With opening day just a few weeks away, it's time to put some predictions on the line. We'll start by ranking the starting rotations in the National League, No. 15 all the way to No. 1.
Let's kick it off with the bottom five rotations:
15. San Diego Padres
Candidates: Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, Robbie Erlin, Jacob Nix, Bryan Mitchell, Brett Kennedy, Luis Perdomo, Matt Strahm, Clayton Richard
What an epic disaster. No offense to these guys, but honest to goodness, you could have given me a first initial and last name for each of them, and I wouldn’t have been able to guess a first name for more than half of these guys--and I only knew Perdomo because he’s a former Cardinals farmhand. Might I suggest the following marketing campaign, ‘The 2019 Padres: At least we got Machado!’
14. Miami Marlins
Candidates: Jose Urena, Dan Straily, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Richards, Caleb Smith, Wei-Yin Chen
Here, I can do a marketing slogan for the Marlins starting staff, too: ‘At least we’re not the Padres!’
It’s expected to be a trying year in South Beach, as the Marlins have stripped things down to the studs over the last couple years. The rotation does feature a few veterans in Straily, Chen and Richards, as well as a few younger arms (hopefully) still on the rise in Urena, Alcantara and Lopez. But this ragtag group is largely a combination of guys who are unproven and guys who have proved they aren’t very good.
Chen, 33, has pitched poorly thus far in spring, and could be on his way out of the rotation in favor of the 23-year-old Lopez, who has performed well in spring and obviously fits the billing with Miami’s focus on the future. Lefty Caleb Smith should be ready to join the mix shortly as he recovers from lat surgery--whose spot he might take at that time is unclear. For the Marlins sake, maybe a couple of these guys will catch on, and stick around as core members of the club following the extensive rebuild.
13. San Francisco Giants
Candidates: Madison Bumgarner, Derek Holland, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Pomeranz, Dereck Rodríguez, Chris Stratton, Andrew Suarez
Madison Bumgarner at the helm of a rotation is still solid, but it doesn’t mean as much as it once did. Derek Holland actually put up solid numbers last season (3.57 ERA in 171.1 innings) but it was his first passable season since 2014, so projecting his 2019 feels like a crap-shoot. Speaking of crap-shoot, Jeff Samardzija was both terrible and injury-ravaged in 2018--he’s got name recognition, but tempered expectations might be best as he recovers from a shoulder injury.
Drew Pomeranz had a similarly frustrating season last year, and he enters the mix for a rotation spot after signing with the Giants in January. Chris Stratton is listed on the team’s website slotted fourth in the rotation, but he was pretty bad last year in a large sample (5.09 ERA in 145 innings). It would seem wise to give Dereck Rodriguez that opportunity after he shined in 118.1 innings last season, posting a 2.81 ERA, primarily as a Giants starter. Bruce Bochy is reportedly inclined to agree with that line of thinking.
Though they land pretty low on this list, it wouldn’t be especially shocking to see the Giants starters out-perform this ranking. It would take the veterans overcoming their injury histories and somebody else rising above his station; there are just too many question marks to give San Francisco’s projected rotation any more credit than this.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
Candidates: Jhoulys Chacín, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta
This might seem pretty unfair to rank so low the rotation of the team that just won the NL Central crown a season ago, but I just don’t see a legitimate ace among the staff. With all due respect to Jhoulys Chacin, I need to see him run it back before I go heaping on the praise--his 15 wins and impressive 35 games started paced the Brewers last year.
Jimmy Nelson could be the best starter of the bunch as he returns this year from shoulder surgery, but we haven't seen him throw in over a year. Chase Anderson vastly out-performed his FIP last season, for those who pay attention to that sort of thing (3.93 ERA vs. 5.22 FIP). And he didn’t even eclipse 160 innings despite making 30 starts, something he’ll need to improve upon this season. Zach Davies needs to get back to 2017 form after shoulder issues derailed his 2018.
As for the depth chart, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff are largely unproven at the major-league level, so it’ll take one or more of them taking a leap forward for the Brewers rotation to remain intact should injuries creep in.
I’m still very firmly on the fence with these guys, but Brewers pitching figured out how to be just good enough last season, so who’s to say they won’t do it again this year? And hey, at least they have a strong lineup and bullpen!
11. Colorado Rockies
Candidates: Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, Chad Bettis, Antonio Senzatela
This isn’t a bad group, by any means. I’m a long-time Jon Gray stan, still waiting for him to put it all together; he’s got nasty stuff, but gave up 27 home runs on his way to allowing more earned runs than anybody else in the NL last season--not what you want to see.
If I’m the Rockies, though, I feel I can afford to keep waiting on him because of the consistency of the rest of the group. Kyle Freeland was a genuine ace last season, going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA while eclipsing 200 innings, and Colorado nearly had another 200-inning guy in German Marquez. He logged 196 innings with a whopping 230 strikeouts to pair with a 3.77 ERA. They may not be name-brand guys, but the stats tell me to trust the consistency and durability of Freeland and Marquez.
Then there’s Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis and Antonio Senzatela. They don’t inspire a ton of excitement, but they’ve shown the ability to log acceptable MLB innings, a trait that should give this group a decent floor if it can avoid the injury-bug.
And if this is finally the year Gray figures it out, the ceiling for Rox starters isn’t so bad, either.
Check back tomorrow for teams #10 through #6 in the rankings.