As the starting rotation goes, so goes the team. I don’t know if the concept has ever been put into those exact words in that exact order, but you get the idea. There’s another adage about how defense wins championships or something like that, but I’ll try and spare you the cheesy clichés.
What I’m getting at, is that Major League pitchers – specifically the starters – are like quarterbacks in football. It’s hard to win games without a good one, and in baseball’s case, you’ll need around five.
Of course, within each rotation, typically there’s an ace, a weaker fifth starter and a few more that fall somewhere in between. But no team is perfect, and you’ll often encounter situations with an ace among four other posers, or conversely, an outclassed wannabe who somehow cracked the rotation with four proven hotshots.
Now, that’s all well and good, but I think we can all agree that no, there’s no “I” in team, and that every player must do his job for a club to be successful (there I go with those clichés again). So with that in mind – and taking into consideration the teams each of these guys play for – here are seven starting pitchers who will win a World Series and eight who definitely won’t.
16 WON’T: CHRIS ARCHER (TAMPA BAY RAYS)
Given the right situation, where he got a favorable trade and a slot in a decent rotation on a halfway decent team, right-hander Chris Archer most certainly could help win a World Series championship. The biggest thing he’s got going against him, though, is that he’s locked down on a terrible team for the next five seasons – when he’ll turn 32 – without a whole lot of options.
He’s a good pitcher – an ace with the Rays but probably a No. 3 or 4 guy on a better team – whose numbers are a little bloated considering the lack of support he gets in Tampa Bay. But it’d take something huge for the Rays to trade away one of the few good things they’ve got going for them, so it’s not likely another team is going to deal that kind of talent for someone whose current stats wouldn’t reconcile the swap.
15 WILL: DALLAS KEUCHEL (HOUSTON ASTROS)
After a breakout season in 2014, Astros southpaw Dallas Keuchel proved it was no fluke with an AL-best 20 wins, 7.2 WAR and 232 innings pitched in 2015, earning him the AL Cy Young Award and a trip to the All-Star Game.
After a down year in 2016, he’s shown once again that he’s a clear-cut ace by going 5-0 with good command through his first six starts in 2017. On a strong Houston team with a solid veteran presence, quality pitching and explosive hitting, Dallas has as good a shot at a World Series title as he could ask for.
But if it doesn’t happen with the Astros, the now-29-year-old will be a free agent in 2019 and will basically have his choice to go to a contender if he chooses to test the free agency waters. One way or another, Keuchel will be wearing a ring before he hangs ‘em up.
14 WON’T: YU DARVISH (TEXAS RANGERS)
According to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller, “The Rangers’ World Series hopes could hinge on Yu Darvish’s return to form (and health),” and I’ve got to be honest, if that’s the case, it doesn’t look good for their chances.
Like a lone ranger meandering the Southern plains, Darvish is the one true ace in Texas (although A.J. Griffin is beginning to emerge nicely), but he’s got a shaky past with injury and has had some issues with his command early in games.
Since entering the league in 2012, Darvish has only once started 30 games. He missed half of 2014 and all of 2015 with an elbow injury, and last year, he battled neck and shoulder issues, limiting him to just 17 starts.
Now in a contract year, maybe his 3.03 ERA will sway a hopeful GM, but I don’t see him winning with the Rangers, nor going to a serious title-contender.
13 WILL: BRETT ANDERSON (CHICAGO CUBS)
The century-long title drought is over at Wrigley Field, and offseason Cubs signee Brett Anderson is all aboard on a scary-good Chicago team that is finally a perennial contender under Theo Epstein. I can guarantee it won’t be another 108 years before the Cubs win another World Series, and Brett Anderson will be there when it happens.
Like Darvish, he has had to slog through multiple injuries over the course of his eight-year career, but even if he can’t stay healthy all season long – he was a depth signee anyways – the Cubs are good enough in all areas to win another title soon, if not again this year.
So far, he’s off to a decent start, and so are the Cubs, who sit atop the NL Central at the time of this writing.
12 WON’T: JHOULYS CHACIN (SAN DIEGO PADRES)
I have a feeling it’s going to be a long, grueling season for the San Diego Padres, based solely on their young, inexperienced starting rotation.
Other than one-year, $1.75 million offseason signee Jhoulys Chacin, the Padres' starting pitching is basically a squad of minor-leaguers with little to no Major League experience now, that Tyson Ross is gone (dead-arm Jared Weaver doesn’t count).
Without much of a supporting cast, Chacin, despite taking up the top spot in the rotation, ain’t gonna light any fires this season, and that will make it hard to manufacture good numbers for a future spot on a good rotation, even while tossing home games in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park. What that means for the 29-year-old Chacin and his career 5.82 ERA, is little chance at a future World Series title.
11 WILL: CARLOS CARRASCO (CLEVELAND INDIANS)
By all accounts, the Indians should have won the World Series last season. If it had been against any team other than the Cubs, it would have happened, but the sheer gravity of the enormous Chicago bandwagon and the seemingly scripted Hollywood storyline, it was simply fate that the drought would be broken in ‘16. As soon as they went down three games to one, it was almost a foregone conclusion that they’d come back to win it in dramatic fashion; the Indians were simply collateral damage.
So with all that said, it bears acknowledging that the Cleveland Indians have been good the past few seasons and obviously good enough to be world champions. That won’t change any time soon, which finally brings me to 30-year-old Venezuelan pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
Basically, he’s an ace, has the capacity for greatness and throws well for a team with a rotation that brought them to within one game of a title last year. It’ll happen for him.
10 WON’T: MASAHIRO TANAKA (NEW YORK YANKEES)
On another team, legitimate right-handed ace Masahiro Tanaka could be the needed missing piece to put together a World Series-winning club. But despite is capabilities – and willingness – to carry more than his fair share, the Yankees aren’t the team they were in the ‘90s, and they haven’t exactly turned in any pennant-challenging performances as of late.
That’s too bad for Tanaka, too, because the way he mixes his splitter with his four-seam fastball continues to befuddle opposing batters time and time again.
He won’t be a free agent until 2020, and I doubt the Yanks are planning on dealing him any time soon. Unless New York’s current hot start is an unlikely sign of better things to come, Takana will do what he does best, but he won’t be winning any championships.
9 WILL: JULIO TEHERAN (ATLANTA BRAVES)
The past couple of seasons have been rough for the Atlanta Braves. After GM Frank Wren got the boot prior to the 2015 season, his replacement, John Hart, executed over the next 365 days what seemed like a fire sale of almost all of their best players and veteran leaders. Obviously transitioning into a major rebuilding phase, the Braves have struggled to win games with a young, inexperienced lineup.
Through all of the hardship, though, starting right-handed pitcher Julio Teheran was one of the few beacons of hope and the most consistent pitcher, posting an 18-18 record with a combined 3.62 ERA in 63 starts in 2015 and 2016.
Now with a stronger team and the rebuild beginning to pay off, the Braves will contend for a title in the long run as they continue to improve, and Teheran will be the one to carry them back to glory.
8 WON’T: NOAH SYNDERGAARD (NEW YORK METS)
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsLook, I’ve got to be honest here, folks. I don’t have a super scientific reason for why third-year New York Mets starter Noah Syndergaard won’t win a World Series title, but I just kind of know, y’know?
It’s almost like how we all know Alex Ovechkin isn’t ever gonna win a Stanley Cup. He’s good and all – probably the best goal-scorer in the NHL right now – but it just ain’t gonna happen with the Capitals or any other team he captains.
Syndergaard is similar. Yeah, he’s a great pitcher with a lot of future potential; his career 2.92 ERA definitely backs that up. But there’s something troubling about being locked down with the Mets until he’s 30 and his mediocre, though admittedly limited, postseason play.
If you disagree – and I know you do, Mets fans – let me have it in the comments.
6 WILL: CHRIS SALE (BOSTON RED SOX)
The Red Sox’s starting rotation was good before they picked up Chris Sale in an offseason trade with the White Sox. But now, with Sale joining the likes of Rick Porcello, David Price and Drew Pomeranz, the Red Sox own what should turn out to be the AL’s best rotation.
It also reaffirms Boston’s return to baseball’s elite ranks. After an arguably fluky 2013 World Series championship which they sandwiched between AL East-worst finishes in 2012, 2014 and 2015, the Red Sox were back to their division-winning ways last year but didn’t quite have everything they needed to make a deep playoff run.
Well, now they do. A five-time All-Star and an owner of a career 2.94 ERA, Sale, who the Sox can retain with a club option through 2019, will be the final piece of the puzzle Boston needs to win their fourth title in less than 20 years sometime in the next three seasons.
5 WON’T: MARCO ESTRADA (TORONTO BLUE JAYS)
As one of the purest pitchers in baseball who knows how to locate pitches and mix his repertoire without having to rely on a 100 mph fastball to beat batters, Marco Estrada’s only downfall is that he hasn’t been able to contribute his next-level skills to a championship-caliber team in his entire nine-year Major League career.
He made his MLB debut in 2008 with the baseball-worst Washington Nationals and after one more season there, went to Milwaukee, where he remained for five seasons before being traded to Toronto in 2014, a team he has helped make the playoffs two seasons in a row after it missed the post season every year since their back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.
Now on a ‘Jays team in the same division as the Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees and rapidly approaching his mid-30s, Estrada will run out of time before he can land on a title-viable team.
4 WILL: CLAYTON KERSHAW (LOS ANGELES DODGERS)
Clayton Kershaw has four more seasons – including 2017 – left on his Dodgers contract, so he’s got a decent shot at winning a World Series simply because he’s on a quality NL team. But Clayton Kershaw has become easily the best starting pitcher in the game today, and he’s good enough that it won’t matter which team he’s on; he will make those around him better, and he’ll carry a team to a title before his playing days are done.
He twice has led the league in wins, four times has had the lowest ERA and thrice has been tops in strikeouts. Of course he’s also a three-time Cy Young Award-winner, a six-time All-Star, a Triple Crown winner and has even won a Gold Glove.
With four NL West titles and counting, it’s only a matter of time before Kershaw and the Dodgers break through with a World Series win.
3 WON’T: MAX SCHERZER (WASHINGTON NATIONALS)
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer’s best shot at a World Series title was obviously when his Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series. After that, he helped Detroit get to the 2013 ALCS, but since then, his teams haven’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs, and he’s not exactly getting any younger.
Now under contract with Washington through 2021, when he’ll turn 37, Scherzer helps boast a very solid Nationals rotation, but like the other D.C. pro sports franchises, the Nationals exist in atmosphere devoid of a winning attitude. Think about it this way. The Nationals may be leading the NL East by a wide margin at the moment, but they have still never won a postseason series.
2 WILL: KEVIN GAUSMAN (BALTIMORE ORIOLES)
The Orioles’ 26-year-old Opening Day starter has a bright future ahead of him. With Baltimore finally holding their own in the tough AL East, Gausman has a legitimate shot at helping the Orioles win their first World Series since 1983 when they won the division and advanced to knock off the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.
Not your typical ace, Gausman leads a rotation that does just enough to keep them in games and relies on a potent offense to produce a winning decision. His fastball touches the high-90s, and he can mix in a mid-90s sinker and a mid-80s slider that helped him win a career-high nine games last year and post a respectable 3.61 ERA.
He’s got room to improve, but with unlimited potential and free agency on the horizon, Gausman will have some options to go to a title-contending team soon if he doesn’t win with the Orioles this year.
1 WON’T: FELIX HERNANDEZ (SEATTLE MARINERS)
When he signed a seven-year extension with the Mariners worth $175 million and which contained the team’s first full no-trade clause in its history in 2013, King Felix reaffirmed his commitment to Seattle and his desire to bring a title to the Emerald City.
In the three seasons that followed, the Mariners did things like bring in seven-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner Robinson Cano to help him bring Seattle out of the American League basement and back in to championship form. It looked promising.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone the way they were planned. The Mariners missed their chance during their best years, and they’ve dropped once again back in to the pitfalls of mediocrity.
Scheduled to remain in Seattle through 2019, it would take something major to get Hernandez out of a Mariners uniform, and there’s no real sign of a forthcoming championship for Seattle any time soon.