Opening Day 2011 is less than two months away and Spring Training will begin in less than three weeks. Last year's successes are now a thing of the past. Teams now look ahead to focus on having a successful 2011.
The foundation for any good team is good starting pitching. While some teams like the Phillies are blessed with an abundance of great starting pitching, others like like the Pirates will struggle to field even one major league-level starting pitcher.
With the start of the new season, teams will look to get off to a good start and send their best pitchers to the mound on Opening Day. The following will rank all 30 teams based on their Opening Day (projected) starting pitchers.
While James McDonald is listed as the Pirates top pitcher, Maholm is likely to get the nod on Opening Day due to his veteran status and history with the team.
Only 47-59 for his career, Maholm has a 4.48 ERA in 159 career starts for the Pirates.
It will be a long season for the Pirates, but at least fans can watch Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez continue to develop this year.
The Pirates open the season against the Cubs in Chicago on April 1.
The Royals have the biggest drop-off in starting pitching talent from 2010 to 2011. Zack Greinke opened the season for them last year, but with his trade to Milwaukee in December, the Royals will now turn to Luke Hochevar.
Hochevar has pitched well at times for Kansas City, but he sports a 19-32 career record with a putrid 5.60 ERA in 65 career starts for the team since joining them in 2007.
Jeff Francis could add good veteran leadership to the team, but the Royals will be waiting for much of their young talent to continue to develop in the minors before becoming contenders in the future.
The Royals host the L.A. Angels on March 31 to start the year.
Joe Saunders was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels last year, and he'll be counted on in 2011 to pitch like Haren for the Diamondbacks.
Saunders has a 57-39 career record with a 4.29 ERA, but he slumped last year to 9-17 with a 4.47 ERA.
The D-Backs have a potentially good young rotation that includes Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, but Saunders will have to anchor the staff for the time being.
Arizona opens the year in Colorado against the Rockies on April 1.
Jeremy Guthrie isn't the most talented pitcher on the Orioles. That would be Brian Matusz. But Guthrie is the Orioles most consistent pitcher and a good player in his own right.
To be fair, Guthrie would likely be higher on the list if he pitched for a better team, but that's life in the AL East. He is 38-48 in his career with a 4.15 ERA but was 11-14 in 2010 with a very good 3.83 ERA.
The Orioles did a great job over the winter improving their roster with the additions of Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds, but those moves likely won't lift them out of the division cellar.
The Orioles open the season on April 1 against the Rays in Tampa Bay.
The Mets suffer in this list thanks to the injury of Johan Santana. He still hasn't started throwing a baseball yet and his return is still unknown.
The 24-year-old Niese had a nice first full season with the Mets. He went 9-10 with a 4.20 ERA in 30 starts in 2010.
Until Santana returns, the Mets will struggle mightily to remain competitive. If Niese can handle the pressure of being the de facto ace until then, the Mets' future may be looking up.
The Mets open the season in Florida against the Marlins on April 1.
The Nationals are another team that gets punished on this list thanks to an injury to their best pitcher.
Stephen Strasburg would be the obvious pick for them if he wasn't recovering from Tommy John surgery. Although 2012 is the likely return date for the phenom, there are rumblings he could still pitch in the second half of 2011.
Hernandez may be a bit high on the list, but he is a proven big-league pitcher. He has a winning career record (166-163) and a 4.39 career ERA in 445 career starts.
At the very least, the Nats can count on him to throw 200-plus innings and keep them in most games he pitches.
The Nats open 2011 at home against the Braves on March 31.
For the first time since 2001, the Houston Astros will begin a season without Roy Oswalt on their roster. Oswalt may be the best No. 3 pitcher in baseball, but his former team will depend on Wandy Rodriguez this season as the new ace.
Rodriguez has won 25 games over the past two seasons and the Astros rewarded him with a three-year, $34 million contract. His career record of 62-64 is nothing special, but he's really blossomed into a very good left hander for Houston.
Along with J.A. Happ, Brett Myers and Bud Norris, the Astros could surprise in what should be a very competitive NL Central.
The Astros will open their season in Philadelphia against the Phillies on April 1.
The Rangers get lumped into the group of teams that thought they'd have a different pitcher opening 2011 for them. It looked like they were on the verge of bringing Cliff Lee back to Texas off the free agent market, but the Phillies jumped in at the last minute.
He may not be Lee, but C.J. Wilson is a very good pitcher. He made the transition from bullpen to starting rotation in 2010 and turned in a great season. He went 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 33 starts and completed three of those.
The Rangers may not have as talented of a rotation to start the season as they finished with, but they pitched well enough in the first half of last season to make the Lee acquisition possible.
The Rangers host the Red Sox on April 1 to start the year.
Poor Fausto Carmona. He went 19-8 in 2007 and had C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee as teammates. Both Sabathia and Lee served their time in baseball purgatory and now pitch for two of the best teams in the league. Maybe Carmona has the same fate waiting for him in the future.
He is firmly entrenched as the Indians' best pitcher. An improved offense would go a long way to help his win total but it's hard to imagine the Indians being very competitive in 2011.
After sub-par seasons in 2008 and 2009, Carmona will hope to put back-to-back good seasons under his belt this year.
The Indians open the year in Cleveland hosting the division rival White Sox on April 1.
Ricky Romero is entering just his third season in the majors, but he has already proven himself worthy of getting the Opening Day nod for the Blue Jays. Of course, fans still long for the good old days with Doc Halladay taking the mound every fifth day.
Romero's career record of 27-18 with a 3.99 ERA is quite impressive pitching in the AL East. The lefty saw a statistical improvement in every major pitching category in 2010, and there is no reason to think he can't improve even more in 2011.
The Blue Jays host Minnesota to open play on April 1.
Be honest. Do you remember Braden more for his Mother's Day no-hitter or his short-lived spat with Alex Rodriguez? Braden is one of those cases where he may not be the best pitcher on the staff (Brett Anderson), but he's likely to start Opening Day for his team.
Braden's 11-14 record was unspectacular when reflecting on his one-game success in May, but he still finished the season with a 3.50 ERA.
His five complete games and two shutouts showed he's capable of finishing what he starts and that is quite valuable in this era of baseball.
The A's open 2011 against the Seattle Mariners on April 1.
The Padres battled for the NL West title until the final day of the season, yet most casual fans couldn't name one player on their roster. No, neither Jake Peavy nor Trevor Hoffman are current Padre pitchers.
Mat Latos burst onto the scene in 2010 with a 14-10 record with an outstanding 2.92 ERA in 31 starts. With the loss of Adrian Gonzalez, runs will be even harder to come by for the Padres, making it unlikely that Latos can again produce a good win total.
Pitching in San Diego should, however, keep his ERA very respectable.
The Padres will begin the season in St. Louis against the Cardinals on March 31.
The 2011 campaign could be a breakout season for Clayton Kershaw, not that his 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA in 2010 is anything to be ashamed of. Kershaw will have just turned 23 by the time Opening Day rolls around, and he is clearly at the top of the Dodgers rotation.
His numbers have improved steadily in his three seasons, and he finished last year with 212 strikeouts and held opponents to a .214 batting average. He may also have the best curveball for a Dodgers' pitcher since Sandy Koufax.
The Dodgers will host their hated rivals and world champion San Francisco Giants on March 31.
The Braves are one of the few teams in baseball blessed enough to have multiple pitchers worthy enough of receiving the Opening Day start for their team.
However, Tim Hudson gets the nod over Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson for Atlanta's first matchup.
Hudson enjoyed a career resurrection in 2010, finishing with a 17-9 record and 2.83 ERA in 34 starts.
Those 34 starts were the most he made since 2007 and the 17 wins were his highest total since pitching for the A's in 2001.
Hudson and the Braves will open the season against the Nats in the nation's capital on March 31.
Jered Weaver or Dan Haren? Haren or Weaver? Luckily, either choice manager Mike Scioscia makes will be a good one for the Angels. I think Weaver gets the edge to go on Opening Day.
Weaver's 64-39 record with a 3.55 ERA is every bit as good, if not better, when measured up against Haren's career record of 91-74 and 3.66 ERA, given the fact that Weaver has made almost 80 fewer career starts.
If newly-acquired Vernon Wells and the rest of the Angels offense can produce for him, Weaver could win at least 18 games in 2011.
The Angels will face the Royals in Kansas City on March 31.
While it may be hard to predict many things for the 2011 season, there's one thing I'm quite comfortable in saying: no pitcher will make a defensive play on Opening Day this year that will top Mark Buehrle's effort from last year's Opening Day show.
Buehrle has been a picture of consistency for the White Sox. He's won at least 10 games every season since 2001. His career 3.85 ERA and career record of 38 games over .500 gives the White Sox a great chance to start the season with a win.
The White Sox face the Indians in Cleveland on April 1.
Francisco Liriano got his command back in 2010 and it showed. His 14 wins and 191 innings pitched were both career highs, and he walked only 58 batters while striking out 201.
The Twins are reigning division champs, but they'll likely battle the White Sox and Tigers all season long for the crown this year.
Re-signing Carl Pavano was a good move for the depth of the rotation, but Liriano is clearly the go-to guy for manager Ron Gardenhire.
The Twins open 2011 in Toronto against the Blue Jays on April 1.
Thirty-plus starts a season and 32 career wins in his first three seasons is a nice start to Johnny Cueto's career. The Reds have a plethora of young, talented arms at their disposal, but how long will they all last with Dusty Baker at the helm?
Cueto isn't a strikeout pitcher and opponents have hit .261 against him for his career, so he'll need his teammates to continue to be a very good defensive unit. Only 25, he could be primed for a career season in 2011.
The Reds host the Milwaukee Brewers on March 31.
Some fans may argue that either Carlos Zambrano or Ryan Dempster should get Opening Day honors for the Cubbies.
Zambrano is a mere pitch away from his next meltdown, while Dempster hasn't been quite as sharp over the past two seasons compared to his great 2008 effort.
Plus, the Cubs didn't send multiple prospects packing this winter for nothing. Garza has the talent and ability to dominate the National League, especially if the winds are blowing in frequently at Wrigley Field this year. I fully expect Garza to improve on his 15-10 record and 3.91 ERA in 2011.
The Cubs host the Pirates on April 1.
Very few pitchers have the ability to dominate an opposing lineup the way Justin Verlander does. Just when a hitter thinks he caught up to his 100-miles-per-hour fastball, he'll drop in his wicked off-speed pitches that leaves them baffled and heading back to the bench.
In five full seasons in the majors, Verlander has won at least 17 games four times and started at least 30 games in all of those seasons. The Tigers rotation might be a bit thin, but Verlander should have no problem producing numbers that will put him into contention for the AL Cy Young award.
The Tigers travel to New York and will face the Yankees on March 31.
Does 2010 go down as a success or disappointment for Ubaldo Jimenez? He won 15 games prior to the All-Star break and threw a no-hitter, but he failed to win 20 games. Like Verlander, Jimenez possesses an overpowering fastball and devastating off-speed pitch.
It's hard to imagine Jimenez finishing with another season ERA under 3.00, especially pitching in Colorado, but it's definitely possible. The Rockies offense is stacked, so he should have plenty of opportunities to make a run at winning 20 games this year.
The Rockies host the Diamondbacks on April 1.
If not for Halladay and Lee, the Cardinals might have the best one-two punch in baseball with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Carpenter, the veteran, gets the go to pitch on Opening Day for the Cards.
The former Cy Young winner made just his third All-Star game last year. He finished the year with a 16-9 record and a 3.22 ERA. He'll turn 36 in April, so this may be his last Opening Day start before Wainwright takes his place as the ace of the staff.
The Cardinals host the Padres on March 31.
If Josh Johnson pitched in New York or Boston, many fans would hype him as one of the top two or three pitchers in the game. Even pitching in Florida, he's already established himself as one of the top-tier arms in the game.
Although he won just 11 games last year, he had a 2.30 ERA and struck out more than a batter an inning.
His fastball is on par with the best in the game, and his breaking pitch isn't far behind. The Marlins shut him down early last year and hopefully he'll make it through all of the 2011 season injury-free.
The Marlins host the Mets to start 2011 on April 1.
Despite struggling in the postseason against the Rangers, David Price is still one of the best young pitchers in the game. Even with the losses of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, the Rays should still be able to be competitive with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
Price's 19-6 record and 2.72 ERA were good enough to come in second for the AL Cy Young. The former No. 1 pick out of Vanderbilt should post career highs in innings and strikeouts this year if he stays healthy.
The Rays host the Orioles on April 1.
After back-to-back good seasons in 2008 and 2009, Jon Lester emerged as an All-Star in 2010 and finished fourth in the AL Cy Young race.
His 19 wins last year were a career best, but he's had three straight years of at least 15 wins, and he's struck out 225 batters each of the last two years.
The Red Sox have done as much as any team in the offseason to improve their club and have high expectations for 2011. Lester leads a very good, deep rotation.
The Red Sox travel to Texas and face the Rangers on April 1 to open play in 2011.
So how does a pitcher that went 10-14 with an ERA over 4.00 in 2010 make the top five? Well, there are a couple reasons for that. First and foremost, I am a bit (a lot) of a Brewers homer.
Secondly, Greinke did pitch on one of the worst teams in baseball and didn't use his best pitch, his slider, for most of the second half of 2010.
The Brewers literally gave up the farm for Greinke, trading away four of the organization's top young players. He didn't magically forget how to pitch in 2010 and regress mightily.
Without the benefit of a good offense and defense supporting him, his numbers weren't going to be as good as his stellar 2009.
With Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder leading the way for him now, fans should expect Greinke to position himself back among the elite in baseball.
The Brewers start the season in Cincinnati against the Reds on March 31.
A player doesn't get the nickname "King Felix" by being ordinary. Hernandez was everything but ordinary for the Mariners in 2010. Much like Greinke the season before, one can't blame his win total on him. The Mariners were awful, but he was outstanding.
Hernandez struck out 232 while walking only 70 in 249-and-two-thirds innings. He led the league in innings, starts and ERA despite playing for one of the most disappointing teams in the league.
The fortunes may not turn around for the Mariners in 2011, but Hernandez should still rank among the elite in the game.
The Mariners travel to Oakland and open the season against the A's on April 1.
C.C. Sabathia may continue to struggle in the postseason, but he is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game from April through September.
Since signing with the Yankees, he's been nothing short of spectacular. In two years, he's won 40 games, leading the league in wins both years, and he had back-to-back seasons of 197 strikeouts. He's also one of the most durable pitchers in the game.
He hasn't pitched fewer than 230 innings in a season since 2006. In fact, since his debut in 2001 as a 20-year-old, he's never pitched fewer than 180 innings in a year.
There's no reason to expect anything less than a Cy Young-caliber season this year from C.C.
The Yankees host the Tigers on March 31.
The Freak. The Franchise. The Freaky Franchise. Whatever corny ESPN nickname you want to give Tim Lincecum doesn't compare to what he can do with a baseball.
On the mound, he is simply brilliant. In four seasons, he's made three All-Star teams, won two Cy Young awards, two World Series games and one world championship.
Lincecum won't turn 27 until June and a drop-off in production doesn't seem to be in his future any time soon.
About the only thing he hasn't done yet is win 20 games in a year but that could easily get crossed off the list this year if the Giants' offense can score enough.
The Giants face the Dodgers in L.A. on April 1.
With all due respect to Lincecum, the Giants and their fans, could anyone else have been No. 1 except for Roy Halladay?
Everyone thought Halladay would be dominant in his first season in the National League, and he didn't disappoint. He led the league in wins (21), complete games (9), shut-outs (4) and innings (250-and-two-thirds).
Add a no-hitter against the Marlins and a second no-no in his first career playoff start and it becomes easy to see why no pitcher in the game right now is at his level.
The only thing left for him is a World Series title, and he should be the anchor of the best staff in baseball. Barring any major injuries, it's hard to imagine the Phillies not being one of the best teams in the league this year and playing for the title in October.
For now, fans must be content to wait until April 1 when the Phillies open their season against the Houston Astros.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here.