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Past & Present: Aces wild on Opening Day

Is Jose Fernandez the best pitcher the Rockies have faced to open a season?

Marc Serota

As they open the season in Miami Monday night, the Rockies, especially their hitters, face a tall task as they face 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez and the Miami Marlins. In addition to his Rookie of the Year honors, Fernandez finished third in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award, behind Adam Wainwright and winner Clayton Kershaw.

Of course, every team, including the Rockies, will throw their No. 1 starter on Opening Day, but there is a difference between a No. 1 starter (Jeff Samardzija, for example) and a true ace (someone like Felix Hernandez).

With the Rockies facing Fernandez Monday, who almost certainly falls into the ace category, here's a look at how the team has fared in previous season openers against true aces, which for the purposes of this article include any pitcher who had just completed or was just beginning a season in which they finished in the top five in the voting for the Cy Young Award.

April 3, 2000
Braves 2, Rockies 0

Opposing Pitcher: Greg Maddux
1999 Stats: 19-9, 3.57 ERA, 219 1/3 IP, 37 BB, 136 K, 126 ERA+
2000 Stats: 19-9, 3.00 ERA, 249 1/3 IP, 42 BB, 190 K, 153 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 7 2/3 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

This just in, Greg Maddux was really, really good. Which is probably the reason he was elected to the Hall of Fame with 97.2% of the vote on the first ballot. He faced the Rockies at Turner Field in the opening game of the 2000 season and, even at age 34 shut down a fairly stout Rockies lineup. Maddux was coming off of what was for him a down year in 1999, having posted a 3.57 ERA while still winning 19 games. He would go on to finish third in NL Cy Young voting in 2000.

However, Rockies starter Pedro Astacio matched Maddux pitch-for-pitch until the seventh, when Andres Galarraga and Andruw Jones hit back-to-back solo home runs for the only two runs of the game.

The Rockies got a man to third against Maddux in both the fifth and the seventh, but in both cases he intentionally walked Brent Mayne (his only two walks of the game) to face Astacio, who grounded out both times.

April 2, 2001
Rockies 8, Cardinals 0

Opposing Pitcher: Darryl Kile
2000 Stats: 20-9, 3.91 ERA, 232 1/3 IP, 58 BB, 192 K, 120 ERA+
2001 Stats: 16-11, 3.09 ERA, 227 1/3 IP, 65 BB, 179 K, 140 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 5 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 0 K

To open the 2001 season, the Rockies faced what for many of them was a former teammate in Darryl Kile, who posted a 5.84 ERA in two seasons with the Rockies in 1997 and 1998, and in the '01 opener, Coors Field was no kinder to Kile in a Cardinals uniform that it had been when he was wearing purple pinstripes. The Rockies battered Kile, who was coming off of a 20-win season and top 5 finish in Cy Young voting in 2000, for six runs on 11 hits in five innings, including a first inning two-run shot from Todd Walker.

Meanwhile, Rockies starter Mike Hampton looked, at least for a day, to be worth every penny of the $120 million the Rockies had given him in the offseason, scattering five hits over 8 1/3 innings in his Rockies debut. Also of note from the game was the 21-year-old making his Major League debut in left field for St. Louis, kid by the name of Albert Pujols. I think he turned out to be pretty good. (He was 1-for-3 on the day, a clip he would essentially keep up over his next 7,000 or so at bats.)

April 1, 2002
Cardinals 10, Rockies 2

Opposing Pitcher: Matt Morris
2001 Stats: 22-8, 3.16 ERA, 216 1/3 IP, 54 BB, 185 K, 137 ERA+
2002 Stats: 17-9, 3.42 ERA, 210 1/3 IP, 64 BB, 171 K, 117 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

The Rockies and Cardinals met again on Opening Day in 2002, in a different location and with a different result. Matt Morris, who had finished third in the Cy Young voting in 2001, held the Rockies to a run on just five hits in seven innings at Busch Stadium. Quick, compare Kile's and Morris' 2001 numbers and tell me how one of them finished third in the Cy Young voting and the other didn't get a single vote; the BBWAA baffles me sometimes.

The only run the Rockies scored against Morris came on a Todd Zeile sacrifice fly that scored Larry Walker. Hampton was again on the mound for the Rockies and did not fare as well as in the previous opener, allowing six runs on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings.

April 1, 2003
Astros 10, Rockies 4

Opposing Pitcher: Roy Oswalt
2002 Stats: 19-9, 3.01 ERA, 233 IP, 62 BB, 208 K, 144 ERA+
2003 Stats: 10-5, 2.97 ERA, 127 1/3 IP, 29 BB, 108 K, 148 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

As he took the mound to start the 2003 season, Roy Oswalt had two seasons in MLB under his belt and two top-five finishes in Cy Young voting to go with them. On Opening Day 2003 at Minute Maid Park, Oswalt, as was his custom, made mince meat of the Rockies, scattering four hits over seven innings, allowing a lone earned run in the second when Jose Hernandez followed a Preston Wilson double with an RBI single.

In the bottom halves of the innings, the Astros' "Killer Bs" were busy making mince meat of Jason Jennings, who gave up eight runs on nine hits in four innings, including a pair of home runs to Jeff Bagwell and one to future Survivor contestant Jeff Kent. (He gave one of the best exit speeches ever.)

April 6, 2004
Rockies 6, Diamondbacks 2

Opposing Pitcher: Randy Johnson
2003 Stats: 6-8, 4.26 ERA, 114 IP, 27 BB, 125 K, 110 ERA+
2004 Stats: 16-14, 2.60 ERA, 245 2/3 IP, 44 BB, 290 K, 176 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K

A 40-year-old Randy Johnson entered the 2004 season after an injury-plagued 2003 that saw him throw just 114 innings. It was reasonable to wonder whether he was finished, but the soon-to-be Hall of Famer had one more great season in him, tossing a perfect game in '04 and finishing second in Cy Young voting with a 2.60 ERA and 290 strikeouts.

On Opening Day against the Rockies at Bank One Ballpark he was good but not great, barely qualifying for a quality start with three runs allowed in six innings, including a two-run home run by Charles Johnson. He didn't have much offensive support either, as Arizona's only two runs came on a pair of Luis Gonzalez home runs, one off of Shawn Estes, the other against Shawn Chacon.

April 3, 2006
Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 2 (11 innings)

Opposing Pitcher: Brandon Webb
2005 Stats: 14-12, 3.54 ERA, 229 IP, 59 BB, 172 K, 125 ERA+
2006 Stats: 16-8, 3.10 ERA, 235 IP, 50 BB, 178 K, 152 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

As the 2006 season dawned, 27-year-old Brandon Webb was about to embark on a breakout season that would lead to his only Cy Young Award win, though Coors Field was not an easy place to open such a campaign. Webb would prove equal to the task, however, allowing just one run on an RBI single to his counterpart, Jason Jennings.

Webb left his first start of the season with a 2-1 lead only to see Terry Mullholland cough it up in the eighth on a Todd Helton RBI double. The Rockies went on to win the game in the 11th on a run-scoring fielders' choice off the bat of Brad Hawpe.

April 2, 2007
Diamondbacks 8, Rockies 6

Opposing Pitcher: Brandon Webb
2006 Stats: 16-8, 3.10 ERA, 235 IP, 50 BB, 178 K, 152 ERA+
2007 Stats: 18-10, 3.01 ERA, 236 1/3 IP, 72 BB, 194 K, 158 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

For the second straight season, the Rockies opened at Coors Field against the Diamondbacks and Webb. This time, however, they countered with a sinkerballer of their own in Aaron Cook. Instead of the tight-knit pitchers' duel of a season earlier, 2007's opener was an old-fashioned Coors Field slugfest, only that it wasn't in that 13 of the 17 hits Webb and Cook combined to give up were singles.

The two starters combined to give up 10 runs in 11 innings, so the game was decided by the bullpens, specifically LaTroy Hawkins, who allowed three runs in the eighth to hand Arizona the 8-6 win.

April 6, 2009
Diamondbacks 9, Rockies 8

Opposing Pitcher: Brandon Webb
2008 Stats: 22-7, 3.30 ERA, 226 2/3 IP, 65 BB, 183 K, 140 ERA+
2009 Stats: 0-0, 13.50 ERA, 4 IP, 2 BB, 2 K, 36 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 4 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

For the second time in three years, Cook and Webb met in the season opener, this time at Chase Field. They managed pitch worse than they had in 2007, combining to allow a dozen runs in 6 1/3 innings.

Webb entered the game coming off of a dominant three-season stretch that saw him finish in the top two of NL Cy Young voting each year from 2006-2008. However, he was pulled from the 2009 opener with an injury after just four innings and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since.

April 5, 2010
Rockies 5, Brewers 3

Rockies Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez
2009 Stats: 15-12, 3.47 ERA, 218 IP, 85 BB, 198 K, 136 ERA+
2010 Stats: 19-8, 2.88 ERA, 221 2/3 IP, 92 BB, 214 K, 161 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 6 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

Any article about great pitchers in Rockies season openers would be incomplete without a mention of Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010, who used a fine performance in Milwaukee on Opening Day to kickstart the greatest pitching season in franchise history.

The only run Jimenez allowed that day came in the fifth on a Ryan Braun double and he would go on to win 13 of his first 14 starts in 2010 with a 1.15 ERA, eventually setting a franchise record with 19 wins and coming third in NL Cy Young voting, the best ever finish for a Rockie.

April 1, 2011
Diamondbacks 7, Rockies 6 (11 innings)

Opposing Pitcher: Ian Kennedy
2010 Stats: 9-10, 3.80 ERA, 194 IP, 70 BB, 168 K, 111 ERA+
2011 Stats: 21-4, 2.88 ERA, 222 IP, 55 BB, 198 K, 137 ERA+
Opening Day Line: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K

Jimenez's first start of 2011 would see another pitcher kickstart a career year, Arizona's Ian Kennedy. Kennedy was nothing to write home about in the season opener at Coors Field, allowing four runs, three earned, to the Rockies in six innings including a homer to, of all people, Jose Lopez.

Meanwhile, the 2011 opener was the beginning of the end for Jimenez in Colorado, he gave up six runs (five earned) in six innings in the Rockies' loss and was traded to Cleveland by the end of the season.

March 31, 2014
Rockies at Marlins

Opposing Pitcher: Jose Fernandez
2013 Stats: 12-6, 2.19 ERA, 172 2/3 IP, 58 BB, 187 K, 176 ERA+
2014 Stats: TBD
Opening Day Line: TBD

In 21 season openers, the Rockies have never faced a pitcher coming off a season that was statistically as good as Fernandez's 2013. However, of all the aces the Rockies have faced, Fernandez is the youngest at age 21. (Oswalt was 25.) Pitchers like Maddux and Johnson were already well on their way to the Hall of Fame when the Rockies saw them to open the 2000 and 2004 seasons, but Fernandez is a different animal altogether, a true phenom.

Colorado will counter with veteran southpaw Jorge De La Rosa, who is all over the franchise's career leaderboards for pitchers. Also working to the Rockies' advantage is Miami's lineup which consists of Giancarlo Stanton and not much else. Beating Fernandez tonight will be a tough task, but taking down an ace in the season opener would be nothing new to the Rockies franchise.