American League East: Which Pitching Tandem Will Prevail in 2012?

Andrew BurtonCorrespondent IIIFebruary 1, 2012

Courtesy of George Rizer/Globe Staff
Courtesy of George Rizer/Globe Staff

The American League East has started an era where quality pitching is everything.  Rest assured, although this is an even year, Josh Beckett will still have ace-quality stuff.  C.C. Sabathia should put up his usual numbers, and James Shields will have a great year in Tampa.

The question I ask is which No. 2 starter will capitalize off of his prior pitching teammate, making the best duo?

Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester and Josh Beckett

The Boston Red Sox use the duo of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as their one and two starters. In 2011, the duo combined for 28 wins with 357 strikeouts. That's a lot of fanning taking place. 

Jon Lester might have taken over the No. 1 spot in the rotation.  He has been lights out in his six seasons with Boston. He has a record of 76-34; that's a winning percentage of 69 percent, which is almost unheard of.

It goes further than that, though. Lester's ERA last season was 3.47 in 31 games. He managed to strike out 182 batters while only walking 75. 

Jon Lester has clearly earned his paycheck, and at just over $7.5 million, he's a bargain for the type of stuff he brings to the Red Sox rotation.  I expect another solid year from the pitcher, even with the pressure of being a No. 1.

Josh Beckett could fill the two hole very nicely.  As we all know by now, Beckett excels in odd years for some strange reason. Maybe not having to put Bean Town on his back will give him a solid season. Last year, Beckett went 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA.  Clearly the starter was in the grove; this is evident from such a low ERA in a division that's tougher than nails. He struck out 175 batters in 193 innings. 

Although the Sox expected more from their $17 million ace, he did what he could with a team that was expected to win it all. Now that the spotlight is shifting from them to Miami's All-Star team, the Sox can do what they normally do—and that's win.

Beckett will come in handy for the Red Sox if they make it past September baseball.  Although Beckett is 1-1 in the ALDS, he is 5-1 after that.  That type of confidence can only come with experience, and Beckett brings that to the table.  

Overall, I think Boston has a very nice duo containing a recipe for success. If the Sox can provide their one and two with run support throughout the season, there is no reason for me not to think the two are capable of a combined 35 wins. But will they do it is a question I will answer in the following months. 

New York Yankees: C.C. Sabathia and Michael Pineda

Now taking a look at the newly-formed Yankees' one-two punch of C.C. Sabathia and Michael Pineda, you have to think they're in better shape than last year.  The question was quality starting pitching, and now that they've solved that there shouldn't be any doubt as to how far the team can go, so long as Pineda didn't bring absentee run support from Seattle.

Examining the numbers combined—keep in mind Pineda was with the Mariners—Sabathia and Pineda should wreak havoc on the lesser foes of the American League.  Together, the two have an amazing 403 K's.  With C.C. being lefty and Pineda being right handed, teams are in big trouble when facing the Yanks, especially during the stretch when games start to matter more. 

Can you say anything bad about C.C.'s last season? Can you say anything bad about him since he's been in pinstripes?  In his three seasons, Sabathia is 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA.   He's been a work horse for New York.  In 2011, he pitched 237.1 innings with 230 strike outs. If he can continue this performance, and I'm sure he will, the Yanks should have no problem paying him the big bucks.

Newly-acquired Michael Pineda will have to prove to the world that he deserves to wear the pinstripes more so than the guy he was traded for, Jesus Montero. With Seattle, the rookie went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA.  The Yankees know that their run support will be far more productive than Seattle, and so they rolled the dice on Pineda.  

The bright lights of New York might be intimidating, but if the 22-year-old can maintain his composure, he should succeed behind C.C.  Pineda gave up 133 hits in 171 innings, which isn't too bad, especially considering the team of All-Stars you now have. 

I think this tandem that Cashman has formed will succeed during 2012. Sabathia will assume his normal role as the work horse, while Pineda finds his niche in NY. The two can easily combine for 35 wins, but don't be surprised if they surpass that, especially if the Yankee hitters remain healthy throughout the season.

I expect this team to be playing baseball in October, and seek revenge for being ousted in the division series last year.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields and David Price

Now we look at the underdogs for 2012. Tampa Bay's James Shields and David Price are excellent pitchers, although their last year's numbers may say otherwise. They combined for a 28-25 record. Not great, but good enough to take Tampa to a division series.

James Shields will be Tampa's No. 1 guy come September. At 16-12, he was a gem for the Rays. He had a 2.82 ERA with 225 strikeout victims.  With those numbers, its no wonder Tampa decided to pass on trades for the starter. 

Shields seems to be the player that can provide solid pitching for many years to come, but he needs a team that can put up runs on the board.  Out of his 12 losses, seven were winnable had the team scored an extra run.  That would've brought Shields to 23-5. Need I say more?

David Price is a fan favorite over at Tropicana Field. His 12-13 record last season is something that would have most people counting him out for 2012.  The good thing about Price is he too is a work horse, which could lead to his downfall as it did last season.  With a clean slate for 2012, I'm sure he will impress.

In four seasons with Tampa, Price is 41-26, which is not bad at the age of 25.  He also has 575 innings under his belt, and can only get better, barring an unforeseeable injury.  I expect Price to continue learning how to pitch to the big dogs in the AL East, and dominate those elsewhere. 

I strongly believe that the Tampa starting rotation is highly underrated, especially in comparison to their rivals up in Boston and New York. Given that Tampa didn't make many changes, I think this duo will possibly break the 30-win mark.  

They will still struggle to put up runs, but with the wildcard expansion I expect them to be fighting for a playoff spot. 

In Conclusion...

In my opinion, based on the past and all the evidence I've provided, I think the Yankees have the more potent one-two punch when it comes to the starting rotation.  That's not to say that the Sox will not be as deadly, but based on Josh Beckett's age and odd-year performances, I don't see them edging out the Yankees in pitching battles. 

I also believe that it is notable to mention that I'm only talking about No.1 and No. 2 starters.  Both the Sox and Yanks have depth in their rotation, so anything is possible.

Tampa tends to thrive under pressure (see: 2008 season), and 2012 will have its share of crunch-time moments, especially in a schedule where you meet the powerhouses of Bean Town and the Bronx Bombers.