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.
The start of that quest took a wrong turn Thursday, however, when Kershaw landed on the injured list due to back stiffness hours before he was to make his ninth consecutive Opening Day start.
“Our team has a lot of special guys and a lot of special talent,” Kershaw said. “(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 they 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 by dueling with players such as 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.
Betts, the 2018 American League MVP acquired in Los Angeles in a February deal with the Boston Red Sox, agreed to a long-term extension with the Dodgers on Wednesday. He reportedly is guaranteed $392 million over 13 years.
The Giants will be without veteran catcher Buster Posey, who opted out of the season, and infielders Brandon Belt (heel) and Evan Longoria (oblique) are out, too.
“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 anyone other than Kershaw figures to be a fortunate break for the Giants. The Los Angeles ace is again sidelined due to back issues, which have forced him onto the IL in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018, according to the Los Angeles Times.
His replacement, Dustin May, will be making just the fifth major league start of his career. The 22-year-old right-hander was recalled by the Dodgers on Thursday. May finished 2-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 14 outings (four starts) last season. He fanned 32 and walked five in 34 2/3 innings.
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