LOS ANGELES -- The Houston Astros will return to the scene of the title Friday when they open a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
The Astros won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium by a 5-1 count in a last act that lacked the dramatics of previous games in a riveting Fall Classic.
The Los Angeles Dodgers know the stakes of this series are far lower. But the rematch will matter on some level. They won't lie.
When asked if the series will take on a bigger meaning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts paused.
"You want to say 'no,' but they are a very good ballclub," Roberts said. "We faced them here in the World Series and so when you get that opportunity to play them again, we know we have to play our best to beat them. We're going to run into some very good pitching."
Justin Verlander (10-6, 2,24 ERA) will pitch in the series opener. He did not win either of his World Series starts, but made life difficult for the Dodgers, holding them to five runs over 12 innings.
The veteran right-hander has faced the Dodgers twice in the regular season -- winning both -- while posting a 3.86 ERA. One of those outings came last year, three starts before joining the Astros, when he gave up one run on two hits over eight innings for the Detroit Tigers.
The Astros also have Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole scheduled to pitch. Cole was not on the World Series club, but as a product of UCLA he figures to be plenty motivated for his start in Los Angeles.
They will face a hot Dodgers' offense that is coming off a 21-run game Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the most runs the Dodgers have scored in a game at Dodger Stadium.
Los Angeles will send Alex Wood to the mound Friday. The left-hander had a solid outing in Game 4 of the World Series, giving up one run over 5 2/3 innings at Houston. The Dodgers' offense eventually erupted in the ninth inning to break open a tight game.
Wood has only one regular season start against the Astros, winning a 2014 outing when he gave up three hits over seven scoreless innings.
No Astros hitter figures to me more eager to match up against the Dodgers again that George Springer, who batted .379 with a 1.471 OPS in the World Series, hitting five home runs among his 11 hits with five walks.
But Springer left Tuesday's game at Seattle with a sore shoulder and did not play Wednesday. The Astros had an off day Thursday. Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Springer was held out of Wednesday's game as a precaution.
The Astros said they feel they have plenty left on the roster to make the World Series rematch a good one.
"This is a very deep team and you go through some stretches where you don't play your best, but you can't forget this team is built pretty well, built to withstand injuries or poor performance," Hinch said, according to mlb.com.