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Dodgers-Giants: A rivalry reborn, reinvigorated ... and reinvested

San Francisco has won two of last three World Series, but Dodgers' new owners have spent lavishly to mount a challenge in NL West, and a tight race is expected.

February 26, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — Having won two of the last three World Series, the San Francisco Giants would be clear-cut favorites in the National League West in almost any other season.

This isn't any other season.

The Dodgers have transformed baseball's landscape, with their new owners investing a projected $230 million, which would be a record opening-day payroll.

"It's gone from where the Dodgers were dominant to where the Giants have won two of the last three," Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully said. "But now the Dodgers have gotten new blood, new life, really. It's just another great aspect of a great rivalry."

Scully, who has observed the rivalry dating back to the teams' days in New York, believes the Dodgers' new owners have changed the collective mentality of the team's fans. And that, in turn, will change the mind-set of Giants fans.

"I think the Dodger fans are more optimistic," Scully said. "The Giant fans will relish in spoiling the optimism."

The teams played for the first time this year in an exhibition game Tuesday at Camelback Ranch, and tied, 8-8.

"It's always exciting when you face the Dodgers, being in a division like this, where the baseball is played so well and the rivalry is so big," Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum said. "Obviously, the Dodgers have made moves this off-season to better their chances and that will make the rivalry more exciting, so I'm definitely excited to get a chance to get out there again and throw against that team."

In his first start of the spring, Lincecum faced Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, two of several high-profile additions the Dodgers have made since they were purchased last spring by Guggenheim Baseball. Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett are among the others.

The Dodgers' spending spree prompted Giants first baseman Brandon Belt to tell attendees at the team's "FanFest" in San Francisco earlier this month, "All I can say is, you can't buy chemistry."

But Dodgers closer Brandon League said his team should be viewed as the favorite in the division.

"It's not 2012 anymore," League said.

While the Dodgers have a record payroll, the Giants are by no means an impoverished franchise. Their payroll is expected to be around $140 million — about $50 million more than it was in 2010 when they won the World Series for the first time since 1954, when they were still a New York team. They won it again last year.

The Giants have allocated that money in a way designed to ensure they will be competitive. Their five starting pitchers will earn a combined $67.75 million — about $5 million more than their Dodgers counterparts.

The rotation was the backbone of the Giants' 94-win NL West champions last season and it's expected to be that again, with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong all viewed as capable front-line starters. If Lincecum, who went 10-15 with an unsightly 5.18 earned-run average last season, can regain his Cy Young form, the Giants could have the best five-man set in baseball.

The Giants also have a strong group of relievers, giving Manager Bruce Bochy the pieces to reinforce his status as a master of bullpen management.

While the departure of former All-Star Brian Wilson left the Giants without a clear-cut closer, they have four relievers — Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez — who are capable of pitching anywhere from the seventh inning to the ninth.

The lineups are where the benefits of the Dodgers' higher payroll can be seen.

The Giants have two position players with the hitting credentials to match anyone on the Dodgers — reigning National League most valuable player Buster Posey and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval. But with Melky Cabrera having left the team for the Toronto Blue Jays after a steroid suspension cut short his 2012 season, the Giants lack the middle-of-the-order depth to be able to withstand the loss of either Posey or Sandoval.

The Dodgers have more leeway in that regard. They have four former All-Stars batting in the middle of their lineup — Gonzalez, Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

Angel Pagan and NL Championship Series MVP Marco Scutaro, who bat at the top of the Giants' order, are no guarantees to duplicate their surprisingly effective 2012 seasons. Hunter Pence, the No. 5 hitter, batted only .219 after he was acquired from Philadelphia in July — though he did finish the year with 104 RBIs, fifth in the league. Belt and Brandon Crawford are known more for their defense.

Until the Giants are dethroned, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said he will consider them the team to beat in the NL West.

"I think you have to say that," Mattingly said. "These guys won two out of three World Series. We think we're good, but it doesn't matter what we think. We have to go do something."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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