Series Preview: Giants vs. Dodgers

Former Giants in Rival Colors. Injuries. Defending Division Champs. Season Opener. Yep, it's just another Giant-Dodger series.

The NL West division champs of 2003 meet the defending NL West champs of 2004, and that’s not even in the top three storylines. It’s the Giants vs. the Dodgers, and as usual, the rivalry has a number of stories to follow.

Opening day finds the San Francisco Giants again amongst the favorites to contend for the division and a playoff spot, but for the first time in 17 years, the rival Los Angeles Dodgers are the defending champs to beat out. The Dodgers clinched against the Giants the last weekend of the season in 2004, which added just another chapter to the long storied rivalry. If 2005 is to add anything new, neither team will waste time getting started.

The Giants do have something new to deal with, and that’s not discussing the new Giants that came in through the offseason. For better or for worse, the story is Barry Bonds being out, on the DL for Opening Day for the first time since joining the Giants in 1993. Though a number of writers disagree, the Giants seem to believe they have a team that can win without the player who’s won every MVP award since 2001. Pedro Feliz will make his first opening day start to replace him in left field. Feliz’s performance as a full-time starter (sort of) is one of the big question marks facing the Giants this season. The Giants, however, are confident they can win as is. To come out strong against the defending division champs is one of the best ways to make that statement.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, come into SBC Park a changed team. This isn’t your father’s rival Dodgers. Heck, this isn’t even your older brother’s rivals. From last year’s opening day roster and rotation, only 4 of those 13 players are back (SS Cesar Izturis, RF Milton Bradley, SP Odalis Perez, and SP Jeff Weaver). Everyone else is new to the blue, except for starting pitcher Wilson Alvarez, who was a reliever to start the season last year. Longtime Dodger stalwarts like Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca are gone. But that doesn’t mean Giant fans won’t recognize some of these Dodger faces.

Longtime Giants star (and the last man not named Barry Bonds to win the NL MVP) Jeff Kent makes his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season after spending the last two years with the Houston Astros. Kent’s relationship with San Francisco fans has become icy over the last couple of years. Though most fans appreciate what he did with the club, his surly behavior occasionally outdid Bonds, and some less than nice comments about the city and team since his departure have not made him a fan favorite. Becoming a member of the hated Dodgers won’t help his cause. Also joining the Dodgers is ex-Giant Ricky Ledee, who was acquired at the 2004 trading deadline by San Francisco. Ledee proceeded to hit 6 for 53 (.113) with the Giants. Giant fans surely hope Ledee does for LA what he did for SF, and they should get an opportunity to see Ledee play, due to injuries on the Dodger team.

Like the Giants, the Dodgers are missing their left fielder. Unlike the Giants, the injuries don’t stop there for Los Angeles. Jayson Werth, who had been penciled in as the starting left fielder, is still recovering from a broken wrist, and he will be replaced by Ledee and Jason Grabowski for the time being. Also, staff ace Brad Penny is still recovering from the nerve problems that shortened his 2004 season. Penny should be back before too long, but he’s on the DL for now. And, perhaps most notably, star closer Eric Gagne is on the DL from what is described as a sprained elbow. Gagne has been dealing with knee problems most of the spring, which may have contributed to the injury. For now, it’s not considered serious. Setup man Yhency Brazoban will fill in for now.

With Penny out, the Dodgers will turn to Derek Lowe to start Opening day. Lowe will be making his first start in the NL, after spending all of his 8 seasons in the majors in the AL, almost entirely with Boston. The sinkerball pitcher had his toughest season in 2004 since his rookie year, with a 5.42 ERA in 33 starts, going 14-12 with only 105 K’s in 182.2 innings, but he found himself in the postseason, starting (and winning) the series clinchers against both New York in the ALCS, and St. Louis in the World Series. The Giants will counter with their ace, Jason Schmidt. Schmidt fell off at the end of 2004 after suffering a groin injury in August, but still put up a 3.20 ERA with opponents batting only .202 against him. He struck out 251 batters in 225 innings. He’s had an up and down spring, but many experts expect him to contend for, if not win, the NL Cy Young in 2005.

For game 2, it will be a battle of the southpaws. The Giants will put out veteran Kirk Rueter, while Odalis Perez will start for Los Angeles. Rueter pitched through a hernia for most of 2004, leading to a 4.73 ERA, his 2nd highest since joining the Giants in 1996. He has had a strong spring, and is looking to return to his enigmatic but effective form in 2005. Meanwhile, Perez is coming off a strong year for Los Angeles, returning to the form he flashed in 2002. With a 3.26 ERA despite a win loss record of just 7-6, Perez was the ace of the Dodgers last year, and his ability to continue throwing that way is key for the Dodgers, particularly in the absence of Penny.

In Game 3, it’ll be Brett Tomko versus Jeff Weaver. Tomko continues to confound observers who love his stuff but don’t understand his lack of consistency. Tomko did flash the type of pitcher he could be at the end of 2004, when Schmidt went down, with a 1.48 ERA in September and October. Whether or not he can continue that streak in 2005 will be a big question for him personally and the Giants as a team. Weaver, a newcomer to the Dodgers in 2004, quickly found a place in the rivalry after a spat with Giant outfielder Michael Tucker. He had a solid 2004, with a 4.01 ERA, and the Dodgers believe he will continue to improve.

SERIES AT A GLANCE:

Game 1: Tuesday, April 5, 1:15 PM (PT)– Derek Lowe (0-0) vs. Jason Schimdt (0-0) TV: FSN Bay Area
Game 2: Wednesday, April 6, 7:05 PM (PT) – Odalis Perez (0-0) vs. Kirk Rueter (0-0) TV: FSN/ESPN2
Game 3: Thursday, April 7, 7:15 PM (PT) – Jeff Weaver (0-0) vs. Brett Tomko (0-0) TV: KTVU

KEY PLAYERS:

1. Pedro Feliz – You can’t replicate the greatest player of the modern era, but Pedro will have to do his best. How he hits in the middle of the order on a regular basis will go a long ways towards how the Giants fare this season.

2. Jeff Kent – There may be some debate as to who the offensive force of the Dodgers is this season, between Kent and J.D. Drew. But with Kent being an ex-Giant, his performance this series will be the one under the microscope.

3. Matt Herges – Out of the closer role, it’s up to Herges to redeem himself. The bullpen is deeper than last season, but they need someone to turn to in the big situations. Herges was that man down the stretch in 2003. Can he return to that ace setup role?



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