30. Baltimore Orioles
Starting 5: Means – Akin – Kremer – Lopez – Zimmermann
On paper, it appears as if Baltimore’s got the worst rotation in all of baseball. There’s just not a lot there when it comes to experience or high-end talent. Things are dire to the point that Baltimore signed 34-year-old Felix Hernandez and the often-injured Matt Harvey to compete for rotation spots. Unproven youngsters Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer will get the opportunity to pitch. The only real proven commodity at this point is 2019 All-Star John Means.
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29. Texas Rangers
Starting 5: Gibson – Dunning – Lyles – Arihara – Foltynewicz
The Texas rotation is a hodgepodge of reclamation projects, unknown commodities, and exceptionally average talents. Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles are slated to sit atop the rotation. Former first-round pick Kolby Allard — who came over in the Chris Martin trade from Atlanta — is also pegged to sit in the middle of the rotation. A power lefty with good stuff, Allard has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter should he work on his command.
Former Atlanta pitcher Mike Foltynewicz also joined the club. A few years ago, the Illinois native was an All-Star. Since then, he’s completely fallen off a cliff. Atlanta weirdly gave up on him last year after only one start. At only 29 years of age, the Rangers might be getting a steal here (assuming they can get him back to form).
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28. Pittsburgh Pirates
Starting 5: Keller – Brubaker – Brault – Kuhl – Anderson
It’s going to be another rough year for the Pirates. They figure to be the worst team in the National League when looking at the squad on paper. The rotation is very much up in the air. A number of pitchers throughout spring training will be vying for roles here. Jamison Taillon and Chris Archer are now with other clubs.
Former high-round draft pick Mitch Keller is slated to be among the top options for the club. The rest of the rotation will likely feature Steven Brault, former Arizona pitcher Tyler Anderson, and Chad Kuhl (among other arms).
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27. Seattle Mariners
Starting 5: Gonzales – Paxton – Kikuchi – Sheffield – Margevicius
With a very young ballclub, the front office opted to add some veteran leadership to its rotation. This meant bringing back James Paxton. While he may not be as good as he was the first time around, he should be a much better pitcher in Seattle compared to in the Bronx. Marco Gonzalez is the team’s de facto ace (though he’d probably be a third or fourth starter on most good teams).
Former Japanese All-Star Yusei Kikuchi will hope to improve after giving up a combined 39 home runs in only 208.2 career MLB innings. From there, Seattle will likely roll with unproven commodities in Chris Flexen (coming from the Korean league) and highly-routed prospect Justus Sheffield.
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26. Detroit Tigers
Starting 5: Turnbull – Boyd – Mize – Urena – Skubal
The addition of A.J. Hinch as manager should help this young pitching staff along. A former catcher himself, Hinch is highly qualified to offer his tutelage when trying to revive this group. Matt Boyd is a known quantity at this point. The same can be said for Michael Fulmer and Jose Urena (though both had rough 2020 seasons). The big question is Casey Mize. One of the best prospects in baseball, it’s only a matter of time before he ingratiates himself atop the rotation. If Fulmer and Urena can replicate their past success, this team will be much better than people think.
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25. Kansas City Royals
Starting 5: Keller – Singer – Minor – Duffy – Bubic
Kansas City should be more competitive this year — largely based upon an improved lineup. However, the rotation also has some upside. Former first-round pick Brady Singer figures to improve upon his truncated rookie year (in which he went 4-5 with a 4.06 ERA). The same can be said for talented 25-year-old pitcher Brad Keller.
Formerly with the Diamondbacks, Keller went 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA last year. These two building blocks for the future will be joined by veterans Danny Duffy and Mike Minor, and youngster Kris Bubic. The Royals have a good mix of youth and experience here. Don’t be shocked if they surprise some people this year.
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24. San Francisco Giants
Starting 5: Gausman – Cueto – DeSclafani – Sanchez – Webb
San Francisco’s rebuild is in full swing right now. Hard-throwing Kevin Gausman and crafty vet Johnny Cueto sit atop the rotation currently. Both could end up as trade chips down the line. From there, San Francisco brought in the likes of Anthony DeSclafani and Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez is the interesting name here. At one time, he was viewed as one of baseball’s most talented arms. At only 28 years of age, there’s still plenty of time for him to turn his career around.
Competing in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the big leagues can only help in that regard. Lastly, it looks to be a battle between Logan Webb and former Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood for the final rotation spot.
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23. Chicago Cubs
Starting 5: Hendricks – Arrieta – Davies – Mills – Alzolay
Oh boy. It’s not a great thing for any MLB club when the No. 1 and No. 2 starters in your rotation can’t break 90 miles-per-hour on any pitch. This is what the Cubs are currently facing, as their five-man group is led by the soft-tossing Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies.
Soon-to-be 35-year-old Jake Arrieta came back to Chicago as the projected third starter. From there, we’re left with a group featuring Alec Mills, Trevor Williams, and Adbert Alzolay. Though Hendricks is a respectable pitcher, the rotation as a whole is below average from a depth and talent standpoint.
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22. Colorado Rockies
Starting 5: Marquez – Freeland – Senzatela – Gray – Gomber
The ceiling of a Colorado rotation will always be hindered by its ballpark. With that said, this current iteration could be one of the deepest and most talented groups the Rockies have had in a while. German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and Jon Gray are all back.
Assuming we see two or three of these pitchers uptick with growth and consistency, this could very well be a top-15 rotation based on talent alone. The fifth starter is up in the air — though it could ultimately become Austin Gomber. He was the standout acquisition from St. Louis in the Nolan Arenado trade.
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21. Tampa Bay Rays
Starting 5: Glasnow – Yarbrough – Wacha – Archer – Hill
Despite having one of the league’s better bullpens, the rotation has a ton of questions. Charlie Morton and Blake Snell are gone — and have been replaced by two injury-prone pitchers (Michael Wacha, Rich Hill) and a third with big-time consistency issues (Chris Archer). Tampa is clearly hoping to rehabilitate Archer and Wacha.
Both pitchers have flashed big-time ability earlier in their careers. This could be a scenario in which the Rays will only allow them to pitch 4-5 innings a contest before turning it over to the ‘pen. With Snell now in San Diego, Tyler Glasnow also assumes the role as the team’s new ace atop the rotation.
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20. Boston Red Sox
Starting 5: Rodriguez – Eovaldi – Richards – Perez – Pivetta
The 2020 season was terrible for the Red Sox. The team finished last in the AL East and posted the fourth-worst record in baseball. A big reason for their failure? The starting five. Eduardo Rodriguez missed the entire season due to a serious heart condition resulting from COVID-19. Chris Sale missed the year following Tommy John surgery. Rodriguez is set to return, but it remains to be seen how he will pitch following his serious health issues.
Sale won’t be ready to pitch until the middle of the year. Boston is hoping that Richards finds his past form from his early days with the Angels, and that Pivetta and Perez have career-years. If Rodriguez and Eovaldi are healthy, Boston has a solid top-2. However, things can go south very quickly for this unstable rotation.
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19. Los Angeles Angels
Starting 5: Bundy – Ohtani – Heaney – Canning – Quintana
Much like the Angels as a whole over the past five years, this rotation has a chance to be good…or incredibly underwhelming. Heaney has the potential to shut a team down on any given night, but often pitches more like a No. 3 arm in the rotation. The same can be said for both Bundy and Quintana. Bundy enjoyed the best year of his career last season — his first with the Angels — but is often far too inconsistent.
Quintana floundered with the Cubs to the tune of a plus-4.00 ERA and hasn’t been the same pitcher since cutting his hand. And then there is Ohtani. The two-way star proved he can dominate on the mound as a rookie in 2018, but he struggled mightily last year in his return to the mound following Tommy John surgery. If Ohtani returns to form, he is the staff ace. If not, this rotation will need some serious help.
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18. Milwaukee Brewers
Starting 5: Woodruff – Burnes – Lindblom – Lauer – Houser
Over the past two years, Brandon Woodruff has become a very good starting pitcher. The intimidating righty punishes hitters with a mix of speed and movement — typically finding success with his 4-seam and sinker. Burnes’ level took a leap last year, as the 26-year-old put together a Cy Young caliber (6th place finish) season in just his third year. Lindblom is entering his second-year as a starter in the Majors after beginning his career in the bullpen and then spending a few years in the KBO.
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17. Arizona Diamondbacks
Starting 5: Gallen – Smith – Bumgarner – Weaver – Young
The Diamondbacks were one of the most disappointing clubs in 2020, and their big offseason signing was a colossal bust. In his first year with the D-Backs, former San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner went 1-4 with a 6.48 ERA. The postseason hero appeared to be cooked all year, resulting in a fair amount of skepticism heading into this season.
Luckily for Arizona, Gallen looks like the real deal. In 27 career starts, Gallen has a 2.78 ERA and is getting better with each start. Like Bumgarner, Weaver is coming off a miserable season (1-9, 6.58 ERA). If Arizona wants to compete, it will need those two pitchers to bounce-back in a big way — and see further development from Smith and Merrill Kelly.
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16. Philadelphia Phillies
Starting 5: Nola – Wheeler – Eflin – Moore – Anderson
If Philadelphia wasn’t in a division with Atlanta, New York, Washington, and Miami, it would likely feel a lot better about its outlook. However, despite having a great top-2 of Nola and Wheeler, the Phillies arguably feature the worst starting five in the NL East. Nola hasn’t quite captured his magic from ’18 (3rd place CY), but the righty remains an ace. Wheeler is a very good pitcher in his own right, and Eflin is a good option for the third rotation spot.
The final two spots of the rotation are questionable, however. Moore hasn’t been an above-average Major Leaguer since ’13. Anderson finished last year with a 7.22 ERA in seven starts. Philadelphia has a few other options for the back of the rotation — Ivan Nova, Vince Velasquez, Spencer Howard — that it may need to call on.
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15. Toronto Blue Jays
Starting 5: Ryu – Pearson – Matz – Stripling – Ray
When the Blue Jays handed Hyun-Jin Ryu a four-year/$80 million deal last offseason, some experts scoffed at the move — questioning whether Ryu was capable of leading a rotation. But after finishing as the runner-up for the NL Cy Young in 2019, Ryu silenced his detractors in ’20 by finishing third for the AL CY.
After the steady lefty, Toronto has a handful of veteran pitchers and one top prospect. The prospect, Pearson, should become the team’s ace very soon. With Matz, Stripling, Ray, and Tanner Roark rounding out the rotation, Toronto has built a very solid stable of arms. If Pearson comes into his own in ’21, this group may finish as a top-10 rotation.
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14. Miami Marlins
Starting 5: Alcantara – Sanchez – Lopez – Hernandez – Rogers
The Marlins are building a rotation that could be a problem for years to come. Alcantara, 25, is the team’s ace — a 6-foot-5 All-Star who has gotten better each year of his career. Behind him, both Sixto Sanchez and Pablo Lopez are beginning to look like top of the rotation arms.
At 22 years old, Sanchez has the pure stuff to become an ace sooner rather than later. Although Hernandez and Rogers won’t scare many teams, Miami’s top-3 is more than capable of carrying the team through a competitive season.
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13. St. Louis Cardinals
Starting 5: Flaherty – Kim – Mikolas – Wainwright – Martinez
While the Cardinals have a potential Cy Young candidate (Flaherty) at the top of their rotation, the rest of the starting five is closer to average than it is great. Kim is entering his second season with the Cardinals after spending 12 years in the KBO. Kim pitched well last year and should be better this year as he becomes more familiar with hitters in the National League.
But behind those two, there are a lot of questions. Mikolas is set to return following forearm surgery that kept him out all of last year. Wainwright is back for Year 16, but he will be turning 40 in August — how much does he have left? As for the final spot in the rotation, the Cardinals will choose between a diminished Carlos Martinez and Daniel Ponce de Leon.
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12. Minnesota Twins
Starting 5: Maeda – Berrios – Pineda – Happ – Shoemaker
When Minnesota acquired Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers ahead of the 2020 season, even the most hopeful members of the organization probably didn’t imagine a Cy Young runner-up campaign from the veteran. Maeda dazzled in his first season with the Twins, and alongside Berrios gives the club a very solid top of the rotation. Berrios hasn’t quite developed into the ace many expected him to be, but he is still 26 and approaching his prime.
Pineda and Happ — at their best — can provide the Twins with good production in the middle of the rotation. Where the club may struggle, however, is at the backend of the rotation. Currently slotted as the fifth starter, Matt Shoemaker has not made more than 14 starts since 2016. If Shoemaker isn’t able to eat innings, Minnesota may rely on Devin Smeltzer to pick up the slack.
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11. Cincinnati Reds
Starting 5: Castillo – Gray – Mahle – Miley – Lorenzen
The Reds’ staff will not be as good as it was last season — but it isn’t exactly easy to replace a Cy Young winner. With Trevor Bauer now in Los Angeles, Cincinnati will rely on its depth to adequately replace Bauer’s production. With Castillo and Gray atop the rotation, the Reds will trot out one of the better one-two punches in the league. However, Cincinnati’s season likely hinges on the pitching of Mahle, Miley, Lorenzen — and perhaps youngsters like Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene.
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10. Oakland Athletics
Starting 5: Montas – Luzardo – Bassit – Manaea – Fiers
Oakland’s rotation is rock-solid from top-to-bottom. It’s only a matter of time until Jesus Luzardo or Frankie Montas becomes a household name. Both pitchers are far too talented to be kept as secrets for much longer. Sean Manaea should bounce back with a full offseason of training, and Chris Bassit possess some nasty stuff. With the last spot, Oakland likely will look to Mike Fiers (who they recently inked to a one-year deal). However, top prospect A.J. Puk is also waiting in the wings for a potential call-up.
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9. Houston Astros
Starting 5: Grienke – McCullers – Valdez – Javier – Urquidy
In an up-and-down 2020 regular season for the Astros, one of the team’s lone bright spots was its young pitching staff. The ageless Zach Grienke aside, the Astros featured four starters all younger than 26 years of age. 23-year-old Christian Javier was lights out en route to a third-place Rookie of the Year finish. While there is expected to be some regression with the younger arms, the Astros have a knack for maximizing the potential of their pitching staff.
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8. Chicago White Sox
Starting 5: Giolito – Lynn – Kuechel – Cease – Kopech
Already boasting one of the most dangerous lineups in the league, the White Sox front office felt as if they needed to make a big addition to its pitching staff in order to contend in 2021. Lance Lynn doesn’t garner the same amount of hype as guys like Snell or Bauer, but he deserves just as much praise. Maybe it’s because he spent the last two years with the lowly Rangers, but Lynn has finished top-6 in Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons.
We know Lucas Giolito and Dallas Kuechel can perform, and the White Sox have young flamethrowers in droves (including top prospects Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease).
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7. Cleveland Indians
Starting 5: Bieber – Plesac – Civale – McKenzie – Quantrill
The Tribe always seem to build a quality staff, and that doesn’t appear to be any different in 2021. Shane Bieber was the best pitcher in the American League last year, and finished fourth in MVP voting (to go along with his Cy Young trophy). Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale are now full-fledged cornerstones within the roster. Triston McKenzie was stellar as a rookie, and odds are that Cleveland finds another 20-something hurler in their farm system who will help give them innings in 2021. They are a well-oiled machine in terms of cultivating solid pitchers.
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6. New York Yankees
Starting 5: Cole – Kluber – Taillon – Montgomery – Garcia
Talent and uncertainty is the best way to describe New York’s staff entering 2021. We all know how good Gerrit Cole can be, and he showed just that in his first (condensed) season with the Yanks. After Cole, it’s tough to trust anyone in this rotation. Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has pitched only 36.2 innings over the last two seasons.
Jameson Taillon has been productive over his career, but is coming off Tommy John after missing the entire 2020 season. Same goes for Luis Severino (who we haven’t seen in nearly two years). They have enough resources to piece together the backend of the rotation, but the Yankees don’t currently have the same type of firepower at the front of its rotation as some of the other top teams.
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5. Atlanta Braves
Starting 5: Fried – Morton – Soroka – Anderson – Smyly
Braves fans have to be excited about the outlook of their starting rotation entering 2020. Atlanta was able to make it within one game of a World Series berth last year with a hodgepodge mix of starters. Now, they will be adding their nominal No. 1 — Mike Soroka — back into the fold. They’re also bringing in former World Series hero Charlie Morton.
Max Fried thrived as the ace last year, and now might not be expected to make his first start in a series until Game 3. Add in 22-year-old Ian Anderson — who dominated as a rookie with a deadly fastball-change combination — and the Braves’ starting rotation could potentially produce fireworks.
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4. New York Mets
Starting 5: deGrom – Stroman – Carrasco – Peterson – Lucchesi
If the Mets could have secured Trevor Bauer, the rest of the MLB would have been in trouble. Still, Mets fans have plenty to be excited about as is. Jacob deGrom is a bonafide superstar. On top of deGrom, the Mets will essentially be adding three steady arms to its rotation in 2021.
Marcus Stroman will be back after opting out of 2020, Carlos Carrasco was acquired in a trade with Cleveland this past offseason, and Noah Syndergaard will be back at one point or another. Last year’s breakout rookie David Peterson and former Padres lefty Joey Lucchesi gives New York enough depth options in case of injury.
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3. Washington Nationals
Starting 5: Scherzer – Strasburg – Corbin – Lester – Ross
For the last several years, the Nats have been a lock for a top spot in the starting pitcher rankings. However, there are several factors which are keeping them from being No. 1 in 2021. For one, the health of Stephen Strasburg remains a question mark. The World Series champion’s 2020 lasted just 5.0 innings before he was shutdown for the year with a wrist injury.
Additionally, the backend of the rotation has been a revolving door of journeymen which will now feature 37-year-old, three-time World Series champion Jon Lester (104 ERA+ since 2017). A lack of depth and an injury-prone ace keeps Washington from securing a top-two spot.
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2. San Diego Padres
Starting 5: Darvish – Snell – Lamet – Musgrove – Paddack
In an effort to keep up with the defending champs, the Padres were not shy in bolstering their staff this offseason. Additions of Blake Snell (2018 AL Cy Young) and Yu Darvish (two second-place Cy Young finishes) gives San Diego a devastating left-right combo at the top of its rotation.
Coincidentally, both of the Padres’ new pitchers also have a bit of a bone to pick with San Diego’s biggest NL West foe. Snell is seeking revenge after being pulled from Game 6 of last year’s World Series, and Darvish will attempt to erase the memory of his 2017 playoff performance as a member of the Dodgers.
It’s unclear if Dinelson Lamet can keep up his stellar play from last year, or if we’ll see Mike Clevinger at all in 2021. But a rotation which features a pitcher as talented as Chris Paddack at the No. 4/5 spot is certainly one to look out for.
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1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Starting 5: Kershaw – Bauer – Buehler – Price – May/Urias
As if they needed any more help. The defending World Series champions went out and made the biggest splash of the MLB offseason by inking reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102 million deal. It makes Bauer the highest-paid player in baseball over the next two seasons. Bauer brings his hardware to a team that already consists of two other Cy Young winners in Clayton Kershaw and David Price.
In terms of depth, no team stacks up with LA — who can trot out any combination of Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin (in addition to Bauer, Price and Kershaw). They have every type of pitcher for every type of lineup, and are loaded with star-studded talent on the front-end.
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