But with Detroit's victory in Cleveland on Thursday night, Ozzie Guillen's crew officially was removed from playoff contention. Here's how it breaks down.
Detroit needed just one win or a White Sox loss to eliminate the South Siders entering Friday's game. The White Sox could have won a maximum of 82 games if they didn't lose any of their remaining nine games. If Detroit went winless in its final 10 tilts, and Chicago remained perfect, the clubs would have been tied with records of 82-80.
That fact would be true, but Detroit has four games remaining against Minnesota, meaning the Tigers' hypothetical winless stretch to end the year would include four losses to the Twins.
In that scenario, even if Minnesota lost its six games against the Royals, the Twins would finish with 83 victories -- one more than the White Sox and Tigers. So, the South Siders are left to focus on 2010 and build off the positives from 2009.
But according to White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, there are no true positives when his teams fall short of the ultimate goal.
"Maybe a couple guys are satisfied with the year they have, but I think we have different mentalities," Guillen said. "My mentality is to win games. Their mentality is to, I guess, have a good year and make money. That was my mentality when I played.
"I wanted to have a good year and hopefully make some money. Organization, coaches, myself, fans, I don't think we can see anything positive. We don't have anything. I think early in the season we struggled, and late in the season we struggled. And that's two things where we have to get better."
With all due respect to Guillen, there were some positives to be taken away from this disappointing 2009 campaign. Scott Podsednik was sitting at home in West, Texas, when the year began, and now in the final weeks of September, has put himself in position for American League Comeback Player of the Year and possibly even an extended stay in Chicago as the team's leadoff man.
Gordon Beckham was everything expected as the team's top pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and then some. His 13 home runs and 56 RBIs leave him in a battle with Detroit hurler Rick Porcello for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
An infield combination of Beckham, Alexei Ramirez and Chris Getz, from third to second, promises to be a steady force for years to come. And the starting rotation of Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd will stack up with any front four in 2010. So, where did the White Sox go wrong in 2009?
All signs point to the 3-8 road trip through Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Wrigley Field, beginning the last week of August, as the deciding blow.
"It killed us," said Buehrle. "I said before we went there, 'Make or break,' and obviously if we played .500, we would have had a chance. But you're not going to win too many division titles going 1-9 or whatever we went."
Winning consistently also can be tough when your team struggles from start to finish on the basepaths and leads the AL with 111 errors, leading to 69 unearned runs. The White Sox also rank near the bottom in eight major categories on offense.
There's no denying that the White Sox roster starting Friday's game is far stronger than the one that broke camp from Glendale, Ariz. Guillen reiterated as to how this group would have won the division if it had been together from the start.
They weren't together from the start, though, so the White Sox are left to fight for a .500 finish. They also can ponder their in-season positives, which should present them a strong core for 2010, even if they don't seem like positives at the moment.
"When you leave Spring Training, and you're trying to win a division and that's your goal, it seems like there's no positives right now," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "Sometimes I think you have to get away from it a little bit. I'm sure we will after a few weeks, and realize there are a lot of things that happened this year that are good things. But when you kind of look at the black and white of did we win the division, you can just kind of get down and get negative about everything."
"If you don't make the playoffs, you're wasting your year," Guillen said. "That's the way I look at baseball."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.