Arizona Diamondbacks (2001): Randy Johnson – Curt Schilling – Brian Anderson – Miguel Batista – Robert Ellis
Four years into their major-league existence, the Diamondbacks won a World Series. Arizona’s pitching staff obviously had plenty to do with that success. Most notably, it featured a starting rotation that featured two 20-game winners in Curt Schilling (22 wins) and Randy Johnson (21), who also combined for nine complete games. The starting staff, which posted a 3.88 ERA and led the majors with 933 strikeouts, also featured three other arms – Brian Anderson, Miguel Batista and Robert Ellis – that made at least 18 starts. In the postseason, Arizona’s starters posted a stellar 1.94 ERA and held opponents to a .175 batting average. Meanwhile, Johnson and Schilling went a combined 9-1 during the playoffs.
Atlanta Braves (1998): John Smoltz – Tom Glavine – Greg Maddux – Denny Neagles – Kevin Milwood
OK, the 1993 and 1997 Atlanta staffs certainly have legitimate cases to be in this spot. In fact, the 1997 group, highlighted by John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Denny Neagle, is quite comparable to our pick from ’98 – in terms of makeup and statistics. That foursome was back in ’98, when Glavine won 20, Maddux totaled 18 victories while Smoltz recorded 17 and Neagle 16. Add 17 wins from Kevin Millwood in his first full major-league season, and the Atlanta starters set a franchise record with 90 victories, while posting a 3.06 ERA. However, just like the 1997 club, these Braves lost in the National League Championship Series.
Baltimore Orioles (1971): Dave McNally – Jim Palmer – Pat Dobson – Mike Cuellar
For the first time since the 1920 Chicago White Sox, a pitching staff registered four pitchers with at least 20 wins. The ’71 Orioles are still the most recent staff to win it all. Dave McNally went 21-5 with a 2.89 ERA, followed by Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68 ERA), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90 ERA) and Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08 ERA). The Orioles’ starting staff owned a 2.91 ERA and helped the club win 101 games. However, they posted a 3.10 ERA and walked 22 batters while losing the World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games.
Boston Red Sox (1912): Joe Wood – Buck O’Brien – Hugh Bedient – Ray Collins – Charley Hall
Like others on this list, we’ll dig deep in the annals of some team history to highlight the best of the best. Yes, some of the 2000s and 2010s staffs are special. And, Pedro Martinez might be the best pitcher in the history of the storied franchise. The 1912 group, though, is tied for second in franchise history with 88 wins. Smokey Joe Wood went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA in 43 appearances – 38 starts. In addition, Buck O’Brien and Hugh Bedient won 20 games, while Ray Collins and Charley Hall each posted double-digit victories. The Red Sox beat the New York Giants in seven games to win the World Series.
Chicago Cubs (1907): Orval Overall – Mordecai Brown – Carl Lundgren – Jack Pfiester – Ed Reulbach
Again, we’re going way back when talking about the best Cubs pitching staff. Though, that historic 2016 World Series champion group had a starting staff that posted an impressive 2.90 ERA. But, when we turn the clock back to 1907, when the Cubs won their first World Series, it was truly all about the pitching. Eight players threw a pitch for Chicago that season, and each started at least one game. The staff ERA was 1.73 ERA, while Orval Overall led the way with 30 starts, and sported 23 wins. Meanwhile, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown had 20 victories. The 93 victories by Cubs starters that season are tied for third-most in team history.
Chicago White Sox (1959): Early Wynn – Bob Shaw – Billy Pierce – Dick Donovan – Barry Latman
There certainly have been some great pitchers to have worn the White Sox uniform. Yet, when we talk about the American League-pennant winning ’59 Sox, the pitching staff was led by one of the very best the game has ever produced. Hall of Famer Early Wynn won the Cy Young Award that season for going 22-10 with a 3.17 ERA and 179 strikeouts over 37 starts. He also posted 14 complete games. Meanwhile, teammate and unheralded right-hander Bob Shaw, who won 18 games total, went 15-6 with a 2.93 ERA in 26 starts while recording eight complete games.
Cincinnati Reds (1923): Dolf Luque – Eppa Rixey – Pete Donohue – Rube Benton
Yes, we’re going back a full century to highlight the best starting rotation in the history of this grand franchise. OK, these Reds did not get to play for a World Series title even after registering 91 wins (they finished second in the NL to the New York Giants). Pitching proved to be the backbone of this team’s success. Dolf Luque, Eppa Rixey and Pete Donohue combined to start 110 games that season, and also generated 68 wins on the mound. Even more impressive, though perhaps not a surprise for the time period, that trio plus No. 4 starter Rube Benton totaled 85 complete games.
Cleveland Guardians (1954): Early Wynn – Bob Lemon – Mark Garcia – Art Houtteman – Bob Feller
OK, Cleveland was swept by the New York Giants to conclude the 1954 season, but it won a franchise-record 111 games. On the mound, that team featured two 23-game winners in the aforementioned Early Wynn and Bob Lemon — who also combined for 41 complete games. Meanwhile, teammate Mark Garcia won 19 games and Art Houtteman was a 15-game winner. Though, both were often overshadowed by the two Hall of Famers. As a starting staff, Cleveland posted a 2.85 ERA – which topped MLB that season.
Colorado Rockies (2009): Ubaldo Jimenez – Jason Marquis – Jorge De La Rosa – Jason Hammell – Aaron Cook
Of course, throwing amid the thin air in Denver, pitchers sure face a monster challenge while taking the mound for the Rockies. That said, this 2009 group set franchise records for starting ERA (4.10), wins (69) and winning percentage (.580). Jorge De La Rosa led the staff with a 16-9 record. Meanwhile, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis each won 15 games, with the latter posting an impressive 3.47 ERA for somebody pitching in Colorado. The Rockies reached the postseason in 2009 after firing manager Clint Hurdle.
Detroit Tigers (2013): Justin Verlander – Max Scherzer – Doug Fister – Anibal Sanchez – Rick Porcello
Though the Tigers weren’t able to return to the World Series for a second-straight season in ’13, they did make another ALCS appearance. Miguel Cabrera was one of the best hitters in the game, and Max Scherzer won his first of three Cy Young Awards while going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts. Scherzer was the Majors’ only 20-game winner that season, but teammates Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister each won 14 games. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello each posted 13 victories. As a starting staff, the Tigers led the AL in ERA (3.44), and the Majors with 981 strikeouts.
Houston Astros (2022): Justin Verlander – Framber Valdez – Luis Garcia – Jose Urquidy – Cristian Javier
The Astros have delivered some stellar starting groups over the decades. Notably in 1986 and 2019. However, we don’t need to go back too far to showcase who we believe is the best of the lot in Astros’ history. In ’22, Houston’s starting staff led the AL with a 2.95 ERA, and franchise-record .213 opponent’s batting average. Meanwhile, the Astros’ 950 innings, 949 strikeouts and 84 wins from their starters led Major League Baseball. The aforementioned Justin Verlander went 18-4 with a ridiculous 1.75 ERA to win his third Cy Young Award. But, Framber Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA), Luis Garcia (15-8, 3.72 ERA), Jose Urquidy (13-8, 3.94 ERA) and Cristian Javier (11-9, 2.54 ERA) were, obviously, also big reasons why the Astros won their second World Series in six years.
Kansas City Royals (1985): Bret Saberhagen – Charlie Leibrandt – Danny Jackson – Bud Black – Mark Gubicza
En route to helping Kansas City win the 1985 World Series, its starters ranked second in the American League with a 3.32 ERA and 1,077 innings pitched. All five starters won at least 10 games, and all but Mark Gubicza recorded a complete game that season. Leading the way was 1985 AL Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen, who went 20-6 with a 2.87 ERA and 10 complete games. Charlie Leibrandt also shined while going 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA. In his breakout season, left-hander Danny Jackson won 14 games and had a 3.42 ERA in making a career-high 32 starts for the Royals.
Los Angeles Angels (1972): Nolan Ryan – Clyde Wright – Rudy May – Andy Messersmith – Rickey Clark
Back when they were known as the California Angels, and Nolan Ryan was their big arm. In 1972, the Angels went 75-80 as a team. However, their starting staff had a strong 3.00 ERA, and its .217 opponents’ batting average remains the best in franchise history. Back to Ryan, who went 19-16 with a solid 2.28 ERA and 30 complete games with 329 strikeouts. A rather garden variety season for the legendary, durable hurler. Meanwhile, Clyde Wright also enjoyed a strong campaign for the Angels, going 18-11 with a 2.98 ERA spanning 35 starts.
Los Angeles Dodgers (1966): Sandy Koufax – Don Drysdale – Don Sutton – Claude Osteen
Some of the recent Dodgers’ rotations, led by future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw, have been downright filthy. However, this ’66 staff has long been considered one of the greatest of all-time. The rotation featured three Hall of Famers, led by the legendary Sandy Koufax who put together one of the greatest individual seasons ever by going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA, 317 strikeouts and 27 complete games over 41 starts. The other two, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton (2.99 ERA and 209 strikeouts), combined for 25 wins. Meanwhile, Claude Osteen won 17 games and posted a 2.85 ERA. Still, the Dodgers fell short in their quest to repeat as World Series champions.
Miami Marlins (2003): Carl Pavano – Brad Penny – Mark Redman – Dontrelle Willis – Josh Beckett
The 2003 Florida Marlins made a rather improbable run to achieving the franchise’s second World Series crown. The Marlins won 91 games that season, and their starters had a 3.91 ERA during the regular season. In the final 29 games, when the Marlins went 21-8, opponents hit just .231 against the starting staff. Brad Penny, Mark Redman and Dontrelle Willis each won 14 games. Meanwhile, Josh Beckett was just 9-8, but had a 3.04 ERA during the regular season. During the postseason, though, Pavano was 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA, and Beckett had a 2.11 ERA and struck out 47 through 42 2/3 innings.
Milwaukee Brewers (2021): Corbin Burnes – Brandon Woodruff – Freddy Peralta – Adrian Houser – Eric Lauer – Brett Anderson
Since 2018, the Brewers have boasted some of the best starting pitching in the game. From 2018-22, Milwaukee had a 3.82 ERA – ranking among the top five in the Majors over that span. In 2021, the Brewers’ starting arms were truly at their best. That rotation posted a 3.13 ERA, which is lowest in club history. It set franchise records for lowest opponents’ batting average (.213) and strikeouts (906). Corbin Burnes went 11-5 with a 2.43 ERA and 234 strikeouts to win the NL Cy Young Award. Meanwhile, Freddy Peralta (10-5, 2.81 ERA) and Adrian Houser (10-6, 3.22 ERA) enjoyed strong campaigns. Brandon Woodruff, who began the year as the team’s ace, went 9-10 over 30 starts, but had an excellent 2.56 ERA with 211 strikeouts.
Minnesota Twins (1991): Scott Erickson – Jack Morris – Kevin Tapani – Allan Anderson – David West – Mark Guthrie
When we talk about dependability among a starting pitching staff, the ’91 Twins were highly reliable. Minnesota’s Scott Erickson (20-8, 3.18 ERA), Jack Morris (18-12, 3.43 ERA) and Kevin Tapani (16-9, 2.99 ERA) combined to start 101 games in 1991. Morris recorded 10 complete games, while Tapani and Erickson totaled nine between the two. Each also threw more than 200 innings, with Morris and Tapani topping 240. During the Twins’ postseason run to a World Series title, Morris went 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA in five starts. He capped it off with 10 historic innings of work in Minnesota’s 1-0 victory over Atlanta in Game 7.
New York Mets (1988): Dwight Gooden – Ron Darling – David Cone – Bob Ojeda – Sid Fernandez
Two years removed from their most recent World Series title, the Mets were still among baseball’s best. In 1988, only the eventual World Series-champion Los Angeles Dodgers were better in the NL. In terms of starting pitching, New York’s ’88 squad led the Majors in ERA (2.97), opponents’ batting average (.232), strikeouts (863) and wins (76). David Cone was an amazing 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA, while Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling combined to go 27-18. Even Bobby Ojeda posted a 2.88 ERA despite going 10-13 in 29 starts.
New York Yankees (1939): Red Ruffing – Lefty Gomez – Bump Hadley – Atley Donald – Monte Perason
It’s not easy picking just one starting rotation for the iconic Yankees organization. But, we think this ’39 starting staff is certainly worthy of the honor. To this day, no starting rotation/staff in the annals of the organization has earned more winning decisions than the 94 victories from the 1939 group. The star of that rotation was Hall of Fame right-hander Red Ruffing, who went 21-7 with a 2.93 ERA over 233 1/3 innings. Plus, five other pitchers, who started at least 11 games, posted 10 or more victories. In his first full season, Atley Donald went 13-3 with a 3.71 ERA to help the Yankees win a fourth-straight World Series.
Oakland Athletics (1972): Catfish Hunter – Ken Holtzman – Blue Moon Odom – Vida Blue – Dave Hamilton
Since the A’s moved west from Philadelphia in 1968, there have been some exceptional starting rotations to grace the East Bay. However, in 1972, the A’s starting hurlers seemed downright dominant while winning the first of three-straight World Series. Oakland’s starting staff in ’72 posted a 2.62 ERA – the best since relocating to Oakland. Opponents hit just .228 against those starters, a group led by the legendary Jim “Catfish” Hunter, who went 21-7 with a 2.04 ERA. Both “Catfish” and teammate Kenny Holtzman (19-11, 2.51 ERA) recorded 16 complete games. Blue Moon Odom went 15-6 with a 2.50 ERA. And, the great Vida Blue owned a 2.80 ERA, despite his 6-10 record.
Philadelphia Phillies (2011): Roy Halladay – Cliff Lee – Cole Hamels – Roy Oswalt – Vance Worley
In the modern era of Phillies baseball, there has not been a better starting rotation than the group from 2011. Those Philadelphia starters posted an MLB-best 2.86 ERA, and also led the Majors in innings (1064 2/3), complete games (18) and wins (76), while helping the club win 102 games. The late Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA, 220 strikeouts), Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA, 238 Ks) and Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA, 194 Ks) each finished among the top five in the Cy Young Award voting in the National League. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they could not get by St. Louis in the NLDS.
Pittsburgh Pirates (1902): Jack Chesbro – Jesse Tannehill – Deacon Phillippe – Ed Doheny – Sam Leever
Sure, 1902 was a long time ago. But, when it comes to the greatest starting staffs in the history of Pirates baseball, the ’02 group still seems to stand out among everyone else. Their 99 winning decisions from starting pitchers that season are still the most in club history, and that unit’s 2.34 ERA remains the best from any group of Pittsburgh starters. When talking about the best five-man rotations of all-time, Jack Chesbro (28-6, 2.17 ERA, 31 complete games), Jesse Tannehill (20-6, 1.95 ERA, 23 complete games), Deacon Phillippe (20-9, 2.05 ERA, 29 complete games), Ed Doheny (16-4, 2.53 ERA, 19 complete games) and Sam Leever (16-7, 2.39 ERA, 23 complete games) are tough to beat from top-to-bottom – regardless of the era. Also interesting, only four other players pitched for Pittsburgh during that 103-win season.
San Diego Padres (1998): Kevin Brown – Andy Ashby – Joey Hamilton – Sterling Hitchcock – Mark Langston
Sure, the ’98 Padres were outclassed by the New York Yankees in that year’s World Series. But, this was still a very good 98-win team with an exceptional pitching staff. In terms of San Diego’s starting rotation 25 years ago, it ranked third in the Majors with a 3.70 ERA, fourth in strikeouts (828) and sixth in innings pitched (1,033 2/3). Kevin Brown proved to be the stud of the rotation, going 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA, 257 strikeouts and 257 IP. Meanwhile, Andy Ashby was 17-9 with a 3.34 ERA. Also, Joey Hamilton won 13 games and was the third Padres pitcher that season to throw at least 217 innings.
San Francisco Giants (1954): Johnny Antonelli – Ruben Gomez – Sal Maglie – Jim Hearn – Don Liddle
We’re going back to when the Giants were based in New York. Willie Mays was the undisputed star of the 1954 World Series championship squad, but they could also throw the ball pretty well. Johnny Antonelli went 21-7 with a 2.30 ERA over 258 2/3 innings. Ruben Gomez was 17-9 with a 2.88 ERA while throwing roughly 222 innings, and both starters combined for 28 complete games. As a starting staff, the Giants had a 3.16 ERA and held opponents to a .245 batting average while throwing nearly 970 innings that season.
Seattle Mariners (2001): Freddy Garcia – Aaron Sele – Jamie Moyer – Paul Abbott – John Halama
The greatest season in Mariners’ history is also arguably the best regular season by any MLB team. The Mariners’ 116 wins from that season are tied for the most in the annals of the game. Yes, Ichiro Suzuki was baseball’s darling at the time, but Seattle had a starting staff that ranked third in the Majors with a 3.77 ERA. However, when looking back at that rotation, it was not loaded with marquee names. Veteran Jamie Moyer was a stellar 20-6 with a 3.43 ERA, and third-year right-hander Freddy Garcia went 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA. Meanwhile, Paul Abbott won a career-high 17 games and Aaron Sele went 15-5 with a 3.60 ERA.
St. Louis Cardinals (1968): Bob Gibson – Nelson Briles – Ray Washburn – Steve Carlton – Larry Jaster
The quest to repeat as World Series champions fell short for the ’68 Cardinals. However, when celebrating great starting rotations, this group is among the best ever. At the heart of the staff was the legendary Bob Gibson, who went 22-9 with an amazing 1.12 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 28 complete games and nearly 305 innings pitch en route to winning his first Cy Young Award. Not to be overlooked, though, Nelson Briles won 19 games with a 2.81 ERA and Ray Washburn posted 14 victories with 2.26 ERA. Finally, there was a budding star in Steve Carlton, who went 13-11 with a 2.99 ERA and 10 complete games. As a group, the Cardinals’ rotation had a 2.49 ERA while opponents batted .237 against them.
Tampa Bay Rays (2010): David Price – Matt Garza – James Shields – Wade Davis – Jeff Niemann
Admittingly, it was a tight race between the Rays’ 2010 and ’11 starting staffs for this spot. Both teams reached the playoffs, but we’ll go with the 2010 group. The second team in Rays’ history to win the AL East, these Tampa starters own the franchise record with 73 winning decisions. They’re also second with 999 2/3 innings pitched, and had a 3.99 ERA. David Price was the star of the staff, going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 208 2/3 IP. Not far behind, Matt Garza posted 15 victories, with James Shields (13 wins), then-starter Wade Davis (12) and Jeff Niemann (12) also earning double-digit wins on the mound.
Texas Rangers (2011): CJ Wilson – Colby Lewis – Derek Holland – Matt Harrison – Alexi Ogando
Before Texas’ World Series triumph in 2023, the glory days of modern Texas Rangers baseball belonged to the early 2010s. For the first time in franchise history, which began in Washington, the Rangers made the postseason in three consecutive years — 2011-13 — and reached the World Series in ’11 and ’12. In ’11, Rangers starters led the AL with 74 wins, and a solid 3.65 ERA with 10 complete games. C.J. Wilson (2.94 ERA) and Derek Holland shared the team lead with 16 winning decisions, while Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison (3.39 ERA) posted 13 apiece. Alexi Ogando went 13-8 with a solid 3.51 ERA.
Toronto Blue Jays (1985): Dave Stieb – Doyle Alexander – Jimmy Key – Jim Clancy – Luis Leal
In 1985, the Blue Jays won their first AL East title in franchise history. Toronto, which won 89 games that season, then pushed Kansas City to seven games in the ALCS. Along the way, the Jays were guided by a starting rotation that posted an AL-best 3.32 ERA. The seemingly ageless Doyle Alexander went 17-10 with a 3.45 ERA, while budding star Jimmy Key was 14-6 with a sparkling 3.00 ERA. Dave Stieb was Toronto’s stud arm at the time, and grinded his way to a 14-13 record with a rotation-best 2.48 ERA.
Washington Nationals (2019): Max Scherzer – Stephen Strasburg – Patrick Corbin – Anibal Sanchez – Erick Fedde
This was the best iteration of the Scherzer-Strasburg led Nationals rotation — one that led Washington to its first World Series title in franchise history. The starring trio of Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin combined for 732 strikeouts. Though Washington boasted a stacked offensive group, it was its stars on the mound which helped fuel the postseason run. Scherzer and Strasburg made a combined four starts in the World Series — all four of Washington’s wins. Corbin earned the victory in Game 7 after pitching three innings of relief.