Welcome to Ace-Offs, MLB.com's designation for can't-miss pitching matchups. When two aces are scheduled to go head-to-head, we're going to highlight it for you, the baseball fan.
There are plenty of ways to stratify starting pitchers: "stopper," "No. 1," "frontline" and of course "ace." Each suggests more or less the same thing, but they have some different connotations. Every team has a best pitcher, someone who would start Game 1 if that team were in a playoff series.
Not every team has an ace. And not every team that has an ace has only one. Ace has a different meaning at MLB.com, suggesting some subjective qualities as well as objective ones. Sure, the numbers tell us that Felix Hernandez is an elite starter. But he has something else as well. He's someone you make a point to watch pitch. He's an ace.
Some teams have two or even three pitchers who might meet the designation. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The Rays have David Price and Matt Moore. The Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez.
It's also worth noting that sometimes an Ace-Off is more about what these pitchers might become. Sometimes a game is a must-watch not because the pitchers have multiple Cy Young Awards, but because they have ace stuff and potential, or simply an "it" factor. If Zack Wheeler and Jose Fernandez went head-to-head, you'd probably want to watch.
And in the end, that's what an Ace-Off is about. It's a pitching matchup we think you shouldn't miss. Objective performance factors in, to be sure. But so does subjective judgment. We're looking at games where there's a good chance that at least one starting pitcher, if not both, is likely to do something extraordinary.
An Ace-Off is a game that, because of the pitching matchup, you circle on the calendar and block out some time to watch. It's hard to remember a time when baseball had a larger number of compelling starting pitchers, and when two of them pitch in the same game, it's something special.
It's an Ace-Off.
Matthew Leach is a national reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.