Ready or not, the 2014 Major League Baseball season gets underway on Saturday when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks play a two-game series in Australia.
Even though certain players—most notably, Zack Greinke—weren't happy about the early start to the year, this budding rivalry between two teams that have legitimate bad blood is a good way to bring new fans into the game.
Since the games start to count this weekend, before another week of spring games, we want to offer our expectations for the Dodgers-Diamondbacks series.
Here are the official predictions for what you can look forward to seeing Down Under.
Clayton Kershaw will look like Clayton Kershaw
There seems to be some concern about the reigning National League Cy Young winner and the best pitcher in the world, Clayton Kershaw, after he posted a 9.20 ERA with 20 hits and three homers allowed in 14.2 innings.
After a rough outing against Oakland on March 3, Kershaw was so down that he told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that he was trying to figure out what was wrong: "It's not fun to deal with. Physically, I feel great. I don't have any excuses. I don't know, searching for answers right now. I know it's Spring Training, it doesn't matter, but it matters to me."
This is a two-time Cy Young winner and a $200 million man stressing over a spring training start. That's great for fans to hear, but it's strange considering how little the results in these games actually matter.
What is the biggest story of the Dodgers-Diamondbacks series?
Before we go sounding any alarm bells, it should be pointed out that Kershaw wasn't dominant last spring either. His results weren't as bad as they have been this year, but a 4.18 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP and 30 hits allowed in 28 innings is hardly dominant.
Kershaw rebounded from last year's poor exhibition season to post the lowest ERA in a season by a starting pitcher (1.83) since Pedro Martinez in 2000.
Going up against Arizona should help Kershaw find the fastball command that hasn't been there this spring. The 26-year-old has made 17 career starts against the Diamondbacks, holding them to 79 hits, seven homers, a 2.22 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 105.1 innings.
With Mark Trumbo hitting in the middle of Arizona's lineup, the strikeouts are only going to get easier for Kershaw.
Anyone concerned with Kershaw's spring results will rest easy after seeing what he does when the games count, starting with his first appearance on Saturday.
There won't be any retaliation for "The Pool Incident"
One of the lamest controversies from last season involved Arizona Diamondbacks players and some members of the media criticizing Dodgers players for jumping in the pool at Chase Field after L.A. clinched the National League West.
United States senator and former presidential candidate John McCain even took to Twitter to call out the Dodgers for their heinous actions:
Some Diamondbacks players, such as Brandon McCarthy, clearly understood the situation better than Senator McCain and others:
Celebrating is fun. I don't care how and where you do it. Only thing to care about is what we need to do to celebrate in our pool next year.— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) September 19, 2013
You know how you stop players from jumping in your pool after they clinch a playoff berth? Don't let them win in your building.
The incident also happened after all the fans were out of the stadium, so it's not like the players were pulling a Richard Sherman and posing for the cameras after their triumph. But whatever you have to do to add fuel to a rivalry, I guess.
In a game last June, players from both teams got into brawls on two separate occasions, so we know enough to say these two franchises probably aren't exchanging Christmas cards. But despite the bad blood, there won't be any kind of retaliation in either of the games in Australia.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, that he and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson talked about the incident: "Kirk talked about it a bit yesterday. It's a rivalry when you play somebody 19 times a year in your own division. Those games get heated. These guys play hard, and they're tough. For us, what happened last year is over and we should move forward and play."
In Australia, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are representing not only themselves but also Major League Baseball. Any lame retaliation that leads to a brawl and ejections would be embarrassing for the sport.
If the Diamondbacks still take offense at what happened, they should let their play speak for itself. They have a solid team that could win 85-90 games with a few breaks.
Yasiel Puig will do something amazing and boneheaded
There are two things we know about Yasiel Puig. One, he's an incredibly talented athlete who can do anything he wants on a baseball field. Two, he's going to take chances in order to make spectacular plays.
Sometimes, taking chances serves Puig well—like this spring when he tried to make a diving catch on a sinking liner from Mike Trout only to have the ball slide under his glove and go to the wall. Puig recovered to throw a strike from center field to the cutoff man, who threw the ball home to get Trout at the plate.
Like Kershaw, Puig has struggled to get going this spring. He's hitting a measly .122/.136/.195 with three doubles in 14 games. But it's best not to read too much into the numbers.
Puig's not going to hit .319/.391/.534 again, nor is he going to be as bad as his September slash line (.214/.333/.452). He's somewhere between those numbers because of the way his raw tools mix with his undisciplined approach to the game.
There was some controversy in late February because Puig reportedly came to camp 20 pounds heavier than he was last season, according to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times, though Mattingly shrugged it off.
As great as Puig was at times last season, MLB pitchers can figure out a player's tendencies and exploit them. Now it's on Puig to figure out how he's being attacked and prove he can adjust to breaking balls away off the plate.
Because of his natural athletic ability, Puig is going to do one thing that makes you shake your head in amazement. It could be throwing a runner out at third base with a rope from right field or a mammoth home run with one of his glorious bat flips or turning a single into a double.
But there is also going to be a moment, possibly in the same game, when Puig's aggressiveness gets the better of him and costs the Dodgers. He's going to try to make a spectacular diving catch when there is no chance of catching the ball or get thrown out trying to take an extra base.
In other words, Puig will be Puig in this two-game series for better and for worse.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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