As MLB teams are securing their playoff spots, the matchups are beginning to come together. Most likely, the starting rotation is what will differentiate these teams from each other.
A great start can carry a team through an offensive drought. Even if your team's offense can only muster one run, that will be enough to win behind a shutout from the starting pitcher.
Since starting pitching can essentially dominate a game, let's take a look at the top 10 playoff pitching staffs in baseball right now. The only criteria must be that the team be a legitimate contender right now.
I love Justin Verlander as the best pitcher in baseball this season. He has 24 victories already with a 2.29 ERA and a .190 batting average against. As far as I am concerned, he will dominate the Cy Young voting, and I like him in any matchup in the playoffs.
Other than Verlander and Doug Fister, the Detroit Tigers do not have a starter who has an ERA under 4.00. Therefore, I definitely like Verlander to win any individual game, but I worry about the rest of the Tigers' rotation over a playoff series.
I know that their team ERA is above 4.00 right now but this is not necessarily a recipe for a dominant playoff staff. However, they are still in the lead for the American League Wild Card mainly because they have a very powerful offense led by Adrian Gonzalez.
The Boston Red Sox are led by Josh Beckett. He is 7-3 with a 3.07 ERA in the playoffs and won the 2003 World Series MVP with the Florida Marlins. He is joined by Jon Lester, in the Red Sox rotation, who has a career 2.57 ERA in the postseason. These two pieces will definitely help Boston, but they may have some issues with depth.
Ian Kennedy is currently leading the National League in wins with 19 and also has a very nice 2.99 ERA. He has finally broken out as a star in the desert and he is now the undisputed ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks' pitching staff.
Kennedy also has a good supporting cast. Daniel Hudson has 16 wins this season, and both he and teammate Joe Saunders had ERAs under 4.00. The Diamondbacks are the first team on this list to have three options that could win any game.
I think that CC Sabathia is obviously in command for the New York Yankees. He has 19 wins this season already, and he tallies a lot of strikeouts. His playoff numbers have been a bit suspect however with a 4.66 ERA and .277 batting average against.
The combination of Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon has been surprisingly effective. Nova is breaking out, and Garcia and Colon are proving that they are not too old yet. However, while all these numbers are exceptional, there's always that thought in the back of my mind as to whether or not they will return to the form of the past few seasons where they are much less effective than they need to be.
Derek Holland can be the deadliest pitcher the Texas Rangers have. He has four shutouts this season, so it is obvious that when he is dealing, he is very effective. The rest of the rotation is also very solid with CJ Wilson, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis.
Across the board, the Texas Rangers have great pitching but, the problem could very well could be that these guys do not have experience in the postseason. However, they have shown so far this season that they can be dominant.
The Milwaukee Brewers do not necessarily have the most star-studded rotation in basebal however, what they have done by combining Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, and Yovani Gallardo and Chris Narveson is a very effective.
Greinke had a very difficult start to the year, but ever since July he has turned into an ace. He went 5-1 in August. Gallardo has been piling up quite a few wins all season, and Wolf has had a revival in Milwaukee. Maybe they are not the most star-studded rotation in baseball, but they are effective, and that is what counts.
I'm not sure about this one because who knows if the Tampa Bay Rays will be able to catch the Boston Red Sox for the Wild Card, but if they do they have a very nice rotation for a playoff battle headlined by James Shields who is 15-11 with a 2.78 ERA.
David Price and Jeremy Hellickson provide support for Shields, and both have ERAs under 3.50. Shields and Price were both very effective in the Rays run to the World Series in 2008, so they have talent and they have experience. This rotation will do damage if they can make the playoffs.
Although the Atlanta Braves bullpen receives most of the attention, they are closing out games for very effective starting rotation. Jair Jurrjens had one of the better first halves in recent memory (12-3, 1.87 ERA), and if he is that effective in the playoffs (and shakes that injury), he will be their ace.
Tim Hudson has been having another very solid year combined with Tommy Hanson who could finally return from injury. These three pitchers have the potential to make their mark in the playoffs.
I really could not handle leaving them off the list. I know that they are currently behind the Texas Rangers, so maybe they won't even make the playoffs. However, with the combination of Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren are incredibly deadly.
Weaver leads the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with a 18-7 record and a 2.41 ERA. Although Justin Verlander is definitely the front runner for the Cy Young, Weaver could be next in line. I do not intend to discount Santana or Haren either. All three of these pitchers can win any given game. If they make the playoffs, they could go very deep.
The Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation has been consistently solid all season. Roy Halladay is obviously the ace. Last season, he threw a no-hitter in the first round of the playoffs against the Cincinnati Reds. Overall, he is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in the postseason.
Cole Hamels was the World Series MVP in 2008 when the Phillies won it. Over his career, Cliff Lee is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA, while Roy Oswalt is 5-1 with a 3.39 career ERA. The Phillies' rotation is currently having a great season, but they have also had a great amount of previous postseason success. That is why they are the most powerful playoff rotation in baseball right now.