Back in March — what now seems like forever ago — I was preparing a cautiously optimistic season preview for the Chicago White Sox, and then COVID-19 halted the 2020 MLB season and largely flipped life as we know it upside down.
Since then, nothing has changed for the White Sox in the way of roster construction, except for guys who we thought wouldn’t be immediate contributors like Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon getting healthy, and becoming a part of the Opening Day mix.
What has changed immensely, is the White Sox’s potential path to their first playoff berth since 2008.
With Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball exercising their right to implement a 60-game schedule after months of failed financial negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players Association, that cautious optimism has morphed into a real expectation that we should see playoff baseball on the Southside for the first time in 12 years.
So much so, that the only valid excuse for not reaching that goal would be a dreaded second wave of COVID-19 that would again halt — and this time effectively end — the 2020 MLB season.
I know that I’m placing a great deal of pressure on a team that hasn’t seen the postseason since I was wrapping up high school — for context, I just turned 30 last month — and General Manager Rick Hahn cautioned against such on Thursday when he told reporters that he still views the club’s transformation into contenders as a year-by-year process, but the players have their sights set on playing more than 60 games in 2020. So why shouldn’t we?
On a recent episode of the White Sox Talk Podcast, veteran catcher James McCann had this to say to host Chuck Garfien when asked about how he views the team’s outlook on the 2020 season.
“I think it’s the same thing that we talked about in Spring Training 1.0 or whatever you want to call it,” McCann said. “I think that guys are looking to win, looking to get to the postseason and make noise. I don’t think that because it’s a 60-game season versus a 162-game season that changes anything.
As a matter of fact, that we’re starting this late we’re getting a full seasons worth out of guys that we didn’t expect to have back until this point in the season. So it’ll be interesting to see the depth that we have on the starting pitching side with Rodon coming back and a Kopech there.”
As McCann highlighted, the additions of Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech give the White Sox seven healthy, major-league caliber starting pitchers, and no matter how Rick Renteria decides to use that depth, it’s a major point of strength for the White Sox.
Renteria said on Thursday that, “all options are on the table,” when it comes to his newfound pitching depth, and that the White Sox will explore using openers, and stacking starters on top of each other on the same day to keep the group fresh throughout the sprint of a season that they’ll embark on next month.
Offensively, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada had monster seasons in 2019, and Eloy Jimenez hit 31 home runs as a rookie. All the White Sox did this offseason was add Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Luis Robert, and Nomar Mazara to that lineup, giving them a potentially daunting lineup for opposing pitchers.
Then there’s the schedule. The White Sox will play 10 games against each American League Central foe, and another four games against each of the five National League Central teams.
While we don’t yet know the specifics of the schedule as it pertains to when, where, and what time they’ll play, we know that this schedule heavily favors the White Sox having success.
White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn said to the media on Thursday, “It goes back to the old saying: You are going to win 20. You are going to lose 20… It’s what you do with the other 20 that makes the difference.”
The White Sox will play 40 percent of their schedule against the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2019, those three teams combined to lose 310 games and had a cumulative winning percentage of just .360.
And yes, the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians will also get an equal amount of games against those three clubs, but it’s still a big reason for the Sox to feel mighty confident about their chances to reach their personal expectations of making noise in the postseason this year.
Those expectations will hinge on their performance against the Twins and Indians head-to-head in 2020.
In 2019, the White Sox were 11-8 against a better Indians team than this year’s version, and while the Sox struggled against Minnesota to the tune of a 6-13 record, a lot of that was the result of sub-par starting pitching. The White Sox surrendered 125 runs to the Twins in 2019. The combination of Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler, and Ivan Nova were directly responsible for six of those 13 losses against the Twins.
All of those guys are gone, and they’ve been replaced by the combination of Dallas Keuchel — a notorious ground ball pitcher, who can slow the home run onslaught that fueled the Minnesota offense in 2019 –, Gio Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon, and Michael Kopech.
That’s a definitive upgrade, and reason to believe the White Sox will have much better success against the Twins in 2020.
All told, this version of the White Sox, in this unique set of circumstances deserves higher expectations. For me, and for the players for that matter, it’s playoffs or bust in 2020.
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