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Dodgers, D'backs kick off MLB season in Australia
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks kick off the 2014 Major League Baseball season with the first of two games at the fabled Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday in Australia.
This is actually the seventh time that an MLB season will open in another country and the first since Seattle and Oakland began the 2012 campaign in Japan.
With a payroll of over $200 million Los Angeles begins this season with enormous expectations. Essentially, it's World Series or bust for Don Mattingly's team following a deep playoff run in 2013.
The Dodgers may have rolled to an National League West title last season, but it certainly didn't look as if this was a championship team through the first few months of the season.
Los Angeles found itself 9 1/2 games back in the division on June 22 and appeared to be on the verge of firing Mattingly. However, thanks to the infusion of Yasiel Puig into the lineup and a healthy Hanley Ramirez, the team rattled off 42 wins in 50 games and claimed their 12th division title since 1969.
After ousting the Atlanta Braves in four games of the NLDS, the Dodgers saw their season come to an end in the NLCS, where they were beaten by the St. Louis Cardinals in six games.
Puig had an immediate impact on the lineup after debuting with the team on June 3, batting .436 with 44 hits and seven home runs in his first month. Puig may have gotten a little too much credit for the team's turnaround, but the fact remains, in the 104 games in which he was in the lineup, the Dodgers posted a 66-38 record.
Puig's energy was the perfect remedy for a Dodgers team that was on the verge of being one of the bigger disappointments in recent memory.
Taking away nothing from Puig's arrival, but the Dodgers' turnaround was more likely due to the return of Ramirez, who despite dealing with a lower back issue, batted .345 with 20 homers and 57 RBI in 86 games.
There was not much that needed to be done from a roster standpoint for the Dodgers this offseason. But, they may have made the most significant move of the winter, as they signed left-handed ace Clayton Kershaw to a 7-year, $215 million deal that should keep him in the City of Angels through the 2020 season.
To nobody's surprise Kershaw, who celebrated his 26th birthday Wednesday, will be getting the ball in the opener.
As much attention as Puig gets, Kershaw is still the straw that stirs the drink in L.A. He captured his second NL Cy Young Award honor in three years with a brilliant 2013 campaign that saw him lead the majors with a 1.83 earned run average and topped the NL with 232 strikeouts, while posting a 16-9 record over 33 starts.
Kershaw, though, was 0-3 this spring with a 9.20 ERA.
Arizona, meanwhile, must be getting tired of kissing its sister.
After the Diamondbacks' second straight season of finishing at exactly .500, though, there is a tad bit of optimism in the desert.
The Diamondbacks were once again active in the offseason trade market, as they addressed two of the team's biggest needs with the acquisitions of slugger Mark Trumbo and closer Addison Reed.
Trumbo, of course, will try to help an offense that last season was powered by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who hit .302 and led the NL with 125 RBI and tied for first with 36 home runs.
Reed, meanwhile, will try to shore up a pen that blew a league-high 29 saves a season ago.
Keep in mind, even with that anemic offense from a year ago Arizona led the NL West for the better part of the year before Los Angeles started to leave it in its rearview in the middle of August.
However, the D'backs were dealt a crushing blow just before leaving for Australia when Opening Day starter Patrick Corbin was forced to leave his final tune-up with an elbow injury that could result in season-ending surgery.
So instead of Corbin on Saturday, Arizona will turn to lefty Wade Miley, who was one of the Diamondbacks' best pitchers last year, going 10-10 with a 3.55 ERA in 33 starts.
"This is Pat's role," Miley said. "I'm just filling in for Pat. He earned it, he deserved it and it stinks what happened to him. It stinks for our team, it stinks for him for him as an individual, but he's a strong guy -- he'll be able to overcome this and hopefully next year be back where he belongs to be."
Miley was actually not going to accompany the team to Australia prior to Corbin's injury.
Baseball began its season in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1999; in Tokyo in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012; and in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2001.
This series actually commemorates the 100th anniversary of an exhibition game played by the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants at the Sydney Cricket Ground, won 5-4 by the White Sox before 10,000 fans on Jan. 3, 1914.
03/21 10:47:13 ET