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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 West Spring Training Preview

The 2011 NL West title was won by the team who had the 6th lowest payroll ($53,639,833) in the MLB: the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 2011 Diamondbacks featured a lot of young players to go along with veterans that other teams didn’t want on their roster. Besides the Dbacks, the rest of the division was far less than spectacular with Arizona being the only team that finished with more than 87 wins.  Outside of the Dbacks, the other teams in the division had either multiple health problem on their team or a significant off the field distraction.

Arizona Diamondbacks: What a magical season last season was by the young and exciting Arizona Diamondbacks. Before the 2011 season started, the Diamondbacks were picked by the prognosticators to finish in last place and receive a high draft-pick in the following year’s draft. At the start of the season it looked like the prognosticators would be correct as the Dbacks had a 11-15 April. However, after the month of April, Arizona went 83-53 the rest of the season and in fact finished every other month with a record of better than .500. Manager of the year award winner Kirk Gibson built a staff that featured a great deal of successful former players that included former Cubs manager Don Baylor, former Cub infielder Eric Young, and former Indians Ace Charles Nagy. As for the players, they were led by MVP candidate Justin Upton, and even though the Diamondbacks didn’t feature the greatest offense (hitting .250 as a team), they always seemed to get a key hit when they neded it most last year. As for this year’s lineup, Arizona should have shortstop Steven Drew back from his injury to go alongside Upton, Chris Young, Ryan Roberts, Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero, and former Twins outfielder Jason Kubel. As for the pitching staff, the Diamondbacks finished in the top-half of the league last year with a 3.80 team ERA. Led by Ace Ian Kennedy, (who finished fourth in the Cy-Young voting with a 21-4 record and a 2.88 ERA), Arizona also features other young pitchers Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders, and Josh Collmenter to go along with former A’s All-Star Trever Cahill. On paper, Arizona should be an even more improved team this year and once again compete for a division title.

San Francisco Giants: The 2010 World Series Champs had a difficult 2011 season that started off on the wrong foot when star catcher Buster Posey was apart of a collision at the plate and unfortunately needed surgery for torn ligaments in his left ankle and a broken bone in his lower left leg. Once Posey went down for the year, the Giants season started to unravel and the team never recovered. As the season progressed on, it seemed like the entire season the Giants were trying to find the chemistry they had from the year before but never could find it. As for this year, if Posey is healthy, the Giants once again should compete for a division title or at the minimum a playoff spot. San Francisco is fractionate that they have two of the top National League pitchers in their rotation with 2-time Cy-Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and All-Star Matt Cain along with young up-and-comer Madison Bumgarner and 2011 All-Star Ryan Vogelsong. The Giants also feature one of the best bullpen’s in baseball led by Brian “The Beard” Wilson, along with veteran relievers Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez. As for the Giants offense, it showed a few holes that were exposed last year which led to the Giants finishing with the 3rd worst team average in baseball last year. For the Giants to be successful this year, they need Pablo Sandoval to continue his play from last year, Buster Posey to come back fully healthy, newcomers Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan to hit at least .280 this year, and Aubrey Huff to return to his career averages and not last years stats. If the Giants offense returns and the pitching stays healthy, the Giants will be close to the top of the NL West Division the entire year.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Throughout entire 2011 season, the Dodgers were surrounded with a Hollywood Drama as they featured questions about the teams future with Dodgers ownership in such chaos. At the start of the season, the Dodgers and first year manager Don Mattingly looked distracted by the situation as they had a losing recorded in each of the first four months. As August started, the Dodgers finally started playing good baseball and as they finished with a record above the .500 mark (82-79). As tough a season as it was for Los Angeles, outfielder Matt Kemp almost hit for the triple crown (.324 average, 39 Home Runs, and 126 RBI) and pitcher Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young Award last year (21-5 record with a 2.28 ERA). For the Dodgers to be successful in 2012, they need pitcher Chad Billingsley to take the next step and become a All-Star caliber pitcher, the rest of the rotation to become capable 3-5 starters, and have Andre Ethier return to the player he was in 2010. If this occurs, Los Angeles should become a contender in the NL West. On the other hand, if the Dodgers don’t get off to a good start, they should look to trade star outfielder Andre Ethier (his contract is up after this year), and add more depth to their minor league system.

Colorado Rockies: With Prince Fielder signing with the Detroit Tigers, the Rockies now  feature the best 3-4 under 27 years and under combination in baseball with Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The 2011 Rockies were surrounded all season by the question of wither they would trade Ubaldo Jimenez or not. In the end, just a few days before the trade deadline the Rockies decided to trade Jimenez to Cleveland for former first round picks Alex White and Drew Pomeranz. I feel that Ubaldo is a very good pitcher, but White and Pomeranz have the potential to become two of the key fixtures in the Rockies rotation in 2012 and beyond. As for 2012, the Rockies once again will feature one of the best lineups in baseball highlighted by Tulowitzki and Gonzalez to go along with Dexter Fowler, Todd Helton, former Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer, and veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez. Like many other Rockies teams, this teams ceiling will be determined by their rotation. The rotation features young starters Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso, and Drew Pomeranz along with veteran and former Orioles starter, Jeremy Guthrie. If the pitching of the Rockies is holds up and is consistent, the Rockies just might be October baseball once again, however, if the pitching is inconsistent and not reliable, the Rockies season will be over before the trade deadline.

San Diego Padres: After having a great 2010 season, slugger and San Diego native Adrian Gonzalez was traded to Boston for a package that included prospects Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo (whose name will be brought up in a few sentences). The 2011 Padres never recovered from the loss of Gonzalez and finished the 2011 season 20 games below .500 (71-91). After the season, the Padres decided to trade Ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati for top prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal along with former All-Star pitcher Edinson Volquez. With the Padres holding onto two of the best first base prospects in baseball, the Padres decided to trade Anthony Rizzo (see, I told you I would address him again) to the Cubs for pitcher Andrew Cashner. In the offseason, the Padres also added all-star closer Huston Street along with former White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin to improve their offense. The 2012 Padres will feature an interesting lineup which includes: Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Orlando Hudson  and Chase Headley to along with pitchers Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, and Cory Luebke. As for the 2012 San Diego Padres, I don’t see this Padres team becoming a contender this season, at the same time, former GM Jed Hoyer (now the Cubs GM) has left the Padres with a wealth of prospects in their minor league system. The Padres future looks bright, but the 2012 Padres season might be tough on Padres fans.

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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in MLB, Sports

 

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