Every MLB Team's Big-Name Pitcher That Needs to Step Up ASAP
It's too early to pull out the cliche: "It's getting late early." But as the calendar gets set to flip over to the second month of the MLB regular season, early-season struggles for some of the bigger names on the mound around the game simply cannot be ignored.
From award winners and perennial All-Stars to players past their prime who are hanging onto the dream of pitching in the big leagues by a thread, the list of "big name" pitchers who need to step up their games runs the gamut.
Some of these pitchers have shown signs of life and need to capitalize on it, while others are still searching for a pulse.
Here's a look at the biggest names on the mound for each team that need to raise the level of their game sooner, rather than later.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Brandon McCarthy
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 0-3, 7.48 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 27.2 IP, 45 H, 4 BB, 18 K
Injury doesn't seem to be the reason why Brandon McCarthy has struggled through his first five starts in a Diamondbacks uniform, as there hasn't been so much as a whisper that he's dealing with an arm issue or aftereffects from the head injury that he suffered last season.
Yet a seemingly healthy McCarthy has been shelled in each of his five outings, allowing at least four earned runs in all but one of his starts in 2013. In his one start that he didn't surrender four earned runs, McCarthy needed 102 pitches to get through four innings—after three runs had crossed the plate.
Via FanGraphs, almost 70 percent of his pitches are being thrown for strikes (337-of-491), so it's not a lack of command that's causing his bloated numbers, though it should be noted that nearly 80 percent of his pitches are either his cut fastball or slider.
Perhaps McCarthy should be looking to throw his curveball and changeup more often than he is, if for no other reason than to keep hitters off-balance.
Arizona has plenty of pitching depth, so it's not a case of the team being stuck with McCarthy in the rotation should his struggles continue. That said, the team didn't sign him to a two-year, $15.5 million contract this offseason to serve as the team's long-man out of the bullpen.
With no obvious reasons as to why he's been as ineffective as he has been and a recent track record of success, you have to figure that McCarthy will get back on track sooner rather than later.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran
2013 Stats: 4 GS, 1-0, 5.48 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 23 IP, 29 H, 7 BB, 15 K
While he's only 22 years old, big things have been expected from Julio Teheran for quite some time, and his performance this spring did nothing to temper those expectations:
Up until his last start—when he threw seven innings of one-run ball against the Colorado Rockies, scattering eight hits while striking out three—Teheran has failed to live up to those lofty expectations.
Each of his previous three starts saw him surrender at least four earned runs and make it past the fifth inning only once.
While the Braves remain a pitching-rich club, the team needs Teheran to begin to live up to the considerable hype that has surrounded him since he first signed with the team as an amateur free agent back in 2007.
Baltimore Orioles: Nobody
The biggest names on Baltimore's pitching staff—starters Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel—have been solid, while closer Jim Johnson has been outstanding thus far in 2013.
A lesser-known commodities, Chris Tillman, has straightened himself out after a shaky start to the season. Miguel Gonzalez, who has allowed 11 earned runs, 20 hits and four home runs over his past three starts, certainly needs to step up his game, but he doesn't qualify as a "big name."
Boston Red Sox: Joel Hanrahan
2013 Stats: 6 G, 0-1, 11.57 ERA, 2.36 WHIP, 4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 BB, 4 K, 3-for-4 SV
Things have been going well in Boston this season in spite of Joel Hanrahan, who was ineffective in all but his first game in a Boston uniform and has missed nearly half of April due to a hamstring injury that landed him on the 15-day disabled list.
According to Evan Drellich of the Springfield Republican, Hanrahan is trying out some different mechanics during his rehab stint at Triple-A Pawtucket as he nears a return to Boston's bullpen:
Joel Hanrahan tests out new mechanics along with hamstring, hopes to return after Sunday's outing masslive.com/redsox/index.s…— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) April 27, 2013.
An All-Star in each of the past two seasons with Pittsburgh, Hanrahan is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Should his struggles continue upon his return, manager John Farrell could replace him in the ninth inning permanently with Andrew Bailey, who is more than capable of handling the role.
That isn't going to help Hanrahan when he's negotiating his next contract.
Chicago Cubs: Carlos Marmol
2013 Stats: 5 G, 2-1, 4.22 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 10.2 IP, 10 H, 10 BB, 11 K, 2-for-4 SV
If you're one of those people who thinks that wins for a pitcher is an overrated stat, you'll love this: Carlos Marmol has more wins than Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija combined.
By no means does that, or the fact that Marmol hasn't allowed an earned run in his past nine appearances, mean that the part-time closer is having a good season—that's hardly the case.
Marmol has walked nearly as many batters as he's struck out and is dealing with reduced velocity across the board from a year ago (via FanGraphs):
|Fastball Velocity (mph)||Slider Velocity (mph)|
Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported during spring training that Marmol and his representatives have been put on notice that the club intends to trade the 30-year-old right-hander at some point during the season.
The Cubs almost traded Marmol to the Los Angeles Angels for Dan Haren back in November, and it's clear that a change of scenery would benefit both him and the team at this point.
But should he continue to put runners on base at the rate that he currently is, there's little chance of Chicago getting anything of value in exchange for the 30-year-old reliever—and making trades like that simply isn't GM Jed Hoyer's style.
Chicago White Sox: Gavin Floyd
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 0-4, 5.18 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 24.1 IP, 27 H, 12 BB, 25 K
Some time off might be the best thing for Gavin Floyd, who was recently placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained elbow that he suffered against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Floyd has been largely ineffective over his last four starts, allowing 12 earned runs and 23 hits in 18.1 innings, while walking 11 and striking out 20.
Whether the White Sox are in contention or not when the trade deadline rolls around, Floyd, a free agent after the season, could be moved to fill a hole elsewhere on the roster—especially if John Danks is fully recovered from shoulder surgery that he underwent last August.
Floyd will need to show that he's capable of stringing together a handful of quality starts before any team is going to entertain the idea of making a move for him.
Cincinnati Reds: Nobody
Cincinnati's starting rotation has been terrific thus far in 2013, and while the bullpen sits with an ERA over 4.00, that's a misleading number.
Aroldis Chapman, Tony Cingrani, Sam LeClure and Sean Marshall all have ERA's under 2.00, and while Jonathan Broxton's ERA is bloated at 6.10, consider this: the seven earned runs that he's allowed on the season have come in two outings.
The rest of the time, Broxton has been outstanding. In 7.2 innings of scoreless relief, Broxton has scattered four hits, walking none while striking out four.
There's nothing not to like about Cincinnati's pitching as we prepare to head into the second month of the season.
Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez
2013 Stats: 4 GS, 0-2, 10.06 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 17 IP, 16 H, 11 BB, 15 K
Even the most ardent Ubaldo Jimenez supporter has to admit that the 29-year-old right-hander is no longer a legitimate major league starter.
Jimenez has figured out a way to be an even bigger disaster in 2013 than he previously was in an Indians uniform, a gigantic feat of incompetence when you look at his numbers: 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 42 starts for the Indians heading into the season.
Over his last three starts, Jimenez has allowed 18 earned runs and 13 hits in 11 innings of work, walking as many batters (nine) as he's struck out.
After his shortest outing of the season against Boston, when he walked five and allowed seven earned runs in 1.2 innings of work, manager Terry Francona was trying to stay positive (via Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe):
Terry Francona saidhe could be frustrated with Ubaldo Jimenez or keep trying to help him get better. He's choosing to help him get better
— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) April 17, 2013
If things don't change quickly, Francona will have no choice but to take Jimenez out of the rotation—a rotation that continues to pitch like one of the worst in baseball.
A free agent at the end of the season, Jimenez is pitching for his major league life right now. While the Indians can't demote him to the minors without his permission and he doesn't throw enough strikes to be an effective reliever, banishment to the role of seldom-used long reliever could be in his future.
Colorado Rockies: Jeff Francis
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 1-2, 7.29 ERA, 1.95 WHIP, 21 IP, 31 H, 10 BB, 18 K
Yes, Jeff Francis was impressive in his last start, as noted by MLB.com's Thomas Harding:
But one start doesn't erase what has been a pretty awful start to the season for the 32-year-old Francis, now six years removed from his 17-win season for Colorado en route to the team's only World Series appearance back in 2007.
Sad but true fact: Francis has won 21 games since that time.
Even more depressing is the fact that Francis has been worse on the road than he has at home this season:
If his struggles were Coors Field-related, that'd be one thing. Clearly, that's not the case, though, and it makes Francis a liability every time he takes the ball from first-year skipper Walt Weiss.
While the Rockies continue to be one of baseball's biggest early-season surprises—tied for first place in the NL West with the Arizona Diamondbacks—the team needs more outings from Francis like his last one if that success is going to continue throughout the season.
Detroit Tigers: Rick Porcello
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 1-2, 8.84 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 19.1 IP, 28 H, 5 BB, 8 K
Coming off of a strong spring training where he posted a 3.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, no walks and 21 strikeouts in 24 innings of work, many (myself included) believed that Rick Porcello was ready to take the next step in his development this season.
Perhaps his last outing against the Atlanta Braves, when he allowed only five hits and three earned runs in six innings, was a sign that the 24-year-old right-hander is turning a corner.
We've seen this before from Porcello, who has the natural ability to be a front-of-the-rotation arm but has never been able to put it all together for an entire season. For a month he could, sure, but never for an entire season.
The subject of trade speculation as spring training neared its end, Porcello needs to build on his last start and begin to show the consistency that Detroit needs from him in the middle of the rotation.
Houston Astros: Erik Bedard
2013 Stats: 5 G (4 GS), 0-2, 7.98 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 14.2 IP, 18 H, 8 BB, 19 K
Don't let Erik Bedard's numbers fool you, for he's been worse than they lead you to believe.
In his four starts, Bedard has pitched to a 10.32 ERA and 2.21 WHIP. While he's struck out 17 batters in 11.1 innings of work as a starter, he's also walked eight and failed to make it past the fourth inning in any of his outings.
It was going to be a painfully long season with or without Bedard in the Astros rotation this season, but the veteran isn't doing anything but testing the team's pain threshold at this point.
Some length in his starts and keeping things close enough where the Astros at least think they have a chance to pick up a victory before he departs would be a welcome change.
Kansas City Royals: Nobody
Kansas City's pitching staff hasn't been an issue for the first-place Royals (sounds weird, doesn't it?) in 2013.
The team's rebuilt starting rotation ranks eighth in baseball (fourth in the AL) with a 3.23 ERA, while the bullpen has been equally as effective, pitching to a 2.77 ERA (also eighth in baseball and fourth in the AL) while leading all teams with a .189 batting average against.
Even Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, who were atrocious as members of the team's starting rotation in 2012, have found new life while pitching in relief this season:
That's not a typo—Bruce Chen has yet to allow an earned run in 2013.
If the Royals pitching can keep this up while bats like Mike Moustakas (.169 BA, 2 RBI) wake up, there's no reason that Kansas City couldn't be playing playoff baseball for the first time in nearly 30 years in October.
Los Angeles Angels: Joe Blanton
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 0-4, 7.09 ERA, 2.10 WHIP, 26.2 IP, 47 H, 9 BB, 13 K
If Joe Blanton's numbers don't tell you how poorly he's pitched for the Angels this season, perhaps this tidbit from FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan will make things a bit clearer:
Joe Blanton has allowed at least one hit in every single inning he's pitched so far this season— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) April 28, 2013
How about this one: Blanton is on pace to serve up 49 home runs this season, which would be the seventh time in 10 seasons that he's allowed at least 20 long balls.
We shouldn't necessarily be surprised by Blanton's ineffectiveness—he hasn't posted a season-ending ERA below 4.70 since 2009—but nobody figured that the 32-year-old would be quite this ineffective.
To his credit, Blanton has gone at least five innings in four of his five starts, but those innings have been far from quality ones. The Angels need Blanton to keep the ball in the park and start missing bats, if for no other reason than to give an overworked bullpen a break every once in a while.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Josh Beckett
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 0-3, 4.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 30.1 IP, 33 H, 8 BB, 25 K
Josh Beckett hasn't been terrible—but he hasn't been good either.
Mediocre is the name of the game for the 32-year-old right-hander, and that's exactly what the Dodgers, already without Zack Greinke and Chris Capuano, can't afford to get from a player that is pulling down a $17 million salary in 2013.
Like the Angels' Joe Blanton, the longball has been a problem for Beckett, who has allowed two home runs in four of his five starts so far this season.
Miami Marlins: Nobody
It's not that the Marlins don't have pitchers who need to raise the level of their performance—they most assuredly do.
But when Ricky Nolasco is the only "big name" on the pitching staff—and he's pitching fairly well, all things considered—that severely limits our choices for this list.
That's the sort of thing that happens when your team's owner guts the team.
Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 2-1, 4.97 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 29 IP, 39 H, 9 BB, 17 K
Heading into the season, I called Yovani Gallardo a long shot to win the NL Cy Young Award.
I didn't realize just how much of a long shot he really was.
Even when things are seemingly going right for Gallardo, they really aren't, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pointed out after his last start:
#Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo allowed eight hits and five walks in 6.2 IP but only three runs. Many leather-seeking missiles, web gems.— Tom (@Haudricourt) April 24, 2013
While the Brewers have been dealing with a multitude of issues this season, Gallardo was supposed to be the rock that the team could lean on every fifth day.
Milwaukee doesn't need Gallardo to pitch like the guy who has averaged 15 wins and more than 200 strikeouts a year since 2009; the Brewers need Gallardo to be better than that guy.
After nearly a month of the season, it's safe to say that pitcher hasn't yet reported for work.
Minnesota Twins: Vance Worley
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 0-3, 6.38 ERA. 1.83 WHIP, 24 IP, 36 H, 8 BB, 16 K
If you were being honest heading into the season, you acknowledged that while Vance Worley was slotted to be the ace of Minnesota's starting rotation, the 25-year-old was being miscast in the role.
To be fair, Worley has looked considerably better over his last two starts, allowing three earned runs in 12 innings of work, walking three and striking out 10. His early season struggles could be a thing of the past.
That said, Worley has gone more than five innings only twice this season. While part of that has to do with the fact that he's been hit hard, part of it is also because Worley is throwing way too many pitches with medicore results, as noted by Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News during his last start:
Minnesota starter Vance Worley has 51 pitches through 2: one swing and miss. Good chance Brian Duensing will come wheeling into this one.
— Gerry Fraley (@gfraley) April 26, 2013
Minnesota needs Worley to become more effective with this pitches, allowing him to pitch deeper into games and give what is sure to be an overworked bullpen a bit of a rest when he steps on the mound.
New York Mets: Shaun Marcum
2013 Stats: 1 GS, 0-1, 6.75 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 4 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 3 K
Yes, Shaun Marcum was just activated from the disabled list this past weekend and made his 2013 debut against the Philadelphia Phillies under both a pitch limit and the watchful eye of manager Terry Collins.
It was expected that Marcum would be rusty, and he'll probably need another start or two before he rounds into form, but the Mets need Marcum to step up and claim the third spot in the rotation, giving the team a solid third option after Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.
If Marcum can stay healthy (I know that's asking for a lot) and perform like he did from 2010 through 2011, when he averaged a 3.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9 and 7.3 K/9, the Mets will at least have a fighting chance to contend for one of the two wild-card spots in the National League this year.
New York Yankees: Ivan Nova
2013 Stats: 4 GS, 1-1, 6.48 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 16.2 IP, 23 H, 8 BB, 18 K
Currently on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed right triceps, 2013 has not gone according to plan for Ivan Nova, who only a year ago declared himself the best pitcher in the world, a quote that was very much taken out of context when it made the rounds.
Nova has labored through each of his four starts, averaging nearly 20 pitches per inning—totals that are far too high for a rookie major league pitcher to be putting up, much less someone in his third year of big league action.
While David Phelps will replace Nova in the rotation while he's out of action, ESPN's Buster Olney wrote (Insider subscription required) that the Yankees had seriously considered making a move with Nova before he got injured, replacing him in the rotation with Vidal Nuno, who is not considered to be a big-time prospect.
If the knowledge that the Yankees considered replacing a 26-year-old who has gone 28-12 over the past two seasons with a guy who has thrown fewer than 30 innings at Triple-A doesn't light a fire under Nova when he returns to action, nothing will.
Oakland A's: Jarrod Parker
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 0-4, 8.10 ERA, 2.14 WHIP, 23.1 IP, 37 H, 13 BB, 14 K
Jarrod Parker has looked nothing like the pitcher who was one of five players to receive at least one vote for AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, and you have to think that the 24-year-old could find himself back in Triple-A Sacramento if he doesn't get himself straightened out soon.
Parker has struggled so far in 2013, surrendering four or more earned runs and walking at least three batters in three of his five starts.
While the A's continue to win despite Parker's lack of a win on the season, Oakland has Dan Straily patiently waiting at Triple-A for another chance to start a big league game. Should his struggles continue, Parker and Straily could easily switch positions—Straily in Oakland, Parker in Triple-A Sacramento.
Philadelphia Phillies: Nobody
A quick glance at the Phillies individual pitching stats might lead you to believe that either Cole Hamels or Roy Halladay belongs on this list, but a closer look shows that the two veterans have stepped up their games as of late.
Hamels has allowed seven earned runs over his last 27 innings of work, while Halladay has allowed four earned runs over his last 21 innings. These are both great signs that their early-season struggles—and Halladay's un-Doc-like 2012 campaign—are in the past where they belong.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jonathan Sanchez
2013 Stats: 4 GS, 0-3, 12.71 ERA, 2.56 WHIP, 11.1 IP, 21 H, 8 BB, 11 K
I'm not sure what's more disturbing: Jonathan Sanchez' ERA and WHIP, or the fact that he has managed to last only 11 innings in four starts—that works out to less than three innings per start.
It's entirely possible that Sanchez is currently the worst pitcher in baseball. In his last start against St. Louis, he didn't record a single out. Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran both hit solo home runs and Matt Holliday hit a line-drive single to center field, bringing Allen Craig up to the plate with nobody out.
Then this happened, resulting in a temporary vacation for the 30-year-old southpaw:
Sanchez has to be on a short leash in Pittsburgh, and with veterans like Jeanmar Gomez and Francisco Liriano rounding into form at Triple-A, it may not be long before he finds himself looking for a new team.
San Diego Padres: Edinson Volquez
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 1-3, 6.39 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 25.1 IP, 34 H, 10 BB, 15 K
While Edinson Volquez has allowed only two earned runs over his last 13 innings of work, there's plenty of room for improvement with the ace of the San Diego Padres starting rotation.
Sure, he managed to not issue any walks in his last start, but command and control of his pitches both remain a significant issue that needs to be addressed at some point.
Of equal concern is Volquez' overall performance, especially on the road.
If Volquez wants to continue being referred to as the ace of the pitching staff in San Diego, those numbers must improve. Based on his lengthy track record of inconsistency, there's no reason to expect marked improvement anytime soon.
San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 0-2, 6.59 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 28.2 IP, 30 H, 6 BB, 26 K
After shutting out the Los Angeles Dodgers on Opening Day, Matt Cain has been less effective than the oft-critiqued Tim Lincecum for the defending World Series champions.
There hasn't been any talk of an injury or an issue with his mechanics—Cain is simply missing his spots, leaving the ball where hitters can make solid contact.
Though Madison Bumgarner (3-0, 1.87 ERA) has picked up the slack while Cain has floundered early on, Cain remains the key to the Giants pitching staff and the one arm that the team cannot afford to have struggle for much longer.
Seattle Mariners: Joe Saunders
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 1-3, 6.33 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 27 IP, 36 H, 12 BB, 12 K
Over his last two starts, Joe Saunders has given up 15 earned runs and 20 hits to the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
In his two starts that preceded them, Saunders allowed no earned runs runs and nine hits to the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
It's that kind of inconsistent, maddening performance that has Mariners fans chomping at the bit to see one of the team's top pitching prospects get a chance.
For Seattle to remain relevant in the AL West, Saunders must step up and pitch at the level that he's shown he is capable of performing at, giving Seattle a solid third option behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma every fifth day.
St. Louis Cardinals: Nobody
St. Louis boasts the lowest ERA for a starting rotation in all of baseball with a 2.18 mark, nearly a full run lower than second-place Texas at 3.03.
While the bullpen has struggled badly in 2013—its 6.00 ERA is the highest in baseball—the group doesn't boast a "big name" that qualifies for inclusion on this list.
Tampa Bay Rays: David Price
2013 Stats: 6 GS, 1-2, 5.21 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 38 IP, 43 H, 9 BB, 35 K
It's been an up-and-down season for David Price as he tries to defend his 2012 AL Cy Young Award.
So far, he's looked nothing like the pitcher who dominated the American League to the tune of a 20-5 record, 2.56 ERA and 1.10 WHIP last year—a rather large problem for a Rays team that, despite its recent offensive explosion, remains one of the weaker-hitting teams in baseball.
As in San Francisco, where Madison Bumgarner has stepped up while Matt Cain continues to struggle, Tampa Bay has seen Matt Moore flourish while Price tries to get back on track.
There's simply no possible way for the Rays to contend in the American League without Price at the top of his game. They need Price to perform at his 2012 levels—or close to them.
Texas Rangers: Nobody
Texas leads baseball with a 3.02 team ERA, a testament to the talent level of the pitchers that the team has on its 25-man roster in both the starting rotation and bullpen.
Nine of the 13 pitchers that the Rangers have called upon thus far in 2013 have posted ERA's under 4.00, and seven of them have ERA's that come in lower than 3.00.
With some of the big names that the Rangers have on the disabled list at the moment—Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Martin Perez and Joakim Soria—the Rangers pitching is only going to get better as the season progresses.
Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Johnson
2013 Stats: 4 GS, 0-1, 6.86 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 19.2 IP, 28 H, 9 BB, 19 K
Scratched from what would have been his fifth start of the season with tightness in his right triceps, ESPN reports that Josh Johnson will take the hill for the Blue Jays at some point this week.
Acquired from Miami in the offseason's biggest trade, the 29-year-old right-hander has been a mixed bag for the Blue Jays this season, providing two decent starts and two stinkers—including his last outing against the Yankees, when he allowed four earned runs in 5.1 innings of work.
When Johnson does finally get back on the mound, the Blue Jays will be looking for him to get back on track—and to help solidify what was supposed to be one of the better starting rotations in baseball this season.
Washington Nationals: Dan Haren
2013 Stats: 5 GS, 2-3, 6.29 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 24.1 IP, 38 H, 4 BB, 20 K
Dan Haren is coming off of his best outing of the season, six innings of two-run baseball against the Cincinnati Reds that saw the 32-year-old issue no walks and send five batters down on strikes.
It marked the first time this season that Haren has managed to pitch past the fifth inning, something that the Nationals were counting on from Haren this season—the ability to eat innings at the back-end of the rotation.
If Haren is able to go deeper into games on a more consistent basis, the Nationals will be in far better shape to defend its NL East title from the upstart Atlanta Braves, who jumped out to an early lead in the division before its current four-game losing streak.