The Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants play each other 17 times, and Clayton Kershaw figures there's no better time than the season opener for Los Angeles to measure itself against the World Series champions.
The 23-year-old left-hander starts Thursday night against Tim Lincecum and the Giants, who dominated the headlines long after the Dodgers' season ended without a playoff appearance.
"Obviously, they're the team to beat," Kershaw said. "But this year is a brand new year and there are a lot of expectations with every team coming in, and the Giants are just one more team we've got to beat."
The Giants will have to wait until their second home game on April 9 to receive their championship rings. But just knowing their bitter rivals have a World Series title to celebrate is annoying enough to many Dodger fans.
"With the history, sure it's going to be (hyped up)," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "With the two clubs, it goes way back. I actually look forward to how it's going to go. It should be very exciting."
Thursday's game is the first of seven meetings between the teams in the first two weeks of the season.
"It's going to be a tough series no matter what," Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier said. "It always is between these two teams, and it's something where a lot of emotion and a lot of energy fills the ballpark because it's the Dodgers-Giants rivalry."
The Giants will be without two of their top players to start the season. All-Star closer Brian Wilson is on the disabled list because of a strained oblique, while Cody Ross, their best hitter during the playoffs, has a strained calf.
Kershaw got the opening day nod a year after starting the Dodgers' home opener.
"It's an exciting opportunity, but at the same time, you try to keep it in perspective," he said. "It's one of 162 games, so it's just a matter of getting the season rolling."
He'll be facing off against Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner.
"It's always tough, and it's going to be a battle that first day," Ethier said. "But you've got to beat them all. Whether it's the first game or later on, you're going to face him sometime, so you've got to go out there and give it your best shot. I guess it would be a confidence boost if you knock him off. If not, you pick yourself back up and figure out a way to get them the next day."
New Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is more focused on his team than the Giants.
"I'm worried about us and how good we play, and how close we can get to playing our best baseball 162 times," he said.
The former Yankees star begins his first managerial job as the successor to Joe Torre, who retired at 70 after three seasons in Los Angeles. Mattingly, who turns 50 next month, is carrying plenty of lessons learned from his old boss.
"I'd like to say I'm as calm as Joe, but it's hard to be as calm as Joe," he said. "But I've always been similar in the fact that, as a coach, you're always paying attention to your guys because every little movement in their body language tells you something about what's going on with them. I just kind of take down notes as the game goes on if things are bothering me and I write them down."
There will be a moment of silence for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. A giant U.S. flag will be unfurled followed with a flyover by a B-2 bomber.
Kershaw said Wednesday that he will donate $100 for each of his strikeouts during the season to Arise Africa, a nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty there. He was fifth in the NL last season with 212 strikeouts.
Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, visited Zambia during the offseason and helped build a school and visited with orphans. They hope to raise $70,000 to start an orphanage there. He signed a one-year deal worth $500,000 in the offseason.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.