The Chicago White Sox can't beat good teams, they said.
The White Sox, unsurprisingly, weren't listening.
"Honestly, this is the first I've heard that we're not very good against winning teams," White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodón said, presented with the information during a surprise appearance on the White Sox Talk Podcast earlier this week. "We don't even think about that. I didn't even know this stat at all."
The stat is that the White Sox entered their four-game series with the Oakland Athletics the owners of a less-than-stellar 17-24 record against teams with better than .500 records.
Some gruesome sweeps on the road in trips to New York and Houston have been difficult to forget, even though there have been home series wins against contenders from Tampa Bay and Toronto. And despite the exhilarating walk-off win in the Field of Dreams game, the two days that followed against the red-hot Yankees did little to dissuade that the White Sox couldn't hang with the big boys.
But that changed this week, with the White Sox playing well and taking three of four games from the A's, finishing the first half of their stretch of 14 straight games against fellow American League contenders with a 4-3 record.
Three wins against the A's should help to dent the narrative. The results of upcoming road series against the Rays and Blue Jays will tell more of the story, though, as the White Sox biggest struggles against fellow contenders have come away from the South Side.
But they did good work against the A's and should be commended for grabbing a little revenge on the team that ended their season a year ago.
"We got the series win, which is always big," White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said after Thursday's game, the team's lone loss of the set. "Any time you can beat a team that’s as talented as they are too it’s definitely something to build on.
"We just have to keep doing it."
Cease makes the most pertinent point. Even before the White Sox played the A's, it could have been easily argued that the results to this point didn't matter all that much. A barometer for postseason possibilities? Sure. But the end-all, be-all determinant of October success? Not even close.
Instead, the most important thing is not how the White Sox have played against those teams to this point but how they're playing against all teams come the end of September. At least that's what the guys who have gone on previous October runs say.
"At the end of the day, whether you win the division by one game or 40 games, it doesn't matter if you go into the playoffs on a little bit of a cold streak," White Sox closer Liam Hendriks said last month. "It's one of those things you want to finish the season hot so you take that momentum into the playoffs."
Even the guys without much playoff experience know that's the case.
"If you look at teams that have won in the past, you take the '19 (Washington) Nationals, they were not very good in the first half. Their second half was on fire leading into the postseason, and they ended up winning the World Series," Rodón said. "So if you take a page out of their book, we have to get on a little run here going into September, heading into October, and I think that's the goal that we're working toward right now.
"But we're just starting to get everyone back healthy, so we're almost 100 percent here, (with Yasmani Grandal) coming back, and it's going to be exciting."
And that's important to remember, too: The White Sox are a different team now than they were when they racked up the majority of those losses to their fellow winners. Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert are back in the middle of the lineup and absolutely raking, the duo combining for a .340 batting average since their returns. And Grandal, who at the time of his knee injury last month was the hottest hitter on the team, is progressing in his rehab assignment and nearing his own return.
That, as has been evidenced by the impact Jiménez and Robert have had on the lineup in recent weeks, makes the White Sox a very different group, one capable of doing more damage against the kinds of teams they lost to earlier in the season. That notion will hold more weight if they can do it on the road in the coming week.
But by beating the A's three out of four days on the South Side, the White Sox took an important step in showing their potential is not limited to winning a division title in the one-horse town that is the AL Central.
Not that they cared in the first place, as confident in their ability to win the season's biggest games as they are oblivious that they hadn't done so to this point.
"All I can say is we'll show up when it matters," Rodón said. "It matters every day, but this team's good."