A New Beginning: Opening Day Down Under

Fall Baseball comes early this year, as the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks start the regular season at the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Australia. The Southern Hemisphere game brings about the earliest fall game in the history of Major League Baseball, as the seasons are reversed on the other side of the equator. The Dodgers will seek to begin and end their season playing meaningful fall season baseball.  (Image source: http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2013/06/12/1226662/783654-baseball-scg.jpg)

Many blogs will seek to speculate about a team’s prospective performance.  They’ll evaluate every player on a team, try to determine intangibles, analyze strength of schedule, look at the division that a team is in, and try to make a projection on Opening Day where a team will wind up.

This blog, while open to expressing opinion and evaluating situations, prefers to look at the season as a whole as a progression.

Because of this, we start today with a clean slate.  Last year’s thrilling 92-70 season which ended in St. Louis after a devastating loss in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals is in the history books, and a new season has begun.  Clayton Kershaw will take the mound with a 0-0 record, seeking his third Cy Young Award in four years tomorrow afternoon in Sydney in a game that will air at 1 a.m. here in Los Angeles.  The two games in this series each count as Arizona Diamondbacks home games, making the Dodgers technically the visiting team and meaning the Dodgers will have their normal allotment of 81 home games at Dodger Stadium during the regular season.

The Dodgers and the Diamondbacks developed quite the short-term rivalry last year, with Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers frequently taking shots at the Dodgers’ spending, the Diamondbacks’ owner forcing Dodger fans to take off their Dodger gear or change seats, a brutal brawl that saw the Dodgers and Diamondbacks square off at Dodger Stadium in early June with the Dodgers sitting 9 1/2 games back of first place, and the Dodgers eventually going on a streak that saw them finish the season on a 62-28 tear and included an iconic moment in franchise history when the Dodgers clinched the National League West at Chase Field and celebrated in the Diamondbacks’ pool beyond the right-center field fence.

The Dodgers finished off the Diamondbacks’ NL West title hopes at Chase Field in mid-September, and after being urged by the Diamondbacks not to celebrate on the field, decided instead to celebrate in the Chase Field pool. Image source: http://latinotimes.com/files/pics/dodgers_pool_arizona.jpg

With a clean slate comes a 0-0 record for each team, and a historical early start to the season not only on a different continent, but in a different hemisphere.  Never before has a regular season Major League Baseball game been played in the Southern Hemisphere.  Yet having featured such Aussie players in the past as Craig Shipley and Trent Oeltjen, the Dodgers do have some followers “down under” and a festive atmosphere is expected.

Each team tuned up for the regular season opener with an exhibition game against the Australian National Team, the Dodgers riding Yasiel Puig’s arm and bat to a 4-2 win on Thursday evening and the Diamondbacks getting shut out 5-0 on Friday evening, games that started at 1 a.m. local time in Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Coming into the season, the Dodgers have a couple of question marks in their outfield.  Carl Crawford is sidelined with an injured shoulder and Matt Kemp, while he has played some this spring, is not yet ready to take the field in a regular game.  To avoid a DL stint, the Dodgers have taken advantage of the fact Crawford is an expectant father who’s baby is due in the next week or so, putting him on paternity leave from which he does not have to be activated until April 1st.  It is believed that Kemp will be ready in time for Opening Day at Dodger Stadium on April 4th and will likely be able to play before that as he will be eligible to come off the disabled list prior to that time.  However, neither player made the trip.  Injuries were an area of concern for the Dodgers last year, although the team recovered from those nicely to make an historic run to the playoffs.  The opening day lineup projects that the Dodgers will feature Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig in right field, veteran Andre Ethier in Center, and organizational prospect and power bat Scott Van Slyke in left.

The infield is more set, though there is some uncertainty at second base.  Cuban Alexander Guerrero was projected to be the starting second baseman, but an intense spring competition leaves the Dodgers in a platoon situation, with Dee Gordon’s strong showing this spring giving him a spot on the Dodgers as a utilityman and possible a starting second baseman in a platoon situation, and Justin Turner demonstrated tremendous offensive prowess during the spring, earning himself the Opening Day start in Sydney.  Juan Uribe once again will anchor third base, Hanley Ramirez checks in at shortstop, and Adrian Gonzalez will man first base for the team.

Behind the plate, A.J. Ellis starts his third season as the team’s starting catcher.  The team will decide whether to start the season with last year’s primary backup Tim Federowicz or Drew Butura as the backup catcher.  Federowicz, who demonstrated defensive prowess last season but was inconsistent with the bat, may be the player who gets sent to the minors as Butura is out of options and would have to clear waivers before he could be given a minor league assignment.

Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for a 7 p.m. Saturday night start in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia to begin his Cy Young Award defense. Kershaw pitched an Opening Day shutout against the San Francisco Giants last year at Dodger Stadium that featured the pitcher jump-starting the offense himself with an 8th inning home run. Will Kershaw be able to repeat his Cy Young performance in 2014? (Image source: ESPN at http://a.espncdn.com/media/motion/2014/0115/dm_140115_mlb_kershaw_4pm_deal/dm_140115_mlb_kershaw_4pm_deal.jpg)

Much will be decided over the course of the next 162 games, but for now we’ll leave it to the players to write the story on the field.  Once again, a Saturday evening game at the Sydney Cricket Grounds will start the Major League Baseball season, a 1 a.m. Pacific Time start.  Clayton Kershaw starts his defense of the Cy Young Award on the mound for the Dodgers.  As the pitcher for the designated home team, Wade Miley has become the Diamondbacks’ scheduled starter due to what appears to be a season-ending injury to Patrick Corbin and will throw the season’s first pitch to Yasiel Puig as the sun sets on Sydney this evening.

The Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu will go against Trevor Cahill in the second game, a Sunday afternoon game in Sydney which will air at 7 p.m. Saturday night here in Los Angeles.

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