As two-time defending National League West champions, the Dodgers come to Opening Day at Dodger Stadium on Monday with confidence built on achievement.
Providing the opposition, the Padres arrive brimming with optimism based on an organizational face-lift raising hopes and expectations to levels unseen in years.
It's Clayton Kershaw, reigning NL Most Valuable Player Award and Cy Young Award winner, taking the mound for the Dodgers against James Shields, a pillar in the new San Diego foundation.
The matchup of high intrigue finds Kershaw dealing against former teammate Matt Kemp, who joins fellow imports Justin Upton and Wil Myers in a star-studded outfield expected to empower a lineup that was the game's most unproductive last season.
Kershaw, coming off a 21-3 season with a 1.77 ERA, always has his game face in place but seems to bring a little something extra to openers. Drawing his fifth Opening Day assignment, he is 3-0, yielding one earned run across 25 2/3 innings and striking out 26 with only three walks.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, identifying Kershaw as a leader by example, said, "A guy like Clayton, I think there's a tremendous amount of respect for him and the way he goes about his business."
Former ace of the Rays and Royals, Shields is making his seventh Opening Day start -- and first at Dodger Stadium, a park he often visited as a fan in his Southern California youth. He is 1-2 with a 5.05 ERA in openers.
"That was the only stadium, growing up, that I went to," Shields said. "It's definitely going to be pretty surreal. But I'm sure once the game starts, I'll try to lock it in."
Shields was 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA last season for the Royals before signing a four-year, $75 million free-agent deal to enrich an already strong staff.
The Padres were banking on a motivated Kemp when they took on five years and $75 million in the swap sending Yasmani Grandal and pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin to the Dodgers. San Diego also acquired catcher Tim Federowicz, sidelined following knee surgery.
"He's been one of the best players in the game, so he's got a track record," Padres general manager A.J. Preller said of Kemp. "He's accomplished a lot, but does he feel like he's got a lot left to play for? Going through that, we feel he's coming in here with something to show, something to prove."
The Dodgers, looking for Yasiel Puig to lift his spectacular game even higher, also have remodeled.
Parting with Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Dan Haren, they welcomed Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick to the middle of the infield, added Grandal to share catching duties with A.J. Ellis and watched young Joc Pederson respond with a big spring in center field.
Rollins, the Phillies' shortstop for 14 seasons, 2007 NL MVP and 2008 World Series champion, is expected to serve as the leadoff catalyst and a clubhouse leader.