The San Francisco Giants entered the 2011 season as the defending World Series champions for the first time since 1955, when they still played their home games in New York.
With emotions running high, the Dodgers won three of the four games, despite being outscored 19-13 in the series.
While four games out of 162 is a small sample of the season, a lot happened in the series to give us an idea of how the rest of the season will play out.
Barring any significant injuries to either of the teams’ starting pitching staffs, the Dodgers and Giants figure to battle for the National League West crown all season.
Here are 10 things we learned in the series.
Left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw pitched seven innings of shutout baseball for the Dodgers on opening night, leading Los Angeles to a 2-1 victory over the defending champion Giants.
The youngest opening day starter for the Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela in 1983, the 22-year-old Kershaw had questions coming into the game regarding his control, but he had excellent command all night. Kershaw stuck out nine batters while walking just one, and he allowed only one runner to get past first base. Also significant, he averaged less than 14 pitches thrown per inning, which allowed him to get through seven innings fairly easily.
The Dodgers feel like they have a deep rotation with not only Kershaw, but also with Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly and Jon Garland. However, Kershaw is the only front-end-of-the-rotation kind of guy and will need to pitch well all season for the Dodgers to be a serious contender out West.
Lincecum may have been credited with the loss against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, but he could not have pitched much better than he did on opening night.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner pitched seven innings of five-hit ball, while giving up just an unearned run in a 2-1 loss.
Meanwhile, Cain pitched six scoreless innings in an easy win over Los Angeles in the Saturday game. Cain didn’t need much offensive help, but he was blessed with 10 runs of support anyway in a blowout victory.
The Giants appear to have four outstanding young starting pitchers, with not only Lincecum and Cain, but also with Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. Sanchez, who is 28 years old, is the oldest of the four, so they should all have their best years ahead of them.
Kemp had a great 2009 season, but after a disappointing 2010 campaign, many people around the league began doubting the 26-year-old center fielder’s worth. He set career-lows in batting average and stolen-base percentage last season and his overall effort was questioned.
However, in the four-game series against the Giants, Kemp hit .417 with a home run and three RBI. He also scored four runs and was successful in both of his stolen-base attempts.
In Game 1, Kemp, who usually does not draw a lot of bases on balls, walked three times and singled, getting on base all four times in a Dodgers win.
When at his best, Kemp can be one of the best all-around players in the game. Hopefully for the Dodgers, Kemp’s four-game display against the Giants is a sign of things to come.
A sold-out crowd packed Dodger Stadium on opening night to witness the first game of the season, as well as the first Giants game since they were crowned World Series champions last October.
With excitement and passion running high, two Dodgers fans took the rivalry a bit too far as they attacked and severely injured a man wearing Giants paraphernalia in the stadium parking lot after the game. The Giants fan is reportedly in a coma, while the Dodgers fans that beat him remain at large.
Obviously, Dodgers fans do not want to accept the fact that the Giants are the defending World Series winners, but the incident put a sour taste in the mouths of fans of both teams.
Generally, first basemen tend to be among the better hitters on most major league clubs, but this has not been the case with the Dodgers of late.
In the four games against San Francisco, first baseman James Loney had just two hits in 15 at-bats, with no walks and a sacrifice fly, for a collective on-base percentage of just .125.
Loney plays great defense at first base, but he has had his struggles at the plate. Last season, Loney hit just .267 with 10 home runs in 161 games.
There are currently many elite hitters at the first-base position around the league that may become available either now or after the season, including Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. Thus, the Dodgers may want to consider acquiring a new first basemen before the trade deadline or during the offseason.
Sanchez tore up Dodgers pitching, hitting .467 in the series, including a home run and three RBI. A three-time All-Star, Sanchez has played very well with San Francisco since being traded in the middle of the 2009 season.
Prior to Sanchez’s arrival in San Francisco, current Dodgers infielder Juan Uribe spent much of the 2009 season playing second base for the Giants. However, once Sanchez arrived in San Francisco, he immediately became the Giants starting second basemen, with Uribe primarily playing shortstop from the end of 2009 through last year’s postseason.
Currently, as Sanchez continues to hit well for the Giants, Uribe, despite signing a three-year $21 million deal, is struggling to find a position with Los Angeles. Uribe had two hits in seven at-bats against San Francisco, but he has just one hit in 20 at-bats since. With third baseman Casey Blake now back from a rib injury and Jamey Carroll making a good impression wherever he plays, Uribe’s future with the Dodgers may be in question.
Burrell was just 2-for-15 in the series against the Dodgers, but he made the most out of the two hits. Both of his hits were home runs, as Burrell is starting to look like his old self, for better or worse.
Against Los Angeles, Burrell swung hard and missed time and time again, striking out four times in the series. He also made an error in left field.
Now in his 12th major-league season, Burrell is hoping to become the power threat that he once was, when he hit 223 home runs in eight seasons with the Phillies from 2001-2008. He hit just 34 total home runs from 2009-2010.
Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton had three saves against San Francisco, but looked somewhat shaky in the series. After a terrible finish to the 2010 season, in which Broxton had an ERA over 7.00 after the All-Star break, including just three saves in eight chances, he made Dodgers fans very nervous in two of his appearances against the Giants.
On opening night, with the Dodgers up 2-0 in the ninth inning and one out, Broxton gave up a solo home run to Pat Burrell before retiring Miguel Tejada and Brandon Belt.
In the final game of the series, with the Dodgers up 7-4 in the ninth inning, Broxton allowed a leadoff home run to Aaron Rowand. Then with one out, he gave up a single to Freddy Sanchez, bringing up Aubrey Huff to represent the tying run. However, Huff and Buster Posey each grounded out, ending the game.
Broxton was successful in saving three games in as many opportunities, but he still has some work to do to gain back the Dodgers’ confidence.
The Giants committed just 73 errors last season, third fewest in the National League, but they committed five against the Dodgers in the four-game series.
In the bottom of the sixth inning on opening night with Kemp at first base in a scoreless tie, Loney hit a ground ball to the left side that Tejada over threw. This allowed Loney to reach first and Kemp to take third. Then, Uribe was hit by a pitch to load the bases, as Barajas came up. Giants catcher Posey attempted to pick off Kemp from third base, but the ball flew past third baseman Pablo Sandoval, allowing Kemp to score the go-ahead run in a game the Giants lost 2-1.
In the second game, with the Giants leading 3-2 with one out in the sixth inning and Dodgers runners at first and second, Pablo Sandoval and Jonathan Sanchez committed errors on back-to-back plays, leading to two runs for Los Angeles in a game the Dodgers went on to win 4-2.
The defense for the Giants is obviously not in midseason form yet, but they cannot afford to give away games on what appeared to be routine plays.
With outfielders Scott Podsednik, Manny Ramirez and Garret Anderson no longer with Los Angeles, the Dodgers appear to be going with a left field by committee for the time being, with Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames and rookie Xavier Paul. Each of the three started at least one game in the series against the Giants.
Left-handed batters Gwynn Jr. and Paul figure to split time against right-handed starters, with Thames starting against lefties.
Thames is the only one of the three that has had success in the big leagues in the past, having hit as many as 26 home runs with Detroit in 2006. However, at 34 years old, he has yet to play a full season in the big leagues.
Until one of the three can emerge as a reliable hitter, don’t expect the Dodgers to start the same player at left field on back-to-back nights.