Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodón are Cy Young candidates. Lucas Giolito is back to his ace-like ways.
But don't forget, when daydreaming about how the Chicago White Sox will deploy their pitchers come October, about Dylan Cease.
Part of the team's mysterious back end of the starting rotation in the spring, Cease has had himself a nice season. He hasn't been consistently fantastic like Lynn and Rodón have been, nor does he boast the track record of Giolito. But pitching in his first full-length major league campaign, Cease has been good more often than not, and he unleashed a beauty of an outing against the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night that can make it easy to see him called upon in a big moment come playoff time.
"That was definitely one of my better starts," Cease said after the White Sox 7-1 win.
Cease allowed just one hit over six shutout innings Tuesday, matching a career high by striking out 11 opposing hitters, none more emphatic than the three he recorded in his final inning of work, dominating the trio of Royals batters he faced in the sixth.
"There toward the end, he did the shut-it-down thing," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "He got better as he went along.
"He's shown that before. All of a sudden there later when you start thinking, 'Wow, I've got to get him after five just because he'll be worn down,' he gets that second wind. And he's a good finisher. ... In the fifth and the sixth, he just kept cranking. He's done this quite a few times this year. This was another really good start."
Last year, starts like this one were few and far between. He struggled with his command and failed to find any consistency, finishing the shortened 60-game season with a decent 4.01 ERA that's actually right around his current 2021 mark of 3.92, but leading the American League with 34 walks.
This year, with the help of first-year White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz, Cease has looked more like the guy who rave reviews about his electric stuff always said he could be. The walks per nine innings are down from 5.2 in 2020 to 3.6 in 2021.
"He's not really walking many guys. He's competing," White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said of Cease. "He had good stuff, and he was really confident in all of his pitches tonight, from my angle. He was able to put them away and keep them off balance, being able to blow the fastball by them but also that curve, as well."
La Russa has so often talked about his team needing to peak at the right time, which of course is the end of September heading into the postseason. Could Cease be on track to do just that?
The White Sox will try their best to make it happen, providing Cease and the other starters on staff with as much rest as they can over the regular season's final two months. That's why you saw the White Sox call on minor leaguer Jimmy Lambert to start a de facto bullpen day Sunday against the Cleveland Indians. Cease's start Tuesday came a full week after his last.
"I definitely felt fresh. Any time you can get extra rest like that, it's always good for the body," Cease said. "I feel great right now. They've done a really good job of giving me the extra couple of days every once in a while. But for the most part, I feel really good. I just have to keep trending."
With a massive division lead and the end goal a lengthy October run, which has been the case for these White Sox since the start of spring training, it's not difficult to turn an eye toward playoff possibilities. With good health, Lynn, Rodón and Giolito — not to mention Dallas Keuchel, who despite a rocky go of it of late still has a World Series ring in his jewelry collection — will all be there.
But it will take as deep a pitching staff as possible for the White Sox to fulfill their World Series aspirations. And Cease could wind up as effective a weapon as any of them for a team that's established itself as a true championship contender.
"Definitely a confidence-builder when you know he's going to take the mound and give it everything he's got and compete," Anderson said. "Going to make the guys behind him play for him, as well, knowing he's going to give it everything he has."