Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros Postseason History
When the Houston Astros left the National League following the 2012 season, it opened the possibility to the potential rekindling of various rivalries that the Astros had on the World Series stage. And such is the case this year as they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that the Astros faced in a Play-In Game for the 1980 NL West title, and in the 1981 NL West Divisional Series
Astros in the 70s
While the Astros have integrated themselves well into the AL West, and an interstate rivalry with the Texas Rangers has blossomed over the years, the franchise had spent over 50 seasons in the National League, 25 of them in the NL West, and 19 in the NL Central.
In the mid-1970s, the Astros started to become West contenders, coinciding with the decline of the Cincinnati Reds as the Dodgers top divisional rival.
Following a pair of third place finishes in 1976 and 1977, the Astros fell all the way to fifth place in 1978, but rebounded to an 89-73 record, and a second-place finish in the division. The Astros ended up outpacing the two-time defending NL Champion Dodgers by 10 games, but lost the division by a game and a half to the Reds’ last gasp of 1970s glory.
In the off-season, the Astros made sure they’d had more than enough horses in their pitching staff to last through a long October. Free agent Nolan Ryan was added to a rotation that featured rising star J.R. Richard and veteran Joe Niekro.
Playoffs Against the Dodgers
1980 would see the Astros win 90 games for the first time in franchise history. The division race with the Dodgers was a close one all summer, and would come down to the final weekend of the regular season with the Dodgers sweeping the Astros three straight to finish in a tie with both teams having a 92-70 record.
The one-game playoff in Los Angeles though, was all Astros. Astro batters jumped over Dodger starter Dave Goltz early with four runs, on eight hits through the first three innings. Goltz’s replacement Rick Sutcliffe would be roughed up for three runs in the fourth inning. Niekro did the job on the mound for the Astros, winning his 20th game of the season in a complete game as the Astros clinched their first postseason appearance in franchise history. They would then lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in a classic five game NLCS.
The following season the Astros again tried to solidify their rotation by signing former Dodger free agent Don Sutton. The Astros were sputtering out of the gate in 1981 though, going 28-29 by the time of the June 11th Player’s Strike. That was good for third in the NL West, a full eight games in-back of the division leading Dodgers. When baseball started up again, it was decided to freeze the standings, play out the rest of the way, and the division leaders at the time of the strike, would end up playing the division winners at the end of the second half in a best of five game series. Following a .632 start, the Dodgers ended up in the second half with a slightly above .500 record. Meanwhile the Astros played to a .623 clip, and ended up the second half winners.
The series went a full five games, with the Astros winning the first two games at The Astrodome, including an 11-inning 1-0 shutout in Game 2. The Dodgers though would come back to win the final three games at home. The Dodgers would go on to defeat the Montreal Expos in the NLCS, and the New York Yankees in the World Series.
The Astros would fall back to the middle of the pack with a 77-85 record in 1982, and with the exceptions of finishing second to the San Diego Padres in 1984, and their 1986 division winning season, would finish no better than 3rd through the rest of their time in the NL West. Moving to the newly formed NL Central in 1994, the Astros would enjoy a run of success that included six postseason appearances in nine years. This coincided with the Dodgers’ decline years of the 1990s through early 2000s, and so during this stretch (1997-2005) the two teams were in the postseason only once, 2004 (Dodgers lost their NLDS in 4 games to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Astros beat the Atlanta Braves in their NLDS in 4 games).
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