HOUSTON -- Astros starter Dallas Keuchel went the entire regular season without facing the same team twice in a row. He lasted until the American League Championship Series when, five days after dominating the Yankees in Game 1, Keuchel could not make it through the fifth inning of Game 5.
The Astros consider that a coincidence, an aberration, an anomaly and nothing more. They believe Keuchel's pitches move too crisply, with too much sharpness, for the Dodgers to have any sort of handle on him heading into World Series Game 5 on Sunday at Minute Maid Park. They need Keuchel at his best with the Series now tied at 2 following Los Angeles' 6-2 win in Game 4.
• Dress for the World Series: Get Astros postseason gear
:: World Series presented by YouTube TV: Schedule and coverage ::
"I don't think it's a problem if he can execute pitches," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "The elite pitchers in the league, when they execute, you can see it over and over and still not hit it."
Entering Game 1, the Dodgers boasted little experience against Keuchel. Of the nine men in their starting lineup, only John Forsythe and Chris Taylor had ever faced him -- for all the predictive power that wound up having. Forsythe, who boasted significant past success against his former college teammate, finished 0-for-2 against Keuchel with a double play. Taylor, who had been 0-for-3 with three strikeouts off the left-hander, opened the first inning with a home run.
So no, it probably does not matter that the Dodgers now have an updated scouting report on the left-hander. As long as Keuchel's sinker sinks, his cutter cuts and his slider dives, he should give the Astros a chance to win.
That was the case in Game 1, despite Keuchel's contention that he "didn't feel my best." Keuchel still managed to hold the Dodgers to three runs over 6 2/3 innings, departing with his team trailing by two.
"I just didn't feel like the finish on my pitches [was] right, and that happens," Keuchel said. "Through the course of the whole season, if you get 34 starts, I think a lot of the better pitchers would say you only feel at your best a handful of times. And in between those handful of times is where you really establish how good you are."
"Most of the time there's going to be something that's not working the way you want it to," added Keuchel's Game 5 counterpart, Clayton Kershaw. "So that's why you spend the four days in between [working]. You prepare, you mentally prepare, visualize what you're going to be able to do out there, and come that fifth day, you're not thinking. You're just competing."
The problem for Keuchel is that even his best may not be good enough against Kershaw, whose 3-0 record, 2.96 ERA and 27-to-5 K/BB ratio this postseason have laid waste to the narrative that he cannot shine in October. In beating Keuchel in Game 1, Kershaw struck out 11 Astros over seven innings. He needed merely 83 pitches.
Both Kershaw and Keuchel, who threw 84 pitches in the Game 1 loss, will be well-rested. Both hope to hand the ball to their bullpens with a lead.
"He's one of [the best], if not the best, in the game," Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said of Kershaw. "But we've got one of the best in the game going, too, in Dallas Keuchel. So it's going to be just as fun of a game as Game 1. We're ready. We're going to go up there, take the fight to him, go toe to toe and see who wins."
If Keuchel holds any sort of trump card, it is this: His 2.26 ERA at Minute Maid Park this season was third best among big leaguers with at least 10 home starts. And the ballpark in Houston has rarely been this loud, birthing an atmosphere that Keuchel said "is always more than I expect."
"The key will be to harness the energy that comes with this building," Hinch said. "He loves pitching at this place. He's had success at this place. And it's the stage of the World Series."