The San Francisco Giants will kick-off the 2013 series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
How about that for an opening series? Two rivals. Two franchise trending upwards. It can’t get much better.
The Dodgers start the season with huge expectations to win now. They signed Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the offseason. Then, of course, Adrain Gonzalez, Carl Crawford Hanley Ramirez and Josh Beckett all came over via trades during the season. That’s a lot of money.
The Giants open the season with a nearly identical roster to their 2012 championship roster. They re-signed Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan and Jeremy Affeldt in the offseason.
San Francisco is banking on the growth of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford to be their “big splash.” Both have clearly refined their approaches at the plate, and could improve mightily in 2013.
So, let’s breakdown what will be the first of many series between the Giants and Dodgers in 2013:
Game 1: Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (14-9, 2.53 ERA)
There isn’t a pitching matchup on the Opening Day schedule quite like the one in Los Angeles. We have a pair of aces battling against each other in a meeting between two rivals.
The Giants have always had problems figuring out Clayton Kershaw. The southpaw compiled a 1.62 ERA in five starts against the Giants last year. It’s not like they’re the only team that struggles against him, though.
Overall, San Francisco’s current hitters have a combined career .188/.239/.237 slash against him. Brett Pill, who will open the season the on DL, is the only current Giant that has taken Kershaw deep.
If there’s one hitter who has hit Kershaw well in the past, it’s Marco Scutaro (5-for-10). Otherwise, there are a lot of bleak batting averages.
Getting to Kershaw is a tall order. More than not, he gets ahead of hitters. He had a 65 percent first pitch strike percentage in 2012, and an overall strike percentage of 64 percent. When he was ahead of hitters in 2012, they hit just .143 off him, versus a .256 mark when the hitter was ahead.
So ideally, the first pitch is the pitch you want to roll the dice on. But that’s easier said than done, especially if Kershaw drops an unexpected off-speed pitch in the zone for a strike. Ultimately, the Giants are better off hoping he’s not on his “A” game, because there isn’t a definitive approach for success against the 2011 NL Cy Young award winner.
Matt Cain, meanwhile, is far from overmatched against a powerful Dodgers’ lineup. He hasn’t had the success against the Dodgers that Kershaw has had against the Giants, but he’s capable of matching Kershaw pitch for pitch.
Cain, like Kershaw, pounds the strike zone. Kershaw’s off-speed pitches are superior to Cain’s, though Cain’s slider came a long way in 2012. Per FanGraphs, is was the second best slider in baseball. Only Madison Bumgarner, his fellow rotation mate, had a better slider.
If Cain’s slider isn’t working, well, he has a decent curveball. He improved the pitch in 2012, but it’s still not a dominant pitch, per se.
The best approach against Cain is to look for the fastball if his slider isn’t clicking. By no means is his fastball overwhelming, but he’s sneaky with his location, and often tends to change the hitter’s eye level.
So, if all goes accordingly, it sounds like there will be a low-scoring game at Chavez Ravine on Monday afternoon.
Prediction: Dodgers win 3-2