Comparing the NL East: Starting Pitching

(Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Pitching is the backbone of any good team, so we've saved the best for last in our comparison of the best of the best in the National League East. Our look at the pitching starts where it should; with the starters.

The Atlanta Braves are known for keeping their pitching staff stocked with good arms. While they don't match the days of Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, etc., they still have some good arms, with more good, young arms on the way.

Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm figure to have the top four spots in the rotation wrapped up, while Brandon Beachy and Julio Teheran battle for the final spot in the rotation. Hudson led the team with 16 wins last season and posted a strong 3.63 ERA at age 36. Maholm came over from the Cubs last season in time to make 11 starts for Atlanta, finishing with just a 4-5 record, but a sparkling 3.54 ERA to show for his time with the Braves.

Mike Minor, 24, provided a pleasant surprise for Atlanta last season, winning 11 games and showing off a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts in his first full season in the majors.

Beachy and Teheran are the up-and-comers. You have to wonder what Brandon Beachy has to do to win a spot in the rotation after posting a 2.00 ERA in 13 starts last season, averaging just over six innings per outing with a WHIP of 0.96 on the season. Over the past three seasons, Beachy has made a total of 41 starts for the Braves and has an ERA of 3.07 for Atlanta and he's still not guaranteed a spot in the rotation.

It wasn't that long ago that the Marlins were thought to be growing one of the better rotations in the game. Some of those young starters just didn't pan out and others were traded, leaving their young rotation in a shambles. With the trades of Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays this winter, the Marlins are back to hoping that they can find some young pitchers that will develop for them, but these guys don't seem to have the upside that a lot of the young pitchers the Marlins had a few years ago did. Coming into last season, the Marlins boasted a rotation of Buehrle, Johnson, Carlos Zambrano, Anibal Sanchez and Nolasco. Now, four of those five are gone.

Ricky Nolasco, unfortunately for him, is still around and will be the "ace" of the team. No offense to Nolasco, but on most teams, he'd be a middle-rotation guy. The Marlins acquired Nathan Eovaldi from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez trade last Summer and he appears to be a serviceable young pitcher.

In the winter blockbuster deal with Toronto, Henderson Alvarez came south to Miami. Alvarez made 31 starts with Toronto last season, posting a 4.85 ERA in his first full major league season. Alvarez is just 22 and has a good upside and he's likely to be in the Miami rotation in 2013.

Left-hander Wade LeBlanc pitched mostly out of the Miami bullpen last season, making 16 relief appearances compared to just nine starts. LeBlanc figures to be in the Miami rotation this season, even though he pitched better for the Marlins as a reliever last season and has done the same over his career. As a starter, LeBlanc's career ERA is 4.43 compared to a tally of 3.67 as a reliever, but this is Miami, so they'll use him as a starter.

In New York, Johan Santana appears to be healthy and should reassume his spot at the top of the Mets rotation, with Jonathan Niese holding down the number two spot. The two combined for a mark of 19-18 last season with a 3.95 ERA, which spells some trouble for the Mets rotation. Niese has shown flashes of becoming a much better pitcher and if Santana stays healthy, he should be able to post much better numbers. Dillon Gee pitched to a 4.10 ERA in 17 starts last season and also shows signs of being a decent young pitcher. New York signed Shaun Marcum (7-4, 3.70 for Milwaukee) as a free agent and he will give them a veteran presence in the roation.

The big talk about pitching in New York though is about 23-year old Matt Harvey. The right-hander was drafted in 2011 and made just 46 minor league starts before joining the Mets rotation last season and making another ten starts as a Metropolitan, posting a 2.73 ERA. Harvey is one of the top young pitchers in the game and he's going to give the Mets rotation a big boost and it shouldn't be too long before he is considered the ace of the staff in New York.

The Phillies are known for their "big three" of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Last season, Halladay struggled with injuries and while Lee pitched to a 3.16 ERA, he won just six games for the Phillies, getting little run support in most of his games.

This spring, Hamels has a new contract and is settling in as the ace, Halladay looks healthy and there's no reason why Lee can't duplicate his performance from last season, only with more run support. If things work out for the Phillies rotation, the top three are three of the stronger pitchers you could want to have on a staff. After that though, things get just a little dicey.

Kyle Kendrick has pitched better over the past season or so and went 9-11 with a 3.89 ERA in 25 starts for the Phillies in 2012. After bouncing between the rotation and bullpen the past couple of seasons, if Kendrick can continue his development, he'll be an effective fourth starter to go behind the big three.

Newcomer John Lannan, who had pretty much of a lost season with Washington last season, spending most of the year at Triple-A, signed with the Phillies as a free agent. The left-hander gives the Phillies three southpaw starters and is coming off a season where he made just six starts at the big league level for the Nationals, going 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA. Over his career, Lannan made 134 starts for Washington and went 42-52 with a respectable 4.01 ERA in the Nationals rotation. He comes to the Phillies as an underrated starter looking to show that he's more deserving of some recognition than he's gotten so far in his career.

As for those Nationals, they're again stocked with a mainly young staff. Stephen Strasburg won't have any inning limitations on his this season, meaning he won't be shut down late in the season like he was in 2012 when he went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA when the Nats limited him to 160 innings of work for the season. Behind Strasburg is former Phillies prospect Gio Gonzalez, who won a major league high 21 games for Washington last season while posting an ERA of 2.89, finishing third in the Cy Young voting. Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler are good three and four starters, who combined to go 22-16, 4.23 for the Nationals.

At 32, Dan Haren (12-13, 4.33 with the Angels) becomes the "old man" of the staff. Haren is good enough to hold down the fifth spot in the rotation, especially for a team that figures to score a lot of runs.

Ranking the starting staffs:

  1. Atlanta Braves
  2. Philadelphia Phillies
  3. Washington Nationals
  4. New York Mets
  5. Miami Marlins


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