Early in the season, every team’s goal is set on the postseason.
The National League Central Division will be a brawl until game 162. What leads clubs to October is great pitching and on top of that, a superb ace in the rotation.
Ranking from the weakest to strongest, here are the power rankings for the NL Central aces coming into the 2013 season.
It’s tough to put A.J. Burnett at the end of the rankings as he once struck out 231 batters in a single season just five years ago.
Burnett is entering his second year with the Pittsburgh Pirates and is coming off a rather successful year.
Last season Burnett pitched well on a team that slowly fizzled away at the end of the season. His split stats show that he actually pitched better in the second half of the season than the first.
However, with the team fading, his wins dropped dramatically.
W L ERA IP BB SO WHIP K/9
1st Half 10 2 3.68 93 33 79 1.301 7.6
2nd Half 6 8 3.38 109.1 29 101 1.189 8.3
At 36, Burnett did show a flash of resurgence with the Pirates. But the biggest question is, can he put up similar numbers again this year?
Burnett’s ERA during his New York Yankee run would show he might just be facing easier lineups.
Burnett had a 4.04 ERA in 2009, 5.26 ERA in 2010, and 5.15 ERA in 2011.
His 3.51 ERA in 2012 was the lowest since his last year with the Miami Marlins in 2005. While that doesn’t mean everything for Burnett’s 2013 season, it could mean his stability is in question.
With Matt Garza starting the season on the 15-day disabled list, the leading role has been given to Jeff Samardzija.
Not only is Samardzija taking over the number one pitching spot for the Chicago Cubs, he might rule as the best pitcher for the club.
Samardzija has the chance to continue his fantastic end of the 2012 season.
In the second half of the season, Samardzija kept the opposing batting average to .210. His 180 strikeouts in 174.2 IP is telling, to say the least.
Samardzija also held a 24.9 percent strikeout ratio, which was higher than A.J. Burnett and Matt Garza in 2012.
One thing that could be sought for improvement is his road numbers.
Samardzija’s 2012 home ERA was at 3.22, while on the road it jumped to 4.30.
He had 63 hits allowed at home in 78.1 IP and 94 hits allowed in 96.1 IP in away games.
However, Samardzija had nearly the same amount of strikeouts in both his home and away games.
Samardzija has the ability to standout in 2013 and give the Chicago Cubs a bright future with their possible new ace.
The Milwaukee Brewers added some competition for the title of ace on the staff at the end of spring training.
Signing Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contact immediately beefs up their starting rotation.
Even with the signing, Yovani Gallardo is still the clear ace.
It slightly pains me to place Gallardo at third in the NL Central, but some of his numbers are incredible.
Let’s start with the fact he’s reached over 200 IP his last two seasons and over 185 IP the two previous years. Gallardo has collected at least 200 strikeouts in all four seasons.
Last season, Gallardo kept right-handed hitters to .230/.286/.368, respectively.
His home stats show that he’s vulnerable to the size of Miller Park. He gave up 20 home runs at home and only six on the road.
He’s not completely dominating the NL Central aces yet. His career ERA is 3.64, which isn’t bad, but among the ranks, Gallardo doesn’t top the list.
Johnny Cueto is quietly turning into one of the top pitchers in the majors. The Cincinnati Reds found out the hard way what his absence does to the rotation with his injury in the 2012 NLDS.
While his 2012 strikeout percentage wasn't anything special at 19.1 percent, Cueto does have the ability to get batters out.
He allowed only 73 runs in 2012, walked just 49 batters and 14 of them came while pitching at home. Cueto gave up 15 home runs last season while reaching over 200 IP for the first time in his career.
Cueto has the most upside of any NL Central pitcher. His stats don’t belong to someone who pitches in one of the smallest ballparks in the league.
Last season, Ceuto only gave up 29 runs at home. He led most of 2012 in ERA until a batch of poor outings dropped him toward the end of the season.
If Cueto continues his success from last year, the leaderboard might change.
Not only is he the ace of the Cardinals, but of the NL Central as well.
After missing the entire 2011 season, Wainwright was able to log 198 IP in his return season, which is nothing short of amazing.
While the majority of Wainwright’s numbers escalated from 2010 to 2012, he now has 2013 to display his vintage form.
His command and control of the ball took some adjusting as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Wainwright logged over 230 IP in both 2008 and 2009 while keeping his ERA below 2.63.
Some might argue that Johnny Cueto’s 2012 season was much better than Wainwright’s.
However, you have to look at 2009 and 2010.
Wainwright placed second in the NL Cy Young voting in 2010 only to be beaten by Roy Halladay’s best career season.
Even in a year where his command was in question after Tommy John, Wainwright still had an impressive 2012 season. Wainwright struck out 184, walked 52, and gave up 15 home runs.
If Wainwright is able to show any resemblance of his 2010 season, he will be in discussion for the Cy Young once again.
2013 is the year for Wainwright to prove why he’s the best ace in the National League Central.