Column: The Cubs and White Sox have a chance to provide an exciting sprint to the 2020 playoffs


Nam Y. Huh/AP

Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria, right, celebrates with his team after the White Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs 7-3 in an exhibition baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Sunday, July 19, 2020.

One month ago it seemed like the prospect of having a 2020 baseball season was a pipe dream. Both the players and owners couldn’t agree on how many games should be played or how to settle the salary dispute that was previously agreed upon in April.

Four weeks later, however, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred set a 60-game schedule and both sides agreed on issues that were holding up the start of the season. 

After a shortened preseason to get ready for the new season, the White Sox and Cubs will finally be able to start a meaningful series on Friday for the first time since last September, since both clubs missed the 2019 playoffs. 

Both sides were seemingly headed in different directions before the start of the 2020 season was postponed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The White Sox spent the previous offseason spending money in free agency to improve an already up-and-coming roster.

The Cubs, on the other hand, were forced to hire a new manager after Joe Maddon wasn’t brought back following a disappointing 2019 season and left fans frustrated once again after spending little money in free agency. 

But there’s no reason why the White Sox can’t take the next step to being a playoff contender, or why the Cubs can’t muster up some of that old magic that took them to the 2016 World Series title. 

In a normal 162-game schedule, the expectations for the White Sox and Cubs might be different, but this baseball season is anything but normal.

On Thursday, the league announced the playoffs will feature 16 teams instead of the usual 10, giving fans of teams like the White Sox and Cubs hope that they have a chance to make the playoffs. 

The 60 game gauntlet that both sides are about to embark on will be a sprint to the finish line. A poor start in the first week will be hard to overcome in the latter stages of the season, and a good start only increases the chances of extra baseball in October. 

“The 60-game schedule makes each individual regular season game so much more important than we’ve ever seen,” said Chris Brown, a recent graduate of Butler University and co-founder of 110 Sports. “Things tend to even themselves out throughout the course of 162 games, but mediocre teams have great 60-game stretches and great teams have mediocre 60-game stretches all the time. So teams who get off to a poor start won’t be able to afford patience to struggling players, perhaps even star players in some instances.”

If there’s one thing the White Sox and Cubs don’t lack this season, it’s star power. The Cubs still feature most of the core group from the 2016 World Series winning team, including Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Hendricks. 

For the White Sox, their core group of players features young players looking to bring the team back to relevance. Tim Anderson, who is the defending major-league batting champion, is filled with confidence and talent that was on full display last season. Rookie center fielder Luis Robert, who signed a $50 million contract in January, adds more power and flair to the lineup. And the additions in free agency give the White Sox more experience and depth in the lineup. 

All that star power from both teams will be tested in the first series, as the Cubs host the Milwaukee Brewers — who finished second in the NL Central and secured a wild card spot in 2019 — while the White Sox host the defending AL Central champions Minnesota Twins.

All of that star power puts the responsibility on both managers to get the best out of their players. White Sox manager Rick Renteria is now entering his fourth season as the team’s manager, with only a .414 winning percentage in the first three years. But he now has the best group of players in his White Sox tenure and has the chance to show if he can steer the club back to the playoffs. 

David Ross faces a different challenge as he enters his first season as the Cubs’ manager. Ross not only has to replace Maddon in the dugout, but he needs to find a way to get a group of players back playing their best baseball after a tailing off at the end of the 2019 season. 

But Renteria and Ross now have fewer excuses with the expanded playoffs, as both managers have strong enough rosters to capture one of the eight playoff spots in the AL and NL.

“I think the expanded playoffs will benefit baseball in 2020,” Brown said. “There’s a part of me that feels like 16 teams is too many, even in the shortened season, because there could very well be a team or two in the playoff field with no business being there. But overall, it means that more teams will have a shot at making the playoffs, which I think will lead to more excitement and more fan engagement.”

It’s impossible to predict how the 2020 season will play out, in part because the country still has no answer for the  coronavirus. But if the season is played out without any stoppages, then the reasonable expectation is for both teams to make the playoffs. 

Last time both Chicago teams made the playoffs was in 2008, which is ironically the last time the White Sox have seen the postseason. Both sides have a lot to prove in 2020 and they won’t have a lot of time to do it, but fans will be watching from afar this season. 

Let the games begin.