Rotation poker hands: NL Central

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

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Johnny Cueto (left) and Adam Wainwright are the top two starters in the NL Central. But who has the top overall rotation? (Getty Images)

Rotations as poker hands: AL West | NL West | AL Central

Just for fun this week, in addition to ranking the rotations in each division, we're assigning a poker hand to each rotation. Now, it's the National League Central's turn.

A reminder: Do not correlate individual cards with individual players. We aren't assigning a card to a player, otherwise a terrible rotation (with, let's say, four 2s) would make an awesome hand (four of a kind, in this example).

And now, the NL Central ...

1. Cincinnati Reds
How rock solid was the Cincy rotation last season? Well, just six pitchers made starts, and it would have been five if not for a make-up doubleheader. That's a rare sign of health and consistency. Johnny Cueto, who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting last season, is a certifiable ace, and Mat Latos (2.84 ERA in the second half) makes for an outstanding No. 2 man. While Bronson Arroyo is occasionally prone to gopher-itis, he's an established innings eater, which every rotation needs. The 26-year-old Homer Bailey, meanwhile, has benefitted from significantly improved command over the last two seasons. And while the (likely) decision to move Aroldis Chapman back to the bullpen drains some upside from the fifth spot, Mike Leake is more than capable by the standards of his slot.

Hand they've been dealt:

Two pair. Not bad, and the best at the table for this particular game.

2. St. Louis Cardinals
As we've pointed out many times before in this space, pitchers like Adam Wainwright who rely on command and location tend to take longer to rebound from Tommy John surgery. As such, Wainwright, now that he's more than two years removed from the procedure, could be poised to return to vintage form in 2013. In spots two through four -- occupied by Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn -- the Cards grade out as "solid-average." At the back end, likely fifth-man Shelby Miller boasts impressive upside and major-league readiness. Consider him on the short list of NL Rookie of the Year candidates.

Hand they've been dealt:

Pair of jacks and one card shy of strong straight. Lack of an ideal No. 2 man dings them a bit.

3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers boast a strong front three in Yovani Gallardo (career ERA+ of 113, age 27), Marco Estrada (stellar 4.93 K/BB ratio in 2013) and Mike Fiers (110 ERA+ as a 27-year-old rookie). While there's nothing that you'd call a first-order ace in the rotation, that's a front and middle that figures to supply plenty of comfortably above-average innings. The back side? Well, that's a different story. Wily Peralta has good upside long-term, but a learning curve for the 23-year-old rookie is to be expected. Elsewhere, Chris Narveson remains ... Chris Narveson.

Hand they've been dealt:

Pair of 10s. It's the back end that drags them down.

4. Chicago Cubs
The absence of Matt Garza, who's likely out until May with a strained lat, complicates things for the Cubs. There's nothing wrong with a top two of Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson. But after that, things are less than optimal. Carlos Villanueva profiles solidly enough, but Scott Feldman and Travis Wood ... do not.

Hand they've been dealt:

Pair of 10s, out-kicked by the king in the Milwaukee hand. A healthy Garza and Scott Baker, however, would push them comfortably in front of the Brewers.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates
A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez make for a credible one-two punch (if not one with a great deal of performance ceiling in 2013). James McDonald is solid, but he'd do well to avoid the second-half declines that have troubled him in recent seasons. Jeff Karstens grades out well by the standards of fifth starters. Kyle McPherson has a grade-A fastball, but does he have the secondary (and tertiary) offerings to pass muster at the highest level? The answer to that question will determine whether he stays in the rotation or winds up in the bullpen for good.

Hand they've been dealt:

Pair of eights and some meh. Things in Pittsburgh will improve markedly once elite prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon arrive. But for now, depth is a concern.

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