With the MLB season underway, there are a number of exciting pitching matchups between some of the top players in the league this week. Among them are several aces making their season debuts. Note that all game times below are in EDT and the matchups may be subject to change.
Kicking things off is the season debut of Max Scherzer. For Scherzer, this means putting an uneven 2020 (3.74 ERA) behind him and proving that even at 36 years old, he can still produce at an elite level. His opponent, the oft-injured Drew Smyly, is trying to bounce back from another injury-shortened season. That said, he does have a lot going for him ahead of his debut after producing a 3.42 ERA and a career-high 14.4 K/9 last year.
The best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom (who was hitting 102 mph in Spring Training) makes his season debut as he begins his quest for a third Cy Young. Conversely, Matt Moore is looking to get his career back on track. Making his first appearance since April 6, 2019, he returns to MLB after spending 2020 in Japan, where he owned a 2.65 ERA in 15 starts.
Zack Greinke got off to a good start on Opening Day when he blanked the Athletics over six innings. While he only recorded four strikeouts, Greinke remained incredibly efficient as he needed just 82 pitches to get through the day. Dylan Bundy was also decent last week when he made his first career Opening Day start. He struck out six and limited a potent White Sox offense to just three runs over six innings. He did give up two doubles and a home run, however, which isn’t promising for a guy who struggles limiting hard contact.
Lucas Giolito is on the verge of becoming one of the top pitchers in MLB. While his first start was mixed (two runs and eight strikeouts over 5.1 innings), his velocity showed a lot of promise as he touched 95 mph on his fastball and 87 mph on his slider. Giolito faces a stout opponent in James Paxton. He returns for his first start with Seattle after spending the last two years in the Bronx. An ace when healthy, Paxton was sharp throughout Spring Training and should see a nice bump in performance as he moves back to the pitcher friendly T-Mobile Park.
Brad Keller and Shane Bieber are looking to get back on track after getting roughed up in their season debuts. Keller shockingly gave up six runs in just 1.1 innings against a weak Rangers team. Considering how dominant he was in 2020 (2.47 ERA), however, such an outing shouldn’t be given too much stock. As for Bieber, he gave up three runs, three walks and a home run in six innings last week. On a positive note, the reigning AL Cy Young struck out 12 as he overpowered much of the Indians’ lineup.
John Means, the lone bright spot in the Orioles rotation, was electric last week when held the Red Sox to just a single baserunner over seven shutout innings. He opposes Jameson Taillon who will be making his Yankees debut. After missing 2020 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, the Yankees are betting on Taillon to be the pitcher he was in 2018 (3.20 ERA), when he was a future Cy Young winner in the making.
In an early season clash between two teams vying for the NL Central crown, Corbin Burnes and Adam Wainwright are both looking to make a statement in their second starts of the season. For Burnes, this means showing the Brewers that his one-run, 11-strikeout performance in his debut is the new normal for the once fringe starter. The 39-year-old Wainwright, meanwhile, is hoping to recover from an ugly debut that saw him give up six runs in just 2.2 innings. There’s hope that this showing is an anomaly and that he can build on his surprisingly good 2020 season (3.15 ERA).
Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber will make his second Yankees start against the reigning American League Champions. While he had a great spring (2.77 ERA in 13 innings), he was spotty in his debut, lasting just four innings and giving up two runs, including a home run. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ryan Yarbrough is just getting started as he looks to build off his previous success and become a permanent member of the Rays’ rotation. He got off to a good start last week when he went 5.2 shutout innings against the Marlins.
Friday brings a rematch between NL Cy Young contenders Zack Wheeler and Charlie Morton. Wheeler put on a show in his season debut, going seven scoreless with 10 strikeouts and also a couple of RBI’s with his bat. Morton, meanwhile, lasted just five innings opposite Wheeler, giving up three runs and striking out five. The Braves are banking on him returning to his 2019 form (3.04 ERA) sooner rather than later.
The weekend starts with another important divisional showdown. While not household names, Frankie Montas and Jose Urquidy are key pieces in their team’s rotations. Healthy for the first time in a long time, Montas will try to finally bring it all together this year. That means combining his deadly strikeout stuff with his ability to generate weak contact. Urquidy is also on the verge of taking the next step after making his first Opening Day roster. He’s been solid in limited action (3.44 ERA in 14 appearances) and will strive to stake his claim as a member of the Astros’ rotation.
Featured Image Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
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