5 Lessons Learned from SF Giants vs. LA Dodgers Opening Series
The Giants have won two of the last three World Series titles and the Dodgers are gunning for their spot.
The new ownership in LA has shown a willingness to spend big money to acquire the players they believe will enable them to win the NL West and also drive them to a world championship.
However, before they can claim victory, there is a huge hurdle standing in their way.
The Giants return all of the key performers from 2012 including 21-of-25 players on the roster at the end of last season. The stability and team chemistry of the Giants will compete against the flamboyant extravagance of the Dodgers.
May the best team win.
With the opening series now complete and the Giants taking two-out-of-three from the Dodgers, let's take a closer look at five things we learned from this series.
No. 5: Joaquin Arias Needs to Play More
Joaquin Arias is more than just your random utility player. He has proven that whenever he gets a chance to play, he can be trusted to do his job.
In 2012, Arias mainly filled in at third base, shortstop and second base.
In his first start of 2013, Arias was at first base and did an admirable job. He looked very comfortable and even scooped out a couple of poor throws in the dirt.
Arias has earned the confidence of Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy, that he can be put into any game at any time. Now Bochy has the luxury of using Arias at any one of the four infield positions.
Last year, Arias had 319 at-bats, hitting a solid .270, with five home runs, 34 RBI, 30 runs scored and five stolen bases.
Defensively, Arias did a good job and was frequently used as a late-inning defensive replacement for third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
In addition to being a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch hitter, Arias can start at any of the infield positions. Marco Scutaro is 37, and can use a rest, in order to stay fresh.
At first base or shortstop, both Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford are left-handers. If the Giants are facing a tough southpaw pitcher, Arias could spell one of them, as he hits lefties very well.
Weight and conditioning will be an issue for Pablo Sandoval all year, so whenever he needs a break, Arias can start at third base. He started 39 games at third base last year, mainly when Sandoval was out with injuries. Arias' contribution was an important factor in the Giants winning the division.
Arias can rotate around the infield and start three to four games a week. This would keep the other players fresh and also give Arias a chance to be in the lineup on a fairly regular basis.
No. 4: Clayton Kershaw May Be the Best Pitcher in the National League
On a day when legendary Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax threw out the first ball to open the season, Clayton Kershaw did a very good Koufax imitation.
Although, I am not a Dodger fan at all, I must admit the Koufax appearance was pretty cool.
Kershaw dominated the Giants from beginning to end. He threw a complete-game shutout, allowing only four hits and striking out seven in a masterful performance. With the game knotted at zero, Kershaw launched his first career home run off of reliever George Kontos, in the eighth inning. This would be the game-winning hit, also.
Kershaw is a true ace pitcher and leads a deep starting rotation. He won the NL Cy Young award in 2011 and was second last year. If this first start is any indication, he has an excellent chance to win it again.
In 2012, Kershaw threw 227.2 innings, allowing 170 hits, while striking out 229 batters and walking 63.
He compiled a record of 14-9, with an ERA of 2.53 and WHIP of 1.023. Kershaw's ERA and WHIP were the best in the league for starting pitchers.
Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher in the National League and the Dodgers feel extremely good sending him out to the mound every fifth day.
No. 3: Hunter Pence Is Poised for a Big Year
Hunter Pence came to the Giants at the trade deadline in 2012. He never seemed to get comfortable at the plate and seemed as if he was trying to do too much.
As a Giant, Pence batted only .219, but he did have 45 RBI in only 59 games.
In addition to his ability to drive in runs, Pence also became a vocal leader for the Giants.
In the postseason, Pence made several impassioned speeches exhorting his teammates to keep fighting and never give up. The Giants staved off six elimination games to get to the World Series, where they would sweep the Detroit Tigers.
The biggest difference with Pence is that he is much more relaxed at the plate, to start off this season. He has far better balance which will result in better swings with better results.
No. 2: The Rivalry Is Back in Full Force
While watching the Giants and Dodgers games on TV, one had to notice the intensity from the Dodgers and their fans had increased, over last year.
The Dodgers have spared no expense in building their ballclub and their first order of business it to knock off the Giants.
It was good to see Dodger Stadium full with excited fans, supporting their respective teams.
The new ownership has created some excitement in Los Angeles and the rivalry against the Giants is alive and well.
The Giants won the opening series by winning the last two games, after losing the opener. Each game was a hard-fought battle and this bodes well for the rivalry.
In order to have optimal intensity, both teams need to be good and competing for a title. That is true this year and the fans of both teams will be treated to some intense and exciting baseball.
No. 1: The Giants' Pitching Will Again Lead Them
Make no mistake about it, the Giants' pitching staff will once again lead this team. The offense should be slightly improved over 2012, but it is the pitching that will make or break the Giants in the quest to repeat as world champions.
The starting staff is the main strength of the team. Led by Matt Cain, every pitcher started over 30 games in 2012. It is this reliability and solid performance that sets the Giants' starting rotation above the rest.
Cain is followed by Madison Bumgarner, who threw eight shutout innings against the Dodgers in game two. Tim Lincecum is a big question mark, but if he can return to form, the Giants will boast the top starting rotation in all of baseball.
Lincecum is at the end of his contract and is determined to have a big year. He was embarrassed by his performance in 2012 and came to spring training in great shape.
Although he had a shaky outing, walking seven men in five innings, Lincecum held the Dodgers to only two runs and got the victory.
Barry Zito had his best year as a Giant in 2012. He won several clutch games for the Giants and is due to start the home opener against the Cardinals.
Ryan Vogelsong rounds out the rotation and he won a career-high of 14 games last year. His ERA of 3.37 and WHIP of 1.228 were also excellent.
In addition to the starters, the Giants' bullpen is well-stocked. Sergio Romo opens the season as the Giants' closer. There are some concerns about Romo's durability, but manager Bruce Bochy has done a masterful job of not over-taxing him.
Santiago Casilla and George Kontos are good from the right side and lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez balance out the bullpen perfectly.
Jose Mijares, another left-hander, missed time this spring due to injury, and will need to work himself into shape. The veteran, Chad Gaudin, made the roster and will act as the Giants' long man.
He pitched two shutout innings against the Dodgers to help preserve the Giants' 5-3 win in the rubber game of the series.
The Giants will go as far as their pitching will take them.
If they can remain healthy—that should be into the postseason. As the Giants have proven, once you make it into the playoffs, anything can happen.
With the Giants' pitching staff as it is constructed, their window of opportunity is wide open, as they attempt to defend their World Series crown.