Opening Series Preview: Padres vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

After a long offseason of high expectations for both squads, we finally start the 2014 baseball season on a national stage between two division rivals. Here’s a look at the season-opening series between the Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.

When they play: The teams kick off the Major League season with a nationally televised game on ESPN Sunday at 5:05 p.m. After a day off, they play Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. in the Padres’ “official” opening day. That’s followed by a 7:05 p.m. game on Wednesday.

Who to watch: Padres opening night starter Andrew Cashner takes his place atop a rotation the team hopes will be one of the best in the league. It will all start with him. If Cashner can handle the role of staff ace, it will take a lot of pressure off the back of the rotation that will be without Josh Johnson for a month with a forearm injury. Aside from one start, Cashner looked impressive in his spring outings.

He will be followed on the mound by Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross in the series.

Outfielder Cameron Maybin is out for at least the first month of the season and probably more, and he will be replaced in center by Will Venable. Shouldering much of the offensive load in his absence will be Carlos Quentin, who is back from a knee injury that cost him most of last season.

It will be interesting to see if catcher Yasmani Grandal is in the lineup. He is recovering from an ACL injury but has looked ready to roll in spring training.

For the Dodgers, it’s more a case of who not to watch. The team boasts the highest payroll in all of baseball, but many of their big names are on the shelf to begin the season.That starts with ace Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He threw a gem as the Dodgers kicked off the season last week in Australia, but had back trouble and was scratched from opening night. It’s unlikely the Padres will see him in the first series.

The Dodgers haven’t name an opening night pitcher, but it will most likely be Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dan Haren. Why not fellow big-name (and big-money) starter Zack Greinke? He’s been battling a calf injury that apparently wasn’t just a ploy to get out of traveling to Australia. He will probably go on Tuesday.

Add Matt Kemp to the list of inactives. The outfielder is out until later in the month after last year’s disastrous season ended with ankle surgery.

So, who will be on the field? Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig is back in the lineup after missing some time with a back issue. He wowed fans as a rookie last season, helping lead the Dodgers to the NLCS. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez are other stars in an L.A. lineup that has no shortage of household names.

Finally, outfielder Carl Crawford will be in the lineup after coming off the paternity list. His son, Carl Leo Crawford, was born last weekend.

Why go: Well, you better have tickets for Sunday’s game, as it’s sold out. Tickets are still available for the rest of the series. Giveaways include a schedule cling for all three games and an opening day hat for Tuesday. Sunday will also be military appreciation day, meaning the Padres will wear their camouflage jerseys and have a ceremony before the game.

There will also be a tribute to legendary broadcaster Jerry Coleman, who passed away in the offseason. His daughter will throw out the first pitch.

On Tuesday, former Padres David Wells, Brian Giles and Mark Loretta will throw out ceremonial first pitches as the Padres celebrate the 10th anniversary of Petco Park.

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