You guys may not know this, but Felix Hernandez considers himself a bit of a loner. He tends to think of himself as a one-man wolf pack. But when Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik brought Michael Pineda up, Felix knew that his wolf pack had grown by one.
Then, two months ago, when Danny Hultzen was drafted, Felix thought: Could it be? And now he knows for sure. He just added one more guy to his wolf pack.
There you have it: King Felix and his court—or wolf pack. These guys are ready to tear up opponents, one series at a time. But are they the next Big Three?
In order to make a better judgment, let's look at the two best pitching staffs of 2011. Neither team really has just three dominant pitchers, so they can't technically be Big Threes, but there are at least three awesome pitchers on each team.
Philadelphia Phillies (The Phantastic Phour)
This rotation—arguably the best of all time—is comprised of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and lately Vance Worley. That's two Cy Young winners, two Cy Young almost winners and a rookie phenom.
Those guys are largely responsible for the Phillies' major-league best 83 wins. The Big Three out of that group would probably be Halladay, Lee and Hamels, based on recent, sustained dominance. That gives us three seasoned aces who would each pitch first for most other teams. We'll later see how that compares to the Mariners' Big Three.
It's also impossible to squeeze the World Series-winning rotation into a Big Three. Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito (injured, but part of the team at the beginning of the year) join All-Stars Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, no-hit wonder Jonathan Sanchez and underrated Madison Bumgarner to form a pretty lethal lineup.
However, the top three are Lincecum, Cain and Vogelsong. That's a young Cy Young winner, a veteran No. 2 pitcher and a formidable rookie. That looks a little more like what we'll see in Seattle.
King Felix won the Cy Young last year with 13 wins and 12 losses. First of all, it's impressive for him to have earned that many wins with the league-worst run support the Mariners put up in 2010.
Second, since we can tell that the decision wasn't based on record, his pitching must have been awesome, and it was. Felix is a lights-out pitcher with a lofty K/9 ratio. His varied arsenal coupled with his youth promises several more years of exciting pitching.
In terms of matching up to the San Francisco and Philadelphia rotations, he's the Lincecum and Halladay—that is, the primary ace with at least a few years under his belt.
The flame-throwing Dominican! Michael Pineda gave us all a brilliant surprise this season. He was a highly touted prospect coming in, but Pineda was dominant from Day 1. He's starting to falter a little, but he's also approaching his inning limit. It'll be good for him to rest over the winter and come back next season ready to roll.
Experience-wise, Pineda is most similar to Bumgarner and Worley. However, those two guys both have more seasoned pitchers ahead of them in line.
It's likely that Pineda will start second next year for the Mariners, which would line him up with Cliff Lee and Matt Cain. That's some pretty good company for a sophomore. Pineda probably isn't at that caliber yet, but he certainly has the potential to get there within the next few years.
So, for the Mariners, a team of the future, Pineda is the perfect No. 2 pitcher.
Hultzen is the real wild card. He was a proven pitcher in college, but in accordance with Jack Z's plan, he'll go straight to the majors at the start of next season.
Both Felix and Pineda came up to the majors very young, and both panned out nicely, so we can have faith in Jack's judgment. If Hultzen performs like he did in college, and if the Mariners offense keeps up the pace it's set this past week, Hultzen will enjoy a stellar rookie season.
Pretty big ''ifs,'' I know, but neither is unreasonable. While this youth uprising is occurring in the rotation, the same thing is happening in the batting order. More on that later.
With Lincecum, Cain, Halladay and Lee gone, Hultzen matches with Vogelsong and Hamels. It's hard to say now whether or not he'll turn out like them, but let's hope he doesn't bounce around the minors for 10 years like Vogelsong.
Hamels was the 17th overall pick in 2005, and Vogelsong wasn't drafted until the fifth round in 1998, so at least Hultzen has draft rank over them.
So, do these three guys have what it takes?
Well, how do you think they would fare in a three-game set against either the Phillies or the Giants?
Felix versus Lincecum/Halladay: An epic pitching duel for sure—it could go either way.
Pineda versus Cain/Lee: Certainly not in Pineda's favor, but once Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp and Casper Wells shell the other guy out in the second inning, Pineda has a lock.
Hultzen versus Vogelsong/Hamels: A repeat of Jason Vargas versus Zach Britton. Each pitcher throws a complete-game (well, nine-inning) shutout only to have the bullpen ruin it in the 10th.
That didn't really offer a lot of insight, but it's cool to imagine a series like that (2012 World Series, or 2013 more realistically?).
I mentioned earlier that the Mariners batting order is also up-and-coming, and that could play a key factor in the success of the starting pitchers. However, the Giants have shown us that championships can be won with pitching.
If the Mariners' young hitters do come through next year, the pitching will follow, and Felix, Pineda and Hultzen will get a lot of credit for the success of the team. If the young hitters don't hit their stride early, Felix, Pineda and Hultzen will still pitch beautifully, but no one will recognize them as the Big Three—because it's just the Mariners having another bad season.