USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Rank­ing the ro­ta­tions

Young Braves last in rank­ings of start­ing staffs

- Ted Berg @OGTedBerg USA TO­DAY Sports Sports · College Sports · Baseball · MLB Baseball · Grapefruit League · Cactus League · Florida · Arizona · Chicago Cubs · New York Mets · New York City · Washington Nationals · Washington Nationals · Washington · Cleveland Indians · Cleveland · John Lackey · St. Louis Cardinals · St Louis · Jacob deGrom · Matt Harvey · Zack Wheeler · Tommy John · American League · Cy Young · Trevor Bauer · Adam Wainwright · Mike Leake · Chicago White Sox · Boston Red Sox · Clayton Kershaw · Los Angeles Dodgers · Los Angeles · National League (Baseball) · Brett Anderson · Houston Astros · Lance McCullers, Jr. · Jake Arrieta · Jon Lester · Noah Syndergaard · Stephen Strasburg · Chicago White Sox · Chris Sale · Scott Kazmir

As foot­ball sea­son winds down, our fo­cus be­gins to shift to­ward base­ball. Be­fore play­ers re­port to Florida and Ari­zona this month, how­ever, we of­fer our thoughts on the best ro­ta­tions in the ma­jors af­ter an ac­tive off­sea­son of player move­ment.

A caveat: Start­ing pitch­ing, by na­ture, is a fickle thing. Some­times great pitch­ers get hurt or sud­denly prove in­ef­fec­tive; some­times guys emerge as aces seem­ingly overnight. And there’s enough par­ity in the ma­jor leagues and po­ten­tial for in­juries that it’s not un­rea­son­able to ex­pect some team ranked in the bot­tom 10 here will wind up with one of the ma­jors’ 10 best rota- tions in 2016, and vice versa.

Our list is in­formed by re­cent stats and 2016 pro­jec­tions, but it is on the whole a sub­jec­tive list:

1. Chicago Cubs: We did not be­gin this list ex­pect­ing to name the Cubs ro­ta­tion as the best in base­ball. The New York Mets, Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als and Cleve­land In­di­ans can all prob­a­bly match the ex­cel­lent top three of Jake Ar­ri­eta, Jon Lester and John Lackey, but the Cubs’ depth sets them apart. Only the St. Louis Car­di­nals have Nos. 4 and 5 starters that stack up to Ja­son Ham­mel and Kyle Hen­dricks, but St. Louis can’t match Chicago in the front end of the ro­ta­tion.

2. New York Mets: The Mets have young fire­ballers for days and days, as last seen pow­er­ing the club to the 2015 World Se­ries. The lack of longer ré­sumés keeps the Mets from the top spot on this list. Ja­cob de­Grom, Matt Har­vey, Noah Syn­der­gaard and Steven Matz have a com­bined to­tal of zero ma­jor league sea­sons with more than 200 reg­u­lar-sea­son in­nings pitched. Folk hero Bar­tolo Colon should fill the fifth slot in the team’s ro­ta­tion un­til Zack Wheeler re­turns from Tommy John el­bow surgery.

3. Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als: The Nats own two true aces in Max Scherzer and Stephen Stras­burg, a duo good enough to give them a top-half ro­ta­tion even if they trot­ted out three to­tal scrubs be­hind them. But they don’t: Gio Gon­za­lez makes for a strong No. 3 starter, Joe Ross of­fers big up­side and top prospect Lu­cas Gi­olito could join the group by the All­Star break.

4. Cleve­land In­di­ans: Corey Klu­ber did not quite match his 2014 Amer­i­can League Cy Young heights in 2015, but his pe­riph­er­als sug­gest he’s still ev­ery bit that good. Car­los Car­rasco is qui­etly awe­some. Danny Salazar made good on his great stuff with a great 2015 sea­son. And of­ten-frus­trat­ing for­mer mega-prospect Trevor Bauer, 25, still has time to put it all to­gether.

5. St. Louis Car­di­nals: Stal­wart Lance Lynn will miss the sea­son af­ter hav­ing Tommy John el­bow surgery. The re­turn of Adam Wain­wright and the re­mark­able depth means they won’t fall far: If Wain­wright, 34, can be the pitcher he was (121-67, 2.98 ERA for his ca­reer) be­fore the Achilles tear that ru­ined his 2015 sea­son, St. Louis could own the best start­ing staff in base­ball again. Michael Wacha and Car­los Martinez are young and very good, and Mike Leake gives the Car­di­nals dura­bil­ity.

6. Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale (10.3 ca­reer strike­outs per nine in­nings) might be the world’s most dom­i­nant pitcher not named Clay­ton Ker­shaw. Jose Quin­tana is crim­i­nally un­der­rated, and Car­los Rodon looks like a po­ten­tial stud. The White Sox’s re­mark­able abil­ity to keep their pitch­ers healthy bright­ens the out­look on the South Side, enough to over­look the shak­i­ness in the back end of their ro­ta­tion.

7. Los An­ge­les Dodgers: Speak­ing of top-heavy: Ker­shaw is the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Dodgers and a se­cond-divi­sion start­ing ro­ta­tion, but Ker­shaw’s so good they land squarely within the top 10 here. The lefty should open the year as the ob­vi­ous fa­vorite to win the Na­tional League Cy Young Award even af­ter fin­ish­ing third in 2015, be­cause no pitcher in base­ball can match Ker­shaw’s re­cent track record (88-33, 2.11 ERA since the start of 2011). Be­hind him, the Dodgers will hope for good health from Scott Kazmir, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brett An­der­son.

8. Hous­ton Astros: The ro­ta­tion ap­pears a bit top-heavy thanks to reign­ing AL Cy Young Award win­ner Dal­las Keuchel, but the group be­hind him is at least solid. Lance McCullers Jr. made his big-league de­but in 2015 af­ter only 32 in­nings above Class A ball

 ?? JERRY LAI, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Na­tional League Cy Young Award win­ner Jake Ar­ri­eta leads a Cubs ro­ta­tion that fea­tures not only an elite top trio but also strong fourth and fifth starters.
JERRY LAI, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Na­tional League Cy Young Award win­ner Jake Ar­ri­eta leads a Cubs ro­ta­tion that fea­tures not only an elite top trio but also strong fourth and fifth starters.
 ?? LYNNE SLADKY, AP ?? Wei-Yin Chen gives the Mar­lins a strong top two.
LYNNE SLADKY, AP Wei-Yin Chen gives the Mar­lins a strong top two.

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