Baseball teams are only as good as their pitching staffs let them be. There are teams that get universal praise for what they have to offer on the mound - Boston, obviously, and the Cubs and Nationals among others. Everyone knows about those teams, and they will be bet aggressively. What I'm more interested in as a bettor are rotations that are better than the public seems to expect. Here we have three such teams - two that were just awful last year and a third that doesn't get enough praise for how good they were.
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies simply could not pitch last year. It was pretty ugly. It's not like the rotation here is going to wind up in a five-way tie for the Cy Young or anything, but there are plenty of reasons to feel at least somewhat optimistic about this team on the mound.
Jon Gray is only 25 years old and has just 38 starts under his belt. He throws fire, though, and strikes out guys like crazy. There is massive upside there. He has the potential to be a No. 1 starter, and this could be the year he takes a big step towards that. Chad Bettis has a career ERA higher than 5.00, but he's talented and cold blooded, and again there is plenty of upside there. The two Tyler's - Anderson and Chatwood - had the best ERAs on the team last year, and while they aren't going to blow people away they are solidly reliable in the middle of the lineup.
Nolan Arenado leads a roster that should be able to score some runs, and if they can provide solid run support then this roster could be more than solid. The important thing this rotation has going for them is youth - those guys are all 27 or younger. That means that they are all still on an upward trajectory, and they are all still learning how to pitch in a very cruel park for pitchers. The bullpen is healthier than last year and should be okay. There is some concern that the catchers on staff are inexperienced, but that can be fixed fairly easily by acquiring a veteran if they feel the need down the road.
I am not for a second suggesting this will be the National League's best rotation, or even close. If they could be closer to the middle of the pack, though, then this is a team that could go .500 or better.
Toronto Blue Jays: Maybe it's just my Canadian side being defensive, but this pitching staff isn't getting the attention it deserves. They are respected, and are widely viewed as a team strength, but they still deserve far more.
They are overshadowed in their own division by the monster that Boston has bought and assembled, but that shouldn't be the case. I don't have any problem making the argument that this is the best five-man rotation in the AL. Aaron Sanchez had a breakout year last year and has ace written all over him. Marcus Stroman didn't carry his playoff performance from two years ago into last year, but he found his stride later and is a strong 1A option. Marco Estrada is one of those guys who just wins, and he does it in ways that you never notice him. He's a silent killer. J.A. Happ isn't likely to repeat his stunning 20-win season of last year, but he's a reliable veteran. And the fifth starter is Francisco Liriano. He's not what he was at his peak, but about 27 other teams would love to have a guy like him in that fifth spot.
This is a group that was very good last year and should be better this year as Sanchez is a bit older, Stroman is a year removed from his knee injury, and they don't have the major letdown of a regular R.A. Dickey start to overcome. There are teams with better top end on their rotation but few or none with more consistently solid arms. If they can stay healthy they will pace this team right back into playoff contention for a third straight year. People already expect a fair bit from this rotation, but there is a chance - a good one - that they could get much more than that.
Arizona Diamondbacks: This rotation was a high-priced mess in the face of high expectations last year - they finished 29th in starter ERA. The expectations are much lower this year, but there is a very good chance that they will seriously exceed those expectations.
Zack Greinke was awful - especially for the price - but he is clearly dramatically better than that, and we could see a much better version of him. The same is true on a smaller scale from Shelby Miller. Taijuan Walker only showed flashes of what he is clearly capable of with Seattle, but a change of scenery, and the slightly friendlier confines of the NL, could be just what he needs to take the next step. Patrick Corbin struggled coming off of Tommy John surgery, but the further you get away from the layoff the better pitchers often are. Robbie Ray was quietly fourth in the league in strikeouts last year, so there is plenty of upside from him. And if those five falter or get injured there are some impressive young arms waiting for their chance, too.
If this team is as bad on the mound this year as they were last year then they should go nuclear and start from the ground up. I don't think it will come to that.
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