Anything can happen in a 60-game season, but some pitchers could have their easier games earlier on the schedule than others. This breakdown will forecast the infancy stages of the 2020 regular season and the easy or tough road ahead for a select number of starters.
The road ahead for Max Scherzer and the Nationals appears less challenging than the Yankee lineup they begin the season with. After their opening series, Washington is scheduled to face the Blue Jays for four, the Marlins for three, the Mets for two, and the Orioles for three.
Scherzer’s next presumed start will be ‘at’ the Blue Jays, in a yet-to-be-determined ballpark. His first home start will likely come after that against the Mets, followed by a road start in Queens the following week. The Mets will be coming off a four-game set in Atlanta only to face Scherzer in a presumed start on August 4th.
Washington is also off for three of their first 15 days on the schedule, which will allow their pitching staff some additional rest—and maybe for Scherzer to be bumped up a day.
Lance McCullers (Houston Astros)
McCullers missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, and was forced to watch his team go to the World Series while he underwent elbow rehabilitation. His first scheduled start is Saturday against the Mariners; while the Astros will take on the Dodgers next Tuesday and Wednesday, it doesn’t look like McCullers’ start will fall on either of those days.
He will instead look to face the Angels in a road series after his start against Seattle. His first two starts are shaping out to be against the AL West’s fourth- and fifth-placed teams from a year ago, which could help him reacquaint his surgically repaired elbow a little more easily than if he were opposing the Dodgers.
The last we saw of Greinke in 2019 was a stellar performance in Game 7 of the World Series. He’ll look to kick off 2020 with the same opponents as McCullers: the Mariners and Angels.
Greinke’s Sunday start against Seattle makes it highly unlikely he will take the mound next Tuesday and Wednesday when his old team, the Dodgers, visits. Greinke may see another old team of his, the Diamondbacks, after his presumed Angels start.
German Marquez (Colorado Rockies)
The Colorado Rockies will officially open Globe Life Field with the Texas Rangers. German Marquez is on the hill for the Rockies in his first-ever Opening Day start, and his most challenging opponents won’t be on the horizon for several outings. Pair that with the confidence of his first Opening Day nod, and Marquez could be in for a hot start.
Colorado is off on the Monday and Thursday after the season opens, so Marquez could potentially move up a day in the rotation. This would mean he could start the tougher matchup in Oakland on Wednesday, or take the home opener against the Padres one week from today. His next outing would then come at home against the Giants.
In Colorado’s first 24 games, they will see only one opponent that made the postseason last year (Oakland). The two best opponents the Rockies will see—the Dodgers and Astros—aren’t on the schedule until a strenuous week starting August 17th.
Like Marquez, Freeland’s competition will be heavier at the end of the year than the beginning. Freeland has been bumped to third in Colorado’s rotation after finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018 and starting on Opening Day last year. He will look to rite a 6.73 ERA from last season, and begins his trek Sunday in Texas. His next outings appear to be against San Diego at home, and presumably Seattle on the road.
Matt Boyd (Detroit Tigers)
Boyd will kick off the season against the Reds this evening, and will look ahead to the Royals, Cardinals, and Pirates. Three of his first four probable opponents had 75 wins or less last year. FanGraphs projects the Reds to have a winning season this year (31-29) with an identical record to the Cardinals. The Royals and Pirates are in the bottom third of those projections; Boyd will likely have Kansas City at home and Pittsburgh on the road.
Bauer has expressed a desire to start every fourth day this season, rather than the traditional five. It will be tough to thereby project his starts a few outings in advance, not knowing whether Cincinnati will adhere to the rotation or Bauer’s request.
He’s slated against the Tigers on Sunday. He could quickly face the Tigers again, should manager David Bell use a five-man rotation to begin the year. The Reds also play four straight against Cleveland in early August—a unique interleague, inter-Ohio matchup that pits Bauer up against his old team.
Tampa Bay starts the year with a three-game set against Toronto, and four games with Atlanta. Glasnow’s start has yet to be announced, but he will likely have the third or fourth game against the Blue Jays.
Glasnow’s road ahead is dependent on which game he takes. Tampa Bay visits Baltimore after they play Atlanta, and there is a chance Glasnow doesn’t face Atlanta at all.
Hill’s first three starts in a Twins uniform stand to be the White Sox, Indians, and Pirates. His spot in the rotation will avoid a two-game set against the Cardinals next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Whoever starts Sunday and Monday for Kansas City
New manager Mike Matheny hasn’t announced the Royals’ starting pitchers beyond Saturday, but the Sunday and Monday starters may have an easier road ahead once Kansas City gets past an opening series with Cleveland. (Potential starters for those games: Mike Montgomery, Jorge López, Glenn Sparkman and/or Foster Griffin)
The Royals will begin a series with the Tigers on Monday. The starting pitchers on Monday and Tuesday will likely start again next weekend against the White Sox.
Five innings of one-run ball is how Gerrit Cole began his Yankees tenure on Thursday night. Starting the year off against the reigning champs is hardly an easy task; his first few opponents could present similar challenges.
From now until September, the Yankees have one series against a team with a losing record in 2019. If they follow a standard five-man rotation, Cole won’t pitch in that lone series on August 3-5 in Baltimore.
Cole’s continued body of work suggests he is more than capable of getting anybody out, so it isn’t to say his road ahead is a roadblock of any sort. It will be interesting to monitor these outings in his debut month with a new team, however. His next start will likely fall on the home opener against the Phillies. After that he will look to take on the Red Sox at home followed by the Rays on the road.
32-year-old Clayton Kershaw was scheduled to open the season against the Giants on Thursday night. After he was scratched due to back discomfort and placed on the injured list, it was instead 22-year-old Dustin May that took the start.
It has yet to be announced if May will continue to fill in for Kershaw’s spot in the rotation, but a stellar performance suggests he could be sticking around. If he does, his next outing could be against the Astros on Wednesday.
Momentum could be on his side after holding his own against Johnny Cueto, however. May has to feel good about his Thursday night work on short notice.
Another 22-year-old, Mike Soroka, will open the season for Atlanta tonight. After kicking off the season against the Mets, he will be in line to pitch the team’s home opener against the Rays.
Soroka will be on an easier road ahead after the presumed Tampa Bay outing, however. His following two starts appear to be against the Mets and Phillies, the NL East’s third and fourth place from a year ago. With a bullpen full of options (Mark Melancon, Will Smith, and Shane Greene all have closer experience), manager Brian Snitker may elect to keep Soroka’s pitch count down early on, keeping him well-rested for each outing.
Hyun-Jin Ryu (Toronto Blue Jays)
Ryu is set to debut in a Blue Jays uniform after six seasons with the Dodgers. He will face the Rays on the road this evening, followed by the Nationals at “home” and the Braves on the road.
Ryu’s tough road ahead is paired with the imminent issue of Toronto’s unannounced home ballpark for 2020. It can’t be comforting for any member of the Blue Jays, much less a new player joining the team and being handed the reins of Opening Day starter. One bit of optimism is that Ryu was MLB’s ERA leader last season, and was a model of consistency last year.
Gallen was an Arizona trade deadline pickup last season, and will be called upon Sunday afternoon as the Diamondbacks’ third starter. He’ll face the Padres to start the year but is on pace to see the Dodgers and Astros in his next two outings, assuming manager Torey Lovullo stays true to a five-man rotation. Arizona does have an off-day on August 3rd, however, and Gallen could face the Padres instead of the Astros. Lovullo may elect to send workhorse Madison Bumgarner to the mound on a true five-day cycle.
The White Sox face the Royals in a three-game set starting July 31, but Giolito could see the Indians just before and the Brewers just after. Chicago won’t have an early off-day to work with like the aforementioned Diamondbacks either, so there is less room for rotation changes.
FanGraphs projects the Mariners to have the second-worst record in baseball this year, but if they manage to kick off a 60-game season with a streak against the Astros, things could take a turn rather quickly.
Two postseason teams from 2019 are on the schedule for lefty Yusei Kikuchi. He will face the Astros on Sunday afternoon, and will look to take on Oakland after that. Seattle’s weakest projected opponent in July is the Angels, and it doesn’t look like Kikuchi will pitch against them.
Arrieta enters a contract year and opens with the Yankees in New York on Monday. He will then look to take on the Blue Jays on the “road” and his next start could come against the Braves, rather than against the Marlins from August 4-6.
Buehler saw limited work in intrasquad and exhibition games, so he will look ahead to Tuesday night in Houston as his first start of the season. He will then presumably start the following Sunday in Phoenix, against a Diamondbacks team fresh off the acquisition of Starling Marte and looking to cover some ground in the NL West. Buehler likely won’t see a home start until at least August 7.
Pittsburgh will start 2020 with the Cardinals on Friday night, and right-hander Joe Musgrove gets his first career Opening Day start. The Pirates will go on to face the Brewers, Cubs, and Twins. Musgrove’s turn in the rotation might not coincide with the Cubs series, which means his first three starts of the season would come against teams that made the postseason last year.
Graphic by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter)