Who will make best postseason pitch?
Phillies have superior rotation, while Rays, Brewers are strong
There are plenty of precursors to postseason prominence, but the automatic assumption, it seems, is that the rotation is chief among them.After all, the first thing we do when the matchups are set is to look at the playoff probables. We analyze these games the way we might a heavyweight match. If it's "Yankees vs. Tigers" in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, it will be billed as "Sabathia vs. Verlander." The man on the mound when the game gets under way is, in that moment, the face of the franchise, for better or worse. The Giants last year gave us an extreme example of the value of a sterling starting setup, and their success in the face of a lackluster lineup undoubtedly coerced the Phillies to pull out all the stops in their assembly of what some consider to be a once-in-a-generation rotation. In reality, of course, the best rotation does not always win. To that point, here are the last 10 World Series winners and where they ranked among MLB's 30 teams in regular season starters' ERA. 2001: D-backs (4)
2002: Angels (8)
2003: Marlins (6)
2004: Red Sox (12)
2005: White Sox (6)
2006: Cardinals (20)
2007: Red Sox (4)
2008: Phillies (13)
2009: Yankees (13)
2010: Giants (3) Granted, ERA alone is not the most accurate evaluator, and the above rankings are undoubtedly affected, in some measure, by back-end starters who had no bearing on the postseason picture. But you get the gist. It is possible to ride what is considered a middling rotation to glory, provided you have a lineup that can mash, a defense that dazzles and a bullpen that doesn't bumble. There are, indeed, many pieces to the postseason puzzle. None of those pieces, however, gets as much attention as the starting assembly, especially in this newfound era of effective arms and erratic offenses. With all the above in mind, let's take a look at the 11 teams still mathematically in the postseason picture and rank them by rotation. We know that starting pitching is not necessarily the be-all and end-all, but it is certainly the starting point of postseason conversation. 1. Phillies The staff: Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA), Cliff Lee (16-8, 2.38) and Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.75) are locked in for the Division Series, and would be joined by Roy Oswalt (8-10, 3.86) in a four-man rotation. The Phillies are so loaded in the rotation that promising rookie Vance Worley (11-3, 3.03) has been dispatched to the bullpen. The stats (ranking among MLB teams): ERA (1), innings pitched (1), quality starts (1), OPS against (1), WHIP (1), strikeout-to-walk ratio (1). The skinny: This is the kind of ranking general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. envisioned when he worked the phones, under the radar, to bring Lee back to Philly over the winter, and this rotation has been one of those rare sporting entities to live up to the hype surrounding it. With a 2.87 mark, the Phillies are on the verge of becoming, according to STATS LLC, the first club to have its rotation post a sub-3.00 ERA since the 1992 Braves. They're going to be a handful in October. 2. Rays The staff: James Shields (15-12, 2.84) and David Price (12-13, 3.35) are both worthy of the "ace" label, and AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.90) is a worthy No. 3. Wade Davis (11-10, 4.45) and Jeff Niemann (11-7, 4.06) are also in the mix. The stats: ERA (4), IP (2), QS (T-5), OPS (3), WHIP (2), K/BB (10). The skinny: This homegrown, youthful unit is the reason the Rays have managed to hang around as long as they have. And it's the reason a lot of people have to be secretly rooting for the Red Sox right now. 3. Angels The staff: The three-headed monster of Jered Weaver (18-8, 2.41), Dan Haren (16-9, 3.16) and Ervin Santana (11-12, 3.38) sets the tone. Jerome Williams (4-0, 2.95), who is back in the Majors for the first time since 2007, could round it out, if the Angels get in. The stats: ERA (5), IP (3), QS (T-5), OPS (7), WHIP (4), K/BB (11). The skinny: You would think that this rotation would have had quite an impact on the postseason, if it were invited. But with the Halos' elimination number down to one, we'll likely never know. 4. Brewers The staff: No obvious ace exists on this staff, because Zack Greinke (15-6, 3.86), Shaun Marcum (13-7, 3.31), Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52) and veteran lefty Randy Wolf (13-10, 3.61) are all, in their own way, worthy of two Division Series starts. The stats: ERA (9), IP (10), QS (T-3), OPS (10), WHIP (5), K/BB (2). The skinny: The difference between the 2008 Brewers team that won the Wild Card and was quickly ousted from the playoffs and this NL Central winner is right here in the rotation. What remains to be seen is how this staff rises to the occasion of October, as Greinke and Marcum have never been to this stage and Gallardo and Wolf have just three postseason starts between them. 5. D-backs The staff: A trio of trades landed the D-backs their top three starters -- Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88), Daniel Hudson (16-11, 3.43) and Joe Saunders (12-12, 3.58). Rookie Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38) is the likely No. 4. The stats: ERA (13), IP (6), QS (10), OPS (16), WHIP (9), K/BB (13). The skinny: Kennedy and Hudson have both eclipsed their previous career highs for innings pitched, but it hasn't led to any drop off in performance. Saunders is the only guy on this staff with postseason experience. On the whole, this is an underrated, intriguing young staff. 6. Cardinals The staff: Tony La Russa would have five starters -- Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.59), Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.45), Edwin Jackson (5-2, 3.62), Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39) and Jake Westbrook (12-9, 4.48) -- all worthy of consideration for a postseason start. The stats: ERA (11), IP (7), QS (17), OPS (13), WHIP (16), K/BB (14). The skinny: Losing staff ace Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery when Spring Training began might have altered the outlook for this rotation, but the other arms rose to the challenge, and Jackson was a key acquisition at the Trade Deadline. Again, like the Angels and Rays, this staff has great potential to be a party crasher. 7. Rangers The staff: C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.97) and Colby Lewis (13-10, 4.45) are back for more after helping guide this club to its first World Series berth last fall. Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95) will also be in the first-round rotation after pitching out of the bullpen in the postseason last year. Either Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.46) or Alexi Ogando (13-8, 3.54) could start a game in the ALCS, should the Rangers advance, though Ogando might be in a setup role in the bullpen. The stats: ERA (7), IP (8), QS (T-3), OPS (5), WHIP (7), K/BB (7). The skinny: This is undoubtedly a deep staff, though the fear factor is just not the same without Lee at the forefront like last season. Ogando's second-half struggles, a product of his increased innings workload after converting from relief work and subsequent move back to the bullpen, weaken this unit. But it still has the depth and balance to advance. 8. Tigers The staff: Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40) is the undisputed ace who is not only the likely Cy Young winner, but a viable MVP candidate. Doug Fister (10-13, 2.94), acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Mariners, is No. 2, while Max Scherzer (14-9, 4.37) and Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.76) round out the postseason rotation. The stats: ERA (16), IP (12), QS (T-11), OPS (15), WHIP (12), K/BB (8). The skinny: As transcendent as Verlander's season has been, a team can only ride a single ace so far (and manager Jim Leyland has said he wouldn't pitch Verlander on short rest in Game 4 of the Division Series, even if the season were on the line). That's what's made Fister's acquisition and performance such a game-changer. It gives this staff an added layer of reliability that simply wasn't established before he arrived. Scherzer and Porcello, on the other hand, are very much hit or miss. 9. Yankees The staff: CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00) leads the way, and many questions follow. Rookie Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70) is prominently thrust into the second spot, and A.J. Burnett (11-11, 5.16), Bartolo Colon (8-10, 4.02), Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62) and Phil Hughes (5-5, 6.00) round out manager Joe Girardi's list of available options. The stats: ERA (15), IP (13), QS (18), OPS (18), WHIP (17), K/BB (12). The skinny: Lee snubbed the Yanks, Andy Pettitte opted to retire and no moves were made at the Trade Deadline. Now we'll see just how significant those developments really were. Sabathia is the only seemingly sure thing, but even he didn't exactly steamroll his way through the home stretch, posting a 4.06 ERA and .316 average against in August and September. 10. Braves The staff: Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.23) is the obvious No. 1, rookie Brandon Beachy (7-3, 3.68) is the likely No. 2. After that, manager Fredi Gonzalez will have to choose among veteran Derek Lowe (9-16, 4.92) and rookies Mike Minor (5-3, 4.14) and Randall Delgado (1-1, 2.70), because the injured Jair Jurrjens (13-6, 2.96) and Tommy Hanson (11-7, 3.60) haven't pitched in September. The stats: ERA (8), IP (21), QS (T-15), OPS (6), WHIP (10), K/BB (9). The skinny: Two months ago, this rotation might have ranked as high as the second spot on this list, but the Jurrjens and Hanson developments are a brutal blow. The Braves will desperately need their rookies to rise up and/or Lowe to add to his postseason pedigree if they're going to get out of the first round. 11. Red Sox The staff: Jon Lester (15-9, 3.49) and Josh Beckett (13-6, 2.70) are at the forefront, and trade acquisition Erik Bedard (5-9, 3.50) is the likely No 3, with Clay Buchholz out with a bum back. Should Boston advance, their choices for a No. 4 are all unsightly -- John Lackey (12-12, 6.41), Tim Wakefield (7-8, 5.12), Andrew Miller (6-3, 5.54) and Kyle Weiland (0-3, 7.99). The stats: ERA (22), IP (23), QS (28), OPS (17), WHIP (22), K/BB (26). The skinny: Buchholz's injury was a huge, huge hit, and when Beckett and Bedard missed September starts with minor injuries, the panic set in. Lester can be dominant when he's right, and Beckett has had some legendary moments in October. But it's hard to have a great deal of confidence in this staff, given all that's transpired down the stretch.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.