Gio Gonzalez Traded to Nationals: Ranking MLB's Best 1-2 Combos

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIDecember 25, 2011

Gio Gonzalez Traded to Nationals: Ranking MLB's Best 1-2 Combos

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    With the Washington Nationals trading for Oakland A's ace Gio Gonzalez, the Nats now have a 1-2 combination at the top of the starting rotation that's worth mentioning.

    With any team, a strong ace and No. 2 are vital to a season of success.

    A bad ace or No. 2 starter could spell disaster at any point during the season, especially down the stretch.

    Case in point, last year the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox had historic collapses in September. Hitting was one story, but so was starting pitching.

    For the Braves, Derek Lowe lost his last five starts, hurting his team when they needed him most. Meanwhile, the Red Sox saw Jon Lester and Josh Beckett lose five of their last six starts on their way to a collapse.

    So, where does their 1-2 combination of Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg rank among the rest in Major League Baseball.

    In the next 30 slides, I will give my rankings of all team's No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers in their starting rotation, starting with No. 30...

30. Kansas City Royals

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    Bruce Chen and Felipe Paulino aren't exactly quality starters. In fact, neither would be in a starting rotation on most teams in baseball.

    However, things are different in Kansas City, but could be improving over the next few years.

    With Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy and the acquisition of Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants, things are definitely looking bright for the Royals.

    Now, the only thing they have to do is prove it on the field.

    If Chen (12-8, 3.77 ERA) and Paulino (4-10, 4.46 ERA) are the best the Royals can do, it's going to be a long season.

29. Baltimore Orioles

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    The Baltimore Orioles thought there would be hope with Zach Britton entering the rotation last year.

    However, Britton mostly disappointed as he went 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA.

    Coupled with Jeremy Guthrie's dismal 9-17 record with a 4.33 ERA, the Orioles have some serious needs at the top of their rotation.

    That might be why they asked the Braves for not only Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, but also two of the young arms in return for center fielder Adam Jones, as reported by the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly.

    After the A's received the package they did for Gio Gonzalez, one could only wonder if the Orioles expect to receive that same kind of package in return to give up one of their stars. One thing is for sure though, the Orioles need pitching.

28. San Diego Padres

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    It's odd to think that the San Diego Padres would rank in the bottom of MLB as far as pitching, especially considering how friendly Petco Park is to pitchers.

    But, after the trade of Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds, the Padres again have to look at their rotation and ask themselves who they really have.

    Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard seem to be the top two starters in the rotation, although Edison Volquez could make a push to be there after being involved in the Latos trade.

    Stauffer was 9-12 with a 3.73 ERA, while Richard was 5-9 with a 3.88 ERA, prior to being injured midway through the season.

27. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The problem with the Pittsburgh Pirates is that you're never sure who the top two starters are going to be in a given year.

    This year, the same holds true.

    With the acquisition of Erik Bedard, is he the No. 1 starter? Or is it going to be Jeff Karstens?

    My money is on Karstens and James McDonald being the top two starters for the Pirates.

    Karstens impressed a little last year going 9-9 with a 3.38 ERA, while McDonald went 9-9 with a 4.21 ERA. The one positive for McDonald is that he strike opposing hitters out as he accumulated 142 punchouts last year.

26. Minnesota Twins

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    Things haven't been the same for the Minnesota Twins and their pitching since Johan Santana left.

    Back then, Francisco Liriano was a decent pitcher and there was depth throughout.

    Now, the Twins still have Liriano, but mainly have aging veterans or No. 5-quality starters filling out the rest of their rotation.

    This year, to go along with Liriano, the Twins have Carl Pavano at the top of the rotation.

    Liriano had a 9-10 record last year with a 5.09 ERA, while Pavano was 9-13 with a 4.30 ERA.

    Although the records and ERAs don't say much about these pitchers from last year, I think a lot of it had to do with the lack of support behind them. With injuries to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, veteran leadership is gone from the field, putting the defense in a heap of trouble, which doesn't spell good news for starting pitchers.

25. New York Mets

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    Currently, Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese sit atop the rotation for the New York Mets.

    If Johan Santana can ever return to form...well, return from injury first, the Mets might actually have a decent starting rotation.

    In the meantime, it falls on Pelfrey and Niese to be the anchors in the Mets' rotation.

    Pelfrey has the ability to be a 15-game winner as was evidenced in 2010, but for some reason success is something he has trouble keeping ahold of. Last year, the right-hander went 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA.

    Niese, on the other hand, was 11-11 with 4.40 ERA.

    If Santana returns to form, the Mets 1-2 combination could be in the top half of the league.

24. Oakland A's

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    After trading away Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals, the Oakland A's actually improved their rotation one through five.

    However, this isn't about the entire rotation. This is about the top two starters. And, for the A's, that's Brandon McCarthy and Dallas Braden.

    Everyone remembers Braden as the player who threw a no-hitter a few years back. Last year, he had a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of the year.

    McCarthy went 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA. There is hope, though. In his last 10 starts last year, McCarthy gave up three runs or less in seven of those games, including three games with eight or more strikeouts.

    Oakland is a good pitcher's ballpark, and with another year under his belt, McCarthy should see his numbers go up.

23. Colorado Rockies

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    Regardless of who you are, if you're a starting pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, your ERA is going to be inflated. But, that doesn't mean you can't have success as a starter at Coors Field.

    After trading away ace Ubaldo Jimenez last year, the Rockies now have a newer crop of pitchers who will look to carry the team back to the playoffs.

    At the top this year are Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin.

    Nicasio was 4-4 with a 4.18 ERA last year, not getting a start after Aug. 5. On the other hand, Chacin was 11-14 with a 3.62 ERA and 150 strikeouts.

    It's a new year for the Rockies, and maybe, things will change. Then again, maybe not.

22. Houston Astros

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    The Houston Astros have a plethora of pitchers who can strike you out.

    The only problem with that it, they're also the type of pitchers that somehow find a way to hit opponent's bats in the wrong spot.

    At the top of the rotation, the Astros have Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. Both are 150+ strikeout guys.

    Rodriguez was 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA last year, while Myers was 7-14 with a 4.46 ERA.

    This year, the ERA's might be better for both pitchers, but the records won't see any improvement as the Astros are in rebuilding mode yet again - this time, it's for their offense.

21. Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Toronto Blue Jays are another team that has a bevy of young talent in their starting rotation.

    In fact, former Philadelphia Phillies top prospect Kyle Drabek could find himself back in the minor leagues this year after a horrible 2011 campaign.

    At the top of the rotation for the Jays are Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.

    Romero went 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA and 178 strikeouts, solidifying his spots at the top of Toronto's rotation.

    At the No. 2 spot is Morrow, who went 11-11 with a 4.73 ERA and 203 strikeouts last year. Though, the ERA is not impressive, it is expected playing the American League East, as the Jays have to go against the powerful lineups of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox 36 times during the year.

    Look for more improvements out of this group throughout the year and don't be surprised to see them at or near the top 10 next year.

20. Chicago White Sox

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    Mark Buerhle is gone, and now the Chicago White Sox have a hole to fill in their rotation, although Chris Sale looks primed to take on that role.

    However, he won't be at the top of the rotation.

    Instead, those duties will go to John Danks and Gavin Floyd.

    Danks was 8-12 with a 4.33 ERA last year, while Floyd went 12-13 with a 4.37 ERA. Those numbers don't speak volumes for this staff, but the potential to be better is there.

    Jake Peavy has the ability to return to All-Star form and Phillip Humber is loaded with potential. So, the top two spots could change by the midway point of the season.

19. Chicago Cubs

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    I wouldn't expect the Chicago Cubs to be in the bottom part of the league in pitching for long.

    With Theo Epstein as the new general manager for the folks from the North side, the Cubs won't be idle in the free-agent market next year, nor the trade market, with the multitude of dollars that will be available at Epstein's disposal.

    This year, the Cubs have Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza at the top of the rotation - Carlos Zambrano's temper won't keep him in Chicago too much longer.

    Dempster had a 10-14 record with a 4.80 ERA and 190 strikeouts a year ago, while Garza had a 10-10 record with a 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in his first year in Chicago.

    Garza should have a firm hold on the top spot with his comfort level being more this year after taking time to get used to the winds of Chicago.

18. Cincinnati Reds

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    With the acquisition of Mat Latos from the Padres, the Cincinnati Reds addressed a major need this offseason.

    Although their starting rotation gets better as a whole, the top two are still on middle ground with the rest of the league.

    Along with Latos, the Reds will see Johnny Cueto fill the No. 2 spot, although Bronson Arroyo will likely get that official role.

    Cueto went 9-5 last year with a 2.31 ERA, but didn't receive a decision in his last five starts.

    Latos moves from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to the Great American Ballpark, which has seen its share of longballs. Last year, he was 9-14 with a 3.47 ERA and 185 strikeouts. His record should get better this year, with a better offense behind him, but his ERA should see a slight spike above 3.90.

17. Seattle Mariners

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    If it was about the ace of the rotation, the Seattle Mariners would be ranked in the top three.

    However, this isn't about the ace of the staff, it's about the top two, so the Mariners drop a little in the rankings.

    "King Felix" went 14-14 last year with a 3.47 ERA and 222 strikeouts. Those numbers aren't likely to change, and he should again contend for the American League Cy Young.

    After that, things get a little tricky for the Mariners with Jason Vargas likely slipping into the No. 2 spot.

    Vargas was 10-13 with a 4.25 ERA last year and should at least get his record to a winning one.

    Don't be surprised to see Blake Beavan insert his name into the No. 2 conversation as another year under his belt will help the 22-year old get better.

16. Cleveland Indians

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    A move to the American League seems to have helped Ubaldo Jimenez, but then again, just getting out of Coors Field will help any pitcher.

    The Cleveland Indians got their ace in a mid-season trade last year - an ace they haven't seen since the likes of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.

    Jimenez went 4-4 in his time in Cleveland last year, but should see all his numbers improve with a full season in Cleveland.

    Derek Lowe will be slotted into the No. 2 spot, but that's laughable as he's not a No. 2 starter anymore.

    The Indians' best bet for a No. 2 starter is Josh Tomlin, who went 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA last year. The only knock on Tomlin is the fact that he's not a strikeout pitcher, so a good defense behind him is always good to have.

15. Detroit Tigers

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    Justin Verlander is one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in baseball.

    But, it takes more than Verlander to be in the top 1-2 combos in the league.

    For the Detroit Tigers, that's good news as the rest of the rotation still has some question marks surrounding it.

    Will Jacob Turner be the starter most think he can be? Or, can Rick Porcello regain what he once had?

    Those questions should be answered, but neither will be the answer as a No. 2 starter to start out the season.

    That job goes to Max Scherzer, who went 15-9 with a 4.43 ERA and 174 strikeouts last year. He's a consistent innings eater and should put up those same numbers again this year.

    If he can do that and join Verlander's Cy Young numbers from last year, the Tigers look to be the top team in the American League Central again this year.

14. Miami Marlins

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    The Miami Marlins went crazy this offseason.

    Not only did they sign the top shortstop on the free-agent market, but they also signed the second-best pitcher on the market.

    Mark Buerhle is part of a group of players that Marlins' brass believes will get them back to the postseason.

    With a record of 13-9 and a 3.59 ERA, Buerhle should see his numbers get better with a move to the National League.

    Joining him at the top of the Marlins' rotation is ace Josh Johnson.

    Now, Johnson is beginning to take the same shape as other aces - great when he's healthy, but really can't stay healthy.

    The question for many fans is will they see the Johnson of 2009-10 when he started a combined 51 games, or will they see the type of play (or lack thereof) that we've seen from him every other year.

    If Johnson is healthy, the Marlins have a powerful 1-2 punch.

13. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The biggest surprise pitcher in all of baseball last year was Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    After a year in which he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and 198 strikeouts, Kennedy was right up there in Cy Young talk. With it being his second year in Arizona, the comfort level seemed there and he should look to do the same again this year.

    Joining Kennedy at the top of the rotation is newly acquired Trevor Cahill, who went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA for Oakland last year.

    Cahill has the stuff required of a No. 2 pitcher and should see his win total increase with a better offense giving him run support.

12. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Los Angels Dodgers boast last year's National League Cy Young winner in Clayton Kershaw, who won the pitcher's version of the triple crown, going 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts.

    I don't see any change in that this year as Kershaw will only be better.

    Joining him at the top of the rotation is Chad Billingsley, who went 11-11 with a 4.21 ERA a year ago.

    One thing Billingsley has shown is consistency over the last few years, winning at least 11 games in all but one of his major-league seasons. That kind of consistency will eventually pay off as the Dodgers could likely sniff the playoffs this year, despite the ownership struggles.

11. Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals became major players again this year, acquiring Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A's.

    Couple that with Stephen Strasburg back for a full season after Tommy John surgery, and the future is very bright for the Nats.

    Strasburg has overpowering stuff and has shown that he can dominate hitters on a consistent basis. The focus for him this year will be durability. Can his hard-throwing style be sustained over the course of an entire season, or will he once again succumb to the pressure put on his elbow.

    Gonzalez on the other hand is a solid No. 2. After a year in which he went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA and 197 strikeouts, Gonzalez should see the same kind of success in the National League.

    Although he leaves pitcher-friendly Oakland, Gonzalez should see no drop in his statistics.

10. Atlanta Braves

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    Forget Derek Lowe. He's finally gone.

    Other than him, the one thing the Atlanta Braves have been able to get out of the top of their rotation is consistency. Now, the top of the rotation hasn't always been the same (albeit Tim Hudson).

    This year, Hudson will again anchor the top of the rotation and should again put up 16+ wins and an ERA around 3.30.

    Now, the question is, who is the No. 2 starter? Is it Jair Jurrjens (if he's even in Atlanta at the start of the season)? What about Tommy Hanson coming off injury? Or, how about Brandon Beachy?

    My money has to go to Beachy, who actually failed to record a decision in six of his last 10 starts last year, where he allowed an average of 2.7 runs in each of those games, which tells me the offense wasn't helping him.

    With his spot solidified in the rotation, Beachy should fit in nicely in the No. 2 spot and (hopefully) get more run support this year.

9. San Francisco Giants

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    Is it wrong of me to say I love Tim Lincecum's hair? Well, I do regardless.

    The San Francisco Giants' ace is one of the top pitchers in baseball, but lately hasn't gotten the support he's needed to be a 20-game winner.

    Last year, Lincecum went 13-14 with a 2.74 ERA and 220 strikeouts. However, in nine of his starts, he gave up two runs or fewer, and received a loss or no-decision in the process. Maybe that will change this year.

    Accompanying Lincecum at the top of the rotation is Matt Cain, who went 12-11 with a 2.88 ERA and 179 strikeouts.

    Still, if the Giants' offense can get things together, the pitching rotation should see more wins, and maybe their pitchers going deeper into games.

8. Texas Rangers

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    Neftali Feliz is an ace in the making for the Texas Rangers.

    Coming from being a closer, Feliz should stretch out nicely and become a legitimate Cy Young candidate - yes, I said it.

    The reason the Rangers get ranked a little lower is because there's no assurances at the No. 2 spot. Of course, you could have said that about them the last two years, but they somehow find a way to win games.

    Yu Darvish is a wild card because you don't know what he'll do against MLB hitting, so he can't really be considered the No. 2 starter, yet. If he does prove to be a legitimate No. 2, then the Rangers are definitely a top 10 team.

    So, the next best candidate for the No. 2 position is Matt Harrison, another of the many former Atlanta Braves' top prospects. Harrison went 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA last year.

    Although the Rangers' staff doesn't have overpowering stuff, they get the job done. And, that's all you can really ask out of them.

7. New York Yankees

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    The bright lights of New York don't bother C.C. Sabathia, which is why there has been no falloff since he arrived in the big apple.

    The Yankees have the ability to have one of the top five rotations in all of baseball, but still have some issues to work out.

    With Sabathia at the top, after another stellar season in which he went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA and 230 strikeouts, the only question coming out of New York is who will the No. 2 starter be.

    Ivan Nova definitely surprised a few people last year, going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. The major question for him this year will be if he has sophomore slump or not.

    My guess is he won't. Usually, when pitchers get to New York, they struggle from the beginning (A.J. Burnett). But, Nova hasn't done that and has shown he can take the ball in big-game situations.

    Another year of Nova getting the job done and the Yankees will move into the top three.

6. Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Milwaukee Brewers have more like a 1A and 1B starter. There is no No. 2 on the staff.

    Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo are two very dominant pitchers with good stuff.

    Last year, Gallardo was 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA and 207 strikeouts, while Greinke was 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA and 201 strikeouts.

    Both pitchers should continue to put up dominant numbers and have their loss total in the single digits.

    What may hurt both, however, is the fact that Ryan Braun is facing a 50-game suspension for a failed drug test, and the fact that Prince Fielder likely won't be in the lineup either.

    The early part of the season should be fun to watch for Brewers' fans.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Tampa Bay Rays have a 1-2 combination that I'm absolutely in love with.

    And, what's not to like when you have David Price and James Shields at the top of your rotation.

    Price went 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA and 218 strikeouts last year. Although he struggled, he's still one you want at the top of your rotation. Plus, everyone has a bad year, right?

    Shields on the other hand had a great year, going 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 225 strikeouts.

    If the Rays are to make another run at the postseason, Shields is going to have to put up those kinds of numbers again, and Price will have to do a little bit better than he did last year.

4. St. Louis Cardinals

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    The St. Louis Cardinals might have lost the biggest icon ever to put on a Cardinals' uniform since Ozzie Smith, but that still doesn't take away from the fact that the top of their rotation is one of the major's best.

    Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are both Cy Young material, but the only issue is whether both can remain healthy at the same time. If they can, the rest of the National League Central needs to keep one eye open on this team.

    Carpenter went 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA and 191 strikeouts last year, while Wainwright went down even before the season started.

    Both are legitimate 20-game winners and will likely do so.

    My only concern is with Albert Pujols off to Los Angeles, can those runs they're used to getting in the middle of their lineup still be attained?

3. Boston Red Sox

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    It's no secret that the Boston Red Sox had a historic collapse last year.

    But, that still doesn't take away from what they have at the top of the rotation.

    Jon Lester went 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA and 182 strikeouts, while Josh Beckett was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA and 175 strikeouts.

    The talent is there for the Red Sox, but will all of the clubhouse drama leave?

    My thoughts are, no. And, that could end up hurting one of the best 1-2 combos in all of baseball. But, if they repeat what they did last year again this year, they only have themselves to blame.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    Sorry, anybody who says that newly acquire pitcher C.J. Wilson is one of the top two pitchers on this staff is sadly mistaken.

    The Los Angeles Angels have a bevy of talent in their starting rotation. But, none is more talented than Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.

    Weaver went 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA and 198 strikeouts last year, winning his first six starts. However, he lost his next four before regaining control before the All-Star break.

    Haren, in his first full season with the Angels, went 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA and 192 strikeouts.

    With the offensive talent behind these guys, this should definitely be the most dominant pitching staff in all of baseball.

    Still, these two in no way compare to my top team with the best 1-2 combination...

1. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are not only the top two pitchers on the Philadelphia Phillies' roster, but they're also the top two pitchers in all of baseball.

    There is no combination of pitchers that even compares to these two.

    Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and 220 strikeouts in what would've been another Cy Young campaign had it not been for some dude named Kershaw out in Los Angeles.

    Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and 238 strikeouts in what could've also been considered a Cy Young year.

    The thing about these two is that they are in the prime of their careers and aren't going to get any worse. They'll continue to be the two best pitchers in baseball for at least the next four or five years.

    As a Braves' fan, I hate that. But, you have to give credit where credit is due.

    No team can even compare the top of their rotation with the Phillies. It's because of these two, why the Phillies are in the hunt for the World Series each year.