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Kershaw on repeating his success in 2012

The Padres and Dodgers have been meeting as Southern California's representatives of the National League West since 1969, but rarely before their Opening Day 2012 matchup have they both seen so much change heading into a season.

For the Padres, the major alterations came in an overhaul of an offseason that saw their ace traded, their closer gone to free agency and almost half of their 40-man roster flipped. For the Dodgers, the change comes mainly in the form of the Guggenheim Partners group emerging as a buyer of the storied franchise that had endured ownership turmoil the previous couple of years.

What's the same for the Dodgers is a dynamic duo of defending NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and top Most Valuable Player candidate Matt Kemp, both of whom will be on the field for the visitors in the 4:05 p.m. PT opener at Petco Park.

Part of what's different for the Padres will be on display from the very first pitch, as Edinson Volquez -- one of four players the Padres acquired from the Reds in exchange for right-hander Mat Latos -- takes the mound against Kershaw and his Dodgers teammates.

What is more of a switch for the Padres, or so they hope, is an influx of offense that was missing before, brought in by general manager Josh Byrnes in deals that added first baseman Yonder Alonso in the Latos trade and the free-agent signing of Carlos Quentin, who will miss the first few weeks of the season after knee surgery. It is with more offense the Padres hope to improve on their fifth-place finish in the NL West of a year ago.

Switch-hitting third baseman Chase Headley, who last year was second on the team with 44 RBIs, is confident the Padres will be improved over the team that finished last in the NL in average and slugging percentage and 15th in scoring.

"I think we have a better lineup, one through eight," said Headley, who missed 39 games with a fractured finger but also had a 16-game hitting streak. "The guys off the bench are going to give us some opportunities to do a better job on the offensive side. And getting Carlos [Quentin] back will help even more. I like the moves we made and I think we're a lot better than last year."

As the Dodgers enter the season trying to improve on their third-place finish of a year ago, they're facing some franchise history in that quest. If they don't finish in the top two in their division for a third consecutive season, it would be a first for the Dodgers since 1939.

"Going in, I feel good about our club," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said as camp closed in Glendale, Ariz. "We're capable if we play well. The guys have shown the way they're playing that they want to win."

Padres manager Bud Black, meanwhile, knows not many are expecting the Padres to contend like they did down to the final day in 2010, when Latos and closer Heath Bell were around. But he expects his club to compete every game, starting Friday.

"We're not in a bubble here. We hear stuff," Black said. "But players expect every night to win a game. We hear it. Does it bother us? We all have pride."

Dodgers: Kershaw's mentality in midseason form
If Spring Training is a place to get one's mindset in regular-season mode, Kershaw's disgust with the three runs on six hits he allowed in his 3 2/3-inning spring finale shows the bell has rung for the 24-year-old lefty.

"I gave up runs and hits, and usually that constitutes a bad outing," Kershaw said. "I like to pitch better whenever I go out there. It's no fun to pitch bad. It doesn't count until April 5. I hope I got this out of my system."

Kershaw registered a 2.45 ERA in five spring starts, including 19 hits allowed, 16 strikeouts and eight walks in 22 innings. In 2011, before putting together his Cy Young season, he went for a 2.49 ERA with 26 hits, 20 strikeouts, six walks in 25 1/3 innings.

• Right fielder Andre Ethier looked healthy and strong in Spring Training after missing the end of the 2011 season with knee surgery. Ethier led the Dodgers with 16 RBIs in Cactus League play.

Meanwhile, Kemp's most impressive number actually was one that he and the Dodgers would not like to see carried into the season: He had 24 strikeouts in 62 at-bats.

Padres: Starting out on the right foot
After stumbling out of the gate last season, the Padres are consciously doing what they can to ensure it doesn't happen again this April.

In 14 of their first 25 games to start 2011, the Padres scored two or fewer runs -- including seven shutouts -- as they got off to a 9-16 start.

"We're making sure all those things that we weren't doing well and caused us not to get off to a good start are over and done with," right fielder Will Venable said. "We'll continue to move forward, get good swings and hopefully get off to a good start."

• For the second straight season, Volquez will be making the Opening Day start. But what a road in between the two starts for Volquez, who was sent down to the Minors twice last year while struggling to a 5.71 ERA and then became part of the Latos trade to move to the Padres.

"I'm excited to be here," said Volquez, who allowed five earned runs on six hits in last year's Opening Day start against Milwaukee. "I think we have a great team right now."

Worth noting
• The two teams have met on five previous occasions on Opening Day, with the Dodgers winning three and the Padres two. The last time was in 2009, when the Dodgers took a 4-1 victory at Petco Park.

• The starting pitching matchups for the remainder of the opening series will be Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley vs. Padres left-hander Cory Luebke on Friday, Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano vs. Padres right-hander Dustin Moseley on Saturday and Dodgers right-hander Aaron Harang vs. Padres left-hander Clayton Richard in the Sunday finale.

• Mattingly on the NL West: "It's going to be about pitching and defense, low-scoring games for the most part. It's one of those divisions where you can kind of count on everybody beating each other, so you just have to be steady and keep moving."

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