Kershaw, Dodgers open vs. rival Giants

LOS ANGELES — The inability to take charge of the last nine innings of 2017 is what will fuel a year of unfinished business for the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

For the San Francisco Giants, a return to upper echelon of the NL is the goal, but a run at a fourth championship in nine seasons will begin at something of a disadvantage.

Everybody has something to prove, but when the Dodgers and Giants face off against each other on Opening Day in a high-profile clash Thursday, both agendas will be perfectly clear.

Clayton Kershaw will be making his eighth consecutive Opening Day start for the Dodgers but remains in search of his first World Series title.

Los Angeles came oh so close last season, falling in Game 7 of the World Series, at home, against the Houston Astros.

“Obviously we didn’t finish what we started last year and it’s virtually the same group,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But I think the focus still has been on 2018 and not to really put too much thought into what did or didn’t happen last year. Obviously, it’s in our minds, but the focus is this year and the group of guys we have.”

The Giants also are proud of the group they formed for 2018, adding third baseman Evan Longoria, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, outfielder Austin Jackson and reliever Tony Watson.

However, hard luck surfaced with spring injuries to ace Madison Bumgarner (fractured finger) and Jeff Samardzija (pectoral strain). Both pitchers will start the year on the disabled list.

That means the Opening Day start falls to left-hander Ty Blach.

“Obviously, with the circumstances, it’s tough losing Bum,” Blach said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “But it’s an honor to get that nod and go out there and give everything we’ve got.”

Blach has only 26 career starts, but he does own a 2.33 career ERA against the Dodgers in seven appearances, four of which have been starts. He was 8-12 with a 4.78 ERA last season in 24 starts, but did lose his spot in the rotation late in the year.

Kershaw sparkled again in 2017, going 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 2017, but a back injury cost him some time for the second consecutive season. He had a 3.82 ERA in 33 innings in the 2017 postseason, giving up six runs and lasting only 4 2/3 innings of a key Game 5 start of the World Series that ended in a wild 13-12 Astros victory.

But this classic matchup between two longtime rivals did not need the added incentives of a close call in the World Series, hard-luck injuries, remodeled rosters, or a future Hall of Famer beginning another run at his first championship.

The Dodgers and Giants have been going at it on two coasts, and after nearly 2,500 games against each other, the Giants hold a 1,239-1,210 advantage.

And if Thursday’s opener is half as good as the last time these teams met on Opening Day, it will be an entertaining afternoon.

On April 1, 2013, Kershaw pitched a shutout at Dodger Stadium and hit a leadoff home run in the eighth inning to unlock a scoreless tie. Los Angeles went on to a 4-0 victory.

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