The 2019 regular season is finally here. Well, no, the 2019 regular season actually opened in Japan last week. This Thursday, March 28, is the traditional Opening Day (). That's when the season really gets underway.
Each year Opening Day brings a ton of quality pitching matchups. Every club starts whoever they deem their best available pitcher in the first game of the new season. You can't beat it. It's nothing but great matchups all day. Given that, it's time to compile our annual Opening Day pitching matchup rankings.
The rankings are based on three factors:
- Pitcher Quality. The better the pitchers the better the matchup, right? Right.
- Intrigue. Is someone making their first start with a new team? Facing his former team? Coming back from injury? That sort of thing.
- Watchability. The most subjective factor. How fun is it to watch these guys pitch?
There are 15 games on the schedule Thursday but we're going to rank 16 Opening Day pitching matchups because of the series in Japan. The Athletics and Mariners had their Opening Day in Tokyo last week, then this week they will face other teams playing their Opening Day. That's how we get 16 different Opening Day pitching matchups.
So, with that in mind, here are the 2019 Opening Day pitching matchup rankings. The six pitchers in the top three matchups have combined for eight Cy Young awards.
1. Jacob deGrom, Mets vs. Max Scherzer, Nationals
Hoo boy. I've ranked the Opening Day pitching matchups every year since 2013 and this is, pretty easily, the best matchup during that time. It is Cy Young winner vs. Cy Young runner-up, and the two best pitchers in baseball at the top of their game. If you don't think deGrom and Scherzer are the two best pitchers in the game, that's fine. The worst case scenario is what, two of the top five pitchers in baseball? That's still really good.
DeGrom was historically great last season, pitching to a 1.70 ERA in 217 innings en route to a near unanimous Cy Young win. Scherzer struck out 300 batters in 220 2/3 innings last year and received the one first place Cy Young vote deGrom did not receive. He's a three-time Cy Young winner himself. Add in the fact these are two division rivals likely to battle for the NL East title (or just a wild-card spot) all summer, and you have the best Opening Day pitching matchup in years. What fun.
This will be deGrom's first career Opening Day start, if you can believe that. Noah Syndergaard started the season opener the last two years and Matt Harvey the year before that. For Scherzer, this is career Opening Day start No. 4. He started the season opener in 2015, 2016, and 2018. A finger issue pushed him back to the third game of the regular season in 2017.
2. Justin Verlander, Astros vs. Blake Snell, Rays
This might be the second best matchup in the all the years I've been ranking Opening Day pitching matchups. It's another Cy Young winner vs. Cy Young runner-up matchup, with Snell narrowly beating out Verlander for the award in 2018. The only reason I have Snell vs. Verlander behind deGrom vs. Scherzer is Snell's short track record. He's only had the one elite season thus far, so I'm willing to defer to deGrom and Scherzer, two guys who've been great for several years.
Anyway, Snell posted a 1.89 ERA in 180 2/3 innings last season, becoming the first American League hurler to post a sub-2.00 ERA since peak Pedro Martinez in 2000. Verlander turned 36 n February and he is an ageless wonder. His 290 strikeouts last year were a career-high, and he now is one of only four pitchers with three second place finishes in the Cy Young voting to his credit. Verlander, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Warren Spahn. Those are the four.
Fortunately, deGrom vs. Scherzer (1:05 p.m. ET -- stream in N.Y. via fuboTV) and Snell vs. Verlander (4 p.m. ET -- stream regionally on fuboTV) will be played at different times, so we can give both matchups our full attention. This will be Verlander's 11th career Opening Day start, tying him for 10th most in history. Snell is making his first career Opening Day start.
3. Corey Kluber, Indians vs. Jose Berrios, Twins
Kluber against the pitcher who I think has a pretty good chance to be the next Kluber. If nothing else, Berrios has a similar video game breaking ball. Look at this:
Berrios is pretty good already. I also think the soon-to-be 25-year-old is on the verge of breaking out as one of the game's very best pitchers. He'll be making his first career Opening Day start. Kluber remains one of the game's truly elite pitchers and he will make his fifth straight Opening Day start this year. He's the first Indians pitcher to start five consecutive season openers since Stan Coveleski from 1917-21. This has a chance to be a very fun and very exciting season-opening pitching matchup.
4. Jameson Taillon, Pirates vs. Luis Castillo, Reds
This is the hardcore baseball nerd pitching matchup. Taillon overcame several serious injuries earlier in his career and he managed the quietest 3.20 ERA in 191 innings last season. Castillo rebounded from a rough start last season to post a 2.63 ERA with 80 strikeouts in his final 14 starts and 82 innings last year. Two very promising up-and-coming starters with electric stuff makes for a very exciting Opening Day matchup. Taillon and Castillo are both making their first career Opening Day starts this season.
5. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
For the first time since 2010, someone other than Clayton Kershaw will be on the mound for the Dodgers on Opening Day. A spring shoulder issue ends Kershaw's Opening Day start streak at eight years. Ryu will be the team's first non-Kershaw Opening Day starter since ... Vicente Padilla. Yep. Greinke remains excellent at age 35, throwing 207 2/3 innings with a 3.21 ERA in 2018. Believe it or not, this will be only his fourth career Opening Day start. I would've guessed Greinke had eight or nine Opening Day starts under his belt.
6. Chris Sale, Red Sox vs. Marco Gonzales, Mariners
For the first time in five years, a pitcher will start two of his team's first three games of the regular season. It won't be an opener situation either. Gonzales started Seattle's season opener in Japan last week and he'll get the ball again when they resume their regular season Thursday. (Ryu started two of the Dodgers' first three games around their Australia trip in 2014.)and he'll make his fifth career Opening Day start later this week. In his previous four Opening Day starts, Sale is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 28 innings. He's pretty good.
7. Julio Teheran, Braves vs. Aaron Nola, Phillies
Fun fact: Teheran is making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start this year, tying him with Warren Spahn (1957-62) for the longest such streak in franchise history. Only Spahn (10), Phil Niekro (8), and Greg Maddux (7) have started more season openers for the Braves than Teheran. Wild. Nola threw 212 1/3 innings with a 2.37 ERA last season, and finished third in the Cy Young voting behind deGrom and Scherzer. This will be his second straight Opening Day assignment.
8. Kyle Freeland, Rockies vs. Jose Urena, Marlins
It's not often a pitcher gets to make an Opening Day start for his hometown town, but Freeland will get that chance this year. The Denver native turned in one of the best seasons in Rockies history last year (2.85 ERA in 202 1/3 innings). Urena threw the very first pitch of the 2018 season (Josh Johnson started three straight Opening Days from 2010-12.) and he'll get the Opening Day nod again this year. He's the first pitcher to start back-to-back season openers for the Marlins since
9. Jon Lester, Cubs vs. Mike Minor, Rangers
Minor will be the ninth different Opening Day starter for the Rangers in the last 10 years. They haven't had a pitcher start back-to-back Opening Days since Kevin Millwood started four straight season openers from 2006-09. Minor transitioned from reliever back to starter last season and was very good down the stretch, throwing 91 2/3 innings with a 3.14 ERA in his final 16 starts. This will be his first career Opening Day start. It will be Lester's third consecutive Opening Day assignment and his eighth in the last nine years. Among lefties, only Randy Johnson (14), Steve Carlton (14), CC Sabathia (11), Warren Spahn (10), and Mark Buehrle (9) have made more career Opening Day starts than Lester.
10. Miles Mikolas, Cardinals vs. Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers
Every year there is a Opening Day pitching matchup I worry I am ranking too low, and Mikolas vs. Chacin is that matchup this year. Mikolas is a throwback. He doesn't light up the radar gun or rack up strikeouts. He pounds the zone and lets his defense go to work. It makes for a refreshing watch in this era of big velocity and big strikeout totals. Chacin is the rotation elder statesman on a Brewers team that relies on its entire 1-13 pitching staff maybe more than any other club in baseball. He's making his third career Opening Day start. Mikolas is making his first.
11. Madison Bumgarner, Giants vs. Eric Lauer, Padres
Ty Blach, not Bumgarner, made the Opening Day start for the Giants last season, remember. Bumgarner took a pitch to the hand and broke his finger in spring training, forcing a late Opening Day starter switch. Only Hall of Famers Juan Marichal (11) and Carl Hubbell (6) have made more career Opening Day starts in Giants history than Bumgarner (5)., but alas, it won't happen. It has been 76 years since a pitcher made his MLB debut as an Opening Day starter (Al Gerheauser with the 1943 Phillies). Lauer gets the ball in the season's first game -- he is the Padres' seventh different Opening Day starter in the last seven years -- after a solid rookie season in 2018 (4.34 ERA in 112 innings).
12. Andrew Cashner, Orioles vs. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
A late spring groin injury forced the O's to change their Opening Day pitching plans at the last minute. Alex Cobb won't be able to go -- this would've been his first career Opening Day start -- so it'll instead be Cashner, who's going to start the season opener on short rest following a brief two-inning tune-up start Sunday. This will be Cashner's second career Opening Day start. Tanaka is making his fourth Opening Day start in the last five years because Luis Severino is nursing a shoulder problem. Similar to Cobb, Tanaka started slowly before finishing strong last season, throwing 88 1/3 innings with a 2.95 ERA in his final 15 starts.
13. Marco Gonzales, Mariners vs. Mike Fiers, Athletics
The Opening Day pitching matchup that already happened. Gonzalez allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings at the Tokyo Dome last week. He was the first pitcher not named Felix Hernandez to start Opening Day for the Mainers since Erik Bedard in 2008. Fiers had a rough first career Opening Day start, allowing five runs in three innings. The results are irrelevant for the rankings though. Gonzales and Fiers are rock solid major league starters, though I'm not sure I'd call them appointment viewing.
14. Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers vs. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays
I want to like this matchup more but I'm having a hard time. Zimmermann isn't the same pitcher he was at his peak and Stroman struggled through shoulder issues last season. This might be the sleeper matchup, the matchup that results in two unexpectedly great performances, partly because the two rebuilding lineups are short on firepower. Zimmermann will become the first pitcher other than Verlander to start back-to-back Opening Days for the Tigers since Jeff Weaver in 2001 and 2002. Stroman is making his second career Opening Day start and his first since 2015.
15. Trevor Cahill, Angels vs. Mike Fiers, Athletics
This is a matchup between an A's Opening Day starter and a former A's Opening Day starter. Cahill started the season opener for Oakland back in 2011. This start nearly went to Andrew Heaney, who's elbow recently acted up, which would've given the Halos their first left-handed Opening Day starter since Joe Saunders in 2009. Like Gonzales, Fiers will start two of his team's first three regular season games thanks to the Japan trip.
16. Carlos Rodon, White Sox vs. Brad Keller, Royals
Including Rodon this year, the White Sox have had a left-hander on the mound in 17 of the last 20 Opening Days. You can largely thank Mark Buehrle and Chris Sale for that. Rodon, who is suddenly the grizzled veteran of the rotation, returned from shoulder surgery last year to throw 120 2/3 innings with a 4.18 ERA. Keller was a Rule 5 Draft find for the Royals last year. He started the season in the bullpen before moving into the rotation, and finished the year with a 3.08 ERA in 140 1/3 innings. Keller will look to show his low strikeout style (6.2 K/9) can work long-term this year. Both he and Rodon are making their first career Opening Day starts.