Dallas Keuchel has pitched in some big games during his career. The 33-year old former Cy Young Winner has a World Series ring for a reason. Since 2015 only two other pitchers have made more postseason starts than him.
So why does a Friday night start against a fourth-place Royals team seem like a big deal? Because Keuchel is fighting for a roster spot in October.
“I have been the weakest starter in the rotation for much of the year,” Keuchel told reporters in a Zoom conference last week.
As Keuchel so eloquently put it he has been the weakest link of a dominant starting rotation. During his last start against the Chicago Cubs, he allowed six runs. This is the seventh game this season he has allowed six runs or more. He has also surrendered six earned runs on three separate occasions this season.
Over his last seven starts, Keuchel has a fat 7.34 ERA. For the season the usually reliable veteran has a 5.00 ERA which is on track to be his highest mark since 2013. All the contact he allows places him in the bottom 10 percentile in expected ERA, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage.
Dallas Keuchel has always been a ground ball pitcher that throws for contact but this year he is getting shelled. His two-seam command has plagued him, especially to right-handed hitters. Opponents have been teeing off on him and it has been ugly.
Keuchel talked about this after his last outing against the Cubs.
“I’ve been searching for that for a lot of the time,” he said of this season. One game it will be there, one game it won’t be there. … Usually, it’s a feel. My extension is probably a little bit less out in front with that pitch than any other pitch. And for one reason or another, it’s just not as consistent as it usually is.”
Keuchel ranks second in the AL in hard-hit outs which are balls that are put in play over 95 mph. On top of that his 5.4 K/9 strikeout rate ranks near the bottom of the league.
That is why Keuchel must dial it in during September. Tony La Russa mentioned that the final month of the season will be a major factor in determining the playoff rotation.
As it currently stands Keuchel would not be in the playoff rotation or roster. There would be no reason to keep him on the roster as a relief pitcher, especially considering Keuchel has limited experience out of the bullpen and the White Sox a handful of guys who are much more qualified in late-inning roles. Reynaldo Lopez has proven that he is the best man for the job in long relief appearances so that eliminates another option for Keuchel. If Dallas Keuchel wants to be on the playoff roster he needs to crack the four-man rotation.
The White Sox would like for him to be in the playoff rotation. Dallas Keuchel’s resume speaks for itself. Just last year he finished fifth in the Cy-Young voting. Having a battle-tested playoff starter is a great luxury to have. Especially when the said pitcher is on a three-year deal worth 55-million dollars.
But the only shot he has to do that is to string quality starts together. Friday against the Royals carries extra weight for Keuchel. The clock is ticking and the pressure is on.