No matter whether it’s 82 games, 76 games, 50 games, 48 games or some other number, the White Sox aren’t going to play 162 games this season.
Despite both Major League Baseball and the players’ union being appalled every time one side sends the other a proposal for how to get a 2020 campaign off the ground, there’s reportedly still great confidence that the season will happen. Even if the two sides can’t figure out a deal, the league has the ability to sidestep further negotiations and mandate a season the length of its choosing, which sounds likely to be somewhere in the 50-game range and could be as little as 48 games.
And there will be a postseason, too, meaning there will still be something to win. Whether you want to think of a championship won during such a short campaign as legitimate or not, there’s going to be a trophy. These aren’t exhibition games they’re fighting about here.
So with such a dramatic change to the structure of the season due, now only in part, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what does a shortened season mean for the White Sox championship hopes?
Remember, back when the baseball world was readying for its typical months-long marathon, the White Sox were talking playoffs constantly. Some were talking more than that.
“If I said we weren’t trying to win a World Series, then I’d be lying,” catcher James McCann said back in February. “You go into every season with an expectation to win. This season is obviously no different, but there is a little more in regards to the moves that were made in the offseason.
“It’s win now, and it’s not just get to the playoffs, it’s win a World Series.”
Now that the requirements to do so no longer include surviving the typical rigors of a full season, are the White Sox better positioned to do just that?
“A team like the White Sox, I don’t care what they come up with, they were in a good position to have a pretty good year anyway. I think it’s only a help to them because a shorter season, they should be able to run with a younger team and a lot of talent,” former White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “If they can get off early and run the table, they could play the whole season without a slump.”
Konerko’s confidence might be stemming from the moves Rick Hahn’s front office made in the offseason and the way the team’s young core broke out during the 2019 campaign. Of course, that well earned confidence has little to do with a suddenly revamped schedule, and in that department he was short on specifics. Yes, the White Sox are young. Yes, the White Sox are talented. But so are a lot of other teams.
The White Sox could be better off in certain areas than they were had the season gone off without a pandemic-induced hitch. Their starting-pitching depth figures to be much stronger with pitchers returning from injury like Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning perhaps factoring into the mix in much bigger ways than they would have when the season began. And that depth could prove extraordinarily valuable if starting pitchers in general aren’t able to shoulder their usual workloads after such a long layoff.
Hahn’s front office has an interesting decision to make on Nick Madrigal, who has yet to play a game at the big league level and therefore hasn’t started racking up major league service time. Is he worth more as the everyday second baseman in an odd season the White Sox could win in, or is he worth more as the everyday second baseman once the sport, hopefully, returns to normalcy and the White Sox are better suited to compete for championships on an annual basis?
More uncertainty surrounds Luis Robert. His big-money contract during the offseason means he’ll without a doubt be on the roster. But will he go through the same growing pains as Eloy Jimenez did at the beginning of his rookie season last year? Jimenez had woeful numbers in April and May (he missed a sizable chunk of May with a high ankle sprain), admittedly a result of him trying to do too much seeing big league pitching for the first time. If Robert’s results are similar, that’s the whole season, not just the opening trimester.
And here's a question: What about a young team needing to learn how to win? While the White Sox certainly look primed to leap into contention mode, their most recent campaign ended with 89 losses. They did a good job importing talent with winning experience — guys like Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion, who have been playoff mainstays over the last half decade — but their young core hasn't had that same experience. With such a short runway to the postseason in 2020, could they figure things out quickly enough to reach October?
An easier, though perhaps unexciting, conclusion to draw is that it’s unknown how any team will be suited to handle a mere 48 regular-season games. Teams can often prove themselves over the course of a full season. Without that luxury, we’ll get a two-month snapshot serving as the entire picture.
For the White Sox, the good news is the many unknowns they were dealing with coming into the regularly scheduled 2020 campaign will now be shared league-wide. And so, yeah, they have as good a chance as anyone to succeed in an environment that could be considered completely foreign. Not one front office constructed a team for two to three months of competition. They’ve all been built for six to seven months of competition.
Through 48 games last season, the White Sox were 22-26. The Nationals were 19-29. One of those teams ended the season as world champions, and the other missed the playoffs and finished 28.5 games out of first place.
In a season only 48 games long, anything can happen.
“I would not doubt it if the winner of whatever they call it, if they call it the World Series or whatever, being kind of a dark horse team that might not have been there in a full season because of the ebb and flow of that,” Konerko said. “But if you talk about a 50-game schedule, anybody could go out there and roll out like a 36-14 (record) and then run the playoffs.”
Listen to more of Our Chuck Garfien's conversation with Paul Konerko on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.