While final details still need to be hashed out, it became increasingly clear yesterday that we are on track to see Major League Baseball return in the near future. Each team will be impacted differently since the season will be very short (likely between 60-70 games) with teams only playing within their own divisions and against corresponding divisions of their opposing leagues. How will the shortened season affect the White Sox, in particular?
For starters, the 2020 season will reportedly bring with it expanded playoffs. In the event that eight teams from each league make the playoffs, it is possible, perhaps likely, that the White Sox will appear in the postseason for the first time since 2008. While the Yankees, Rays, Athletics, and Astros seem to be near-locks to make the playoffs, there still will be four spots left for some combination of the Twins, Indians, White Sox, Angels, Rangers, Blue Jays, and the Mookie Betts-less Red Sox. A shortened season certainly leaves more room for surprises, but any projection system or fan that predicted the White Sox would win somewhere between 80-86 games before the season would feasibly agree that the team is one of the top-eight in the American League.
Injuries, unexpected trades, and perhaps even illnesses (specifically in 2020) might tweak the teams that figure to fight for a playoff spot this year. Nonetheless, one can still evaluate a team like the White Sox on a player-by-player basis to see where the shortened season might have unique effects.
At long last, White Sox fans should finally get to witness Luis Robert out in center field during a Major League game. I wrote about this earlier in the year in “How the 2020 White Sox could steamroll projections,” but Robert’s skillset makes it quite possible for him to be a high-impact player right away. However, in a shortened season, it is unfortunately more likely that Robert will spend a decent portion of the season making adjustments (at least offensively). The same is true for Nick Madrigal or any other rookie who might debut this year. Regardless, Robert should at least be adept at making great defensive plays relatively soon.
Michael Kopech & Carlos Rodon
Originally, starting pitchers Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon figured to be valuable in-season additions for the White Sox in 2020 — Kopech would arrive in May, and Rodon around July. Now, it is possible that both play a “full” season with the club. Teams should have a sufficient number of days off built into the schedule, but should injuries and/or doubleheaders pile up, the abundance of (hopefully) healthy starters available will be quite helpful.
The potential increase in available starting pitchers may lead to a new role for Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez has started 324 out of the 332 games he has appeared in throughout his career, or about 98%. While he does not have the typical profile of a modern reliever, a long-relief or spot start role may be in Gonzalez’s future should the White Sox have six other starters healthy in Kopech, Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dylan Cease.
Edwin Encarnacion is a notoriously slow starter at the plate. His .752 career March/April OPS is his lowest in any month by a staggering 75 points. One cannot say why, over a 15-year career, this would be the case. Cold weather? Preparation? Bad luck? Whatever it is, Encarnacion’s typical slow start would take up about half of the 2020 season. Hopefully, it is attributable to luck or weather, as the White Sox need production out of their designated hitter spot if they want a truly complete lineup.
One of the team’s feel-good stories of 2019, James McCann has been relegated to backup catcher due to the signing of Yasmani Grandal. As mentioned earlier, teams should receive a sufficient amount of days off in the schedule, but regardless, playing 60+ games in ~71 days after months without any games is not easy — especially for catchers. As a result, McCann might receive more playing time than one would have assumed during the offseason. Moreover, if Encarnacion struggles, McCann might also catch a few games here and there with Grandal sliding to designated hitter.
Of course, there will be other notable storylines to follow during the shortened 2020 season. How will Ricky Renteria manage his bullpen, especially since a couple starting pitchers might be used as relievers? Which minor league players will make the expanded roster? How much stock will the front office put in the output from Nomar Mazara, and how will that weigh into whether or not the organization pursues another right fielder this coming offseason? While one cannot really answer these questions, it is at least very refreshing to be writing about a baseball team that actually exists and figures to be playing regular season games in a month. The next few days might feature more public negotiating and posturing, but an official agreement for a return should come soon. At that point, players figure to report to “spring” training quickly, and before we know it, we might even be watching the White Sox in a playoff game.
Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for more updates!
Featured Photo: @FotoGenocide_/Twitter