Astros-Dodgers continue playoff-like series

STATS/TSX

LOS ANGELES -- Actor and noted Los Angeles Dodgers fan Jason Bateman called Friday's series opener against the Houston Astros "Game 8 of the World Series."

Game 9, then, will take place Saturday. Friday's matchup between 2017 World Series foes definitely had a playoff atmosphere with the Astros taking a 2-1 victory behind Justin Verlander's 14 strikeouts.

Bateman was the on-field emcee for Andre Ethier's retirement ceremony Friday and could not resist acknowledging the Astros' presence in the building. A handful of Astros players watched the Ethier ceremony from their dugout, including former Dodger Josh Reddick.

After Friday's victory, Verlander talked about the good feelings that came from seeing the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium again. George Springer said that intense matchups like Friday are "why you play the game."

"I remember what we did the last time we were here," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Friday from the first-base dugout. "It's impossible not to have flashbacks to one of the greatest accomplishments in organization history. Obviously a few new guys on their team and a new season. They've transformed their lineup and their bench. I don't think I'll ever come back and not think about it."

The Dodgers' lineup on Friday included three players not with last year's club: Manny Machado, Matt Kemp and Max Muncy. Another player, Brian Dozier, figures to start a game at some point in the series. Dozier did see action late in Friday's game.

"There is a little different roster, and some players not active, and they have players who are not active," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Are we wearing the same uniforms that we were last year? Yes. But it's still a different series."

On Saturday, the Astros will send right-hander Lance McCullers (10-6, 4.06 ERA) to the mound, coming off an 11-strikeout performance against the Texas Rangers on Sunday. It was the fourth game of 11 strikeouts or more in his career and the third this season.

McCullers has had one career regular-season start against the Dodgers, that coming in 2015, when he gave up two runs on eight hits over seven innings in a no-decision.

McCullers will have a hard time matching Verlander's fastball-heavy performance. What McCullers might want to keep an eye on is Dodgers leadoff hitter Joc Pederson, who has a first-inning home run in each of his last two games.

The Dodgers will counter with right-hander Kenta Maeda (7-6, 3.48), who gave up four runs and needed 102 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings Monday in a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Maeda has never faced the Astros in a regular-season game, but he made four appearances, all in relief, against Houston in last year's World Series. He gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings.

The Dodgers have now lost four consecutive regular-season games against the Astros going back to 2015, but can boast 10 victories in their last 14 regular-season games in Los Angeles against Houston.

There is just the matter of that Game 7 loss last year, when the Astros jumped out to a quick lead and won 5-1. The Astros' starter in that game just happened to be McCullers, who gave up just three hits with three strikeouts in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. McCullers did not get a decision in that game, but was the winning pitcher in his first start of that World Series, allowing the Dodgers four hits and three runs in 5 1/3 innings in Houston's 5-3 win.

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