Over the next few days, we’ll rank each of the National League teams for the strength and depth of their starting pitching. First up: the teams at the bottom, who will in many cases be relying heavily on unproven assets or retreads looking to reestablish themselves. Let's get to the list:
15. Miami Marlins
Jose Urena had a strong 2017 season (17-7, 3.82 ERA), and has been named the Marlins’ Opening Day starter. Dan Straily was to take his turn next, but has been diagnosed with mild forearm inflammation. Ideally, that’s a short-term issue for Straily and Miami, because there aren’t many known quantities in the rotation for the Fish, as Wei-Yen Chen is still rehabbing his way back from an elbow injury.
Odrisamer Despaigne has had a solid spring, and considering he’s one of the more experienced arms of the bunch vying for spots, he’ll likely get one to start the season. After that, it’s not clear where the Marlins will go. Jacob Turner has the most experience among the remaining candidates, but the vast list of relative unknowns is the reason the Marlins rotation shows up at the bottom of the barrel in the NL. Another great effort from Urena could be enough to boost their standing, but the Marlins have a lot of question marks.
-Wei-Yen Chen (DL)
14. San Diego Padres
Why are the Padres so low on the list? Let me present two facts for you: Clayton Richard led the NL in losses last season (15). Clayton Richard has been named the Opening Day starter for the Padres.
Wins and losses are far from the best measurement of a pitcher’s effectiveness, Richard also led the league in hits allowed, compiled a 4.79 ERA and 86 ERA+ (league-average is 100). None of it jumps off the page. Is he the best the Friars have to offer? Maybe not, but he’s the most experienced.
Behind him, Dinelson Lamet and Luis Perdomo are two youngsters who were adequate in 2017, but could become household names as they continue to develop. The Padres essentially bought Bryan Mitchell from the Yankees in December, and he’ll probably get a chance in a thin rotation. One element that could help vault the Padres further up these rankings is the possibility of a healthy Tyson Ross. He’s back with the team with which he grew into an All-Star, and has looked strong this spring. Ross is looking for his first healthy season since 2015. San Diego could sure use him.
13. Cincinnati Reds
Luis Castillo might be the most exciting pitcher the Reds have in their rotation—his ERA+ was 141 in 89 innings in his debut last season—but it’ll likely be Homer Bailey taking his turns at the top of the rotation. That’s not very encouraging considering Bailey’s been awful and injured the last three years, but the Reds still owe him at least $49 million, so here he is.
A healthy Anthony DeSclafani would bump the Reds up in these rankings a bit, but he hasn’t had a full healthy season since 2015, and again this year DeSclafani will open the year on the disabled list. Lefty Brandon Finnegan needs to grab hold of his opportunities this year, as he’ll likely be back in the rotation after shoulder surgery in 2017—though he’s currently dealing with forearm spasms.
Who else can the Reds use to fill out the rest of their starting five? Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle appear to have earned rotation spots; the two have a combined 20 career MLB starts, all coming last year. Amir Garrett was a special kind of bad in 70 innings in 2017 (7.39 ERA, 60 ERA+), but he’s looked great this spring. He could get the chance to extend his successes into the regular season as Finnegan reportedly isn’t ready.
-Anthony DeSclafani (DL)
12. Atlanta Braves
Though a couple veterans have been added to the mix, this rotation will have to rely heavily on its youth if it intends to make substantial strides forward in 2018. Julio Teheran will be the Opening Day starter, and has the highest potential to turn himself into a legitimate frontline starter; though his numbers dipped last year, he’ll look to recapture what worked for him in 2016 when he carried a 3.21 ERA and 4.07 K/BB rate.
Other young arms behind Teheran include Mike Foltynewicz and the sophomore campaign of Sean Newcomb (4.25 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 110 innings in 2017). When he returns from injuries, Luiz Gohara will likely be slotted back in the rotation, further stressing the importance of youth for the Braves staff.
The veteran presence could be intriguing, too, if it can maintain health. Significantly rankled by injury in recent seasons, Brandon McCarthy anticipates a strong showing in 2018 after he was traded to Atlanta from the Dodgers, while Scott Kazmir could be in the mix for starts after not pitching in 2017.
-Luiz Gohara (R)
11. Pittsburgh Pirates
No Gerrit Cole, no problem? Yeah, that’s not likely. The production of the Pirates former ace will be hard to replace. The Pirates chose a different direction in trading away Cole and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, but the guys who remain could still be enough to keep Pittsburgh somewhat respectable in the NL Central.
Ivan Nova (4.14 ERA in 187 innings in 2017) will headline the rotation and should be a capable innings-eater. Behind him, the Pirates will work in a lot of young arms, starting with 26-year-old former touted prospect Jameson Taillon. Projected for the rest of the group are a trio of 25-year olds: Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl.
The four starters behind the veteran Nova combined for 96 starts last year for Pittsburgh, so it’s not as though there isn’t still continuity after Cole’s departure. It just remains to be seen whether any will emerge from this group as a worthy top-end type. The Pirates don’t quite escape the bottom third of the NL rotation rankings, but the relative experience of their young guys means Pittsburgh should be in decent shape compared to the other teams appearing lower on the list.
Check back tomorrow for rotations #10 through #6 in the NL.