With spring training well underway, and opening day a little over a month away, it seems time for bold speculations and predications for the coming season. Here are five starting rotations I look forward to watching in the coming months.
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The Nationals starting rotation was one that, even without ace Stephen Strasburg, won its division and contended in the playoffs. Obviously, the return of Strasburg is a gleaming addition to this squad, but beware of overlooking his supporting cast. Washington added veteran Dan Haren at the end of a rotation that includes the dominant Jordan Zimmerman and surprising Ross Detwiler, as well as Gio Gonzalez, who posted an MLB-best 21 wins in 2012. Add Strasburg to the mix for a full season and this is a team that could easily win 100 games in 2013.
Toronto Blue Jays
Risky business by Toronto this offseason as the new-look Blue Jays acquired the core performers from a failing Miami Marlins team last season. Those pieces include Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, but the Jays looked to bolster the top of the rotation by acquiring NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Buehrle pitched well in the American Leauge in his time with the White Sox, but Dickey, a journeyman reliever in the AL, did not find his groove as a starter until signing on with the Mets. Johnson has never pitched in the AL, but did post a 1.67 ERA against American League teams in four interleague starts last season. With increasing parity in the AL East, it will be interesting to watch these pitchers transition in 2013.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have failed to reach the postseason since 2009. The main reason: players, namely among the starting rotation, failing to play to their averages. Today, this rotation has yet to be defined in terms of what it can accomplish. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both been in Cy Young conversations, yet injuries and general underperformance have kept both from that pinnacle. Free-agent acquisition Ryan Dempster was in a similar conversation for the NL Cy Young last year, but struggled in his move to the American League. John Lackey has not panned out for the Sox as yet, but is coming off of ommy John surgery last year, which could potentially prove to be the cure-all for the former Angels standout. If pitching-coach-turned-manager John Farrell can help re-align these pitchers, pitching could be Boston’s bread and butter this year. If not, it spells another long season in Beantown.
Coming off an impressive late-season surge to overtake the AL West, the Athletics put on a second-half clinic in both pitching and offensive production. However, the Oakland offense, though tops in run production, was near the bottom of the league in average. I can’t foresee that trend withstanding a full season, although I would expect this to be a competitive team in 2013. Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone have proven to be young, dominant pitchers who can anchor this A’s team and will be the reason they remain in the playoff race this year.
Las Angeles Angels
With the offensive clout the Angels have acquired and developed, their starting rotation is often overlooked. The top of their staff is anchored by perennial Cy Young contender Jarred Weaver, but they have also managed strategic acquisitions and releases in the past two years. This offseason, they lost Zack Greinke and Dan Haren to free agency, yet replaced them with Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson. These were quiet moves, particularly in comparison to their big-fish signing of Josh Hamilton and the loss of Greinke, but if these three pitchers can meet their averages in 2013, it will be as significant a contribution as any made by Hamilton, Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. The Angels are my preseason favorites in the West, and it’s their pitching that will get them there.