Opening day is less than two weeks away, so we're going to spend some time this week ranking the rotations in each division. Because a single one-through-five ranking is boring by itself, we're going with poker hands. Five cards in a poker hand, five pitchers in the rotation ... it's a match made in baseball blog heaven.
RELATED -- AL West poker hands
Just to be clear: The poker hands are intended to represent the rotation as a whole. We are not assigning individual cards to individual pitchers. There was confusion about that on Monday, and I want to make sure it's clear. Just look at the five-man rotation as a whole. Let's dive into the NL West starting staffs.
You know your rotation is pretty good when a two-time Cy Young Award winner figures to start the fourth game of the season. Cain and Bumgarner are a top shelf righty-lefty tandem and Vogelsong has become one of the most reliable starters in baseball. Lincecum is trying to rebound from his nightmarish 2012 campaign as he heads into his contract year. If he reverts to Cy Young form, it would be great for both the team and his wallet. Zito is also entering his contract year, but his wallet is already fat enough. The hand they've been dealt:
Straight flush with a high king. Oh so close to the almighty royal flush, but Lincecum's struggles last year and Zito's steady below-averageness (91 ERA+ as a Giant) keep San Francisco from poker's top hand.
The Dodgers spent a lot of money this winter, so much so that they have eight starters for five spots. Kershaw and Greinke are givens as former Cy Young Award winners, and both Beckett and Billingsley are safe bets for the rotation as well given their track records. Ryu was the most dominant pitcher in the Korea Baseball Organization the last few years, but it remains to be seen how he will adapt to MLB. Los Angeles didn't spent more than $60 million (posting fee plus contract) to acquire a reliever though, he's the likely fifth starter. The other three guys are depth pieces or (more likely) trade bait. Here's the hand they've been dealt:
Full house, eights full of aces. Two notches below the Giants, but there's also some nice symbolism here. Kershaw and Greinke are aces while everyone else is just OK. Good hand, better-than-average hand, but not the best.
The D-Backs have a solid and underrated rotation, in my opinion. There's no true ace like Cain or Kershaw, but their one through three starters are above-average and reliable. McCarthy has pitched like an ace at times the past two years, but he's also a major injury risk. It's not just last year's season-ending head injury following the line drive either, he has a history of shoulder problems. Corbin has stood out from the pack of fifth starter candidates this spring and figures to be first in line for the job. In fact, Skaggs was optioned to Triple-A on Monday. Here's the hand Arizona has been dealt:
Straight with a high 10. A solid hand is that is good enough to win most times out but is beatable.
Colorado allowed the most runs (by 45!) and had the highest ERA (by 0.44!) in baseball last season and they did nothing to improve over the winter. They are getting de la Rosa back from Tommy John surgery and that will help, but not enough. The good thing is the Rockies have a few young breakout candidates in Nicasio, Pomeranz, Chatwood, Friedrich and even Chacin, but Coors Field seems to have a knack for snuffing out potential pitcher breakouts. It's an unforgiving place to play if you ply your trade on the mound. Here's the hand they've been dealt:
Pair of sixes with a 10 kicker. You're not going to win much with this hand but it's serviceable. With some good bluffing maybe a few opponents will fold, and that's your best chance.
On paper, few teams have as many young MLB-ready pitchers as the Padres. The problem is they're all hurt, including righties Casey Kelly (facing Tommy John surgery) and Joe Wieland (Tommy John surgery) and lefty Robbie Erlin (elbow tendinitis in 2012). Big league lefty Cory Luebke is coming off Tommy John surgery as well. The injuries leave the team with a stop-gap rotation headlined by Volquez and filled out by retreads like Marquis and Garcia. I'm not even sure if you could squint hard enough to see a competitive rotation here. Their hand:
Pair of fives with a nine kicker. Not a good hand, but it might win you a few games, especially if you play in a spacious ballpark with a thick marine layer that knocks down fly balls.
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