Dodgers' road trip has sights to see

LOS ANGELES -- It seems a little strange to be saying this, given that the Los Angeles Dodgers just began their season by taking three of four from the defending World Series champions -- a task they completed with a 7-5 victory over the San Francisco Giants before 50,896 on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium -- but it would seem the first big test of the season is about to begin.

As baseball road trips go, the one the Dodgers are embarking upon beginning Tuesday night is a monster. The three cities on the trip are in the National League West, so it's about as important as an eight-game stretch can be in early April. Barring something unforeseen, by the time the Dodgers return home on April 14, we will have witnessed:

  • The return of third baseman Casey Blake, who is expected to be activated from the disabled list either on Wednesday at Colorado or on Friday at San Diego.

  • The return of Tony Gwynn Jr. to San Diego, where he grew up as the son of a local icon and where he got to play for his dad's old team for the past two seasons.

  • The probable return of Ivan DeJesus Jr. to the minor leagues for more seasoning, partly because DeJesus is hitless in his first seven big league at-bats with five strikeouts, but mostly because the Dodgers will need a roster spot for Blake.

  • The possible return of Vicente Padilla from the 15-day DL after surgery early in spring training to free a nerve trapped under a muscle in his forearm, a move that should give a boost to the Dodgers' bullpen. It may also push aside one of the two backup catchers on the team's roster.

  • The long-awaited answer to the burning question of who will be the Dodgers' fifth starter when they use one for the first time, likely on Sunday at San Diego. With Jon Garland close to returning from the DL but still a long shot to return in time for that game, John Ely would seem to have the edge over Tim Redding because Ely already has a spot on the 40-man roster, which is presently full.

    More than anything, though, we will have learned a lot more about this Dodgers team, which by the end of the trip will have played its first dozen games within the division, with nine of those games against consensus divisional favorites Colorado and San Francisco.

    "Obviously, every game is important," Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll said. "This gives us a chance to hopefully get off to a good start and see everyone in our division and see how it's going to be."

    To the extent that it even matters on the fifth day of the season, L.A. (3-1) will leave town in first place, a half-game ahead of the Padres. The Dodgers will begin the trip in Colorado, where the schedule did them a favor because this is a two-game series in which the Dodgers won't have to face Ubaldo Jimenez, but the weather offered no favors because as a result of Sunday's snow-out between the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers will have to face Jhoulys Chacin in Tuesday night's possibly chilly opener.

    From there, and following a second off day in a four-day stretch on Thursday, the Dodgers will go to San Diego for three games over the weekend, then to San Francisco for a three-game rematch with the Giants next week.

    So, is it too early in the season to call this a big trip?

    "Every game is big," Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp said.

    And each game within the division is bigger because, in effect, it counts as two games in the standings since one team wins and the other loses. But if you believe what the Dodgers are saying in the clubhouse, they aren't looking at it that way. This whole every-game-is-big approach seems to be a universal theme, repeated by almost every player you ask, and after asking manager Don Mattingly, you figure out pretty quickly where it's coming from.

    "Honestly, I know it's a cliché, but we are just asking these guys to get ready to play every day," Mattingly said. "I don't care if it's on the road or at home, if they're playing in cold weather, hot weather, wind, whatever it is. We're just asking them to be ready to play and not make any excuses and not use any reason to say, 'I can't do it.'"

    So far, amid the comforts of home and under mostly warm, sunny skies, that approach has served them well. How it plays on the road is something we're about to find out.

    Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.