"It's just the start of something."
No matter how the White Sox 2020 season ended, Tim Anderson's assessment was going to be accurate.
The hurt flowed throughout the fan base as the White Sox were eliminated from the postseason Thursday, dropping the third game of their best-of-three opening-round series with the Oakland Athletics. And while the White Sox themselves were certainly disappointed with the result, too — this team had readjusted expectations to win the whole thing — getting as far as they did was an undoubtedly good thing for a team with a long-term outlook.
"I think it was good for us to get in. Guys got a taste of it, and I think it's just going to make them more hungry to get back there," Anderson said. "We battled today. I couldn't be more happy and proud of the way we fought, and I know that we gave our all.
"It's a tough one to swallow, but we've got to keep going. It's just the start of something that could be great."
While the preseason talk revolved around reaching the playoffs and the midseason talk around making it as deep into October as possible, no one knew for sure what these rebuilt White Sox were going to do in 2020. Breakout seasons from young, core pieces like Anderson last season and an active offseason that added some veteran heft to the roster generated a ton of excitement and produced a positive outlook. But getting to the postseason was no certainty, no one quite sure how long it would take these White Sox to rise out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.
A red-hot middle of the season, with the White Sox slugging their way to a 23-6 stretch, answered that question. The White Sox at one point had the best record in the American League. Their ace was growing even more, throwing a no-hitter to establish himself as one of the game's dominant arms. Their rookie was putting on a show. Their leader was putting together an MVP season.
And so the expectations changed.
"If we don't win the World Series, then we haven't really done what we came to do," Lucas Giolito said during the final week of the regular season. "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?"
That's what made the late-season swoon, the White Sox losing eight of their final 10 regular-season games and then two of three playoff games, so disappointing to a fan base who bought into those expectations.
But in the end, the White Sox reached their first postseason in a dozen years, showed what kind of damage they can do when firing on all cylinders and gained the experience necessary to thrive on this stage in the future. Even in this short playoff series, they flexed their muscles. Giolito became the fifth pitcher ever to take a perfect game into the seventh inning of a playoff game. Team leader José Abreu hit a clutch homer in Game 1. Anderson had nine hits in his first taste of the postseason. And Luis Robert mashed the second longest homer of the year Thursday.
This team is dangerous. And the best news is that it is set up to be for a very long time.
"That's the exciting thing about it," Anderson said. "I don't really think too many people expected us to get this far. ... We've just got to continue to keep going and continue to get better and come with the same mindset. I think we're going to be a lot hungrier next year."
Much of this same group will return next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.
That was the idea when Rick Hahn launched this rebuilding effort, to make it a long-term endeavor. And he's set the White Sox up for contention for a long while.
This year saw the White Sox ascend out of rebuilding mode. And though the season ended on a sour note, particularly considering those recalibrated expectations, it was what everyone described it as postgame: a step forward.
And now that they've accomplished what they did in 2020, elevated to the realm of baseball's contending teams, the expectations are clear moving forward. From now on, it's all about competing for and winning World Series championships.
"I think it's a huge step," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think the experience is going to bode well for them, just like their experiences as they were developing as a team, them now going into the postseason, this will play a huge part in their development, obviously, and the organization is moving in the right direction.
"There's no way of not saying that that's happening. The Chicago White Sox are moving in the right direction.
"You get a taste of what it feels like to be here and be in the special group, you like the feeling. You want to be a part of it as often as you possibly can because you know if you get in, anything can happen.
"They know that they have the talent. I'm sure we'll continue to do what's necessary to put us in a good position. These guys are going to be wanting to get back here again."