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Dodgers

Dodgers deliver a message in opening-day thumping of Padres

One hundred and sixty-three days earlier, the Dodgers huddled inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field, commiserating over their second-round playoff defeat to the Chicago Cubs and pledging to advance beyond that stage in 2017. The front office shelled out nearly $200 million during the offseason to keep the team together. Throughout a mostly placid spring, the group exuded the calm of a club that knows the depth of its talent and the proximity of its dream.

“It’s a quiet confidence,” said Justin Turner, one of the four free agents who re-signed over the winter, and one of the hitters who contributed to the Dodgers’ display of organizational might on the first day of their 60th season in Los Angeles, a 14-3 trouncing of the overmatched San Diego Padres.

The team maintained its unbeaten record in Clayton Kershaw’s seven opening-day starts, although on this day, Kershaw acted as a supporting player to an overpowering offense before 53,701 fans at Dodger Stadium.

The lineup set a franchise record for opening day with four home runs, including a grand slam from Joc Pederson and shots from each side of the plate by Yasmani Grandal. The Dodgers scored six runs in the first three innings, then six more in the next two. Eight members of the lineup crossed the plate. During seven low-stress innings, Kershaw allowed two hits and struck out eight. He allowed two runs, one unearned. He scored two himself.

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“If they can keep scoring double-digit runs,” Kershaw said, “I think we’re going to have a good year.”

The summer will test the stability of the Dodgers rotation, the viability of their bullpen and the steadiness of their lineup. The fall will determine whether the championship drought ends or threatens to enter a fourth decade. But for one day, at least, the Padres served as a fodder for a fearsome unit.

In the morning, with the temperature hovering in the low 60s, Manager Dave Roberts made batting practice optional, but most of his players streamed onto the field after 10 a.m., three hours before scheduled first pitch. He had intended to deliver a brief address to the group before the game. As he sensed the pulse of his players, he realized a motivational speech would waste everyone’s time.

“The focus was there,” Roberts said. “For me to call the guys together, it was overkill. It didn’t really serve a purpose.”

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In his second year as the Dodgers’ manager, Roberts has learned the value of trusting his men to guide themselves through adversity. The team weathered an MLB record for players on the disabled list in 2016 to secure a fourth consecutive National League West title. This team, he believes, can handle choppy waters.

So Roberts saw little reason to panic after Monday’s first inning, when a two-base throwing error by shortstop Corey Seager contributed to a Padres run. The Dodgers evened the score in the second after a double by Adrian Gonzalez, a single by Logan Forsythe and a sacrifice fly by Pederson.

In the third inning, the gap between these two clubs became inescapable. To counter Kershaw, the Padres selected Jhoulys Chacin as their starting pitcher. Chacin had posted a 4.81 earned-run average with the Angels and Atlanta Braves last season, but for a team struggling through a rebuild, he passed muster for the season opener. Before the game began, Roberts said he expected to break into San Diego’s bullpen early. His premonition proved accurate: Chacin could not complete the fourth inning.

Fans celebrate as the Dodgers open their 2017 season against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium.

The lineup overran Chacin in the third. The deluge began when Turner hit a two-out double. After two balls to Gonzalez, San Diego Manager Andy Green ordered an intentional walk. The move backfired when Chacin plunked Forsythe and loaded the bases for Pederson.

Worried about pitching inside, Chacin fell behind in the count, 3-1. Forced to throw a strike, he delivered a fastball at the belt. Pederson’s hands were too quick. He scorched the ball into the right-field corner, a line drive that sizzled off the bat at 112 mph and cleared the fence.

“I thought it might have been a double, because I hit it pretty low,” Pederson said. “Luckily the fence is short out there.”

Pederson became the first Dodger to supply five runs batted in on opening day since Raul Mondesi drove in six runs in 1999. And Green stuck with Chacin. Three pitches later, he flipped a slider over the plate. Grandal blasted it toward the landing spot of Pederson’s slam.

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Few teams can boast an offense with this much brawn. Pederson swatted 25 homers in 2016. Grandal tied for the team lead with 27. Yet in this lineup they bat sixth and seventh, lengthening the minefield for opposing pitchers.

“That says something about the lineup, for sure,” Seager said. “When guys like that are that low, that shows you there’s not many outs.”

An inning later, the Dodgers manufactured three runs on an RBI double by Turner and a pair of run-scoring wild pitches uncorked by Padres catcher-turned-reliever Christian Bethancourt. By the fifth inning, the only Dodger who hadn’t reached base was Seager. He came to bat with two runners on and two out. Bethancourt threw a fastball at the letters. Seager crushed a three-run homer.

By the time Grandal unloaded his second homer, this one a two-run shot to left off a rookie named Jose Torres, a sizable portion of the crowd had departed the ballpark. There was nothing left for the Dodgers to prove on this day, against this opponent.

A few minutes after 4 p.m., Roberts ambled into a news conference on the ground floor of the ballpark. There awaited his first serious challenge of the day: There was no chair behind his microphone. Roberts hoisted one up and carried it to his usual position.

On this day, at least, not everything came easy.

“With our guys, it seems like every night, something special can happen,” Roberts said. “It was a collective effort.”

andy.mccullough@latimes.com

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Twitter: @McCulloughTimes


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