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Giants-Dodgers Preview

AP - Sports

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- - 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 oddsmakers favor the Dodgers to win their first NL West crown since 2009, but Los Angeles knows its stiffest competition may come from San Francisco.

"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,'' slugger 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 for us. We knew who we had and things they could do.''

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.

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.''

It's the Dodgers' first season opener under new ownership that includes Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson.

While there have been a few updates in Los Angeles - not the least of which is the $100 million invested into the major leagues' third-oldest ballpark - the Giants immediately concentrated on not breaking up their key contributors.

It started with bringing back lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt on a three-year contract, then Angel Pagan for four years. Marco Scutaro, the NL championship MVP, reached agreement on his three-year deal a day after Pagan got his multiyear deal in December.

There are so many key returners for the Giants, who pulled off remarkable rallies in the division series and NL championship series before a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers to capture another improbable championship.

The Giants on Thursday committed to keeping Bochy around as well. He and general manager Brian Sabean had their contracts extended through the 2016 season.

"The glory days of the franchise are now,'' Giants President and CEO Larry Baer said. "I think it's important to acknowledge that and pay tribute to the people who have done it, from the general manager's office to the manager's office, to get us where we are now.''

Buster Posey will look to build on his sensational comeback season. He surprised most everybody in his first year back after suffering season-ending leg and ankle injuries in a May 2011 collision at the plate.

"We really didn't know how much we could use him,'' Bochy said. "With the job that he did winning the Most Valuable Player I'd say he exceeded what we thought we might have in Buster in 2012 coming off that injury. The credit goes to him in how hard he worked to get himself back to that point.''

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