Sox rise to playoff contenders speedy — and long planned originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Baseball’s playoff schedule is finally set. And if the postseason started today, the White Sox would be the top seed in the American League half of the bracket.
That’s not news to fans who are thrilled to be finally and feverishly following the South Siders during a winning season, quick to bury the memories of the combined 284 losses from the three rebuilding seasons prior. But it should be something that still smacks as amazing.
The White Sox wrapped up the 2019 campaign the losers of 89 games. A year later, they’re looking to lock down the No. 1 slot in the AL playoff field.
While it was readily apparent to see where this team was heading one day, what with Eloy Jiménez, Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada doing their thing at the end of last season, suggesting that “one day” was coming so quickly was perhaps not the most realistic thing in the world.
And even the master planner himself is impressed by the rapidity at which these White Sox have shot out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.
“At the end of last season,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week, “I think I told you all that, in our estimations, we were getting ready to enter that next stage, and that is going from the early stages of the rebuild and talent accumulation and now going into that next stage of bringing it all together and hopefully augmenting it and hopefully watching them grow and ideally be ready to win, which was that third stage.
“And I was fairly forthright at the time saying we had no idea how long that middle stage was going to take. We were happy that we were moving into it, and we were looking forward to moving out of it so you get to that next, final stage of winning, of competing for championships. But we just had no idea how long that middle stage was going to be.
“Certainly, it seemingly only lasting a matter of months or so before we found ourselves in a position to compete for a championships is a real good result for us all.”
The White Sox aren’t just in playoff position. Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the division-rival Minnesota Twins, they were leading the pack in the Junior Circuit. They ranked first in the AL in just about every offensive category of import. They’ve got not one but two MVP candidates. They appear as capable as winning the pennant as any team.
And while the speed at which they’ve risen to such a level is worthy of awe, perhaps even surprise, the White Sox having a team like this, capable of these things, has long been part of Hahn’s plan. Those lineups of the future that everyone had such fun crafting three years ago? Those players are all in Rick Renteria’s lineup on a nightly basis.
The future has arrived. The future was also mapped out. And it’s not like the White Sox don’t know how they got here. They’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.
“I mean it’s completely opposite of what we’ve been,” relief pitcher Jace Fry said Tuesday. “I come to the ballpark and expect to win, even against the best teams in the division or the league.
“We just hit. Every level of our lineup, we are hitting, and it’s kind of that next man up in the order. We put so much pressure on the other team, day in and day out, that I can see why we are 21-5 (in the last 26 games) and why these pitchers are going out there and (are) usually out by the fifth inning.
“We have so much talent in the clubhouse. It’s the most talent I’ve seen. We are just doing what we are supposed to do.”
Yes, this is the plan in action. This is what was supposed to happen.
Obviously, as Hahn has mentioned many times, the rebuilding effort won't have reaped its intended fruit until the White Sox are world champions. And despite an entertaining, playoff-style win over the Twins on Monday night, there’s more work to be done in the “beating good teams” department, where the White Sox are still just 8-11.
But the playoffs are rapidly approaching, and the White Sox magic number when it comes to clinching a postseason berth is down to three. If everything goes right, they could be celebrating the franchise’s first playoff spot in more than a decade before this series with the Twins is even over.
And as fun and new as it is for fans in the moment, this is what was supposed to happen.
“It's what we've been waiting for, man,” starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said earlier this month. “It's been a lot of losing baseball the last few years. We knew what we were capable of and now that we're starting to show it, coming out every single game with confidence, all nine players on the diamond.
“It's a lot of fun. This is the most fun I've ever had playing baseball, not even close.”