Keuchel gets first win as Braves edge Cubs again

Dallas Keuchel pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs Wednesday. Keuchel allowed eight hits. Keuchel gave up three earned runs. The Cubs hit 2 solo homers off Keuchel. Keuchel walked 3 and struck out 2. 51 of Keuchel's 85 pitches were strikes. The Braves beat the Cubs 5-3.

Dallas Keuchel and Yu Darvish waited an extended time to find homes in their respective free agencies. Both were long regarded as two of the American League’s best starters for Texas teams.

Darvish, who’d been traded to the Dodgers at the 2017 trade deadline, was pounded by Keuchel’s Astros in the World Series. He entered free agency with plenty of question marks but landed with the Cubs on a six-year, $126 million deal in February 2018.

» More: Bryse Wilson will make start Thursday

In the next free agent cycle, Keuchel couldn't find a team willing to meet his terms. Similar to Darvish, he had the track record, strikeout prowess and name recognition that'd make him appealing. The lefty didn't land with a franchise until earlier this month, when he signed a one-year, $13 million deal with the Braves.

The two faced off Wednesday, both interrupted by a 48-minute rain delay. Keuchel’s Braves defeated Darvish’s Cubs 5-3. It ensured them at least a series split in Chicago and marked Keuchel’s first win with his new employer.

“The boys put it on early so it was about as easy as I could draw it up,” Keuchel said, referring to his offense. “But that’s a quality lineup over there. I had my work cut out for me. Just a little inconsistent with the breaking pitches still and I tunneled myself into a two-pitch mix.”

 

Darvish was charged all five runs and booed at Wrigley Field, continuing what’s been an extremely underwhelming tenure for him on the North Side.

Keuchel, making his second start with the Braves, pitched 5-2/3 innings. He allowed three earned runs (two homers) and threw 51 of his 85 pitches for strikes. He pitched a simulated inning during the rain delay and returned for the fourth inning.

“I think I’m going to be pleased with what I see in Dallas Keuchel probably 98 percent of the time,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Another solid job.”

The Braves never showed desperation in the Keuchel sweepstakes. They got their man on team-friendly terms, as it turned out. If this marriage is a successful one — and two starts in it’s two early to tell — the Braves could re-sign him or Keuchel could receive a payday elsewhere. It’s an easy deal to like from both sides.

Despite the Cubs waiting out Darvish, they haven’t come out looking so shrewd. Their commitment to Darvish — a clear negative value-wise, even if his performance improves — is why the Braves approach the marketplace as they do. The Cubs can afford anchor contracts like Jason Heyward’s (eight years, $184 million) and Darvish’s, but such an agreement could hamper the Braves over the course of the deal.

Considering the circumstances, Keuchel’s showing was acceptable. Willson Contreras belted a fastball down the middle on the first homer. Kris Bryant cued one into the left-field seats on the second. Contreras later tripled and came home on Heyward’s grounder for the third run.

Keuchel showed the propensity for groundballs that’s made him such a valued commodity. He induced double plays in the first, second and third innings.

“He’s a ground-ball guy,” Snitker said. “They put a guy on first and they’re a pitch away from getting out of the inning. It’s a good weapon to have in your holster.”

As for Keuchel’s view: “I love this defense. It’s nice when you have a comfort level already with the guys behind you. Dansby (Swanson), I told him and Josh (Donaldson) that they’ll get plenty of work in while I’m on the mound, so be ready. Just try to make me look better than what I am. It makes it more fun. It makes it a more relaxed environment.”

Darvish wasn’t so fortunate. The Braves struck first on Ronald Acuna’s one-man show. He walked to begin the game, stole second and advanced on an error, then scored on a wild pitch. Brian McCann and Nick Markakis would later take Darvish deep.

Division standings

 

Keuchel even got a hit off Darvish. It was his fourth-career hit and first since 2015.

“He made some tough pitches on me,” said Keuchel, who struck out in this second at-bat. “I saw him for dang near seven years with Texas. I saw a ton of strikeouts against our team.”

The Braves can win the four-game series Thursday with Bryse Wilson making his second start of the season. The Braves are 4-2 on their 10-game road trip, building off the 8-2 homestand that preceded it.

In doing so, the Braves aren’t letting other National League East competitors gain any ground. At 48-33, the Braves hold the NL’s second-best record.

“I know a thing or two about complete teams,” Keuchel said. “This group really excites me day in and day out. It makes it more enjoyable to come to the ballpark and see some stars and future stars in the making.”

In Other News