It’s been 4,235 days since the White Sox last postseason game took place. When Grant Balfour struck out Ken Griffey Jr., the White Sox 2008 season came to a close after game four of the ALDS. Ever since that moment, we as Sox fans have been starved of October baseball, and it has felt like an eternity. The 2010s resulted in the second-worst decade in the history of the franchise in terms of win percentage. As we turned the page to a new decade, hope was on the horizon. Then COVID-19 happened, and everything stopped.
We are reportedly getting closer to baseball returning to our lives as many of the leading national writers that cover the game have indicated MLB will present a proposal to the MLBPA this week on how to go about playing the game again. We are hearing rumblings over how the revenue will be divided between the two sides (and that’s turning into a complicated mess), and this represents a major roadblock to the game returning. However, I’m going to assume (and this is a scary proposition when the two sides are led by a guy who doesn’t appear to really like the game on one side and a horrendous negotiator on the other) that we have baseball again starting around our nation’s birthday.
Bringing things back to a local level and the main reason why you’re here on this page I assume, how will a truncated season impact the Sox and their quest to get back to the postseason? Recent reports have indicated that the playoff format for this year will include seven teams per league. This will include the three division winners (with the best record receiving a bye) and four wild card teams. Subsequently, we will have three best-of-three series to determine who gets to the ALDS. So how do the Sox stack up with the rest of the AL and who stands in their way of playing meaningful games again?
As I see it, there are five teams in the AL that are in a tier above the rest: Yankees, Rays, Twins, Astros, and A’s. That leaves two spots for realistic contenders between the White Sox, Indians, Red Sox, Angels, and Rangers. So how do the Sox compare with these other clubs?
Every club in the remaining field mentioned above, including the Sox, has flaws. The South Siders’ flaws include a lack of positional depth, young unproven talent at the Major League level, and pitchers recovering from season-ending injuries. Those aren’t small details to gloss over, however, after looking at the remaining field I actually feel better about the Sox chances to get back to the postseason.
The Indians are a team that traded away their long-time ace, Corey Kluber this winter, while not doing anything to address their lackluster offense. Larry Dolan, one of the cheapest owners in the sport, is a prime candidate to further reduce payroll thanks to the lost revenue his team will incur in 2020. That leaves the likes of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Carlos Carrasco, Brad Hand, and possibly Mike Clevinger on the block. Removing any of these players will significantly weaken an Indians team that can’t afford roster subtractions.
Speaking of roster subtractions, when one of the richest teams in the sport trades away a top-five player in Mookie Betts along with David Price, they are going to be weakened significantly. To make matters worse for the Red Sox, staff ace Chris Sale underwent Tommy John surgery in March and will be lost until sometime in the summer of 2021. The Red Sox now have gaping holes in their rotation that they are attempting to patch together with oft-injured starters that are mid-rotation options at best. So all things considered, I don’t think the Red Sox are a serious threat in 2020.
The Rangers benefited from the Indians’ decision to shed payroll when they acquired Kluber. The 34-year-old two-time Cy Young Award winner is coming off an injury-shortened season that only saw him throw 35 innings. Kluber now heads a rotation that was in the middle of the pack in 2019 alongside Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, and newcomers Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles.
The Rangers did nothing to address an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league in 2019, so they will be dependent on their run prevention to carry them. Nobody knows how new Globe Life Field will play in its inaugural season, but even with a returning Joey Gallo, I’m not sure the Rangers will have enough punch to be a threat.
The Los Angeles of Anaheim of Orange County of California of the Pacific Time Zone (or whatever they call themselves these days) Angels added major thump to their lineup with the free-agent acquisition of star 3B, Anthony Rendon. This team promises to have one of the top offenses in the sport, and they’re going to need it.
The team “remade” their rotation this winter by adding back-end starters Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran to a lackluster group headed by Andrew Heaney. 24-year-old top prospect Griffin Canning is recovering from elbow soreness he sustained during Spring Training. Canning’s time table for being at 100% is unclear, but even with him, this team’s rotation promises to be in the lower-third tier of the sport. I’m not sure even a loaded lineup with Mike Trout, Rendon, Justin Upton, and top-five prospect Jo Adell will be enough to propel this team to the playoffs.
The fact is the White Sox need to be better than three of these four teams in order to keep playing when this strange regular season concludes. When the team reported to camp, I felt they had a shortage of pitching that would ultimately be their downfall. However, with the expanded rosters this team will be able to add returning Carlos Rodon, Michael Kopech, and eventually Dane Dunning to their projected five-man rotation. It feels odd to type this, but if none of them sustain injury setbacks they may no longer have a shortage in this department and in fact may well be better positioned than their aforementioned direct competitors.
Obviously, we can’t predict how players respond from long injury layoffs or how first-time big leaguers like Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal will respond to the biggest stage. But I actually feel better about this team’s chances of being in an expanded (and watered down) postseason than I did back when they reported to Glendale. This team still has a tremendous amount of unknowns to it, but I know I personally feel that the Sox are better positioned than the direct competitors I mentioned if we do see an expanded playoff format. Optimism is coming back, and I think that optimism will include White Sox postseason baseball.