March 28, 2008
Oh, they'll tell you it's just another start. That it doesn't matter when they're given the ball and that they'll still try to "hit their locations" and "throw strikes" whenever they're summoned. But we all know that's just cliche chatter. Earning the Opening Day start is among the finer achievements a pitcher can earn. It's like an award you receive at the beginning of the season. Everyone wants to set the pace.
But while the value of the honor is always consistent, the talent level of those who receive it fluctuates wildly. So here, after the jump, is an easy breakdown of the 28 pitchers (plus Dice-K and Joe Blanton) who will be throwing the season's first pitch for their teams on Sunday and Monday. From Roy Halladay making his sixth straight Opening Day start for the Blue Jays to Odalis Perez leading Washington teammates he barely knows from the new stadium's hot dog vendors, the differences can be vast ...
• The Franchises (Like There Was Ever a Debate)
Johan Santana, Mets — Far and away the opening pitcher every manager lusts after.
Jake Peavy, Padres — Never a doubt in San Diego, though his 9.39 ERA in spring training is surprising.
Roy Oswalt, Astros — That's six straight Opening Days that Houston hasn't had to worry about who's taking the hill to start the season, a franchise record.
Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks — Three straight for Webb, who has become the face of his Arizona team.
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs — The fourth straight start for Zambrano, but he's 0-1 over the first three.
Roy Halladay, Blue Jays — Also making his sixth straight start, has a chance to spoil Joe Girardi's debut in the Bronx.
C.C. Sabathia, Indians — Considering everyone already has him in Yankee pinstripes, enjoy him one last time, Cleveland.
Justin Verlander, Tigers — Barring injury, might as well mark him down for the next 10 Opening Days, too.
• The Reliable (No Reason To Feel Ashamed)
Aaron Harang, Reds — Maybe he belongs in the above group ... but also maybe not quite. Borderline.
Tim Hudson, Braves — Odds-on favorite to record the first win in Nationals Park history on Sunday night.
Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees — First Opening Day start comes at the beginning of the end for Yankee Stadium, injury prevented him from the same honor last season.
Ben Sheets, Brewers — Milwaukee fans still braced for fourth-inning arm soreness.
Jeff Francis, Rockies — Hoping this one goes better than Game 1 of the World Series.
• The Tough Decisions (Not a Bad Pick, But Why Not The Other Guy?)
Joe Blanton, Athletics — Rightly earned the honor based on an impressive '07. But Rich Harden showed in the series' second game that he has Opening Day stuff.
• The Replacements (Just Filling In For Today)
• The Forgettable (Is It '09 Yet?)
Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles — Nothing against the guy, but he only has 26 major league starts (and seven wins) to his name.
Livan Hernandez, Twins — What's the over/under on how many times Minnesota fans find themselves flipping to the Mets opener to watch Santana?
Kevin Millwood, Rangers — Not totally offensive, but he notched only one big league start in spring training. Not exactly the stuff confidence is made of.
Mark Hendrickson, Marlins — From a 5.01 career ERA and getting non-tendered by the Dodgers last season to fronting your 2008 Fightin' Fish.
Odalis Perez, Nationals — Five weeks ago, he wasn't even on the team. You'd think a stadium debut would deserve better. (As my Nats fan boss puts it, "I actually just saw Livan Hernandez's name and was jealous.")