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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Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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