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Optimal Starting Rotations for MLB Contenders to Surge Down the Stretch

Chris StephensCorrespondent IISeptember 9, 2016

Optimal Starting Rotations for MLB Contenders to Surge Down the Stretch

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    With less than a month to go in the MLB season, there's still a lot to be decided.

    Nearly half of the teams in baseball are still reasonably in the playoff hunt, although some have more work to do than others.

    Teams like the Braves, Tigers, Dodgers and Red Sox can relax a little as the month goes on. Others know that bad play could result in no playoffs or one of the wild card spots. As we saw last year, that's the last thing any team wants.

    For me, for teams to get to where they want to be, it starts with pitching.

    With that in mind, here's a look at the optimal starting rotations for contenders who want to surge down the stretch.

Boston Red Sox

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Clay Buchholz
    2. Ryan Dempster
    3. Jake Peavy
    4. John Lackey
    5. Jon Lester
    6. Felix Doubront (spot starts)

    The Boston Red Sox have a good lead in the AL East and there are no real worries that they won't make the playoffs.

    However, the rotation is going to have to continue to get work in as they prepare.

    Buchholz is finally healthy and is going to have at least two or three more starts the rest of the way to see if he's ready for the postseason.

    Other than that, expect Peavy and Lester to be held out of the final series with Baltimore, even if their turn in the rotation is up. Both have been pitching well this year and need to be ready for Games 1 and 2 in the ALDS.

    Doubront will get a couple of spot starts the rest of the way to take a little workload off the other guys.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. David Price
    2. Alex Cobb
    3. Chris Archer
    4. Matt Moore

    If I were the Tampa Bay Rays, I'd move to a four-man rotation by the beginning of next week.

    Jeremy Hellickson is scheduled to start Thursday against Boston, but after that, I'm not so sure he should stay in the rotation.

    Although Hellickson gave up no runs in 5.1 innings against the Angels on Sept. 4, his ERA is still at 5.04 for the year.

    With the Rays desperately trying to hang onto a spot in the wild card, they can't take any chances of Hellickson going back to his old habits from this year.

    I know some people will think I'm crazy since the Rays enjoyed their final day off of the season on Monday. But they have to do something to ensure Hellickson doesn't screw things up on the mound. Sure it's only one start every five days, but that could be the difference between going to the playoffs and going home.

    And even if they don't fully remove him out of the lineup, at least work a little magic in the rotation. Have him go every sixth day, with each pitcher going one day early.

    As it currently stands, the Rays are scheduled out through Sept. 16, the day before it would be Hellickson's turn in the rotation again. Have Archer go on the 17th, with Hellickson on the 18th. Then you resume with Moore, Price, Cobb, Archer and Moore again before Hellickson would pitch on the 24th.

    After that, Price, Cobb, Archer, Moore and Price again to finish the year. Of course, that would mean you would have Cobb or Archer in the wild card game, but so be it. I'm confident either could go and succeed for the Rays.

    The one I'm not confident in is Hellickson, which is why I'm suggesting this.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Chris Tillman
    2. Miguel Gonzalez
    3. Scott Feldman
    4. Wei-Yin Chen
    5. Bud Norris

    If I were the Baltimore Orioles, I wouldn't change a thing in the starting rotation. Keep it as it is. 

    In their last 10 games, the Orioles have given up more than four runs once. While they've only won six of those games, the starting staff has kept the Orioles in it to win it.

    Sure, they don't have the big names that the other clubs do, but Baltimore continues to get the job done despite the lack of names in the rotation.

New York Yankees

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. CC Sabathia (every fourth day)
    2. Ivan Nova
    3. Andy Pettite
    4. Hiroki Kuroda 
    5. David Huff

    I know Sabathia hasn't been the best starting pitcher for the Yankees this year, but the one thing he has is experience pitching on short rest when it comes to playoff time.

    The starting pitchers are projected out through Sept. 15, and there is an off day the next day.

    Starting on Sept. 17, that's when the Yankees need to employ that strategy. That would mean that after his start on Sept. 14 at Boston, he would then pitch on Sept. 18 at Toronto, Sept. 22 against San Francisco and Sept. 27 against the Astros.

    None of those teams have powerful offenses, which is why I think it would be a good fit for Sabathia to pitch then.

Detroit Tigers

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Max Scherzer
    2. Rick Porcello
    3. Anibal Sanchez (miss one start)
    4. Justin Verlander
    5. Doug Fister

    This is how the Tigers' rotation currently looks with Scherzer having gone Monday. 

    The only thing I would do is have someone make a spot start for Sanchez on Sept. 28, as he wouldn't have enough time to turn around and be ready for Game 2 of the ALDS.

    As it stands right now, Scherzer would get full rest keeping him in the spot he is, while the other three need to continue like it's business as normal.

Cleveland Indians

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Ubaldo Jimenez
    2. Zach McAllister
    3. Scott Kazmir
    4. Corey Kluber
    5. Danny Salazar

    There is no ideal rotation for the Indians. After Justin Masterson was lost to the DL, all the Indians can really do is scratch and claw their way into the wild card.

    A five-game losing streak at the end of August really hurt them, but the Indians responded by winning five of their next six.

    With the Royals, White Sox, Astros and Twins as the only teams left of their schedule, the Indians certainly have the capability of making a run.

    The only question is, will the loss of Masterson every fifth day hurt them too much in the long run?

Kansas City Royals

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Ervin Santana
    2. Jeremy Guthrie
    3. James Shields
    4. Danny Duffy
    5. Bruce Chen

    Most would have thought the Royals would have been out of the playoff race by now, but they continue to hang around.

    However, they have a lot of work to do and no much time to do it in.

    As it stands right now, if the Royals used this rotation as it is the rest of the way, Duffy would start the final game of the season. And if the Royals were to make the playoffs, that would allow for Santana to start in the wild card game, giving the Royals an even better chance at winning it.

    What does hurt the Royals is their next 11 games are against the Indians, Tigers and Rangers. If they can get through that in good shape, they could make a run in the last week when they face the Mariners and White Sox.

Oakland A's

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Bartolo Colon
    2. Jarrod Parker
    3. Sonny Gray
    4. A.J. Griffin
    5. Dan Straily

    Oakland has made its run a little earlier than it did last year, but there is a lot to like about this team, especially in the rotation.

    The biggest key for them (since I believe they will make the playoffs) is Colon has to be in line to start Game 1 of the ALDS. He's been the A's best pitcher all year and he's earned the right.

    That means there will need to be a spot starter in the last series of the year, as Colon would be scheduled to go there.

Texas Rangers

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Yu Darvish
    2. Matt Garza
    3. Martin Perez
    4. Derek Holland

    I'm all in favor of a four-man rotation, especially when a team is fighting for a playoff spot.

    Last year, things fell apart for the Rangers and they have to ensure the same doesn't happen again this year.

    The four listed have all pitched pretty well as of late, and going with a four-man rotation is what I think is best for them. Of course, Alexi Ogando could slide in for a spot start if need be, but have Darvish and Garza (especially) going every fourth day will serve as nothing but an advantage for the Rangers.

Atlanta Braves

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Julio Teheran
    2. Mike Minor
    3. Alex Wood
    4. Paul Maholm
    5. Kris Medlen

    The Braves sit with one of the most comfortable division leads in baseball, leading the Nationals by 12 games.

    The only change I would make in the rotation is holding out Minor and Teheran from what would be their final starts of the year against Philadelphia. 

    While my concern is not as much for Teheran, since he would get full rest as a Game 2 starter, I think it's important that he doesn't go into the playoffs having had a bad start to finish the year.

    For Minor, the main concern is rest which is why a spot starter like Freddy Garcia would be needed in that final series.

    The main thing for the Braves to do is to line up their playoff rotation so they can be throwing their best out there early and often.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Francisco Liriano
    2. A.J. Burnett
    3. Jeff Locke
    4. Charlie Morton
    5. Gerrit Cole

    Locked up in a battle for the NL Central, the Pirates are really at a Catch-22. They're likely going to make the playoffs, but don't want to be relegated to the wild card game.

    However, if the are, Liriano is the guy they want going for them whether it's in that wild card game or Game 1 of the NLDS.

    With that said, the Pirates face the Reds in six of the final nine games of the year, which means Liriano could be called on twice to pitch during that time.

    But that's another Catch-22. Would you really want the Reds, who could possibly be your opponent in the one-game playoff, seeing your ace twice before the game that means more?

    That's something the Pirates have to think about.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Shelby Miller
    2. Lance Lynn
    3. Joe Kelly
    4. Adam Wainwright
    5. Michael Wacha

    The Cardinals rotation currently looks like this throughout the rest of the season, but I could also see them giving Jake Westbrook a spot start down the stretch.

    For St. Louis, having Miller, Wainwright and Lynn lined up for the first three games of the playoffs is essential, but they also have to make sure they win the NL Central. Having those three going gives them a better chance to do so.

    Still, the Cardinals are in prime position, and unlike any other team in the NL, they've won a wild card playoff game and know what it's like to play in one.

    Plus, let's not forget they have more ace-type pitchers they could confidently throw in that game compared to the other teams.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Tony Cingrani
    2. Mike Leake
    3. Mat Latos
    4. Homer Bailey
    5. Bronson Arroyo

    Of the three teams currently battling it out in the NL Central, I think the Reds are the ones who need to win the division more than the other two.

    I'm not saying they deserve it more, but when it comes down to a one-game playoff, there is no real confidence in any of their starters to get the job done.

    Now I know Cincinnati fans won't agree considering they're coming off a sweep of the Dodgers. But who would you give the edge to—one of St. Louis' big three starters or one of Cincinnati's starters? How about Liriano or one of the Reds' starters?

    People will throw Latos' name out there, but I'm not so sure about him in the postseason. After all, he gave up six earned runs in 8.1 innings in last year's playoffs.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Ideal Starting Rotation

    1. Clayton Kershaw
    2. Zack Greinke
    3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
    4. Ricky Nolasco
    5. Edinson Volquez

    When it gets to the playoffs, it will honestly go to a four-man rotation with Volquez being the odd-man out. But that was obvious when he was first signed by the Dodgers.

    The main thing the Dodgers have to do is ensure the first three are given the proper amount of rest for the playoffs. If that means pushing back a start one day, then so be it.

    Neither Kershaw, nor Greinke, have been great in the playoffs.

    Kershaw has a 5.87 ERA in the playoffs, while Greinke's sits at 6.48. Needless to say, their focus over the last few weeks is going to be getting ready for the playoffs.

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