St. Louis Cardinals Rotation: Where Does It Rank Among Best in Past 25 Years?

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IMay 12, 2013

St. Louis Cardinals Rotation: Where Does It Rank Among Best in Past 25 Years?

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    On Sunday afternoon, Jaime Garcia and the St. Louis Cardinals will attempt a sweep of their series with the Colorado Rockies, one in which the bullpen hasn't even been called upon.

    That's because Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright combined to shut the Rockies' powerful offense down with two consecutive one-hit marvels.

    This is a Rockies team that came into the series leading the National League with 169 runs scored. We're not talking about the Cardinals dominating a weak lineup.

    The Cardinals' starting rotation is in uncharted territory right now—with Miller and Wainwright's effort, St. Louis tied the major league by setting down 40 opposing hitters in order, first accomplished by the Texas Rangers in 1996.

    Garcia hasn't exactly been a slouch, winning his last three games and posting a 1.25 ERA. Considering the Rockies' current woes, Garcia stands a better-than-even chance of at least continuing the Cardinals' dominance.

    The current starting five for the Cardinals have certainly put together an amazing first quarter, but where does it rank historically among the great rotations over the past 25 years?

    Let's take a look.

    Note: Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

10. 1993 Atlanta Braves: 3.13 ERA

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    In 1991 and 1992, the Atlanta Braves went to back-to-back World Series, riding on the backs of great pitching performances from Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Charlie Liebrandt.

    The Braves traded Liebrandt at the end of the 1992 season to the Texas Rangers. In his place they signed free-agent pitcher Greg Maddux. Maddux had just won the NL Cy Young Award with the Chicago Cubs.

    It's safe to say that Maddux for Liebrandt was a pretty fair trade-off for the Braves' rotation.

    The Braves would capture their third-straight NL West division title before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS. Maddux would win his second straight Cy Young Award as well.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Greg Maddux 20-10 2.36 1.05 6.6
    Steve Avery 18-6 2.94 1.16 5.0
    Tom Glavine 22-6 3.20 1.36 4.5
    John Smoltz 15-11 3.62 1.26 7.7
    Pete Smith 3-8 4.63 1.48 5.2
    Kent Mercker 1-1 3.00 1.10 6.9

9. 1991 Los Angeles Dodgers: 3.06 ERA

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    In 1991, the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the fight of their lives in the NL West, going up against the upstart Atlanta Braves.

    They would ultimately lose out to the Braves by just one game, but it was certainly wasn't for a lack of quality starting pitching.

    The Dodgers' rotation didn't have anyone place in Cy Young Award balloting, but their collective 3.06 ERA led the majors nonetheless.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Tim Belcher
    10-9 2.62 1.26
    Mike Morgan
    14-10 2.81
    1.10 5.3
    Bob Ojeda 12-9
    Ramon Martinez
    3.27 1.18
    Orel Hershiser
    3.46 1.29

8. 1998 Atlanta Braves: 3.06 ERA

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    The Atlanta Braves won their eighth straight division title in 1998, and their starting rotation was the main reason why.

    Led by Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, Braves starters won 90 games, the most of any rotation on this list.

    They would ultimately lose to the San Diego Padres in the NLCS, but the Braves once again showed why having a quality rotation can lead to success.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Greg Maddux 18-9 2.22 0.98 7.3
    Tom Glavine 20-6 2.47 1.20 6.2
    John Smoltz 17-3 2.90 1.13 9.3
    Denny Neagle 15-11 3.59 1.23 7.0
    Kevin Millwood 17-8 4.14 1.33 8.5

7. 1997 Atlanta Braves: 3.05 ERA

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    In 1997, Pedro Martinez captured the National League Cy Young Award with a magical season for the Montreal Expos.

    But Atlanta Braves starters once again shined. Greg Maddux narrowly missed out on his fifth overall Cy Young trophy, finishing second. He was followed by Denny Neagle, who posted his first and only 20-win season.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Greg Maddux 19-4 2.20 0.95 6.8
    Tom Glavine 14-7 2.96 1.15 5.7
    Denny Neagle 20-5 2.97 1.08 6.6
    John Smoltz 15-12 3.02 1.16 8.5
    Others 7-9 4.88 1.51 6.7

6. 1988 Montreal Expos: 3.05 ERA

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    The Montreal Expos' starting corps in 1988 is without question the unluckiest rotation on this list.

    Despite its starters posting a stellar 3.05 ERA, they won just 54 games while the Expos finished with an even 81-81 record.

    They were also unfortunate in going up against a team in their own division who will show up a bit later on this list.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Pascual Perez 12-8 2.44 0.94 6.3
    Dennis Martinez 15-13 2.72 1.15 4.6
    Bryn Smith 12-10 3.00 1.07 5.5
    John Dopson 3-11 3.04 1.23 5.4
    Others 12-20 3.870 1.34 5.3

5. 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers: 3.02 ERA

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    The starting rotation for the 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers was another that didn't have Lady Luck on their side.

    They can blame their offense for their 58-65 record despite a nifty 3.02 ERA. The Dodgers scored just 554 runs, good for dead last in the National League.

    Orel Hershiser followed up a spectacular Cy Young Award-winning effort in 1988 with a 2.36 ERA in 1989, yet managed to win only half his games.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Orel Hershiser 15-15 2.36 1.19 6.0
    Tim Belcher 14-10 2.68 1.11 7.8
    Mike Morgan 6-11 2.74 1.15 4.4
    Fernando Valenzuela 10-13 3.43 1.44 5.3
    Others 13-16 3.68 1.24 6.5

4. 1988 New York Mets: 2.97 ERA

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    In 1988, the New York Mets steamrolled their way through the NL East Division, winning by a whopping 15 games over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Their starting rotation that year featured three young hurlers who won at least 17 games, including David Cone, who won 20 games* for the first time and finished third in Cy Young Award balloting in the National League.

    It wasn't quite enough to get them past the Los Angeles Dodgers, however, losing in a hard-fought NLCS that featured the brilliance of Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    David Cone 18-3 2.10 1.09 8.2
    Bob Ojeda 10-13 2.88 1.00 6.3
    Sid Fernandez 12-10 3.03 1.05 9.1
    Dwight Gooden 18-9 3.19 1.20 6.3
    Ron Darling 17-9 3.25 1.16 6.0

    * Won two games in relief.

3. 1992 Atlanta Braves: 2.95 ERA

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    After a hard-fought 1991 pennant race that saw the Atlanta Braves narrowly defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the NL West Division title, the following year's team had a bit of an easier time of things.

    The Braves captured the NL West title for the second straight year, beating the Cincinnati Reds by eight games.

    Their starting rotation delivered in grand fashion, once again led by Tom Glavine. He won 20 games for the second straight season and narrowly lost out on a second straight Cy Young Award as well.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Tom Glavine 20-8 2.76 1.19 5.2
    John Smoltz 15-12 2.85 1.16 7.8
    Steve Avery 11-11 3.20 1.23 5.0
    Charlie Liebrandt 15-7 3.39 1.22 4.9
    Others 11-4 2.39 1.23 5.9

2. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies: 2.86 ERA

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    In late 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies traded for starting pitcher Roy Halladay. He would reward them with a Cy Young Award-winning performance in 2010.

    The Phillies then went out and added another Cy Young Award winner to their rotation with the signing of Cliff Lee.

    The 2011 season saw both Halladay and Lee—along with emerging southpaw Cole Hamels—lead the Phillies to their fifth consecutive NL East Division title. Halladay, Lee and Hamels finished second, third and fifth in Cy Young Award balloting respectively.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Roy Halladay 19-6 2.35 1.04 8.5
    Cliff Lee 17-8 2.40 1.03 9.2
    Cole Hamels 14-9 2.75 0.98 8.2
    Vance Worley 11-3 3.02 1.21 8.0
    Kyle Kendrick 5-4 3.14 1.16 5.0
    Roy Oswalt 9-10 3.69 1.34 6.0

1. 2013 St. Louis Cardinals: 2.11 ERA

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    It's certainly a bit premature to label the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals as the best rotation in the past quarter century, but the numbers are indeed staggering.

    None of the five starters have an ERA worse than 2.72. They have also combined to give up just 10 home runs—Jake Westbrook has yet to allow a ball to leave the yard in his six outings thus far.

    The odds are somewhat long for the Cardinals' rotation to continue at this pace, but even with just a slight regression, they'll likely measure up as one of the best rotations of the past 25 years.

    Pitcher W-L ERA WHIP K/9
    Shelby Miller 5-2 1.58 0.88 10.1
    Jake Westbrook 2-1 1.62 1.46 4.4
    Jaime Garcia 4-1 2.25 1.27 6.3
    Adam Wainwright 5.2 2.30 0.99 8.4
    Lance Lynn 5-1 2.72 1.05 9.8

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

    Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.