Baseball season officially begins this weekend with the first pitch of the Yankees-Rays game on Sunday. But before the first pitch is thrown out, we here at GameDaySportsBlog.com want to rank the team’s with the best starting pitching staff’s heading into 2017. Here’s our list.
Toronto Blue Jays – The Toronto Blue Jays return one of the league’s best starting rotations, which finished fourth in the majors in ERA (3.64) and first in innings pitched (995 1/3) last year.
Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano all are back, while Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (4.46 ERA in 2016) left in free agency to join the Braves.
Now, many people might not see much star power in the rotation of the Blue Jays, but the Jays starting-five features multiple pitchers that are far from your average MLB starting pitcher. Toronto’s J.A. Happ finished sixth for the 2016 AL Cy Young and Aaron Sanchez finished seventh. And Francisco Liriano recorded a 2.92 ERA in his 10 outings after a midseason trade from the Pirates last year.
Marcus Stroman is arguably the X-Factor for this rotation and the team. He posted good numbers post-All-Star break and finished the offseason with a dominating performance against Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic championship game.
Cleveland Indians – The Cleveland Indians made it all the way to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and did so without starting pitchers Danny Salazar (11-6, 3.87 ERA) and Carlos Carrasco (11-8, 3.32 ERA) who were both lost to injury.
With these pitchers returning to Cleveland’s rotation the starting-five for the Tribe gets even stronger than it was in their deep playoff run. And with Corey Kluber anchoring this rotation yet again Cleveland is the early favorite to win the AL Central again in 2017.
Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, was dominant last season as well finishing third in the 2016 voting. He posted an 18-9 record with a 3.14 ERA in 32 regular season starts, and then went 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in six postseason games.
Behind Kluber, Salazar, and Carrasco are Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt who all return to round out a solid and deep pitching staff for the Indians.
San Francisco Giants – One of the main reasons the Giants come close to making our list for best rotations in baseball is that their top-5 features multiple aces. The duo of Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto figure to contend for the title of best one-two punch in all of baseball, and the Giants strength doesn’t end there. The rest of the Giants’ rotation looks to be in good shape.
Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore are both better than the solid pitchers many fans think they are. They are both former All-Stars are capable of top-10 Cy Young award finishes.
After those first four, though, things aren’t quite as good as the rest of the top rotations in the Majors. Matt Cain doesn’t look to be able to put together a full, injury-free season. He hasn’t put together a 30+ start season since 2012, which coincidentally was also his last All-Star season. The problem for manager Bruce Bochy is the depth behind the oft-injured Cain. Ty Blach and Albert Suarez would be next in line to start games, and neither has shown to be a solid starter for what is sure to be a team in the fight for the playoffs.
- Los Angeles Dodgers
The real reason the Dodgers made our top-5 rotations list is because they have the best pitcher in baseball and it’s not even close. As a matter of fact Clayton Kershaw has dominated baseball like no pitcher before. And as good as Kershaw is, the three-time NL Cy Young winner isn’t the only productive pitcher on a talented LA staff.
The Dodgers spent $48 million to re-sign Rich Hill for three years after he went 12-5 and posted a ridiculously low 2.12 ERA in 20 starts in 2016. Behind Hill is Kenta Maeda who in his rookie season after coming over from Japan won 16 games and posted a 3.48 ERA for the Dodgers last season. And following Maeda is the 20-year-old lefty Julio Urías who posted a 5-2 record and 3.39 ERA in his 15 starts, but has the talent to become a 15-20 game winner.
And rounding out the Dodgers’ rotation could be anyone of Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, or Alex Wood.
So starting with the best pitcher in baseball and finishing with multiple high quality starters means that the Dodgers should improve on last season’s 3.95 ERA which ranked 6th in Majors. This year, it should be top-5.
- New York Mets
There is an easy way in which the New York Mets could be #1 on this list by the end of the year, and that’s if they ever stay healthy. Right now though that doesn’t look like it will ever happen. They still make this list because of their ridiculous depth though.
Last season the Mets starting rotation ranked third in ERA (3.61) and eighth in WHIP (1.28). And that was with major injuries to Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. Getting those two back, and healthy, along with Zack Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched since 2014, but has a 3.50 ERA in 49 career starts, will make the Mets pitching staff even better.
As we stated earlier though, the true strength of the Mets pitching staff is in its depth. And after ace Noah Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom, and Wheeler take the top four spots of the rotation the Mets can turn to Robert Gsellman, a 23-year-old righty, who went 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA in eight outings last year, and also Seth Lugo, a 27-year-old righty, who went 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 17 outings.
- Washington Nationals
The Nationals much like their division rival Mets could be the best in terms of starting pitching if they could simply stay healthy. Ace Max Scherzer is the best pitcher in the game outside of Kershaw, leading the NL in wins (20), innings (228 1/3), strikeouts (284), WHIP (0.97) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.07) last season.
Behind Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark round out one of the major’s top Big Threes. Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83 ERA) finished 10th for the NL Cy Young, while Strasburg went a “quiet” 15-4. But as we know, Strasburg has a tough time staying healthy so the #4 and #5 pitchers have to be ready.
The #4 starter, Gio Gonzalez, is coming off a rough year, but he is hoping to get back to his 2012 ways where he came in 3rd in the Cy Young race and even got votes for MVP. And it should be interesting to watch the 5th starter, 23-year-old righty Joe Ross (7-5, 3.43 ERA) as he tries to take the next step in 2017.
If Strasburg stays healthy and Gonzalez and Ross both pitch to their potential even the Mets with their great pitching won’t be able to hang in the NL East with the Nats.
- Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox have one of the best rotations in baseball, and they paid dearly to do acquire the final piece. Practically selling their future away, the Red Sox managed to do something truly special for the present. How special? The Red Sox 3rd best pitcher is the reigning Cy Young award winner, so you know they have something good going. And not only do they have insane amounts of depth, but that depth is also extremely talented.
In a rotation that is led by two Cy Young caliber lefties, the Red Sox seem to have pitching in every form. Boston’s starting five look to be Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, David Price, Steven Wright, and Drew Pomeranz. Wright and Pomeranz began 2016 on a very well note (I even talked about how Drew Pomeranz was the best pitcher in the NL not named Clayton Kershaw), but unfortunately they both got hurt, and their numbers diminished with their health. Luckily, both are healthy and that means the Red Sox are extremely talented. Plus, if they don’t pan out the Red Sox have Eduardo Rodriguez and two-time All-Star Clay Buchholz backing them up.
Granted Buchholz is not the pitcher he once was, and did not post great numbers as of late, but he is still one heck of a security option if the two other arms ahead of him don’t pan out for the five-spot. And having their 7th starting pitcher arguably make almost any other starting rotation is a testament to just how good Boston has it.
- Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs starting rotation posted a major-league best 2.96 ERA and finished second in innings (989) in 2016. And with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey all returning it doesn’t look like much will change.
Of course the Cubs will have to somehow replace the loss of Jason Hammel to free agency, which hurts the Cubs’ chances to repeat more than it might seem. Hammel tossed a consistently solid 166 2/3 innings for the Cubbies. And they are going to have to try and replace him with some combination of oft-injured castoffs and converted relievers. But their top-4 should make up for having one average pitcher in the rotation.
Arrieta had a “down year” last season compared to what he did in 2015 when he broke multiple Major League records and won the Cy Young award. But if 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA is a “down year” then the Cubs should be just fine considering he’s not even the staff ace.
That honor belongs to Jon Lester. And although Lester’s WAR numbers have been shrinking over the last three years, he had one of his best years in 2016. The veteran lefty posted his lowest ERA, 2.44, along with the most wins (19). Hitters batted a career low .209 against Lester, the best of his career, all of which going to show that the 33-year old was nothing short of dominant, and that should carry over into 2017 as well.
As for the other starting pitchers, it’s not just Arrieta and Lester that are getting noticed. Kyle Hendricks finished 3rd last season in Cy Young votes, just behind Lester, with his 2.13 ERA. And John Lackey was able to put together another solid season for the North-Siders.
So what does all that add up to for the Chicago Cubs? It makes for the best rotation in baseball and another season where it’s World Series or bust for the fans of Wrigley’s finest.