Dodgers Behind the 8-Ball in Sydney
Major League Baseball is about to go Down Under. We’re less than a month away from the start of the 2014 MLB season, with the Los Angeles Dodgers set to face the Arizona Diamondbacks in a two-game series in Sydney, Australia. Both games take place on March 22 in the Eastern Time Zone; Game 1 starts at 4 AM, followed by Game 2 at 10 PM.
The Dodgers are also involved in the first game of 2014 stateside. They’ll visit the San Diego Padres on March 30 (8 PM ET, ESPN), one night before MLB celebrates its unofficial Opening Day with a 13-game slate. This is a great marketing opportunity for the league and for the Dodgers. But is it fair?
Not at all. Because of the irregular schedule, Los Angeles and Arizona will both break camp on March 16, which means they’ll play about 10 fewer Cactus League games than everyone else. The one-week gap between the games in Australia and America will be filled by a three-game exhibition series with the LA Angels, but the Dodgers still have a challenge ahead of them to figure out their starting rotation. For example, it appears they will avoid sending two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw (7.8 WAR in 2013) to Sydney, preferring to start him on March 30 against the Padres, and again on April 4 for their home opener against the San Francisco Giants.
Zack Greinke (3.9 WAR), also a former Cy Young winner, has already voiced his displeasure about having to make the long trip. “I can’t think of one reason to be excited for it,” Greinke told ESPN last week. Greinke also admitted the trip is “for the greater good of baseball,” but his comments have nonetheless raised the ire of officials in Australia. Dodgers president and part-owner Stan Kasten covered for Greinke, saying he “has this endearing, contrarian quality to him that we all know and love about him.”
Greinke has every reason to be contrarian. Major League Baseball opened its regular season in Japan in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. In their first 10 games after getting back to the States, the eight teams involved went a combined 38-42 (.475) before improving to 624-576 (.520) for the remainder of the regular season.
Getting off to a slow start is the last thing the Dodgers need. They managed to shake off a 23-32 start in 2013 thanks in large part to the debut of Yasiel Puig (5.0 WAR), who hit four home runs in his first five games and helped lead LA to the National League West title at 92-70. But Puig cooled off substantially as the season progressed, posting a .786 OPS from September onward, and Puig reported to training camp 26 pounds heavier than he was at the end of 2013.
The Dodgers also look like they’ll be starting the season without Matt Kemp, who has been dealing with injuries ever since he posted 8.1 WAR for Los Angeles in 2011, finishing second in the NL MVP voting to Ryan Braun. Kemp is due to have an MRI on his surgically-repaired ankle this Friday, and while he may be cleared to have his training regimen increased, it’s doubtful Kemp will be ready for Sydney. Then again, you could say the same thing for the rest of the Dodgers.