Pitching wins championships. The Cardinals allowed four runs or fewer in 13 of their 18 playoff games, including Chris Carpenter's pivotal Game 5 shutout win over Roy Halladay and the Phillies in the NLDS. They also allowed just two runs on six hits to the explosive Rangers offense in the World Series-clinching game.
There is no question that this has been a pitcher's league in recent years. Pitching is the key to winning in the MLB. Here are the top 10 pitching staffs in the majors for the 2012 season.
Projected Rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes
The recent offseason acquisitions have turned a negative into a positive for the Yankees. They traded for the talented Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal to improve their unreliable rotation.
C.C. is a workhorse; the Yankees can count on him taking the mound at least 33 times a year. His ERA has decreased each of his three years with New York, and he looks to continue that trend in 2012.
Pineda is still young and might need more time to develop into the star that he will become, but he will give the rotation solid innings and help fix the starting pitching problem that has been present in recent years.
Kuroda, a 37-year-old who lowered his ERA to a career-low 3.07 last year, is vastly underrated and will provide the team with a great No. 3 option.
These offseason moves will take a lot of pressure off of Ivan Nova and set up a formidable postseason 1-3, which Yankee fans hope will get them back to the World Series.
Projected Rotation: Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill, Joe Saunders, Josh Collmenter
Ian Kennedy had a breakout 2011 campaign, notching 21 wins with a 2.88 ERA. It is likely that he won't live up to last year's numbers in 2012, but he is still set for a solid season as the Diamondbacks ace.
Daniel Hudson is a very talented young pitcher, posting a 3.49 ERA last year, his first full season. Don't be surprised if the 24-year-old right-hander finishes the year being the D'Backs best pitcher.
An offseason trade brought Cahill to the desert from the Oakland A's. Though the numbers may decline going from a pitcher-friendly ballpark to the hitter-friendly Chase Field, Cahill is a solid No. 3 option for the defending NL West champs.
Projected Rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, John Lannan
The Washington Nationals have one of the best young pitching staffs in the entire league. Their 1-3 pitchers are all 26 or younger. This could be a dominant staff in a few years, but there are still some question marks heading into 2012.
The health of Strasburg is the primary concern for the Nationals after he missed nearly all of 2011 coming off of Tommy John surgery. When healthy, Strasburg is dominant, posting a 2.54 ERA in 17 career starts.
The transition of Gio Gonzalez will also be important for Washington this season. Gio had a solid 3.12 ERA in 2011, but his road splits were nearly a run higher than his home numbers at the spacious and awkwardly named O.co Coliseum.
Jordan Zimmermann had a wonderful 2011 season, taking his game to the next level with a 3.18 ERA and a 4.0 K/BB, though he went just 8-11.
The Nationals are poised to contend for a playoff spot in 2012, with their starting rotation leading the way.
Projected Rotation: Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson
The Brewers have one of the best 1-2 punches in all of baseball in Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo. They combined for 33 wins and over 400 strikes in 2011, and both look to contend for the Cy Young in 2012.
Shaun Marcum came over from Toronto last year and pitched well, accumulating a 3.54 ERA in 33 starts for the Brewers. He is looking to bounce back from an ugly postseason where he gave up 16 runs in just 9.2 innings.
If Milwaukee wants to repeat as NL Central champs, they'll need their pitching staff to step up after the departure of Prince Fielder and the possible suspension of Ryan Braun.
Projected Rotation: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook
The reigning World Champions are looking to defend their crown, but they will have to do it without Albert Pujols. Luckily, Adam Wainwright is set for Opening Day after missing all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Chris Carpenter is coming off another big workload in 2011 and has thrown for at least 235 innings each of the last two seasons, one of only three pitchers to do so. The Cardinals need the 37-year-old to stay healthy this year to have a shot at making the playoffs, let alone repeating as champs.
Jaime Garcia is a 25-year-old with a bright future. His ERA in 2011 was still a respectable 3.56, and his BB/9 dropped drastically from the previous year. He is ready to take a giant step forward in 2012.
Projected Rotation: Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor
The Atlanta Braves rotation consists of one veteran stud in Tim Hudson followed by a handful of future young stars. He had a great year again for the club in 2011, and don't expect anything different from the 36-year-old this year.
Tommy Hanson can develop into an ace if he can stay healthy. Injuries have plagued his short career, but most of this was due to his delivery. MLB.com reported that Braves minor league physical therapist Troy Jones suggested he change it in the offseason, and Hanson's new delivery should decrease his future injury risk immensely.
There has been talk of the Braves trading Jurrjens for another bat, and if they do, it will make room in the rotation for Julio Teheran. Teheran is widely considered the Braves' top prospect, going 15-3 with a 2.88 ERA in AAA last year but struggling in his short stint in the majors.
Whether Jair stays or not, the Atlanta Braves will have a star-studded rotation for years to come.
Projected Rotation: David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Wade Davis
The Tampa Bay Rays have the potential to be the best rotation in 2012 and for years to come. The only starter over 26 is James Shields, and the highly touted Matt Moore is just 22 years old.
Price is looking to regain his 2010 form, when he finished second in Cy Young voting. His ERA rose significantly last year, and his wins dropped from 19 to 12. However, he pitched better last year in many ways. His WHIP and BB/9 dropped while his K/9 increased, so expect him to have a big bounce-back year for the Rays.
Shields finished third in Cy voting last year, while Hellickson took home the Rookie of the Year. If they can at least come close to their numbers last year and Moore can live up to all of his hype, the Rays will contend for the pennant in the AL.
Projected Rotation: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito
We all know that Tim Lincecum is a dominant pitcher, but the rest of his rotation is also a big part of what helps make the Giants so good without any sense of offense whatsoever.
Matt Cain is an ace for most teams in Major League Baseball, posting a WHIP under 1.10 each of the last two seasons. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver are the only other players that can say that.
Madison Bumgarner got progressively better last season, culminating in a September where he went 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA. He is ready to put it together for a full season, and the 22-year-old will try to put up Matt Cain-like numbers in 2012.
Projected Rotation: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana, Jerome Williams
Weaver finished second in Cy Young voting last year, overshadowed by Verlander and his amazing year. Weaver went 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and officially joined the pitching elite in baseball.
The newly-acquired Wilson and Haren finished sixth and seventh in Cy voting, respectively. Wilson's numbers should be a lot better moving out of the Ballpark at Arlington, and Dan Haren is one of the most underrated pitchers in the game today.
With three aces on their staff, the Angels will challenge the Rangers for the AL West crown in 2012.
Projected Rotation: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, Joe Blanton
The Phillies still have the best starting five in the game. When you arguably have two of the best pitchers in baseball today, you're already a dominant team. Throw in an ace in Hamels and a solid No. 4 in Worley and five in Blanton, and you have the best rotation in the majors.
Halladay, Lee and Hamels are all Cy Young candidates year in and year out. They all finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting in 2011, and Halladay and Lee have already won the award.
Vance Worley also had a great year in 2011, going 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 21 starts with Philadelphia.
The staff led the Phillies to 102 wins last season, but the team stumbled in the playoffs. With the best starting five in baseball, the Phillies look like the favorites to be the NL champs in 2012.