The defending World Series champions begin their title defense with a tough task on Monday in Los Angeles. It seems fitting that they start the 2013 season in a game that nobody really expects them to win.
Throughout the 2012 playoffs, the Giants were constantly labeled the underdogs in each series they played. Despite falling into deep holes against the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, they dug themselves out with some of the scrappiest, hard-nosed baseball in recent memory before absolutely dominating the Detroit Tigers in a four-game sweep that secured the team's second title in three years.
You couldn't have written a better script.
On April Fool's Day, they will find themselves in a familiar role as underdogs on the road going up against Clayton Kershaw, one of the best pitchers in the world.
But the San Francisco Giants are not a group to shy away from a challenging game. In fact, they relish it. The Giants will certainly come out with an extra pep in their step having to go against their most hated division rival to start out the year.
However, that doesn't mean the Dodgers won't do the exact same. They are stacked from top to bottom and have a sick feeling in their stomach after watching the men in orange and black take home the World Series trophy again last October.
On paper, this series may appear as three small segments of a lengthy 162-game schedule. To the players and the fans, it represents a whole lot more than that. Here are a few reasons why this opening series is so crucial for the Giants.
New Era of the Rivalry
The Los Angeles Dodgers' new ownership group, Guggenheim Baseball Management, is not afraid to spend money. And that is a massive understatement.
Entering Opening Day, the Dodgers have a payroll of $215 million (via USA Today), trailing only the New York Yankees, who are at a whopping $228.8 million. To put that in perspective, the Dodgers' Opening Day payroll last season was $95.1 million (via Los Angeles Times).
The Dodgers want to win and they want to win now. They are clearly willing to pay whatever it takes to get to that point.
Along with all of that added salary cap came a plethora of talent, creating a baseball team ready to compete as a perennial contender.
All of the spotlight on the Dodgers' spending combined with the recent championship success of the Giants will propel this rivalry into a new golden era. People around the country want to watch these two teams play each other.
With both the Yankees and Red Sox potentially being out of the race in the AL East, the Giants and Dodgers have a chance to take over as the No. 1 rivalry in all of baseball this season.
In a nationally televised game on ESPN, the birth of this new era will be a big moment for both franchises.
Getting Off on the Right Foot
Last year, the Giants were swept in their opening series on the road against the Arizona Diamondbacks. For those that are incredibly superstitious, they may wish for that same fate in order to increase the odds of repeating as World Series champs.
I can guarantee that the Giants players do not share that wish.
This is a series that is going to set the tone for the whole year. Most experts are predicting the NL West to be a two-horse race between these two historic clubs. The Giants need to establish that this is still their division and prove that they are the favorites for the pennant.
Starting out the season strong and winning this series against L.A. would be the perfect way to do just that.
But it won't be easy. In fact, there is a possibility that the team could indeed get swept. Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher in the NL the past two seasons and has generally been at his best against the Giants.
In the second game, the Dodgers will send out rookie sensation Hyun-Jin Ryu from South Korea. Madison Bumgarner will have to be sharp to get a win here as Ryu impressively retired the final 23 batters (via SB Nation) he faced in spring training.
In the final game of the series, Tim Lincecum will take the mound for the Giants. Based on his struggles in spring training, where he posted an ugly 10.57 ERA (via NBC Sports), there is definitely a reason to be concerned about the outcome of this one.
While winning the series is a very challenging task, the Giants will be up for it. Even if they are not successful, they will battle their absolute hardest and show the Dodgers that they are not intimidated by their new talent. At the same time, it will be crucial to do everything possible to avoid a momentum-changing three-game sweep.
Extra Pressure on Franchise Players
Heading into the 2013 season, the San Francisco Giants will have a big target on their backs, and the pressure will be more than usual with the raised expectations of their two World Series titles.
Three star players in particular have a little extra pressure on them for this opening series: Matt Cain, Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum.
This is the first time Matt Cain will pitch for the Giants on Opening Day. Lincecum has been the team's ace coming into the season the past four years, and he will now pass over the torch to Cain.
With that torch comes responsibility and a serious expectation to deliver. This Giants team has built itself on dominant pitching, so being the leader of the staff is a big deal. It will be interesting to see how Cain handles the pressure and if he can maintain the excellent consistency he has always displayed.
This past Friday, Buster Posey signed a nine-year, $167 million contract (via ESPN) to make him a Giant for the foreseeable future. That's the kind of money you get when you win two World Series, an MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and a batting title in your first three seasons in the big leagues.
As history has taught us, some players struggle coming off a mega-deal like Posey's without the incentive to earn more money. Posey now has the challenge and pressure of living up to that hefty salary, which will no doubt be a topic of discussion throughout the opening series of the year.
While Posey and Cain have the pressure of delivering as the faces of the franchise, Tim Lincecum may be in danger of losing his job.
Lincecum had a miserable 2012 campaign where he went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA. He lost his starting spot in the playoffs last year, and if he doesn't improve on his high ERA from the spring in his first handful of starts, who knows how Bruce Bochy will handle the situation.
Wednesday is a huge day for Tim Lincecum, and everyone will be watching to see how he opens up the final season of his two-year contract. If he doesn't improve his numbers from 2012, this could sadly be the last year we see Timmy in a Giants uniform.
How do you think the Giants will open up the year against the Dodgers? Please feel free to voice your opinion below in the comments section.
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