Monday, September 23, 2013
Ranking aces of NL contenders
By Jim Bowden
Clayton Kershaw is hands-down the best ace among postseason contenders.
As we've all learned by now, baseball's postseason is pretty much a crapshoot, with all 10 participants having a legitimate chance at a world championship.
Just before last year's postseason began I predicted the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series. I chose the Giants because I lean toward the best and most successful power arms. Usually postseason teams have the best lineups in the game, so the best way to win is is with velocity and pitchability.
With the postseason almost upon us, I decided to rank the No. 1 starters on all of the likely playoff participants. We'll start with the NL today as the playoff picture in the Senior Circuit is a bit more clear cut.
15-9, 1.88 ERA, 224 K's, 0.92 WHIP Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, period. If I had to predict an ace or team to run the table, it has to be Kershaw and the Dodgers. He knows how to use his four-pitch mix with the best in the game and he has learned how to get outs in early counts, which has allowed him to pitch deeper into games.
Because of all this, I predict that he will become the highest-paid pitcher the game has ever seen this winter, earning an extension from the Dodgeers that will pay him $30 million annually. The Dodgers’ No. 2 starter, Zack Greinke, gives them the best 1-2 starter combination in the NL.
17-9, 2.98 ERA, 209 K's, 1.08 WHIP When healthy, Wainwright always somehow lands in top three of the NL Cy Young Award voting. This year should be no different. He missed the Cardinals’ last World Series championship because he was on the DL, and Chris Carpenter led the way. Now it’s Wainwright’s chance to help lead the Cardinals back to another championship.
However, if the Cards end up playing the Reds in a one-game wild-card playoff, they might not start Wainwright because of his last two horrible starts and dismal career record against the Reds. Of course, if they get to a five-game or seven-game playoff series, there’s no doubt he'll be the Game 1 starter. And if his curveball is working on that given night, he can run the table just as Carpenter did in 2011.
19-8, 3.18 ERA, 159 K's, 1.10 WHIP The Nats are still mathematically alive so I will include them here, though it's extremely unlikely they clinch a playoff spot.
If they make it, the Nationals’ Game 1 starter this postseason won't be the pitcher they thought it would be during spring training. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have fought injuries all season and neither has been as dominant or consistent as Zimmermann, who has rebounded from Tommy John surgery and emerged as one of the most dominant starters in baseball. His stuff is so nasty and his command is so pinpoint he's capable of dominating in the postseason.
16-7, 2.88 ERA, 155 K's, 1.21 WHIP Let's just congratulate Liriano now; he’s going to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He's throwing now like he did when he was a young phenom coming up in the Twins’ system. After years of posting ERAs over 5.00, Liriano has put it all together. His average fastball is 93 mph, his slider is averaging 87 mph and is harder than in years past. His changeup remains hard and effective because it's relatively the same speed as his slider. His command in the zone is the best it has been since 2006.
14-6, 3.23 ERA, 180 K's, 1.22 WHIP Johnny Cueto was supposed to be their Game 1 starter, but he has battled injuries all season. Cueto made his first start since June last week and was impressive, throwing five shutout innings against the Houston Astros. However, it was the Astros, and Cueto's long layoff means we should remain skeptical until he proves he can go deep into games against tough lineups.
Therefore, Latos should be the Reds' No. 1 starter going into October. His power arm misses bats, and when he’s locked in he can cut through any lineup. His stuff says he should be higher on this list and perhaps this postseason he can prove it.
13-7, 3.19 ERA, 169 K's, 1.08 WHIP The Braves could decide to start Kris Medlen in Game 1 and put the left-handed Minor in between Medlen and Julio Teheran for a potentially devastating right-left-right trio in a five-game series. However, Minor has been the Braves’ most consistent and effective starter for the most of the season, so it’s understandable if manager Fredi Gonzalez would decide to go with Minor in Game 1.
By week’s end, the Braves might end up with the best record in the NL -- a potentially a huge advantage considering they are 52-22 at home and below .500 on the road, giving them the biggest home-road splits of any of the contenders listed here. Regardless, the Braves’ No. 1 starter -- whether that’s Medlen, Minor or Teheran -- doesn't measure up with many of the aforementioned No. 1 starters, which could become a significant factor in the postseason.