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Best start yet for Dylan Cease in yet another loss for slumping White Sox

Cease allowed three earned runs in a career-high seven innings, but the Mets finished off the series sweep to complete the White Sox’ 2-8 homestand.

White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease delivers against the Mets at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday. The Sox lost 4-0.

Right-hander Dylan Cease lasted seven innings, so that was good.

He avoided the really big, bad inning that had bitten him repeatedly, so there was improvement there, too.

The White Sox’ top healthy pitching prospect had what he called the best start of his five outings, and the numbers back it up, so there was gradual improvement there, as well.

It came in a losing cause, though, a 4-0 blanking Thursday at the hands of Mets righty Zack Wheeler and two relievers, the latest punchless defeat for a Sox team that got swept by the Mets to finish off a 2-8 homestand. The Sox (46-60) lost for the 16th time in 20 games, falling to a season-worst 14 games below .500.

Cease (1-4, 6.11 ERA) will have to live with the loss, but he’ll take a pitching line of seven innings, four runs (three earned), seven hits, two walks and six strikeouts. As demoralizing as this bad run of Sox baseball has been, a quality start from Cease — as well as splendid weather at Guaranteed Rate Field — kept the afternoon from being a total loss.

One of the hits Cease allowed was a bloop that fell in short left field in the Mets’ three-run sixth. There was some hard contact, too — Robinson Cano homered to left in the second — but the latest glimpses of Cease’s 97-98 mph fastball and one of the biggest breaking curves in baseball offer more hints of Cease’s potential as an important rotation piece in 2020.

“In spite of the one particular inning, you are seeing his stuff. It’s real,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s getting some punch-outs. He’s freezing some guys. And he’s understanding a lot of aspects, controlling the running game, how to slide-step, executing. All those things are still a part of development. He’s got the stuff to be an elite major-league pitcher.”

Cease lasted five, six, five and five innings in his other starts. In his previous two, he gave up five and four runs in the second inning and put up zeros in the others.

“That was my best start so far,” Cease said. “My stuff was good, and for the most part it was solid. It was the best I’ve commanded this year.”

Cease finished strong, as has been his pattern, striking out Todd Frazier and Adeiny Hechavarria in a perfect seventh.

“I was pretty good at throwing [my curveball] for strikes and getting swings and misses with it,” Cease said. “Into the middle innings, I think they were starting to lay off a little bit better. For the most part, it was good.

“I just simplified. Head on the target, be aggressive. Don’t overthink it and just commit to the pitch.”

The Sox’ lineup offered few glimpses of good against Wheeler, scratching out four singles in seven innings. It hasn’t offered much of anything in the team’s 4-16 stretch, averaging 2.7 runs. Wheeler (8-6, 4.45 ERA) struck out seven and walked none.

Renteria gave a nod to the quality of pitching the Sox faced in the series — Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Wheeler — and the nod was warranted. But the Sox haven’t hit much of anyone since the All-Star break. They open a seven-game trip Friday against the Phillies.

Cease’s next start will be against the Tigers in Detroit next week. The goal from there and after?

“Just staying as focused and locked in as I can,” he said. “Finding that fine line of not overthinking, not overdoing. Just being aggressive, committing to a pitch and executing that pitch.”