LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers and Giants resume their epic rivalry on Thursday in an Opening Night like no other, launching a season like no other in a year like no other.
“It’s going to be different,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Our guys handle 'different' very well, and they really understand the responsibility and what baseball means to us, as a country and as professionals.”
In a stadium with cardboard cutouts instead of live fans, with piped-in sound effects and teammates social distancing in the stands, the Giants will start Johnny Cueto -- back for his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery -- against the Dodgers' Dustin May, making his first Opening Day start after Clayton Kershaw went on the injured list with back stiffness.
Last year, the Dodgers were 12-7 against the Giants, 6-4 at home.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Opening Day is Thursday at Dodger Stadium, with a first pitch of 7:08 p.m. PT. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, as well as broadcast on the radio in the Bay Area (KNBR AM 680 in English, KSFN 1510 AM in Spanish) and in the Los Angeles area (AM Sports 570 in English, KTNQ AM 1020 in Spanish).
Giants: With expanded rosters and improved positional flexibility, the Giants will look to exploit the platoon advantage every night to try and squeeze more out of an offense that ranked 28th in the Majors with a .694 OPS in 2019. Right-handed hitters Austin Slater, Wilmer Flores, Hunter Pence, Darin Ruf and Donovan Solano figure to draw plenty of at-bats against lefties this year, so they are likely bets to start on Opening Day against Kershaw. Mike Yastrzemski, who posted reverse splits last year, and Brandon Crawford might be the only lefty bats in the starting lineup.
Dodgers: Mookie Betts -- who signed a 12-year extension with Los Angeles on Wednesday -- will finally make his official Dodgers debut, batting leadoff for an order than led the National League in home runs without him last year. Eight of the Dodgers' batters are former All-Stars, two are former MVPs, and now with the designated hitter, there really is no rest for opposing pitchers.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Giants: Cueto will make his first Opening Day start for the Giants, though he started four consecutive openers for the Reds from 2012-15. The 34-year-old veteran will be entering his first full season back from Tommy John surgery and has looked sharp in intrasquad action throughout Summer Camp. He gave up two runs over four innings in his final tuneup before Opening Day on Saturday night.
Dodgers: May did not receive the assignment until Opening Day, but he is no ordinary spot starter. The right-hander is the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect and No. 23 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list.
May made his Major League debut in 2019, posting a 2-3 record with a 3.63 ERA in 14 games, including four starts. Over 34 2/3 innings, he struck out 32 against only five walks with a WHIP of 1.096.
How will the bullpens line up after the starters?
Giants: Manager Gabe Kapler has been coy about his pitching plans, but the Giants could piggyback another starter behind Cueto, such as Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly or Tyler Anderson, who each pitched only one inning against the A’s on Monday night. If the Giants have a late-inning lead to protect, they could turn the game over to potential back-end arms like Tyler Rogers, Trevor Gott and Tony Watson.
Dodgers: Not sure if the outfield renovation included a bullpen expansion, but there will be up to 12 relievers out there on Thursday. Kenley Jansen is the closer, recovered from COVID-19 and a late arrival. Joe Kelly has been out of sight with another curious idling and Pedro Báez came to camp late, so former Oakland closer Blake Treinen could share setup duties. Brusdar Graterol is only 21 and the club might not want to rush him, but he throws 101 mph. Jake McGee just joined, leapfrogging Caleb Ferguson and Adam Kolarek as the veteran lefty.
Any injuries of note?
Giants: San Francisco will be without two of its regular infielders, as first baseman Brandon Belt (sore right heel) and Evan Longoria (right oblique strain) are expected to open the season on the injured list. The Giants will also be without catcher Buster Posey, who announced that he will sit out the season after adopting twin girls who were born prematurely.
Dodgers: Roberts said Kershaw injured his back in the weight room and that he doesn't have a timetable for the left-hander's return. The only other known injury is Muncy’s injured left ring finger, but it hasn’t kept him out of the past week’s lineups.
Who is hot and who is not?
Giants: Gausman and Smyly, who both signed one-year deals with the Giants over the offseason, have impressed in their stints and have shown the ability to start or pitch out of the bullpen. They should provide nice rotation depth behind Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Crawford consistently made hard contact in camp and will be aiming to rebound from the worst offensive season of his career. Catcher Chadwick Tromp, a non-roster invitee, turned heads by crushing three home runs in intrasquad action, bolstering his case for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Samardzija did not look particularly sharp in a couple of his Summer Camp outings, but Kapler has said he’s not concerned about the veteran right-hander’s readiness for the regular season.
Dodgers: Basically, the entire lineup is hot, particularly doubles machine Seager. Pederson is even punishing left-handers. With a 30-man roster, it will be even easier for Roberts to make a corresponding lineup change when the opponent changes pitchers. Perhaps the most under-the-radar player is Edwin Ríos, a left-handed hitter who can mash off the bench with improved defense on the infield corners.
Anything else fans might want to know?
Giants: Thursday will mark Kapler’s managerial debut with the Giants, who hired him to replace Bruce Bochy in November. Dodger Stadium is a familiar site for Kapler, who previously served as Los Angeles’ director of player development. Alyssa Nakken, the first full-time female coach in Major League history, will be among the coaches who will be making their debuts as well, though she is not expected to be in the dugout during games. Only eight of the Giants’ 13 coaches will be permitted in the dugout, so Nakken will likely work behind the scenes to help get players ready during games.
Dodgers: They have won eight of their past nine Opening Day games; the only loss in that stretch was to the Giants in 2018. Kershaw is 5-1 with two no-decisions in his openers.