As the White Sox come down the home stretch of the two-month pennant race that is the 2020 season, Tim Anderson is making his team's intentions quite clear.
"I want to win," he said Wednesday.
That's nothing new, of course, but the White Sox are finally in a position to do just that. Their rebuilding project has rapidly entered contention mode, and in first place in the AL Central standings thanks to a 16-5 record in their last 21 games, they look as capable as winning the division crown as anyone.
But things are about to get tough. After they wrap up their brief two-game set in Pittsburgh, the White Sox will play their final 17 games in 17 days beginning Friday. Eleven of those games come against contending clubs, including a pair of four-game series against the two teams they're in direct competition with in the AL Central: the Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland Indians.
The White Sox have played two series apiece against those teams and have won none of the four. It's no stretch to say that those eight games will be the franchise's most important in at least eight years.
And that's exactly what this team wanted.
"It’s guys we’ve been facing for years. So I guess it just depends on who is going to do their homework the best and who is going to be ready to play," Anderson said.
While a division title isn't necessary to reach October with this year's playoff field expanded to eight American League squads, there's a lot that's going to be up for grabs over the season's final two and a half weeks. The three teams are bunched up at the top of the standings, and the difference between first place and second place could mean a road trip for the first round of the playoffs, depending on how the still-unsettled format shakes out. A third-place finish could still mean a playoff berth, but the difference between playing one of the top-seeded teams and one of the lower-seeded teams is huge, especially for the White Sox, who have feasted on lesser competition this season and had mixed results against good teams.
But this is vastly preferable to the Septembers that Anderson experienced in his first four big league seasons, a quartet of losing campaigns that saw the White Sox well out of things by the time the regular season's final month rolled around. This is what the rebuilding project was supposed to yield: the most meaningful baseball at season's end.
Unsurprisingly, Anderson's not going to stop, though, with just reaching this point.
"I want to be in those moments," he said. "I think that's what it's about, playing to the end, and I'm going to give everything I've got to hopefully get there — and not just get there but carry us as far as we can go.
"We're trying to win this thing, trying to win the whole thing. Why not?"
While the beginning of the season brought questions of how the White Sox would stack up against the top teams in the AL, teams that were thought to be the class of the Junior Circuit, like the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, have stumbled in 2020. Entering play Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics were the only AL squads with better records than the White Sox. The South Siders are truly as much a contender as anyone.
That's not to say they don't have their own question marks, particularly in the starting rotation. But the suggestion that the White Sox could win the American League or even the World Series? It doesn't seem all that crazy. And that says a lot about how far this team has come in such a short amount of time.
But this upcoming stretch will be their biggest test yet. And that's what makes September baseball so much fun.
"The season has been going great," Anderson said. "Obviously, we haven’t had a season like this since I got here. We need those 17 games. You best believe I will be ready for those 17 games. The biggest key is be ready to play. We need every guy from top to bottom to be able to play and come out with a whole lot of energy, and hopefully we can click at all angles going into this stretch.
"I'm excited. Those are the moments that you want to be in, those are the moments that you want. And I want it. I want to be in those moments, and I hope the rest of the guys do, as well. Hopefully we can continue to play the way we're playing and keep pushing one another and see what happens."