CC Sabathia and 10 Starting Pitchers Their Teams Cannot Live Without

Jake SingerContributor IIIMay 18, 2012

CC Sabathia and 10 Starting Pitchers Their Teams Cannot Live Without

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    We're not even one-quarter of the way through the season and already most teams' biggest weaknesses have been exposed. For many, it's starting pitching.

    Pitchers rarely win the Most Valuable Player award (Justin Verlander notwithstanding), but here are 10 pitchers whose successes or failures could make or break his team's season.

    These pitchers are not necessarily the best 10 pitchers in the game, nor are they in all cases their teams' best pitchers. However, they are the most crucial starting pitchers in their respective rotations.

Johan Santana

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    The New York Mets are off to a surprisingly fast start, sitting at 21-17 and in third place in the NL East.

    I wouldn't say that the Amazins are where they are because of Johan Santana, but I will say that they wouldn't stay in third place for long if they lost him.

    After missing all of 2011, Santana has a 2.89 ERA with 46 strikeouts and allowing just 37 hits in 43.2 innings.

    His 1-2 record isn't impressive, but he has provided quality innings and stability in a rotation that has already lost Mike Pelfrey to season-ending surgery and has 26 year old Dillon Gee pitching to a 5.65 ERA.

    R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese have pitched nicely, but Dickey is 37 and Niese has never thrown more than 173.2 innings in his career.

    With all of the question marks surrounding the Mets' rotation, Santana is crucial to the Amazins' quest to stay in playoff contention.

Joe Saunders

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks are off to a disappointing start in 2012, with a 17-22 record and an offense that's struggling.

    As long as the offense flounders, Arizona's pitching is going to have to keep the team above water. Joe Saunders is essential for that to happen.

    The D-Backs' two aces, Trevor Cahill and Ian Kennedy, have been solid, as has Saunders (who has a 3.43 ERA in seven starts), but the back of the rotation is questionable.

    Wade Miley has been great, but he's in his first full season in the majors and it remains to be seen whether he can continue to get major league hitters out over the course of 30-35 starts.

    Daniel Hudson has also been out for a month with shoulder pain, so he's a question mark, too.

    If Saunders can continue to pitch well, the D-Backs' rotation should be good enough to allow the team to contend even if Miley falters or if Hudson cannot stay healthy.

    If he does not, Arizona may find itself out of a playoff race.

Yu Darvish

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    The Texas Rangers are, without question, the best team in baseball, and it's not even that close. Their offense can hit any kind of pitching, their starting rotation is deep and their bullpen is solid. They might be the best team since the 1998 Yankees.

    But after two straight World Series losses, Rangers' fans will take no solace in that fact if their team does not win their first championship in 2012.

    Yu Darvish isn't going to make or break their fortunes in the regular season, but he might in the playoffs.

    In an American League full of aces, it is more or less imperative that a team have one of its own in order to advance deep into the playoffs.

    The Rays have David Price, the Tigers have Justin Verlander and the Yankees have CC Sabathia.

    Who do the Rangers have? Outside of Darvish, their rotation consists of Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz. All are above-average pitchers, but none are aces.

    True, the Rangers were able to make it past the Tigers and Verlander last year without a true ace, but C.J. Wilson was better than any of the Rangers' other options.

    Without Darvish pitching like he is now, I'm not sure the Rangers could beat Price, Sabathia or Verlander two or three times in a playoff series.

Max Scherzer

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    The Detroit Tigers have Justin Verlander, but they're not going to win in the postseason without at least one more reliable starting pitcher.

    Rick Porcello has pitched poorly this year and should not be counted on for an ERA better than 4.50.

    Rookie Drew Smyly has been great, but he's just that, a rookie.

    Doug Fister has been solid, but he missed a month with a muscle strain so he's only made three starts, which is hardly enough to make a generalization about.

    That leaves Scherzer, who has a track record of success but has not shown it this year, with a 6.26 ERA in eight starts with a 1.728 WHIP.

    If the Tigers are going to get back to the World Series, they're going to need Scherzer to improve.

Derek Lowe

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    The Cleveland Indians are off to a surprisingly fast start for the second year in a row. They are sitting atop the AL Central with a 22-16 record, three games ahead of the division favorites, the Tigers.

    A major reason for their success is the resurgence of Derek Lowe, who is 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA in his first season in Cleveland, after being traded from Atlanta over the winter. But he has been unimpressive for the last few seasons, and it remains to be seen whether he can keep it up.

    If he can't, expect the Indians to fall back, and fast.

    The rest of Cleveland's rotation has been thoroughly unimpressive.

    Justin Masterson has a 5.40 ERA and Ubaldo Jimenez is having his second straight disappointing season with a 5.09 ERA and 32 walks compared to 28 strikeouts. Josh Tomlin has been average and is currently on the DL.

    The only way the Indians will stay competitive while Masterson and Jimenez work through their struggles is for Lowe to keep pitching like an ace.

Jordan Zimmermann

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    Jordan Zimmermann and the Washington Nationals are off to one of the best starts in baseball, despite early-season injuries to Jesus Flores, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmermann, because their starting pitching has been phenomenal.

    Not only have they stayed healthy (their original five-man rotation has made every start this year), but four of the five have ERAs under 3.00. The one outlier, Edwin Jackson, has a 3.71.

    Gio Gonzalez is 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA, Stephen Strasburg has 56 strikeouts in 48 innings, and Ross Detwiler has the highest WHIP on the staff at 1.093, which is still great.

    Zimmerman, meanwhile, has a 0.971 WHIP and a 2.14 ERA in seven starts.

    If the Nats are going to continue to compete in the NL East, the rest of their rotation beyond just Gonzalez and Strasburg will have to stay solid. The offense's injuries has made it hard for the team to score runs, so the pitchers will have to keep scores low.

    Gonzalez and Strasburg are great pitchers and Jackson has great stuff, but Zimmermann first has to stay healthy, then has to prove he can stay reliable over the course of a full season, which he never has (the most starts he's made in one year is 26).

    Without Zimmermann, and with a regression probably coming at some point from Detwiler, the Nats would be in trouble.

Randy Wolf

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    The 2011 NL Central champions are off to a rough start, with the Brewers having lost Prince Fielder to free agency and Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez to season-ending ligament injuries.

    They currently sit at 16-22 and for the first time in several years are having trouble scoring runs.

    They need their pitching to step up.

    Zack Greinke has been predictably solid, as has Shaun Marcum. Yovani Gallardo has struggled, but he's a good enough pitcher that I'm not worried about him turning things around.

    Randy Wolf is the key for the Brewers; if he can rebound from a rough start (2-4, 6.38 ERA in 42.1 innings), the Brew Crew's pitching can be good enough to overcome its offensive weaknesses.

    If he doesn't, the rotation will only be three quality pitchers deep and will have trouble winning the games in which they don't pitch.

Clay Buchholz

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    I know I'm not the first to say it, but the Red Sox are in a lot of trouble.

    Their offense is not as deep as it's been in recent years, but the biggest problem is that the pitching has been bad.

    Jon Lester has been improving and Josh Beckett may be starting to bounce back from early struggles. Felix Dubront and Daniel Bard have been decent, but they are both question marks and it remains to be seen how they fare over the course of the entire season.

    Above all, Clay Buchholz, who the Red Sox rely upon to fill out the "Big Three" of their rotation, can't get outs. At all.

    Through eight starts, he holds a 7.77 ERA. He's allowed 61 hits in 44 innings, striking out just 25 while walking 23. He's also given up 10 home runs.

    With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury eventually coming back, the Sox offense will score runs. But do they have the pitching to support it?

    The bullpen is below average, and Dubront and Bard are question marks. The Sox can count on Jon Lester and probably Josh Beckett, but they really need Buchholz to bounce back and give them a quality third starter.

    If he doesn't, they may be watching the playoffs from home again.

Chris Capuano

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    Raise your hand if you thought the Los Angeles Dodgers would own baseball's best record on May 18.

    I didn't think so.

    Matt Kemp has carried the Dodger offense, but it's the pitching, which is allowing fewer than three and a half runs per game, that has propelled them.

    Of course Clayton Kershaw, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner, has been superb, with a 2.22 ERA and 47 strikeouts through eight starts.

    But the rest of the rotation, which is full of question marks, has performed almost as well.

    Chris Capuano, who has been plagued with injuries for his entire career, is 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA. But will he be able to keep it up?

    Ted Lilly somehow has a 2.11 ERA to go along with a 5-0 record. He's never been quite this good for an entire season, but he's had a sub-four ERA every year since 2009.

    Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang have also performed adequately.

    It's hard to imagine Capuano and Lilly keeping up their numbers for four more months, but it's also hard to imagine the Dodger offense getting much better than it currently is.

    Kershaw is about as much of a guarantee as they come, but the Dodgers need Chris Capuano to stay healthy and effective for their starting pitching dominance to continue. Lilly will probably regress, and Billingsley and Harang are what they are. Capuano is the wild card.

CC Sabathia

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    Coming into 2012, it looked like the Yankees starting pitching was going to be a strength of the team, rather than the team's main weakness in 2011. They added Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda, and re-signed Freddy Garcia to give a deep rotation even more depth.

    Pineda will miss the entire season with a shoulder injury, Kuroda has been extremely inconsistent and Garcia has been nothing short of atrocious.

    What the Yankees are left with are Andy Pettitte, who hadn't pitched since 2010 before allowing four runs in six and a third innings pitched on Sunday, Ivan Nova, who has a 5.44 ERA, Phil Hughes, who is starting to improve but is still unproven, and CC Sabathia.

    The Yankees need Sabathia for so many reasons. For one, he's an innings-eater who can save the bullpen for a night if they've been used heavily for the few days before he pitches. For another, he's a great pitcher who wins them games.

    But he's also the one source of consistency the Yankees have. Far more often than not, he will give the Yanks a solid outing, which is more than their other starters can say, and he's a legitimate ace the team can rely on in the playoffs.

    Without CC, the Yankees would be lost.