The American League Arms Race
The Tampa Bay Rays will be a contender this year in baseball because of their pitching. Pitching and defense are what the Rays are built on and they will continue to rely on that for this coming season. Pitching is what kept the Rays in games last year. In games when hitting did not show, which happened frequently, the starting rotation went deep into the game and allowed little or no runs to keep the Rays hanging around just enough to possibly win the game. This will obviously be a big factor to the Rays success this year as well. Can they become the best starting rotation in the American League?
In order to be the AL's best rotation, the Rays are going to have to work for it. Even more than last year, as the AL is stacked with starting pitching. The Red Sox have a better rotation this year which could make them more dangerous than they were. They are trying the method that Texas has been doing; transforming relievers into starters. They will put Daniel Bard, last year's setup man for Boston, in the rotation. They still have Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz at the top of the rotation. The Red Sox could be dangerous this coming year, but it doesn't look like they'll lead AL rotations with their starting five.
The Rangers, like last year, should have a dominant rotation as well. It will feature Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison , and former closer Neftali Feliz. This rotation is still young and has a lot of questions. Although Texas' starting pitching staff is also strong, it probably won't be one of the league's best. The Yankees will hang around and contend as well. The Bronx bombers will feature All-Stars C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova. It will also include Phil Hughes and a few other newcomers such as Hideki Kurodo and Michael Pineda (starting the season on the DL). If this rotation pitches to their potential, they could easily give the Rays a run for their money as the AL's top rotation. It will mostly depend on how Kurodo and Pineda perform, as well as how Phil Hughes does in the five spot.
The best starting five in the American League probably comes down to three main rotations; the Rays, Tigers, and Angels. Lets start off with the Tigers. Many people underrate the quality of the Tigers' rotation. It starts off with last year's Cy Young and MVP award-winner Justin Verlander. After Verlander, they have Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello. On top of that, the Tigers still have a high-powered offense. Pitchers don’t need to have a great game in order for the team to compete on a nightly basis. This rotation is more than capable of having a great game every every night, which makes them very dangerous. Verlander will handle aces he faces while Fister and Scherzer will make good match-ups with the other two and three guys in opposing rotations. Rick Porcello is also a talented pitcher pitching fourth in the order.
The Angels are going to be one of the best rotations in all of baseball this year. It will be tough to beat a team as stacked as they are. The Angels rotation this year will feature Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana. Besides the Phillies, there has not been many rotations as stacked as this one over the last twenty-five years. The big question with this pitching staff is their health. This staff can compete with anyone, but if they get injured, they could start fading fast. The Angels do not have much depth in their rotation and injuries could expose their rotation. However, if this team stays healthy, they are going to be very good.
That leaves us with the Rays. Arguably the best rotation from the American League last year, the Rays are looking for the equal or better success in 2012. Their rotation will include James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Jeff Niemann. Shields and Price established themselves as the leaders of the pitching staff last year. Both were named to the All-Star team and struck out more than two-hundred batters last season. Hellickson had a great year and was awarded with the Rookie of the Year. Moore is coming into his rookie season, but seems very ready for the show. He only had a few starts at the end of the season last year, but the Rays' management is already looking to him as a potential future ace. Jeff Niemann recently won the five spot in the order over teammate Wade Davis. When Niemann was good last year, he was nearly un-hitable, but when he was bad, it would be unbearable. Hopefully the Jeff Niemann of August will show up this year for Tampa.
All in all, the Rays have a good shot at becoming the best rotation in the American League this year. The Rays' rotation has the most pitching depth of all AL teams and likely the most potential. Tampa’s whole season hangs in the balance of these five men. They are going to have to do a few things better this year to improve. First off, they need to throw more strikes and stay in the games longer along with trusting their defense. The Rays have one of the best defenses in the MLB. If their starting pitching throws strikes more often and record outs quicker, it will result in deeper outings. They need to work on their two-strike success, as it was one of the rotation's main issues last season. If the Rays trust their defense, go deeper into games, and throw better two-strike pitches, they could easily have the best pitching staff in the AL this year. The team already did not have much to improve on, so if they make these minor adjustments, the possibilities are endless.