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Clayton Kershaw tops our rankings of every opening day starter

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
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This is no April Fools’ Day joke. Baseball season has arrived.

On Sunday, Major League Baseball will open the 2017 campaign with a three-game slate that will set the stage for the season that lies ahead.

If you’re like the crew here at Big League Stew, you’re counting down the hours and even minutes until Chris Archer throws the season’s first pitch against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. But before we get there, allow us to set the stage with our annual ranking of all 30 scheduled opening day starters.

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This year’s group feels like the strangest mix of opening day starters in quite some time. Of course, there’s the usual core of decorated pitchers. That includes Clayton Kershaw, who makes his third straight appearance in the top spot on our rankings. However, it seems the usual batch of up-and-comers have been flooded out by veterans either looking to bounce back or simply hang on in the big leagues.

Jhoulys Chacin, for example, is not a name you’d expect in this group in 2017, but there he is at No. 30. That sets up the biggest opening day pitching mismatch perhaps ever, and certainly the first-ever 1 vs. 30 in the history of the Stew’s opening day rankings.

As for how we determine these rankings, we try to effectively weigh past performance with where each pitcher is now in their careers, and with where we see them going in 2017. In instances where pitchers rate fairly close, recent performance serves as the tiebreaker.

It’s not an exact science, and as with any ranking, it’s all highly subjective. If you disagree, we’d love to hear why in the comments.

Clayton Kershaw will start his seventh straight opening day for the Dodgers. (Getty Images)
Clayton Kershaw will start his seventh straight opening day for the Dodgers. (Getty)

1. Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers (vs. Padres, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
The easiest decision Dave Roberts will make all season is naming Kershaw his opening day starter. This makes seven in a row for Kershaw, and he only just turned 29. He’s also the easiest guy to rank. Even coming off an injury-plagued season, the three-time Cy Young Award-winner is still the best of the best.

2. Madison Bumgarner – Giants (@ Diamondbacks, Sun. April 2, 4:10 ET)
Bumgarner has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the past six seasons, including a career-high 226 2/3 innings last season. His workload is definitely a long-term concern, which is why manager Bruce Bochy went easy on him in spring training. But confidence, toughness and a workhorse mentality are what separate Bumgarner from the next tier of pitchers.

3. Justin Verlander – Tigers (@ White Sox, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
A Tigers cornerstone for over a decade, Verlander will make his ninth career opening day start. The 34-year-old right-hander was back in peak form last season, posting a 16-9 record with a 3.04 ERA. He finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting, which angered Kate Upton, but perhaps it will help fuel another big season in his already Hall of Fame-worthy career.

4. Noah Syndergaard – Mets (vs. Braves, Mon. April 3, 1:10 ET)
Thor is the main man now in New York. After injuries plagued Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz throughout the 2016 season, Syndergaard put the Mets on his back and carried them to the wild-card game. Now he’s being rewarded with his first opening day start. In just his second MLB season, Syndergaard went 14-8 while posting a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts over 183.2 innings pitched.

Jon Lester will start the Cubs championship defense Sunday night in St. Louis. (Getty Images)
Jon Lester will start the Cubs championship defense Sunday night in St. Louis. (Getty)

5. Jon Lester – Cubs (@ Cardinals, Sun. April 2, 8:35 ET)
Joe Maddon could have flipped a coin and not lost on this decision. Instead, he went with his heart and gave the nod to Lester over Jake Arrieta. It will be Lester’s second opener in three years with the Cubs. Arrieta was the opening day starter last season after winning the Cy Young Award in 2015. But Lester was clearly the better pitcher last season, finishing second in Cy Young voting after going 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA.

6. Corey Kluber -Indians (@ Rangers, Mon. April 3, 7:05 ET)
Kluber was eased into action this spring coming off a heavy workload in 2016, but he’ll be ready to go on opening day. The 2014 American League Cy Young Award-winner has remained a reliable starter for Terry Francona despite a fluctuating win total and ERA over the past three seasons. During that time he’s made at least 32 starts and pitched at least 215 innings each season. He added 34 1/3 innings in the postseason.

7. Felix Hernandez – Mariners (@ Astros, Mon. April 3, 8:10 ET)
You could argue that King Felix is the king of opening day. Hernandez will start his ninth consecutive opener for Seattle and his tenth overall, which are both tops among active pitchers. The Mariners have won all but one of those 10 starts, with the lone defeat coming last season against the Rangers. Hernandez was slowed by a calf injury last season, making just 25 starts and posting a 3.82 ERA. But we wouldn’t bet against him bouncing back in a big way.

What will Rick Porcello do for an encore following his Cy Young season in 2016. (AP)
What will Rick Porcello do for an encore following his Cy Young season in 2016. (AP)

8. Rick Porcello – Red Sox (vs. Pirates, Mon April 3, 2:05 ET)
The reward for winning the American League Cy Young Award is taking the ball on opening day at Fenway Park. Manager John Farrell made the decision to start Porcello before David Price was injured, and in spite of Chris Sale’s addition, which cements the respect he’s earned. It’s difficult to argue after Porcello won 22 games last season and posted a career-best 3.15 ERA.

9. Masahiro Tanaka – Yankees (@ Rays, Sun. April 2, 1:10 ET)
After being named opening day starter on the first day of camp, Tanaka responded with a brilliant spring. In 23 2/3 innings, Tanaka allowed one earned run. His dominance included a five-inning effort in a combined no-hitter against Detroit. Durability might be a slight concern given past issues with his elbow, but he looked healthy and impressive in 2016, and he looks even better right now.

10. Yu Darvish – Rangers (vs. Indians, Mon. April 3, 7:05 ET)
Darvish will become the Rangers ninth different opening day starter since 2009. No other MLB club has used more than eight in that time. Darvish earned the nod mostly based on his strong finish in 2016. The team went 8-2 in his last 10 starts of the season. He posted a 3.48 ERA during that time, while striking out 78 batters. It will be the sixth opening day start in Darvish’s career, but his first in MLB.

Stephen Strasburg is back in the saddle as Washington's opening day starter. (AP)
Stephen Strasburg is back in the saddle as Washington’s opening day starter. (AP)

11. Stephen Strasburg – Nationals (vs. Marlins, Mon. April 3, 1:05 ET)
With Max Scherzer coming along slow this spring due to a finger injury, the spotlight will go back on Strasburg on opening day. Strasburg handled the assignment from 2012-14, before giving way to Scherzer. Now he’s back coming off an All-Star season that saw him begin 13-0 with a 2.51 ERA, before collapsing down the stretch due to injuries. Here’s hoping April 3 will be the first of at least 30 starts this season.

12. Chris Archer – Rays (vs. Yankees, Sun April 2, 1:10 ET)
Archer was on the wrong side of some bad luck last season, as his 9-19 record confirms. He’d also acknowledge he wasn’t at his best, which is why he’ll have a lot to prove this season. This may also be his last opening day with the Rays if the team receives a suitable trade offer. Needless to say, this could prove to be a pivotal season in his career.

13. Jose Quintana – White Sox (vs. Tigers, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
It’s a mild surprise Quintana made it to opening day in a White Sox uniform. Now the question becomes how many starts will he make before general manager Rick Hahn fields an offer he can’t refuse. The 27-year-old left-hander has been remarkably consistent in his first four full seasons, making at least 32 starts and throwing at least 200 innings in each. If he lands in the right spot, he should be a household name by season’s end.

The Diamondbacks needs a bounce back season from Zack Greinke. (AP)
The Diamondbacks needs a bounce-back season from Zack Greinke. (AP)

14. Zack Greinke – Diamondbacks (vs. Giants, Sun. April 2, 4:10 ET)
After signing a six-year, $206.5M contract, Greinke went through a rough first season in Arizona in 2016. Greinke finished with 13 wins and 4.37 ERA, which paints a slightly brighter picture of his season than the general perception. But the low points were some of the lowest in Greinke’s MLB career. If he’s going to bounce back in 2017, there’s no better time to start than opening day.

15. Dallas Keuchel – Astros (vs. Mariners, Mon. April 3, 8:10 ET)
In this spot two years ago we predicted Keuchel would become a star sooner than later. Now he’s a former Cy Young Award-winner headed for his third opening day assignment. Granted, Keuchel was not very good in 2016, producing a dismal 4.55 ERA and 9-12 record over 168 innings and 26 starts. But that only makes him one of the very best bounce-back candidates this season.

16. Gerrit Cole – Pirates (@ Red Sox, Mon April 3, 2:05 ET)
Cole was a Cy Young contender in 2015, but was slowed by injuries last season. He ended up making only 21 starts, and clearly wasn’t himself posting a 3.88 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Healthy now, he’s the clear choice for manager Clint Hurdle, but it will be interesting to see if he can make it back to the Cy Young level.

Is Carlos Martinez on the verge of becoming a Cy Young contender? (AP)
Is Carlos Martinez on the verge of becoming a Cy Young contender? (AP)

17. Carlos Martinez – Cardinals (vs. Cubs, Sun. April 2, 8:35 ET)
The torch has been passed in St. Louis. Martinez gets the nod over Adam Wainwright, who had started the previous four opening days for the Cardinals. Martinez posted a 3.04 ERA over 195 1/3 innings last season, and has certainly looked like the team’s ace of the future over the past two seasons. Another step forward in 2017 could put him in Cy Young contention.

18. Julio Teheran – Braves (@ Mets, Mon. April 3, 1:10 ET)
One of the more underrated starters around, Teheran will start his fourth straight opening day for Atlanta. He’s made at least 30 starts each of the last four seasons, posting 46 wins to go along with a 3.33 ERA. He’s deserving of this nod, and perhaps opening SunTrust Park, which will come on April 14.

19. Danny Duffy – Royals (@ Twins, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
After a successful stint with Team USA at the World Baseball Classic, Duffy gets another cool honor — his first opening day start. Duffy will be Kansas City’s seventh different opening day starter in eight years. Among those was Yordano Venutra, who was killed in a car accident during the offseason. Duffy has done his best to honor Ventura in the time since, and that will no doubt continue on opening day.

20. Marco Estrada – Blue Jays (@ Orioles, Mon. April 3, 3:05 ET)
Coming off his MVP performance in the World Baseball Classic, Marcus Stroman seemed like the obvious choice to start his second consecutive opening day. Instead, the nod goes to veteran Marco Estrada, who has been Toronto’s most consistent starter the past two seasons. Over 57 starts, Estrada has notched 22 wins while posting a 3.30 ERA.

21. Ervin Santana – Twins (vs. Royals, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
Santana gets his second straight opening day nod for Minnesota, though it will technically be his first since last season’s was called off after two innings due to rain. The 34-year-old right-hander put together a solid 2016 season, producing a 3.38 ERA over 30 starts. In fact, he was the only Twins starter to finish with an ERA under 5.00.

Edinson Volquez has tough shoes to fill as the Marlins opening day starter. (AP)
Edinson Volquez has tough shoes to fill as the Marlins opening day starter. (AP)

22. Edinson Volquez – Marlins (@ Nationals, Mon. April 3, 1:05 ET)
Volquez has a tough assignment replacing Jose Fernandez as the Marlins opening day starter. He also experienced his own loss during the offseason when his brother was murdered in the Dominican Republic. It will be an emotional, perhaps bittersweet day, but it’s an honor Volquez earned by edging out Adam Conley this spring. This will mark Volquez’s fifth opening day start with four different teams (Reds, Padres and Royals).

23. Jeremy Hellickson – Phillies (@ Reds, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
Despite persistent trade rumors, Hellickson is back to make his second straight opening day start with the Phillies. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Award-winner is coming off his most productive season since 2012 with Tampa Bay. He tied a career high with 189 innings, while posting a solid 3.71 ERA.

24.Kevin Gausman – Orioles (vs. Blue Jays, Mon. April 3, 3:05 ET)
With ace Chris Tillman still coming back from arm trouble, it’s Gausman getting his first opening day nod. The 26-year-old right-hander was superb this spring, posting a 1.80 ERA and 0.80 WHIP over three starts. He was solid last season as well, producing a 3.61 ERA over 30 starts Though it’ll have to come against a very strong AL East, he seems poised for a true breakout season.

25. Kendall Graveman – A’s (vs. Angels, Mon. April 3, 10:05 ET)
With usual opening day starter Sonny Gray starting the season on the disabled list, Graveman will get his first opportunity to start the opener. Graveman, 26, was acquired from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. He was also Bob Melvin’s most reliable starter last season when Gray was also sidelined. He finished 10-11 with a 4.11 ERA, and could be closing in on a true breakout season.

26. Junior Guerra – Brewers (vs. Rockies, Mon. April 3, 2:10 ET)
Guerra is not the most recognizable name here, but he has one of the best stories. The 32-year-old right-hander spent six years out of affiliated baseball following a minor league drug suspension in 2009. He re-emerged in 2015, and forced his way into the Brewers rotation last season. At times he even pitched like an All-Star, posting a 9-3 record and 2.81 ERA over 20 starts. The opening day assignment might mean more to him than any of the other 29 starters.

The Rockies may finally have an ace in Jon Gray. (Getty Images)
The Rockies may finally have an ace in Jon Gray. (Getty)

27. Jon Gray – Rockies (@ Brewers, Mon. April 3, 2:10 ET)
For the first time since trading Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011, the Rockies appear to have a potential ace in Gray. It might be premature to apply that label right now, but the 25-year-old right-hander looks the part from an ability standpoint. Now it’s about putting it together consistently, and perhaps most importantly finding comfort and confidence pitching at Coors Field.

28. Scott Feldman – Reds (vs. Phillies, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
Feldman feels like the third best option in an already weak rotation. An injury to Anthony DeSclafani removed him from the mix, and we’re not entirely sure why Brandon Finnegan was passed over. Either way, this is a reminder that the Reds are in the midst of a full-blown rebuild that’s yet to turn the corner.

29. Ricky Nolasco – Angels (@ A’s, Mon. April 3, 10:05 ET)
Another somewhat surprising decision given that Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker are healthy. Nolasco did fairly well with the Angels last season, producing a 3.11 ERA over 11 starts. Twins fans are probably wondering where that was the prior two-plus seasons. In 57 appearances for Minnesota dating back to 2014, Nolasco posted a 5.43 ERA and arguably looked like one of the least effective starters in MLB.

30. Jhoulys Chacin – Padres (@ Dodgers, Mon. April 3, 4:10 ET)
It’s going to be a rough go for San Diego this season, and a big part of that will be its thin rotation. Chacin was determined to be the best of the bunch despite posting a 5.80 ERA with Atlanta, getting released and then being demoted to the bullpen by the pitching-hungry Angels last season. Chacin will be followed by Clayton Richard and Jered Weaver during the opening series.

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES
2013
2014
2015
2016

More MLB opening day coverage from Yahoo Sports:
Padres star makes team in unique scenario
Everything you need to know for baseball’s opening day
MLB predictions 2017: World Series picks, standings and award-winners

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!