The Astros and Dodgers will meet at Chavez Ravine for a two-game series beginning Tuesday, an Interleague matchup that carries plenty of intrigue. Between past issues that have created tension between these two teams, to Max Scherzer’s pending Dodgers debut on Wednesday, there are myriad reasons to tune in. MLB.com beat reporters Brian McTaggart and Juan Toribio gathered to discuss all the angles.
Alyson Footer, moderator/editor: Let's start with the obvious topic. This will be the first time the Astros will play at Dodger Stadium in front of fans since the details from the sign-stealing scheme were revealed. Last year, fans lined up in the parking lot to, how shall we say, "greet" the Astros’ team bus. But that’s as close as they were allowed to be to the stadium. How do you think the crowd is going to receive the Astros this time around?
Brian McTaggart, Astros beat reporter: I think it's going to be the most hostile environment the Astros play in yet. Yankee Stadium in May was definitely a place where the Astros were reminded of the sign-stealing scandal at every turn, but the Dodgers are the team most directly affected by this, it appears, and their fans have been waiting for nearly two years to let the Astros know how they feel. That being said, I can't wait.
Juan Toribio, Dodgers beat reporter: It’s going to be pretty wild in there. Both games are expected to be sold out, and it’s been something that these fans have waited a couple of years for. Then you throw in the fact that Max Scherzer makes his team debut on Wednesday, it’s going to be nuts.
I did have a question for you, Tags, how do you think this will compare to that series in N.Y.? Are the Astros expecting it to be worse than that?
McTaggart: Yes, they are. The crowd in New York was very loud and very angry, but Yankee Stadium wasn't yet at full capacity. At the time of the three-game set in early May, capacity in the Bronx was at only at 20 percent, with roughly 10,000 fans in attendance for each game. Now, we're talking 55,000 at Dodger Stadium. If I'm an Astros fan in L.A., I'm watching this one on TV.
Is there a buzz in L.A. for this?
Toribio: Definitely. I don’t think it’s billed as the biggest game ever or anything like that, but everyone is excited to watch how Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and the rest of those guys get greeted. I was at the supermarket today and heard people talking about it. I also think a lot of the former Dodger players on that team are really looking forward to seeing what happens and how the fans react. It won’t be closure for these guys, but booing and yelling “cheater” for three hours will help these people heal a bit.
Josh Reddick got a small piece of that already this year. Now it’s time for the rest of them.
McTaggart: Even though there were no fans in the stands for most of last year, it was clear the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal weighed on the Astros on the field. This year, I think they're feeding off of it. Altuve hit a game-winning homer at Yankee Stadium in the eighth inning on May 6 and loved every second of it. He hit a grand slam in San Francisco over the weekend while fans were screaming at him. He and Correa have taken most of the heat, in part because Alex Bregman has been out for nearly two months. Yuli Gurriel gets it, too, but not as bad. The only other player from 2017 who's on the team is Lance McCullers Jr.
If they're booing Josh Reddick playing for the D-backs, then yes, it's going to be quite intense for those with “Astros” on their shirts. I almost feel this will be the final hurdle the Astros will have to clear in terms of sign-stealing fallout. Most other cities have had their say, and as we get farther removed from this and the Astros have fewer players on the team, it's going to fade.
They'll still get booed as long as they're on the Astros, but they've come through almost every city in the AL now, and everyone has had their say. They haven't been to Kansas City yet, but I don't think those nice folks will care too much.
Footer: Any predictions as to whether there will be a scuttlebutt between players on the field like there was last year? Any high-and-tight fastballs?
McTaggart: There could be on-the-field ballyhoo, if you will. Maybe some tomfoolery.
Toribio: I actually don’t think so. They were pretty civil when they met in Houston, but who knows, maybe they feed off the crowd’s intensity. But I think the Dodgers’ focus is to try and beat a really good team. They are three games back in the division, after all.
McTaggart: I don't think the Astros want any part of that, but they won't take it either, I don't think. I guess Joe Kelly, who wasn't even on the Dodgers in 2017, was the one who instigated it last year in Houston.
Toribio: I do think it’s worth noting that Mookie Betts, who wasn’t on any of those teams, said he was “ready to go to war” for his teammates.
McTaggart: Yes, we have to remember these are two of the best teams in baseball. They have nearly identical records. This should be a great two-game series, and the Scherzer angle brings more impact. The Astros haven't faced him since the World Series in 2019.
Footer: That's the other part of the equation, of course -- this is just a great matchup between two powerhouse teams with a real chance to meet again in the World Series. And both fortified their teams at the Deadline, which I'm sure injected some life into the clubhouses. As you mention, the second game will mark Max Scherzer's Dodgers debut. What should we expect from these two games?
McTaggart: The Astros are 3-3 so far on a tough road trip to Seattle and San Francisco, so if they can split this series, they'll take a 4-4 West Coast road trip and feel good about it. Their starting pitching has been sputtering a bit, but they've beefed up their bullpen big-time in the last week and still have the highest-scoring offense in baseball, even without Bregman. Houston has also played well against good teams this year, so they definitely rise to the occasion.
And Dodgers fans will still cheer Dusty Baker, right?
Footer: Juan, from what I can tell, Dave Roberts has mostly moved on from all of the 2017 stuff. Do you think he has set a tone in the clubhouse for the players to do the same?
Toribio: I think so. I mean, it’s been four years, and they ended up winning a World Series. I think the bad feelings are still there, hard for there to not be any, but I don’t think there’s the same hate that there was before. And like Tags mentioned, that Houston roster looks a lot different than the one they faced off against in 2017.
I think this series is more for the fans than it is for the players.
Footer: I can see it getting a little unruly in the stands.
McTaggart: Oh, for sure, we had fights in the stands earlier this year when the Dodgers were in Houston.
Footer: Revisionist history is the best kind of history!
Juan, it seems like the Dodgers, as good as they are, haven't played their best baseball yet. Most of us are handing them the division title after the Deadline they just had. You see them going on a tear?
Toribio: I think they definitely have the talent to do it, and they only get more dangerous when Trea Turner joins the team, but I think Betts said it best on Sunday -- they just haven’t played with much urgency this season. And are they just going to be able to flip a switch and play perfect baseball for two months? We’ll see.
Footer: Tags, the Astros have been without Bregman for a long time, had a lot of bullpen issues that may have been fixed with the moves they made and are in the driver’s seat in the division. Does this surprise you a little, that they've been this good?
McTaggart: Yes, it does. The starting pitching has been a strength, though the last couple of weeks have maybe raised concern. Framber Valdez isn't as sharp as he was, Jake Odorizzi is hit-and-miss and Zack Greinke is coming off a poor outing. The Astros made relief pitching their priority at the Deadline, and for good reason. The Astros expected Bregman back this week -- and traded away infielder Abraham Toro -- but Bregman has had a setback in his rehab, so infield depth is now a concern.
The Astros are 17-14 since having their 11-game winning streak snapped June 26. That's still some good baseball, but not quite the same clip they were for a while.
Footer: Bold prediction time -- the number of beach balls that find their way to the field?
McTaggart: If beach balls is all that makes it onto the field from the stands, that's a positive for the Astros. But I’ll guess 2,017.
Just save me a Dodger Dog, Juan.
Toribio: They’re all yours.