A typical major league baseball season, played under normal parameters, is a proving ground, a long slog in which teams have to leap over multiple hurdles and survive multiple tests to advance to the last rounds of a sports version of "The Hunger Games."
It is that way because it needs to be. It is that way because the old cliché is in fact a truism: Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. It is that way because at the game's highest level, the differences in quality between teams and players are just not that great. In most cases, in fact, they are nearly indecipherable to the naked, untrained eye.
This is why baseball can't get by with a 60-game season like the NCAA, for which the team-to-team disparity is much higher, can. In college, the nation's best team might post something like an .831 winning percentage, which is what Vanderbilt did en route to a College World Series title in 2019. That percentage translates to a 135-27 mark over 162 games. A big league team that did that would be regarded as the hands-down best baseball team in history.
The 2020 baseball season has lately been described as a sprint. As it should be. Sixty games is not normally a proving ground. It's a warm-up act. The adage is that every team wins a third of its games and loses a third, and the wheat is sorted from the chaff during the remaining third. So what happens when the first two thirds are missing?
We tried to find out by taking the past 10 seasons and sorting each campaign into three buckets: the first 60 games, the middle 60 games and the last 60 games. The middle 60 window is designed as games 52 through 111; there are 51 games before that and 51 games after that.
The thinking is this: In the 2020 season, teams will have 60 -- and only 60 -- contests in which to differentiate themselves. In a strict sense, teams will be judged on their first 60 games, which are their only 60 games. However, in theory, there will be a very different sense of urgency in 2020 than typically exists in a first-60 window, seeing as there would normally be another 100 games to play.
In a normal season, after 60 games, even players on teams that have had very good or very bad starts will say, "It's a long season." This will not be a long season. Still, we know that this year's first 60 games will still be the season's first 60 games.
The hope in looking at the last-60 window is to better replicate the sense of urgency that will accompany every game from the very start of the season we hope is coming. Still, we know that approach isn't ideal, either. Sometimes teams run away with a division or fall out of the race quickly. The last-60 window for such clubs doesn't have the kind of urgency we're talking about in 2020.
To get a little of both dynamics, we added the middle-60 measurement.