Predicting the Opening Day Starter for All 30 MLB Clubs

The July 23 MLB Opening Day is rapidly approaching and despite the cautious nature of excitement, man it will feel good to get baseball back.

While teams continue their summer camps in the meantime, there’s still plenty to be worked out, including who will toe the rubber for each club when the season kicks off.

Let’s go ahead and make that prediction for all 30 clubs.

American League East

Baltimore Orioles

John Means

Likely Opening Day starter Dylan Bundy was shipped to the Angels in the offseason, leaving an opening for Means to take over as the rotation anchor, albeit of a team once again expected near or at the league’s basement when it’s all said and done.

The left-hander did impress in his rookie season last year, turning in a 3.60 ERA, and while he greatly outpitched his peripheral 4.41 FIP and 5.48 xFIP, Means turned in a solid 3.0 fWAR and actually finished with a winning 12-11 record for the 54-108 O’s.

The rotation is paper-thin behind Means, but expect the southpaw to get the nod on July 24 against the rival Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox

Nathan Eovaldi

With Chris Sale out for the season thanks to Tommy John surgery, it was Eduardo Rodriguez’s rotation to anchor in 2020.

It won’t start out that way, however, as E-Rod hit the Injured List due to a positive COVID-19 test, meaning he’ll be out until until he tests negative twice in a 24-hour span before returning.

Who knows how long that will take, but that means we’re down to Eovaldi or Martin Perez in a Red Sox rotation that has taken enormous leaps backwards in a hurry.

After throwing 85 pitches on Tuesday and another intrasquad outing planned, Eovaldi seems like the front runner between the two.

New York Yankees

Gerrit Cole

Hmmmm.. let me think.

I’ll go with the guy that spun a 2.50 ERA with an MLB best 13.82 K/9 in 2019, numbers that helped land him a historic nine-year, $324M ticket in free agency this winter.

Tampa Bay Rays

Charlie Morton

While it was Blake Snell who took home the Cy Young in 2018, it was Morton who was the ace of the Rays’ staff in 2019 while putting forth a 3.05 ERA/2.81 FIP with an 11.10 K/9 in 33 starts as he continues to improve with age.

While I’m giving the nod to Morton, the Rays should have one of the better rotations in baseball with Snell and Tyler Glasnow likely to follow, the later of whom looked sharp after returning from a positive COVID-19 test.

Toronto Blue Jays

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Like Cole with the Yankees, this one is a no-brainer after the Jays inked Ryu to a four-year, $80M deal coming off a 2.32 ERA and minuscule 1.18 BB/9 clip with the Dodgers last season.

American League Central

Chicago White Sox

Lucas Giolito

Giolito delivered one of the biggest 180s we’ve seen from a pitcher in some time between 2018 and 2019.

After working to a ghastly 6.13 ERA – by far the worst among qualified starters in 2018 – to go along with a tiny 6.49 K/9 and ugly 4.67 BB/9, Giolito delivered ace-type stuff while turning in a 3.41 ERA, 11.62 K/9 and 2.90 BB/9 in 2019.

It appears working through a full season’s worth of 32 starts in 2018 actually paid dividends the following season.

Cleveland Indians

Mike Clevinger

Clevinger is not only the undisputed ace of the Indians’ staff following the trades of Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, he’s almost one of the top starting pitchers in baseball.

Since the start of 2017, only Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Ryu, Justin Verlander and Kluber have posted a superior ERA to Clevinger’s 2.96 mark. Talk about some elite company.

Detroit Tigers

Matthew Boyd

Despite struggling mightily since signing a big-money deal with the Tigers prior to the 2016 season, Zimmermann got the Opening Day nod from Ron Gardenhire in 2019.

The righty rewarded his manager with seven shutout innings in a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays before imploding and finishing the season with a 6.91 ERA.

Now, it should be Boyd’s turn as he’s the unquestioned ace of this Tigers rotation, coming off a season in which he came out sharp with a 3.87 first-half ERA, and despite fading down the stretch, still finished sixth in baseball with a 11.56 K/9 last season.

Kansas City Royals

Danny Duffy

Okay, you caught me.

The Royals have already named Duffy as their Opening Day starter coming off a 4.34 ERA/4.78 FIP last season.

Despite some decline since his solid run from 2014-2017, he remains the veteran ace of an uninspiring Royals rotation, at least until Brady Singer arrives for good.

Minnesota Twins

Jose Berrios

It’s a lay up that Berrios will toe the rubber for the reigning AL Central champs coming off a 3.68 ERA and career-best 4.4 fWAR 2019 season, but this time he has plenty of depth behind him.

Jake Odorizzi signed his qualifying offer to return while Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill are two former Dodgers that were added in support of their 26-year-old ace.

American League West

Houston Astros

Justin Verlander

Gerrit Cole is gone, but Zack Greinke remains for form a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Astros’ rotation.

Despite battling a lat issue that could have seen him miss time to open the 2020 season in spring training followed by groin surgery is said to be healthy and ready to for the new Opening Day.

If the reigning AL Cy Young winner says he’s ready to go, he gets the ball.

Los Angeles Angels

Andrew Heaney

The Angels revamped their rotation with offseason additions of Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran while Shohei Ohtani is also fully rehabbed from Tommy John surgery.

Through all that, however, the ball will likely go to Heaney who remains the longest-tenured member of this rotation, even if he may not be the most talented coming off an underwhelming and injury-filled 2019 season.

Oakland Athletics

Mike Fiers

Unlike in previous years, the A’s sport notable rotation depth this season thanks to a health Sean Manaea as well as emerging top prospects in Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk.

Despite Manaea’s renewed health and his status as the best established talent in the rotation, Fiers is the grizzly, reliable veteran of the group and has turned in back-to-back sub-4.00 ERA seasons for the A’s.

It’s certainly a debate as this nod could easily go to Manaea, but with the respect Bob Melvin has for his veteran righty, my money is on Fiers.

Seattle Mariners

Marco Gonzales

Gonzales has put in yeoman’s work for the Mariners since initially struggling with the Cardinals at the outset of his big-league career.

In 369.2 innings in a Mariners uniform, Gonzales has turned in a 3.99 ERA with a 7.1 fWAR. It earned him a contract extension as he’s the clear front runner for this nod.

Texas Rangers

Lance Lynn

All the sudden, the Rangers sport an exceptional rotation on paper after trading for Kluber and adding former Twins righty Kyle Gibson in free agency.

Add that duo to the existing Lance Lynn/Mike Minor duo and there’s a conversation to be had.

While Kluber is used to being the ace, he’s also the new guy in town while Lynn and Minor are both coming off wonderful campaigns.

Lynn was the better of the two, however, and his 6.8 fWAR ranked behind only Gerrit Cole (7.4) and Jacob deGrom (7.0) among qualified starters in 2019.

You don’t have that kind of season and get snubbed on Opening Day.

National League East

Atlanta Braves

Mike Soroka

Like Duffy with the Royals, Soroka has already been named the Opening Day starter by manager Brian Snitker, but it was going to be him all along.

The club added veteran Cole Hamels in free agency and Mike Foltynewicz was better after returning from the minors – save for Game 5 of the NLDS – but this rotation now belongs to the young Soroka.

The right-hander didn’t blow anyone away with just 7.32 K/9, but also prevent runs with the best of em’ with a 2.68 ERA was displaying quality control (2.11 BB/9) and keeping the ball in the yard at an impressive 0.72 HR/9 clip despite the juiced ball wreaking havoc on pitching across baseball in 2019.

Miami Marlins

Sandy Alcantara

Once again, there’s a spoiler alert on hand as right-hander Sandy Alcantara has been tabbed for the Opening Day nod by skipper Don Mattingly.

The strength of this rebuilding Marlins club is their young starting pitching while Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez and Jose Urena were likely given consideration, but Alcantara seems like a logical choice as the team’s (hopeful) ace of the future.

With 239.2 big-league innings under his belt already by the age of 24, Alcantara impressive with a 3.88 ERA across 32 starts and 197.1 frames last season.

A low K-rate and concerning peripherals lowered his fWAR to 2.3, however it appears the righty is on track to front the Marlins’ rotation of the future.

New York Mets

Marcus Stroman

The Mets have already lost Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery, and now Jacob deGrom is being slowed by a back issue that could prevent the two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner from ramping up for Opening Day.

Although an MRI did not show “anything concerning”, Mets manager Luis Rojas appeared cautious with his precious right-hander.

“Particularly talking about Jake, knowing that he has a history of back tightness… we’ll wait and see him, and then we’ll definitely take an approach with the performance staff [for] what we need to do.”

Missing one start in a 60-game season is roughly the equivalent of three in a normal season, but a cautious approach would give Stroman the nod, and that’s what I will go with despite knowing deGrom would very much like to go on Opening Day.

Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron Nola

The club added Zack Wheeler on a five-year, $118M deal in free agency, but this is very much Nola’s rotation to front.

He regressed some after a Cy Young-caliber 2018 season, but still managed a 3.87 ERA and 3.4 fWAR. He’s a prime candidate to bounce back into the Cy Young conversation at the age of 27 this season.

Washington Nationals

Max Scherzer

Stephen Strasburg pitched 209 innings of excellent regular-season baseball before earning World Series MVP honors in 2019, but this is Max Scherzer’s ball and you’d have to tear it from his cold dead hands to get it from him.

Scherzer dealt with back issues down the regular-season stretch last season, but performed well in the playoffs and was in Cy Young contention prior to the late-season ailment.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish

Gone is Cole Hamels, but the team still has Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester aboard, so this is no lay up.

Nonetheless, despite Hendricks and Lester having their own cases for an Opening Day nod, I’m giving it to the guy who lit the league on fire with a 2.76 ERA and a monstrous 16.86 K/BB ratio in last season’s second half.

While the K/BB ratio was almost double the next-best figure in baseball and totally unsustainable, the Cubs signed Darvish to a ace-type money and now is the time for him to take over in that role.

Cincinnati Reds

Luis Castillo

Pick your poison here. The Reds were recently ranked as the second-best rotation by the MLB’s official Twitter account thanks to Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer fronting that group.

Bauer struggled in his brief Reds tenure after a mid-season deal from the Indians, so he’s likely behind the Castillo/Gray in this race.

Originally a Giants and Marlins prospect, the Reds have watched Castillo blossom into an ace, posting a 3.40 ERA, 10.67 K/9 and 4.1 fWAR after posting a 2.44 ERA in the 2018 season’s second half.

While Gray was slightly better with a 4.4 fWAR in 2019, I like Castillo’s chances of getting the ball over the more veteran presence of Gray.

Milwaukee Brewers

Brandon Woodruff

Now the resident ace of what is seemingly an uninspiring Brewers rotation, Woodruff is no doubt getting the ball on Opening Day.

He was limited to 22 starts and 121.2 innings due to injury after his transition to the rotation last season, but posted a 3.62 ERA/3.01 FIP and still managed an excellent 3.3 fWAR in that time.

No decision to be made here.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Joe Musgrove

Now is the time for Musgrove to shine.

The Pirates won’t have Chris Archer this season, but Musgrove is a nice breakout candidate at the age of 27 coming off a career-best 3.3 fWAR in 2019.

He’ll get every opportunity to deliver on his long-standing upside this season.

St. Louis Cardinals

Jack Flaherty

Like Darvish, Flaherty turned around a disappointing first half that contained a 4.64 ERA and dominated the second half.

However, no pitcher on the planet was better than Flaherty in the second half as he posted an eye-popping 0.91 ERA in 99.1 second-half frames and if there was any doubt, manager Mike Shildt has named the 24-year-old as the club’s Opening Day starter.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Madison Bumgarner

There’s a new ace in the desert as the D-backs inked former Giants legend Madison Bumgarner to a five-year deal to front their rotation.

With Zack Greinke now in Houston, Bumgarner is sure to get the nod on July 24 against the Padres.

Colorado Rockies

Jon Gray

Starting pitching was an utter disaster for the Rockies who posted a league-worst 5.87 rotation ERA in 2019, but Gray was the lone bright spot.

The 28-year-old posted a 3.84 ERA/4.06 FIP with a 2.9 fWAR in the process.

The craziest part? His 3.46 ERA/3.77 FIP at the extremely hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado was superior to his 4.22 ERA/4.42FIP on the road.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw

While in some ways the torch is being passed from Kershaw to Walker Buehler as the Dodgers’ ace, Kershaw is health and going to get the ball on Opening Day.

The future Hall of Famer has been too good for too long to have that right taken away from him at just 32 years old, and while Buehler is the trendy pick to outperform, don’t sleep on the three-time Cy Young winner just yet.

San Diego Padres

Chris Paddack

While the club’s search for a top-of-the-rotation starter continues, Paddack gave them every reason to be patient on that front in his rookie season.

Paddack hurled a 3.33 ERA/3.95 FIP with a sturdy 9.79 K/9 and 1.98 BB/9 last season, but due to his innings limit (140.2 despite making 26 starts) his fWAR finished at just 2.4.

However, innings limits won’t be an issue this season and there’s no doubt who is getting the ball to opening the season for the Friars.

San Francisco Giants

Johnny Cueto

While there was likely a decision between Cueto and Jeff Samardzija for the Opening Day nod with Bumgarner out of the picture, newly-minted Giants skipper Gabe Kapler has decided on Cueto to butt heads with Kershaw as part of MLB’s double-header on July 23.

Cueto, 34, was limited to just four starts and 16 innings last season after recovering from 2018 Tommy John surgery, but remains the owner of a career 3.35 ERA and is therefore gets the ball to open the 2020 campaign.

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Brenton Kemp / Author

Brenton is a lifelong sports fan who resides in Ontario, Canada. Brenton is a fan of most all sports but specializes in hockey, baseball, football, basketball, and golf. He’s a fierce researcher with a strong appetite to deliver accurate and relevant facts that in turn have led to past success with picks and DFS advice across the board. Brenton’s biggest goal is to deliver readers with the picks and advice that can build their bankroll. He takes great pride in his success and loves nothing more than to share that success for the benefit of everyone involved.