One of the most anticipated series of the abbreviated 2020 season started Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. The Houston Astros opened their two-game weekend set with the Los Angeles Dodgers with a stunning ninth inning comeback and a 7-5 win (box score).
The series is, of course, a rematch of the 2017 World Series. The Astros beat the Dodgers in seven games to win the 2017 title The team bus was met with hecklers and trash cans being banged when it arrived at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.. Dodgers fans understandably remain upset and they let the Astros know it.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday night's series opener.
The Dodgers trolled the Astros all night
As noted, the Astros were outed as cheaters during their 2017 championship season, and Dodger Stadium organist Dieter Ruehle trolled Houston throughout the game. Here's part of Saturday's soundtrack at the ballpark:
Saturday's game was the first time these two clubs met since. Kelly was suspended eight games -- it was later reduced to five games on appeal -- and is serving the suspension right now.
There were no fireworks Saturday. No purposes pitches, no benches-clearing incidents, nothing like that. Just good old fashioned trolling from the organist. Unless they meet in the World Series, Sunday's game will be the last time the Dodgers and Astros play this season. We'll see whether one side decides to get in any last licks.
The Astros got the last laugh
A three-run lead with Kenley Jansen on the mound usually equals a win for the Dodgers. Usually. Staked to a 5-2 lead Saturday night, Jansen allowed hits to all five batters he faced in the ninth inning en route to blowing the save. George Springer had the game-tying single and Alex Bregman the go-ahead single.
Going into Saturday's game Jansen had allowed four earned runs and 10 hits in 18 1/3 innings on the season. The Astros then tagged him for five runs (four earned) on five hits, and he did not record an out. Jansen's ERA jumped from 1.96 to 3.93. Ouch.
The Astros had scored 10 runs total in their previous five games before exploding for seven runs Saturday night, including five runs in the ninth inning. In fact, they'd scored five runs in their previous 26 innings prior to the ninth inning. At one point the Dodgers retired 15 of 21 Astros hitters from innings 1-8. Seven of the next 11 men Houston sent to the plate reached base.
Urias was really good again
For the seventh time in nine starts this season, Dodgers southpaw Julio Urias allowed no more than two runs Saturday night. Urias held the Astros to one run in six innings and is now sitting on a 3.53 ERA through 43 1/3 innings on the year. He's struck out 38 in those 43 1/3 innings.
As good as he's been, Urias may not even have a spot in the team's postseason rotation. Clayton Kershaw is locked into a rotation spot (duh), as is Walker Buehler as long as he gets over his blister in time for October. Tony Gonsolin has been excellent this year (1.57 ERA in 28 2/3 innings) and Dustin May slings 99 mph sinkers on the regular. Can't go wrong with any of them. (May is out with a foot injury after being hit by a comebacker earlier this week.)
The Dodgers will be in good hands no matter who they give the ball to in the postseason. They have an embarrassment of riches in the rotation and Urias, who is still only 24, is just now coming into his own. He missed most of 2017-18 with major shoulder surgery and the 96 pitches he threw Saturday night were his most in a game since 2016.
The bottom of LA's lineup did damage
As usual. The Dodgers, thanks to depth that borders on obnoxious, have had one of the most productive bottom of the orders in baseball this season. Here's where their 7-8-9 hitters collectively ranked going into Saturday's game:
- Batting average: .255 (3rd in MLB)
- On-base percentage: .337 (2nd)
- Slugging percentage: .454 (2nd)
- OPS+: 136 (2nd)
- Home runs: 22nd (1st)
Only the Mets have received better production from the bottom of the lineup (.289/.355/.461 and 144 OPS+). On Saturday, Los Angeles turned a 1-0 second inning deficit into a 3-1 lead with back-to-back home runs from No. 7 hitter Chris Taylor and No. 8 hitter Enrique Hernandez. To the action footage:
Astros southpaw Framber Valdez went into Saturday's start having allowed only three home runs in 52 1/3 innings this season. He then surrendered homers not only to back-to-back batters, but on back-to-back pitches. As the 7-8 hitters, Taylor and Hernandez combined to go 3 for 6 with two home runs and three runs batted in Saturday.
The Astros kept pace with the Mariners
Hoo boy have the Astros been bad lately. They'd lost eight of their previous nine games heading into Saturday -- they were outscored 52-35 in those nine games -- to drop to 22-23 on the season. Saturday's win gets them back to .500 and it also maintains their 2 1/2-game lead over the Mariners for second place in the AL West. Seattle won Saturday as well (SEA 7, ARI 3).
At this point the Astros have little chance to catch the Athletics for the division title -- Oakland has a 6 1/2-game lead with 15 games to play -- but second place equals an automatic postseason berth, and that's what the Astros are shooting for right now. The Mariners are their closest competition, and given the rest of the league, it's second place or bust. The third place team in the AL West can't fall back on one of the two wild-card spots because the AL East and AL Central are so deep.
Despite the crushing loss, the Dodgers still have the best record in baseball at 32-14, though they are only three games up on the upstart Padres in the NL West. The chances San Diego can catch Los Angeles are small -- Sportsline puts them at 4.8 percent -- but the fact they're making the Dodgers sweat a little has to feel good for the Padres.