Dylan Cease made a strong case to be in the playoff rotation with his performance on Tuesday night against the Blue Jays. The 25-year-old righty fired seven innings of one-run ball while only allowing four hits. Cease struck out seven and walked one.

Dylan Cease looks playoff-ready. Meanwhile veteran starter Dallas Keuchel has spent his week making excuses for his poor performance. Tony La Russa has a decision to make come playoff time. The White Sox have been riding their starting pitching depth into the postseason. But with October looming the playoff rotation will be cut down to four.

Keuchel’s Frustrating Season Continues

On Saturday Dallas Keuchel was missing spots and giving up contact that frequently found holes in the defense. He allowed six earned runs for the third time this season. The veteran left-hander was pounded for a season-high nine hits. Over Keuchel’s last nine starts he has a fat 6.02 ERA.

Keuchel pointed to some defensive shifts for his struggles.

“It’s tough, six of the nine hits were on the ground today. Just didn’t seem to find much luck or bounce my way. Just felt like we were about one or two inches away from a couple of double plays or a couple of early outs, and that would’ve changed the whole complexion of the game.”

What he failed to mention is five of those hits came off the bat with an exit velocity over 95 mph.

This just isn’t a recent rough stretch either, it has been the story of Keuchel’s season. His 5.4 K/9 strikeout rate ranks near the bottom of the league. All the contact he allows places him in the bottom 10 percentile in expected ERA, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage. Simply put he is getting shelled. Even his outs are smoked off the bat. Keuchel ranks second in the AL in hard-hit outs which are balls that are put in play over 95 mph.

Cease Showing Continued Growth

Meanwhile, Tuesday was a true showcase of the development Dylan Cease has made this season. Cease has now allowed three earned runs or less in 22 of his 26 starts this season. Only Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman, and Walker Buehler have more such games. Cease also leads the team with 177 strikeouts which is also good enough for third-best in the American League.

As Blue Jays hitters found out first Cease has some of the nastiest arsenal of pitches in baseball. He attacked hitters with a fastball that topped out at 98.3 mph. That set up his offspeed stuff which made him especially difficult to hit.

His slider has been his most effective pitch this season. It has the highest spin rate in baseball at 2878. Lance Mccullers Jr. is second with a 2776 mark. Out of 15 swinging strikes on the evening, Cease used his slider for five of them. He also featured a devasting knuckle-curve that rainbowed past Teoscar Hernandez and undressed Bo Bichette. The sweeping curve he struck out Bichette on had a 60″ of verticle break.

Cease lowered his ERA to 3.92 on the season.

Role Reversal

This is a far cry from the Cease we saw last year. Rick Renteria moved him to the bullpen for the playoffs and didn’t even trust him in the Wild Card Series. Now he looks like the best man for the job in the fourth starter spot which will switch his playoff role with Keuchel.

This is surprising considering the White Sox signed Keuchel because of his playoff experience. He has a World Series ring, the third most playoff starts since 2015, four Gold Gloves, two All-Star appearances, and a Cy Young Award on his resume.

His 1.99 ERA in the shortened 60-game season put him fifth in the AL Cy Young voting. He even received some MVP votes. That is why it was disappointing to see him go 3.1 innings in his lone 2020 playoff start. His 2021 performance has only amplified calls for him to be removed from the playoff rotation.

Dylan Cease’s recent success is just applying more pressure to the 33-year-old southpaw. If Keuchel isn’t careful he may be watching the playoff from the bench.

Mitchell Kaminski
Mitchell studies sports communications at Bradley University and works for Braves Vision, an organization that works alongside ESPN broadcasting games and covering Bradley sports. Creator of Dorm Room Dispute podcast.