There are fans out there pouting about the 60-game season baseball’s hoping to embark on. A sport so often defined by a six-month marathon, now squeezed into a two-month sprint? To them, it just doesn’t seem right.
But there’s another school of thought, that a game often criticized for an at times glacial pace could benefit from the jolt of excitement that comes from this two-month dash to the postseason.
With every regular-season game counting twice or thrice as much as it usually would, get ready for meaningful baseball for every team, every day.
In other words, buckle up.
“Every single day, that game is a must-win game,” White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito said Friday. “It's going to be hugely important that we just have that focus that every single day we come to the ballpark, we are expecting to win that game and we must win that game.
“During the course of a long baseball season, 162 (games), there will be days where the team energy is just a little bit off, and maybe you drop one just because the focus isn't all the way there. And then that could lead to us dropping a series and you kind of have to regroup. We won't have time for that.”
Baseball is typically about how you finish. Pennant races take place over the final month or more of the season. Just look at last year’s World Series champs. After 60 games, the Washington Nationals were 27-33 and in fourth place in the NL East. They didn’t reach even third place until after more than 70 games. But they finished incredibly strong, made the playoffs and won it all.
There will be no opportunity for such a comeback in this most unusual of seasons. And so the old maxim that isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish, no longer applies.
“From a team aspect, you don’t have time to kind of get your feet wet and start building up. From Day 1, Game 1, you have to be in that win-at-all-cost mindset,” White Sox catcher James McCann said. “At the same time, a player, the individual standpoint, it’s tough.
“One of the best pieces of advice I was given was from Torii Hunter. He told me, ‘Don’t look at my stats in April, come talk to me in September and they’ll be where they’re supposed to be.’ He was actually, at the time, having a good week, and he had just come off of having a bad week. And he said, ‘If I hit .400 in April or if I hit .100 in April, by the end of the season I’m going to be where I should be.' Well, that’s not exactly the case in a 60-game season.
“It’s going to be interesting. You’re going to see guys (you might not expect) that have an unbelievable short season, and you’re going to see guys that typically hit (well) have a rougher season because they’re not getting as many at-bats and they’re not getting their rhythm they would across a six-month season.”
We’ll have to wait and see what it means for each individual player. It depends on what kind of shape pitchers are in coming out of a three-week spring training that follows a three-month layoff. Will players who finished 2019 strong — like the young White Sox trio of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Tim Anderson — be able to pick up where they left off almost a full calendar year later?
That all remains to be seen. But Giolito thinks the White Sox, should they come in with the win-at-all-costs mindset he and McCann talked about, have the talent to thrive in such a bizarre setup.
“I really think the mindset is going to be: Every single game's a must-win. Not in the sense that we need to put extra pressure on ourselves, but that we pretty much demand excellence from ourselves on a daily basis,” he said. “Every game matters. Do everything we can to prepare and be ready to go out and play at our highest level on a daily basis.
“If we do that, we'll find ourselves at, I think, a pretty good spot because we're a very talented team.”