Dallas Keuchel did just what he needed to do in Game 1 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees. The winner of the 2015 AL Cy Young Award was dominant as can be, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out ten while allowing just four hits as his Houston Astros won 2-1.
Keuchel’s performance made the difference as New York silenced the Astros’ bats just enough to keep the game close. Make no mistake, he is Houston’s key to advancing to its second-ever World Series.
A history of domination
Keuchel won the lottery in drawing a matchup with the New York Yankees in the ALCS as opposed to the Cleveland Indians. While the big lefty is 4-0 with a 2.21 ERA in five career starts against the Tribe, he is 4-2 with an incredible 1.41 ERA in six starts versus the Yankees. Keuchel faced the Bronx Bombers once in the regular season and allowed an unearned run with nine strikeouts in six innings of work in Houston’s 3-2 victory on May 11.
Not only that, but this wasn’t Keuchel’s first rodeo in facing the Yankees in the playoffs. He got the ball in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game and tossed six shutout innings in the Astros’ 3-0 victory.
The man owns the Yankees and with him set to take the mound in a potential Game 5, situation depending, the odds are heavily in his favor.
The key to the series
Despite having an ace of Keuchel’s caliber, the Astros also have a hard-hitting offense that ranked first in baseball with 896 runs scored in 2017. Houston also ranked second in the majors with 238 home runs and led MLB with a team batting average of .282, so their offense is the real weapon despite a pitching staff that ranked 11th with a staff ERA of 4.12.
But the Astros offense that scored 24 runs against the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS must now face an improved Yankees pitching staff that has a strong bullpen behind it, so Houston’s pitching is the key to winning the series.
Keuchel himself is The Keymaster. On top of his being able to dominate a Yankees lineup that features likely AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP candidate Aaron Judge, not to mention the hard-hitting Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Greg Bird, he has a history of pitching well in the postseason. The southpaw is 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA in five career postseason games (four starts) and has a kind of ice water in his veins comparable to that of former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
And the numbers back up Keuchel’s general dominance on the mound. He had an eye-popping ground ball rate of 66.8%. Opposing hitters batted just .218 against him during the regular season and that number has dipped to .158 in the playoffs.
That said, though tonight’s 2-1 victory may have been too close for comfort for some Astros fans, Keuchel’s great performance more than made up for it. His slider and sinker were in top form and the Yankees just had no answers for them. One-third of the 21 outs he recorded this evening came via a groundout.
This wasn’t just a fluke performance against a team whose number he happens to have. Keuchel is just that good.
With such a dominant performance in Game 1 of the ALCS, and with the New York bats off to an anemic start, don’t be shocked if the next time we see him take the mound is in Game 1 of the World Series.
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