White Sox need Tim Anderson, Dylan Cease to be stars again — next year

The Sox’ 7-3 loss to the Brewers on Sunday saw Cease without his biggest fastball and the Sox without Anderson entirely as a home sweep wiped away the good feelings after back-to-back series wins.

SHARE White Sox need Tim Anderson, Dylan Cease to be stars again — next year
Advanced metrics suggest Dylan Cease has pitched better than his 4.32 ERA.

Advanced metrics suggest Dylan Cease has pitched better than his 4.32 ERA.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In looking ahead to 2024 — what else is there to do with the White Sox at 47-72? — a return to relevancy gets even harder without a return to star production from Dylan Cease and Tim Anderson.

The Sox’ 7-3 loss to the Brewers on Sunday saw Cease without his biggest fastball and the Sox without Anderson entirely as a home sweep wiped away the good feelings after back-to-back series wins.

“We didn’t put up enough runs,” said Andrew Vaughn, who had three hits. “Dylan threw a great game, and it stinks that we couldn’t back him up.”

Rather than a resolution of Anderson’s appeal of a six-game suspension for the brawl in Cleveland, manager Pedro Grifol gave him a day off. Ahead of a day off Monday and the imminent decision on his appeal, it could be the beginning of a long absence for Anderson.

“When they rule, they rule,” Grifol said. “I’m hoping the appeal goes our way.”

Any games without Anderson in the lineup used to spell trouble for the Sox, but the two-time All-Star is suffering through a career-worst offensive season. A hot start to the second half has eroded into a .188/.278/.219 hitting line in August, with strikeouts on a third of his plate appearances.

“The mechanics are a little off right now, and today’s a good day for him to get in the cage,” Grifol said. “He’s just got to iron some things out mechanically and get that feel back where he’s using his hands, which is the best [part] of his swing — those lightning hands.”

Anderson hasn’t helped, but the Sox’ offense isn’t brimming with alternatives. Without him and Luis Robert Jr., the Sox went scoreless until Carlos Perez’s two-out RBI double in the ninth, wasting Cease’s season-high seven innings of two-run ball.

“I’m really pleased with some adjustments I’ve made,” Cease said. “I’ve been super-focused on staying closed and getting down the mound closed. It seems to be harder to pick up and kind of helped me get in the zone.”

Advanced metrics suggest Cease has pitched better than his 4.32 ERA and would’ve fared better with a stronger defense behind him this season. But there’s no comparison between these bursts of brilliance and the consistent dominance he displayed during his Cy Young runner-up season in 2022.

A tendency to open up early in his delivery emerged after Cease’s electric first start, morphing into a seasonlong issue. It likely led to his fastball losing over a mile per hour from last season, shaving the margin of error when Cease’s command falters.

Cease and Sox coaches reiterate that the root of the problem is mechanical, not physical. A heater that averages 95.5 mph is still pretty hard, and Cease showed the ability to rev it up to 97 mph to strike out William Contreras and leave the bases loaded in the fifth inning.

Cease, 27, believes he can demonstrate how reparable the issues are in the last six weeks.

“All it takes is getting out of sync a little bit, and without realizing it, you’ve reinforced bad habits,” Cease said. “A season like this for me has been a lot of grinding and feeling like I’ve kind of put Band-Aids on things. But I’m at a point now where I feel like I’ve learned a lot from it, and I’m expecting to finish pretty strong.”

Anderson likely will have to wait awhile until he has another chance to fix what’s wrong. But in reasoning why 2023 could be a one-off for both players, Grifol struck a similar chord.

“These two guys, they’re obsessed with being great, so they don’t concern me at all,” Grifol said. “The great thing about Tim is that he’s an extremely hard worker, and he cares. He cares about his game. He cares about this team.”

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