For 117 days, it was right there for the Chicago White Sox. They were consistent, they didn't beat themselves and, while on paper they might not have had the talent that Detroit did, they weren't blinking. After holding first place for 117 days, it all disappeared in a 10-day period when the Sox lost eight of nine games starting Sept. 19 and never recovered.
That disappointment -- or meltdown -- is what they had to carry into the offseason.
"I don't think anybody really saw the ending," team captain Paul Konerko said. "It felt like it was a special team all year as far as going past the regular season. It didn't feel like it was going to end the way it ended."
Now it's about picking up the pieces. In some ways, far fewer pieces than originally predicted of this 2012 team. The Sox entered the year with question marks all over the field, and when Opening Day pitcher John Danks went down in May, it looked like first-year manager Robin Ventura would be getting more than he bargained for.
But even in having eight rookies on the pitching staff at one point, the Sox found out a lot more about the depth of their system than even they knew. Jose Quintana filled in for Danks more than adequately, going 6-6 with a 3.76 ERA, while rookie Addison Reed took over the closer duties from Hector Santiago and set a franchise rookie record with 29 saves. But the story for the pitching staff was the emergence of reliever-turned-starter Chris Sale, who went from a pitcher with promise to a pitcher who could be in the Cy Young argument, going 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA.
Then add in the fact that Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios each had bounce-back years from disappointing 2011 seasons, and that's why the Sox were contenders going into the last week of the season.
The youth that was discovered will carry over into next season, as the Sox are slowly passing the torch on establishing a new core. Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza took huge strides in becoming everyday players, and the staff feels like it can brace for the expected free-agent loss of Peavy, with the likes of Sale, Quintana, Santiago and Danks, who is expected back for the start of spring training.
The hope is that Dunn and Rios can build off their comeback seasons, and, with Paul Konerko entering the final season of his contract in 2013, the heart of the order will be back.
That doesn't mean there aren't holes, however. And some key ones. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is a free agent and had a career year from a power standpoint. The Sox have to feel that Tyler Flowers is ready, try to re-sign Pierzynski or look elsewhere in free agency.
Also, Peavy could be a huge loss from the pitching staff. There is talk they will try to re-sign the veteran, but money will be an issue, with Dunn, Konerko and Rios still costing them a pretty penny.