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Rotation poker hands: AL East

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

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Which rotation is tops in the tough AL East? (Getty Images)

Rotations as poker hands: AL West | NL West | AL Central | NL 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 American League East'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 AL East ...

Blue Jays
To be sure, there's some downside in the Blue Jays rotation. Can R.A. Dickey repeat his successes of 2011 and 2012 in a tougher division? Can Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow stay healthy? Will decline set in for a 34-year-old Mark Buehrle? Can Ricky Romero bounce back from his awful 2012 (and awful spring)? If the worst-case scenarios take hold, the Toronto rotation could be a wreck. But that's not likely. The Blue Jays have the reigning NL Cy Young winner paired with two prime-age hurlers with electric stuff and success at the highest level (Johnson and Morrow), a reliable and above-average innings eater (Buehrle) and a 28-year-old lefty who placed 10th in the AL Cy balloting as recently as 2011. High-risk, high-reward. We'll err on the side of reward for the 2013 Blue Jays.

Hand they've been dealt:

Four of a kind. Not many hands beat that. Of course, this assumes things go generally well.

Rays
The best front three in all of baseball? Probably. David Price won the AL Cy Young last season, and, at age 27 he should continue pitching at an elite level. Jeremy Hellickson, meanwhile, boasts a career ERA of 3.06 across 402 1/3 innings at the major-league level. The 25-year-old is also coming off a season in which he nudged his K% upward and his BB% downward. Matt Moore? Recall that coming into the 2012 season, any number of seasoned observers tabbed Moore as the top prospect in all of baseball -- ahead of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. That's no accident, as Moore has as high a ceiling as any young arm in the game today. After making progress with his slider during his rookie campaign, he started pitching like a true ace. Expect more of the same in 2013, and don't be surprised if he emerges as Price's rough equal. He's that good. Also, don't pity the Rays overmuch for the loss of James Shields via trade. Shields' durability will be missed, but his good-not-great ERA+ of 108 is replaceable. The back end can be sorted out among Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann and, at some point, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. The Jays get a nod because of superior depth, but no team can compare to Tampa Bay's rotation front.

Hand they've been dealt:

Full house, queens full of nines. Potentially, this is the best rotation in baseball.

Yankees
So long as Phil Hughes gets and stays healthy, consider this the Yankees' team strength. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda form an enviable front three, and Hughes is more than capable of thriving by fourth-starter standards. Again, though, he must get and stay healthy. The other concern is the effectiveness of Ivan Nova, who's coming off a season in which he allowed 87 extra-base hits despite spending time on the DL (!) and allowed opponents to slug .511 against him. More worries? The advanced ages of Pettitte and Kuroda and the fact that Sabathia has been battling elbow issues since June of last year certainly qualify. At least David Phelps gives them some depth.

Hand they've been dealt:

Three of a kind, with much dependent upon health.

Red Sox
When they're at their best, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a strong one-two punch, but both are coming off a sub-par season. Can Lester overcome a strikeout rate that's been on the decline since 2009? Can Buchholz find consistency and stay healthy? There's definite upside between them, but there are also concerns. After them, things are less inspiring. The 35-year-old Ryan Dempster could struggle in the AL East, and Felix Doubront is at best adequate by back-end standards. And what of John Lackey? He's coming back from Tommy John surgery, which means struggles are to be expected, but since arriving in Boston he's struggled even when healthy. Too many unknown quantities in place.

Hand they've been dealt:

A "meh" pair.

Orioles
The O's certainly have enough bodies to throw at the problem, but the primary shortcoming is a distinct lack of upside (at least until Dylan Bundy reaches Baltimore for good). Last season, the Orioles ranked a respectable sixth in the 14-team AL in rotation FIP, but the larger problem was the inability of their starters to pitch deep into games. For instance, Baltimore starters in 2012 ranked ninth in the AL in average innings per start and quality-start percentage and last in complete games (only one all year). Needless to say, the addition of Jair Jurrjens does little to change that. Top to bottom, this profiles as a below-league-average unit. Bundy can't arrive soon enough.

Hand they've been dealt:

A pair that's even more "meh" that what Boston was dealt.

 
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