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Houston Astros 2015 Season Recap: Dallas Keuchel

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Houston Astros 30 Players in 30 Days: Dallas Keuchel

The Houston Astros drafted a beardless Dallas Keuchel in the 7th round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of the University of Arkansas. Keuchel would put together a few decent seasons in minor-league ball, but he was never considered a coveted prospect – his Milb.com page doesn’t even have a headshot – and it didn’t appear that he would factor into the Astros’ future rotation. The left-handed Keuchel made his MLB debut against the Texas Rangers in June of  2012 and tossed five innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits, two strikeouts and four walks. Keuchel finished the season with a 5.27 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and more walks (39) than strikeouts (38). He posted similar numbers in 153 2/3 innings in 2013 and heading into 2014 he was fighting for a fifth spot in the Astros rotation.

Sometimes you fade away and your name is forgotten, other times you figure things out and become a dominant pitcher; Keuchel figured it out. In 2014, Keuchel threw 200 innings, held a 2.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a 3.04 K/BB ratio. He threw so well that he was named the Opening Day starter for 2015 hoping to build on his breakout 2014 season. On April 6, Keuchel took the mound to kick off the Astros’ magical 2015 run. His start at Minute Maid Park would begin the best season for a pitcher at home in modern-day baseball (more on that later): 7 IP, 3 H, O ER, 4 Ks.

The Astros won every start by the beard in April as he allowed only three earned runs in five starts and 39 innings. He walked three batters in his first three starts, but only issued three+ walks in three of his final 30 starts. His start to the season was good enough for him to take home an April AL Pitcher of the Month award.

Keuchel threw eight innings, allowed only one run and struck out eight in his first start of May against the Texas Rangers, but he picked up a no-decision as the team could not provide any run support and eventually lost. Keuchel gave up four runs in three of his next four starts but went 2-1 in those games.

On May 30, Keuchel took the mound against the Chicago White Sox and put together one of his best starts of the season. The White Sox managed only four hits over nine innings and struck out 11 times as Keuchel picked up his first complete game on the season. Through the end of May, his ERA sat at 1.76, hitters had a .183 AVG against him and he won his second consecutive AL Pitcher of the Month award.

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Keuchel began June with three consecutive quality starts before the Seattle Mariners touched him up on June 20 in Seattle. In the second inning of that game, he allowed a walk and a single before getting two groundouts, but walked three consecutive batters to score two runs. Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, and Mark Trumbo would hit solo home runs off of Keuchel in the third, fifth, and seventh innings. For a guy that banks on excellent control and weak contact, it was one of the most uncharacteristic starts for him all season.

On the list of great things Keuchel did in 2015, bouncing back from a rough outing was one of them. His next start came five days later at home against the New York Yankees. Keuchel gave up a single to Chris Young to begin the game, but struck out the next three batters. The Yankees had a hit apiece in the second and third innings and he allowed a single to Carlos Beltran in the fourth inning, but didn’t allow the next 15 batters to reach base and struck out the side again in the sixth inning. After a ground out and strikeout to begin the ninth, the Yankees would load the bases on two singles and a walk, but Keuchel induced weak contact to second base on his 116th pitch of the game to complete the shutout. Keuchel had 12 strikeouts when it was all said and done – three against Alex Rodriguez.

All he did to follow up that start was throw eight innings of shutout baseball against the Kansas City Royals and strike out seven. Keuchel closed out the first half of the season with two quality starts and at the All-Star break he had a 2.23 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and a .208 AVG against him. His performance was dominant enough to earn him the nod to start the All-Star game where he allowed one unearned run in two innings and struck out Joc Pederson to end his night.

On July 18, the Astros took on the Rangers and tempers flared in the ninth inning between Rougned Odor and Hank Conger. Benches would eventually clear, the Rangers won the game, and Keuchel was set to take the mound the following night and send a message. In the first inning of that game, he allowed a two-out double to Prince Fielder, but struck out Adrian Beltre to end the inning. In the second inning, he would give up a leadoff single to Josh Hamilton, but didn’t allow the next 18 Rangers hitters to reach base. He struck out six consecutive batters from the fifth through seventh innings and finished with 13 strikeouts in just seven innings as the Astros won 10-0.

Keuchel gave up five runs in his last July start, but put together another dominant month in August. The Astros won five of his six starts in the month and he allowed more than two runs only once. He also struck out at least eight batters in four of those starts. His efforts were good enough for him to win his third AL Pitcher of the Month award for the season and he became the first pitcher to win the award three times in a season since Jake Peavy in 2007. On Sept. 6, he scattered three solo home runs over eight innings against the Minnesota Twins, but struck out 12 hitters and picked up the win. He would be on the hook for the loss in his next game against the Angels despite all three runs allowed on his watch being unearned.

His next start came on the road against the Rangers, and they got the best of him. Keuchel would have a streak of 40 consecutive starts of at least six innings snapped as he turned in the worst start of his career at a really bad time. Keuchel lasted just 4 2/3 innings, allowed a career-high nine runs (three home runs) as the Rangers beat the Astros 14-3 and extended their AL West lead to 1.5 games at the time.

He again bounced back from a rough start with a 7 2/3 innings; a one run win back home in the confines of Minute Maid Park. The next game for Keuchel again came at home and again vs. the Rangers. Like a heavyweight title fight, Keuchel battled back and forth all year with the in-state rivals and once again got the best of them on Sept. 27. He struck out 10 Rangers hitters over seven innings and allowed only one run as “Keuchel’s Korner” roared behind him and the Astros won 4-2 at a crucial point in the season.

Keuchel’s last start of the regular season came on the road against Arizona, and he picked up his 20th win of the season in a six inning, two-run start.

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Home sweet home

Keuchel loves Houston; numbers don’t lie. In 2015, Keuchel became the first pitcher in MLB history to finish a season 15-0 at home, and his 1.46 home ERA was the lowest since Nolan Ryan (1.07) in 1972. He struck out 139 batters in 129 1/3 innings at home and allowed only four home runs compared to 13 on the road. He finished 5-8 on the road with a mediocre 3.77 ERA.

The Astros would call on Keuchel for the Wild Card game in New York, and he dominated them once again. After throwing 16 scoreless innings and striking out 21 in his two starts against them in the regular season, he threw another six scoreless innings and struck out seven as the Astros won 3-0 to move on to the ALDS against the Royals.

Keuchel would get the start at home in Game 3 of the ALDS and pitched a gritty seven innings. He needed 124 pitches, walked three batters and allowed five hits, but only allowed one run and struck out seven as the Astros won 4-2 to take a one-game lead in the series.

Just three days later, in Game 5 with the Astros trailing 4-2 in the game, A.J. Hinch tasked Keuchel to face the Royals’ lineup on short rest. He allowed a double to lead off the inning, and after a line out and intentional walk, he got Eric Hosmer to pop up. With two outs and two runners on, Kendrys Morales hit a three-run home run to deep left field off of Keuchel to all but put an end to the Astros season. It was a disappointing end to an exciting run for Keuchel and the Astros, but the awards would soon come pouring in.

Award season

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Keuchel finished 1st in the AL for WAR among pitchers (7.2), WHIP (1.017), wins (20), innings (232), shutouts (2), second in ERA (2.48), fifth in strikeouts (216) and K/BB ratio (4.235). His 216 strikeouts were the most by a left-handed pitcher in Astros history, and he became the team’s first 20-game winner since Roy Oswalt in 2005.

Keuchel became the only pitcher in franchise history to win a Gold Glove award in 2014 and followed up with his second consecutive award in 2015. He was also named the AL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year, an award crowned by fellow players and on November 16, Keuchel won the 2015 Warren Spahn Award, presented each year to the best left-handed pitcher in baseball.

The biggest individual award for a pitcher came Keuchel’s way just three days later as he was crowned the 2015 AL Cy Young. Keuchel won the award with 22 first-place votes (David Price finished in second with eight) as he became the first Astros pitcher to win the award since Roger Clemens in 2004 and the third in franchise history (Mike Scott, 1986). He finished fifth in AL MVP voting just a few days later.

More Houston Astros Season Recaps:

  1. Vince Velasquez
  2. Tony Sipp
  3. Jonathan Villar
  4. Preston Tucker
  5. Mike Fiers
  6. Hank Conger
  7. Chad Qualls
  8. Jon Singleton
  9. Joe Thatcher
  10. Marwin Gonzalez
  11. Josh Fields
  12. Jake Marisnick
  13. Pat Neshek
  14. Jed Lowrie
  15. Luis Valbuena
  16. Scott Feldman
  17. Evan Gattis
  18. Will Harris
  19. Luke Gregerson
  20. Chris Carter
  21. Jason Castro
  22. Scott Kazmir
  23. Carlos Gomez
  24. Lance McCullers
  25. Colby Rasmus
  26. Collin McHugh
  27. George Springer
  28. Jose Altuve
  29. Carlos Correa

What to expect in 2016

Keuchel is now a bonafide ace, a household name, and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. He induces soft contact like almost no other pitcher can and has earned the Tom Glavine comparisons after his 2015 season. His sinker/slider/changeup combination is one of the hardest to square up for solid contact in all of baseball.

Next: How does Jordan Zimmerman signing affect the Astros?

He has improved in every one of his four seasons, but it’s hard to imagine that he can top this past season. That is in no way a bad thing as he’s pretty much figured things out. There are always tweaks that can be made, and there’s no reason to doubt that Keuchel can repeat his 2015 success in 2016.

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