Dodgers vs. Astros: Five takeaways as Houston stuns Kenley Jansen with ninth inning comeback

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USATSI

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 but were later caught cheating throughout that season. Dodgers fans understandably remain upset and they let the Astros know it. The team bus was met with hecklers and trash cans being banged when it arrived at Dodger Stadium on Saturday

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 Joe Kelly threw behind multiple Astros in July. 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.

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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.

Live updates
(34)
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@Dodgers via Twitter
September 13, 2020, 3:24 AM

Stunning ninth inning here. The Astros picked up five straight hits against Kenley Jansen to turn a 5-2 deficit into a 7-5 lead.

September 13, 2020, 3:11 AM
@astros via Twitter
September 13, 2020, 2:57 AM

The Dodgers will take at least a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning. The Astros are three outs away from their ninth loss in the last 10 games and a 22-24 record.

September 13, 2020, 2:43 AM

This game is cruising right along. The Astros look flat as can be, which isn't surprising given their recent struggles.

September 13, 2020, 1:50 AM
@Dodgers via Twitter
September 13, 2020, 1:43 AM

Here's a weird one: Houston has hit three homers in their last five games plus four innings.

September 13, 2020, 1:10 AM

Dodgers stretch their lead to 4-1 with a Corey Seager single and an A.J. Pollock sac fly. Pollock's been really good this season after a rough 2019.

September 13, 2020, 12:59 AM

Valdez had allowed three homers all season. Then two on two pitches.

September 13, 2020, 12:44 AM

Now Hernandez goes deep. The 7-8 hitters hit back-to-back opposite field homers on back-to-back pitches.

September 13, 2020, 12:42 AM

Chris Taylor goes oppo to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Didn't think that had a chance off the bat, but it just kept carrying and carrying.

September 13, 2020, 12:41 AM

Knew Muncy was having a down year, didn't realize he was at .199/.342/.410 though.

September 13, 2020, 12:34 AM

Relevant to the Astros: Seattle is up 4-0 in the first inning over Zac Gallen and the D-Backs.

September 13, 2020, 12:28 AM

Easy 1-2-3 first inning for Valdez.

September 13, 2020, 12:24 AM

Mookie Betts struck out looking at three fastballs in the zone. Guessing that doesn't happen often.

September 13, 2020, 12:22 AM

Astros turn the leadoff double into a run in the first. Framber Valdez, one of the most interesting pitchers in the sport, coming out to pitch. Mike Trout once said Framber has some of the best stuff he's ever seen.

September 13, 2020, 12:18 AM

LA's magic number to clinch a postseason spot is six. Could happen as soon as soon as Tuesday.

September 13, 2020, 12:14 AM

Great play by Hernandez to save a run. Even got the out at first to boot.

September 13, 2020, 12:13 AM

I say as he allows a double on the first pitch of the game.

September 13, 2020, 12:09 AM

Urias has been really good this season and he might not even be in LA's postseason rotation. They're so good it's obnoxious.

September 13, 2020, 12:09 AM

Ah good, the Fox virtual crowd is back. Not creepy at all.

September 13, 2020, 12:07 AM

Hello baseball enthusiasts. Astros vs. Dodger on tap. Much, much, much more important game for the Astros, who are 1-8 in their last nine games and a game under .500 at 22-23. The Mariners are 2.5 back, which is a decent cushion, but you always want it to be bigger.

September 13, 2020, 12:04 AM
@Dodgers via Twitter
September 12, 2020, 11:18 PM
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