Rounding Third: Can we stop with the international openers?

Philadelphia, PA ( - The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will kick off the 2014 Major League Baseball season on Saturday with the first of two games at the fabled Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia.

The only problem is the game will go off here on the East Coast at 4:15 a.m., and if you happen to reside on the West Coast, the game will start at 1:15 a.m.

Don't worry, though, because if you happen to miss the first game, the second one will start 18 hours later.


I have no problem with showcasing the game to other countries. This isn't the first time a season has started somewhere else. Actually, it's the seventh time, but the first since Seattle and Oakland began the 2012 campaign in Japan.

But why do the games have to count? Why can't they just be exhibitions?

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.

It's absurd these two teams will be over there for a week, return to the states and play a small handful of more exhibition games, then again resume their regular season.

Los Angeles is actually playing the Sunday night game on ESPN next Sunday in what should be the real start to the season.

The Dodgers will have left-handed ace and the National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, on the hill Saturday in the opener. Kershaw, of course, had a very nice offseason, as he signed 7-year, $215 million deal that should keep him in the City of Angels through the 2020 season.

Don't expect Kershaw to sit back and count his money, though.

"It's not even a thought, really," Kershaw said. "I realize baseball is a gift. So, if all I'm doing is playing to make the most money possible, I could see it leading to complacency. That's not why I play. I don't take the contract for granted. But it's not why I play the game. I play to win and you can't be complacent and win."

Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig may get the headlines, but Kershaw is still the straw that stirs the drink in L.A. He won his second Cy Young honor in three years last season, as he led the majors with a 1.83 ERA and topped the NL with 232 strikeouts, while posting a 16-9 record over 33 starts.

"Any time you start Opening Day, no matter what continent it's on, it's pretty cool," Kershaw said. "I've done it now for a few years in a row and it's special. I don't take it for granted."

Kershaw, though, was 0-3 this spring with a 9.20 ERA.

Nobody seems all that concerned, but with a payroll of over $200 million, Los Angeles begins this season with enormous expectations. Essentially, it's World Series or bust for manager Don Mattingly's team following a deep playoff run in 2013.

The Dodgers may have rolled to an NL 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 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.

It will be interesting to see if Puig has matured at all from last year. He often drew the ire from his manager for at times being too aggressive, while opponents bristled at his over-exuberance.

As far as Arizona goes, well, it is just hoping it returns to the Cactus League in one piece.

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 which could result in season-ending surgery.

So instead of Corbin, Arizona will turn to righty 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.

Arizona is an intriguing team.

The Diamondbacks actually led the division for most of last season before the Dodgers put them in their rearview in late August and started to pull away in September.

But for the second straight year, Arizona was active in the offseason trade market, as it addressed two of the team's biggest needs with the acquisition 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 bullpen that blew a league-high 29 saves a season ago.

I guess after the winter we just endured here in the Northeast some meaningful baseball is a welcome sight. But, who is treating these games as anything other than an exhibition?

Talk to me on March 30 when the season actually starts.