The starting pitchers of the NL Central are no joke.
With multiple Cy Young winners, the impressive pitching that this division has become known for will not falter in 2017.
1. Chicago Cubs
The World Champion Cubs hold their crown thanks to their incredible starting pitching. In 2016, their rotation led the MLB with an unreal 2.96 ERA, .64 points ahead of the second place Nationals. 2 of the top 3 finishers in Cy Young voting were Cubs: Lester and Hendricks. Even more terrifying is their success took place in a down year for Jake Arrieta.
While Kyle Hendrick’s FIP indicates a likely regression, this Cubs rotation is something to be reckoned with. Although Jason Hammel will be departing, the Cubs are not settling by replacing him with Mike Montgomery. The Cubs acquired him from the Mariners and utilized him as a swingman, while showcasing him out of the bullpen throughout the playoffs. You might recognize him as the guy who recorded the last out of the World Series.
A strong rotation might get even more insurance, as it is rumored that Theo Epstein wants to occasionally deploy a 6 man rotation, one that might feature Tyson Ross.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Reinforcements are on the way for a beat-up St. Louis rotation. As Cardinals fans recently told us, the inconsistency in Cardinals pitching was quite frustrating in 2016.
What is the Cardinals' most important New Years Resolution? #STLCards
— CardsBlog.com (@cardsblog) December 31, 2016
Lance Lynn is set to return, and the Cardinals will have a full year of Alex Reyes. This could combine into a reliable, and occasionally dominant rotation. This gives the Cardinals 7 potential starters for the season: Martinez, Wainwright, Leake, Reyes, Lynn, Weaver, and Wacha. There is also a chance John Mozeliak will still deal for a starter. This could lead to a decent competition in Spring Training. Wacha’s 5.09 ERA was highly inflated, as demonstrated by his 3.91 FIP. What will carry this rotation will be the top, with both Martinez and Reyes having ace potential.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
This is a dark-horse candidate for best rotation in the NL central, thanks to two players: Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow.
The Pirates have two young stars in their rotation, untested but with high ceilings. Glasnow, 23, has an unreal 2.03 ERA in 500 IP in the minors, and has consistently climbed in prospect ratings. He spent a small part of last season in the big leagues. Taillon, 25, has missed seasons due to injury but that does not take away from his raw talent. He had a solid campaign in 2016, compiling a 3.38 ERA in 104 IP. These two have a lot of upside.
Combine that with Gerrit Cole, and the Cardinals could have three dominant pitchers in their rotation. Round that out with Ivan Nova who pitched well last season and a to-be-determined 5th starter (many solid candidates including Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl) and the rotation could be very good.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brew Crew quietly put in a decent year on the mound last year. Ranking 17th in the MLB in SP ERA, ahead of Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the young rotation was surprisingly solid. The rotation was led by Junior Guerra and his 2.81 ERA that was aided by a .250 BABIP. He is in line for some solid regression, as his FIP was nearly 1 point lower than that stellar ERA.
The rest of the rotation will be filled out by Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Matt Garza, Chase Anderson, and possibly Tommy Milone or Willy Peralta. Peralta has struggled mightily over the last few seasons, so the Brewers will not have much patience with him this season.
5. Cincinnati Reds
There are a couple of decent young arms at the top of their rotation in Anthony Desclafani and Brandon Finnegan. While Desclafani, the former Marlin, has had success, Finnegan still has not found his groove as a starter. You might remember him from the Royals’ playoff run in 2014 – he pitched in both the College and Major League World Series that year. Homer Bailey, who is only 30, could be a contributor coming off Tommy John surgery. Past that, there is not much going for this Reds rotation.
Filling out the back end will be a mix of Dan Straily and a young arms, one of which likely will be Robert Stephenson. Stephenson struggled last year, but the former 1st round draft pick is a candidate for dominance if he can cut down on walks.
Sum it up:
The NL Central will showcase some great pitching in 2017, putting some of the best pitching prospects in baseball on display. The Cubs will undoubtedly be the best rotation in baseball again, but don’t sleep on the Pirates this year. They have all the potential in the world.
Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY