Alex Anthopoulos ended the narrative of the Braves not spending any money when he whipped out his checkbook in the middle of the season to bring in Dallas Keuchel. He recognized the bullpen might have been the most glaring need at the time, but also understood relievers are much easier to come by at the trade deadline than starting pitching. He was spot on about that, as only two of the many starting arms on the trade block ended up being dealt, while the Braves acquired three top-notch relievers without giving up any of their best prospects. Atlanta’s rotation wasn’t on par with the other postseason hopefuls. Now, with Dallas Keuchel leading it, they have a chance to make some noise.
As expected, the former Houston Astro had to shake off some rust once he was acquired. In his first two starts, he gave up three earned runs and failed to make it six innings – a rarity over his career. Then he settled down a bit, posting a 3.57 ERA over his next seven outings before a meeting with the offensively flawed Miami Marlins.
Most of us remember how that one went.
Keuchel gave up ten hits and eight earned runs before making it out of the fourth inning – the most runs he had allowed since August 8th of 2017 – when he gave up eight to the Chicago White Sox. His ERA bloomed to 4.83, and I’d be lying if I said the signing looked stellar at that point, but the great ones thrive in the face of adversity, and Keuchel has shown us how he became so accomplished in the first place.
The former Cy Young Award winner shutout the Mets over six innings in his next outing and followed it by getting revenge on the very team that lit him up ten days earlier, tossing six frames of one-run ball. In five starts since that gaudy loss to the Marlins, Keuchel has yet to allow more than two runs and has three scoreless outings. His ERA over that stretch is 0.87, with the Braves winning all five games. He has become the anchor of a rotation that desperately needed one, even with Mike Soroka performing so well at the beginning of the season.
While I’ve always believed in Atlanta’s youthful starting pitching, it lacked veteran leadership and postseason experience. Keuchel kills two birds with one stone. Brian Snitker has raved about how influential he’s been on the young arms, especially Max Fried.
“Every time I look down the end of our bench, Dallas and Max are sitting there talking,” Snitker said in a quote from Forbes. “He’s been really good for Max.”
Rick Kranitz echoed Snitker’s words in the same article but also talked about how much Keuchel has helped him mentor the Braves’ wave of youthful starters, and it all starts with his preparation.
“When he comes in, the kids see how he broaches his game, how he goes about his preparation. They watch him throw bullpens and see how precise he is. They also realize he’s the same guy all the time,” Kranitz said.
As far as postseason experience, Keuchel has loads of it, something nobody else on the Braves staff can claim. He’s pitched in every round of the playoffs, winning one World Series and carries a 3.31 postseason ERA with a 4-2 record. If the Braves do manage to make it out of the first round for the first time since 2001, Keuchel’s familiarity with October is going to be critical.
Even though Mike Soroka has been the ace of Atlanta’s staff for the entire year and perhaps the most consistent pitcher in baseball; it should surprise nobody if Keuchel toes the rubber in Game 1 of a playoff series. More than anything, having Soroka pitch Game 2 will take a copious amount of pressure off his shoulders, putting it on someone who is totally prepared for the moment. Just like Alex Anthopoulos envisioned three months ago, Keuchel has become the best pitcher on this staff, and he is leading the Braves – now dazzling – rotation into October.