Projecting Opening Day Starting Pitchers for All 30 MLB Teams in 2013

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2013

Projecting Opening Day Starting Pitchers for All 30 MLB Teams in 2013

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    MLB Opening Day starting pitchers will be responsible for blocking out all the preseason chatter for the first game that actually matters, and managers generally choose their most trustworthy arms to set a positive tone.

    The Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners, for example, already have this issue resolved.  Only significant injury could prevent their consistent and overpowering rotation aces from taking the mound on April 1.

    But the majority of teams don't have a clear-cut No. 1 guy.  The Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres—just to name a few—will use lengthy processes during spring training in order to determine who is best suited to lead them out of the gate.

    With fewer than two months to go until the regular season, these are the front-runners to take the mound on Opening Day for all 30 teams.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy

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    Opening Day opponent: St. Louis Cardinals

    Ian Kennedy has been the only rotation member to start every fifth day since Kirk Gibson became the Arizona Diamondbacks manager in 2010.  When given Opening Day opportunities in each of the past two seasons, he has led the team to victory.

    There's understandably a lot of trust in Ian Kennedy.

    Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley will be considered because both pitched as well—if not better—than Kennedy in 2012. Ultimately, they'll be slotted behind him in the rotation, though.

Atlanta Braves: Kris Medlen

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    Opening Day opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

    Kris Medlen opted out of the 2013 World Baseball Classic due to the birth of his first child.

    However, it won't affect his spring training preparation.

    The Tommy John surgery survivor went undefeated in 12 starts last summer. He posted an 0.97 ERA in that span as well, and the Atlanta Braves trusted him in the win-or-go-home NL Wild Card Game.  

    He'll inevitably lose at some point over the course of a full season, but the free-swinging Phillies lineup should be very afraid.

Baltimore Orioles: Jason Hammel

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    Opening Day opponent: Tampa Bay Rays

    Several Baltimore Orioles starting pitchers enjoyed breakout years in 2012.

    Yet Jason Hammel set himself apart with a great strikeout rate, and generating so many ground balls also made life easy for the defense behind him.

    He carried that success into the postseason and deserves to start another highly anticipated game.

Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester

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    Opening Day opponent: New York Yankees

    Jon Lester already had the potential to rebound in 2013, and John Farrell's return to the Boston Red Sox only makes that seem more likely.

    The left-hander blossomed from a top prospect to an AL All-Star when Farrell served as pitching coach, but became inconsistent under new guidance in the past few years. With Farrell back in Boston, Lester should return back to form.

    Devoid of other trustworthy options, the team ought to proceed with is most talented starter.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza

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    Opening Day opponent: Pittsburgh Pirates

    If Matt Garza is in a Chicago Cubs uniform, he'll be pitching on Opening Day. The right-hander has recovered from a 2012 elbow injury and has returned to the mound according to Garza's Twitter account.

    There's certainly a possibility that he gets traded during spring training. Still, teams will be reluctant to complete a deal until they see him return to form during the regular season.

    Edwin Jackson would assume the role should he depart.

Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale

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    Opening Day opponent: Kansas City Royals

    Chris Sale exceeded all expectations and smoothly transitioned from setup man to No. 1 starter in 2012.

    He dominates lefties and handles other opponents pretty well, too.

    Jake Peavy is another strong candidate to pitch on Opening Day, but K.C. gave him a lot of trouble in 2012, so Sale should get the nod.

Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto

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    Opening Day opponent: Los Angeles Angels

    Johnny Cueto won't be fazed by the intimidating names in L.A.'s lineup, not even in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. He actually prefers to pitch in the cramped environment.

    Two other members of the Cincinnati Reds rotation have All-Star experience, but Cueto is undoubtedly the staff's leader.

Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson

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    Opening Day opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

    Which starting pitcher will the Cleveland Indians find least objectionable?

    Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister have very limited experience in the majors, while Trevor Bauer and Ubaldo Jimenez struggle to throw strikes consistently. Scott Kazmir is going to be rusty and Brett Myers has never been part of an American League rotation.

    By default, Justin Masterson gets the nod.

    The Tribe would be glad to see him develop a reliable third pitch, butut even with a fastball-slider repertoire, he's capable of bouncing back from a forgettable 2012 campaign.

Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin

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    Opening Day opponent: Milwaukee Brewers

    The Colorado Rockies returned to a five-man rotation after falling out of contention last summer and Jhoulys Chacin took advantage. He posted a 2.84 ERA upon activation from the disabled list and surrendered far fewer extra-base hits.

    The team has more confidence in him than the other starting candidates, as we can deduce from his new two-year contract (h/t ESPN), and should get the start on Opening Day.

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander

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    Opening Day opponent: Minnesota Twins

    It's an easy decision for Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who has selected Justin Verlander for this honor in every season since 2008.

    The All-Star doesn't fare particularly well in April, though. He owns a losing record and pedestrian strikeout-to-walk ratio in his MLB career during the month.

    That might not matter, though, as he prepares for a weak Twins lineup.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris

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    Opening Day opponent: Texas Rangers

    Starting pitching depth was obviously a priority for the rebuilding Houston Astros. Already this offseason, they have added Erik Bedard, John Ely, Phil Humber and Alex White to the rotation mix.

    Only the oft-injured Bedard has sustained success in the majors, but even he looked like a liability in 2012.

    If Bud Norris develops his changeup in spring training and focuses on inducing more grounders, he'll lead the Astros through their American League debut.

Kansas City Royals: James Shields

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    Opening Day opponent: Chicago White Sox

    James Shields is determined to make a good first impression with his new team. After all, the Kansas City Royals traded high-ceiling outfielder Wil Myers and two other prospects to bolster their starting rotation.

    The 31-year-old has had mixed season-opening results. He recorded a win back in 2008, but limped through five innings last season (6 ER, 9 H, 3 BB, 3 SO).

    Jeremy Guthrie signed a $25 million deal with K.C. early in the offseason, but he isn't nearly as consistent as Shields.

Los Angeles Angels: Jered Weaver

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    Opening Day opponent: Cincinnati Reds

    This should be interesting.

    Jered Weaver has made 207 MLB starts, though none against the Reds. He does, however, have stellar stats in interleague play.

    Even if Weaver neutralizes Cincinnati's left-handed hitters, he still needs to figure out Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick and Brandon Phillips.

    C.J. Wilson—the second-best member of the Los Angeles Angels rotation—won't be considered for an Opening Day outing after struggling toward the end of 2012.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

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    Opening Day opponent: San Francisco Giants

    The Los Angeles Dodgers can spend whatever they want on free-agent pitching, but nobody is going to supplant Clayton Kershaw as ace. Despite signing a record-breaking contract, Zack Greinke slides into the No. 2 spot.

    Baseball's best left-hander will undoubtedly make his third straight Opening Day start. He went seven scoreless innings to kick off the 2011 season and carried a shutout through three frames on April 5 before being removed with a stomach flu.

    Kershaw has also owned the rival Giants throughout his MLB career.

Miami Marlins: Ricky Nolasco

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    Opening Day opponent: Washington Nationals

    Before the Miami Marlins dismantled their roster, Ricky Nolasco was merely the No. 3 starter. He probably would've been even further from the top of the rotation in 2013 if Mark Buehrle, Josh Joshson and Anibal Sanchez had remained.

    If the Marlins don't trade Nolasco in spring training (and they certainly could), he'll be their ace by default.

    His primary advantage is experience, as the 30-year-old has pitched more major league innings than Miami's other projected rotation members combined.

Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo

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    Opening Day opponent: Colorado Rockies

    The Milwaukee Brewers evidently adore their internal starting rotation candidates. A handful of them got their first taste of the majors last summer and others finished 2012 with success in the high minors.

    Somewhat surprisingly, the Brewers did not look outside the organization for depth.

    Without a durable veteran to challenge him, Yovani Gallardo will lead them from the get-go.

Minnesota Twins: Scott Diamond

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    Opening Day opponent: Detroit Tigers

    It's been a decent offseason for the Minnesota Twins, who added several experienced starting pitchers and a couple very promising prospects.

    But none of the newcomers will unseat Scott Diamond for the No. 1 distinction in 2013.

    Vance Worley shined a couple years ago while with the Philadelphia Phillies and contended for NL Rookie of the Year. However, switching from the National League and coming off elbow surgery—albeit a minor procedure—forces him lower in the pecking order.

    It ought to be a rough afternoon for Diamond against such a deep batting order, though.

New York Mets: Johan Santana

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    Opening Day opponent: San Diego Padres

    Terry Collins will need to put a lot of thought into his managerial decisions entering a lame duck year, and he might not last through 2013 if an initial loss snowballs into several miserable months.

    The simplest choice for Opening Day is Johan Santana.

    The overpaid southpaw labored in July and August before ending his 2012 campaign prematurely. But, on the flip side, Santana was practically in Cy Young form when the summer began, and his most recent injury isn't expected to linger.

New York Yankees: CC Sabathia

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    Opening Day opponent: Boston Red Sox

    There's a lot of panic in the Bronx after an uncharacteristically inactive offseason and all the Alex Rodriguez drama.

    For at least one afternoon, CC Sabathia will aim to put the minds of New York Yankees fans at ease.

    The big lefty has taken the mound on every Opening Day since debuting in pinstripes. He is more likely than anyone to pitch into the later innings.

Oakland Athletics: Brett Anderson

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    Opening Day opponent: Seattle Mariners

    Brett Anderson was well worth his $3.25 million salary last year, even though he only made seven MLB appearances—all but one coming during the regular season.

    Anderson posted a 2.57 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 35.0 IP, which can be valued at approximately 1.0 WAR. Then in the ALDS, he blanked the Detroit Tigers through six frames and limited them to two hits.

    The 25-year-old is elite when healthy and is currently in "the best shape of his life," according to Hardball Talk.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels

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    Opening Day opponent: Atlanta Braves

    Cole Hamels has never had an Opening Day assignment. That speaks to the outstanding starting pitching talent that surrounds him on the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Coming off a brilliant season, it's finally time that he leapfrogged Roy Halladay in the pecking order.

    Including the playoffs, Hamels has allowed more than five runs just once in his past 63 starts. No matter what, the Phillies will stand a chance with him on the mound.

Pittsburgh Pirates: A.J. Burnett

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    Opening Day opponent: Chicago Cubs

    A.J. Burnett didn't get this opportunity in 2012 because he suffered an orbital fracture in spring training, but he's a lock to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation this season, if history doesn't repeat itself.

    During last year's 16-win season, Burnett threw more strikes and generated more ground balls than at any other point in his career. Pitcher-friendly conditions at PNC Park helped him, too.

    Conveniently, the Pirates begin the regular season at home.

San Diego Padres: Clayton Richard

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    Opening Day opponent: New York Mets

    It will be a choice between Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez.

    The latter is always at risk of imploding because of his inconsistent release point. Volquez only throws 53 percent of his first pitches for strikes and hardly ever lasted past the sixth inning until 2012.

    Richard doesn't inspire much confidence, either. Batters effortlessly make contact because there isn't much speed differential between his fastball and offspeed stuff. At least the lefty works efficiently and matches up well against the Mets.

    The San Diego Padres would be much better off if Andrew Cashner and Cory Luebke were available.

San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain

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    Opening Day opponent: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Mr. Perfect has surprisingly never had the privilege of starting Game 1 of the regular season.

    One thing is certain—Tim Lincecum won't stand in his way. The Freak seemed uncomfortable in the 2012 rotation and it will take more than a stellar spring training to restore his reputation.

    Matt Cain, meanwhile, is incredibly steady with the potential of being untouchable in any given game.

Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez

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    Opening Day opponent: Oakland Athletics

    There's a stark discrepancy between Felix Hernandez and all other alternatives on the Seattle Mariners. In fact, none of the likely rotation members has ever started for a full season in the majors.

    The M's desperately want their perennial All-Star to pitch as often as possible this summer.

    He seldom has a bad outing, and the best is yet to come since Hernandez only turns 27 in April.

St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright

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    Opening Day opponent: Arizona Diamondbacks

    If the St. Louis Cardinals get their way, Adam Wainwright will be leading their rotation for years to come. Both sides reportedly have interest in a contract extension.

    Advanced stats suggest that coming off Tommy John surgery, Wainwright was nearly as effective as ever (3.10 FIP despite a 3.94 ERA).

    With better luck on balls in play, he'll have extraordinary results.

Tampa Bay Rays: David Price

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    Opening Day opponent: Baltimore Orioles

    David Price finally "put it all together" in 2012 en route to winning the AL Cy Young Award. He added a cutter to his repertoire and actually improved his fastball velocity.

    The Tampa Bay Rays have an ample amount of starting pitching depth, but there is no one who can be seriously considered to take his place on April 2.

    Price's teammates provided plenty of run support for him last season, especially after Evan Longoria returned, and he should be in for another great year in 2012.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish

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    Opening Day opponent: Houston Astros

    The Texas Rangers want to trounce their in-state rivals in the Sunday night season opener.

    Matt Harrison was clearly the team's ace last summer. He ranked first among all Rangers in starts, innings pitched, ERA and complete games.

    But Yu Darvish really excelled during the final weeks. He's a sexier alternative with filthy movement on his breaking balls and a dramatically higher strikeout rate.

    Manager Ron Washington realizes that this is a good problem to have. Don't expect a decision from him until the final days of spring training.

Toronto Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey

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    Opening Day opponent: Cleveland Indians

    Most of us expect R.A. Dickey to regress in 2013 because he will now be working against designated hitters and, of course, "Father Time."

    But the Toronto Blue Jays obviously believe in him. Why else would they ship away two top prospects and extend Dickey through 2015?

    Regardless of what transpires during spring training, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner will start the season with full support.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

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    Opening Day opponent: Miami Marlins

    Stephen Strasburg's 2012 season ended on a sour note. He allowed nine Marlins to reach base and five of them to score in just three innings. The Washington Nationals overreacted to the meltdown and deemed him unfit for his next scheduled start.

    Time for revenge.

    Teammate Gio Gonzalez led the National League in victories, but Strasburg has a much higher ceiling, blending impressive velocity with pinpoint control.

    The former No. 1 overall draft pick could be an all-time great.