Over the last week as discussions have taken place regarding how MLB will return, we've seen numerous leaked reports about what the 2020 season will look like. By all indications, we are going to get a truncated season with either 78 or 82 games. We're also seeing plenty of speculation regarding expanded playoffs (which the league wants for TV revenue purposes to help offset some of their "losses"). The idea of a seven-team (per league) playoff format is gaining momentum and appears to be how the league will go about increasing their playoff TV inventory.
So in these shortened season scenarios, how many wins would it take for our White Sox to finally break their 12-year postseason drought? I took some time to research (going back to the advent of the play-in game format in 2012) and see how many wins it would take to be the seventh-best team in the AL.
Rays, Angels, Royals
If we look at the data above, the average Win% since 2012 of the seventh-best AL team is .521 (note that in 2017 three teams tied for the sixth-best record in the AL all with 80 wins). So this gives us a baseline for how many wins the Sox will need to have in 78 or 82 games to realistically get into the dance. In a 78-game format, we would be looking at a record of 41-37. While in an 82-game format, we would be looking at a record of 43-39 to get to that .521 Win%.
I recently wrote that I believe the Sox are actually well-positioned in a shortened season to sneak into the playoffs. I contend that the following five teams are locks to make the postseason: Yankees, Astros, Twins, A's, and Rays. So again, that means the Sox need to be better than the Angels, Rangers, and Indians. All of these teams are flawed in different ways, but having some baseline on the number of wins the Sox will need should help us level set on our expectations.
The 78-game schedule seems to be the most widely reported format to this point, with a schedule breakdown that would like this: (12) games against each of the Sox four divisional opponents (Twins, Indians, Tigers, Royals) along with six games against each team in the NL Central (Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Pirates).
So how do the Sox get to the necessary 41 wins to make the playoffs? The most obvious answer is it's time for them to just curb stomp the Royals and Tigers. Playing 24 games against these little pissants should help the Sox tremendously. For much of the last 12 years, we've seen the Sox play down to their competition in seasons when they were "going for it." That can't happen here, especially considering there isn't much time to make up for a bad stretch.
I think the basic road map for the Sox to get the necessary 41 wins is below:
Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Reds
Royals and Tigers
If the Sox played to the results above, they would actually go 42-36 and would be squarely in the thick of the playoff picture. Now, if the team were to just strangle the Tigers or Royals to the tune of a 10-2 mark, they would insulate themselves against under-performance when facing some of the higher quality opponents they will see on their schedule.
Honestly, I think this is very doable for this team. We are all aware that there are some tremendous unknowns surrounding this team in 2020, but I personally believe in the upside the roster will present (particularly in an expanded format). The schedule also helps the Sox in the sense that the only "dominant" team they will see on their schedule is the Twins, and even that is open to some conjecture given their starting rotation.
All in all, the variance a shortened season and expanded playoff format provide should be enough to help #Soxtober return for the first time in 12 years. Now we just need the owners and MLBPA to work out those small little details to ensure we get to watch baseball at 35th/Shields here in 2020.