Opening Day

Top Three Opening Day Pitching Matchups

It has been a long offseason filled with blockbuster moves and shocking scandals but after all that baseball is finally back. Opening Day is right around the corner as we enter the most hopeful time of the baseball calendar. One of the most exciting parts of the opening day festivities is each team’s naming of an opening day starter, a sought-after honor for all major league starting pitchers. With the honor generally going to the game’s best and most distinguished arms, Thursday will be the best day for elite pitching matchups across major league baseball all year so here are the top three opening-day pitching matchups and when you can watch them.

The Three Most Exciting Opening Day Pitching Matchups

1. Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies, 3:05 PM ET: Spencer Strider vs. Zack Wheeler

Talk about a marquee matchup, not only are both of these teams legitimate World Series contenders, they are fierce rivals in the same division who have played each other in the playoffs two years in a row. Adding to the excitement is the fact that they both of their bona fide aces on the mound. Atlanta Braves superstar Spencer Strider and Philadelphia Phillies‘ veteran ace Zack Wheeler are two of the very best pitchers in the game.

Wheeler is entering his age-34 season as one of the most consistent workhorses in the game, leading the league in fWAR in 2023, finishing second in 2021, and is second only to Gerrit Cole among all pitchers since 2018. Strider has only played two years in the big leagues but he has turned heads ever since he got here. After just two seasons he has accumulated a second-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting, an all-star selection, and a fourth-place Cy Young finish to go along with the virtually unanimous distinction of being the number one strikeout pitcher in the game. These are last year’s top two pitchers in fWAR, two favorites for the 2024 NL Cy Young Award, and the respective aces for two of the game’s best rotations, matchups don’t get more elite than this.

2. San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres, 4:10 PM ET: Logan Webb vs. Yu Darvish

From one pair of divisional rivals to another, the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres have their battle of aces going on Thursday. Logan Webb and Yu Darvish are two of the best pitchers in the game and will square off as both of these teams look to return to the postseason after missing out in 2023. Even though this isn’t technically the first game of the season for the Padres, Darvish will get the ball once again although he is no longer the best pitcher on this team with the recent acquisition of Dylan Cease. The 37-year-old still deserves his opening-day nod as he has been one of the Padres’ most important players and one of the most accomplished pitchers in the game.

On the other hand, Webb is one of the best pitchers in the sport and the ace of a Giants staff that made several off-season improvements. Since 2020 the 27-year-old is in the top six in virtually every category, exhibiting both strong durability and inning-for-inning dominance. Over that stretch, he has gotten better every year and as he enters his prime he will look to build on his second-place finish in Cy Young last season and be a mainstay in NL Cy Young races for years to come. While the best of Darvish is most likely behind him, he is still very effective and his deep arsenal makes him one of the most fun pitchers to watch, this will be a duel of two pitchers who go about their craft in very different ways.

3. Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals, 4:10 PM ET: Pablo Lopez vs. Cole Ragans

Upon being traded to the Minnesota Twins last off-season Pablo Lopez established himself as one of the most effective pitchers in MLB and with the departure of 2023 AL Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray the Twins will rely on Lopez to lead them back to the postseason in 2024. On the other end of this matchup is the young and unproven yet exciting young arm Cole Ragans who was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the middle of last season and immediately made an impact, instantly becoming their best pitcher and finishing in the top 15 in baseball in virtually every category.

This opening-day matchup against the Twins could be a major momentum shift for a Royals franchise that has been out of contention for nearly a decade and for them to turn it around this year they will need Ragans to be the ace many believe he will become. Despite never throwing more than 100 innings in a season, the 26-year-old has been one of the most hyped pitchers in baseball, being one of the ten favorites for the AL Cy Young. Overall, this matchup is one of two elite, overpowering pitchers who are capable of dominating any lineup they face, and with both Lopez and Ragans projected to be serious Cy Young contenders, this is one of the best matchups opening day has to offer.

Hope springs eternal this time of year and with opening day right around the corner, every organization in baseball has a belief that this could be their year. Starting Thursday that hope along with all the work that has been done in Spring Training will be put to the test as each team will roll out their best and most accomplished pitchers to get their season off on the right foot. While it is just the first of 162 games, these elite pitchers will each go into Thursday’s games hoping to set the tone for the next six months of baseball.

Main Image: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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