Last week, both Don Mattingly and Bruce Bochy named their Opening Day starters. No one should have been surprised about Clayton Kershaw and Matt Cain facing each other on April 1.
Renewing the century-old rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants adds to the excitement of the most anticipated baseball game of the season. This season, most knowledgeable people believe these teams will battle for the National League West title.
Beginning the year with this fierce competition will pique fan interest. Both teams have enormous expectations for 2013. The Giants, coming off a remarkable run to their second World Series championship in the past three years, haven't made many changes.
Nevertheless, having both Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence for the entire season should help the Giants' offensive production. Left fielder Gregor Blanco and shortstop Brandon Crawford have more experience in the Majors, so they should have the ability to know more about what the opposing pitchers will hurl at them. Hopefully, Pablo Sandoval won't miss significant time with injuries, even though he arrived at Spring Training a little overweight. The Giants scored the fewest runs of a World Series champion for a full season since 1900. Hence, they need to improve their offense.
Playing half their games in AT&T Park, the Giants nearly always have counted on outstanding pitching. At times during 2012, they experienced pitching problems. However, no one foresees them having those issues in '13.
Sergio Romo will be the closer for the whole year, barring an injury. Last year, Bochy had to conduct a search for a full-time reliable closer after losing Brian Wilson to Tommy John elbow surgery in April.
The re-emergence of Barry Zito as a dominant starter strengthens an already excellent rotation. Although Zito hadn't performed up to lofty expectations after signing a lucrative long-term contract in 2007, the lefty redeemed himself when he enabled the Giants to win his final 14 starts, not including the postseason, when he pitched fantastically in two of the most important games for the Giants en route to their improbable World Series championship.
If Tim Lincecum can bounce back from a difficult 2012 season during which he was plagued by mechanical problems that sapped his velocity, the Giants will have an extraordinary pitching staff. Lincecum showed an amazing amount of maturity by not complaining about his demotion to the bullpen during the playoffs. The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner demonstrated an ability to come into a game and quiet the opposition. If Lincecum continues to struggle with a lack of velocity, the Giants need to consider putting him in the bullpen, because his unique style of pitching will baffle the hitters after seeing a more orthodox starter.
The Giants have the best defense within the NL West, and this will lessen the pressure on both the pitching staff and the offense.
While the Giants haven't made many changes to their team since last August, the Dodgers have continually tinkered with theirs. Los Angeles could have the biggest payroll in the history of the sport. Having this brings very high expectations, and it's doubtful that the club can perform the way everyone believes it can.
Mattingly enters the season on the last year of his contract, and this brings uncertainty for the future. If the team doesn't achieve the way the new ownership wants, Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti are probably gone.
The Dodgers upgraded their starting rotation. Obtaining Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu has given the Dodgers one of the best rotations in baseball. However, Greinke has fought an anxiety disorder in the past, and the added pressure to perform well to warrant his new contract might bring the crippling feelings back. Ryu was a star in Korea, but no one knows whether he can get Major League hitters out. After Kershaw, the Dodgers' starting rotation has many question marks that need to be answered during the season.
Last year, even after the mega trade with Boston, the Dodgers struggled mightily to score runs. The media blamed these surprising offensive problems on the lack of chemistry, but developing chemistry is difficult and no automatic thing. People believe having a Spring Training together will assure that the Dodgers will have good chemistry. However, this is a naïve notion. Some teams just don't have good chemistry.
The Dodgers have too many superstars. The best teams have a mixture of superstars and role players who do their jobs well without getting much notice. Having too many superstars seeking to be the heroes leads to players trying to do too much -- and failing.
While most excellent teams have a terrific defense, the Dodgers don't. Their shortstop situation is troubling. Hanley Ramirez showed a lack of range at shortstop when he came over from Miami. He also had an erratic throwing arm. Though everybody blames his defensive shortcomings on playing third base for Miami, Ramirez has never been known for his defensive prowess. With their superb starting rotation, the Dodgers can't afford to have a shortstop who is below average defensively.
Both Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford are coming off major arm surgeries, and these probably have weakened their throwing ability. The Dodgers can't afford to have outfielders who can't throw well when they play over 75 percent of their games in stadiums with spacious outfields.
On paper, the Giants definitely have the advantage over the Dodgers. Their postseason experience will help them to remain calm regardless of what situation they face during the season. The upstart Dodgers have to battle high expectations and perform collectively.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.