Dodgers Opening Day 2013: L.A. Must Defeat Giants to Set Tone for Season

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent IApril 1, 2013

Mar. 27, 2013; Peoria, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly in the fifth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It's Opening Day and the Los Angeles Dodgers already face a must-win game versus the San Francisco Giants.

Hosting their bitter NL West rivals, the Dodgers also get first crack at the defending World Series champions. The 2012 title was the second for San Francisco in the past three years, so clearly this adds extra incentive for L.A. to start the 2013 campaign on a strong note.

The intensity also increases as this is baseball's most captivating rivalry of the year, as Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal writes:

The truth is, for just about everyone outside the Northeast, the rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers is more compelling this year than any other in baseball. The Giants have won the World Series two of the last three years. The Dodgers' new ownership has assembled a star-studded roster, creating championship expectations in Los Angeles.

Pitcher Clayton Kershaw had a strong 2012 season with a 14-9 record, 2.53 ERA, 229 strikeouts and only 16 homers allowed. The downside is a 2-3 record against San Francisco last season, but Kershaw wasn't given help from the offense at a consistent rate either.

Here, Kershaw starting off strong simply provides L.A.'s offense with a go-ahead opportunity early on. Plus, he only allowed seven runs versus San Francisco in five games faced. So we know he'll restrict the Giants' scoring-position opportunities and get out of jams.

But the offense must still answer the call.

For Giants pitcher Matt Cain, last season was his best from a collective standpoint.

Cain set career highs in wins (16), strikeouts (193) and a .762 winning percentage. Unfortunately for the Giants, Los Angeles went 3-1 versus San Francisco when he pitched in 2012.

In short, expect the Dodgers to enter the batter's box with some confidence Monday.

Don Mattingly's team scored 15 runs in the four games Cain pitched against them last year and only struck out 14 times. Although Cain made it through the seventh inning in the first three contests, Los Angeles displayed the tenacity to hang with San Francisco.

All that's left for L.A. is to start strong from the first pitch and keep it going all year.

Otherwise, 2013 will finish in disappointing fashion despite the World Series expectations.