Even with news of renewed discomfort in Jaime Garcia’s surgically-repaired left shoulder, St. Louis is the cream of the crop. Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller are elite-level starters. Lance Lynn and Carlos Martinez would be top-three caliber pitchers on most staffs. Joe Kelly and his blazing fastball acquitted himself well during four postseason starts in 2013. Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzales, John Gast and Tyler Lyons are just a few quality arms waiting.
Right in St. Louis’ rear-view mirror talent-wise, depth is what separates the champs from Cincy. Durability concerns for Johnny Cueto are legit, but he’s still just a year removed from a 19-win season. Homer Bailey has two no-hitters, a $105 million deal and five straight seasons of improvement in ERA and WHIP. He’s finally arrived. With at least 30 starts and 185 strikeouts in four straight seasons, Mat Latos is poised for a breakout (20-win?) season. Lefty Tony Cingrani’s a strikeout machine who only needs to harness his control. Mike Leake may be a younger version of the departed Bronson Arroyo. Prospect Robert Stephenson and his filthy stuff could be ready by 2015.
That’s right, Brewers ahead of Pirates. The signing of Matt Garza, a solid-but-not-spectacular arm, gives Milwaukee better quality throughout. Yovani Gallardo isn’t the same strikeout pitcher, but he’s still a quality innings-eater. Marco Estrada is wildly underrated. Health is the only thing standing in his way. Kyle Lohse isn’t special, but he takes the ball every fifth day. Wily Peralta posted a 3.15 ERA after July 1 and struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings (K/9).
Losing AJ Burnett, who took more money to sign with the Phillies, is a major blow. His departure, along with Jeff Locke’s second-half collapse last season, chips away at the staff’s luster. Francisco Liriano was brilliant, but can he pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career? Gerrit Cole has ace potential. Pittsburgh may need him to make that step this season. Can Charlie Morton maintain his strikeout gains and ground-ball rate? Wandy Rodriguez needs to stay out of the trainer’s room. Edinson Volquez needs to pitch like it’s 2008. Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow are on their way.
While Cubs hitting prospects are knocking on the door, the pitchers haven’t reached the doorstep. Jeff Samardzija is the clear-cut ace whose long-term value may be as a trade pawn. Travis Wood should expect a bit of a reality check this season. Edwin Jackson is an overpaid arm who’s teased teams for too long. Carlos Villanueva is more valuable as a reliever. Jake Arrieta and Arodys Vizcaino offer upside potential.