It might be nine or 10 days early and it might seem a little weird since the team is in Australia, but we have reached 2014 Opening Day with the Dodgers ready to take on the Diamondbacks in Sydney.
At a venue with as much history as the Sydney Cricket Ground, we are bound to see something we've never seen before in Saturday's opener. For instance, Clayton Kershaw might actually allow a run.
Kershaw will make his fourth consecutive opening day start, joining Don Drysdale (1958-61), Don Sutton (1972-78), Fernando Valenzuela (1983-86) and Ramon Martinez (1995-98) as the only Dodgers pitchers ever to do so. So far the only foe to the get the best of Kershaw on Opening Day was his own gastrointestinal system.
In 2012 on Opening Day in San Diego, Kershaw allowed two singles and a walk in three innings against the Padres, with three strikeouts. But between innings he was laying down in the tunnel between the dugout and clubhouse, the victim of a stomach bug going around at the time.
It even cut short his crazily-regimented pregame routine, the one described by A.J. Ellis recently in this fantastic Kershaw profile by Buster Olney of ESPN:
Exactly 30 minutes before the first pitch, Kershaw will long-toss across the outfield where the Sydney Sixers normally roam before heading to the bullpen behind center, to throw that same 34-pitch sequence he used during his earlier session. He will time his warmup so the national anthem -- the American one, most likely -- plays right in the middle of his routine. Eight minutes before the first pitch, he will walk in from centerfield, Ellis on one side, closest to the stands, and Honeycutt on the other.
And his bullpen sessions:
In Sydney, Kershaw will have used his bullpen sessions the days before his start to reinforce control. Ellis will not throw him signs in these sessions because the sequence of pitches has been ingrained; Ellis can rattle off the list if you ask, like a flight attendant rambling through pre-takeoff safety instructions. "Three fastballs when I'm standing up. I sit, and three fastballs down the middle. Then three fastballs either side. Three changeups away. Fastball inside. Three curveballs to the middle. Fastball inside. Three sliders to the middle. Then he goes to the stretch position. Two fastballs inside, two fastballs away, two changeups, one fastball inside, two curveballs, one fastball inside, two sliders. Back to the windup, and one fastball inside, one fastball away."
Thirty-four pitches in all.
Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings against the Giants on Opening Day in 2011, and beat them again with a shutout - and a home run - on Opening Day in 2013. Kershaw's Opening Day record has been so far unblemished: 19 innings, no runs, 10 hits, two walks, 19 strikeouts.
But the Dodgers have lost each of Kershaw's last six starts against Arizona, thanks in large part to scoring just nine total runs in those games. Last year Kershaw allowed just six total runs in three starts to the Diamondbacks and put up a 2.11 ERA while lasting at least seven innings each time, but the Dodgers lost all three games.
In 17 career starts against Arizona, Kershaw has a 2.22 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 105⅓ innings, but is just 7-6. Then again, Kershaw managed to lose nine games with a 1.83 ERA in 2013 so low run support is nothing new.
The Dodgers will try to score those runs against Wade Miley, getting the start for the Diamondbacks in place of Patrick Corbin. He is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA against the Dodgers in eight career games, including seven starts, though the Dodgers have hit .283/.330/.473 against him.
Hanley Ramirez is 5-for-11 with a home run and a double against Miley, and A.J. Ellis is 3-for-12 with two doubles. Andre Ethier, batting seventh, is 4-for-14 against the southpaw, and Adrian Gonzalez is 2-for-9 with a pair of doubles. Juan Uribe is 1-for-8 with a double and Scott Van Slyke is 1-for-7 with a home run and a walk against Miley.
The Dodgers have won each of their last three season openers - again, all Kershaw starts - and with a win on Saturday would win a fourth straight Opening Day for the first time since 1963-66.
With their $215 million man on the hill, the Dodgers have an excellent chance to do so.