Big League Stew - MLB

Pitching matchups drive the game of baseball.

Chances are that's the first thing you look at when firing up your computer or opening the morning newspaper. It helps you determine if you want to make the drive to the ballpark. It helps you decide which game you want check out on the tube. In this day and age, it helps you figure out which guys to place in your fantasy lineups.

But while we're sure to see dozens of interesting and noteworthy pitching matchups throughout the season, there's only one time we're guaranteed that everything will align just right: The first week of the season.

Here are eight matchups to watch over the next four days, starting with Thursday night's headliner.

Tim Lincecum(notes)  vs. Clayton Kershaw(notes), 8:00 p.m. ET, Thursday: It's opening night. It's national TV. It's the San Francisco Giants beginning their title defense against their storied rivals from Los Angeles. If ever there was a baseball game that didn't need a good pitching matchup to sell it, this would be the one. But I'll take the gem we're getting anyway.

From an individual standpoint, Lincecum is coming off the least successful regular season of his three-year career. That's not to say it was bad, or even average. It was actually very good. Most pitchers would take Lincecum's 2010 numbers and head right to the bank. But the point here is Lincecum isn't pleased with his Cy Young award finding a new home. He'll be as focused as ever.

Kershaw took a significant step forward for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010. Particularly after June 4, when he began pitching deeper into games on a more consistent basis. Beginning on that date, Kershaw lasted into the seventh inning or longer 15 times in his final 21 starts. In his 62 career starts prior to that, he'd only accomplished it 18 times. If he continues on that path, he should find himself on a short list of Cy Young contenders.

Felix Hernandez(notes) vs. Trevor Cahill(notes), 10:05 p.m. ET, Friday: One of these pitchers was an All-Star in 2010. And his name wasn't Felix Hernandez. Joe Girardi made that controversial decision the Sunday prior to the game after King Felix threw 126 pitches in a Seattle Mariners 4-1 win over his New York Yankees that Saturday night.

Hernandez was definitely deserving and was justly awarded the American League Cy Young, but that doesn't mean Trevor Cahill of the A's was undeserving of his All-Star selection. As a 22-year-old, he quietly won 18 games and posted a 2.97 ERA for an Oakland Athletics team that was overshadowed by their Bay Bridge rivals. This is going to be one dandy matchup and is the early favorite for fastest played game of the weekend.

Brett Myers(notes) vs. Roy Halladay(notes), 1:05 p.m. ET, Friday: Every time that Philadelphia Phillies opening day starter Roy Halladay takes the mound there's a chance something special will happen. Oh, and Brett Myers makes his second start in Philadelphia since leaving the Phillies for Houston prior to last season. That adds a little extra sizzle to an already red hot opener in Philly.

Jon Lester(notes) vs. C.J. Wilson(notes), 4:05 p.m. ET, Friday: Two of the game's best left-handers add opening day starter to their already impressive resumes. Given their World Series experiences and personalities it's doubtful either will be overwhelmed by the pressure. That said, it will be interesting to see how they navigate their way through these stacked Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers lineups.

Francisco Liriano(notes) vs. Kyle Drabek(notes), 1:07 p.m. ET, Saturday: Liriano found his way on to a couple of my fantasy rosters over the weekend, so chances are I'll be watching quite a few Minnesota Twins games this season. Add in the intrigue of young Kyle Drabek's first start of his first full season with the Toronto Blue Jays, and I assure you my eyes will be glued to this one.

Wandy Rodriguez(notes) vs. Cliff Lee(notes), 7:05 p.m. ET, Saturday: Cliff Lee is back with the Philadelphia Phillies, and this time he's here to stay.

Lee shocked most of us when he turned down the New York Yankees money and a cushy stop atop the Rangers rotation to rejoin the already stacked Phillies staff. His reason was simple: He loves the city of Brotherly Love. Who are we to judge that? Wandy Rodriguez of the Atros can pitch a little bit, too, but this is all about the Cliff Lee lovefest.

Max Scherzer(notes) vs. Phil Hughes(notes), 1:05 p.m. ET, Sunday: I'm just as curious as everyone else to see if Hughes' measurable drop in velocity is a real cause for concern. The Yankees say there's nothing to worry about, citing last year's rise in velocity during the month of April. The New York Post's Joel Sherman doesn't necessarily disagree , but points out that Hughes was working between 90-94 last spring, and is down to 87-89 this year.

I don't know what to make of the Hughes situation yet. What I do know is Scherzer will have no trouble lighting up the gun for the Detroit Tigers. Keeping his mechanics in order, therefore commanding and locating his nasty array of pitches has always been his issue. Judging from the 10.38 ERA he sported this spring, that issue will likely continue into 2011. Still a ton of untapped potential in that powerful right arm, though.

J.A. Happ(notes) vs. Roy Oswalt(notes), 1:35 p.m. ET, Sunday: There's always something interesting about pitchers who were traded for one another facing off for the first time. Though each pitcher did make an appearance against their former team after the trade last season, this will be Oswalt's first as a pitcher.


Yes, remember that wacky 16-inning affair Houston and Philadelphia played last August when Ryan Howard(notes) was ejected and Oswalt was thrown into left field? Probably the strangest baseball game I'd seen since catcher Brent Mayne was a winning pitcher for the Colorado Rockies back in 2000. Happ's return to Philly was much more conventional and very successful. He outpitched and defeated Roy Halladay on Aug. 25.

Note: Happ strained his right oblique during his final spring start on Tuesday but remains on track to make this start.

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