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Dodgers head to Houston with an eroded chip on their shoulder

First road trip to face the Astros since the 2017 World Series

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Houston Astros - Game Five Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Dodgers make their first trip to Houston since the 2017 World Series on Tuesday, so it’s only natural to expect some animosity on both sides. But it’s not that simple.

In case you forgot — and with a pandemic raging for months, I wouldn’t blame you — the Astros won that World Series in 2017, and in January were disciplined by Major League Baseball for a sign-stealing scheme used throughout the regular season and postseason that year. The fallout cost Houston its general manager and manager (plus two other major league managers lost their jobs for their role in the Astros scheme), a paltry $5 million, and four high draft picks.

The penalties were deemed by many current major leaguers as too weak, and the Astros’ limp and insincere apology rankled.

Unsurprisingly, several Dodgers were peeved when the news came out.

Of the Astros’ championship, Justin Turner at Dodgers Fan Fest said, “It’s hard to feel like they earned it.”

Cody Bellinger in spring training said, “I think what people don’t realize is [Jose] Altuve stole an MVP from [Aaron] Judge in ‘17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”

When asked in spring training if pitchers would throw at Astros hitters this year, Alex Wood said it wouldn’t surprise him. “Somebody will take it into their own hands, and they’ll get suspended more games than any of those guys got for the biggest cheating scandal in 100 years.”

At the time, the Dodgers weren’t scheduled to play the Astros until next season. But that was before a pandemic wiped away four months of the 2020 season. Now, with a regional schedule to cut down on travel, the Dodgers play the Astros in a pair of two-game series this year.

Tuesday (6:10 p.m. PT; SportsNet LA, FS1) and Wednesday are in Houston, then the Astros come to Dodger Stadium on Sept. 12-13.

From when the schedule was released on July 6 through last weekend, the Dodgers have been asked several times about their thoughts on playing the Astros, understandably so. But the vitriol from January and February has dampened, at least publicly, perhaps eroded by time and how very different the world is now than it was five months ago.

Players are also in baseball mode now, which means back to the routine, the daily grind, and taking things one day at a time.

“I think in a 60-game season, every game means a ton. Obviously, they’re on the schedule, and we’re going to show up in Houston and do everything we can to beat those guys,” Turner said last week. “I don’t think a lot of opinions or the way guys think has changed in this time. But at the end of the day, we’re gonna go out and try to win ballgames.”

“I think both sides are gonna have a chip on our shoulder, especially after what happened in 2017,” Alex Wood said Friday. “As vocal as me and a lot of our guys have been with regards to that, it’s just a gut-wrenching situation. We haven’t had a whole lot of talks about it really since spring spring training. I think guys are trying to look forward not back.”

The 2017 World Series wasn’t that long ago, but in 2020 time, the span since might as well be an eternity.

Still around

Dodgers Astros
Dodgers Astros
Austin Barnes Jose Altuve
Cody Bellinger Alex Bregman
Kiké Hernandez Carlos Correa
Kenley Jansen Chris Devenski
Joc Pederson Yuli Gurriel
Corey Seager Lance McCullers Jr.
Ross Stripling Josh Reddick
Chris Taylor George Springer
Justin Turner Brad Peacock*
Alex Wood Justin Verlander*
Clayton Kershaw*
Players from the 2017 World Series rosters still on the Dodgers or Astros now *On injured list

For as recent as that Fall Classic was, the rosters of both teams are markedly different now. Counting players currently on the injured list, only 11 Dodgers and 10 Astros were on the rosters during the 2017 World Series.

Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander were originally set to pitch Wednesday, but both are currently injured.

Roster turnover dilutes some of the revenge factor of this series, but so do the current conditions. With no fans in the stands, a lot of the energy is sucked out of each ballpark. Just as there won’t be fans in September at Dodger Stadium to shower the Astros with boos, there won’t be Astros fans tonight at Minute Maid Park to boo the Dodgers who dared question the legitimacy of their team’s title.

The Dodgers, at least publicly, say they’ll focus on these two games in Houston rather than the seven games from 2017.

“Initially, certainly when we learned what we learned in December, January, whenever it was, it was fresh. It just kind of opened up a wound,” manager Dave Roberts said over the weekend. “But I just don’t see how animosity or using that as as a mantra is going to help you win a baseball game, let alone two games on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

But if a little part of them still has that World Series in the back of their minds tonight and tomorrow, it would be hard to blame them.

Game info

Time: 6:10 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA, FS1