It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right?
That's one of baseball's myriad enduring maxims. But like a lot of the other ones, it's going to have to be chucked out the window during this most unusual of seasons.
The sport's typical six-month marathon has been squeezed down to a two-month sprint, the campaign down to 60 regular-season games as Major League Baseball attempts to play in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
All 30 teams, obviously, were built for 162 games, not 60, sending everyone into a fit of head-scratching trying to figure out which clubs are best suited for the sprint to the postseason. That question is basically impossible to answer until teams start playing games.
A big factor? That ol' unpredictable variable: luck.
"Honestly, I think luck is going to play a (big) role in the 60-game season," White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said Saturday. "It's going to be who kind of catches fire early and then who kind of catches fire late. If you can come out hot and play well early, and then idle for 20 games, but then kind of catch fire again the last 10, 15 games - there's a lot of different ways to do it. I've taken into account playoff years from my previous experience, and there's a lot of different ways."
Keuchel would figure to be spot on, and it only takes a glance back at last season to provide some convincing arguments. The Washington Nationals ended up winning the World Series but were under .500 and in fourth place in the NL East standings after 60 games. The Seattle Mariners are the other side of that coin. They got out to a fast start and were in first place in the AL West after 30 games, only to finish the season with 94 losses.
With only about 37 percent of a normal season's games being played this year, each one is worth twice or thrice as usual. A losing streak could dash a team's playoff hopes. A sweep of a division rival could completely rearrange the postseason picture. Some fans are upset about more than 100 games getting lopped off the schedule, but this could prove pretty exciting.
So what about the White Sox? How are they positioned for this sprint?
For the moment, they appear much like they did back in March: on the cusp of leaping out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode, capable of competing with two good teams, the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, for the AL Central crown. The young core of Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and Lucas Giolito broke out in a big way last season. Then Rick Hahn's front office went to work in the offseason, adding Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal and other veterans with winning experience to the mix. José Abreu, the face of the franchise, returned on a new contract. And highly touted prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal are expected to bring an even further boost.
If some of the young pitchers in the White Sox rotation can answer some questions about their consistency, the White Sox could be even more balanced than the power-hitting Twins or the power-pitching Indians.
Keuchel thinks the White Sox bats could end up being the key, and with Grandal, Robert, Madrigal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara all joining the lineup for 2020, that could definitely be the case. That could be enough lumber, even, to get the South Siders to the top of the division for the first time in more than a decade.
Even with a lot riding on luck, though, Keuchel is confident. Remember, it was his mom who back in spring training gave the White Sox their 2020 rallying cry: "Playoffs or die, b-----s!"
"I think this team, if we can get off to a hot start, if the bats can swing it like we know they can now with how deep our lineup's going to be," Keuchel said, "then I think we might wreak a little havoc in the AL Central."
That's music to White Sox fans' ears, who after sitting through a few rebuilding seasons are champing at the bit for a pennant race, even in a shortened season.
The months-long layoff between spring training and "Summer Camp" could put the White Sox in an even better position, allowing some of their pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery to return to health and provide full-season options for Rick Renteria.
We'll see if they can slug with the Twins, or pitch with the Indians. But they look capable, and Keuchel - he's not the only one on the South Side, either - has confidence a season to remember could be in the works.
Dallas Keuchel suggests White Sox can 'wreak a little havoc in the AL Central' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago