By the time October rolls around, it won’t matter much who the Toronto Blue Jays selected as their Opening Day starter.
It’s one game in the grand scheme of things, with a million and one variables over the course of a 162-game season bound to have a bigger impact on Toronto’s trajectory than who takes the ball in one given game.
But in mid-March? Sure, let’s debate it, and see who Toronto dubs as their No. 1 option to kick off the 2023 regular season.
The Blue Jays are heading into next Thursday’s season opener with two bonafide options to take the ball on their first game of the season: 25-year-old third-year starter Alek Manoah and 32-year-old veteran Kevin Gausman.
Both pitchers have their merits for wanting their name on the lineup card when Toronto kicks off their 2023 MLB regular season Thursday, March 30 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Obviously we are two completely different pitchers and I think that helps because if we are back to back, you’re going to get a different look than you did the night before in just about every way,” Gausman told the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley about the differences between him and Manoah. “Look at the body types. Our demeanour is a lot different. But I think our stuff plays off of each other really well.”
Gausman had a record of 12-10 with an ERA of 3.35 and 205 strikeouts in 31 appearances for the Blue Jays last season, while Manoah had a 16-7 record with an ERA of 2.24 and 180 strikeouts in 31 appearances in 2022. Gausman finished ninth in American League Cy Young voting in his first season in Toronto, while Manoah finished third in just his second major league season.
But it’s hard to argue with how impressive Gausman has looked this spring. In four appearances so far in the Grapefruit League, Gausman has put up a 0.00 ERA, not allowing any runs scored in 13.2 innings over four appearances including 18 strikeouts.
Manoah’s spring stat line isn’t too shabby either: six earned runs over 14.1 innings in appearances, a 3.37 ERA, while picking up 15 strikeouts over that timeframe.
When it comes to contracts, Gausman is on year two of a five-year, $110 million deal, while Manoah is making just $780k on a one-year deal while five years away from being eligible to hit free agency in 2028.
As for playoff performance for the Blue Jays? Well, both are waiting on their first win. Manoah was named Toronto’s starter for Game 1 of their Wild Card series against Seattle last year, lasting 5.2 innings and picking up the loss while giving up four earned runs in his postseason debut.
And while Gausman has seven playoff appearances over the course of his career, he is also awaiting his first win, putting up an 0-1 record, an ERA of 4.57, and 25 strikeouts in 21.2 innings with Toronto, the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles.
Gausman was given the nod in Toronto’s Game 2 against Seattle in 2022, exiting the game with 5.2 innings pitched — same as Manoah — with an 8-1 lead prior to one of the most infamous collapses in MLB history that eliminated the Jays from the playoffs.
Blue Jays fans are about as divided as the 2000 US presidential election in Florida as to who the team should give the ball to on Opening Day.
Manoah held just a 52-48% lead in this poll from TheScore’s Josh Goldberg at press time, picking up over 1,100 votes in the first three hours from the time it was posted.
Who should get the nod on Opening Day?
— Josh Goldberg (@JGoldberg12) March 21, 2023
Blue Jays fans had plenty of opinions to share on the matter:
Hardest decision of my life 😂
— Veronica Chung (@veronicaschung) March 21, 2023
Manoah’s your past (CY finialist), your present, and your future. He’s got everything you want in a big game pitcher, struggled in the 1st inning of his 1st playoff start last year yada yada. He’s a guy who’s up for the moment, doesn’t shy away, I give him the ball every time.
— Austin ⭐️⭐️ (@ItsAustinW_) March 21, 2023
My heart voted Manoah immediately, but now my mind is thinking Gausman lol
— Nick | TheMainEvent (@TheMainEvent2k) March 21, 2023
Gausman > Manoah https://t.co/BHHz8ZQAB6
— Frank Ammirante (@FAmmiranteTFJ) March 21, 2023
Gausman for his seniority and respect for his body of work. Manoah will get his turn(s).
— Bkbarrym (@bkbarrym) March 21, 2023
so so so close but I think it has to be Gausman
— ღ lex (@aleexandraskyee) March 21, 2023
At the end of the day, it’s all about what you value in an Opening Day starter: a reward for the slightly more impressive season last year from Manoah, or riding the hot hand from Gausman who’s been near untouchable so far this spring.
As for who started last year for the Blue Jays in their Opening Day contest against the Texas Rangers, would you remember that it was actually José Berríos, who lasted just 0.1 innings and gave up four earned runs in an eventual 10-8 Toronto win?
The Opening Day starter conversation is an interesting one, although it’s just over a week away before we’ll get official confirmation on how the Jays’ final lineup for the season will look.
Opening pitch for next week’s first regular contest comes at 4:10 pm ET, taking place at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.
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