What's eating Dallas Keuchel?
In his first season with the Chicago White Sox, the veteran left-hander was nearly untouchable, posting a 1.99 ERA that placed him fifth in the American League Cy Young vote and even earned him a spot in the MVP voting results.
In his second season on the South Side, after yielding four runs and three homers in a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Monday night, his ERA is 4.32.
Keuchel says the bugaboo is easy to find.
"It doesn't really take much to look at," he said. "I haven't really done well against lefties, and that's something that I've done very well with in my career."
While the numbers of opposing right-handed hitters have climbed from 2020 to 2021, too, Keuchel's spot on. His numbers against left-handed hitters are dramatically different. After holding them to a .171 batting average and a .415 OPS last season, they're batting .290 against him this year.
That might not explain the two homers Jorge Soler, a righty, mashed off Keuchel on Monday — something more easily explained by Soler's ongoing hot streak — but it is a noticeable problem for the White Sox southpaw at the moment.
"Something's not clicking," he said. "I feel like I'm on Mars sometimes when I'm pitching to lefties. If we can clean that up, then I'll be golden.
"I just feel like I'm not making quality pitch after quality pitch to lefties, and obviously it's showing. I mean, they're hitting about .285 off me, at least, if not closer to .300. That's usually where I excel."
Keuchel's had pretty good success against left-handed hitters in his career, holding them to a .230 batting average and a .614 OPS entering Monday's game. But things have been undoubtedly different in 2021.
When it comes to the big picture, Keuchel's still a reliable presence on the mound for the White Sox, a guy with a Cy Young Award, a World Series ring and four Gold Gloves in his trophy case. He's talked since the spring about how motivated he is to get back to the postseason after a less than ideal outing in Game 2 of the White Sox playoff series against the Oakland Athletics last fall.
But right this second, the White Sox have three starting-pitching options they'd be more likely to turn to with the season on the line. Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodón are having All-Star seasons and in the thick of the Cy Young conversation. And Lucas Giolito, the ace of the staff, has turned in some exceptional performances against other championship contenders teams of late.
Meanwhile, Keuchel has given up 17 homers this year. That's not the team high — Giolito has allowed 19 — but it's already tied for the fourth most in Keuchel's career with two months left to go in the campaign.
Those final two months could see a late-season renaissance, of course, and maybe it's Keuchel who's on the hot streak come October.
But right now, Keuchel's got some stuff to figure out. He knows what's troubling him, he just needs to get it fixed so he can avenge last year's playoff outing and be that guy that he's been in the past when the games get really important for these South Siders.
"I know what I've got to do," he said. "It's just a matter of going out and doing it and finding that piece that kind of clicks together.
"If everyone can kind of bear with me."