|Rays Boast the Top Rotation in Baseball||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on March 18, 2012
The Tampa Bay Rays have been a team of basically no-name talent that has evolved into a perennial playoff contender each season since 2008.
It's as if the Rays have replaced the Oakland A's as being baseball's "Moneyball" team that plays competitively despite a limited payroll.
How exactly have the Rays been able to keep up this consistency? It's simple: pitching, pitching and more pitching.
The lone starter remaining from the 2008 team, James Shields, is coming off a career year. In 2011, he finished 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 225 strikeouts. Though his name always pops up in trade rumors, he will be a key factor in the Rays' team success. Manager Joe Maddon named Shields his Opening Day starter.
Young lefty David Price, despite having a losing record in 2011, is still one of the league's most talented pitchers. In addition to a mid-90s fastball, Price features a wicked curveball and slider as well as a change-up. At just age 26, he's only one season removed from a 19-win campaign.
In the third slot of the rotation, 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson will toe the rubber. He won 13 games in 29 starts with a 2.95 ERA. He'll look to avoid the sophomore slump and pick up where he left off last season.
The Rays locked up starter Wade Davis to a seven-year deal worth up to $35.1 million prior to last season. It's a hefty sum for a back-of-the-rotation starter, but the team is expecting big things from the righty. He finished 11-10 with a 4.45 ERA last year.
The true X-factor in this rotation will be rookie lefty Matt Moore. He pitched so well down the stretch last season that he made the Rays' postseason roster. In his ALDS start against the Texas Rangers, he threw seven scoreless innings surrendering just two hits to one of the game's best lineups. He will certainly be exciting to watch.
On paper, only the rotation of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim comes anywhere close to the Rays, though Tampa Bay still has the advantage. The Angels signed lefty C.J. Wilson to join Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana. However, the team will rely on journeyman starter Jerome Williams in the fifth spot.
The Rangers' rotation is full of talented arms, but the question marks outweigh the talent. How will Japanese import Yu Darvish adjust to the Major Leagues? Can young lefty Derek Holland translate his postseason success into the regular season? Will Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando be strong starters after spending last season in the bullpen? These are some very important questions that must be answered before considering this rotation among the best in the league.
The Rays' division rival, the Boston Red Sox, may have the best big three in the AL featuring Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. In fact, these three rival the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels for tops in all of baseball. But after Lester, Beckett and Buchholz, the rest of the Red Sox rotation has yet to take shape. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka will miss extended time due to injury, so former relievers Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves are among the many pitchers vying for starting spots.
While we can sit here and debate who has the best starting rotation in the league on paper, the pitchers' performances on the mound will be the ultimate deciding factor. Expect the Rays to be right up there. They should be fun to watch this season.