Braves rank 6th among NL's premier rotations

The Braves have enough firepower to rank among the NL's top 10 rotations heading into spring training.

The following countdown details the National League's top 10 starting rotations heading into spring training, which now accounts for two-thirds of the Senior Circuit clubs. (Houston switched over to the American League.)

1. Washington Nationals

SP Stephen Strasburg
SP Gio Gonzalez
SP Dan Haren
SP Jordan Zimmermann
SP Ross Detwiler


By season's end, Stephen Strasburg (15-6, 3.16 ERA, 197 strikeouts last year), Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA, 207 Ks) and Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 3.94 ERA) could finish among the top 20 pitchers in baseball.

Each hurler has ace-type stuff with sterling track records to match, and their best days — in terms of individually impacting today's game — are likely ahead, bolstering the Nationals' rep as title contenders for the foreseeable future.

After Washington's Big Three, there's an initial uneasiness that comes with predicting greatness for Dan Haren, based on the pedestrian numbers from last season with the Angels (12-13, 4.33 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) — especially amid whispers of lingering shoulder problems.

But here's the scoop: In Haren's final eight games with L.A./Anaheim, with per-outing averages of six innings, he posted a robust ERA of 2.81 and yielded only zero or one run seven times. Throw in the 41/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span ... and we're talking about a stupendous No. 4 option in D.C.

And then there's Ross Detwiler, arguably the league's pre-eminent No. 5 pitcher. In his last 16 starts (July-September), Detwiler surrendered only four or more runs three times. In other words, you could do much, much worse than hand the ball to Detwiler every five days — especially when he's in line for a progression of 12 wins, 3.35 ERA, sub-1.20 WHIP and maybe 120 strikeouts.

2. San Francisco Giants

SP Matt Cain
SP Madison Bumgarner
SP Tim Lincecum
SP Ryan Vogelsong
SP Barry Zito


In 2012, Matt Cain eclipsed full-season career highs in wins (16), strikeouts (193), ERA (2.79) and WHIP (1.04). Of equal importance, he yielded just two or fewer runs 21 times and allowed three or fewer walks in 29 of 32 starts. BOOM!

With a buildup like that, it's hard to believe Cain might not be the best pitcher on the staff in 2013.

In just two seasons as a full-time starter, Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 191/49 K-BB) has already developed into a strong case for 15 wins, a 3.30 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 185 strikeouts. That's a minimum goal.

In 32 starts last year, Bumgarner surrendered two or fewer runs 19 times and walked three or fewer batters 29 times. This season ... mark this Bum down for 200 strikeouts.

The rest of the San Francisco rotation has some question marks, given Ryan Vogelsong's age (although his arm is a young 35), Tim Lincecum's Jekyll-and-Hyde personality (10 outings of five-plus runs allowed) and Barry Zito's penchant ... for being Barry Zito. That said, 36 victories and/or 415 strikeouts are reachable tallies for this trio.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Zack Greinke
SP Josh Beckett
SP Hyun-Jin Ryu
SP Chad Billingsley/ Aaron Harang


The baseball gods owe Clayton Kershaw (14-9, 2.53 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 229/63 K-BB) a 20-win campaign this year, given the bevy of hard-luck outings from 2012.

Last season, Kershaw surrendered two or fewer runs a staggering 24 times, yet he walked away with only 14 victories. (To be fair, he claimed the National League ERA title for a second straight year.) In his final 12 starts, (July 29-Oct. 3), Kershaw had the following numbers over 87.1 innings: 7-3, 1.55 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 93/25 K-BB rate.

With the Brewers and Angels last year, Zack Greinke (15-5, 3.48 ERA, 200 strikeouts) was actually a model of consistency — posting five months of three or more victories and six months of 28-plus strikeouts. And now, he'll log the majority of 2013 starts at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.

To round out the staff, the Dodgers have a good problem of filling three spots with four veteran pitchers — Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and new addition Hyun-Jin Ryu (Korean Baseball Organization).

4. Cincinnati Reds

SP Johnny Cueto
SP Mat Latos
SP Homer Bailey
SP Aroldis Chapman
SP Bronson Arroyo


If Aroldis Chapman (1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 122 Ks in 71.2 innings as a closer last year) can immediately handle the transition to starter, the Reds might be this countdown's only rotation with five double-digit victors in 2013. This is the calling card of a championship-ready staff with an X factor (Chapman) possessing otherworldly potential. (Last July, Chapman had a 31/2 K-BB ratio over 14.1 innings ... and 0.56 WHIP.)

Cueto notched elite-level numbers in wins, ERA and WHIP the last two seasons. In 2012, he was one of only five MLB pitchers with at least 17 victories, a sub-3.00 ERA, WHIP of 1.17 or less and 170 strikeouts ( Justin Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, David Price, R.A. Dickey).

From June 29-Aug. 19, spanning 11 starts, Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 185 strikeouts) allowed two or fewer runs 10 times. Bronson Arroyo has 68 victories in the last five campaigns. And Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68 ERA) has the realistic upside of 185 strikeouts and 16 wins this year.

Speaking of upside, check out the 2011-12 tallies for Reds prospect Tony Cingrani: 13-6, 1.73 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 252/58 K-BB ratio.

5. Philadelphia Phillies

SP Cole Hamels
SP Cliff Lee
SP Roy Halladay
SP Kyle Kendrick
SP John Lannan/Tyler Cloyd


There's no reason to write off the potential greatness of The Big Three starters (Hamels, Lee, Halladay), even though the latter two names are well into their 30s.

Hamels (16 outings of two or fewer runs allowed last season) has become a lock for 15 wins, 3.00 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 190 strikeouts, with limited variations from year to year. Lee (3.16 ERA) posted an absurd K-BB ratio of 207/28 last season. And Halladay (11-8, 1.22 WHIP), despite missing substantial time to a shoulder injury, still produced 11 starts of two or fewer runs surrendered.

The key to the Phillies' No. 5 ranking? Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd (3.27 ERA and 509/144 K-BB in the minors) have comparable upsides to Joe Blanton and Vance Worley (last year's No. 4 and 5 arms).

6. Atlanta Braves

SP Kris Medlen
SP Tim Hudson
SP Mike Minor
SP Julio Teheran
SP Paul Maholm/ Brandon Beachy 


As president of the fantasy-based Brandon Beachy Fan Club, it's painful to acknowledge that Beachy (last year's ERA leader before elbow surgery) won't be ready to go until June, July or maybe even August (depending on the rehab).

If Beachy (5-5, 2.00 ERA, 0.96 WHIP in 13 starts) had been healthy heading into spring training, he'd be a major breakout candidate — with lofty, yet attainable projections of 16 wins, 2.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 170 strikeouts.

Instead, the Braves' rotation, in its present form, likely warrants a ranking outside the top five.

From July 31-Sept. 30 last year, spanning 12 starts and 83.2 innings, Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) posted a 9-0 record, 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 84/10 K-BB ratio. In his final five starts, Mike Minor went off on a Medlen-esque run, going 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 28/9 K-BB ratio.

And Hudson (16-7, 3.62 ERA), health permitting, should be a rock-solid bet for 17 wins — when supported by perhaps the National League's best batting lineup.

Regarding Julio Teheran and Paul Maholm, I envision both pitchers posting good numbers throughout the season ... but only expect Teheran (Atlanta's No. 1 prospect) to be in the rotation come August — when Beachy should be ready to flourish every five days.

In turn, Maholm would be an ideal long reliever or situational gem.

7. Arizona Diamondbacks

SP Ian Kennedy
SP Trevor Cahill
SP Brandon McCarthy
SP Wade Miley
SP Tyler Skaggs


I'm happy to include the Diamondbacks in this countdown.

I'm even happier to gush about Arizona's starting five, assuming I can correctly guess the quintet.

The seasonal locks, barring injury, should be Kennedy (reasonable bet for 16 wins, 3.60 ERA and 195 strikeouts), Cahill (13 wins, 3.78 ERA, 156 Ks last year), Miley (16-11, 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 144/37 K-BB in 2012) and Brandon McCarthy — assuming he's fully recovered from last year's high-profile bump on the noggin.

After that, it could be a free-for-all among Patrick Corbin, Daniel Hudson, Randall Delgado (a prized piece of the Justin Upton trade), Archie Bradley (a future ace) and Tyler Skaggs, my favorite for the No. 5 slot (if not higher).

8. St. Louis Cardinals

SP Adam Wainwright
SP Lance Lynn
SP Jaime Garcia
SP Shelby Miller
SP Jake Westbrook/ Trevor Rosenthal


In fantasy circles last year, I took full responsibility for leaving the Cardinals off the preseason top 15 rotations list, a product of (rightfully) being scared of Chris Carpenter's shoulder injury and (wrongfully) thinking that Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94 ERA, 184/52 K-BB) wouldn't recapture his mojo — just one year removed from major elbow surgery.

Check out Wainwright's numbers from July 18-Aug. 26: Spanning eight starts and 57 innings, a 6-1 record, 1.74 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 54/9 K-BB ratio.

9. New York Mets

SP Johan Santana
SP Matt Harvey
SP Jon Niese
SP Shaun Marcum
SP Dillon Gee


Santana, a two-time Cy Young winner with the Twins (2004, '06), obviously has the talent of a No. 1 pitcher. But at age 34 (March 13 birthday) and coming off a disappointing 2012 campaign (6-9, 4.85 ERA, 1.33 WHIP), he's not a likely candidate to replicate his 2011 numbers (11-9, 2.98 ERA, 144/55 K-BB), or even log 30-plus starts.

Jon Niese (13-9, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 155/49 K-BB) made substantial leaps forward in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, but he's not a classic power pitcher. Does he have the stuff to carry a team that might rank in the bottom half of runs and home runs this season (even with the readjusted fences at Citi Field)? Probably not.

In the curious case of Dillon Gee, it's rare to see a starting pitcher regress in wins (13 in 2011, six in 2012) ... and yet, make considerable progress in ERA (4.10), WHIP (1.25) and K/BB ratio (97-29). The next phase of his development: Get the big four statistical categories trending in the same direction.

That leaves the door open for Matt Harvey, the second-year power pitcher and homegrown product. If any Mets hurler has the tangible upside to admirably fill the R.A. Dickey slot — he was traded to Toronto over the winter — it's the 23-year-old Harvey (3-5, 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 70/26 K-BB), who accomplished the following in just 10 starts with the parent club last season:

-- Six outings of seven or more strikeouts.
-- Eight outings of surrendering two runs or less.
-- Nine outings of three or less walks.

10. Milwaukee Brewers

SP Yovani Gallardo
SP Marco Estrada
SP Michael Fiers
SP Tyler Thornburg
SP Wily Peralta


At first blush, the Brewers' rotation cannot match the star power of last year's big trio of Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and, of course, Yovani Gallardo.

But for those who've watched and/or studied the physical gifts of Marco Estrada (143/29 K-BB in 138.1 innings), Mike Fiers (135/36 K-BB in 127.2 innings) and high-ceiling potential of Tyler Thornburg and Wily Peralta, they know that Milwaukee picked a good time to execute the staff overhaul.

That said, the group's ultimate success (read: playoff contention) will likely hinge on the merits of Gallardo (16-9, 3.66 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 204/81 K-BB), as he works to improve upon a good, but far from dominant 2012. Yes, Gallardo has four straight seasons of 200-plus strikeouts (an awesome stat for fantasy seamheads), but he also needs to trim the fat off the WHIP and walk totals.

Bottom line: Transcendent pitchers typically don't walk 80-plus hitters in a full season.

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