CHICAGO -- Will the real Chicago White Sox please take one collective step forward?
At the break
The team's 24-33 start to the 2010 campaign -- leaving it 9 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central and close to general manager Ken Williams breaking up the veteran core -- wasn't considered close to representative of a potential playoff contender. And Chicago's recent run to put them in the division lead -- providing visions of Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder dancing in White Sox fans' heads -- might be a bit on the high side of their long-range success, although far closer to what was expected.
To be completely honest, many White Sox players believe the true story of this team won't be totally known until the final game of the second half is played, and possibly another one, going by the AL Central's recent history.
"You really have to play the whole season out to find that answer," said White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, when asked about the expected direction of his team following the All-Star break.
"Over the first month or month and a half, I didn't think we would finish third. It was more like last place and we were going to be terrible," Buehrle said. "Now all of a sudden, we are back in the race. This whole thing is going to come down to the end."
Buehrle's comments seem almost cliche, running along the lines of "It's never over until it's over." In 2007, the White Sox season seemingly ended early, not needing much of the second half to know the South Siders had little chance. During those final few months, Williams, assistant general manager Rick Hahn and their staff started putting the plans in motion to build a competitor for 2008.
Now, the 2008 season, that campaign did go down to the bitter end and then some. What about '05, when the White Sox topped the AL Central from start to finish and won 11 of 12 possible playoff games en route to a World Series championship?
White Sox players had to know this group was playoff bound almost from April.
"Yeah, we were good, but remember we fell off the last month," said Buehrle of 2005. "We were good until all of a sudden we started losing and Cleveland got within one-half game.
"That's why it takes all season. If you fall too far in the hole, it's tough to get out of it and get back in the race. But we didn't fall too far behind this year."
White Sox midseason awards
His overall production is as good as it has been in his career. The same can be said for the captain's steady leadership.
Who would have thought the team's projected fifth starter at the season's outset would be its most consistent? Garcia helped keep this team afloat, along with John Danks, when the rotation struggled for the first two months.
Santos is really the only rookie to play a significant role on the White Sox this season, but his move from Minor League infielder to Major League bullpen force has been truly inspiring.
The first-time All-Star recognition says it all. Thornton has been utterly dominant, whether it's in the eighth inning or in his handful of opportunities as closer.
There will be a few prime indicators in providing an answer for 2010 White Sox second-half direction.
The June and July resurgence has been predicated on one quality start after another. But the White Sox will have to go on without one of those quality starters, in Jake Peavy, who had season-ending surgery after suffering a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right shoulder while throwing a pitch in the second inning of a game on July 6.
If Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Freddy Garcia and now Daniel Hudson continue to consistently get the ball to an airtight bullpen core led by Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz, Bobby Jenks and Sergio Santos, this team won't need much offense to handle even high-quality opposition. They also should be able to survive Peavy's absence.
Mix in vastly improved defense, an offense suddenly developing a penchant for hitting in the clutch and talented players such as Gordon Beckham, A.J. Pierzynski, and even Carlos Quentin, to some extent, who have underachieved, and well. ... It's still too early to make any ironclad guesses.
"Losing is not fun at all, not at all, especially when you feel like you should be playing better," Quentin said. "As far as our identity, we just will continue to grind away and trust that we will have enough runs for our pitching staff to go out and do well."
"We are getting to what we expected to do at the start of the season," Thornton said. "It just took two months to get going."
A test for the White Sox swell of success will come right after the three All-Star off-days, when the South Siders travel to Minnesota for four games. They also have four more in Detroit at the start of August, followed one week later by nine straight games against the Twins and Tigers, six of which will be played at U.S. Cellular Field.
Minnesota looked talented enough to run off and hide in the AL Central, but the Twins didn't and have come back to the pack. Detroit has been up and down but stayed in contention, while the White Sox have been either terrible or unbeatable.
At some point over the next three months the real White Sox team will stand up. They just hope to be standing up on a podium, holding another World Series trophy, soaked in champagne. If confidence and togetherness in the face of adversity count for anything, then the White Sox should be the favorite.
"Guys were working hard and having fun from the start, but we just were not getting results," Thornton said. "It's nice to see us all come together and have a nice little run."
"No matter how we play, it's going to be a fight to the finish," Beckham said. "We have been playing pretty well for a while and really doing it the right way."
"Now, we stay together, we play together," White Sox backup catcher Ramon Castro said. "And I think we are going to make it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.