Big League Stew - MLB

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.

Mark Buehrle, White Sox — Regains his rightful role on the South Side after a one-year concession to Jose Contreras.

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.

Brad Penny, Dodgers — First Opening Day start breaks Derek Lowe's streak of three straight.

The Tough Decisions (Not a Bad Pick, But Why Not The Other Guy?) 

Brett Myers, Phillies — Still think this one should have gone to All-Star lefthander Cole Hamels. Maybe the Kyle Kendrick prank helped?

Ian Snell, Pirates — Sets up Tom Gorzelanny for the home opener, so everyone's happy. 

Gil Meche, Royals — No arguing he proved himself in '07, though Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke will be fighting it out in the future.

Erik Bedard, Mariners — Giving up Adam Jones to pry him from Baltimore makes this a foregone conclusion. Still, no love for King Felix?

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)

Jered Weaver, Angels — Occupying John Lackey's usual role.

James Shields, Rays — Keeping Scott Kazmir's seat warm.

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals — Chris Carpenter seems like just a memory.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox — Wouldn't have got the homeland call if not for Josh Beckett's inability to sit on an airplane for half of a day.

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.")

Barry Zito, Giants — Amazing that $126 million has come to this: Zito will enter his first start having just lost to San Fran's Triple-A affiliate. (Did you ever think you'd see him down here?)

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