Brad Keller

RECAP: Keller Krushes Tigers in finale

I don’t think Brad Keller is or should win Rookie of the Year, but when you look at his body of work it’s not hard to see where the well-spring of support comes from.

Shohei Ohtani gets the headlines, and if his arm had cooperated this wouldn’t even be a discussion. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar play in pinstripes, and Torres was an All-Star. Tampa’s Joey Wendle actually leads American League position players in fWAR. Cleveland’s Shane Bieber is tied with Keller in pitching fWAR, and leads him in both FIP (3.34/3.53) and xFIP (3.37/4.18). There are options that have been just as good if not better than Keller.

In my view, the argument for Keller is simple; until Jakob Junis’ recent resurgence, Keller was the only starting pitcher the Royals could trust every five days. Every time out, Keller was going to go deep, limit the innings Ned Yost had to turn it over to a frustratingly inconsistent bullpen and give an anemic offense a legitimate chance to win a ballgame if they could just keep it close, because Keller would do the same. That doesn’t translate very well from a statistics standpoint, even if it is the kind of abstract argument that just got Jack Morris elected to the Hall of Fame.

Ohtani is incredible (and the Royals are the ones who broke him, smh). Torres and Andujar may win a World Series; ditto Bieber, although he’s unlikely to be in the playoff rotation for Terry Francona. Wendle is a huge part of why the Rays are outperforming all expectations. I won’t lie to you and say Keller is objectively better than any of them; it’s just closer than I think people might surmise, is all.

Sunday’s game was a good microcosm of that. Daniel Norris et al. were very good for Detroit! I would not take anything away from them, because aside from one pitch to Adalberto Mondesi from Norris and the 7-8-9 hitters dinking-and-dunking a pair of runs against Drew Ver Hagen, they employed a bend-but-don’t-break approach that largely worked.

Didn’t matter. At all. Because Keller scattered three hits and a run over seven innings and rendered the two biggest hang-ups for the Royals—a worrisome bullpen and inconsistent offense—moot.

Mondesi, the second batter of the game, blasted a home run to put the Good Guys up a run early and then it was Keller Time. The burly righty set down the first nine Tigers in order, getting some help via a barehanded pick and throw by Alcides Escobar to end the second inning and a sliding grab by BERTO deep in the left-center Bermuda Triangle to start the third.

Keller rolled merrily along before running into a hiccup in the fourth inning when Jeimer Candelario and Christin Stewart posted back-to-back singles, with a Nicholas Castellanos sac fly scoring Candelario. But Keller helped his own cause, inducing a Niko Goodrum tapper to the hill to start a 1-6-3 double play to end the frame.

The Royals scratched the deciding runs in the sixth, when Escobar, Rosell Herrera and Cam Gallagher strung together three straight singles. Rosie’s knock moved Escobar to third and he stole second to put two in scoring position, and with two down both were moving on Gallagher’s blooper, which hit the heel of Mikie Mahtook’s glove and bounded away.

Keller’s day ended with a sliding grab by Alex Gordon in the seventh, and Kevin McCarthy held serve in the eighth. Things got a little hairy in the ninth when Wily Peralta gave up a leadoff single to Goodrum, a one-out knock to Ronny Rodriguez and a walk to Grayson Greiner. Victor Reyes lined out to Whit Merrifield in center for a big second out, which nonetheless scored Goodrum. With two down, Peralta was able to strike out Jim Adduci for his heart-stopping 13th save of the season.

Your Unusually Happy Tweet of the Game

The Bright Spot: Keller. Seven innings, three hits, one earned. Would I like him to strike out more than two batters against an offense as bad as Detroit’s? Sure, but I would like lots of things and that’s not how the world works.

The Nadir: Peralta has a tendency to put a couple guys on just for poops and grins. Not a great quality for a closer.

The Next Step: Monday is a day off, with a two-game set in Cincinnati awaiting Tuesday. Eric Skoglund and Matt Harvey will do battle; this is not the Matt Harvey that once went eight and struck out nine while scattering five hits in Game Five of the World Series against Kansas City in 2015. That guy is gone now. This other dude will throw the first pitch at 5:40 p.m. (CT) at Great American Ball Park.

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