Before the 2020 season even started, it seemed the White Sox would go as far as the starting pitching behind the reliable 1-2 punch of Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel would allow them to.
And that's exactly how things played out, the White Sox ousted from the playoffs in three games without a third starting-pitching option to depend on.
The front office has already done significant work to solve that problem ahead of a 2021 campaign with World Series aspirations, trading for Lance Lynn, about as dependable a veteran arm as you'll find in the game. But again, the difference between a strong top three and a championship-caliber rotation will rest on what the arms behind those three can deliver.
That's where new pitching coach Ethan Katz comes in. His main objective in his first year as a major league pitching coach? Taking some of the White Sox young arms from unproven to guys new manager Tony La Russa can confidently call on for starts in the postseason.
Though Katz has multiple pupils, including Michael Kopech and Reynaldo López, perhaps no one will be under a bigger microscope in 2021 than Dylan Cease.
Cease shouldn't be expected to be a finished product at this point. He doesn't even have a full season's worth of big league starts on his resume, with just 26 of them over the past two years. But Cease's 2020 campaign was marked by struggles. He kept his ERA down — finishing with a 4.01 mark that was a vast improvement from the 5.79 number he finished with in 2019 — but spent the entire year getting into too many jams, issuing too many walks and giving up too many home runs.
Those are the problems Katz needs to solve if the White Sox big three in the rotation is going to turn into a big four.
Well, Katz and Cease have already started working toward accomplishing just that.
"He’s working extremely diligently right now. Our communication right now, we’re going back and forth almost every day or every other day. He’s working, he’s putting in the work to put himself in that position. … I think he’s very close," Katz told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. "I have a lot of things, but I also know I don’t want to (be) like, ‘Bam, here’s everything,’ and I lose him. So we’re kind of working on that delivery right now as the main focus to be able to propel his stuff and be consistent, and that right now is our main focus.
"As he continues to get better and better and he feels good about it, we’ll add on another layer and another layer and another layer, and it’s just going to keep going and going.
"When we see a product where everyone’s going to be like, ‘That’s the guy we’ve been looking for,’ I don’t have an answer. But I’m going to strive to make that happen right away."
If Katz can do that, if Cease can match his tantalizing stuff with consistent on-field success, then the White Sox rotation would take another huge step toward being championship caliber, making the team's World Series hopes for 2021 all the more realistic.