We're coming down to the last couple divisions in my attempt to rank next season's projected rotations, and this one should be particularly interesting, at least to me. The NL West has really been a hotbed of quality young pitching the past few years, highlighted by impressive arms like Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, Clayton Kershaw and Mat Latos, and big arms continue to flow through these systems. It'll be exciting to see the likes of Tyler Matzek, Zach Lee, Casey Kelly and Zack Wheeler, among others, filling the role of star pitcher.
The Giants rode an absolutely stacked pitching staff to the World Series title last season, and it wouldn't be totally insane to suggest that the same thing could happen this season. But the Giants will have some very, very steady competition from the likes of Los Angeles and Colorado in particular, both of which are bringing quality rotations to the front as well.
(And as a side note, if you think that I've missed someone who's likely to be a rotation candidate this spring, let me know in the comments. I don't think I missed anyone obvious, though. I'd also like to note that readers who were disappointed by the lack of R.A. Dickey content in the previous Ranking The Rotations article will continue to be disappointed here.)
5) Diamondbacks: Joe Saunders, Dan Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga, Barry Enright, Kevin Mulvey
Kennedy is the only returning starter from Opening Day 2010's rotation, as the club has attempted to rebuild a pitching staff that was previously led by Dan Haren. Most of the team's changes have come through trades: Saunders and Hudson were acquired through trades last summer, and Duke and Galarraga were acquired through trades this offseason. But despite all of those changes, this rotation still isn't going to be a strength for them. Hudson and Kennedy are both young and turned in solid 2010 performances, although most scouts don't believe that Hudson can sustain his top-of-the-rotation numbers from last season. They should be cogs in the rotation for a while, but neither one has ace upside and both will likely settle in as mid-rotation inning eaters. Saunders, Duke and Galarraga can eat innings at near league-average levels, but bad luck can turn them all into pumpkins, and I wouldn't be shocked if they were turning in near-5 ERA's. There are some long-term pieces in this bunch, but it's a weak group as a whole.
4) Padres: Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Aaron Harang, Tim Stauffer, Wade LeBlanc, Dustin Moseley, Cory Leubke
There's not a ton of depth, but the front three guys in this rotation could end up being really strong. We all know how good Latos can be now, and he's proving to be one of the most dynamic pitchers in the game. Richard may not have Latos' flash, but he keeps the ball in the park and misses enough bats to be a solid 2.5-3.0 WAR starter. And Harang could really be the cherry on top- he only signed for $3 million in guaranteed money, but pitching in Petco rather than The Great American Ballpark should do wonders for the former ace. If he can regain some semblance of his previous form, this rotation could end up being really strong even if guys like Stauffer and LeBlanc are pretty underwhelming.
3) Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Cook, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, Esmil Rogers
Now, to be clear, this is a really good rotation. Jimenez is a definite ace at the top, and there's strong depth one through five. De La Rosa has big-time upside given his ability to miss bats, it's hard to dislike Chacin's high-strikeout/high-grounder profile, and both Hammel and Cook have the groundballing style to succeed in Coors. You can worry about Cook's declining velocity, De La Rosa's inconsistency and the youth of the club's other options, but if this rotation comes together it could lead Colorado to a playoff appearance, and possibly more.
2) Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, John Ely
It was an exceptionally close call between LA and Colorado, but it's tough to ignore LA's combination of high-end performance, durability and depth. Kershaw and Billingsley have developed into legitimate 4-5 WAR pitchers, and they both have the talent to reach even higher with some improved efficiency. Behind them, there's the somewhat underrated Kuroda and a couple of solid, durable veterans in Lilly and Garland. It's just a really strong bunch that covers a lot of different pitcher types, and they even have solid options in Padilla and Ely should one of the front five struggle or get hurt. Much of the focus on LA for next season is placed on the struggles of Matt Kemp and James Loney, as well as the questions about what they plan to do with left field, but if they contend it's going to be because of these guys.
1) Giants: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito, Jeff Suppan
You weren't expecting someone else, were you? Because this rotation is probably the most hyped in the entire league right now outside of Philly, and for good reason. When you lead your team to a World Series championship with guys like Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Andres Torres igniting the offense, it's pretty obvious that you're in a class of your own. Lincecum has continued to adjust his pitching style according to his declining velocity, and there's not reason to believe that his decline is beginning now. And as frustrating as Cain's ERA-FIP discrepancy can be, it's pretty clear that he's one of the top pitchers in the NL. Toss in the high-upside/high-risk Sanchez, the young gun Bumgarner and the overpaid-but-effective Zito, and this rotation is obviously equipped to reel off another run towards the playoffs. If there's any qualms that one could have with this bunch, it's the lack of depth, but a strong bullpen should prevent these guys from being overworked a great deal.