Chicks may dig the long-ball, but don’t underestimate the power pitching. Pitching simply wins and historically teams with above average 1-3 starters advance to the post-season. Teams with a dominant trio of starters are the ones that advance through the postseason. In best of five or even a best of seven series, a team can ride three starters all the way to a championship. Just look at the 2009 World Champion Yankees, who got on the backs of Sabathia, Pettitte, and Burnett to knock off the Phillies. Despite the Cubs winning with four starters this past post-season, their top-three did the heavy lifting, finally leading them to a World Series title after 108 seasons of futility. Here are the five best MLB rotation trios, and it’s no surprise these teams will still be playing deep into October, while most others will be golfing.
1. Chicago Cubs – Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks: The 2016 World Series Champions return a core rotation to make a legitimate bid to repeat as champs. In 2016, over a combined 589 IP they averaged an exceptional 1.03 WHIP, showing just how stingy they can be for allowing baserunners. All three starters finished in the top-10 in NL CY voting, with Lester and Hendrix finishing second and third, respectively. The trio averaged almost 18 Wins, over 196 IP with 186 K’s and a very impressive 2.56 ERA. While Hendricks isn’t likely to repeat as ERA champ, this threesome will again carry the Cubs deep into the playoffs. Their significantly lower ERA and WHIP, along with their track record of consistent excellence gives them the nod over other trios who averaged higher innings and strikeout totals in 2016.
2. Boston Red Sox – Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price: By trading the top prospect in all of baseball, Yoan Moncada, the Sox made potentially the most important acquisition of the entire offseason in Chris Sale. Like the Mets, the health of the rotation will determine how deep they’ll go into October. With recent positive reports regarding David Price’s elbow, the AL East could be miserable facing this Red Sox trio, which includes the reigning AL CY Young, Rick Porcello. The Sox have higher risk than the Cubs, with Sale changing teams, Price’s elbow, and Porcello potentially peaking last year. However, in 2016 this trio averaged almost 19 Wins, 226 IP and 217 K’s, with a 3.50 ERA. If they repeat this type of performance, there’s a good chance they’ll either face the Cubs or Mets in the World Series, even sans Big Papi.
3. San Francisco Giants – Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija: Having won 3 World Series this decade and finally falling short in an even year, the Giants bring back the same trio that carried them to an 87-win playoff berth. The rest of the rotation was in shambles, showing how a strong front-end rotation trio can still carry a team into the playoffs. Led by 27-year old ace Madison Bumgarner, and my pick to be the next 300-game winner, the Giants threesome has a solid chance to repeat it’s 2016 performance. Last season, Bumgarner finished 4th in the NL CY voting, Cueto finished 6th, and it’s tough to argue with their combined average. In 2016, the trio averaged an all-star caliber 15 Wins over 216 IP with 205 K’s and a 3.09 ERA.
4. Washington Nationals – Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark: The Nationals bring back a rotation that helped them secure a 95-win season with dominant front-end pitching. After Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer has without question been the 2nd best pitcher in baseball over the past four seasons. He’s won 2 CY’s in that time and led the league in the decreasingly important stat of wins three of four seasons while averaging 263 K’s and a 1.00 WHIP. Despite the $200+ million dollar price tag, I loved his signing because it reminded me of when Randy Johnson switched from the AL to the NL – hello facing the pitcher instead of DH! Following Scherzer, the Nats need a full season out of Strasburg, who last did it in 2014 when he led the league with 242 K’s. Following their #1 and 1A, the Nats have a quality sleeper in Tanner Roark as their number three. For 2016, this trio averaged 17 Wins, 195 IP and 213 K’s, and a 3.07 ERA. Assuming that knuckle is ok, the Nationals will again be in playoff contention.
5. New York Mets – Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey: The Mets could lead this list a year from now, but injuries have consistently derailed this group. The Mets edged out the Blue Jays for the final slot, and the time is now as the average opening day age of the Mets heralded trio climbs to 27. Instead of Syndergaard, deGrom, or Harvey leading the team in innings and starts last year, it was the immortal, 43-year old Bartolo Colon, stepping up in both categories. Until this trio proves they can handle a full seasons workload in consecutive years, they’ll simply remain in the conversation. Quality is there, as they’ve all got a stellar sub-3.00 career ERA, but it’s quantity that’s lacking. The proof is in the pudding, as they averaged 8 Wins, 141 IP with 146 K’s a 3.25 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 2016. If this trio stays healthy, there could be a rematch with the Cubs for the NL Pennant.
6. Toronto Blue Jays – Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ: So I lied. I’ll do the six best MLB rotations because something about leaving out such a deep rotation just didn’t feel right. The Blue Jays have four quality starters, as Marco Estrada didn’t make the rotation trio over 20-game winner J.A. Happ. Sanchez and Happ finished 6th and 7th in the AL CY voting, respectively, and with a stronger year from Stroman, the Blue Jays could make some serious noise in the AL East. The continued development of Aaron Sanchez and Stroman should make the Blue Jays AL Wild Card winners. In 2016, the trio averaged almost 15 Wins, 197 IP with 163 K’s, and a 3.53 ERA.
These trios are the best in baseball, and as a result, I predict each of their teams will make the 2017 playoffs. It’s impressive how despite baseball teams deploying a 25-man roster, just three players can have the greatest impact on the course of a 162-game season. It’s all about the power pitching. How’s your team’s front-end rotation trio looking?