Dallas Downer: Keuchel is Pitching his way out of the Postseason Rotation

But for as much as Keuchel has pitched his way out, Dylan Cease has pitched his way into that spot.

After a partial season with the Atlanta Braves in 2019, the Chicago White Sox gave Dallas Keuchel a three-year, $55 million deal with a $20 million option for the 2023 season in the hope that his pedigree — which includes a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring — would help them in their quest to become a bona fide contender.

Now, less than two years removed from that signing, there’s a legitimate question being posed as to whether or not Dallas Keuchel will even make a postseason start for the White Sox in their first season as bona fide contenders.

The question is warranted, and even Dallas Keuchel himself knows it.

"I think that's fair to say," Dallas Keuchel said when asked if he was pitching for a postseason roster spot. "I've been the weakest starter in the rotation for much of the year. But, of course, I think about it. Letting myself get rolled up into that idea is the least of my worries right now.

"I'm trying to ride this thing in September and make adjustments, and hopefully, we're sitting here talking about a lot of wins instead of a lot of pitiful performances and the team backing me up, and we're winning games here."

The 33-year-old southpaw might be trying to ignore the noise and figure some things out in the final month of the season. Still, I’m not sure whether Keuchel can do anything to prove that he is a more viable option for one of the four rotation spots on the postseason roster than Dylan Cease.

Through 25 starts this season, Keuchel owns a 5.00 ERA (5.27 FIP), and opponents are hitting .269 against him and clubbing home runs at a rate of 1.51 HR/9 in 136.2 innings of work.

For a soft-tossing left-hander who has made a career out of throwing ground balls, the home run numbers are extremely alarming this season. Keuchel is just not missing barrels this season, having allowed 44 barrels according to Statcast, by far the most he’s ever allowed in his career and a higher hard-hit rate than ever.

If you asked me to recall a strong outing by Dallas Keuchel this season, I’d have to go back to June 10 against Toronto when Keuchel allowed just two runs on six hits while striking out eight in a victory over an outstanding Blue Jays lineup.

Checking the game logs today reminded me of a more slightly more recent outing in which the box score looked great — one earned run over seven innings of work — but it was against the laughingstock of baseball, the Baltimore Orioles, so it doesn’t hold much weight in the discussion.

"My last 10 starts have been ugly, to say the least," Keuchel said on Saturday. "There's probably only a handful of games where I've been my true self. I need to lock it in this last month. That's for sure."

Over those last 10 starts, Keuchel is 2-5 with a 6.79 ERA and has allowed 12 home runs in just 50.1 innings.

Keuchel himself said that physically, nothing is helping contribute to those dreaded numbers over the last two-and-a-half months.

"I wish I had something for you that I wasn't feeling well," Keuchel said. "This is the best, physically, I've felt all year. It's mind-boggling ... Home runs have been my death wish this year. More so than any other year I've been pitching."

Dylan Cease — who was passed on for a postseason start in 2020 by former manager Rick Renteria — seems to have a firm grasp on that fourth and final postseason rotation spot at this point, despite the topic not being discussed much by Tony La Russa.

At the MLB level, Cease seems to have finally put it together after feeling his way through his first two seasons (both partial). But, unfortunately, Dylan Cease came into the 2021 season with just 26 starts under his belt that painted a pretty inconsistent picture of what he was capable of despite his stuff always looking like it was the best on the staff when he was at his best.

Through 27 starts, Cease is sporting a 3.82 ERA (3.53 FIP), 11.78 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, and .218 opposing batting average in 143.2 innings.

The walk rate is still a tad high for my personal enjoyment, but it’s way down from last season (5.25), and the drastic increase in strikeouts (11.78 K/9 compared to 6.79 K/9 in 2020) is what leads me to believe that Cease has figured some things out enough to be trusted over Keuchel in the postseason.

We can learn from the massive spike in strikeouts and the substantial reduction in walks and runs that Dylan Cease is starting to trust his stuff as much as we always have from the outside looking in.

The curveball and slider usage is up this season as Cease has used his elite spin rates on his breaking stuff to put hitters away.

Cease’s curveball is in the 85th percentile in spin rate, and he’s using it to make hitters swing and miss with a 39.9% whiff rate. However, the slider has even better swing and miss numbers (47.6 Whiff%), and while he hasn’t abandoned his changeup, its lessened dependency has allowed it to become more effective (47.6 Whiff%).

While this conversation won’t matter much in the ALDS where the White Sox will probably lean on the front end of the rotation to make multiple starts if the series is extended the distance, a potential ALCS appearance for the club will require them to use a fourth starter, which should undoubtedly be Dylan Cease.

Oh, and as far as the previous playoff pedigree is concerned, Dallas Keuchel allowed five runs (three earned) on six hits (two that left the yard) and was pulled for Jimmy Cordero in the fourth inning of a Game 2 loss to Oakland in last year’s Wild Card Series.

Featured Photo: USA Today Sports