Dylan Cease probably will never know the reason why he wasn’t selected this season to the American League All-Star squad.
Maybe the Chicago White Sox starter doesn’t even want to know at this point.
“Statistically, the first half I put up kind of speaks for itself,” Cease said Sunday after earning his tenth victory in a 6-3 win over the Cleveland Guardians. “Unfortunately all the other stuff is out of my hands. I think I should have at least been highly, highly considered.”
Cease finished the first half ranked first in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings (12.90) and third in the AL in ERA (2.15) while going 9-4. Even after AL starter Justin Verlander pulled out of the game, the league chose closer Liam Hendriks for a roster spot instead of Cease, who deserved the nod more than his teammate.
It never made much sense, but credit Cease for declining to complain about the injustice. All he can do now is prove they were wrong, and he continued on that trek Sunday with six shutout innings.
“The only time that bulletin board stuff works is if your butt’s dragging and maybe you’re distracted,” manager Tony La Russa said of the snub. “He wanted to go. You can’t doubt his credentials. But that process is there. Every year, somebody misses.
“But he handled it. He just kept pitching. He’s happy, he pitches. Disappointed, he pitches. He’s an old pro at a young age.”
Cease, 26, admitted he didn’t watch the Midsummer Classic, which turned out to be the least-watched All-Star Game in decades. And he doesn’t mind getting to use the snub as motivation, whether he needs it or not.
“Just trying to win is enough motivation for me,” he said. “But I’ll take any chip on my shoulder I can get.”
The Sox should have a chip on their collective shoulders after being labeled the league’s biggest flop of the first half. But it was well deserved, and splitting with the Guardians this weekend didn’t help matters much.
They slogged back to the .500 mark (48-48) for the fourth time since May 31, finishing their 19-game stretch against AL Central opponents with a 10-9 record, gaining only a half-game on the division-leading Minnesota Twins. The Sox will look to finally have a winning record Tuesday in Coors Field, where the Sox begin a two-game series with the Colorado Rockies.
We’ve heard this before, of course, but the upcoming stretch is one in which the Sox can make their move. They play 19 games against sub-.500 teams before a four-game showdown with the Houston Astros on Aug. 15-18 at Sox Park.
“Obviously there’s more ground to make up, but we’re staying in it,” Cease said. “And we’re definitely coming.”
A five-run second inning off Guardians ace Shane Bieber, fueled by home runs from Leury García and AJ Pollock, gave Cease all the run support he needed. He scattered seven hits while striking out four to grab the major-league lead in strikeouts with 154. He lowered his ERA to 2.03 and has allowed one or no earned runs in each of his last 11 starts, compiling a 0.42 ERA during that stretch.
With the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaching, La Russa and general manager Rick Hahn have been in constant touch discussing the Sox’s pressing needs.
While Cubs manager David Ross said team President Jed Hoyer and the front office “pretty much keep me out of the loop” regarding trade talks, as Ross prefers, La Russa has always taken the opposite approach.
“I think the attitude here is always to communicate with the guys in uniform about where we are, what we need,” La Russa said. “That’s just the way it is throughout the organization. I never have understood how some teams don’t communicate with their guys down there.”
Hahn said Friday his focus would be on improving the bullpen, and that was before twin implosions against the Guardians during Saturday’s doubleheader. Kendall Graveman served up a two-run home run Sunday to Franmil Reyes in the eighth, and Hendriks, who gave up three runs in Saturday’s loss, allowed a home run to light-hitting Steven Kwan in the ninth.
But with Cease and Johnny Cueto leading the rotation, the Sox need more consistency out of their other three starters. Lucas Giolito struggled in a three-inning outing Friday. Michael Kopech has yet to prove he can throw six or more innings on a regular basis. Lance Lynn turned in a dominant performance Saturday but needs to follow up with a few more before we know he’s back to the old Lance Lynn.
La Russa was optimistic Sunday about the chance of Luis Robert returning next weekend against the Oakland A’s, after the center fielder was placed on the injured list Friday with blurred vision. Josh Harrison sat out Sunday with a sore right hamstring, and Andrew Vaughn was rested.
Eloy Jiménez homered for the second straight game, and La Russa brought up the 2019 season when Jiménez looked like a budding superstar.
“You saw him in ’19,” La Russa said. “I’ve seen him enough. I’ve seen him on TV. I’ve seen him enough in person. He’s a special producer. He’s going to drive in runs with base hits, and he’s always liable to hit the seats.”
When he’s hot, Jiménez can carry a lineup by himself. Right, Eloy?
“Uh, well, I guess,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess,” he repeated.
Jiménez was inserted at DH Sunday after the Guardians challenged the left fielder on the basepaths on two occasions Saturday. Asked if that was expected given Jiménez’s recovery from hamstring surgery, La Russa said: “I was impressed with his home run. He ran fast. That’s going to be something we’ve just got to track.”
Jiménez was nonchalant about the Guardians trying to run on him.
“It’s OK,” he said. “I will be there for that. They can eat right now. I’m going to eat later.”
The Sox should be tired of watching the Twins and Guardians eat all season. The record does not compute with the talent level in the clubhouse.
“Obviously it hasn’t been our year so far,” Lynn said Saturday. “But there’s still some games left, there’s still some things we’re capable of doing.”
With 19 games against teams they should beat, it’s time for the Sox to get to the table and start chowing down.