Red Sox

McAdam: Can the Red Sox emerge as playoff contenders in a shortened season?

(Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox via Getty Images)

There's much that is unknown about baseball's return in 2020.

What, after a hiatus of more than three months, will the quality of play be like? How much of a factor will injuries be? And perhaps no question is more pertinent than this: Can baseball prevent a mass outbreak of COVID-19 cases that could interrupt or completely wipe out its season?

It will take some time for answers to emerge to these questions and no amount of speculation ahead of time is going to provide much in the way of insight.

On a more local level, there are also questions about the Red Sox and how they'll fare in the 60-game format.

A week ago, when it appeared owners and players were nearing a negotiated agreement, the Red Sox' fortunes looked to be improved. Plans were in place for an expanded playoff format that would have featured eight teams in each league qualifying for the playoffs.

Surely, a case could have been easily made that the Red Sox were among the eight best teams in the American League. Being among the top half of the teams in the league represented a low bar to clear, with the potential for one or more teams qualifying despite a sub-.500 record.

Now that the 2020 season will feature the more conventional postseason format (three division winners plus two wild card teams), the road to October will be considerably more challenging. Still, it wouldn't a huge stretch to see the Sox squeak into the playoffs.

"There's a lot of talent in that lineup,'' said one major league talent evaluator recently. "Like a lot of teams, it will come down to pitching.''

In the Red Sox' case, that's especially true of the starting rotation. But more on that in a moment.

Nearly everyone agrees that a 60-game schedule -- kindly toss aside the old wisdom about the baseball season; this time it is a sprint and not a marathon -- will result in the unexpected. With a smaller sample size, it stands to reason that some quality teams will underperform and some lesser teams will exceed expectations.

(For a perfect example of this, note that the eventual world champion Washington Nationals had a losing record after 60 games last season).

That said, here's what we know of the Red Sox' perceived positives and negatives: