Breakdown of Pitching Staff Contenders

There are just about 40 games to go in the 2011 season, and a playoff picture is starting to take shape. Currently, there are only three tightly contested divisions in baseball - the NL West, The AL East, and the AL Central. In all liklihood, 2nd place in the AL East is taking the Wild Card. All other division leaders hold at least 6 game lead at this point, although nothing is a given just ask my Mets. Given the state of the pennant races, we focus on pitching staffs in this breakdown, and we couldn't agree on everything. These are my picks, and I'll tell you the places my colleagues and I agreed upon. Starting with the American League.

5. Cleveland Indians

Standouts - Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin
Inconsistent - Ubaldo Jimenez, Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco

The Tribe are in the thick of a pennant race in the Central, and NOBODY would have picked that at the start of the season. They've benefited from solid play from hitters and better than average pitching. They also have benefited from a relatively weak division (they'd be 5th in AL East and 3rd in AL West). We were in agreement that the Indians staff is weakest among playoff contenders. They made a great trade to grab Jimenez. The fire-balling righty can look like the greatest pitcher of his generation on some days, and look terrible on others. The Indians staff is largley untested in a stretch run situation, let alone playoffs. Inexperience could be a detriment to their run.

Bullpen - Chris Perez has made 27 of 30 save opportunities. The Tribe is also getting solid production from Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, and Vinnie Pestano

4. Detroit Tigers

Standouts - Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer
Inconsistent - Rick Porcello, Brad Penny

This was a major disagreement, and I'm sure I'll hear it from The OCP. Granted, they have the odds on Cy Young favorite in Verlander. He's as top notch as team aces come. The trouble is after him, it drops off. I know the same can be said for the Yankees, but I like their veterans a little more than the Tigers youth. After Verlander, the rest of the starters have ERAs in the mid to high 4's. Scherzer has managed to compile a 12-7 record, but the ERA is high. Like Cleveland, inexperience could prove troublesome as only Verlander and Penny have any kind of post season experience.

Bullpen - The Tigers have a good closer in Jose Valverde, and he has converted every save opportunity thus far. The problem is beyond him, they are suspect rolling out Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, and Joaquin Benoit. Benoit mixes his 19 holds with a 3.88 ERA.

3. New York Yankees

Standouts - C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia
Inconsistent - A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes

Like Detroit, the Yankees have a top 5 pitcher in the AL helming their staff in Sabathia. The drop off afterward, however, is troubling. Despite an ERA approaching 4, Ivan Nova is finding ways to win and has put together an impressive 13-4 record thus far. Freddy Garcia, who not many expected much from, has also notched 10 wins and a respectable ERA. As good as the pluses have been so far, the minuses have been even greater. Burnett has been downright flammable this year. Since July 1, he is 1-4 with a 6.96 ERA, certainly trending in the wrong direction. Having what most infer as a fragile psyche to begin with, imploding down the stretch doesn't bode well for the post season. Despite flashes of old dominance, Colon has been hit or miss from start to start as well. Finally, Hughes has battled injury but since returning has not been like he was last year.

Bullpen - Any time you have Mariano Rivera at the back end of your pen, the team will be okay in the 9th. Luckily, the rest of the Yankees' bullpen is also pretty strong with David Robertson having an exceptional year, and strong contributions from Luis Ayala, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain (before the DL).

2. Boston Red Sox

Standouts - Josh Beckett, Jon Lester
Inconsistent - John Lackey, Tim Wakefield

Injuries and inconsistency have caused the Red Sox to patchwork their staff somewhat this season. The good starts with Josh Beckett who is dominating again as he did in the mid 2000s. He's given up more than 3 runs only three times this season, and the ERA is sub 2.50. Jon Lester has also continued his consistent ways amassing 13 wins already against just 6 losses. These two are a formidable one-two punch come October, but the rest of the starting staff has struggled through injury and under-performance. Lackey has been disappointing racking up an ERA over 6 for the season. They also lost "ace potential" starters in Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka. That leaves Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, and Erik Bedard to fill in the gaps. Despite the numerous question marks, the tandem of Beckett and Lester (as well as the potent lineup) should allow the Red Sox to compete in the post season. They would probably notch the #1 spot with a healthy Buchholz.

Bullpen - The Red Sox pen is pretty good, but probably not the best in the AL. Aceves and Daniel Bard have been very strong, and Papelbon has been consistent. Matt Albers and Dan Wheeler round out the bullpen.

1. Texas Rangers

Standouts - C.J. Wilson, Alexi Ogando
Inconsistent - none

For years, the bane of the Rangers' existence has been pitching. They've always seemed to put together dynamite lineups (this year included), but pitching has always been the downfall. Ever since Nolan Ryan took over, pitching has been a major focus and it's paying dividends now. Wilson is beginning to show flashes that he can be a front line top of the rotation guy with his 12-5 mark and 3.20 ERA. Ogando has seemingly come out of nowhere to match Wilson with a 12-5 record. There have not been any let downs up and down the rotation to speak of regarding the Rangers. They have been fortunate with very few injuries, and the other three starters, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison, all have winning records and ERAs under 4.5. The consistency of the team has vaulted them to #1 staff status in the American League.

Bullpen - Neftali Feliz is a work in progress, but he's developing well into a good closer. He's got some blown saves under his belt this year, but he continues to improve. The rest of the pen includes 40 somethings Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes, both pitching well. The Rangers also made two deadline deals acquiring hold specialists Mike Adams from San Diego and Koji Uehara. Both have struggled a little with the change of team, but both were pitching lights out before the trade deadline. Adams and Uehara should give the Rangers' pen some depth.

On to the National League where there were far fewer disputes to the order of teams.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks

Standouts - Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson
Inconsistent - Joe Saunders

The Diamondbacks are finally reaping the spoils of two trade acquisitions in Kennedy from the Yankees and Hudson from the White Sox. Kennedy especially has been fantastic and is a dark horse Cy Young candidate. Saunders hasn't found the form that saw him win 17 and 16 games respectively for the Angels a few years back. Like some of their AL counterparts, the Diamondbacks may lack leadership going down the stretch. They also have to contend with the Giants, whose pitching will always keep them in the playoff race.

Bullpen - J.J. Putz seems to have made a resurgence notching 30 saves to date. The rest of the bullpen is about average.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Standouts - Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum
Inconsistent - Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson

All of the starters except Narveson have sub-4 ERAs. Gallardo has already tied his career high in wins at 14 and shook off a rocky start to be the ace of the staff. Marcum is coming off Tommy John from two years ago, and a transition to the NL this year. He has pitched very well thus far with a record of 11-3. Greinke is coming off a late start this year due to injury and looks like the 2009 Cy Young again, albeit with an elevated ERA. Both Wolf and Narveson have been good at times, but both have also had 7+ starts giving up 4 or more runs. The Brewers are going to need consistency from the top down to hang with the heavyweights in the National League.

Bullpen - John Axford has come on to be a solid NL closer and is only 2 saves off the leader. The Brew Crew also has some veteran arms in the pen with Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins. They also traded a few weeks ago for Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets.

3. Atlanta Braves

Standouts - Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson
Inconsistent - Derek Lowe

If not for injury and losing a few starts, Jurrjens would have been another contender for NL Cy Young. He's 12-5 with a 2.84 ERA and has really come into his own this year. Likewise, Tommy Hanson has continued to progress and has equaled his career high in win total this year with 11. For Hudson, he has shined for the Braves ever since losing the 2009 season to injury. He's putting together another solid frame for the Braves with a record of 13-7 and the ERA just a hair over 3.

Bullpen - This is a major strength for the Braves as two relative newcomers before the season are taking the league by storm. Both Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters came up last year and are absolutely terrorizing the NL this year. Collectively, they've turned the game into a 7 inning affair with their consistent dominance. Kimbrel leads the NL in saves with 39 and Venters is tied for 2nd in holds with 27. They also add veteran relievers Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill making the Braves a tough late-inning opponent.

2. San Francisco Giants

Standouts - Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong
Inconsistent - Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner

ERA once again tells the story here, because to look at records, you wouldn't know Lincecum and Cain are having strong years. Their records are 11-10 (Lincecum) and 10-9 (Cain), but respective ERAs are 2.53 and 2.86. They are receiving some of the worst run support in the league. It's all going to Vogelsong who has amassed a 10-3 record as a 33 year old journeyman. Sanchez has battled injury and Bumgarner has battled himself this year, but both need to be steady down the stretch to get the Giants back in the race. Bumgarner alternates between award winning starts and bombs that make you wonder why he was called up so soon. Ultimately, he's going to be a really nice starter for the Giants. Barry Zito has been such a flop, it's hard to call him consistent. If anything, the opposite is true, and he's been consistently bad and unhealthy again this year.

Bullpen - The seemingly unflappable Giants bullpen took a major hit recently with closer Brian Wilson headed to the DL. The rest of the bullpen has also been very strong with the likes of Jeremy Affeldt, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo. However, the Giants are going to need the enigmatic and dominant Wilson to have any shot at repeating as champs.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

Standouts - Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley
Inconsistent - Roy Oswalt

Not surprisingly, the Dream Team assembled in Philadelphia is living up to the hype. Halladay is a front runner to win another Cy Young. Lee had that ridiculous June giving up 1 earned run and pitching 3 consecutive shutouts. Hamels, before the recent injury woes, was also pitching extremely well at 13-7. The big three all have ERAs under 3 as well. They are going to be very difficult to beat in a short series. Add to that, the emergence of Vance Worley, who at 8-1 and 2.76, is clearly keeping pace with the big boys on the staff. Oswalt has struggled a little with injury and attitude causing some fans to question his desire to play. If he does continue to improve his health, other teams should be just as wary of him as they are the others.

Bullpen - There's a little bit of a question mark with the bullpen in Philadelphia. The standout here has been lefty specialist Antonio Bastardo. The rest are just so-so and can be equal parts excellence and gasoline on a fire. With any luck, Madsen will be healthy for the post season. The starters will do most of the heavy lifting.

Ultimately, much to my chagrin, the Phils are the clear best pitching staff in either league. However, they'll need those starters to pitch deep into games to protect the slightly shaky bullpen.

4 comments:

  1. Randy Wolf has been as consistent as Yo and more consistent the ZG

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  2. The difference between the Phils/Giants/Braves and the Brewers is that the Brewers top three have ace stuff but lack consistency. The Phils and Giants have two-three guys that are both dominant and consistant (Halladay/Lee/Hamels and Lincecum/Cain). The Braves are too deep to ignore and although they've battle injuries within their rotation, they still have Hudson and Jurrjens is still sub-2 ERA. ERA's not everything but it's not like we're making a bold claim... if you want to say that the Brewers have better pitching than any of those three tams, you'll have to make that claim because we don't see it. All that being said, the Brewers pitchers are capable of winning a seven game series but they're certainly not better on paper and they haven't been tested in the postseason. I like our order... if we were looking at strength of the team, the Brewers would be right there with the Phils and Braves as the top three. If the current postseason alignment holds up (if everyone finishes where they are right now, which is highly plausible considering the NL West is weak while the Phils/Braves and Brewers are seemingly in control of their divisions and the wild card spots), the Brewers/Braves first round match up would be very intriguing.

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  3. Jurrjens... sub-3 ERA. My bad.

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  4. Good point, the Brewers have a good staff but lack an ace. Greinke could be one, but at this point is not. Phils have 3 aces and a debatable 4th, Giants have 2 and the Braves have 1 in Hudson.

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