Welcome to another season of Major League Baseball. The off-season featured some big trades (the Detroit Tigers sent Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler), massive signings (Clayton Kershaw inked a new seven-year $215 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and some early injuries (the Atlanta Braves lost their ace pitcher Kris Medlen to a bad elbow).
Now we get to see how those stories – and countless others – will play out in the 2014 campaign. Surprisingly, it’ll all start in Australia, where MLB will kick off its season with a special two-game series between the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The following is my strongest pick (home run) and my gutsiest gamble (squeeze play) on Saturday’s opening night.
Plan on betting under 6.5 runs at 1.90. The big X-factor going into this special contest at Sydney Cricket Ground is how the field would play. The famed pitch was converted into a baseball diamond in a matter of days. We got a good sense that it will not be an offensive one when, on Thursday, the Dodgers participated in an exhibition game against Team Australia. The two clubs could only muster a combined six runs (the Dodgers won 4-2). That’s a particularly low considering Australia doesn’t have a Major League-quality pitching staff.
In addition, as a rule of thumb, hitters tend to start slower than pitchers, which under any circumstance would favor a depressed run total. Add in the fact that the Dodgers send Clayton Kershaw to the pitcher’s mound and the expectation for scoring should be very low. He was 18-9 with a 1.83 ERA last season. The Diamondbacks’ starter, Wade Miley, is also a strong performer. He had a solid season last year, posting a 3.55 ERA.
Go with the Diamondbacks to win at 2.40. While Kershaw has won the Cy Young award for best National League pitcher in two of the past three years, it’s Miley who actually appears to be in better form at this early point in the season. In three spring training starts, the Arizona left-hander has posted a 1.29 ERA, striking out 11 batters in 14 innings pitched. Kershaw hasn’t been nearly as good; he has a 9.20 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. You shouldn’t expect Kershaw to pitch nearly that bad in regular games. Nevertheless, Miley should have a small advantage.
Another advantage for the Diamondbacks: Injuries to the vaunted Dodgers lineup. Starting outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford won’t be playing and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is dealing with a tweaked back. Either Gonzalez won’t play or he will compete at less than 100 percent. In contrast, the Arizona lineup that includes two sluggers – Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo – with 30-home run-plus seasons in 2013.