White Sox’ Cease vs. Astros’ Verlander could be a Cy to behold

“It’s very important to me,” Cease said of the matchup with Verlander.

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Dylan Cease is a contender for the Cy Young award.

Dylan Cease throws against the Orioles in Chicago, Sunday, June 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Watch Liam Hendriks be right about the much ballyhooed Dylan Cease versus Justin Verlander matchup Tuesday night.

Let’s hope not.

The top two contenders for the AL Cy Young award square off at Guaranteed Rate Field, and there’s a bit of a buzz in the air around 35th and Shields.

“A lot of times it gets completely blown out of proportion and they both go out there and struggle,” said Hendriks, the Sox’ All-Star closer, on Monday.

Chances are, that won’t happen. Not the way Cease and Verlander have pitched. Cease has reeled off 14 starts in a row with one or no earned runs allowed. Verlander’s body of work has been even better, by a small notch.

“As a fan for sure, you got Cease for us who has been killing it and Verlander has been -doing it for so long,” Sox outfielder AJ Pollock said.

Pollock said his focus Monday was where it needed to be — on Monday’s game opening a four-game series against one of baseball’s top teams and one that clobbered the Sox in the 2021 postseason.

“I’m sure people will be tuned in,” Pollock said. “Yeah, it’s quite a matchup for fans. We are excited. We have a good matchup [Johnny Cueto vs. Jose Urquidy] tonight, too.”

As Pollock alluded to part of the appeal in Cease vs. Verlander is an age difference of 13 years. It is for Hendriks, 33, too.

“This one, for me, is going to be exciting because it’s kind of the changing of the guards,” Hendriks said. “That’s no slight against Justin [39] being older [than Cease, 26]. This has to be one of the best if not the best season after Tommy John [surgery] in history. It’s incredible what he’s been able to do.”

Verlander leads the major leagues in ERA (1.85), wins (15), WHIP (0.86) and opponents OPS (.523). Cease is tied for second in wins (12), is second in ERA (1.96) and third in opponents OPS (.585).

“It is going to be a great challenge,” Cease said.

Per Elias, it’s the first matchup between starters who rank 1-2 in ERA since the -Astros’ Roger Clemens (1.51) versus the -Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter (2.29) in 2005.

And it’s the first such game involving the Sox since 1958 when Whitey Ford of the Yankees (1.86) dueled Billy Pierce (1.64) in 1958. It’s also the first time both starters had ERAs under 2.00 with both teams having played more than half their games since Jacob deGrom vs. Chris Sale in 2018.

 “I’m personally looking forward to it,” Cease said. “It’s exciting.

“It’s very important, very important to me.”

Hendriks will be watching and hopes he gets to finish it in a save situation. He marveled seeing Verlander during a start in 2013 in which he ramped up his velocity five miles per hour to 98 to get out of a jam.

“First time I saw someone kick it into another gear to prevent runs,” he said. “I’ll -always remember that.”

Cease’s slider is one of the best pitches in the game, “and with the amount of research teams do, everyone knows the way he pitches — it comes as no surprise,” Hendriks said.

“But the biggest thing is how often he’s in the zone with things and no damage. That’s very hard to do. He’s both throwing strikes and throwing breaking balls behind in the count and throwing breaking balls that aren’t necessarily in the best locations, but he’s able to have success with them. That’s a tribute to how good his breaking balls are and how much he throws his plus pitch. It’s fascinating to watch.”

Cease admits the Cy is something he’s thought about — of course he has — and he knows Tuesday could affect balloting, but he’s not consumed by it.

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