DON'T PANIC

Paul Muth: Time to pump the brakes on the 'trade Keuchel' talk

Dallas Keuchel is struggling, but trading him makes no sense. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last week during the Astros latest homestand a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go catch a weekday game either Tuesday or Wednesday. I said sure.

“Dallas Keuchel is pitching Tuesday, Lance McCullers Wednesday. Which one?” He asked.

“So my options are: watch Keuchel implode and go 3-8, or watch McCullers sling filth?”

“Wednesday it is.”

Ironically I ended up going to the Tuesday game with another friend. Before we had entered the ballpark Keuchel had already served up four runs.

This isn't the first time this season - or most of the second half of last season for that matter - that I've actively avoided Keuchel games. Much like his signature “Keuchel’s Korner,” fan support has gone the way of the buffalo this season for the Astros former ace.

And it's not without reason, mind you. To say he's been bad would be an understatement. Keuchel has gone from Opening Day starter to flat out liability dating back to last season. He currently sits at 3-8 on the season with a 4.45 ERA. Keuchel has never surrendered more than 20 home runs in a season, but at 69 games into 2018, he's already allowed 12.

Things don't look good for the Astros’ hurler at the moment. Factor in that he's in the last year of his contract (and that neither side seems interested in the other's idea of a fair offer), and suddenly you have a recipe for finding out who started watching Astros baseball on November 1, 2017.

“Trade Keuchel!”

“Get him out of here!”

In the words of that same friend that I never went and saw a game with last week:

“Easy, Farva.”

Let’s pump the brakes on all of this trade talk. Do I think he’s going to turn the season around and give us all a reason to don our fake beards and rekindle the fire that once was Keuchel’s Korner? No, not exactly. But there are still plenty of reasons to keep him on the staff.

First off, no one is going anywhere in mid June. The trade deadline isn’t until July 31, which suggests that Keuchel has at least six more starts to show us something that might assuage the angry mob. No team ever won the World Series in June, and we’re not even halfway through the season.

Even if they did start to shop Keuchel, what value would a team like the Astros who are in “win now” mode receive in return? Prospects? They have those in spades. What return would possibly yield any more production than what they are already getting? A 30 year-old low velocity pitcher who has lost his location and is in the final year of his contract isn’t going to cause the phone board to light up. So as it stands, even if they wanted to trade him, it wouldn’t be worth it more than likely.

The most critical reason for retaining Keuchel is this: He’s an innings sponge.

Astros fans seem to be a little too quick to forget just how decimated the starting rotation was due to injuries last season. With so many starters sidelined, the Astros were compelled to slide relief pitchers Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock into the starting rotation alongside a carousel of AAA pitchers. Keuchel, no matter how bad he may be or good he may get, represents 6-7 innings of baseball that Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers don’t have to pitch. It represents just a few more extra innings off for the bullpen as well. And while none of this matters in June, it will be easy to spot the exhausted pitchers in the postseason. Keuchel keeps them fresh.

On this date last year, Francis Martes (Franky Tuesday as my friends and I lovingly referred to him last year as) was starting baseball games for the eventual World Series champs. For perspective, Martes began this season on the Astros AAA affiliate, and shows no sign of being called up. Fast forward to last night and you have one of the Astros two potential Cy Young candidates, Gerrit Cole taking the mound with a now 8-1 record and a 2.40 ERA. Even if Keuchel is stinking it up every fifth day, who cares? The Astros have an embarrassment of riches at starting pitching, even in spite of Keuchel.

The bottom line is, it’s worth it to keep Keuchel. Who knows? Maybe Astros pitching coach Brent Strom wakes up from a fever dream with the solution to his maligned pitcher’s throwing woes. Maybe Keuchel injures himself (again), but this time it has a Henry Rowengartner, Rookie of the Year effect and he suddenly throws 100 mph fastballs. In that case we can all just sit under the shower of pitching glory wait for another World Series title. But even if it doesn’t they will be fine. The Astros have more pressing issues in their bullpen that need tending to before addressing an issue that will be a non-factor in the postseason. Most teams only run a 3-4 man rotation then, and you can safely assume that Keuchel would be the odd man out.

Everyone just take a deep breath and put the pitchforks down. They are going to be ok.

 

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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