SAN FRANCISCO – Giants first baseman Brandon Belt made his major-league debut in Los Angeles in 2011, but it wasn't until this February that he fully understood the magnitude of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
After making a seemingly innocuous comment at FanFest about teams not being able to "buy chemistry," Belt felt the full digital brunt of a Dodgers fan base hopeful that championships can be bought.
"It was pretty bad," Belt said, laughing. "I had to get off Twitter for a while."
Belt and the Giants will get their first live taste of a rejuvenated Dodgers fan base today, when the longtime rivals open the season at renovated Dodger Stadium.
Since purchasing the franchise for more than $2 billion in March 2012, the new ownership group in Los Angeles has seemingly operated without a budget. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez, left fielder Carl Crawford, right-hander Josh Beckett and shortstop Hanley Ramirez were obtained in blockbuster trades, and 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke ($147 million), Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig ($42 million) and South Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu ($36 million) were signed in the offseason.
The result is a team many have picked to overtake the Giants, a fact that hasn't been lost in a clubhouse that is defending a World Series title for the second time in three seasons.
Asked about the Dodgers this spring, Giants manager Bruce Bochy called them "the favorites" in the National League West.
"That's what I'm hearing," he said, smiling. "It really doesn't matter. That's on paper."
On paper, the Giants look nearly identical to the championship club, with 21 players off the World Series roster making this year's Opening Day roster. Instead of battling the Dodgers in the free-agent market, the Giants opted to bring back key contributors Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt, and they've spent great resources on long-term deals for cornerstones Buster Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
"They obviously got better," Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong said of the Dodgers. "But there are a lot of ways to improve your team in the offseason. They did it their way and we did it our way by keeping the same guys we had. It's going to be a great season, us going head to head with them."
Vogelsong is as aware of the rivalry as any Giant, having turned down the Dodgers before his breakthrough 2011 season. While everyone in the clubhouse is aware of the Los Angeles remodel, Vogelsong said there's little conversation about now being considered an underdog.
The pecking order remains the same down south, too.
"The people that watch know we're going to have a good club, but it's hard to bypass the Giants in any way, shape or form when they've won two out of three and have their whole club back," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "That's who you've got to measure yourself with."
By any measure, the 19 games between the rivals should be some of the most heated in years. Both clubs have deep rotations and experienced bullpens, and while the Dodgers have the potential to have the league's best lineup, the Giants will have the edge defensively and in the management department.
A's open against Hernandez again – His usual carefree self, Felix Hernandez danced in the visitors' clubhouse in Oakland to his techno "house music" Sunday.
It's fitting that Hernandez will make his season debut and first outing since landing a seven-year, $175 million contract against the A's tonight. The Seattle ace always faces them to start, or so it seems to the A's.
"A lot," Hernandez said with a smile. "I've faced the A's a lot."
Three times last season, in fact – in the opening game in Tokyo, in Seattle's 2012 Safeco Field debut and for the A's home opener. The Mariners won the first two.
"We're used to it," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said, chuckling. "If there's a team that's used to facing Felix, it's us."
Hernandez, who turns 27 on April 8, opted to sit out the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela to focus on this season.
"I don't care how many times you've done it. Starting on Opening Day never gets old," he said. "It's an honor, because there's so much anticipation leading up to that game."
The A's won 94 games last season and became the first team in major-league history to capture a division or pennant after trailing by five games with fewer than 10 to play, stunning the two-time reigning American League-champion Texas Rangers on the final day of the regular season.
Oakland then lost to Detroit in the deciding Game 5 of the A.L. Division Series.
Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes ended spring training on a 13-for-33 run with all six home runs and 13 RBIs over the final 11 games.
"The tickets are sold. It's going to be a great game," Cespedes said. "(Hernandez) is a great player and has pitched so well. But I see this A's team as being better than last year."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.