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Ranking starting pitching rotations in 2021

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Clayton Kershaw World Series
Which teams have the best pitching staffs? Photo from The Washington Post.
  • There are several stacked rotations across MLB
  • The best rotations combine high-end talent with depth
  • Which teams have the best rotations after Trevor Bauer signs with the Dodgers?

Well, that was exhausting. At long last, dominos are starting to fall in what has felt like the longest MLB hot stove in recent memory.

After much courting and communication between National League Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer and the New York Mets, the apple of the free agent pitching market decided to take his talents to the west coast. The Los Angeles Dodgers swooped in and made Bauer an offer he couldn’t refuse, signing him to a three year, $102 million deal.

The pitcher can opt out of the deal after one or two years if he so chooses, but raking in $40 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022 will likely keep him in Hollywood for the duration of his contract.

Now that the best pitcher in the 2020 free agent class has found a home, where do the Dodgers rank in the pecking order of best MLB rotations? Let’s take a closer look at the top five rotations in the game heading in 2021.

5. Yankees

The New York Yankees are always in win-now mode, and their potent offensive lineup is usually never an issue when it comes to their success.

In recent years, their fate has been determined by how well their starting rotation has fared, and the team has not been shy about being aggressive in improving that area of the roster.

Last offseason, the team forked over a gargantuan contract to ace Gerrit Cole, who had a successful first season in the Bronx.

His strikeout per 9 innings rate was still very high at 11.9, and he should be able to build on his success in a hopefully less topsy turvy 2021 MLB season. The rotation’s destiny however hinges on whether newly acquired Corey Kluber and young phenom Deivi Garcia can produce strong campaigns behind Cole. Kluber was a two time Cy Young award winner with the Cleveland Indians, but barely pitched last season due to a shoulder injury. Garcia had a decent introduction to the big leagues in 2020, posting a 4.98 ERA, but has the arm talent to befuddle hitters for years to come.


4. Padres

Padres pitchers have always had the benefit of playing their games in one of the most friendly stadiums for hurlers in Petco Park. San Diego fans can look forward to coupling that advantage with some seriously impressive talent in their rotation in 2021.

Bauer ended up winning the National League Cy Young award in 2020, but Darvish was the runner up in the senior circuit.

He posted a stellar 8-3 record with a 2.01 ERA, and San Diego parted ways with 5 players to obtain him from the Chicago Cubs.

While the Padres rotation may lack some of the high end pitching talent on this list, their rotation from one through five stacks up with almost any other team. The Padres also acquired Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason, who won the American League Cy Young in 2018. Fans of the Friars can also look forward to young guns Chris Paddack and prospect MacKenzie Gore in 2021, which will make the team exciting to watch.

3. White Sox

While the back-end of the White Sox rotation is nothing to write home about, their top three starters are extremely dangerous. They have the potential to carry Chicago deep into the playoffs if things break right, and their young hitters continue to improve.

Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel are the three names to watch on the rubber in the Windy City this year.

While Lynn has been very good for his entire career, he is just now starting to get the recognition for top awards. He has finished in the top 6 of Cy Young voting each of the last two seasons. But Giolito and Keuchel are the two who might blow the competition away in 2021. Keuchel had a microscopic 1.99 ERA in 2020, and while that number figures to rise in 2021, he’s still young enough to put together another special campaign reminiscent of his Houston Astros days. Giolito has one of the best arms in baseball, and after struggling with control issues early in his career, is poised to become one of the game’s elite front line pitchers.

2. Nationals

The Nationals’ rotation isn’t exactly brimming with young talent in 2021, but their core starters are veterans who have put together stellar careers and know how to win big games. If Washington is in contention towards the end of the summer, fans can bet that they’ll avoid long losing streaks because of their experience and depth.

Max Scherzer has been as good as it gets for the better part of the last decade, and while his 2020 season was relatively disappointing for his standards, he still showed plenty of swing and miss ability with his pitches.

Even if his skills do start to deteriorate in the coming seasons, there are few players who compete as hard, which is the definition of what a true ace is. Stephen Strasburg and Jon Lester have pitched in a few big spots of their own in their careers, and will not shrink when the moment gets big.

The real key to the rotation will be Patrick Corbin, who the team signed in December 2018. Corbin had a solid 2019 with the team before cratering in 2020. Whether he can bounce back will be a key factor in determining whether the Nationals can return to the top of the NL East.

1. Dodgers

Finally, we get to the cream of the crop, whose crop just got more tasty with the addition of Bauer. Los Angeles definitely didn’t need his services to defend their World Series crown in 2021, but his addition catapults their rotation to the very best in the game.

Not only do the Dodgers have tremendous established frontline talent in Bauer and Clayton Kershaw—they have four promising prospects who could make the leap into stardom at any moment.

Julio Urias, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May all have the ability to be top of the rotation starters one day, and even if only two of them provide Los Angeles with consistent outings behind their top two, opposing lineups will shake at the thought of a three or four game series against the defending champs. This doesn’t even include David Price, who opted out of the 2020 season and should be well rested for the upcoming campaign.



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