrid stretch. The first baseman extended his hitting streak to 17 games, going a perfect 4-for-4 on Sunday. He also went deep twice: a two-run homer in the fifth and a three-run blast in the eighth. His five-RBI night ensured this was yet another blowout vs. the division leaders.

The White Sox clobbered the Twins 13-4 for their sixth straight win and suddenly sit just 5.5 games back in the AL Central.

White Sox lineup:

Edwin Encarnacion: 2-5, HR (15), 2 RBI, 2 R (.312 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 3-5, 2B, HR (19), RBI, 3 R (.270 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 1-4, R (.258 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 1-5, HR (6), 3 RBI, 3 R (.246 BA)
Jose Abreu:  4-4, 2 HR (17), 5 RBI, 3 R (.309 BA)
Tim Anderson: 1-5, RBI (.296 BA)
Luis Robert: 1-4 (.240 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 1-5, R (.295 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 1-5, RBI (.244 BA)

Scoring Summary:

Top first

Nick Madrigal homered to left field, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez scored. 3-0 CHW.

Top second

Encarnacion homered to left field, Yasmani Grandal scored. 5-0 CHW.
Jimenez homered to center field. 6-0 CHW.

Bottom second

Mitch Garver homered to center field. 6-1 CHW.

Bottom fourth

Garver homered to left field, Josh Donaldson scored. 6-3 CHW.

Top fifth

Jose Abreu homered to center field, Madrigal scored. 8-3 CHW.

Top seventh

Tim Anderson singled to center field, Yoan Moncada scored. 9-3 CHW.
Nomar Mazara singled to second baseman, Abreu scored. 10-3 CHW.

Top eighth

Abreu homered to left field, Jimenez and Madrigal scored. 13-3 CHW.

Bottom ninth

Eddie Rosario doubled to center field, Donaldson scored. 13-4 CHW.

Notable performance: The home run played a vital role in this series sweep of the Twins. The White Sox hit 14 long balls as they completely eviscerated the division leaders in four games.

Next game: Monday, May 25 - Game 54: White Sox at Orioles (Reynaldo Lopez, 4-2, 4.36 ERA vs Asher Wojciechowski, 1-5, 4.89 ERA)

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