To no one’s surprise, the Astros were reluctant to expend any dialogue looking forward to their series with the Los Angeles Dodgers against the backdrop of the vitriol volleyed back and forth last offseason regarding the sign-stealing scandal that smeared Houston’s 2017 World Series championship.
Astros manager Dusty Baker justifiably sidestepped a question looking back three seasons, considering he was managing the Washington Nationals at the time. His players were inclined to discuss their series finale with the Seattle Mariners, the visiting team that Houston beat 8-5 on Monday.
With the Dodgers set to visit Houston for a two-game interleague series starting Tuesday, the Astros leaned into contemplating the immediate future instead of the not-too-distant past.
With right-hander Justin Verlander, who was scheduled to start the series finale against the Dodgers on Wednesday, shelved for a minimum of two weeks due to a forearm strain, the Astros are facing the grim reality of pursuing a fourth consecutive division crown without their stalwart.
“It’s tough,” Astros outfielder George Springer said. “He’s obviously a leader in this clubhouse, a Cy Young (Award winner), a horse. He’s an absolute gamer, a competitor, and to have a guy like that be sidelined for however long he is, especially in such a shortened year, it’s hard. But that’s why this team has been good: get the next man up and let’s go.”
Left-hander Framber Valdez (4-7, 5.86 ERA in 2019) will start the series opener for the Astros on Tuesday. He made 26 appearances last season, including eight starts, and is 4-5 with a 5.25 ERA in 13 career starts.
Valdez will be making his first appearance against the Dodgers in just his second interleague outing. He took the loss on June 26, 2019, allowing six runs on eight hits and one walk with two strikeouts over three innings in a 14-2 setback against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I feel good. I feel prepared,” said Valdez, who believes he could throw between 80 and 90 pitches against the Dodgers. “I feel positive.”
Right-hander Walker Buehler (14-4, 3.26 ERA in 2019) will make his season debut for the Dodgers on Tuesday. Selected a National League All-Star for the first time last season, Buehler recorded 215 strikeouts over 182 1/3 innings and cemented his reputation as a budding star.
Buehler has made one start against the Astros previously, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in a 3-2 win at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 5, 2018.
Buehler and right-hander Dustin May, the scheduled starter for Wednesday, weren’t with the Dodgers when they lost two of three games at Minute Maid Park during the 2017 World Series. Those Dodgers had plenty to say when it was revealed that the Astros electronically stole signs en route to their first championship, but in the run-up to the rematch, cooler heads have prevailed.
Considered the favorites to win the World Series this season, the Dodgers are focused on building their resume, and they seem more than willing to leave the past behind.
“There’s some sense of pride going in there and playing good baseball,” Buehler said. “I wasn’t on that team. Watching and thinking back, wanting the guys who were there to experience that and holding the trophy, sure. But at the end of the day, that can’t change our mindset.”
–Field Level Media