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Dodgers Eye World Series, Cubs Optimistic On Baseball's Opening Day

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today is an all-you-can-eat baseball feast. Twenty-eight teams play their season opener. The other two teams, the Cardinals and the Cubs, got a head start yesterday. Joining me for a season preview is ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez. Pedro, welcome.

PEDRO GOMEZ: Thank you very much, great to be here.

BLOCK: And you're at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for the Dodgers' game against the San Diego Padres. Let's start with the Dodgers. They have a record payroll this year - $270 million. What does $270 million bring the Dodgers this year, do you think?

GOMEZ: Well, I think ownership is hoping that it brings them their first World Series title since 1988. And that's something that really this ownership group views as unacceptable - that it's taken this long for them to get back. In talking to some of the players this morning, it's World Series or bust. It's not just making the postseason the way they have the last two years. It's more than that. They need more, and that's the message that ownership certainly is sending by spending 270 million, the highest in the history of Major League

Baseball.

BLOCK: Well, if you're a Dodger fan, it has to be especially galling that the rival, the San Francisco Giants, have won 3 out of the last 5 World Series. How does it look for the Giants this year, do you think?

GOMEZ: You know, this is - it's interesting because I know that some people want to view what they've done the last five years as sort of a dynasty, and the Giants were anything but that. The Giants were just - they barely got into the postseason all three of those years. They barely won each postseason series, and they were just scratching and clawing. But it's very impressive what they've done, but not a dynasty. And I would suspect that with the losses that they've had in the middle of their lineup offensively, it's going to be very difficult for them to reach the postseason again.

BLOCK: Well, every spring hope springs eternal in the heart of Chicago Cubs fans. The Cubs, of course, haven't won a World Series since 1908. They have a young, talented roster this year. They've got a new manager, Joe Maddon - hopes probably especially high for the Cubs this season.

GOMEZ: Without question and rightfully so. You know, they hired the general manager, the team president, Theo Epstein. And he, of course, oversaw the renaissance in Boston where Boston had won its first World Series since 1918. So they've taken a little bit of time. They've done it the right way in terms of fostering draft picks and minor-league talent and having it blossom to the point where it's ready to be in the major leagues. And then at the same time, this past year you saw them hit the free-agent market and go out and sign a Jon Lester for $150 million - 155, actually - go out and sign a manager with a proven track record, a winning record like a Joe Maddon. And it would not surprise me at all to see the Cubs reach the postseason either this year or next year.

BLOCK: Reach the postseason - you're not going to go out on a limb and say this could be their championship season.

GOMEZ: Not quite yet. Not quite yet. They've got a lot of young players who still need to prove that they can do it over the course of a big-league season. When you're asking a lot of the younger kids to do a lot of the heavy lifting, it's not quite as easy. And there's a reason that formula has really never worked at the Major League level.

BLOCK: Major League Baseball has put into place a series of rules trying to speed the game along. Hitters have to keep one foot in the batter's box between pitches. There are countdown timers between innings. You saw a whole lot of spring training this year. Did it seem to be working?

GOMEZ: Well, I think it's going to take a little bit of time. And they're giving them the month of April to get used to it. There won't be any fines doled out during the month of April. But supposedly they're going to start on May 1, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. Like anything, I think it'll just take a little bit getting used to. And the first time that a player is fined or the first time that maybe a strike is called while he's not in the box, I think you'll see that those players will immediately be able to embrace this change.

BLOCK: I've been talking with ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez. He's at Dodger Stadium for opening day. Pedro, thanks so much.

GOMEZ: Absolutely - my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.