|Dodgers host Giants in Kershaw's 9th Opening Day start|
While essentially in World Series-or-fail mode, the Los Angeles Dodgers open the coronavirus-shortened season Thursday against the visiting San Francisco Giants looking for the franchise's first title since 1988.
Never mind that a 60-game regular season is leading some to put an asterisk next to whoever walks away with the trophy. The Dodgers still want it and with a pitching staff led by the duo of Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, and an offense led by Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, they won't be OK with anything short of a championship.
"Our team has a lot of special guys and a lot of special talent," said Kershaw, who will make his ninth Opening Day start for the Dodgers. "(The season) is not going to look the same. It's going to be a lot different than we expected but at the end of the day it's still baseball and I'm excited about that."
The Giants might be in rebuild mode, and will have Johnny Cueto pitching in the opener instead of Madison Bumgarner, but don't expect the Dodgers to treat their rivals with kindness. Bumgarner, now in Arizona, helped keep the spiciness of the rivalry alive dueling with guys like Yasiel Puig and Max Muncy.
Now it is Cueto, almost a year away from his return from Tommy John surgery, and Jeff Samardzija, who will try to intimidate a loaded Dodgers lineup with hitters like Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock, in addition to Betts and Bellinger, the reigning National League MVP.
The Giants will be without veteran catcher Buster Posey, who opted out of the season, and infielders Brandon Belt (heel) and Evan Longoria (oblique) might not play either.
"I think it's going to be a few days into the season," new Giants manager Gabe Kapler said of the availability of his two veterans. "We're hustling to get those guys ready as quickly as possible but without the full intensity running reps that Brandon and Evan need, they're just not quite going to be ready for the Opening Day assignment against the Dodgers."
A season opener against Kershaw is not the day for the Giants to be missing some middle-of-the-order threats. The Dodgers' veteran left-hander is 5-1 in his previous eight Opening Day starts with a 1.05 ERA. That would be seven runs total in those games with 59 strikeouts.
Kershaw started on Opening Day against the Giants in 2011, 2013 and 2018. Like Thursday's game, those contests were at Dodger Stadium. In those three contests, Kershaw has given up a combined one run, and in the 2013 game he hit a home run in Los Angeles' 4-0 victory.
"I'm still very excited about starting on Opening Day, especially when it didn't look very good for a while there," Kershaw said. "I think as far as the excitement of the season goes, I'm very excited. It's almost a sigh of relief that the almost three months you spent working and trying to get ready, and then the three weeks here trying to get ready for the season, might pay off into some type of season."
While the Dodgers have won a franchise-best seven consecutive National League West division titles, the Giants have won three World Series since 2010.
The Giants will have a manager other than Bruce Bochy on the bench for the first time since Felipe Alou in 2006. Before taking over as the Philadelphia Phillies manager in 2018, Kapler was the Dodgers' director of player development.
--Field Level Media