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Dodgers vs. Astros: A classic pitching matchup & a full house in Houston

Tuesday will be the 3rd matchup between former teammates Kershaw & Greinke

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Dodgers finish off their road trip with two games in Houston against the Astros beginning Tuesday night, with an interesting wrinkle. Minute Maid Park will allow maximum capacity beginning with this series, giving Astros fans a chance to loudly vent their frustration at those who took umbrage with their own team’s sign stealing.

Recently relaxed CDC guidelines have opened the floodgates for MLB teams to allow more fans in ballparks, in accordance with state and local guidelines. The Dodgers will allow 100-percent capacity beginning June 15, with the Angels doing the same starting June 17.

The Astros began the 2021 season at 50-percent capacity, and have since increased, with socially-distanced requirements in place. So far this season the Astros have averaged 19,098 fans in 24 home dates, with a top crowd of 26,069. The team lists a total seating capacity of 40,963 at Minute Maid Park, though in 2019 — the last season with fans in the stands — the Astros had 15 home dates with more than that, and an average home attendance of 35,276 that ranked fourth in the American League.

Joe Kelly last pitched on Thursday, in case you were wondering about his availability for this series and whether whatever decibel measuring system is at Minute Maid Park needs calibrating.

Super Tuesday

The opening game of the series features two future Hall of Fame pitchers, with Clayton Kershaw starting for the Dodgers and Zack Greinke for the Astros. Between them they have four Cy Young Awards, and a claim at a fifth with each as deserving in 2015 as NL winner Jake Arrieta, but that’s a different argument for another day.

Greinke is the active leader in starts (469) and innings (2,998⅔), and will pass 3,000 innings unless on Tuesday unless he gets absolutely torched early by the Dodgers. Kershaw ranks sixth in both starts (364) and innings (2,389⅔). Both pitchers in in the top four among active pitchers in wins and strikeouts, with the 37-year-old Greinke ahead in each category thanks to being four years Kershaw’s senior.

Both are still effective well into their 30s. Kershaw’s 3.18 ERA is tied for 26th in the majors, though his 2.64 FIP is seventh, with his best strikeout rate (29.0 percent) since 2017.

Greinke has a 3.77 ERA and 3.67 FIP in his 10 starts, though to date his home ERA (6.41) in an anagram of his road ERA (1.64) thanks to allowing 19 runs and five homers in his five starts at Minute Maid Park, compared to six runs and two home runs given up in five road starts. But the Dodgers should still be on their toes in case Greinke tries to sneak in a Bugs Bunny changeup.

Tuesday is the third career meeting between Kershaw and Greinke, who were teammates with the Dodgers from 2013-15. Both previous matchups came when Greinke was with the D-backs. Kershaw won at Dodger Stadium in 2017, and Greinke homered off Kershaw in 2019 in Arizona, a game that was won by the D-backs late against the bullpen.

A broad look at Houston

Heading into the weekend, both the Dodgers and Astros were 26-18, but a pair of sweeps created some distance between the two teams. LA took care of the Giants in San Francisco, while Houston lost three games on the road to their in-state rival Rangers.

The Astros lead MLB with a 117 wRC+. The Dodgers are third at 112, though counting only non-pitchers the Dodgers are actually ahead, with a 120 wRC+. That’s not to say the Dodgers offense is necessarily better, especially given the number of regulars currently on the injured list, but they will have use of the designated hitter for the final two times this regular season.

Mostly usual suspects are carrying the Astros offense, with Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, and Yordan Alvarez among the six lineup regulars with a 128 wRC+ or higher. They’ve managed to make do with the relative lesser production from Carlos Correa (115 wRC+), Kyle Tucker (110) and occasional starter Aledmys Diaz (109). The batting order is stacked, and healthy.

Houston’s great offensive strength is its lack of swing and miss. Their strikeout rate (17.8 percent) is far and away the best in baseball, so it’s no surprise their contact rate (81.7 percent) is also tops in the majors. The Astros will chase pitches outside the zone (29.5 percent, ninth-lowest), at least relative to the Dodgers (26.1 percent, second-lowest).

Dodgers pitchers have a 28.2-percent strikeout rate, third-highest in the majors. That might be the biggest difference between the two teams right now (aside from health), with Astros pitchers 14th with a 24.3-percent K rate. Greinke is on the low end (19.9 percent), but Wednesday starter Luis Garcia has a 28.7-percent strikeout rate, one of the best on Houston’s staff.

Series schedule

  • Tuesday, 5:10 p.m. PT: Clayton Kershaw vs. Zack Greinke (SportsNet LA, FS1)
  • Wednesday, 4:40 p.m.: Trevor Bauer vs. Luis Garcia (SportsNet LA, ESPN)

Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, Tim Kurkjian, Marly Rivera are on the ESPN call on Wednesday, though that telecast won’t be available in the Los Angeles television market. Tuesday’s FS1 broadcast will not be blacked out.