Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Opening Day Starters Speak Volumes

Let's face it. Every team wants to win the first game of the season. Even though the first game is simply that and the beginning of a long, 162-game grind, everyone wants to start off on the right foot (or the left foot depending on which arm a pitcher uses). And because of that fact, it has become symbolic for teams when naming their Opening Day starter. Teams go with the pitcher that best represents the team's hope for the season. He is the face of the staff, the veteran that has given the team years of consistently good effort. But it doesn't always work out that way. David Wells started the 2005 season for the Boston Red Sox when he wasn't even on the 2004 Championship Red Sox team. And so, the Opening Day starters seem to tell us a lot about a team. Let's look at them all:

  • Tigers at Yankees (Thurs): This is your prototypical starting day match up with Justin Verlander facing C.C. Sabathia.  Both pitchers anchor their team's pitching staff and much of the season's hopes are pinned to their success. Sabathia and Verlander have been about the most durable and trustworthy pitchers in the game. No surprises here. The only question is Verlander because he always seems to start slow in April. Perhaps starting in March will make a difference?
  • Braves at Nationals (Thurs): The Braves' choice of Derek Lowe is somewhat surprising. He would be considered by most to be the team's third best starter. But Lowe carried the team in September last year while Hudson tired down the stretch. Tommy Hanson will get plenty of Opening Day starts in his career. Livan Hernandez starting for the Nationals speaks chunks about the National's rotation. Livan has certainly earned our respect for hanging in there year after year, but he would be a fourth or fifth starter on most teams.
  • Brewers at Reds (Thurs): Yovani Gallardo is the right choice for the Brewers. He came into his own last season when he was just about the Brewers' only good starting pitcher. If Greinke hadn't hurt his ribs playing basketball, this might have been different. But Greinke's injury leads the Brewers to make the right choice. The Reds starting their season with Edison Volquez really speaks to the general unease this writer has for the Reds' rotation. Volquez and Cueto have both come to represent big-time talent and no consistency. Bronson Arroyo was the team's most reliable starter last year and he will take the ball over the weekend despite a bout of mono (who was HE kissing?). Much of the Reds hopes are pinned to the considerable talents of guys like Volquez. But that is just as scary as it is promising.
  • Angels at Royals (Thurs): Jared Weaver is the Angels' stud. He is easily the team's ace and leader. Which makes it all the stranger that the Angels made Weaver go through arbitration this winter. He is the right choice for the Angels in a season that has more questions than a two year old. The Royals begin the season with Luke Hochevar. That seems like a weird choice but when you have a rotation that figures to have five starters with an ERA over 4.50, what are you going to do? Francis is new, so that would be a slap to the guys that have been there. Chen was allowed to walk into free agency so that the Royals could sign him at their price. So, despite his decent season last year, you aren't going to get Chen on Opening Day. Hochevar is all you have left. Cheer up KC fans. Better days are coming.
  • Padres at Cardinals (Thurs): Matt Latos was supposed to get the ball Opening Day, which is a lot to put on a guy in his second full season. But Latos is hurt leaving the Padres to open with Tim Stauffer. That doesn't leave Padre fans with a whole lot of optimism, does it? The Cardinals start their ace, Chris Carpenter, who could be starting his last year in St. Louis. This Fan is worried about Carpenter's health. He didn't look that good down the stretch last year and now he has a weakened defense behind him. But make no mistakes about it, Carpenter represents this Cardinals era from a pitching standpoint.
  • Giants at Dodgers (Thurs): There are no surprises here. Lincecum is one of the best in the business and Kershaw broke out last season at such a young age to take his place among the best starters in the league.
  • Astros at Phillies (Friday): Brett Myers was the Astros best pitcher last year (though Wandy Rodriguez had a great second half). So he is your obvious choice to begin the season. But many will be surprised if Myers can repeat his 2010 season and if he will do so for the Astros for the entire season. Of course the Phillies go with Roy Halladay. Who else would there be? With a rotation full of aces, Halladay is clearly in a class of his own.
  • Pirates at Cubs (Friday): The Pirates top pitcher? Kevin Correia? Ugh. It's going to be another long season in Pittsburgh. The offense is starting to get interesting, especially if Alvarez hits. But the rotation is not even Triple A-worthy. Correia? Wow. The Cubs surprisingly went with Ryan Dempster. Zambrano is probably their best pitcher, but after his troubles last year, it seems right to give the ball to Dempster, who has kept out of the limelight and simply takes the ball every fifth day. The reality though, is that Zambrano has to have an ace-like season for the Cubs to have a chance.
  • White Sox at Indians (Friday): Mark Buehrle gets the not for the White Sox. Buehrle is an innings eater who promises once again to be league average at best. Why the White Sox don't admit John Danks is their best pitcher is a mystery to this observer. Fausto Carmona is probably the only choice the Indians have. He's the best of what is one of the weakest rotations in baseball. Perhaps the team will surprise us, but the offense better be really, really good if Carmona is your ace.
  • Red Sox at Rangers (Friday): Jon Lester has become the top guy on what is a deep rotation. Lester is a perennial Cy Young candidate, all the more remarkable considering he was battling cancer just a few short years ago. The Rangers go with their de facto ace, C. J. Wilson. Wilson is a huge key for the Rangers this year. This author is afraid of the innings he pitched last year after being a clsoer in the years before. He has a quad problem, but is still listed as the Opening Day starter. His season will bear watching.
  • Diamondbacks at Rockies (Friday): The Fan has already devoted a column on having Ian Kennedy anointed the Opening Day starter. Enough was said there about if Kennedy is your best, you have a weak rotation. The Rockies have the luxury of starting their season with the Magnificent Ubaldo Jiminez. Jiminez could be a factor once again in Cy Young voting.
  • Twins at Blue Jays (Friday): The Twins are going with Carl Pavano, a pitcher they refused to sign before free agency and then waited for the market to bottom out before signing. The Twins simply don't like Francisco Liriano, who is easily their best pitcher. There are 29 other teams that would take him if given the chance. The Blue Jays give the ball to Ricky Romero, who was solid last season and one of the young starters the Blue Jays need to have a good season, especially with Morrow opening the season on the DL. Projections aren't high on Romero and project Cecil to be better, but the Jays need all their young pitchers to have good seasons. If that happens, it's going to be a fun season in Toronto.
  • Mets at Marlins (Friday): Mike Pelfrey certainly doesn't seem like an ace. But that's who the Mets will have leading off their season. Santana is out and there really isn't any other choice. Pelfrey has to have a good season for the Mets not to be a joke by the All Star break. The Marlins have John Johnson pitching out of the gate. Johnson was right up there with Roy Halladay last year until he was shut down to save his young arm. Johnson is an ace in every way.
  • Orioles at Bay Rays (Friday): Jeremy Guthrie again will start the Orioles' season. You can sniff all you want at Guthrie, but he was very good down the stretch under Showalter. Matusz will have years to be the ace. But he has to prove he can perform for an entire season. The Bay Rays go with David Price, one of the best pitchers in the American League. Price is fantastic and will be a perennial Cy Young candidate as well as a Twitter all star.
  • Mariners at Athletics (Friday): The Mariners may not have much, but they have an ACE! Felix Hernandez begins his defense of his Cy Young award, an award he could dominate for years and years. The Athletics begin with Trevor Cahill. Cahill won 18 games for the team last season and appears to be the spiritual leader of that staff. But projections warn of serious regression this year for Cahill, who probably isn't the best pitcher on his own team.
There you have it. Those are your Opening Day starters. Plenty of aces are in the list, but also plenty of question marks. Oh, and in case you were wondering, only the great Bob Feller started a team's season with a no-hitter. That happened on Opening Day, 1940. Tomorrow morning, the Fan will begin his season-long and daily feature of picking the day's games. The Fan will see you then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cant wait to get going again.