Pitching wins championships. We hear it all the time. Earl Weaver said, “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same — pitching.” It’s the football equivalent of defense wins championships. While not always 100 percent true, there’s a reason fans agonize over pitching — have you heard it before? It’s because it wins championships.
So, which AL East pitching staff has what it takes to make a deep run this season? Let’s take a look from best to worst:
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3. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
The Yankees have the best starting rotation in the East going into the 2012 season. January 13, 2012, was a great day for Brian Cashman: He acquired 6-foot-7-inch possible future ace Michael Pineda from Seattle and signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda. Pineda is only 23 years old and has nasty stuff. As a rookie last season, Pineda posted a 9-10 record with an ERA of 3.74. He struck out 173 batters and walked only 55. Even though he’s now pitching in a tough AL East, expect a vast improvement on that 9-10 record even if his ERA rises a little. The only question is how Pineda will respond to pressure of pitching in New York. Cashman singed free-agent Kuroda to a one-year deal. Kuroda is 37 years old but still has it. Last season with the Dodgers, he posted an impressive 3.07 ERA while eating up 202 innings. Along with ace CC Sabathia, the Yankees have a formidable top of the rotation. Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia will fill out what looks to be best pitching staff in the East. We list Hughes and Garcia as five and six but they will battle for the final spot in the rotation this spring.
- Nova (fourth in Rookie of The Year voting in 2011)
- Garcia (2011 stats: 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA)
- Jeff Niemann
The Red Sox pitching staff’s season was tainted by its historic September collapse. There’s no way around that simple fact. Whether or not the “chicken and beer” embarrassment really had any effect on the field doesn’t really matter at this point. The reality is fans think it made a difference, and Bobby Valentine felt the need to ban beer from the clubhouse. The Red Sox do have a solid if flawed pitching staff. Josh Beckett put up great numbers last season. He went 13-7, with a 2.89 ERA and 170 SOs. Beckett may not come out and say it, but he has something to prove this season. Even with those solid numbers, the already intense Boston pressure will be amped up on Beckett this season. Look for another strong season from Beckett but one where he pitches well right up to his final start. Jon Lester was Beckett’s partner in crime last season. Lester said he wanted to concentrate on “being a better teammate and having a better presence.” He went on to say, “I care a lot about my job. I hope the fans realize that stuff had nothing to do with what happened on the field. I stunk. We stunk and we’re looking forward to proving people wrong.” His numbers were slightly down from his norm in 2011: 15-9, a 3.47 ERA in only 191.2 innings pitched. It was the first time as a regular starter he failed to reach 200 innings. Like Beckett, look for Lester to rededicate himself and improve on his 2011 season. Clay Buchholz lost the majority his 2011 to injury and pitched only 82.2 innings. Because he was largely absent last year, it’s easy to forget just how electric he was in 2010, where he a posted a 17-7 record, with a 2.33 ERA and made the All-Star team. Much of the Red Sox success in 2012 hinges on whether Buchholz can match his 2010 numbers. Red Sox management is banking on Daniel Bard making the transition from set-up man to starter. If Bard can’t match his eighth-inning effectiveness as a starter, the Red Sox rotation begins to look to very thin. The fifth spot in the rotation is the big battle of the spring. Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva and Aaron Cook will try to pitch their way into the rotation. Alfredo Aceves may make an appearance, but his value out the bullpen may be too great to limit him to only pitching every five games.
Ricky Romero is the ace of Toronto’s staff. He went 15-11, with a 2.92 ERA in 225 innings pitched. Romero has improved every season since his debut in 2009. He’s a sure thing for Toronto, and it’s exciting to see what kind of numbers he will put up entering the prime of his career. Brandon Morrow is a solid number-two pitcher behind Romero. He has great stuff and should be able to improve on his 4.72 ERA from last season. Any team would be happy to have a number-two starter who is capable of striking over 200 batters. Brett Cecil had a horrible 2011, going 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA. But Cecil did show signs of his potential with two CGs and pitching a four-hit shutout against the Rangers last July. Henderson Alvarez is the prospect to watch in Toronto’s 2012 rotation. In 10 starts last season, Alvarez struck out 40 batters and only walked eight. Alvarez is only 21 years old and provides excellent end-of-the-rotation depth. Kyle Drabek seems poised to start the year as Toronto’s fifth starter. He is more potential than reality at this point, but Toronto will give him a shot to start the year.
It didn’t get any worse than the starting rotation for the Baltimore Orioles last season. They had the worst ERA in baseball at 5.39. Their pitchers couldn’t eat up innings and their “ace” lost 17 games. They may not be much better in 2012. Jeremy Guthrie was traded, and this is now a team with no opening day starter. That job may fall to Zach Britton, who went 11-11, with a 4.61 ERA in 154.1 innings pitched. While his health is a question mark, Britton is only 24 years old and has upside. Tommy Hunter is another candidate for opening-day starter. It remains to be seen if Hunter can repeat his 2010 success when he posted a 13-4 record, with a 3.73 ERA in 128 innings pitched. Like Britton, Baltimore fans have to rely on Hunter’s upside for a dose of excitement. Wei-Yin Chen is interesting because he’ll be a mystery until we see what he can do against major league hitters. He never had an ERA above 2.90 in Japan but how that will change when pitching in the AL East remains to be seen.
There are question marks on every staff. But questions are the beauty of spring. There are always surprises and the 2012 spring will prove no different.
Contributor: Brian Hendrickson