The NL Central is filled with young pitchers. There are perennial Cy Young contenders, and some of the game’s brightest pitching stars. Many of these young stars shined in October, and should even improve in the future.
Here is how the rotations stack up entering 2014.
#1 St. Louis Cardinals
Even with the retirement of staff ace, Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals are head and shoulders above the rest of the division and league. This season will be even better than last year, having eight pitchers who could start in almost any rotation in baseball. Adam Wainwright, yearly Cy Young contender, has shown to be the anchor of the staff. He brings a career 99-57 record and a 3.11 ERA and is among the league’s elite. Jamie Garcia returns from injury which cost him most of last season. In his career, he has never had an ERA over four and is a strong lefty to add to the mix. Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, two rookies from last season should be even more dominant in the middle of the rotation. Last season, Miller went 15-9 and was in contention for the Rookie of the Year. Wacha pitched like a seasoned veteran and became the team’s best postseason pitcher. Lance Lynn should round out the rotation. He is a high strikeout pitcher with a career 3.82 ERA. If there are injuries or struggles, they have plenty of options in reserve in pitchers, Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez. Kelly had a solid post season. In addition, Martinez’s flame-throwing repertoire is so good that he has been called “little Pedro” after future hall of fame pitcher, Pedro Martinez. With quality arms that can all bring the heat, there is no lack of fire power in this rotation.
#2 Pittsburg Pirates
The Pirates just like St. Louis have a lot of options in their starting rotation. While Francisco Liriano pitched like his early days in Minnesota last season, having a 3.02 ERA and a 16-8 record, Gerrit Cole should step in to be the ace of the rotation this season. Cole, a June call up from 2013, has improved greatly from his call up and rocked the final two months of the season, including post season. Hard throwing, Cole should be an anchor in the Pirates rotation for the next decade. Jeff Locke, was an all-star last season, but had a rough final three months when he went 3-6 with a spike in his ERA. Charlie Morton should have a spot in the middle of the rotation. He is fully recovered from 2012 Tommy John surgery, and pitched from June on last season. Wandy Rodriguez went 6-4 last season, but missed the final four months due to injury. He has been rehabbing and says he should be ready to go when the season begins. Edinson Volquez, a hard throwing right hander, gives them yet another option to start the season in the rotation. Volquez has struggled since his all-star 2008 season with Cincinnati and has not finished a season with an ERA under four since, but the Pirates hope he can have a Liriano-like rebound this year. Finally, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, James Taillon is in AAA. It would not be surprising if he, like Cole last season has a June call-up.
#3 Cincinnati Reds
Even with the apparent loss of Bronson Arroyo, the Reds rotation is still in a good position to be elite. Johnny Cueto, returns from injury and is a dark horse Cy Young candidate. Each of his last three seasons, he has had an ERA under three, and in 2012 he was third in the league in both ERA and wins. Matt Latos, who is only 26, enters his fifth season as a starter. He consistently ranks among league leaders in strikeouts and opposing batting average. Number three starter, Homer Bailey continues to improve with each season. He, like Latos is a strikeout pitcher who makes hitters uncomfortable at the plate. Baliey had his second career no-hitter last season while pitching against the San Francisco Giants. Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani round out the final spots of the rotation. Leake’s 14 wins allowed him to be among league leaders and Cingrani showed his strikeout prowess by striking out 120 batters in just 104 innings. This entire rotation has the ability to miss bats on a consistent basis.
#4 Milwaukee Brewers
Yovani Gallardo is expected to be the opening day starter for a franchise record, fifth season in a row. He is coming off his worst statistical season. He went 12-8 with a 4.18 ERA and rebounded after a hamstring injury and a dismal first half. If he wants to remain an ace, he needs to pound the strike-zone with more consistency. Kyle Loshe lived up to his contract last season by pitching like an ace. Loshe went 11-10, but posted a 3.35 ERA. His record should have been much better with a little run support. He saved his best for last with a complete game two hitter against the Atlanta Braves on September 25th. The club hopes that number three starter, Wily Peralta becomes the best of them all. Wily Peralta possesses a devastating fastball which is among the league’s best. Although he struggled at the start of the season, he was the best pitcher on the staff in the second half. Marco Estrada is a solid number four starter, who like much of the rotation pitched better in the second half. He has become much more of a strikeout pitcher than expected, striking out 118 batters in 128 innings. The final spot is Tyler Thornburg’s to lose. Last year, was a very curious season were he went from terrible in AAA, to unbeatable in the major league rotation. Jimmy Nelson, Johnny Hellwag, and Will Smith are other options to fill in should anyone falter. If this starting staff can pitch to their full potential for a full season, they could move up the rankings.
#5 Chicago Cubs
Jeff Samardzja has the best stuff of the staff. His menacing pitches allowed him to rank fourth in the league in strikeouts. But, the homerun ball caused him to finish with disappointing 8-13 record. He has been in many trade rumors this offseason, so he may not be a Cub on opening day. Last year, Travis Wood finally was able to put things fully together. He pitched 200 innings and had an ERA just over three. Edwin Jackson was a disappointment early in the season, and had his worst statistical season in years. He did not record his first win until May 5th and had an ERA of 6.27 at the time. Besides a dominant July, the rest of his season was a struggle. The Cubs hope that Jake Arreita, who was once a top prospect in the Orioles system, pitches like the player he was in September when he had 3.03 ERA and 3-1 record. Lefty, Chris Rusin rounds out the rotation. He pitched well after his call up, but finished poorly with a 7.41 September ERA.
Statistics Compiled By MLB.com