Aussie rules for Dodgers and Diamondbacks
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Not only do the Dodgers and Diamondbacks get to travel nearly 8,000 miles to open the season, they also were the first to kick off spring training this past week in an effort to accelerate their preparation for a long road trek to Australia.
The last time these two clubs faced each other ended with the Dodgers frolicking in Chase Field's outfield pool after they clinched the NL West. Celebrating with Champagne is one thing. Splashing around in someone else's home park felt more like rubbing it in, and any payback may have to be delivered stateside in the Cactus League before these teams embark on MLB's goodwill tour Down Under.
It's the first time MLB has played games in Australia, and only the sixth time outside the contiguous United States and Canada, with three Opening Series coming in Tokyo and one each in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Monterrey, Mexico. One new wrinkle -- aside from using the Sydney Cricket Grounds rather than a baseball stadium -- will be the first use of expanded instant replay in a regular-season game.
Despite plenty of test runs during spring training, it will be a unique challenge to implement the updated system in unfamiliar territory, especially with the Dodgers and D-backs getting the stage all to themselves for games on March 22-23. The replay process itself went through a number of revisions before it finally was passed during the owners meetings last month, and seeing how it works in games that count will add intrigue to the Sydney series.
Beyond that, the lasting effects of such a long trip on two clubs that have World Series aspirations won't be known until their chartered flights return to Arizona.
In 2000, when the Mets played the Cubs in the inaugural Japan series, they shook off any jet lag to ultimately make it to the World Series. The Yankees made a similar trip in 2004, and after a 12-11 start, finished with 101 wins to win the AL East before blowing a 3-0 lead to Boston in the ALCS.