The best and worst of Orioles Opening Day starters

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March 5, 2013

What do former Orioles Jeremy Guthrie, Kevin Millwood and Rodrigo Lopez all have in common?

Each of those pitchers led the American League in losses after first serving as Baltimore's Opening Day starter. Guthrie did so twice (17 losses in both 2009 and 2011) while Millwood (16 losses in 2010) and Lopez (18 losses in 2006) did so once.

That's one of the facts I dug up while looking through Baltimore's overall list of Opening Day starters. Among other things, I was curious to see how the number one guys have fared throughout history in the seasons that follow that first start. Just last year Jake Arrieta wound up in the minors after pitching a gem on Opening Day. While that specific experience is rare, it hasn't been uncommon in recent years for the Opening Day starter to nose dive in the games that follow, at least in terms of losses.

Overall, the O's Opening Day starter has ended the year leading the American League in losses for four of the past seven seasons. In three of those cases (Guthrie twice and Lopez once) the O's starter has led all of baseball in losses. 

You could argue that it's been this way from the start because, well, it has. Don Larsen took the hill for the first Opening Day in Baltimore Orioles history on April 13, 1954. He tossed a complete game but suffered a 3-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Memorial Stadium. He went on to lose 20 more times that season. His 21 losses led all of baseball in 1954. The Orioles traded him to the Yankees after the season; two years later he posted the only World Series no-hitter in baseball history. 

Then there's the case of Mike Boddicker, the Opening Day starter at the outset of the worst season in Orioles history. Boddicker lost eight consecutive starts to begin the 1988 season. He was traded to Boston in late July and finished the year with 15 losses, two shy of the major league lead.

The good news is there's no Orioles Opening Day jinx.

Jim Palmer and Mike Mussina started a total of 12 Opening Days for the Birds - six a piece - and those guys had a combined five losing seasons in 37 years of major league pitching.

Palmer started the O's opener and led the A.L. in wins for three straight years (1975-1977). He won the Cy Young in '75 and '76 and finished second in Cy Young voting in '77 Meanwhile, Mussina led all of baseball with 19 wins in 1995 after starting for the Orioles on Opening Day. 

Dave McNally is second to Palmer and Mussina for Orioles Opening Day starts with five. His third Opening Day start for the Birds came in 1970, an 8-2 win against the Indians in Cleveland. He led all of baseball with 24 wins that season and finished second to Jim Perry for the Cy Young.

So getting the Opening Day start hasn't always been a bad thing for Baltimore pitchers. It only feels that way lately.

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