Opening Day's pitching matchup is a keeper: Tim Lincecum vs Clayton Kershaw.
Game 1, 3/31, 5:00 PM PST: Clayton Kershaw (0-0) vs. Tim Lincecum (0-0)
You can't ask for much more out of an opening day pitching matchup: Lincecum's the guy, what with his two Cy Young awards. And Kershaw shouldn't be underestimated, either. The kid's got a stupid sick curveball and may or may not still be utilizing a learner's permit to cruise around L.A.
The Giants faced Kershaw four times in 2010 and didn't, um, have a whole lot of success. As a team, they batted .176 with one home run, which came courtesy of Juan Uribe.
"Obviously, they're the team to beat," Kershaw said. "But this year is a brand new year and there are a lot of expectations with every team coming in, and the Giants are just one more team we've got to beat."
The Dodgers, meanwhile, faced Lincecum three times in 2010 and had some pretty moderate success, all things considered: as a team they batted .265 with a pair of taters, one by Andre Ethier and one by Rafael Furcal.
Game 2, 4/1, 7:00 PM PST: Chad Billingsley (0-0) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (0-0)
The second game of the series is kind of riddled with upside -- Billingsley just signed an extension with the Dodgers but there's an argument that he still hasn't maxed out his potential. And Sanchez, clearly, can do more.
His no-hitter just scratched what he's capable of, provided he can be efficient with his pitches and not lose control of his high-velocity stuff. Here's the good news for Giants fans: Sanchez was pretty good against the Dodgers during 2010, allowing L.A. to bat just .191 in four games. He did cough up three gopher balls (Matt Kemp, Furcal and Russ Mitchell were the hitters) though.
Billingsley was pretty darn good too, though -- in four 2010 games against the Dodgers' No. 2 pitcher, the Giants batted just .160 with no home runs and five RBI. So, um, yikes. Safe to say that his game will turn on Sanchez' ability to match Billingsley if things go like they did last year.
It's going to be a tough series no matter what," Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier said. "It always is between these two teams, and it's something where a lot of emotion and a lot of energy fills the ballpark because it's the Dodgers-Giants rivalry."
Indeed it will be -- if you had to pick a "swing game," this is it. The Giants probably have a reasonable advantage over the Dodgers in the other two matchups, but a win for Billingsley here could alter the way this series shakes out.
Game 3,4/2 1:10 PM PST: Ted Lilly (0-0) vs. Matt Cain (0-0)
All due respect to Lilly, but it's pretty obvious who's got the better pitching staff, right? Yeah, I said it. And I don't mind saying it -- after Lilly was traded to the Dodgers last year, the Giants roughed up him up in San Francisco, as he lasted just 3.1 innings, giving up six earned runs, two home runs and hitting two batters. Two weeks earlier, Lilly fanned seven in a seven-inning no decision where he only gave up two earned runs.
Meanwhile, there's Cain, who looked tremendously sharper in his last spring training tune-up, which was at AT&T. In the one game Cain faced L.A. away from home, he registered a no decision after pitching seven innings and giving up four earned runs, one homer and striking out six. His overall statline against the Dodgers was pretty stout, though: L.A. averaged just .212 against Cain in four games last season and hit just one homer (in Los Angeles, obviously) while striking out 24 times.
This game definitely favors the Giants, because Cain's the superior (by a longshot) pitcher to Lilly. But it'll be interesting to see how Cain fares away from home, especially after struggling a little bit during spring training.
"With the history, sure it's going to be (hyped up)," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "With the two clubs, it goes way back. I actually look forward to how it's going to go. It should be very exciting."
Indeed it should -- but it's no surprise that this is one of the prime series that MLB's making sure to focus on during 2011's kickoff.
After all, though the Giants could be disappointed if they don't get two wins out of the series, it's a heck of a way to kick off the season.