Mound 1: Opening Day starter decisions

February 17th, 2016

The naming of an Opening Day starter is as much a Spring Training ritual as pitchers and catchers reporting.

And sure, ultimately, the Opening Day starting pitcher isn't a matter of critical importance, but players view the Opening Day start as one of the game's highest honors, and the fact that two clubs have already announced their starter for their 2016 opener (more on that below) goes to show that teams take it seriously, too.

With pitchers and catchers reporting beginning to report to camp today, here's a scorecard breaking down who might start the opener for each team. Make your own picks in the comment section.


Astros: Dallas Keuchel

There aren't many reigning Cy Young Award winners who open the next season as a No. 2. (Although, it's happened more frequently than you might think -- most recently with Justin Verlander starting for Detroit over Max Scherzer in 2014.)

Athletics: Sonny Gray

Gray has quietly established himself as one of the game's elite starting pitchers, and there isn't a whole lot of competition for the No. 1 spot in Oakland. He'll get the nod for the third year in a row.

Cubs: Jake Arrieta

Jon Lester got the start last season, but Lester did not have the season Arrieta had. Arrieta had a 0.75 ERA in the second half last season and won the National League Cy Young Award, which should tip the scale in his favor.

D-backs: Zack Greinke

Arizona didn't commit $206.5 million to a No. 2 starter. Manager Chip Hale announced on Wednesday that the D-backs will give the ball to Greinke on Opening Day -- which surprisingly marks only the second time he'll start an opener and the first since 2010 with the Royals. 

Dodgers:Clayton Kershaw

With Greinke out of the equation in Los Angeles, this is as easy as it gets. Kershaw will get the nod for the sixth year in a row.

Giants:Madison Bumgarner

Not that anyone questioned whether the Giants would go with Bumgarner -- but manager Bruce Bochy settled the matter by making the announcement before Spring Training even began. Of course, that makes Johnny Cueto the likely No. 2, marking the first time in five seasons that he won't start on Opening Day.

Indians: Corey Kluber

Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are fine pitchers in their own right, but there's no question it'll be Kluber getting the ball for the Tribe's opener -- which would be just the second Opening Day start of his career.

Mariners: Felix Hernandez

Seattle has some solid pieces in place behind Hernandez in the rotation. But King Felix is a staple on the mound on Opening Day, where he's gotten the ball nine of the past 10 years.

Marlins: Jose Fernandez

Sure, Miami just committed $80 million to Wei-Yin Chen, but there's no chance he usurps Fernandez atop the rotation. The Marlins open the season at home, too, where Fernandez is 17-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his career.

Nationals: Max Scherzer

Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg are fine pitchers. But Scherzer is one of the most dominant starters in the sport. He got the ball for the opener last season, and he'll likely get the ball for the opener this season, too.

Rays: Chris Archer

Archer might be the league's most unsung ace. No one in the American League has been as steadily dominant as Archer, who hasn't missed a start in two seasons and recorded 252 strikeouts in just 212 innings last season.

Red Sox:David Price

The Red Sox struggled in 2015, in part because they lacked a true ace. So how did they respond in the offseason? Well, they signed a true ace. Price will start on Opening Day for the third straight season -- all with different clubs.

Tigers: Justin Verlander

Jordan Zimmermann was the other option here, but on Tuesday, manager Brad Ausmus announced that Verlander is the man "barring something unforseen." Verlander had his streak seven straight Opening Day starts snapped last year by the since-departed Price.

White Sox: Chris Sale

Sale missed out on an Opening Day start for the White Sox last season because of a foot injury. But now that he's healthy, he's as much of a no-brainer as anybody on this list.


Angels: Garrett Richards

Richards is almost certainly ticketed for the start against the Cubs. He's unquestionably the Angels' ace. But Jered Weaver has started six straight openers, casting some (very minor) doubt as to whether Richards will get the ball.

Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman

Hard to envision anyone else getting the nod for Toronto. But seeing as Stroman has never actually opened a season on the 25-man roster -- let alone starting on Opening Day -- we can't concede it just yet.

Braves: Julio Teheran

Teheran became the favorite when Atlanta shipped presumed No. 1 starter Shelby Miller to the D-backs. But given Teheran's 2015 struggles -- 4.04 ERA, 1.31 WHIP -- it's not quite a guarantee that he'll start the opener vs. Washington.

Cardinals:Adam Wainwright

Wainwright has started on Opening Day in each of the past three seasons. Assuming he's fully recovered from the Achilles tear that sidelined him last April, he holds the edge over Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia and Carlos Martinez, who is also recovering from injury.

Pirates:Gerrit Cole

Cole is clearly the Pirates' ace at this point, so there's a very good chance he starts the opener vs. St. Louis. It would be his first Opening Day start, and he'd have to unseat Francisco Liriano, who has gotten the nod in each of the past two seasons, to do so.

Rangers:Cole Hamels

We'd have a fun debate on our hands if Yu Darvish has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery last March. As it stands, however, Darvish probably won't be back until at least May, leaving Hamels a clear path to the start the opener vs. Seattle.

Rockies: Jorge De La Rosa

In 12 big league seasons, De La Rosa has only received one Opening Day start, but he's probably ticketed for another in 2016. In a rotation with plenty of youth, manager Walt Weiss will almost certainly hand the ball to his most experienced pitcher vs. the D-backs.

Yankees:Masahiro Tanaka

The only way Tanaka doesn't start the opener against the Astros is if he hasn't fully recovered from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur -- which is a possibility. If Tanaka isn't fully healthy, the Yankees' Opening Day race is wide open, with Michael Pineda the likely front-runner.


Mets: Jacob deGrom

Picking an Opening Day starter from these candidates is the nicest dilemma a manager could have. Realistically, deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and maybe even Steven Matz would all be Opening Day starters for various clubs. As it stands, deGrom might have a slight edge over Harvey at the top of the rotation -- but it's very close.

Orioles: Chris Tillman

Tillman has made back-to-back Opening Day starts for Baltimore, and within the current roster, he's the obvious favorite for a third. 

Padres:James Shields

Tyson Ross was better than Shields last season, and most projections forecast the same thing for 2016. But there's an element of seniority to these Opening Day decisions, which could give Shields the edge.

Reds:Anthony DeSclafani

With Homer Bailey still recovering from Tommy John surgery and unlikely to return until May or June, the Reds will have to choose between a pair of sophomores -- DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias. DeSclafani might have the slight edge, simply because he has a bit more experience -- 36 career starts, to 16 for Iglesias.


Brewers: Jimmy Nelson

Take your pick. Milwaukee is probably baseball's biggest tossup in terms of who will get the ball on Opening Day. Nelson and Wily Peralta would seem to have a slight edge, but Taylor Jungmann was very impressive at various points during his rookie season. Matt Garza might also be a candidate, if only because of his seniority.

Phillies: Aaron Nola

Philadelphia signed Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton in the offseason, each of whom are in the mix and make this a very tight race. But Nola is probably the Phillies' best option, provided the organization is comfortable bestowing the title of "Opening Day starter" -- and the expectations that go along with it -- on a 22-year-old.

Royals:Yordano Ventura

The defending champs have one of the game's most interesting Opening Day questions, with Ventura, Edinson Volquez and newcomer Ian Kennedy all candidates. Manager Ned Yost gave the ball to Ventura last season, making him the early favorite for this year, too.

Twins:Ervin Santana

Phil Hughes got the ball last year, but after a disappointing season -- he posted a 4.40 ERA while giving up a league-high 29 home runs -- Santana might have the edge. Kyle Gibson could get the nod, too, if he puts forth a solid spring.