As all players have now reported to either Grapefruit or Cactus League, the long road to the beginning of baseball season has finally began. Baseball diehards all over the world are eagerly awaiting the two best words in the game; Opening Day. Being the starting pitcher on Opening Day is considered a big honor in the MLB and a team usually gives it to its top guy, but not always. There were quite a bit of trades this offseason, including pitching. I’ll try to give my best forecast for the pitcher each team will give the ball to start the year.
Diamondbacks: Zack Greinke
Though Greinke’s first year in the desert did not go at all as planned, the former Cy Young winner is still the best pitcher the team has by far. Considering how bad the D-Backs were in 2016, Greinke’s number were not terrible, going 13-7 with a 4.37 ERA. We all know that he is capable of far better results, and the 33-year-old will be looking to bounce back this season and carry the cellar-dwelling Diamondbacks back into contention.
Braves: Julio Teheran
2016 was bad for the Braves, and that’s putting it lightly. Julio Teheran was one of the few positives the team had in their last season at Turner Field, being named an All-Star once again and posting respectable numbers for an ace of a last place team, 7-10 with a 3.21 ERA and 167 Ks. The Braves stocked up their pitching this offseason, adding former Cy Young winners Bartolo Colon and RA Dickey. But, the Colombian is still the creme of the crop in Atlanta and he will lead the way for the Braves as they christen SunTrust Park and attempt to get behind their new youth movement.
Cubs: Jon Lester
The Cubs’ ended their 108 year championship drought last season thanks in part to consistently stellar pitching. Though Joe Maddon’s rotation features Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester steadied the ship for his team last season and finished as the runner up for the NL’s Cy Young award, usurping the title of ace from Arrieta in the process. No longer the Lovable Losers, the Cubs are the reigning champions of the MLB for the first time in over a century, and Lester will lead them into a new era.
Reds: Anthony DeScalfani
Like Atlanta, 2016 was also a very tough year in Cincinnati, and 2017 looks like it could be as well. The team’s pitching struggled immensely throughout the year, but DeScalfani performed relatively well despite. The team’s ace in 2016 was Dan Straily, but he has been traded to the Marlins. At only 26, DeScalfani will be carrying the team’s rotation to start the year since potential ace Homer Bailey will start on the DL. He has very low expectations to work with, but that’s not always a bad thing.
Rockies: Chad Bettis
Pitching at Coors Field is not at all an easy task. “The Coors Effect” as it’s been dubbed, causes many a ball to sail out of the stadium, making the field notoriously hitter friendly and causing the Rockies to lack solid pitching. The team’s rotation was anchored in 2016 by Jorge De La Rosa, who signed a minor league deal with Arizona on Sunday, leaving the team in search of new guns. 27-year-old Chad Bettis had a respectable 2016, going 14-8 with a 4.79 ERA. He will likely be Buddy Black’s first Opening Day starter in the Mile-High City.
Marlins: Wei-Yin Chen
The Marlins and the MLB in general are still feeling the effects of Jose Fernandez’ heartbreaking death in September of last year, and Don Mattingly’s pitching staff will feel it this season. Taiwanese righty Wei-Yin Chen is arguably a middle-of-the-pack guy at best and disappointed for Miami last season, but he’s the best the Marlins have now and Mattingly will likely hand the cowhide to him. RIP Jose Fernandez.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Does this really need explanation? The odds of finding a live Tyrannosaurus are are better than those of Dave Roberts letting anyone pitch before his 3x Cy Young winner.
Brewers: Junior Guerrra
Although Zach Davies was impressive in more starts in 2016, Junior Guerra was formidable as a 31-year-old rookie, posting a far lower ERA (2.80 compared to 3.97). Milwaukee’s pitching staff in 2017 will once again be chuck-full of retreads and aging burnouts. Guerra isn’t exactly young, but he will be looking to impress once again in a 2017 that doesn’t look awfully promising for Craig Counsell’s squad and their fans.
Mets: Noah Syndergaard
Terry Collins has already tabbed his ace righty Syndergaard to open 2017 for the Mets and there was not any doubt that he wouldn’t. The Dark Knight Matt Harvey and the deGrominator should both be back at 100% this season. If Zack Wheeler can return healthy as well, the Mets could have one of the game’s best rotations.
Phillies: Clay Buchholz
Philly acquired longtime Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz just before Christmas, and for a relatively cheap price too (a minor league infielder). Though he can struggle quite mightily with inconsistency and injury at times, the 32-year-old Buchholz is a good grab for the Phillies and he has a chance for a new beginning at Citizens’ Bank Park. Proving he has what it takes to be a force in the AL with Boston, transitioning to the more pitcher-friendly NL should not be difficult for the Texan, a 2x All-Star and World Series champion.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole
When compared to 2015, 2016 was a rough season for Gerrit Cole and the Bucs in general, not qualifying for the postseason for the first time in three years. Cole struggled with injuries last season and the Pirates’ rotation was lost without him. Clint Hurdle is hoping his ace will bounce back and be an All-Star once again as Pittsburgh as a whole tries to do the same.
Padres: Jered Weaver
The Padres signed the somewhat washed-up veteran Weaver on Saturday, and the move may prove to be a good one. Weaver’s struggles in Anaheim forced the team to cut ties with him. But that’s not entirely Weaver’s fault, Anaheim apart from Mike Trout is a complete dumpster fire. San Diego is a team that needs a veteran presence and Weaver could prove to be just that. This could be one of the better low-key signings of this offseason.
Giants: Madison Bumgarner
Again, how much explanation does this need? Madison Bumgarner just isn’t human, plain and simple.
Cardinals: Adam Wainwright
Carlos Martinez more than deserves to be the Red Birds’ opener for this season for how he carried his team last season. This is especially true when you consider Adam Wainwright was downright bad, highly out of character for him, posting a 4.62 ERA in 2016. But, Mike Matheny recognizes Wainwright as a leader for the Cardinals and I could see him getting the honor again to help him bounce back. But it could very well be Martinez.
Nationals: Max Scherzer
Again, not a toughie. Though the Nationals’ 2016 came to a very disappointing end, 2016 was arguably the best year of Max Scherzer’s career, being named an All-Star yet again, adding the 20 K club to his list of accomplishments and winning the NL Cy Young award. Washington does have solid pitching throughout, and it is slightly possible that Dusty Baker could go with Stephen Strasburg or Tanner Roark, but I don’t see that happening.
Orioles: Kevin Gausman
If Chris Tillman was healthy he would be a cinch, but Buck Showalter’s longtime ace will be on the DL to start the season. It seems highly likely that Gausman will get the start because of this. He posted a decent 3.61 ERA last season in 30 starts, which is far better than Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Orioles don’t have the best of pitching staffs entering this year, they will be counting on Gausman to further his progression.
Red Sox: Rick Porcello
Wow this one is tough. The Red Sox lit up the offseason hot stove by trading for another ace lefty, Chris Sale, giving the team what USA Today is calling baseball’s best rotation. Sale joins David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello. Sale and Price are two of the most marquee names in the game, but Boston’s choice will be Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young winner. Porcello’s consistency helped guide the Red Sox to the AL East title last year and won him the highest pitching honor in the game, just one year removed from the worst season of his career. He has more than earned the nod from John Farrell.
White Sox: Jose Quintana
Now that Chris Sale is gone, Quintana is the best pitcher the White Sox have, and his impressive 2016 proved that he possesses the ability to become his team’s new ace. The White Sox began their long overdue rebuild this offseason, acquiring formidable prospects Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, both of whom could play full-time this year. Quintana is in charge of holding the team’s rotation over while other young talents develop.
Indians: Corey Kluber
Behind the Red Sox, the Indians were ranked as USA Today’s no.2 rotation. Trevor Bauer, Carlos Corrasco, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin are anchored by former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who will be Tito Francona’s choice with ease for Opening Day. You could perhaps argue that he is slightly overrated, but Kluber’s stellar pitching in the postseason last year was a prime reason that the Tribe came within one game of the World Series. He is Cleveland’s horse, and he will lead the way for another hopeful season at Progressive Field.
Tigers: Justin Verlander
I still don’t know how Justin Verlander almost won the Cy Young award for the AL last season, but no one can deny that 2016 was a resurgent year for the longtime horse of the Tigers. After falling off the map for a couple seasons, the former MVP and Cy Young winner carried Detroit in what was otherwise a lackluster season. Brad Ausmus has confirmed that Verlander will go to start the year.
Astros: Dallas Keuchel
Kuechel’s fall from the face of the Earth one season removed from being the best lefty in baseball is baffling, but he is still AJ Hinch’s guy in Houston and will undoubtedly be their first man. The only dominant starter the team possesses, the ‘stros will need The Kid to rebound in a big way this season to have a chance at competitiveness again. 2016 was awful for him, but Dallas Keuchel is still the man at Minute Maid Park.
Royals: Danny Duffy
The shocking death of Yordano Ventura earlier this year has already cast a dark cloud on the Kansas City Royals’ season (may he rest in peace). Ventura leaves a literal and figurative hole in Ned Yoast’s starting five, and the team will need to replace both. Danny Duffy had an impressive 2016 that was highlighted by a one-hit, 16 K effort on August 1. The Royals are looking to him to become the team’s new ace.
Angels: Garrett Richards
2016 was a terrible season for the Angels. Other than the MVP performance of Mike Trout, the Halos had little to cheer for, and 2017 could go the exact same way. Garrett Richards’ 2016 was ended in May by a partially torn UCL in his throwing arm, but he did not undergo Tommy John surgery and should be ready for Opening Day if things go according to plan.
Twins: Ervin Santana
Another team that struggled mightily in 2016, the Twins choice is more than obvious. Ervin Santana was the team’s only start to log an ERA below five last season. Not a tough call here for Paul Molitor.
Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka
Joe Girardi has already named his ace as Opening Day starter. Tanaka posted a 3.07 ERA last season that was third in the AL. With the Yankees largely lacking solid starting pitching, the Japanese fireballer will lead the way again.
Athletics: Sonny Gray
Gray’s meteoric rise through the MLB was halted last year by multiple injuries and inconsistency. However, the A’s pitching staff is still largely inexperienced, making Bob Melvin’s choice easy for Opening Day.
Mariners: Felix Hernandez
As Heidi Watney on MLB Network put it so accurately, Felix Hernandez’ 2016 saw him looking more like a jester, not a king. The 2010 AL Cy Young winner has been the Mariners’ rock for so many years has struggled the past two seasons, but he is is still the King of Seattle’s rotation and should lead the way for the tenth time in his career.
Rays: Chris Archer
Archer was a far better pitcher in 2016 than his stats showed, finishing second to Verlander with 233 Ks. The Rays as a whole may be a very bad team, but Archer is an anomaly and will attempt to lead a young Tampa Bay team out of the basement of the AL East.
Rangers: Cole Hamels
The Rangers’ impressive 2016 ended with a class-A fizzle in the ALDS versus their rival Toronto, and the team is still feeling that sting. The Rangers aren’t as good a team as everyone thinks, but they do boast solid pitching. Cole Hamels was very impressive last season and usurped Yu Darvish as ace, though Darvish makes a very solid no. 2 if he can stay healthy. Look for Hamels.
Blue Jays: Aaron Sanchez
The Blue Jays lost their AL East title to the Red Sox last year and settled for the Wild Card,but got formidable pitching from JA Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada. Sanchez was the standout with his AL leading 3.00 ERA, which should earn him opening honors from John Gibbons. Who the Jays’ ace is is debatable, but Sanchez seems to be closing in on that title.