LOS ANGELES -- Tommy Lasorda was feeling nostalgic, even a bit melancholy, lamenting the fact that the San Francisco Giants have finished ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers and won two World Series the past three seasons.
"I know that when I managed, we beat them a lot," Lasorda said. "They never won a pennant when I was there, and I was there for, what, 20 years?"
That's not entirely true. The Giants won the National League pennant in 1989, but the point is perfectly valid. There has been a dramatic shift in the balance of power, from south to north. Then again, Lasorda didn't have to bring in Walter Alston to explain what the rivalry is all about, because most of his players grew up around it.
About a week ago, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly invited Lasorda to address the team in Arizona and explain what finishing ahead of the Giants this season would mean. When the teams open their seasons Monday at Dodger Stadium, about half the Dodgers who will be in the dugout weren't around one year ago. So, it seemed like a good time for a history lesson.
Lasorda's message apparently came across.
"He makes it real clear he doesn't want to lose to those guys," Carl Crawford said. "It becomes stuck in your mind all the time."
Up north, no such talks were needed. The Giants are working to construct one of the most stable dynasties in recent baseball history. Their starting lineup is the same as last season's. So is their starting rotation. Of the 25 guys likely to make the team, 22 were Giants last in 2012.
In the past eight months, the Dodgers have added a new leadoff hitter, a new cleanup hitter, their closer, their second-best starting pitcher and a new shortstop, among other additions. They are out to prove that, if your will and your wallet are committed, you can make up for lost time -- the lost years at the end of Frank McCourt's ownership.
Eventually, they'd like to get closer to the Giants' model, with native talent pushing its way up from below.
"They rode out the tough years and restocked with some great drafts and franchise-changing players at the top of those drafts," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "There's no doubt that's what the goal is. We were coming off some, shall we say, different times in the history of the organization and franchise. The last 12 months, we had to do a lot of catching up.
"The truest way to build is from within."
For the first time in seven seasons, the Giants opened 2012 with a higher payroll than the Dodgers. The Dodgers' new owners rectified that quickly and decisively. The Dodgers will enter 2013 with a record $230 million payroll, nearly $100 million higher than the Giants'. On paper, it appears the grandest West Coast rivalry in sports could be a heated one in 2013 though the teams approached it in opposite fashion.
The Dodgers know they haven't bought any assurances that they have surpassed the Giants' talent level, only that they've gotten closer.
"We know how good they are," Mattingly said.
But they've certainly gotten the Giants' attention with their year of rapid reconstruction.
"I'm sure a lot of painstaking meeting went into what they did. It wasn't just a knee-jerk byproduct of having a higher payroll," Giants general manager Brian Sabean, Colletti's former boss, said. "We'll see. We spoke to it the other day. I don't know one team where payroll can definitively define your season's success. The season is too long. You have to survive injuries, have depth on your roster.
"I know Ned's goal is to have the most competitive, balanced team to start the season."
Fueled by a massive new TV contract, the Dodgers have spent more than $700 million acquiring players and fixing up Dodger Stadium in the past year. They've also recommitted to the scouting and development efforts that made them such a consistent contender in Lasorda's years. Who knows, in five years, it might be the Giants who need to play catch-up.
The Dodgers, for now, are forced to pay their respects to the defending champs, though it might kill them inside. Mattingly said it's the Giants' pitching, combined with manager Bruce Bochy's skillful use of the bullpen, that make them so tough to beat. Oddly, Bochy has never won a manager of the year award in San Francisco. The Giants extended the contracts of Bochy and Sabean through the 2016 season Thursday, so the stability of the regime doesn't seem to be wavering.
"Boch is just smart," Mattingly said. "There's nothing that's really getting by him. You're not going to go try to out-manage Bochy. You get your guys playing the game, make sure we're fundamentally sound and go try to beat them."
That quest starts Monday.