Ranking 2024 MLB Opening Day pitching matchups: What are the most intriguing ace vs. ace battles?



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The 2024 MLB regular season is upon us. Each year, Opening Day gives us 15 high-quality pitching matchups as the 30 teams give the ball to whoever they consider their best available pitcher in the first game of the new season. It is the best day of the season for premium pitching matchups. You can’t beat it. 

Given that, it’s time to compile our annual Opening Day pitching matchup rankings. The rankings are based on three factors:   

  1. Pitcher Quality. The better the pitchers the better the matchup, right? Right.
  2. Storylines. Is someone making their first start with a new team? Facing his former team? Etc.
  3. Watchability. The most subjective factor. How fun is it to watch these guys pitch?

Neither reigning Cy Young winner will start Opening Day for the first time since 2005. Gerrit Cole hurt his elbow and Blake Snell signed just last week, and doesn’t have enough time to prepare for an Opening Day start. In 2005, Johan Santana started Game 2 for the Twins behind Brad Radke while Roger Clemens started Game 3 for the Astros behind Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte.

This was the first uninterrupted spring training since 2019 (no pandemic restrictions, no lockout, no World Baseball Classic, etc.), which hopefully means no tight pitch counts shortening our Opening Day matchups. With that in mind, here are our rankings. With Cole hurt and Snell not lined up, there are only two Cy Young winners among this year’s Opening Day starters.

(Schedule note: Braves vs. Phillies and Brewers vs. Mets were both rained out and moved to Friday, so there will only be 13 games on Thursday.)

3:05 p.m. ET at Citizens Bank Park on Friday

The clear-cut No. 1 Opening Day pitching matchup this year. A very strong case can be made Wheeler and Strider are the two best starting pitchers in baseball entering 2024, and for both of them, this will be their first career Opening Day start. And believe it or not, Wheeler and Strider have never faced each other head-to-head. Not once in the regular season or postseason. Two top-of-the-sport pitchers facing each other for the first time and a fierce division rivalry? This is as good as pitching matchups get on Opening Day. Wheeler vs. Strider is appointment viewing.

4:10 p.m. ET at Kauffman Stadium

Kansas City landed Ragans in the Aroldis Chapman trade with Texas at last year’s deadline and he was a revelation the final two months, bullying hitters with upper-90s gas and a wipeout slider. He’s continued to look excellent this spring and is well-positioned to establish himself as one of the game’s top left-handers in 2024. If Ragans is still flying under the radar, he won’t be much longer. López was terrific a season ago, his first in Minnesota after coming over in the Luis Arraez trade. A new sweeper elevated him from very good to ace-like. This game is the best chance at two starters with double-digit strikeouts on Opening Day, I’d say.

4:10 p.m. ET at Petco Park

Fun matchup, stylistically. Darvish at his best is so entertaining with his kitchen sink approach (he threw seven pitches at least 7% of the time in 2023), especially since there is some power behind it. He’s not a junkballer living in the mid-80s. Webb’s thing is weak ground balls at a time when the sport is obsessed with strikeouts. It’s a subtle dominance. Webb is the master of the eight-pitch 1-2-3 inning with three routine grounders. Very contrasting yet very effective styles.

4:10 p.m. ET at loanDepot Park

Luzardo had his long-awaited breakout season a year ago. He finally stayed healthy and showed he can be the top-tier bat-misser his power arsenal suggested he could be earlier in his career. Keller’s breakout hit a speed bump in the second half last season, which could maybe be attributed to fatigue. Still, he’s an above-average starter, one who began to figure things out in the middle of 2022. Opening Day in Miami will feature two up-and-coming starters who may only be scratching the surface of their ability.

7:35 p.m. ET at Globe Life Field

The Rangers will raise their World Series banner prior to this pitching matchup. With all due respect to Jordan Montgomery, Eovaldi was the club’s ace last October (2.95 ERA in six starts), and he will fittingly get the ball on Opening Day with Jacob deGrom (Tommy John surgery) and Max Scherzer (back surgery) still sidelined. Steele broke out for Chicago two years ago and continued it into 2023. He firmly ranks among the game’s top starting pitchers now. It wasn’t a fluke. 

3:05 p.m. ET at Camden Yards

Other than Globe Life Field, where the World Series banner is going up, and I can’t imagine any stadium will be more electric on Opening Day than Camden Yards. The O’s are coming off a breakout 101-win season and will debut their new ace. Sandoval is no pushover — he’s been quite good the last few years — and he has a chance to play spoiler in Baltimore. Camden Yards is one of the best ballparks in the game, maybe the best, and there’s no place like it when the Orioles are good. Going to be a great atmosphere on Opening Day. 

10:10 p.m. ET at T-Mobile Park

The Mariners had two other very good Opening Day starter candidates in George Kirby and Logan Gilbert. The Red Sox … did not. Bello gets the nod and he will be Boston’s first homegrown Opening Day starter since Clay Buchholz in 2015. Castillo is excellent. We’re projecting a bit on what Bello can be moving forward with these rankings rather than basing them on what he’s been to date, and hey, isn’t that what Opening Day is all about? It’s a new season and we’re all forecasting the best for everyone. 


Dodgers 5, Padres 2 in Seoul, South Korea

Technically, the 2024 regular season is already underway. The Padres and Dodgers split the two-game Seoul Series in South Korea last week, and the starting pitching matchup was only so-so. Darvish allowed one unearned run, but needed 72 pitches to get 11 outs. Glasnow had four walks and three strikeouts in five innings of two-run ball. On paper, this pitching matchup would have ranked up there, perhaps as high as No. 3. Knowing what we know now: meh.


4:10 p.m. ET at Guaranteed Rate Field

The pitching nerd’s matchup. Well, no, that’s probably Ragans vs. López, but Crochet vs. Skubal is along those same lines. Of course, this was supposed to be Dylan Cease vs. Skubal until Chicago traded Cease to San Diego earlier this month, and Cease vs. Skubal would have been much higher in these rankings. Anyway, Skubal was one of the very best pitchers in baseball after returning from flexor surgery last July. Crochet missed most of the last two seasons with Tommy John surgery, but he has a chance to be a dynamic flame-throwing starter. Opening Day will be his first career start, putting him in an exclusive club:

4:10 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park

Injuries robbed us of a Justin Verlander vs. Gerrit Cole matchup. Verlander reported to camp with an achy shoulder and has been building up slowly. Cole came down with an elbow issue earlier this month. Valdez vs. Cortes will be the matchup instead, and hey, that’s not too bad. Valdez has been one of the best pitchers in the game the last few years and Cortes was an All-Star as recently as 2022. When he’s on, few pitchers in the game are more entertaining than Nasty Nestor, who is liable to break out a funky windup on any given pitch.

4:10 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field

Another Opening Day pitching matchup that would’ve been more entertaining if not for injuries. Tampa will be without Shane McClanahan this year as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, and Kevin Gausman has been slowed by a shoulder issue this spring. No offense to Eflin vs. Berríos, but it’s not McClanahan vs. Gausman. Eflin got the Rays glow-up last season and turned in the best year of his career. Berríos rebounded from a subpar first season in Toronto and got back to being an innings-munching workhorse. When these two are your Plan Bs for Opening Day, you’re in good shape.

4:10 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium

This was going to be Glasnow vs. AL Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray until Gray’s hamstring began to act up a few weeks ago, so Mikolas will sub in as the Opening Day starter, and yeah, that’s a downgrade. This is technically Game 3 of the regular season for the Dodgers, and the scheduling quirk of the Seoul Series allows them to bring back their Game 1 starter with plenty of rest for Game 3. Glasnow (and also Yu Darvish) will be the first pitcher to start two of his team’s first three games since Marco Gonzales and Mike Fiers in 2019. Seattle and Oakland opened that season in Tokyo, so they brought their Game 1 starters back in Game 3 a week later.

10:10 p.m. ET at Chase Field

This matchup could be sneaky good. Gallen is Gallen, one of the best pitchers in the game, and Freeland’s velocity was up nearly 4 mph this spring. Perhaps that allows him to get back to his 2018 form, when he threw 202 1/3 innings with a 2.85 ERA, and had maybe the great pitching season in Rockies history. This will be a more entertaining matchup than it would appear at first glance if Freeland’s velocity spike sticks (velocity spikes usually do, at least in the short-term).

1:40 p.m. ET at Citi Field on Friday

As recently as Feb. 1, it looked like it would be Kodai Senga vs. Corbin Burnes on Opening Day. Then Burnes got traded to the O’s and Senga hurt his shoulder in spring training, so we get Quintana vs. Peralta instead. Fastball Freddy struck out 210 batters in only 165 2/3 innings last season and this year will be his chance to step out from behind Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, and show he’s a legitimate top of the rotation starter. Quintana, with all due respect, is a steady innings guy more than a standout.

4:10 p.m. ET at Great American Ball Park

Montas missed just about the entire 2023 season with shoulder surgery, returning only to throw 1 1/3 innings in Game 161 for the Yankees after they’d already been eliminated from the postseason. Poor numbers aside, he’s looked good this spring, with a fastball again touching the upper-90s and a knockout splitter. Gray was an All-Star last season and a deserving one, and someone the Nationals need to take another step forward this season as they try to transition out of the rebuild and back into contention.

10:07 p.m. ET at RingCentral Coliseum

It feels wrong to have a Cy Young winner — Bieber and Corbin Burnes are the only two who meet that benchmark starting this Opening Day — at the bottom of these rankings, but Bieber is no longer the pitcher he was a few years ago (although he’s still very good!). Wood falls into the “well, someone has to start Opening Day” category. No offense, Alex. Add in wretched John Fisher-induced vibes surrounding the A’s right now, and yeah, can’t blame fans of the other 28 teams for skipping this one.





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