Sorry St. Louis, but the Cincinnati Reds have the best rotation in Major League Baseball.
The Cardinals' rotation currently owns the best earned run average in baseball—and it's not even close. However, their starters have been nearly flawless at Busch Stadium, a trend that is unlikely to continue at such an amazing rate. Plus, they have lost Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia to injuries recently.
On the other hand, the Reds are just now getting healthy in the rotation. Johnny Cueto returned to the team Monday and was solid. Coming back from an oblique injury can be tricky, so don't expect him to be dominant right away.
The rest of the rotation stepped up in his absence. Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake have been great all year. Even rookie Tony Cingrani has gotten the nation's attention with his crazy numbers.
Cincinnati ranks right behind St. Louis statistically, but there's more to it than just the overall numbers.
The Cardinals have three guys with an ERA below 1.50 at home and two below 1.00. The Reds have four starters below 3.00 at Great American Ball Park. Their numbers aren't as spectacular as the Cardinals', but the Reds have a better shot at continuing their current performances.
How many teams in baseball can say they don't have a starter with an ERA higher than 3.28? That would be one.
Cincinnati is the only team to have its entire rotation pitch at a high level. The Reds have four different pitchers with an ERA in the 3.20 to 3.28 range, and they also have two starters who have even better numbers.
The Reds have four (qualified) pitchers in the top 23 for the best ERA in the NL, and no other team has more than two.
Their rotation has compiled the third-most innings pitched and has the third-lowest walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) in baseball. The starters are walking a mere 1.6 batters per nine, which is one of the lowest in the league.
Outside of St. Louis, no other National League team has struck out more batters than the Reds. It looks like the Cardinals have bested the Reds in most categories, but the numbers will eventually even out.
Last year the Reds were the only team in baseball to not have a starter miss a game due to injury, so they have proven that they can pitch at a high level all year.
Latos had a streak of more than 21 straight scoreless innings earlier this season, and Leake is currently working on 13.2 consecutive scoreless innings.
Over the last seven days, three Reds pitchers—Leake, Arroyo and Bailey—have failed to allow a run in four combined starts spanning over 28.1 innings. Throw in Latos, and the number jumps up to two runs in 36.2 innings for four starters. Only one St. Louis pitcher has allowed two runs in the last seven days, and that was in 5.1 innings.
Playing away from home actually hurt the Reds' rotation early in the season. The team struggled to get consistent pitching and started 1-8 on the road. Now 12-12, the starting pitching is coming around. No starter has allowed more than three runs on the team's current nine-game road trip.
The biggest story of the rotation has been Leake. Fans wanted Aroldis Chapman or Cingrani to get the No. 5 spot to start the season, but Leake has been nothing short of great.
His 3.25 ERA is lower than both Cingrani and Arroyo. Leake has allowed only five home runs this season, which is only one behind Bailey for the fewest allowed by a Reds starter with at least 30 innings pitched.
For a No. 5 starter, he has been unbelievable. He'd be a No. 3 at worst in most rotations, but it shows just how deep this rotation is.
Latos has pitched well enough to get consideration for the NL All-Star team, and Bailey could also pitch his way into the conversation if he continues his current pace. With those two and Cueto, the Reds have three legitimate No. 1 pitchers.
Having the best statistics doesn't always mean that one team is the best, especially this early in the season. The Cardinals are dealing with injuries now, and the other members of the rotation will see their numbers drop to a sustainable level.
Cincinnati's pitching continues to get stronger and improve. With its ace back, the Reds will be tough to stop.
Also, the Reds' starters have held their own at the plate. The starters have been near the top of the league in highest average for pitchers, and none of the pitchers are below .100. However, the Cardinals have only two pitchers hitting above .071. In the NL, hitting comes with pitching. Helping yourself out at the plate is important.
With these two rotations, the NL Central is going to be competitive. Cincinnati will pull away eventually because it has the superior rotation, even if the early numbers don't show it. The Reds are getting great starting pitching as of late, and the Cardinals are starting to see their pitching come back to Earth.
It takes offense, defense and pitching to win a division, but the Reds will get back to playing October baseball thanks to MLB's best rotation.
*All stats are courtesy of MLB.com
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