This is a weekly column aimed at discovering the best pitching matchups of the week ahead. Using the projected probables listed atop every team’s page, we have pinpointed the five pitching matchups most likely to become “appointment television.”
These probables are subject to change, as even the best plans can be washed away.
5. Sean Manaea vs Felix Hernandez
(Athletics vs Mariners; May 4, 3:35 PM ET)
At all of 24 years old, Manaea had an up-and- down MLB debut last Friday, lasting 5 1/3 innings and allowing four runs; he struggled with control, walking four and hitting another. The tall (6’5”) left-hander features a fastball that can touch 97 MPH but lives in the 92-94 range; it is paired with a wipeout slider that is his out pitch. This will be Manaea’s first start vs Seattle; Manaea also never faced a Seattle affiliate in the minors.
Hernandez is (per usual) off to a good start. The six-time All-Star has tallied up a 1.38 ERA so far this season, with a walk rate inflated by two non-Felix-like starts in the early going. This will be Hernandez’s 42nd start vs the A’s in his career; he holds a 2.58 ERA in these starts. In other words, he has the A’s number. And while late-2005 starts against movie star Scott Hatteberg have no bearing on how he’ll do Wednesday, it paints a portrait of routine dominance against the green and gold.
4. Garrett Richards vs Chris Archer
(Angels vs Rays; May 6, 10:05 PM ET)
In an alternate world where Noah Syndergaard stays on his home planet, we fawn over Richards. Instead, we gaze long into Thor’s locks and Richards struggles with consistency. Richards has been right outside the upper echelon of pitchers for three seasons now, alternating between putting it together and throwing tons (tons!) of wild pitches. This year, Richards holds a 2.35 ERA, but the walk rate keeps creeping up ever-so- slightly from his 2014 form.
When he’s not chatting up the presidential family or showing off his luxuriant hair, Archer pitches. He features one of the best fastball/slider combos in the Majors, but the form that propelled him into the All-Star Game and the President’s consciousness has evaded him in 2016. Archer holds a 5.01 ERA and leads the league in home runs allowed. The 27-year-old is lucky, however, as (at last check) it is only May 2nd. Archer’s lucky in another (more superficial) way, as this game will be played outdoors (in Anaheim), where baseball looks ostensibly better.
3. Michael Wacha vs Gerrit Cole
(Cardinals vs Pirates; May 8, 2:15 PM ET)
Long separated from being confused for Ken Macha’s son, Wacha finds himself in the fourth season of an already-impressive career. The 2013 NLCS MVP has yet to cement himself as one of the NL’s elite hurlers, however. Like Richards, he finds himself on the very outer edge of stardom. At 24, he still has time. But, with the struggles of Adam Wainwright (7.16 ERA), Wacha may need to take that next step sooner rather than later. So far, the 24-year-old has posted a 3.07 ERA, completing six innings in all but one start.
While a minor rib injury forced Cole to delay his Spring debut, he picked up right where he left off once the starting bell rang. Unlike Richards and Wacha before him, Cole has made the leap to stardom. Cole was 4th in 2015 Cy Young balloting, while also receiving some MVP votes. Pittsburgh threatened to cut the 6’4″ right-hander’s salary in the offseason, so a lot of ground likely still needs to be made up in a potential extension. For now, the Pirates will be content sending out a 2.78 ERA (in 2016) every 5th day.
2. Jordan Zimmermann vs Cole Hamels
(Tigers vs Rangers; May 6; 7:10 PM ET)
The longtime Washington National (which is still somewhat weird to say), who was signed to a five-year, $110 million dollar deal by Detroit this offseason, has destroyed the competition so far to the tune of a 0.55 ERA. He didn’t even give up an earned run until April 25th! While the 29-year-old won’t be unhittable every month, it’s a good sign this early into the deal.
Hamels is also a lesson in long-term pitching. Philadelphia sent money and agreed to take on injured hurler Matt Harrison to make the trade work. By doing this, the Rangers acquired Hamels for (basically) free in 2015 and only $10 million more per year than what they would’ve paid Harrison through 2018. Acquiring a player of Hamels’ quality (2.52 ERA in 2016) and effectively paying him from a surplus arguably makes the prospect loss worthwhile.
Despite all the years both spent in the NL East, Zimmermann and Hamels have faced off only once.
1. Marcus Stroman vs Kenta Maeda
(Blue Jays vs Dodgers; May 6, 7:07 PM ET)
Stroman celebrated his 25th birthday the way many people dream of doing: throwing eight innings of one-run ball and then watching the Toronto Raptors win a Game 7. The 5’8” inventor of #HDMH (height don’t measure heart) and the ace of Toronto’s rotation, Stroman is one of three single digit jersey number pitchers who have pitched in the Majors this year (#6). The others are Blake Snell (#4) and Mike Leake (#8). Stroman features a low-90s fastball and three solid off-speed offerings, a slider, curve, and a changeup.
Maeda was one Pedro Baez away from the best April in Dodgers history since Fernando Valenzuela. Instead, he had to settle for an excellent 1.77 ERA in his first taste of the Major Leagues. During Maeda’s last start, he faced Ichiro, besting his elder all three times. While elbow issues will always be firmly in his rearview, a solid and healthy May would help put these issues to bed. Not a flamethrower by any stretch, averaging only 89 MPH on his fastball, the 28-year-old relies on control/command and a slider that can generate whiffs.
Dallas Keuchel vs Jose Berrios (May 2, 8:10 PM ET)
Edinson Volquez vs Gio Gonzalez (May 2, 8:15 PM ET)
Jaime Garcia vs Jerad Eickhoff (May 5, 1:45 PM ET)
Wei-Yin Chen vs Vince Velasquez (May 6, 7:10 PM ET)
Carlos Martinez vs Francisco Liriano (May 6, 8:15 PM ET)