Among Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and a (hopefully) healthy Carlos Rodón, the Chicago White Sox have a three-headed monster at the top of their rotation — something that, obviously, will bode very well in the postseason.
However, it is clear that contrary to last season, the White Sox don’t have their sights set on merely being included in the playoffs. With an 11 1⁄2-game lead in the AL Central, now is the time for the White Sox to begin game planning for the postseason.
One of the biggest questions looming for the White Sox in October is the fourth starter in a potential seven-game series. Assuming Rodón is healthy, the first three spots are set in stone.
That leaves Dylan Cease and Dallas Keuchel to vie for the fourth and final rotation spot.
Although he has been the weak link in the rotation for the majority of the season, there’s a pretty compelling case to be made for Keuchel. Keuchel was one of the aces on the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros, and has made 12 career postseason starts, pitching to a 3.71 ERA.
Keuchel’s past success can’t be counted too much, considering that he is a much different pitcher than he was in his time with Houston. Keuchel’s strikeout rate and velocity are significantly worse now than in his time with Houston, as well as is his ability to pitch late in games.
Additionally, Keuchel has shown some serious decline this season. Opponents are hitting .307 against him in his third time facing a batting order, something that is a major area of concern for someone in an innings-eater role.
Without even having to shift attention to Cease, that statistic alone should automatically move Keuchel to the bullpen for the postseason. Keuchel has shown this season that he isn’t really a capable starting pitcher anymore, and his postseason experience combined with above-average statistics when facing a lineup for the first time in a game make him an ideal stretch reliever in the playoffs.
As for Cease, the primary area of concern is the disparity in his numbers when facing opponents better and worse than .500. Cease has done an excellent job of beating subpar competition, but with the exception of good outings against Cincinnati and Houston, Cease has generally struggled against strong competition.
Saturday night’s start against the Yankees should be a good test of Cease’s ability to pitch in a big game. Fresh off of his team’s massive win in the Field of Dreams Game, Cease will have the opportunity to lead the White Sox to an August series win over a team fighting for a playoff spot.
Even if Saturday’s start goes awry, Cease should still be the fourth starter in the postseason. Cease’s stuff has improved greatly this season, and his strikeout rate leaves the potential for a gem on any given game.
Additionally, rolling with Cease gives the White Sox options, as they could chose to pair Cease’s postseason starts with multiple innings from Michael Kopech or Garrett Crochet, as well as having Keuchel available for ground ball situations, given that his lefty/lefty splits have taken a big hit this season.
There is still a whole lot of baseball left to be played, but if the second half of the season has indicated anything, it is that the White Sox have a clear fourth starter for the playoffs. Dylan Cease might not be everyone’s favorite option, but given what the White Sox are working with, there is no doubt that he is their best option.