Phillies, Rangers Opening Day starting pitchers: Nola vs. deGrom

March 24th, 2023

It’ll be a battle of aces when the Rangers’ and the Phillies’ face off for Opening Day on Thursday at Globe Life Field.

The Phillies enter 2023 looking to defend their National League pennant, while the Rangers are hoping to propel themselves out of the rebuild and past their division rival and 2022 World Series-champion Houston Astros. Both clubs have sky-high expectations for 2023 and deep, veteran-filled rotations to play behind.

Let’s look at the Opening Day starters for both squads.

RHP Aaron Nola
Previous Opening Day starts: 2018-22
2022 Season: 11-13, 3.25 ERA, 32 GS, 205 IP, 168 H, 75 R (74 ER), 235 K, 29 BB, 6.0 bWAR

Nola’s sixth consecutive Opening Day start further entrenches him as one of the greatest starting pitchers in franchise history. Only Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton have started more consecutive season openers than Nola. Roberts started 12 straight from 1950-61. Carlton started 10 straight from 1977-86.

Nola and the Phillies would like to see the streak extend beyond this season, but he is entering the final year of a five-year, $56.75 million contract extension. The Phillies and Nola’s camp have talked about another extension, even exchanging offers at one point, according to sources. Ideally, they would reach an agreement before Opening Day, because Nola said once the season starts he wants to pause negotiations and focus on the season.

Keeping Nola in a Phillies uniform makes sense for so many reasons. It starts with performance, of course. Nola ranks 24th in team history with 29.6 bWAR. The only pitchers better in their Phillies careers are Roberts (71.9), Carlton (69.4), Grover Cleveland Alexander (61.2), Cole Hamels (43), Curt Schilling (36.3), Charlie Ferguson (31.7) and Jim Bunning (30.8). Nola’s 28.3 bWAR from 2017-22 ranks third in baseball behind only Max Scherzer (33.6) and Jacob deGrom (29.4). Nola is not only good, he is durable. He leads MLB in innings pitched (871 2/3) from 2018-22. The idea of having Nola, and, eventually, atop the rotation is very intriguing to the Phillies. It could be a dynamic three-armed combo moving forward.

Jacob deGrom
Previous Opening Day starts: 2019-21 with Mets
2022 Season: 5-4, 3.08 ERA, 11 GS, 64 1/3 IP, 40 H, 22 R, 102 K, 8 BB, 1.4 bWAR

The Rangers didn’t spend $185 million on an ace for nothing.

deGrom will make his fourth Opening Day start and his first with the Rangers. He will be the club’s 14th different Opening Day starter since 2010. The last Texas pitcher to start consecutive season openers was Kevin Millwood from 2006-09. The club will look to change that trend with deGrom over the next five years, the length of his contract.

Entering his age-35 season, deGrom has not pitched a full Major League season since 2019, but when he’s on the mound, he’s been dominant. From 2018-21, the right-hander posted a 1.94 ERA with an average of 12 strikeouts per nine innings, in what was perhaps the most dominant multi-year performance by any pitcher of this generation. In '22, the season before he entered free agency, deGrom suffered a stress reaction in his right scapula in Spring Training, which sidelined him until the early days of August. He eased back into a regular workload as the Mets made a push in the NL East, but posted a 6.00 ERA over his last four starts.

deGrom hit a slight speed bump in his first Spring Training with Texas and needed to be shut down early with “left side tightness,” but he’s since made multiple starts with his fastball velocity hitting triple digits. He is looking to prove he’s healthy this season and provide the Rangers with their first bonafide ace in a decade.