Last week, the excellent beat reporters at MLB.com predicted the starting rotations for each team in Major League Baseball. It’s vital, even in this reliever-heavy age, to have a deep rotation, but at the end of the day -- or, say, Opening Day -- it all comes down to the ace. Everybody wants their best guy when they need him most.
So today, with the Super Bowl behind us and people starting to think about baseball season (hurrah!), let’s start dreaming of Opening Day. We’ll work off the list of rotations provided by our beat reporters to try to rank the No. 1 starters for each team, with the assumption that basically all of them will be the guys getting the nod in each team’s first regular-season game on Thursday, March 26 (if healthy). These are the best each team has to offer:
1) Yankees: Gerrit Cole, RHP. The true, dominant No. 1 starter the Yankees have been trying to find since … early Sabathia? Roger Clemens?
2) Mets: Jacob deGrom, RHP. Can you believe last year was the first time he’d ever started Opening Day for the Mets?
3) Astros: Justin Verlander, RHP. With Cole on the Yankees, Verlander is now obviously the best pitcher in Houston, though he’s been the Opening Day starter since he arrived.
4) Nationals: Max Scherzer, RHP. If he had stayed healthy down the stretch, he could have won a fourth Cy Young Award last year. But he’s getting older -- how long can he he still contend for another?
5) Red Sox: Chris Sale, LHP. If history repeats itself, Sale will struggle early, freaking everybody out, before figuring it out and being Sale again.
6) Cardinals: Jack Flaherty, RHP. He may have been the most dominant pitcher in baseball for the last three months of the 2019 season. Can he do it again?
7) Rays: Charlie Morton, RHP. It lets you know just how terrific Morton was in 2019 that he’s the best starter on this team over the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner.
8) Dodgers: Walker Buehler, RHP. He’s passed Clayton Kershaw in the rotation, and all indicators continue to point up, up, up. It’s possible Kershaw still gets the ball in the opener as a nod to his status, but make no mistake, Buehler is the Dodgers' best starter right now.
9) Rangers: Mike Minor, LHP. Minor and Lance Lynn were both so much better pitchers than most of baseball realized last year … and now they have Corey Kluber, too.
10) Twins: José Berríos, RHP. Berríos was the solid pitcher the Twins had been hoping for last year, and if he can build even further on that, look out.
11) Indians: Mike Clevinger, RHP. With another year like last season, he’ll zoom ahead of several starters above him on this list.
12) White Sox: Lucas Giolito, RHP. His ceiling is being the best pitcher in this entire division, but he’s going to have to do it for more than one season.
13) Blue Jays: Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP. You might not be able to count on him for 200 innings, but few pitchers give you a better chance to win on a given night.
14) Phillies: Aaron Nola, RHP. This is as pivotal a season for the Phillies as any in recent memory. They need Nola to be a top-shelf ace.
15) Braves: Mike Soroka, RHP. Another young pitcher who could zoom up this list once he gets some more innings under his belt.
16) D-backs: Madison Bumgarner, LHP. It will be quite an experience to see him in this uniform for the first time.
17) Padres: Chris Paddack, RHP. The pitch-count shackles are now off. It’ll be nice to have some swagger on the mound for Opening Day.
18) Reds: Luis Castillo, RHP. He lost some effectiveness down the stretch, and Sonny Gray might have surpassed him in this rotation anyway.
19) A's: Mike Fiers, RHP. One thing is certain: Few pitchers will garner closer attention than Fiers, given this offseason’s happenings.
20) Angels: Shohei Ohtani, RHP. We’ve seen what he can do in spurts, when healthy. But how much can the Angels, a team desperate for pitching, truly rely on him?
21) Marlins: Sandy Alcantara, RHP. He was the team’s All-Star representative last year, and he has proven an ability to put together many innings for such a young pitcher.
22) Cubs: Jon Lester, LHP. Yu Darvish is the best pitcher they have, but Lester will probably be the Opening Day starter here as long as he’s wearing the uniform.
23) Tigers: Matthew Boyd, LHP. They never ended up trading him, but maybe they should have. He lost considerable effectiveness down the stretch last year.
24) Brewers: Brandon Woodruff, RHP. Woodruff made the National League All-Star team last year; he’ll be the seventh different Opening Day starter for the Brewers in as many turns.
25) Orioles: John Means, LHP. He was a surprise last year, but now he’s called upon to be the best they’ve got. (For now.)
26) Mariners: Marco Gonzales, LHP. Gonzales has been perfectly average, or even a little bit above, for the Mariners, and he’s the only reliable starter they have.
27) Rockies: Jon Gray, RHP. This might be as healthy as he has been in years, so let’s see if it allows him to take off.
28) Giants: Johnny Cueto, RHP. Cueto is not the old Cueto, but then again, these aren’t the old Giants either.
29) Pirates: Joe Musgrove, RHP. It is a very bad sign that Chris Archer hasn’t taken the No. 1 spot in Pittsburgh by this point.
30) Royals: Brad Keller, RHP. Keller’s season ended a month early in 2019, but he should be ready to go Opening Day.