Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Ranking aces of AL contenders
By Jim Bowden
On Monday, I ranked all the National League aces of postseason contenders. The list featured a mixture of young power arms and seasoned veterans with postseason experience. What's more important: ability or experience? While veteran savvy is important and can help to a point, as I wrote, velocity is effective. 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 with velocity and pitch-ability.
With the postseason almost upon us, I've ranked the No. 1 starters on all the teams still mathematically alive for an AL playoff spot.
20-3, 3.00 ERA, 230 K's, 0.97 WHIP I asked Tigers manager Jim Leyland this week whether he would have believed me if I had told him in spring training Justin Verlander would be his third best starter come October? He responded with a resounding "No!" But that's exactly where the Tigers are, as both Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez have not only outpitched Verlander, but outpowered him, too, giving the Tigers arguably the best 1-2 punch in the AL this postseason. Scherzer is the frontrunner for AL Cy Young Award and his power fastball/slider combo and devastating changeup will be formidable in the postseason’s short series.
13-9, 2.82 ERA, 256 K's, 1.07 WHIP Darvish is a close second on this list because his dominating fastball and multiple secondary wipeout pitches. Like Scherzer, when he's on he can beat any lineup in baseball and is capable of running the table. However, last year he was unable to win the wild-card game and also lost his battle to Bartolo Colon last Saturday despite giving up only one run. If the Rangers make the playoffs -- and that's a big "if" right now -- they have the ace to win in October.
15-8, 3.68 ERA, 173 K's, 1.27 WHIP Lester's statistics suggest he shouldn't be ranked third on this list, but his stuff and results recently indicate otherwise. Lester is all the way back to being an ace, throwing in the mid-90s, up to 97 mph with his devastating cutter and curve ball. However, it still would not be surprising if Clay Buchholz ends up being the Game 1 starter if he continues pitching like he has in his past two starts. With Lester and Buchholz pitching up to their capability, they can compete with the Scherzer and Sanchez in a potential ALCS showdown between the league’s best 1-2 pitching combos.
8-8, 3.43 ERA, 139 K's, 1.12 WHIP Price has endured an injury-plagued season with substantially subpar results, but that doesn't mean anything if he's locked in during the postseason. Price is a true ace, and if the Rays make it to the postseason, their pitching and defense is good enough to run the table. Don't pay attention to Price’s stats, but realize his stuff -- especially his fastball command -- can beat the best AL lineups when it’s on.
17-6, 2.64 ERA, 109 K's, 1.18 WHIP Colon's stats and the fact that he beat Darvish last Saturday suggest he should be higher on this list. However, come October I like pitchers who miss bats. Although Colon is a Cy Young Award candidate, I can't put him ahead of Scherzer, Darvish, Lester or Price. Colon has had a terrific season not only in on-field performance but, more importantly, his leadership for the younger A's starters. Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily all praise his leadership and wisdom.
12-9, 3.21 ERA, 186 K's, 1.25 WHIP For the Royals, "Big Game James" will get his chance to live up to the nickname if the Royals make the postseason. He surely would be named their Game 1 starter. He loves big moments, the limelight and lives for these types of games. However, he’s sixth on this list for a reason. While I wouldn’t bet against him in the postseason, he isn’t a shutdown talent. Lineups can still get to him.
12-9, 3.38 ERA, 181 K's, 1.35 WHIP Cleveland manager Terry Francona told me this week that Justin Masterson is his ace, and No. 1 starter. Unfortunately, he has been on the DL with an oblique injury and is going to try to help the Indians out of the bullpen. Without Masterson, Francona doesn't have an ace, although he did mention Jimenez, Danny Salazar and Cory Kluber in that order. Jimenez is good enough to throw a shutout but inconsistent enough to get knocked out early.
11-13, 3.31 ERA, 150 K's, 1.16 WHIP Even if CC Sabathia wasn’t out for the season, his mediocre stuff and performance wouldn't warrant a start in Game 1. I wanted to put Andy Pettitte here, but he's always been a Game 2 starter. I thought about putting Ivan Nova here, but I just couldn't put him ahead of the veteran Kuroda. Kuroda is certainly not pitching the same as he did in the first half of the season and is not an ace, but the Yankees don't really have one anyone else. Of course, it’s a longshot the Yankees will make it anyway, so this could all be moot.