Giants loss a sign of the tough road ahead 

It was just one game, but the Giants’ 2-1 loss to the Dodgers in the season opener in Los Angeles showed how difficult it will be for them to repeat, just as division champions.

New Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has his team playing up to its considerable ability. Center fielder Matt Kemp, the poster boy for sloth, hustled throughout and scored the run that put the Dodgers ahead in the seventh inning.

James Loney, another mine of unrealized potential, lined a double to right to give the Dodgers what became their winning run.

And the Dodgers hustled and scrapped the whole game, which has not been their M.O. With their strong starting rotation, they’re going to be tough.

Meanwhile, the Giants showed flaws which helped beat them last night and will likely be a problem throughout.
First and foremost is their defense.

Miguel Tejada is just a shadow of the great player he’s been. He had a key error that led to the Dodgers’ first run, throwing wide of second base on what should have been a routine force out, and he simply does not have the range a quality shortstop needs. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point, the Giants concede the obvious and go to Emmanuel Burriss, who will never be much of a hitter, but is infinitely superior defensively to Tejada.

Similarly, the Giants got away with playing Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell in the outfield last year, but having to play both of them there until Cody Ross returns opens up a real Pandora’s box. Huff looked bad on consecutive plays early, and Burrell badly misplaced a routine ball to the outfield.

But both have big bats. Huff didn’t do anything against a very tough left-hander, Clayton Kershaw, last night, but he led the Giants in home runs last year. Burrell has been a very dangerous hitter in late innings since he came to the Giants last May — and last night, he hit another late home run to close the gap to one run.

So, it’s manager Bruce Bochy’s challenge to get the most out of the offense Huff and Burrell provide while limiting the defensive damage.

Another weakness which showed last night, late-inning relief, should be cured soon with Brian Wilson’s return.

Talking to writers on Wednesday, Bochy noted that it takes a special kind of personality to be a closer, and Wilson has it. Santiago Casilla does not, and it was no surprise that he gave up the run that was the difference when he came into the game in the eighth inning.

The bright spot for the Giants continues to be their starting pitching. Tim Lincecum battled control problems, but still gave up only an unearned run in his seven innings. That’s one sign of a great pitcher.

And Bochy had to be pleased by rookie Brandon Belt. His stat sheet wasn’t impressive — just one infield hit — but the way he hung in there against very tough pitching, taking pitches inches out of the strike zone, was very impressive. He’s going to be very good.

Bottom line: It wasn’t easy for the Giants last year and it may be even harder this year.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

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