LOS ANGELES — It won’t take long for the Los Angeles Dodgers to find out how their $215 million payroll stacks up against baseball’s elite.
They’ll test it out against the World Series champion San Francisco Giants on Monday, when former Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw makes his third straight opening-day start against Matt Cain.
“They are definitely the team to beat,” Kershaw said of the Dodgers’ long-time rivals. “We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face, but until we start winning some games and be in first place for the majority of the season, there’s really not much we can say about it.”
The Giants are favored by some to win the NL West again. The Dodgers finished second last year.
“We’re pretty excited to be playing against the World Series champs, and hopefully we can come out and play the game we know how to play,” Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said. “It is a rivalry, but that’s more for the fans, not for us. We’re just trying to beat every team out there.”
Cain is excited to get the opening-day start, regardless of facing the Dodgers.
“It’d be just as memorable if it was against anybody,” he said.
The Giants enter the season with two World Series titles in three years, and they return all their key players.
“I have to feel good about it because they did a good job last year, they did a great job,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “To have the same group back, sure, it’s made it easier.”
San Francisco won the season series 10-8 last year and knocked the Dodgers out of NL wild-card contention in the next-to-the-last game of the regular season.
“I think everyone’s ready and we’re healthy for the most part, so that’s good,” Giants pitcher Barry Zito said.
The Dodgers’ lineup will be missing a key component to start the season. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 22, along with pitchers Chad Billingsley and Scott Elbert. Pitcher Ted Lilly is on the 15-day DL, retroactive to March 28.
Ramirez is expected to be out two months while recovering from right thumb surgery, with Justin Sellers getting the nod as his replacement.
Carl Crawford, recovering from elbow surgery, will start in left field for the Dodgers. He’s one of the high-profile players who was acquired in the middle of last season, along with Adrian Gonzalez, Ramirez, starter Josh Beckett and closer Brandon League.
“He’s one of the most athletic guys in the game, and it’s good to have him at the top of the lineup with his combination of speed and power,” Kemp, who is coming off major shoulder surgery, said about Crawford. “It’s never fun to face a guy that can take you deep and steal a base as the first batter of the game.”
Hyun-Jin Ryu, the high-priced South Korean pitcher, is set to start the middle game of the series on Tuesday in his major-league debut.
“This is a good club on paper, and we know it. But we also know that doesn’t necessarily mean it will turn out well unless you go out and make it happen,” third-year Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
“For us, winning is going to be about doing the mundane details really, really good and doing them consistently because that’s what’s going to end up paying off for us.”
It’s the Dodgers’ first season opener under new ownership that includes Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson.
Besides boosting the payroll into the level where the Dodgers will pay the luxury tax, they invested $100 million in the major leagues’ third-oldest ballpark.
The offseason makeover enlarged the clubhouses for both the Dodgers and the visiting team, with indoor batting cages for both.
Fans will notice new high-definition video boards above the pavilion seats in right and left field, with the original hexagonal shape restored. The boards’ viewing area will be 66 percent larger, allowing for more video content and stats.
A new sound system will be heard on the expanded concourses and in the restrooms. An improved Wi-Fi and cell antenna system will be part of the improvements, so fans can better use their mobile devices inside a ballpark that opened in 1962.
New food stands and menus will debut, although the famed Dodger Dog remains unchanged.
So is 85-year-old Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, whose utterance of “It’s time for Dodger baseball” will let fans know another season is under way, his record 64th with the team.
Monday’s festivities include a pregame ceremony honoring the club’s 1963 and 1988 World Series champions.
The team unveils its “A Whole New Blue” theme with a performance by the Blue Man Group. Fans will be serenaded by Dixieland and mariachi bands as they arrive. Fans sitting in the pavilions will participate in an interactive card stunt during the game, a first for the venerable stadium.