Before the 2020 season began, the White Sox set some high expectations: securing the franchise's first playoff berth in a dozen years.
Considering the team lost 89 games last season and had still yet to make its climb out of rebuilding mode, the challenge seemed plenty big.
Well, fast forward to September, and the expectations have changed. They've gotten a whole lot bigger.
"If we don't win the World Series, then we haven't really done what we came to do," starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said Tuesday. "I thought that making the postseason was a good step in the right direction. But now that we’re here, it's: Why not go out and win the whole thing?"
Yes, winning a world championship is a significant adjustment from making the playoffs. But Giolito's got a right to be talking that way.
The White Sox have done a lot more than just establish themselves as playoff caliber, especially in a season where 16 major league teams will reach the postseason. Ever since catching fire in mid August, the White Sox have owned one of the American League's best offenses, seen two faces of the franchise blossom into legitimate MVP candidates and boasted two of baseball's top arms at the front of the starting rotation.
Indeed they look to be among the class of the Junior Circuit and as capable as winning the World Series as any team out there.
Sure, much of this roster heads into October with zero playoff experience. But they've played well enough to show they're capable of making some postseason noise. Perhaps a lot of it.
"We just play the type of baseball we’ve played that wins us games," Giolito said of how these White Sox can be ready for what comes next. "The starting pitcher doing a solid job, getting as deep as he can and giving the team a chance to win. The offense doing what they’ve been doing all year, kind of leading some of the ranks in the American League. Defense has been great, just keep it up in that area.
"Put it all together and make sure we’re firing on all cylinders, and pretty much sky is the limit there."
While manager Rick Renteria has been singularly focused on the cliched, yet effective, one-game-at-a-time mentality, even he's willing to admit what the ultimate goal is for this team. Heck, he's the one who got all this playoff talk started in the first place, dating back to the end of last season's 89-loss campaign.
Now, needing his team to play well in the regular season's final week coming off a stretch of three losses in four games, he wants to see the kind of baseball that got the White Sox this far. If they're going to live up to their own adjusted expectations, they'll need to.
"It's not just getting in," Renteria said Tuesday. "We want to accomplish the ultimate goal. ... We're all on the same page with that, we all want to go as far as we can.
"You need to have a vision, you need to have a measurable goal. You need something to continue to push you. Right now, we need to play good baseball. We need to be playing on the upswing. We don't want to be in a lull as we continue to move through the next six days. We want to be moving in the right direction, at least competing in the right way. You might not win every single game, but at least showing what you're about and things that you're capable of doing.
"Everybody would be disappointed if we don't attain the ultimate goal. Everybody would be disappointed if we don't get past the first round. There's disappointment to be had everywhere. The thing is, I don't talk in disappointments. I'm looking forward and looking to have these guys understand that they really can trust what they're capable of doing and give themselves a chance to do what they do. And if we do that and we do it well, we've got a chance to continue to move and do well."
Much of the talk from before the season started, specifically from general manager Rick Hahn, was that any amount of playoff experience would be a huge plus for these young White Sox as they attempted to shift out of rebuilding mode. And certainly that remains true, as this is a long-term endeavor, and with so many guys yet to taste October baseball, such experience would only benefit them moving forward.
But that shift out of rebuilding mode has been more of a blastoff, with the White Sox surging to the top of the AL perhaps far earlier or at least far quicker than expected. And because of it, the terrain has changed. The White Sox might still be upstarts, but they're upstarts with a chance and an ability to take on anyone.
So bring on that beneficial playoff experience. These South Siders might just go get a trophy out of the deal.
"For us guys who haven’t been to the playoffs, it’s going to be a new experience. It’s going to be a ton of fun," Giolito said. "That’s what I’m focused on, just enjoying it. When it’s time to take the ball and pitch, I know the job I have, just give it my 110 percent. And that’s pretty much how us younger guys are all viewing it.
"It’s going to be, hopefully, the first of many."