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On Thursday, March 29, Major League Baseball will holds its earliest opening day ever. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has prevented another piece of opening-day history. This was to be the the first time every team opened on the same day since the league expanded to 30 teams in 1998, but the forecast has already resulted in the Nationals-Reds opener being postponed.
That’s a bummer, but at least we’ll still get to watch some of the very best starting pitchers the game has to offer. It will just happen over a two-day period.
As is tradition here at Yahoo Sports, every year when we see that list of opening day starters start to form, we have to rank them. We just can’t help ourselves. As always, it’s a subjective list that’s open for debate. We obviously consider past performance, with a little extra weight on the most recent past. We also try to look forward and determine which pitchers offer the most upside.
Thanks to a couple stubborn managers we don’t have the complete list just yet. We’ll go ahead and rank what we do know and update as the remaining teams announce their choice.
So, without further ado, here the 28 known starters for opening day 2018 ranked.
1. Max Scherzer – Washington Nationals (@ Reds, Friday 4:10 ET)
There’s a new No. 1 on this list, and his name is Max Scherzer. This spot has been reserved for Clayton Kershaw since 2015, but Scherzer is impossible to deny after winning his third Cy Young Award last season. He would have been in the running for No. 1 last season, but Stephen Strasburg got the nod when Scherzer was setback by an injury in spring training. Scherzer’s accomplishments are too long to list here, but he’ll hope March 29 is the first step towards his biggest goal which is winning a World Series.
2. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers (vs. Giants, 7:08 ET)
Once again, the easiest decision Dave Roberts will make all season is naming Kershaw his opening day starter. This will mark eight in a row for Kershaw as he enters his age-30 season. Back issues have kept him from reaching 30 starts in each of the last two seasons, but he’s still on another level even when he’s not 100 percent. Kershaw won 18 games and finished second in the NL Cy Young Award balloting last season despite missing one month.
3. Corey Kluber – Indians (@ Mariners, 10:10 ET)
Coming off his second American League Cy Young in four seasons, Kluber has firmly established himself among MLB’s elite. He was truly on another level last season, going 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA. Despite missing a month with a back injury, Kluber led the league in complete games (5) and shutouts (3), not to mention logging his fourth straight 200-inning season. Rough postseason aside, he’s as good as it gets.
4. Chris Sale – Boston Red Sox (@ Rays, 4:00 ET)
Sale will start his first opener for the Red Sox after previously starting three for the White Sox. The 28-year-old left-hander was his typical dominant self last season, leading MLB in innings pitched (214.1) and strikeouts (308). He also earned his sixth straight All-Star selection and sixth straight top six finish in the AL Cy Young voting.
5. Justin Verlander – Houston Astros (@ Rangers, 3:35 ET)
After starting 10 of the last 11 season openers for Detroit, Verlander will do the same for the World Series champion Astros. The 35-year-old right-hander proved to be the final piece of Houston’s championship puzzle last season. He was especially good in the postseason, picking up four wins while allowing just nine runs in 36.2 innings. Those contributions likely gave him the edge over another former Cy Young Award winner in Dallas Keuchel and Houston’s newest ace, Gerrit Cole.
6. Noah Syndergaard – New York Mets (vs. Cardinals, 1:10 ET)
After a partially torn lat muscle limited Syndergaard to only seven starts in 2017, he‘s appeared to be full strength so far this spring. In fact, he‘s often looked like the ace who helped carry New York to the NL Wild-Card Game in 2016. That’s a good sign, and you can bet first-year manager Mickey Callaway will be relying on “Thor” heavily this season.
7. Chris Archer – Tampa Bay Rays (vs. Red Sox, 4:00 ET)
Aside from going into full tanking mode this winter, the biggest story surrounding the Rays is their decision to utilize a four-man rotation. Heading that up will be none other than Chris Archer, a two-time All-Star who will make his fourth opening day start for Tampa. To some it’s a surprise that Archer is still with the Rays. With that in mind, it would be a massive surprise if he’s still there for opening day 2019.
8. Luis Severino – New York Yankees (@ Blue Jays, 3:37, ET)
New manager Aaron Boone had no shortage of choices for his opening day starter. He settled on Severino, the 24-year-old flamethrower who emerged as New York’s most reliable arm in 2017. Severino will be making his first opening day start as he comes off his first All-Star season. He made 31 starts, winning 14 games and posting a 2.98. Severino finished third in the AL Cy Young voting, and seems poised to contend for it again.
9. Carlos Martinez – St. Louis Cardinals (@ Mets, 1:10 ET)
Martinez took over as the Cardinals ace last season, taking the torch from Adam Wainwright. He would go on to earn his second All-Star selection while posting career highs in innings (205) and strikeouts (217). Martinez is the fifth Cardinals pitcher since 2000 to start consecutive opening days, joining the likes of Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris, and Darryl Kile.
10. Jon Lester – Chicago Cubs (@ Marlins, 12:40 ET)
Despite the addition of Yu Darvish, Joe Maddon will give Jon Lester his third opening day start in four years with the Cubs. Lester wasn’t at his best last season, posting a 4.33 ERA in 32 starts after finishing 2016 with 19 wins and a 2.44 ERA. But he’s a good candidate for a strong bounce back season.
11. Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies (@ Braves, 4:10 ET)
Nola was named the opening day starter before spring training. Of course, the Phillies would go on to sign Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million deal on March 11, but it was too late into camp to change course. Not that new manager Gabe Kapler wanted to. Nola, 24, is one of the game’s best young arms and will be Philadelphia’s youngest opening day starter since Dennis Bennett in 1964.
12. Felix Hernandez – Mariners (vs. Indians, 10:10 ET)
King Felix remains Seattle’s king of opening day. The veteran right-hander will start his tenth consecutive opener for the Mariners and his 11th overall, which are both tops among active pitchers. The Mariners have won all but two of those start, with the two coming the last two seasons. Sure he‘s been slowed by injuries the last two seasons, but he‘s always a threat to do something special on ‘Felix Day.’
13. Cole Hamels – Texas Rangers (vs. Astros, 3:35 ET)
Would you believe Hamels has more opening day starts with Texas than Yu Darvish? It seems impossible, but it’s true. This will mark Hamels second opener with Texas compared to just one for Darvish, who’s now with the Chicago Cubs. In fact, Hamels will break up a string of a nine different opening day starters in nine seasons for Texas.
14. Julio Teheran – Atlanta Braves (vs. Phillies, 4:10 ET)
Make it five straight opening day starts for the 27-year-old right-hander, which is actually one more than Braves Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. There was much speculation that Teheran would be traded last season, and then again during the offseason, but he’s still with Atlanta for now. Arguably the most underrated ace in the game, Teheran has made at least 30 starts every season since 2013 and is a two-time All-Star.
15. Danny Duffy – Kansas City Royals (vs. White Sox, 4:15 ET)
Health permitting, Duffy will start his second straight opening day for Kansas City. He left his final spring start with shoulder stiffness but hasn’t been pulled from the assignemt yet. He produced decent numbers in 2017, finishing 9-10 with a 3.81 ERA over his 24 starts. Duffy also missed time with an elbow injury that required minor offseason surgery, and has yet to make more than 26 starts in a season.
16. Patrick Corbin – Arizona Diamondbacks (vs. Rockies, 10:10 ET)
With Zack Greinke’s opening day status in question due to a groin injury, the door is open for Corbin to start his first season opener. The 28-year-old left-hander was scheduled for the same assignment in 2014, but ended up needing Tommy John surgery. Corbin looked healthy last season, going 14-13 with a 4.03 ERA.
17. Garrett Richards — Los Angeles Angels (vs. Athletics, 4:05 p.m. ET)
No, it’s not Shohei Ohtani and that’s probably for the best after his rough spring. Richards, 29, gets the call after just 12 starts in the last two injury-plagued years. He’s a little like Corbin in that he was really good once, injuries knocked him and now he’s trying to re-establish himself this season. The stuff isn’t the question with Richards. He can be filthy when he’s on — it’s his health. He’s good enough to go opening day, and if he’s healthy enough and effective enough to be the Angels’ top guy all year long, that bodes well for them.
18. Jake Odorizzi – Minnesota Twins (@ Orioles, 3:05 ET)
The Twins did what they needed to do this winter, and that’s add pitching. Among those brought aboard was Odorizzi, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. The soon-to-be 28-year-old right-hander has a career 3.83 ERA over six seasons. He gets the nod over upstart Jose Berrios and free-agent signing Lance Lynn.
19. J.A. Happ – Toronto Blue Jays (vs. Yankees, 3:37 ET)
With Marcus Stroman getting a late start this spring, veteran left-hander J.A. Happ will be the first pitcher officially tasked with slowing down the Yankees loaded lineup. We wish him a lot of luck. Happ, 35, is in the final year of a three-year, $36 million deal. He’s definitely earned it to this point, posting 30 wins and a 3.33 the last two seasons. Happ could be an interesting trade candidate if the Jays falter early on.
20. Jon Gray — Colorado Rockies (@ Diamondbacks, 10:10 ET)
Gray still hasn’t settled in yet as a true ace, but he looks the part more often than not. His stuff definitely plays well at Coors Field as his 3.13 ERA there last season indicates. Like many Rockies pitchers before him, injuries and inconsistency are what’s holding him back. Now 26, the Rockies will need him to take a clear step forward and prove he can handle a full season.
21. Chase Anderson – Milwaukee Brewers (@ Padres, 4:10 ET)
The Brewers had probably hoped to fill this role with a bigger name like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. That never worked out, but Anderson’s not a bad option himself after enjoying a strong 2017 campaign. The 29-year-old right-hander posted a 2.74 ERA over 25 starts and 141.1 innings. He’ll probably need to be as good or better if Milwaukee hopes to hang around in the NL Central.
22. Ivan Nova – Pittsburgh Pirates (@ Tigers, 1:10 ET)
With Gerrit Cole traded to Houston, the Pirates will call on another veteran to start the opener. Veteran Ivan Nova, 31, will make his first career opening day start after being anointed the “dean of our rotation” by manager Clint Hurdle. Nova had a 4.14 ERA in 187 innings for Pittsburgh last season. He was a 16-game winner for the Yankees in 2011.
23. Dylan Bundy – Baltimore Orioles (vs. Twins, 3:05 ET)
It’s the role many believed Bundy would own after being selected in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft. He’s had to overcome years of injuries and inconsistencies to get here, but he’s finally earned it. Bundy was Baltimore’s most reliable starter last season, posting a 4.24 ERA in 28 starts. Still just 25, there’s still hope this will be the first of many openers.
24. Kendall Graveman – Oakland Athletics (vs. Angels, 4:05 ET)
Graveman was the fallback option for an injured Sonny Gray last season. With Gray now on the Yankees, he’s the man now. Unfortunately, Graveman’s own injuries limited him to just 19 starts and 105.1 innings in 2017. Still, he’s been pretty consistent in three seasons as a starter, posting ERAs between 4.05 and 4.19. Perhaps with better health this will be a breakthrough season for the 27-year-old.
25. Clayton Richard – San Diego Padres (vs. Brewers, 4:10 ET)
The Padres search for an ace continues. Richard, 34, will be called on to make his first ever opening day start. He’ll represent the sixth different Padre to fill this role in six seasons. To Richard’s credit, he was something of a workhorse last season, piling up 197 innings. Unfortunately, he finished with 15 losses and a 4.79 ERA.
26. Jordan Zimmermann – Detroit Tigers (vs. Pirates, 1:10 ET)
Zimmermann has some big cleats to fill as he takes over the role that Justin Verlander owned over the last decade. Verlander had started nine of the last 10 opening days for Detroit. He also has work to do to earn his contract. Zimmermann, who has three years and $74 million left on his contract, finished last season with a 6.08 ERA.
27. Homer Bailey – Cincinnati Reds (vs. Nationals, Friday 4:10 ET)
Opening day will mark 12 seasons in a Reds uniform for Homer Bailey. It will also be the first time he’s started a season opener. It feels like a tip of the cap for his perseverance. Injuries have limited Bailey to 26 total starts over the last three seasons. He hasn’t thrown more than 145 innings since 2014, but he hasn’t given up. Bailey’s expected to be the only veteran in Cincinnati’s rotation.
28. Jose Urena – Miami Marlins (vs. Cubs, 12:40 ET)
Don Mattingly’s choices were pretty limited. It came down to Urena and veteran Dan Straily, and Mattingly joked that he needed a coin flip to decide it. Urena, 26, will be the 16th different pitcher to start a Marlins opener. He joined Miami’s rotation last season and enjoyed a true breakthrough season, winning 14 games while posting a 3.82 ERA.
29. James Shields – Chicago White Sox (@ Royals, 4:15 ET)
Of all the pitchers on this list, only Verlander (10) and Kershaw (8) have made as many or more opening day starts than Shields. This will be No. 8 for the 36-year-old right-hander, and the White Sox will be the fourth different team (Rays, Royals, Padres) he’s done it for. It’s an interesting choice considering Shields has posted a 5.60 ERA over the past two seasons, but the White Sox aren’t yet ready to turn this spot over to their young studs.
30. Ty Blach – San Francisco Giants (vs. Dodgers, 7:08 ET)
Spring training didn’t end fast enough for the Giants. In the final few days, Jeff Samardzija was lost to a pectoral strain and then original opening day starter Madison Bumgarner suffered a broken hand that will sideline him up to two months. Ouch. With his options limited, Bruce Bochy will turn to Ty Blach, a 27-year-old right-hander who’s made 26 career starts. The Giants also have Johnny Cueto, but apparently his turn didn’t line up. Needless to say, this isn’t how the Giants envisioned starting this season.
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