There are not many times that a pitcher takes his team on his shoulder to win the World Series, but when it happens, you never forget it. Madison Bumgarner in 2014, Randy Johnson (and Curt Schilling) in 2001, Bret Saberhagen in 1985 (in the World Series, especially). They’re the kind of postseason that legends are created in.
Every team wants to line up their rotation for the postseason and have their best starter ready to set the course from the start. And if it is necessary to move the pieces of the quintet to have the ace ready in Game 1, then it is done. The postseason is often chaotic and unpredictable. There are many things that you have no control over. But one thing you can decide is who opens Game 1. The one who sets the tone.
So with one month remaining in the regular season, we take a look at the ideal pitcher for Game 1 (or Wild Card Game) for each team in the playoff fight.
I’m still not absolutely convinced that Zack Greinke is a future Hall of Famer anymore, but it would be great to see him triumph during the postseason. He has played in seven playoffs, but has never won the World Series, and although the Astros have several options – Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez and even Luis García of Venezuela – Greinke will most likely be chosen.
It would be a tremendous story if Chris Bassit recovered in time to open Game 1 or the Wild Card Game, but as much as he has said he wants to return this year, the team is clearly not going to rush him. So Manaea or Francelis “Frankie” Montás would probably open the Wild Card Game, if the A’s get there.
Ray pitched well in the first half, but has been masterful in the second half of the season, posting a 1.99 ERA in nine starts. It won’t be easy for the Blue Jays to get to October, but if they do, Ray is one of those pitchers no one wants to face right now.
Sailors: Marco Gonzales
Are we still considering the Mariners as contenders? Well yes, we continue to consider them in that category. Chris Flexen is a possibility, but have you seen how well Gonzales has thrown in the second half? He is 5-0 with a 1.95 ERA.
It’s a good question: Who will start Game 1 for the Rays? Tyler Glasnow won’t be back and they traded Rich Hill. McClanahan or Ryan Yarbrough are the most likely candidates, but hey, they’re the Rays. If there’s a team capable of using openers for an entire series, or even an entire postseason, it’s them.
So far, it seems that all the time the Red Sox gave Sale to rehab is paying off: This Chris Sale has more than a certain resemblance to that Sale of 2018. Of course, the only thing that matters is how he looks against him. the Yankees.
White Sox: Lance Lynn
Here’s a fun fact about Lynn: He has more games pitched as a postseason reliever (19) than as a starter (seven). In fact, he hasn’t started a game in October since 2014, although he pitched as a reliever in 2015 for the Cardinals and 2018 for the Yankees. Since those relief appearances, he has simply become one of the best starters in the Big Top.
That’s why Gerrit Cole was brought in. A career postseason starter, the right-hander has a 2.68 ERA in 13 games for the Pirates, Astros and Yankees. He looked fantastic as a rookie with the Pirates in the Division Series against the Cardinals in 2013.
His ERA was 5.12 as of June 1, but he has taken it to 3.54 in the past two months. Plus, Fried was his horse in the final postseason. He’s hitting his prime at the perfect time.
Brewers: Corbin Burnes
There is no team with more top-tier options than the Brewers, particularly if Freddy Peralta returns healthy. It’s impossible to make a bad choice between Burnes and Brandon Woodruff: Flip a coin if you want.
Cardinals: Adam Wainwright
Jack Flaherty will likely miss the rest of the season, which means the Wild Card Game will be opened by Wainwright, who would be pitching in his ninth postseason with the Cardinals. (And he wasn’t even part of the 2011 champion team, due to Tommy John surgery.) If the Cardinals make it to the SDLN, it’s very possible their first three starters will all be over 37 years old. Jon Lester would be the youngest of all!
It seems a little crazy to think that two future Hall of Famers like Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw – who will hopefully be back in October – are not the leaders of the rotation, but you have to remember that Buehler started Game 1 on last year… and he’s very close to putting his ERA better than 2.00.
Logan Webb has been the team’s best starter for the past month, but we’ve all seen Gausman be able to silence opposing offenses. The Giants have a solid trio when we add Anthony DeSclafani, although that rotation is starting to look a bit lacking in depth.
Possibly including the Mets on this list of potential postseason teams is the best thing that has happened to the Mets all week.
The rotation is looking a little more normal again, and if San Diego can survive the tough schedule ahead in September, Darvish would be a great card for the Wild Card Game.
Unless he breaks down, he’ll win the National League Cy Young Award this year. What a tremendous signing this has been for the Phillies.
The Reds’ rotation is better than many think, but Miley, who is having the best season of her 11-year career at the perfect time, would be the unconventional pick.