Regular season baseball is nearly upon us.
While not every team has legitimate title aspirations upon the season opener, there’s a certain sense of warmth that fills every fan across the world. There’s the smell of the stadium, the sound of the music playing, fans talking, birds chirping, and more … the whole nine yards.
What fans can’t detect entering the game are the jitters that exude from each and every person who gets dubbed as the Opening Day starter for their respective team. While some players are obvious recipients of this honor, others will be making their first or second start in this role.
Many are obvious candidates, while others might come as a shock.
For that, let’s try and predict each team’s Opening Day starter for the 2020 season (alphabetically).
Arizona Diamondbacks – Madison Bumgarner – LHP
This one is obvious as the Diamondbacks’ big-ticket item would be getting done a disservice should he get tasked with starting Opening Day. However, what might feel odd is simply seeing the veteran southpaw don a uniform that doesn’t read “Giants” across the chest.
Atlanta Braves – Mike Soroka – RHP
A run of six consecutive Opening Day starts from Julio Teheran comes to an end after the 29-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Angels this offseason. Not that this held any weight in dubbing Mike Soroka the 2020 Opening Day starter, as he was certainly their most dependable arm in 2019, but it’s certainly interesting to see somebody new hold this task.
Will this begin a new tradition in Atlanta? Time will tell.
Baltimore Orioles – John Means – LHP
Tillman. Gausman. Bundy. Cashner. Now Means.
Translation: Baltimore tends to have a new Opening Day starter every year. However, this time is different, as John Means at least was their lone All-Star representative a season ago.
Means led Baltimore in earned run average (3.73), wins above replacement (2.8), as well coming in second to recently-departed Dylan Bundy in strikeouts (108). While his peripheral numbers would indicate that he benefitted from tremendous luck last season, he’s the best option they’ve got.
Boston Red Sox – Eduardo Rodriguez – LHP
Boston has no choice but to go with their sixth different Opening Day starter since the 2014 season. With Chris Sale set to open the season on the injured list, Boston has to choose between two candidates: Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi.
While Eovaldi’s potential can’t be matched, Rodriguez gives them the best chance to open the season on the right foot.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old led the team in starts (34), innings (203.1), and ERA (3.81) last season and is easily their most dependable starter.
Chicago Cubs – Jon Lester – LHP
Truthfully, I think Yu Darvish should get the ball on Opening Day if he’s healthy. However, he was scratched from a Spring Training start due to an illness, and only time will tell what will come next with him.
Jon Lester has gotten the nod in four of his five seasons with the Cubs and his former personal catcher, David Ross, is now his manager.
I wouldn’t call it favoritism, but I wouldn’t say it’s not that, either.
Chicago White Sox – Lucas Giolito – RHP
Giolito exploded in 2019 to showcase the potential that made him a top prospect. He was so good, in fact, that he certainly should be given the ball without any hesitation come Opening Day.
It wouldn’t surprise me if it were Keuchel instead, but Giolito is the best pitcher on that staff and adding a perhaps prettier name doesn’t change that.
Cincinnati Reds – Sonny Gray – RHP
The Reds have a lot of hype surrounding them entering the 2020 season and for good reason. They had a busy offseason addressing their offense.
However, great baseball starts and ends with pitching. While out-slugging teams may seem like a great idea in theory, it hardly ever works out in practice.
Anyways, Sonny Gray led the team in ERA, FIP, strikeout rate, and trailed Luis Castillo in SIERA by just 0.02. He’s earned that right to start on Opening Day in what has quietly become one of the better resurrection stories in Major League Baseball.
Cleveland Indians – Shane Bieber – RHP
This one is obvious. If Mike Clevinger was expected to open the season healthy, he’d have my vote. But in terms of talent other than Clevinger, Bieber is unmatched. Not much to debate here.
Colorado Rockies – German Marquez – RHP
Jon Gray had a better season in terms of run prevention in 2019, but Marquez definitely holds an advantage in terms of true talent. Marquez bested Gray in SIERA (3.85-4.28), xFIP (3.54-3.83), and deserved run average (3.26-3.97).
Truth be told, this seems like a no-brainer decision for Bud Black and co.
Detroit Tigers – Matthew Boyd – LHP
If I had it my way, it would be Casey Mize. However, the Tigers are likely going to hold Mize hostage in Triple-A to buy an extra season of service time with him as they try and rebuild.
Boyd gets a crack at emerging as a front-end starter who a contender wants to trade for at the deadline.
Houston Astros – Zack Greinke – RHP
Justin Verlander is likely to miss Opening Day due to a lat strain, thus opening the door for Zack Greinke to take the reigns as the team’s starter.
Kansas City Royals – Brad Keller – RHP
To sum up Brad Keller’s Spring Training in one word so far, it’d probably be yikes.
In 2.2 innings, the Royals right-hander has surrendered more runs than outs (10 versus eight), and his ERA is north of 33.00.
However, he was the team’s ERA and DRA leader, so nobody has taken over as the team’s de facto ace yet.
Los Angeles Angels – Dylan Bundy – RHP
The Angels have Shohei Ohtani slated to return to pitching at some point early in the season but h hasn’t thrown in a Spring Training game yet.
However, Bundy has … and has he looked dominant or what?
In 7.1 innings, Bundy has surrendered just one hit and one walk while striking out 11. He’s been just about untouchable in his first taste with a new team and, in a rotation that’s suspect, to say the least, it might be enough to give him Opening Day honors.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Walker Buehler – RHP
Had Kershaw’s streak of consecutive Opening Day nods not been broken by Hyun-Jin Ryu last season, I’d have given him the nod over Buehler. However, the 25-year-old Buehler has blossomed into arguably a top 10 pitcher in the MLB and has done more than enough to earn this honor.
Miami Marlins – Pablo Lopez – LHP
The Marlins are an interesting team this season for many reasons. They had a busy offseason, and have built a team that very well could be in a lot of games up until the deadline.
While Sandy Alcantara very well could be the Opening Day starter, Pablo Lopez was the team’s DRA leader and had better peripherals than Alcantara a season ago.
Milwaukee Brewers – Brandon Woodruff – RHP
Simply put: they don’t have much depth in the rotation.
However, Woodruff is coming off a season in which he led Milwaukee in DRA (3.23), FIP (3.01), xFIP (3.36), and strikeout rate (29 percent). It isn’t like this pick is one that goes without legitimate justification.
Minnesota Twins – Jake Odorizzi – RHP
The former Rays right-hander was the Twins’ best starter in 2019 and was the lone arm that gave them a legitimate shot to win a game in their playoff series against the Yankees.
The 29-year-old led the team in DRA (4.23), ERA (3.51), FIP (3.36), and SIERA (4.14).
Again, a no-brainer in my opinion.
New York Mets – Jacob deGrom – RHP
New York Yankees – Gerrit Cole – RHP
Oakland Athletics – Frankie Montas – RHP
Montas was one of the best pitchers in the American League before he was suspended for violating the league’s banned substance policy. While Jesus Luzardo, Sean Manaea, and Mike Fiers each have a case in their own right, Montas makes the most sense for Oakland.
Philadelphia Phillies – Zack Wheeler – RHP
I feel like he almost has to start, right?
After signing a lucrative deal in the offseason, Wheeler is going to be watched like a hawk by the Phillies faithful this year. So why not throw him to the wolves right away on Opening Day?
Pittsburgh Pirates – Joe Musgrove – RHP
He was their best pitcher a season ago, which wouldn’t be so bad had the front office not dealt Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows for Chris Archer.
This is going to be a long season for the Pirates and Opening Day might be the only day for their faithful to look forward to.
San Diego Padres – Chris Paddack – RHP
Paddack burst onto the scene in 2019 with a lot of flare and frequent bursts of dominance. Overall, he led the Padres in DRA (3.18), ERA (3.33), and second in SIERA (3.83).
Again: a no-brainer.
San Francisco Giants – Johnny Cueto – RHP
Cueto has struggled this spring, but he’s still listed No. 1 on their depth chart and commands the highest salary of the group. Barring injury, he’s going to be the team’s Opening Day starter.
Seattle Mariners – Marco Gonzales – LHP
Gonzales signed a fresh new extension this offseason, so the rebuilding Mariners are most definitely going to give him first crack at opening the season on the right foot.
St. Louis Cardinals – Jack Flaherty – RHP
Flaherty is going to be special for a long time. He was overwhelmingly the best pitcher in St. Louis’ rotation last season, posting a deserved run average of 2.44, mixed with his team-leading strikeout rate of 29.9 percent and his team-leading SIERA of 3.68.
He’s going to be vying for National League Cy Young this year, so it only makes sense that the Cardinals have him open their season.
Tampa Bay Rays – Charlie Morton – RHP
Glasnow was dominant when healthy in 2019. However, he was banged up for a large portion of the season and I feel like Kevin Cash might take it easy with him to open the season. Same thing with Blake Snell, who has already battled injuries much of this spring.
That only leaves one candidate: Charlie Morton.
Texas Rangers – Corey Kluber – RHP
While Mike Minor and Lance Lynn were admirable last season, Corey Kluber is the most talented arm on that staff.
He was brought to Texas to be an ace, not a No. 3. He will get the first chance to prove he’s an ace by going Opening Day, even after an injury-shortened 2019 in Cleveland.
Toronto Blue Jays – Hyun-Jin Ryu – LHP
Sticking on the theme of box office, Ryu was signed to a massive contract and is undoubtedly the best arm in that staff.
Washington Nationals – Stephen Strasburg – RHP
Don’t get it twisted … Max Scherzer is still the best pitcher in that staff. I’m not trying to slight him at all. Strasburg just won World Series MVP, though, and he’s earned the right to start Opening Day the following year.
Besides, he led all of baseball with a 2.13 deserved run average. It isn’t like he’s some mid-rotation starter. He’s an ace.