LIVE: Astros vs. Dodgers, free on MLB.TV

August 4th, 2021

The Astros and Dodgers have already played six games against each other since news of Houston’s sign-stealing scheme first broke.

Does that take any juice out of the first Astros-Dodgers tilt at Dodger Stadium with fans since the scandal went down? Definitely not.

The air in Chavez Ravine should have a charge to it when Houston and Los Angeles begin the first of a two-game set Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET. The next-best thing to being there in the seats? Watching it -- for free -- on MLB.TV. The must-see series opener is MLB.TV’s Free Game of the Day, meaning you have no excuse not to check out what goes down between these Interleague rivals.

Here’s a quick breakdown of this Astros-Dodgers showdown:

How they’re doing
Astros: 64-42, 1st in AL West
Dodgers: 64-43, 2nd in NL West

On top of all the off-field intrigue, this matchup pits the teams with the Majors’ two best run-differentials (and it’s not particularly close) against each other.

Houston dropped a hard-fought and entertaining weekend series against the Giants, but it had won its prior three series and is keeping a healthy distance over the A’s in the AL West while entering Monday tied for the league’s best record.

The Dodgers went 14-12 in July but are hovering near a .600 win percentage just as they should be, with their bizarre 1-11 record in extra-inning games and the extraordinary play of the Giants being the main reasons they’re not in first place, too. Los Angeles’ roster was stacked already, and now it’s blending in Trade Deadline additions Max Scherzer and Trea Turner (although Turner won't be available for this series). It’s good to be the Dodgers.

The matchup on the mound
Astros: Lance McCullers Jr. (8-2, 3.23 ERA)
Dodgers: Walker Buehler (11-1, 2.19 ERA)

No, it doesn’t include Scherzer (he’s scheduled to debut in Wednesday’s Game 2), but this matchup is far from a letdown.

McCullers played a huge part in getting the Astros to that 2017 World Series, of course, and he picked up the win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of that Fall Classic before gutting through an effectively wild start to Game 7 (2 1/3 innings, three hits, four hit by pitches, but most importantly: zero runs). The right-hander has been a rock for an Astros rotation that carried question marks entering this season, and Houston has won 10 of McCullers’ past 13 starts.

Meanwhile, don’t those numbers above for Buehler look Kershaw-esque? Buehler, the NL Pitcher of the Month for July, simply doesn’t lose very often -- in fact, he’s suffered just one ‘L’ in his personal win-loss column since late September 2019. Sure, Buehler has the luxury of the Dodgers’ offense behind him, but don’t sleep on the season he’s having. Buehler leads the Majors with 18 quality starts, owns a 0.90 WHIP and has paired 139 strikeouts with 31 walks.

Players to watch
It has to be Carlos Correa and Joe Kelly. There weren’t any fans when the Dodgers visited the Astros early in the 2020 season, but these two gave us some fireworks anyway when Kelly threw behind Alex Bregman and Correa, and then made some very memorable faces at Correa after setting him down for Strike 3.

Kelly served a five-game suspension, but he set the tone and sent a message that the Dodgers hadn’t forgotten about 2017 by any means. Kelly faced just one batter (Jose Altuve) during these teams' first series of ’21 back in May, so it remains must-see TV if he comes out in relief during this series -- especially if Correa steps up to the plate.

Don’t forget him
Speaking of Altuve, it’s hard to ignore what he’s doing this season -- his first with opposing fans booing him at every opportunity.

Altuve’s power has been especially eye-opening; he’s already bashed 25 homers, leaving him six shy of his career high, after he hit just five with a .344 slugging percentage in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. Altuve is, as usual, peppering the left-field seats; he’s pulled all but one of those 25 dingers, and is slugging .931 on all his balls hit to the pull side -- a top-10 figure among full-time MLB hitters (min. 100 pulled balls) entering Monday’s action.

Picture this
Statcast’s swing/take leaderboard breaks down hitters on a pitch-by-pitch level and essentially answers the question, "Did the hitter make a good decision?" The leaderboard looks at where the pitch was thrown (in the heart of the strike zone, on the shadow edges of the zone, in the chase area favorable to pitchers or in the waste area where non-competitive pitches go), tallies whether the batter swung at or took the pitch and assigns a run value based on the outcome of the pitch.

It’s a leaderboard you want to top if you’re a big league slugger, and the top two names on this year’s swing/take leaderboard are the two frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Shohei Ohtani. No. 3 on the board? . The Dodgers All-Star infielder has been incredible at matching elite plate discipline (99th percentile in chase rate among MLB hitters, entering Monday) with big-time power (93rd percentile in barrel rate), and that’s why he leads Los Angeles’ star-studded roster in OPS (.971) by nearly 100 points.

Number of note
Tuesday offers a good test for the reigning World Series champions. The Dodgers have feasted on bad teams, going 43-19 (.694) against sub-.500 competition, but are a middling 21-24 (.467) against clubs with winning records. Meanwhile the Astros own MLB’s second-best win percentage (.600) against winning teams, compared to 22-17 against sub-.500 clubs.