A top-end rotation doesn't have just a single ace. It often has a few quality performers that can stop a losing streak from forming and neutralize a tough offense while keeping the bullpen fresh. Here are the top starting rotations in baseball.
Was there really any question? They have five pitchers with All-Star quality talent and more on the farm. David Price has a superstar arm. Wade Davis is no slouch at the back end. And Jeremy Hellickson and Matthew Moore are two more arms that are coming up through the Rays system.
Forget Javier Vazquez. Well, Yankees fans wish they could forget him. Add CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett and you have a quality mixture capable of neutralizing the opposition. Hughes stepping up this year isn't surprising – he was ranked the top pitching prospect in the minors by Scout.com in 2007; he has simply taken some time to get settled.
Three beasts from the east dominate the starting pitching circuit. Jon Lester started slow but has Cy Young talent. Josh Beckett has not performed but history says he is much better. John Lackey was an ace in Anaheim. Clay Buchholz is an emerging talent. Daisuke Matsuzaka may be the weakest link, as it appears his stuff no longer plays consistently at the highest level.
Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum heads the list. Jonathan Sanchez has a no-hitter to his credit. Barry Zito is suddenly pitching like he deserves the hefty contract. And Matt Cain has been a warhorse, going deep into games to save the bullpen. If this team can find offense, they have the horses to go far. Catching prospect Buster Posey, called up on May 29, will help the starting staff pick up wins.
Pitching coach Dave Duncan is a magician. He turns ordinary into extraordinary. The top four in the rotation require just a smidgen of offense to stay near the top of the National League Central. Chris Carpenter is a Cy Young winner. Adam Wainwright won 19 a season ago. Brad Penny has reclaimed his former glory from the Dodger days. Jaime Garcia has been brilliant as a rookie, 21 months after Tommy John surgery.
Jon Garland has been an immediate help to the San Diego Padres. Aided by a spacious ballpark, the Friars have some budding talent with Mat Latos and Wade LeBlanc and a solid core of veterans. While the results have been impressive all year, they lack that one pitcher that can consistently shut down the opposition each time out. Latos will eventually be that player, and Simon Castro – the team's top prospect according to MadFriars.com – has star potential.
A cascade affect forms when the starting rotation lacks bite. The bullpen becomes taxed. Confidence gets shattered. The spiral continues from day to agonizing day. The rotations are in trouble and need assistance with none to be had.
The no-names. Fausto Carmona may not even be known to some households. They have traded away a bunch of talent through the years, leaving them bare at the top. Mitch Talbot could be interesting, as he had success in the Rays system. There is help coming via the farm system with names like Hector Rondon and Carlos Carrasco. The Indians must bide until they are deemed ready.
Brian Matusz is the future ace. They have Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman coming. For now, however, this team has little firepower. Kevin Millwood has pitched well, despite the winless record. With the offense scuffling, the pitching has had to be dynamite – it hasn't and is incapable of consistently performing at a high level.
There is Zack Greinke. And there is Zack Greinke. Luke Hochevar was a top prospect but has not translated that into big league success. The rest of the staff has been put together with band-aids. The hope is those cosmetic aids hold until Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow arrive – two legitimate starting prospects with ace potential.
The Pirates ran their consecutive seasons with a losing record to 17 last year – a North American professional sports record. That number figures to grow with no significant help on the pitching coming in the foreseeable future. They are dead last in the majors in starter's ERA and have little support on the farm. Brad Lincoln and Tim Alderson may help some when they arrive, but they are not top of the rotation arms.
With emerging talent on the offensive side, the Diamondbacks have been looking for arms that can keep it close. Right now, they aren't getting it. Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson have been major disappointments. Ian Kennedy has been the lone bright spot for a team that badly misses its ace, Brandon Webb, to take pressure off the rest of the starters. There is no telling when Webb will return or how his new arm angle will affect him.
They have an ace in Yovani Gallardo. His command has improved and the numbers will show even more success as he matures into the game. Randy Wolf is overrated but got a big contract. He has never been more than average but perhaps that was good enough for Milwaukee. The final three rotation members aren't worth much. They had the right idea when Manny Parra made a cameo start in mid-May. He might be the best pitcher they have outside of Gallardo.