As the 2011 season inches closer to September, each contender's strengths will be put to the test as the race to the postseason tightens up. We've all heard the saying, "Good pitching beats good hitting," so this slideshow will examine and grade each contender's starting rotation.
It seems as though each team's true colors come to shine in the postseason, and pitching will surely play a key role in this years' run to the postseason.
As we learned last year with the San Francisco Giants, a good starting rotation can carry a team all the way to the World Series, so expect nothing less again this year.
When the Philadelphia Phillies acquired starting pitcher Cliff Lee during the offseason, many argued that the team's starting five would compare, if not surpass, the dominant Atlanta Braves' rotation for much of the 1990s.
Although Cliff Lee's struggling to start the season, he seems to be coming around at the right time, as the team has lost only once since acquiring Houston Astros outfielder Hunter Pence right before the trade deadline.
Entering the postseason, the Phillies have to be one of the favorites going in because of their dominant rotation, which features Roy Halladay, who threw a no-hitter during last year's NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds.
Roy Halladay 14-4 2.55 ERA 159 strikeouts, 20 walks Roy Oswalt 4-6 3.79 ERA 42 strikeouts, 18 walks Cliff Lee 11-7 2.96 ERA 167 strikeouts, 32 walks Cole Hamels 13-6 2.53 ERA 150 strikeouts, 31 walks Vance Worley 8-1 2.35 ERA 66 strikeouts, 28 walks Kyle Kendrick 6-5 3.19 ERA 39 strikeouts, 27 walks
The Atlanta Braves' starting rotation was among the best in baseball at the close of the first half of the season.
However, starters Jair Jurrjens, who was recently placed on the 15-day DL, and Tommy Hanson, who is battling back problems, have yet to get going since the mid-summer classic.
One surprise for the team is the performance of their fifth starter, Brandon Beachy, who has been consistent all season since returning from an injury early in the year.
If Jurrjens and Hanson can get back on track, and Derek Lowe can pitch like he did last September, look for the Braves to pitch their way into the postseason.
Jair Jurrjens 12-4 2.63 ERA 85 strikeouts, 35 walks Tommy Hanson 11-7 3.60 ERA 142 strikeouts, 46 walks Tim Hudson 11-7 3.22 ERA 106 strikeouts, 37 walks Derek Lowe 6-10 4.86 ERA 92 strikeouts, 50 walks Brandon Beachy 5-2 3.49 ERA 95 strikeouts, 28 walks
When the St. Louis Cardinals lost their ace, Adam Wainwright, during spring training, many questions surrounded manager Tony LaRussa and what he would do with his starting rotation.
That being said, Jaime Garcia has stepped up nicely and the recent acquisition of Edwin Jackson has helped bolster the clubs starting five as well as allowed LaRussa to move Kyle McClellan back into the bullpen.
A major factor in the club's potential run to the postseason is ace Chris Carpenter, who is currently one game under .500 and has struggled most of the season.
Chris Carpenter 7-8 3.75 ERA 128 strikeouts, 40 walks Jaime Garcia 10-5 3.22 ERA 120 strikeouts, 35 walks Jake Westbrook 9-5 4.83 ERA 70 strikeouts, 48 walks Kyle Lohse 9-7 3.45 ERA 72 strikeouts, 30 walks Edwin Jackson 8-8 4.11 ERA 107 strikeouts, 42 walks
Yovani Gallardo has emerged as one of the best starting pitches in all of baseball and has been outstanding this year for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The team's offseason acquisition of former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke has helped their starting five as well, as he appears to have fully recovered from his pre-spring training injury and is becoming more dominant with each start.
Chris Narveson has also been a bright spot for this year's Brewers, as his performance in the fifth starting spot has kept the team in a lot of games.
Zack Greinke 9-4 4.41 ERA 128 strikeouts, 22 walks Yovani Gallardo 13-7 3.56 ERA 130 strikeouts, 47 walks Shaun Marcum 10-3 3.58 ERA 116 strikeouts, 38 walks Randy Wolf 8-8 3.61 ERA 98 strikeouts, 50 walks Chris Narveson 8-6 4.49 ERA 109 strikeouts, 49 walks
When the San Francisco Giants were forced to turn to journeyman Ryan Vogelsong as their fifth starter, questions surrounded the 34-year-old right-hander and his effectiveness in the majors.
Those questions were quickly answered, however, as Vogelsong was named a National League All-Star by manager Bruce Bochy.
Although Madison Bumgarner has both struggled and been the victim of poor run support, he is capable of getting hot at any time, as is evident by the team's World Series run last season, which was done almost solely by strong starting pitching.
Vogelsong's dominance, alongside the lights-out pitching from former Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and two-time All-Star Matt Cain, has made the Giants one of the favorites to return to the World Series this October.
Tim Lincecum 9-9 2.77 ERA 160 strikeouts, 59 walks Matt Cain 9-8 3.00 ERA 130 strikeouts, 42 walks Madison Bumgarner 6-11 3.71 ERA 124 strikeouts, 32 walks Ryan Vogelsong 9-1 2.19 ERA 86 strikeouts, 40 walks Jonathan Sanchez 4-6 4.10 ERA 96 strikeouts, 61 walks
Few, if any, baseball analysts had the Arizona Diamondbacks in the running for the NL West crown, but that hasn't kept the team from having an impressive season up to this point.
Led by their ace, right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy, the Diamondbacks find themselves tied atop the West standings alongside the reigning World Champion San Francisco Giants. The Diamondbacks have found themselves in the win column a lot lately, thanks largely to the fact the Joe Saunders has been able to heat up after a horrific start to the season.
The team was also able to acquire Jason Marquis right before the trade deadline, which will strengthen their starting rotation. As long as Arizona's starters can pitch deeply into a game to avoid going into their somewhat shaky bullpen, the team looks to be a contender down the stretch.
Ian Kennedy 13-3 3.17 ERA 134 strikeouts, 41 walks Daniel Hudson 11-7 3.67 ERA 120 strikeouts, 34 walks Joe Saunders 8-9 3.67 ERA 81 strikeouts, 49 walks Jason Marquis 8-6 4.33 ERA 72 strikeouts, 40 walks Josh Collmenter 6-7 3.58 ERA 64 strikeouts, 19 walks
Not long after a report surfaced saying that Boston Red Sox starter Clay Buchholtz was likely headed to the 60-day DL with a stress fracture in his back, the team was able to go out and trade for Seattle Mariners starting pitching Erik Bedard, who has been one of the best starters in all of baseball in recent years.
In addition to Bedard, Red Sox ace Jon Lester has been stellar once again this season, and Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield have performed well throughout the season. The only thing holding the Sox back is John Lackey, who is having one of his worst seasons in the big leagues.
Jon Lester 11-5 3.23 ERA 131 strikeouts, 47 walks Josh Beckett 9-4 2.20 ERA 122 strikeouts, 37 walks John Lackey 10-8 6.14 ERA 76 strikeouts, 32 walks Tim Wakefield 6-4 4.99 ERA 58 strikeouts, 32 walks
Erik Bedard 4-7 3.55 ERA 92 strikeouts, 30 walks
Andrew Miller 4-1 5.44 ERA 29 strikeouts, 27 walks
Everyone knew that C.C. Sabathia would be dominant for the New York Yankees again this season, but after that, no one knew what to expect from the likes of A.J. Burnett and the rest of the team's starting rotation.
However, with the exception of one or two games, the Yankees have been surprised by the dominance of former greats Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, as well as the job that 24-year-old Ivan Nova has done out of the rotation this season.
Questions do still surround the Yankees' rotation, however, as many are wondering if the arms of Colon and Garcia will hold up for the duration of the season, and others questioning the effectiveness of Burnett.
C.C. Sabathia 16-6 2.81 ERA 168 strikeouts, 46 walks
Freddy Garcia 10-7 3.22 ERA 80 strikeouts, 34 walks
A.J. Burnett 8-9 4.54 ERA 123 strikeouts, 63 walks
Bartolo Colon 8-6 3.33 ERA 100 strikeouts, 30 walks
Phil Hughes 2-3 6.93 ERA 20 strikeouts, 13 walks
Ivan Nova 10-4 3.81 ERA 67 strikeouts, 38 walks
The Texas Rangers have received strong performances from sophomore pitcher Alexi Ogando and the rest of their starting rotation for much of the 2011 season, as the team has managed to return to the top of the AL West again this season.
Ogando, alongside Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson, have all had strong seasons, and the team is even getting stellar performances from their fifth starter, Derek Holland, who has already recorded 10 wins this season.
The Rangers starters are familiar with the pressures that come along with making the postseason, making them one of the favorites to make the World Series from the American League. The only knock on the team's starting five is that, unlike nearly every other team in this slide show, not one of their starters has a sub-3.00 ERA.
Colby Lewis 10-8 4.14 ERA 117 strikeouts, 42 walks
C.J. Wilson 10-5 3.35 ERA 146 strikeouts, 55 walks
Matt Harrison 9-8 3.08 ERA 83 strikeouts, 42 walks
Alexi Ogando 11-5 2.88 ERA 100 strikeouts, 32 walks
Derek Holland 10-4 4.35 ERA 104 strikeouts, 47 walks
Jered Weaver has been dominant, to say the least, this season, which has a lot to do with why the Los Angeles Angels find themselves in striking distance of the reigning American League Champion Texas Rangers.
Weaver's sub-2.00 ERA is among the best in all of baseball, and the success of Dan Haren and rookie Tyler Chatwood have Angels fans and executives excited about the last month-plus of baseball this season.
The club also had its third starter, Ervin Santana, throw a no-hitter earlier in the year. If Santana, Chatwood and Joel Pineiro can find a way to be a bit more effective down the stretch, the Angels have to like their chances in the division.
Jered Weaver 14-5 1.78 ERA 150 strikeouts, 39 walks
Dan Haren 12-6 2.81 ERA 137 strikeouts, 24 walks
Ervin Santana 7-8 3.32 ERA 130 strikeouts, 42 walks
Joel Pineiro 5-6 5.31 ERA 43 strikeouts, 29 walks
Tyler Chatwood 6-8 4.10 ERA 66 strikeouts, 59 walks
Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter earlier this season, the second of his career, but he could have throw at least two more were it no for some bad luck late in each game. He co-leads the American League with 16 wins this season and is a force to be reckoned with in the Tigers' rotation.
Although the ERAs of the Tigers' two, three and four starters is in the mid-to-high 4.00s, each has the capability of being dominant at any given time.
The team also acquired Doug Fister right before the trade deadline in a last-minute attempt to bolster their starting rotation for a push towards the playoffs.
Justin Verlander 16-5 2.30 ERA 186 strikeouts, 38 walks
Max Scherzer 11-6 4.23 ERA 115 strikeouts, 44 walks
Rick Porcello 11-6 4.49 ERA 73 strikeouts, 30 walks
Brad Penny 7-9 4.92 ERA 53 strikeouts, 43 walks
Doug Fister 4-12 3.29 ERA 89 strikeouts, 32 walks
The Cleveland Indians got off to a hot start in 2011, something not many expected from the team entering the season, but have fallen off as of late.
The team has gotten great results from Justin Masterson, as well as Josh Tomlin, who has already recorded more than 10 wins on the year.
However, in what may have been the best moves with the trade deadline looming, the team went out and acquired Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez to bolster their rotation and give themselves a chance to catch the first-place Detroit Tigers.
The team will need Fausto Carmona, who is well below .500, and Carlos Carrasco to turn their seasons around, however.
Ubaldo Jimenez 6-9 4.64 ERA 125 strikeouts, 64 walks Fausto Carmona 5-11 5.19 ERA 70 strikeouts, 40 walks
Carlos Carrasco 8-9 4.55 ERA 85 strikeouts, 40 walks
Justin Masterson 9-7 2.63 ERA 121 strikeouts, 43 walks
Josh Tomlin 11-5 4.16 ERA 75 strikeouts, 16 walks