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MLB: The AL Central featured the best starting pitching over the past 8 years…but what about now?

Can you name the only division that’s had 6 of the past 8 AL Cy Young Award Winners? If you guessed the American League Central you’d be right. A large number of people feel the American League Central is a below average division shown by the number of Pennant (2005 Chicago White Sox and 2006 Detroit Tigers) and World Series winners (2005 Chicago White Sox) during those 8 years. Even though only 2 of the 5 teams from this division reached the World Series, it still doesn’t take away from the quality of arms that were thrown out during this 8 year span.

So for all those wondering, the 5 different pitchers (6 overall as one player won the award twice), who won this award from the AL Central were Johan Santana (20042006), CC Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Zack Greinke (2009), and Justin Verlander (2011). An even more astonishing stat then that four of the five teams (Chicago White Sox) had at-least one player win a Cy Young Award during this amazing stretch. In addition to that, only 1 of the 5 players is still on the team they won their Cy Young Award with: 2011 winner Justin Verlander. The teams from the American and National East might of receive the most attention over the past decade, but it was the AL Central that routinely threw out the best pitchers each day.

That was the past, what about now? Which division has the best starting pitching in baseball? Below is a breakdown each division’s starting staff’s from worst to best.

6. NL Central: Over the past decade, the National League has seen a number of quality arms come through this division (Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Rodger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Zach Greinke) but all of them have one thing in common: there no longer in the NL Central. So who are a few of the top starting pitchers as of now: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Adam Wainwright (2010 All-Star), Kyle Lohse, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, and Yovani Gallardo (2010 All-Star). All of the pitchers mentioned in the previous sentence are quality starting pitchers but not elite as shown in the 2 combined All-Star Game appearances.

5. AL Central: What used to be the division with the best starting pitching in baseball has since turned into a division with a few quality starters. Even with Santana, Sabathia, Lee, and Greinke leaving this division, the AL Central is still led by three excellent arms in Justin Verlander (2011 AL Cy Young Award winner), Jake Peavy (2007 NL Cy Young Award Winner), and Chris Sale (2012 All-Star). In addition to those three individuals, the AL Central also has Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Justin Masterson, and Scott Diamond. This list doesn’t come close to the quality of arms that the AL Central had in the past but it’s not that a bad list of starters.

4. AL East: I know the majority of people believe that because the Red Sox and Yankees it should equate to making the AL East the best at everything, but if you look at the starting pitchers in the other division’s, its easy to realize the AL East doesn’t have nearly the quality of starters that make up the other three divisions. The two elite pitchers in the AL East are CC Sabathia (2007 Cy Young Award Winner) and David Price (3 time All-Star). However, the reason this division is ranked fourth (and not 5th or 6th) is due to the depth of quality starters in this division which includes Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Jeremy Hellickson (2011 AL Rookie of the Year), James Shields (2011 All-Star), Matt Moore, Wei-Yin Chen, Clay Buchholz (2010 time All-Star), Josh Beckett (3 time All-Star), Ricky Romero (2011 All-Star), and Brandon Morrow. There’s bunch of solid pitchers in the AL East but not enough Ace’s to put make this one of the top three divisions for best starting pitching in baseball.

3. NL West: I went back and forth when deciding the three best starting pitching divisions in all of baseball but in the end I decided to put the NL West third on my list. At the beginning of my article, I mentioned that 6 of the past 8 Cy Young Award winners came from the AL Central which was most within that timeframe. However, during those same 8 years, the NL West saw 5 of 8 and 10 of the past 13 NL Cy-Young winners come from this division. As impressive as that is, like the AL Central, the majority of the previous winners have moved on from their this division as Tim Lincecum (2008 and 2009) and Clayton Kershaw (2011) are the lone Cy-Young winners who are still on a NL West Team. In addition to those two pitchers, the NL West also has one of (if not the most) underrated pitchers in all of baseball in Matt Cain who threw a perfect game this year in addition to not allowing an earned run during the 2010 MLB Playoffs as he helped lead the Giants to their first World Series Championship in over 50 years. Aside from those three pitchers, the National League West also includes Ryan Vogelsong (2011 All-Star), Madison Bumgarner, Chad Billingsley (2009 All-Star), Wade Miley (2012 All-Star), Trevor Cahill (2010 All-Star), and Ian Kennedy. This division currently has the third best starting pitching in all of baseball but in about 2 years, I believe the NL West will feature the best starting pitching in baseball.

2. NL East: The NL East is a division that’s made up of both younger and older elite starters. The NL East has 3 former Cy Young Award winners: Roy Halladay (2003 and 2010), Johan Santana (2004 and 2006), and Cliff Lee (2010) along with a number of other Ace’s. Included in the next line of starting pitchers from the NL East areStephen Strasburg (2012 All-Star), Gio Gonzalez (2 time All-Star), Jordan Zimmerman, Tim Hudson (3 time All-Star), Tommy Hanson, R.A. Dickey (All-Star 2012), Cole Hamels (3 time All-Star), Mark Buehrle (4 time All-Star), and Josh Johnson (2 time All-Star). Its pretty remarkable to see the amount of All-Stars that are apart of this division as over the past few seasons this has transformed into one of the best divisions for starting pitching in all of baseball.

1. AL West: As impressive as the starters in the NL East are, I still feel the division that features the best starers in all of baseball is the American League West. As of now, the AL West has 2 former Cy Young Award winners in Zack Greinke (2009) and Felix Hernandez (2010) along with the frontrunner for the 2012 AL Cy Young Award in Jarred Weaver who threw a no hitter earlier this season. Along with those three hitters, the American League West (which unlike the other divisions has only 4 teams until next year) also includes Yu Darvish (2012 All-Star), Ryan Dempster (2 time All-Star), Matt Harrison (2012 All-Star), Brandon McCarthyC.J. Wilson (2 time All-Star), Dan Haren (3 time All-Star), and Jason Vargas. In addition to the names listed above, the AL West has a number of young and exciting arms in the minors that will be household name within the next few years in Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker, Danny Hultzen, and Taijuan Walker. With the majority of these starters still in their prime, I feel the AL West will continue to be known as one of the best divisions in baseball.

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National League East Spring Training Preview

The National League East features three possible teams that can compete for a division title in 2012, and another team that should become one of the most improved teams in baseball.

Philadelphia Phillies: Once again, the Phillies surprised the baseball world by quietly signing 4-time All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox. Since the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Philadelphia’s signed at-least one big name free agent each of the past 4 off-season’s (Raul Ibanez 2008-2009, Roy Halladay  2009-2010, Cliff Lee 2010-2011, and Jonathan Papelbon). Unfortunately for the Phillies, the last out of their seasons was costly in more ways than one as star first baseman Ryan Howard tore his Achilles while attempting to run to first base and will likely miss part of the 2012 season. As insurance for Howard, Philadelphia signed former Phillie Jim Thome along with utility infielder Ty Wigginton. If everyone on their roster comes back healthy this year, the Phillies still features a solid lineup (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Victorino, and Pence) to go along with the best four man rotation in baseball. Their rotation features Cy Young Award Winner’s Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee along with 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels (in a contract year), and second year starter Vance Worley. This Phillies should be one of the most competitive teams in baseball and once again be a contender for another World Series Title.

Atlanta Braves: Last year, the Braves suffered through the second greatest September collapse in baseball history (Braves fans can thank the Red Sox for not being known as the organization who suffered through the greatest collapse in baseball history). If this Braves team can recover from last year’s collapse and move forward, Atlanta will be a playoff team and once again a contender for a World Series Title. Just as the offseason was getting underway, the Braves traded veteran starter Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians and decided to feature one of the youngest but most talented rotations in baseball. Atlanta’s pitching staff is led by 3-time All-Star Tim Hudson,  2011 All-Star Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, and Brandon Beachy to go along with the best young bullpen in baseball with lefties Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty alongside rookie of the year winner Craig Kimbrel. As for the fifth spot in the Braves rotation, there will be a great competition between talented young starters Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran to see who joins the other four pitchers at Turner Field. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, to go alongside one of the best young rotations in baseball, the Braves also feature one of the best hitting cores in the league. Led by the best catcher in baseball, Brian McCann, the Braves have Freddie Freeman (runner-up to teammate Craig Kimbrel for the 2011 rookie of the year), Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, and the ageless Chipper Jones. Atlanta features the best young talent on any 25 man roster in baseball and should be at the top of the NL East in 2012 and beyond.

Washington Nationals: Most people don’t realize this, but the Washington Nationals finished the 2011 season one game behind the .500 mark (80-81). The Nationals featured one of the most bizarre June’s in the history of baseball as it started on a high note winning 11 of 12 games. As their streak reached double digits, then manager Jim Riggleman (yes the former Cubs manager) decided to resign during the winning streak after not receiving a contract extension and then a few days later deciding to hire former World Series winning manager Davey Johnson. In the off-season, the Nationals were reportedly one of the teams interested in signing former Brewer Prince Fielder to help bolster their lineup but unfortunately for the Nats they were outbid by the Detroit Tigers. A few weeks later, Washington decided to extend all-star 3rd baseman Ryan Zimmerman for an additional 6 seasons, making him the face of the franchise. The Nationals weren’t completely quiet this offseason as they decided to upgrade their starting rotation by signing the well-traveled Edwin Jackson to a one year deal and traded for 2011 All-Star Gio Gonzalez (a few days later Gonzalez agreed to terms on a 4 year extension). Like the Braves, the Nationals feature a lot of great young talent led by pitchers Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg along with Gonzalez, Jackson, and John Lannan. As for the Washington lineup, they feature a nice mix of both young and old veterans on their roster led by Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Roger Bernadina and veterans Mark DeRosa, Michael Morse, and Jayson Werth. The Nationals organization has two key questions they need to address before the end of spring training as it involves two of the best young prospects in baseball        (Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon). Harper, the number one ranked player in the minor’s, is still a teenager (19, and doesn’t turn 20 until October) and has people wondering if he’s ready to break camp and start the season with the Nationals. As good as Harper will be in the future, I feel it would be in the best interest of Harper and the Nationals organization if he waited until after the trade deadline and started the season at AA or AAA. The other question Washington needs to address is last year’s number one pick, third baseman Anthony Rendon. Washington also needs to find a new position for Rendon as Zimmerman (27) is now signed though the 2020 season and includes a no-trade clause. The Nationals have an interesting team as although they aren’t quite ready to compete for a playoff spot in 2012, the Nats are a team on the rise that will only improve in the future. In two years, I believe the Nationals will compete for a playoff spot and become one of the most competitive teams in baseball.

New York Mets: The Mets are now in a transition phase and have finally realized that its time to start over. Throughut the 2011 season, New York decided to start the new Mets era by trading closer Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee and All-Star Carlos Beltran to San Francisco for prospects (in that trade the Mets received the best prospect currently in their organization, Zack Wheeler). A few months after the season, New York saw star shortstop Jose Reyes leave for the division rival Miami Marlins. The Mets  still have a few long-term contracts on their payroll (Jason Bay and Johan Santana until after the 2013 season) and then will be 100% prepared to start the rebuilding stages of the Mets. The other key issue the Mets need to address this year is to decide what to do with David Wright and his contract. Wright has one more team-option remaining on his current contract (for the 2013 season), however, if the Mets do decide to trade him during the season, his 2013 team option can be voided and Wright has the option to  become a free agent. The Mets need to ask themselves a few questions. First, the Mets need to  determine if they want David Wright to become the face their franchise. Second, if New York does decide they want him to become the face of their franchise, they need to see what type of contract he would want to stay in New York. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the Mets should  look at the possible trade options to add more depth to their farm system. After Jose Reyes decided to sign with the Miami Marlins, the rest of their offseason was quiet as they only made a few other minor moves to their roster. For Mets fans, this season, along with the next few will be difficult for the Mets to watch as they continue to revamp their organization.

Miami Marlins: The most interesting team in baseball this year will most certainly be the Miami Marlins. The busy off-season started a few days before the end of the regular season when the White Sox agreed to trade manager Ozzie Guillen to the Marlins for two minor league prospects. As for the other moves made this offseason, the Marlins decided to start the Winter Meetings off by agreeing to terms with Padres closer Heath Bell on a 3 year deal. A few days later, the Marlins made their most significant free agent signing since Ivan Rodriguez signed with the Marlins prior to the 2003 season when they signed Jose Reyes to a 6 year deal. The Marlins ended the Winter Meetings by signing another former White Sox in starting pitcher Mark Burhrle to a 4 year deal, hoping to improve the front of their rotation. The final major move the Marlins made this offseason was by trading for the talented, but unpredictable Carlos Zambrano. Unlike other managers, Guillen in the past stated that the former Cubs pitcher would be fine if he managed Zambrano. First, on the field the Marlins are a vastly improved team that features one of the best leadoff hitters in the league (Reyes), the best young power hitter (Stanton), along with All-Star Hanley Ramirez and Logan Morrison. As for the pitching staff, if everyone stays healthy and in-check, the Marlins should have improved rotation led by Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Carlos Zambrano. Now for the fun part, the Marlins will be must see TV everyday with the personalities shown within their organization. From the Ozzie being Ozzie, the unpredictable Carlos Zambrano, the opinionated Logan Morrison, goofy Heath Bell along with the Hanley not wanting to play third debate, this will be the must see off the field team in 2012.

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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in MLB, Sports

 

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