Dodgers-Giants Preview

SAN FRANCISCO -- Clayton Kershaw slayed Madison Bumgarner earlier this season.

Twice, in fact.

Now he's faced with what could be an even greater challenge: Johnny Cueto.

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The San Francisco Giants will go with their No. 2 starter, who has pitched more like a No. 1 this season, when they throw Cueto up against Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of a three-game series of the top two teams in the National League West on Friday night.

Kershaw, the clear-cut ace of the L.A. staff, has gone up against the Giants twice already this season, and the Dodgers have prevailed both times.

In games pitched by Bumgarner, no less.

But on both occasions -- April 9 and 15 -- the Giants extracted a measure of revenge the next day when Cueto pitched victories in games started by the Dodgers' No. 2, Scott Kazmir.

Something will have to give Friday night, when Kershaw (1-0 against the Giants this season) and Cueto (2-0 vs. the Dodgers) go head-to-head for the first time since June 14, 2011, when Cueto was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.

"I don't worry about who the other team is pitching," Cueto told reporters after his most recent home start, a 1-0 pitchers' duel with the San Diego Padres' Drew Pomeranz. "I just want to pitch my best. That's my job."

According to the way the schedule appeared to be playing out a week ago, it was supposed to be Kershaw's job to pitch at home against the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night.

But new manager Dave Roberts used the excuse of right-hander Kenta Maeda's sore pitching hand to push Kershaw back a game, landing him in Friday's important slot following Thursday's day off.

"Most of it was Kenta," Roberts told reporters earlier this week, basically admitting that Kershaw facing the Giants had factored into the decision.

L.A. catcher A.J. Ellis noted the last series between the Giants (36-25) and Dodgers (32-29) until August is important no matter who's pitching.

"It's all about accumulating wins," he said before Wednesday's 1-0 loss to the Rockies in the game Kershaw was supposed to pitch. "I don't think it matters if Clayton pitches against the Giants or the last day against the Rockies. Right now, it's a race to 90 to 95 wins, and you want to accumulate them as fast as you can."

The Giants are 4-3 against the Dodgers this season, having won three of four in the clubs' only previous series in San Francisco.

On paper, a Kershaw-Cueto matchup is about as good as it gets.

Kershaw (8-1) has been almost unhittable on the road in his last five starts, allowing just one run and 15 hits in 43 innings, striking out 49.

He's 17-7 in his career against the Giants, including 9-3 with a 1.23 ERA in 15 starts at AT&T Park.

The Dodgers are 11-1 in his 12 starts this season.

Cueto (9-1), meanwhile, has not allowed a run at home in his last three starts, covering a total of 26 1/3 innings. Like with the Dodgers and Kershaw, the Giants are 11-1 when Cueto has been the starting pitcher.

The Giants expect to get star catcher Buster Posey back for the series opener. The former National League Most Valuable Player hasn't played since last Saturday because of a nerve irritation in his right thumb.