Rozner: White Sox, Cubs limping into the postseason, but at least they're in the postseason
There seems no end to the oddities of 2020.
It has evolved into a never-ending punchline for humanity, some sort of cosmic reprimand for inhabiting a planet.
Throw in, for yucks, just the weirdest baseball season ever and it comes out on the other end with a pair of playoff teams in Chicago.
So very strange.
For the first time since 2008, the White Sox and Cubs are both a threat to win it all. Well, they're in the playoffs, so in theory they both have a chance.
But had there been an actual baseball season, it's likely to have looked much different.
The Cubs appeared -- on paper -- to be a .500 team in the spring, albeit in a bad division with an opportunity to steal a spot in the tourney given the unpredictability of the Cards, Reds and Brewers.
Still, you wouldn't have bet the rent on the Cubs' chances.
Instead, they got a heaping helping of Central clubs from both leagues, while teams fought the virus and injuries, stuffing doubleheaders into an already absurd schedule.
Yet, the Cubs need make no apologies. They'll take their tournament entry and run fast to bonus baseball.
"When you start reaching some of your goals, it's a badge of honor that you get when you put in the work and are able to reap the rewards on the back end of the season," said Cubs manager David Ross. "I'm really proud of these guys."
Notwithstanding an offensive outburst and Kris Bryant coming alive the last two days of the season, the Cubs remain as they looked in March, a team with a limited offense and top-heavy pitching staff, though the bullpen has surprised and the back end is getting better.
If a couple starters catch fire and some underperforming hitters make an appearance, short series always offer a chance for an average team hoping to play better and surprise the best of the National League.
Had this been a full season, the White Sox were hoping for .500 ball in Year 4 of a rebuild after winning 72 games a year ago. With so many young players and questions among the starting staff, a jump of 9 or 10 wins would have been a successful season.
Playing meaningful games after the all-star break and perhaps threatening for a wild card was a hope, certainly not a promise.
Instead, 2020 offered a sprint and an easy schedule, and just like that the Sox have arrived in the postseason a year ahead of schedule. In baseball you don't ask forgiveness. Someone offers you a chance at a title, you take it.
"We had no idea how long that middle stage (of the rebuild) was going to be," said GM Rick Hahn. "We found ourselves in a position to compete for a championship. It's a real good result for us all, but it doesn't change the fact that we know our work's not done.
"We haven't won anything yet, and really the goal was to put ourselves in a position to win repeatedly and do this on an annual basis. There's still work to be done to get to that level, even if this potential middle stage is moving along as quickly as we probably would have hoped it would."
Since clinching, the Sox have been exposed offensively against legit pitching and the late-game managing of Rick Renteria remains a complete mystery.
Nevertheless, if a couple starters can dominate with Garrett Crochet a frightening new weapon in relief, and some part of the lineup can help the monster that remains Jose Abreu, you've got a formula for winning a short series.
Bashing bad pitching in the regular season rarely translates to hitting good pitching in the postseason, so the Sox will have to start taking what pitchers are giving them instead of trying to hit every ball out of the park.
And so it begins, the Sox on Tuesday against the Athletics and the Cubs on Wednesday vs. the Marlins, after both Chicago teams limped to the finish line and then concluded this bizarre season playing one another.
Of course, it makes no sense. Nothing makes any sense.
But that's maybe the best reason to remain optimistic about your baseball team as it approaches playoff baseball. Logic has been thrown out with the bath water.
There's also the possibility that you don't much care about baseball this year, knowing it wasn't a real season and that collecting rings from such a campaign hardly matters in the grand scheme.
On other hand, it's playoff baseball. It's something to do. It's something to watch. It's a reason to get your heart pumping on a 3-2 pitch with men on base in the eighth inning.
What, you have something better to do?