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Cy winners to face runners-up in openers

Such matchups have happened just twice before in MLB history
@AndrewSimonMLB
March 11, 2019

The Astros’ Justin Verlander and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer both pitched well enough to win Cy Young Awards last season, but both finished in runner-up position. On Opening Day, these two accomplished pitchers will square off against the men who beat them out for the trophy. The pitching assignments for

The Astros’ Justin Verlander and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer both pitched well enough to win Cy Young Awards last season, but both finished in runner-up position.

On Opening Day, these two accomplished pitchers will square off against the men who beat them out for the trophy.

The pitching assignments for March 28 are now official. At Tropicana Field, Verlander will take the mound against Blake Snell and the Rays. At Nationals Park, Scherzer will host division rival Jacob deGrom and the Mets.

It’s quite rare that an Opening Day matchup features two pitchers who finished first and second in the previous season’s Cy Young Award voting.

According to the Rays, such a confrontation has happened just two times before, both of them 40 years ago. In the first game of 1979, reigning AL Cy Young winner Ron Guidry (Yankees) faced runner-up Mike Caldwell (Brewers) in the Bronx, with Caldwell getting some revenge by notching a complete game in a 5-1 Milwaukee victory. That same day, in Los Angeles, the Padres’ Gaylord Perry followed up his victory in the NL Cy Young race by facing the Dodgers’ Burt Hooton, who had finished second. Perry allowed three runs in eight innings in a 4-3 win.

The Cy Young Award was first handed out in 1956, when there was just one winner for all of MLB. It split into two awards -- one for the AL and one for the NL -- in ‘67.

Last year certainly wasn’t Verlander’s first close call. Since winning his only Cy Young in 2011, he has finished a close second three times -- in ‘12 (behind David Price), ‘16 (Rick Porcello) and then ‘18 (Snell). In last year’s AL race, Snell got 17 first-place votes, to Verlander’s 13.

While Snell has now matched Verlander with one Cy Young apiece, Verlander certainly has the edge in Opening Day experience. This will be his 11th career Game 1 assignment, while Snell will be taking the ball to begin the season for the first time. The 26-year-old lefty is coming off a breakout campaign in which he went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA and 221 strikeouts, securing the trophy by posting a 1.17 ERA in August and September.

Scherzer, set for his fourth Opening Day assignment with Washington, was brilliant again in 2018. But while the righty posted a 2.53 ERA and reached the 300-strikeout mark, deGrom denied him a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award. Scherzer would have joined Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers with four career Cy Youngs.

It was not to be, however, as deGrom overcame a modest 10-9 record by spinning a 1.70 ERA and allowing no more than three runs in each of his final 29 starts. Now he will start an opener for the first time in his career, and go head to head with the pitcher he overtook.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.