Opening Day is here, at long long last. Welcome to the first preview of the 2020 MLB season. It’s only four months late!
Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Where: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
When: Thursday (7:08 p.m.), Friday (6:40 p.m.), Saturday (1:10 p.m.), and Sunday (7:08 p.m.)
National TV: Thursday and Sunday, ESPN
Three Giants to watch
Johnny Cueto: The Giants enter the season with a few million question marks when it comes to pitchers — and 16 spots on the 30-man roster dedicated to answering those questions.
Manager Gabe Kapler has refused to designate traditional labels to his pitchers, but the one thing we can know is that Johnny Cueto is a starter, and perhaps the only starter who will actually look anything like what a starter used to look like.
Cueto will take the mound on Opening Day, and with it he gets the chance to set the tone, actually eat a few innings, and give fans something to be excited about.
Mike Yastrzemski: Mike Yastrzemski might be the closest thing the Giants have to an everyday player, and we’ll soon find out if the Giants intend to use him that way, or if they’re just going to play him against right-handers.
But more importantly, Yaz regression watch begins as soon as the season starts. He broke out last year as a 28-year old rookie, and while there aren’t any notable red flags, it’s understandable if you’re hesitant about the sustainability of his big bat. Whether or not he’ll hold his form is one of the most important questions of the season for the Giants, and we’ll soon start finding out.
Darin Ruf: If the Giants want to have any success against one of baseball’s behemoths, they’re going to need a few high-impact plays. It’s unclear if Darin Ruf — who spent the last few years in the KBO — is a quality MLB player, but his spring sure was nice, as he had 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 3 home runs in 28 Spring Training at-bats.
Ruf getting some hard hits off the Dodgers’ lefty pitchers would go a long way towards the Giants finding some wins.
Three Dodgers to watch
Clayton Kershaw: It remains to be seen how much the 32-year old, three-time Cy Young Award winner has left in the tank. 2018 and 2019 were his worst seasons, per fWAR and FIP, since his rookie campaign in 2008. Mind you, he was still good — just a high-quality starter rather than an all-world ace.
The Giants will face him to start the season, and this is where I remind you that Kershaw has a 1.74 ERA in 342.1 career innings against the Giants.
Mookie Betts: Betts will make his Dodgers debut in this series, and if the 2018 AL MVP punishes the Giants, don’t worry. He’ll only be facing the Giants numerous times each year through 2032. Then he’s gone.
Cody Bellinger: Speaking of MVPs, the 2019 NL MVP is also playing in this series and, last I checked, Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Kevin Gausman are all right-handed pitchers. Bellinger has the ability to knock in more runs this series than the entire Giants team dose.
Best case/worst case
Best case: Sweeps are always possible in baseball, though I think we can all agree that the Giants sweeping a four-game series, on the road, against the Dodgers, is low on the list of probability.
Instead, the best case scenario is 2 — maybe even 3 — wins that are accompanied by encouraging signs. Batters like Yastrzemski, Ruf, Jaylin Davis, Austin Slater, and Mauricio Dubón look good. The pitchers are promising. The stacking of proper-handed lineups, Kapler’s in-game decisions, and prominent shifts lead to competitive advantages.
The Giants hopes, even in a 60-game season, don’t rest on the ability to beat the Dodgers, though stealing some wins would help. They rest on the ability to look like a halfway-decent baseball club. That’s the best case scenario over the next four games.
Worst case: A Dodgers sweep is not that unlikely. A Dodgers sweep, while making the Giants look as feckless as a high schooler trying to wake up at 6 a.m. on a Monday to go to civics class, is not that unlikely. The worst case is not only that the Dodgers don’t let the Giants win a game, but that they leave us all wondering exactly how the Giants could win a game.
I’m really tempted to go with a series draw, but I don’t think it’s a swell idea to start the year with failed expectations.
Instead, I’ll go with the Giants losing the series 1-3, but showing enough fight and talent that we think the next 56 games will be worth watching. And being entertaining enough that we mourn Monday’s off day.