Major League Baseball’s got more proposals than Paris these days.
Most recently, it was a torrent of health-and-safety measures pitched to the players’ union in an attempt to make everyone feel as OK as possible about going back to work in the middle of a pandemic.
But while the health and safety of the players and the many more required to stage a baseball season is paramount, plenty of fans would rather focus their attention how the suggested upheaval of the MLB status quo will affect their teams’ chances of winning, as opposed to thinking about how likely their third baseman is to get the coronavirus.
In addition to all those health-and-safety proposals, there are a bunch of proposed rule changes and alterations to the typical structure of the season that you might have read about last week, and they will have their effect on every team’s chances of reaching the postseason. That includes the White Sox, who have been sitting around waiting to make their planned leap into contention mode for the last two months.
The White Sox were supposed to be a lot better this year. And they spent the entire time they were allowed to congregate en masse at Camelback Ranch talking about their expectations of playing playoff baseball in 2020. While it’s still too soon to guarantee that any team will be playing playoff baseball in 2020, here’s a look at how some of the proposed changes would directly impact the White Sox.
The new schedule
A trip to visit a spurned free-agent target and a hotshot prospect that got away was likely circled on many White Sox fans’ pocket schedules. But there will be no jaunt to San Diego, no opportunity to show Manny Machado what he’s missing, unless the White Sox meet the Padres in the World Series sometime in November.
Instead, the new White Sox regular-season schedule would feature games played exclusively against their AL Central rivals and the five teams from the NL Central. The geographically structured schedule supposedly minimizes travel, though why a flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh is less risky than one from Chicago to Baltimore has yet to be adequately explained.
With the regular season proposed to consist of 82 games for every team, things would look like this for the South Siders: 13 games apiece against the Twins, Indians, Royals and Tigers and six games apiece against the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Pirates.
Why it’s good for the White Sox: No Yankees. No Astros. No Dodgers. No Rays. No A’s. More than a dozen games against the Royals and Tigers, two 100-loss teams from a season ago, and a half dozen games against the hapless Pirates.
The schedule is easier because the league’s best teams, save the Twins, aren’t on it.
Why it’s bad for the White Sox: In a normal season, the White Sox would have roughly 11.5 percent of their games against the Twins, a team that won 100 games last year, while attempting to dethrone them for a division crown. Now they need to do that while playing nearly 16 percent of their games against them.
For fans, this is a good thing, with games against their teams’ biggest rivals meaning more than ever before. For pitching staffs that gave up 39 home runs to the Twins last season, it’s less good.
Also, while the NL Central doesn’t have one of baseball’s juggernauts, they seem to have a bunch of teams that could give the White Sox hell on any given day. That division race is wide open, and the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and Brewers could all win it. There are two objectively better teams in the White Sox division, but until they prove they’re in the class of the Twins and Indians, any “middling” or “above average” team could give them fits. And the NL Central has four of those.
Let’s not forget, too, that the White Sox were under .500 against those 103-loss Royals in 2019.
With two months already lost and the league mandating that the postseason is wrapped up no later than the first week of November, the schedule is getting squished down to 82 games, with a second spring training planned to begin in mid June and Opening Day pitched for the first few days of July.
Why it’s good for the White Sox: While the math alone gives no team an inherent advantage or disadvantage, the White Sox had some outstanding issues that could be resolved in a positive manner with the season beginning in July instead of March. Chiefly, it could end up with the White Sox boasting a much better stocked cupboard of pitching options than the team was expecting to have on the originally scheduled Opening Day.
Michael Kopech figures to be a full-season certainty rather than a midseason addition. And Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, both on the mend from Tommy John surgery, could be on the roster for the majority of the campaign as opposed to the tail end of it.
Who knows whether any or all of those guys would be thrown into the starting-pitching mix or the bullpen. But the more likely scenario is that the lines between those two groups are going to be at least somewhat blurred this season.
Yes, starting pitchers will theoretically have more in the tank, as they’ll only have to throw half the innings they’re typically expected to. But the effects of those arms getting worked up in spring training, then shut down for nearly three months, then worked back up in a shorter amount of time, then unleashed into regular-season play are completely unknown.
Rather than the typical six- or seven-inning outings from pitchers, the start of a shortened season could see outings last just four or five innings. That puts increased strain on a bullpen. But if the White Sox have two or three more starting pitchers than they thought they were going to have access to, well, why not deploy them for two or three innings at a time to bridge the gap between starters and relievers?
Similarly, Lucas Giolito, Yasmani Grandal and Gio Gonzalez, who were dealing with nagging ailments in spring training, would figure to have those well behind them come July.
Why it’s bad for the White Sox: Luis Robert is supposed to be a prospect like none other, and maybe he does set the world on fire when he finally gets to tee off against major league pitching. But looking at the fates that befell Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jimenez before him, maybe it takes him a little while to figure things out. It took Moncada and Giolito full seasons. It took Jimenez five full months. It wouldn’t be unexpected.
With the regular season lasting only three months, growing pains for Robert could impact an entire campaign instead of just half of one.
Additionally, the heretofore unknown effects on those starting pitchers could be negative ones. Just ask Dallas Keuchel, who sat around waiting for the draft-pick cost attached to his free-agent signing to disappear last June before he was able to get a job with the Atlanta Braves. He did fine work for them, posting a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts, but he admitted to being thrown off by starting his season so late.
Now you’ll have entire pitching staffs dealing with those discomforts, all while games mean more and those pitchers are trying to get their teams to the playoffs.
The universal DH
News that the players are likely to accept the owners’ proposal for a universal DH roused plenty of rabble among fans of NL teams. Fans of AL teams shrugged.
The White Sox have used a designated hitter for a long time. Three of them are now in the Hall of Fame. Their fans know the power of an extra slugger in the lineup.
So, too, does Rick Hahn, who went out this offseason and reeled in Edwin Encarnacion to boost what was one of the least productive DH corps imaginable last season. Encarnacion is as consistent a slugging machine as baseball has seen in the last decade, and he was one of Hahn’s many additions that has the team and fans thinking big for 2020.
Why it’s good for the White Sox: Encarnacion never has to sit out.
Sure, he’ll get some days off. But road trips to San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado and the North Side were going to necessitate either him or Jose Abreu being absent from the lineup so the White Sox pitchers could strike out a bunch of times (no offense intended to Lucas Giolito, who had a two-run knock in Atlanta last season).
With a greater percentage of AL teams’ games being played in NL parks — 15 of the 82 for the White Sox, or more than 18 percent — the proposal was made to even the playing field. It’s a rule change that’s been a long time coming, and NL fans should rejoice that they no longer get only eight hitters for the price of nine.
Why it’s bad for the White Sox: It really isn’t, though it makes the five NL teams on their schedule better. While they get to keep Encarnacion in the lineup in NL ballparks, they won’t get to benefit from facing five teams that only send eight real hitters to the plate every game.
The expanded postseason
The postseason is proposed to expand from 10 teams to 14 teams, with two additional wild card teams in each league.
With that will likely come the wacky new format described early this year, one in which two of the three division winners and the top wild card team get to, via draft, choose their first-round opponents from the remaining three wild card teams. That wild card round would feature three best-of-three series played exclusively at the higher-seeded teams’ ballparks before the three winners advance to the LDS round, where the best team in each league will already be waiting.
Why it’s good for the White Sox: Well, this is pretty obvious, isn’t it?
The White Sox chances to make the postseason will dramatically improve considering there will be two more playoff spots. They need to go from being a one of the five best teams in the American League to one of the seven best, which is basically half.
While all five AL playoff teams from last season won 96 or more games — and the Indians narrowly missed joining them with 93 wins — under the new setup, the fourth wild card would have gone to the 84-win Red Sox. Only seven AL teams finished with a better-than-.500 record last season, and under the proposed playoff system, they would have all made the postseason.
In the NL, the Cubs had that league’s eighth-best record and would have been the only team to finish above .500 that missed the postseason.
So what does that say about this expanded October? Finish better than .500, and you’ll probably get into the dance.
Why it’s bad for the White Sox: It isn’t.
There is a danger of postseason berths in this new format becoming rather forgettable. A team could win only 80-something games, technically make the playoffs, be “drafted” by a 100-win team and quickly lose back-to-back road games. Fans of those wild card teams wouldn’t get to see a home playoff game, and October baseball could be over for those clubs before the leaves change.
But for the White Sox, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, any scenario that involves making the postseason is a welcome one.