When the White Sox officially open their long-awaited "competitive window" on July 24 against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field, Opening Day will serve as Opening Day only in the sense that it is the first game of the season. The reality is, in a 60-game season, the game means a whole lot more.
“This is the way I’m approaching it,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Monday. “We got a 60-game schedule. I’m going to assume we already played 102 games and were in first place and we’re trying to hold onto that slot.”
It makes sense. All 30 MLB teams are being given the chance to be in first place in late July with 60 games to go. Who can take advantage the fastest?
The White Sox are certainly being given one heck of an opportunity – or challenge, depending on how you look at it. They will open the abbreviated season at home with a three-game series against the Twins before going on the road for three in Cleveland.
If you were to picture a normal year in which the White Sox, Twins and Indians were in a three-way tie for first place on July 24 with those six games next up on the schedule, the hype and anxiety would be real. A bad week could cost the White Sox its season.
So consider this a 100-meter dash in which a stumble out of the blocks could end the race early.
“We’re going to try to proceed that way, obviously without putting anyone in harms way, but it is important for a club to get off to a good start because obviously because the schedule is waning. It’s short,” Renteria said. “So I’m going to approach it that way and put us in a position where we are creative, try to have a good eye on what everyone is doing, and see if we can kind of maintain ourselves throughout the whole schedule.”
If you’re one who claims managers aren’t important, try being a manager in 2020. Typically, a first-place team in late July would have the benefit of having an established lineup, reliable starters and a bullpen the manager knows how to navigate. This year, the White Sox – and every other team – will be starting cold, perhaps even risking injury after just three weeks to ramp up, all while not knowing who might test positive for COVID-19 on any given day.
And simply from a pure baseball standpoint, will a rookie like Luis Robert go though understandable early-season struggles against Major League pitching or will he benefit from bypassing the April/May weather in Chicago and start hot?
"I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to start the season pretty hot and display all my talent,” Robert said Monday. “I will have to adjust as much as I can if I have any trouble."
There are a lot of unknowns, except for the fact that the White Sox will be thrust into a pennant race on Day 1 with six crucial games against the two teams they figure to be competing against in the A.L. Central. Zooming out a bit, their next 10 games include three against the Royals, four against the Brewers and three more against the Indians, meaning 13 of their first 16 games are against realistic contenders.
In other words, a slow start isn’t an option.
From there, the White Sox do have a couple favorable stretches in their schedule, including a 17-day period at home after their Aug. 13 game in Iowa against the Cardinals. But no one will want to be playing catch-up that quickly. Even just a .500 record through the first two weeks could set the White Sox up for a run, but like every other team, they must avoid an early losing streak, especially since they open against the Twins and Indians.
Of course, the goal is to make the final week really count. The White Sox end the season with four in Cleveland before a three-game series at home against the Cubs. If those games matter, well, perhaps this wonky, nightmarish 2020 season can be considered a success after all.