There is a famous Nike commercial from the 90s that features Hall-of-Fame pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine standing around next to former home run champion Mark McGwire. In the ad, Heather Locklear is giving all her attention to McGwire and not paying any mind to the two Cy Young winners at all. Because of this, Maddux looks at Glavine and simply states "Hey, chicks dig the long ball." This statement could not ring more true in modern day baseball as we are all seemingly obsessed with home runs. Many hitters nowadays have changed their swings to more of an uppercut to help them drive the ball more often and it has led to an alarming amount of homers over the past couple seasons.
But when it comes to winning baseball games, pitching still reigns supreme in the MLB. As is the case in most (keyword "most") All-Star games, good pitching usually beats good hitting. Fortunately for the endangered fans of low scoring, old-school baseball there are some of the greatest and most talented pitchers to have ever played the game that are in the league right now. Guys like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, etc., are comparable to the all-time greats and are especially keen on racking up impressive strikeout totals. Having a strong starting rotation is crucial to success in the MLB and becomes even more apparent in the playoffs, when the rotation is often shortened to the top 3 or 4 guys. Look at every playoff team over the past 10 seasons and you will see dominant pitching at the top of their rotation.
As we enter the second part of the baseball season, this list takes a look at which rotations are the best in baseball right now and will be suited well for a playoff series. Continue reading to find out which MLB rotations are alpha and which ones are beta. Enjoy.
30 Miami Marlins
Rotation: Jose Urena, Pablo Lopez, Wei-Yin Chen, Dan Straily, Trevor Richards
It's really hard not to feel for the Miami Marlins franchise after they lost their true #1 ace and franchise face in Jose Fernandez when he died during the 2016 season. Fernandez was electric, likeable, and had everything a team looks for in a starting ace. Sadly, when he passed, it's like the whole Marlins franchise died too. Every prospect was sold off this offseason and it will be a major rebuilding process because of it. While Jose Urena still likely has a bright future, these other pitchers like Trevor Richards and Dillon Peters probably don't belong in the big leagues.
29 Kansas City Royals
Rotation: Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Burch Smith, Ian Kennedy, Brad Keller
You have to respect the Kansas City Royals franchise because they know what they are doing and what type of market they play in. The Royals are incredibly bad again in 2018, but this is just what they do. They are bad for almost a decade at a time while they build up their farm system until they finally unleash these great prospects on the league and compete for playoffs. They did this with their World Series runs and then immediately sold off those prospects to re-start the process. These guys like Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Ian Kennedy, and Brad Keller will be long gone by the time the Royals are ready to compete again.
28 Baltimore Orioles
Rotation: Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, Yefrey Ramirez
This is not a starting rotation that lacks notable names by any means, as the Baltimore Orioles currently have guys like Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, and even Alex Cobb in their five day rotation.
Although most of these guys were once proven commodities, their play and their trade stock is rapidly falling this season.
The poor Orioles have already lost franchise face Manny Machado to a trade, expect them to lose several starting pitchers as well. But hey, with the way they've pitched so far this season that may be a good thing. Glass is half-full in Baltimore.
27 Chicago White Sox
Rotation: Reynaldo Lopez, James Shields, Dylan Covey, Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon
It was expected that the Chicago White Sox would likely not be very good this season due to their slow rebuilding process and waiting for their stud prospects to continue developing. But nobody thought the White Sox rotation would be as bad as it is so far in 2018. The best starter this season has been Reynaldo Lopez, who has a respectable 3.91 ERA and 11 quality starts to this point. After that there is pretty much nothing good to say about anybody in this staff. James Shields, Dylan Covey, and Lucas Giolito are all failing to play at MLB caliber levels.
26 Cincinnati Reds
Rotation: Luis Castillo, Matt Harvey, Anthony DeSclafani, Sal Romano, Homer Bailey
Who thought at the beginning of the season that the Cincinnati Reds' best pitcher at the halfway point of the season would be Matt Harvey with a 4.63 ERA? No, instead this was supposed to be a season in which the Reds were able to let their young guns start and see what they can do. Sadly, those young guns have been absolutely dreadful all season and it's led by the poor play of Luis Castillo. Behind him, neither Anthony DeSclafani, Sal Romano, or Homer Bailey have sub-5 ERAs. It's a rough year for Reds' pitching.
25 Toronto Blue Jays
Rotation: Marco Estrada, Sam Gaviglio, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman & Jaime Garcia
This Toronto Blue Jays lineup is pretty atrocious this season and it doesn't show any signs of getting better. With a starting five of Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ (recently traded to NYY), Sam Gaviglio, Aaron Sanchez, and Jaime Garcia, there is no fear for opposing hitters when they enter a series against the Blue Jays.
To show just how bad things are in Toronto this year, J.A. Happ was their lone all-star (every team needs at least one player appearance by rule) and he's now a Yankee.
That's not a good sign for your ball club if you're the Blue Jays.
24 Tampa Bay Rays
Rotation: Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi
While their starting rotation has been rocked by injuries so far in 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays actually still boasted one of the better starting groups in baseball, that is until they traded Chris Archer prior to July's non-waiver trade deadline.
In what has been a bleak season for the Rays, the emergence of Blake Snell has been a shining moment. With Snell, and solid pitcher Nathan Eovaldi toeing the rubber for the Rays, they will at least have a chance to win most nights.
23 San Diego Padres
Rotation: Clayton Richard, Tyson Ross, Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Lyles & Eric Lauer
The San Diego Padres suck and have sucked for a long time now. Their only pitcher really worth noting at this point was their closer Brad Hand who has been great and, because of that, was traded a few weeks prior to the 2018 trade deadline. The Padres shouldn't be too worried, however, as they have essentially used this year as a grooming season for young pitchers like Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer. Thankfully both of those guys have given some room for hope for the future of the Padres pitching staff. Until then, Clayton Richard and Tyson Ross will continue racking up losses.
22 Oakland Athletics
Rotation: Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas
Honestly, the Oakland Athletics' current 2018 rotation deserves a much higher ranking than this, but in good faith I just cannot bring myself to do it. Oakland's starting staff is like the island of misfit toys right now in that forgotten pitchers like Edwin Jackson and Trevor Cahill are currently filling spots. What's scary about that is that they have actually been playing really well and have gotten Oakland back into playoff contention. Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden have also helped, obviously. Can this makeshift group really continue it's hot stretch into the second half of the season though?
21 Detroit Tigers
Rotation: Michael Fulmer, Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano, Jordan Zimmerman & Matt Boyd
The Detroit Tigers are a team that has a solid rotation, but lacks a clear ace ever since trading Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros last season. The Tigers expected the hard throwing Michael Fulmer to immediately step into the #1 role, but he has struggled and shown serious signs of regression in 2018. The names on the roster are notable in Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano, Jordan Zimmerman, and Matt Boyd, but none of them have lived up to their hype. Given the Tigers current organizational standing, we could see at least two or three of those names get traded for prospects before the 2018 trade deadline.
20 Colorado Rockies
Rotation: Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez & Antonio Senzatela
It's almost unfair to accurately rank the Colorado Rockies pitching staff because of the fact that they have to play half of their games in the most hitter friendly field in the league, Coors Field. The altitude and crisp air there just allows the ball to fly for miles. But unfortunately for the Rockies, their starting pitching has been bad on the road this year as well. For as bad as they have been, there is hope for the future because Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez, and Antonio Senzatela are all still very young. Look out for ace Jon Gray to have a monster second half of the season, though.
19 Texas Rangers
Rotation: Cole Hamels, Doug Fister, Mike Minor, Bartolo Colon & Matt Moore
This is a terribly under performing group so far in 2018, but the fact that they actually allow the 45 year old living legend Bartolo Colon to go out and throw every fifth day knocks them up in the rankings.
Colon is hilarious at this point in his career because he is just a big blob out there on the mound, but every couple of starts he still manages to throw a gem.
What's sad is that Colon is arguably throwing better than Cole Hamels, Doug Fister, and Mike Minor this season. It's going to be a long second-half for the Texas Rangers.
18 Minnesota Twins
Rotation: Jose Berrios, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson & Ervin Santana
On paper the Minnesota Twins have a rotation that should be able to compete with anybody. Jose Berrios continues to lead the way for the Twins, while veterans Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and Kyle Gibson hold down the other spots. If those latter three guys could pitch up to their peak potential, this could be a devastating top four, but Lynn and Odorizzi are struggling mightily so far in 2018. Thankfully, Ervin Santana returned to the mound in late July, which should give a boost to the Twins' playoff hopes.
17 Los Angeles Angels
Rotation: Garrett Richards, Jaime Barria, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Shohei Ohtani
The Los Angeles Angels are one of the more perplexing teams in the league this year. They have huge name talent that often under performs (i.e., Albert Pujols, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, etc.), but then they also have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout.
Their pitching staff has been hampered by injuries this season which certainly doesn't help the situation.
But with Tyler Skaggs finally showing off his potential and rookie Jaime Barria showing positive signs, things could be trending upwards in LA for the second half of the season. If Shohei Ohtani can stay healthy, the Angels will be a tough knockout for playoff seeding.
16 Seattle Mariners
Rotation: Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake, Marco Gonzales & Wade LeBlanc
Although it's kind of sad to see Felix Hernandez (aka "King Felix") starting to lose his nasty stuff that made him practically unhittable in his prime, the Seattle Mariners have surprisingly been able to turn the corner without him leading the way.
James Paxton is the new ace of the rotation and Mike Leake, Marco Gonzales, and Wade LeBlanc round out the rest of the group. If King Felix miraculously re-finds his strikeout stuff, this could be a scary group up in Seattle.
15 Pittsburgh Pirates
Rotation: Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Joe Musgrove
This offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates looked to be entering a rebuilding mode when they shipped off long-time starting ace Gerritt Cole to the Houston Astros and let Andrew McCutchen join the San Francisco Giants.
But somehow the Pirates have managed to remain somewhat relevant in 2018 and part of that is because of their pitching staff.
Jameson Taillon has taken the reins and shown that he could become the new ace, while youngsters Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, and Joe Musgrove have shown glimpses of their potential.
14 Atlanta Braves
Rotation: Mike Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb & Anibal Sanchez
The Atlanta Braves are a super young squad and were expected to be another year or two away from really being considered a playoff contender, but at the all-star break the team finds itself right in the playoff hunt. Their young offensive stars have stolen the headlines, but the Braves pitching staff has been strong all season long. With young righty Mike Foltynewicz finally finding his groove in 2018, he has become the clear ace of the future. The Braves surround him with solid starters in Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, and the surprising veteran play of Anibal Sanchez. This rotation racks up strikeouts each night.
13 San Francisco Giants
Rotation: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton, Jeff Samardzija & Andrew Suarez
This is a rotation that has the potential to be one of the best in the league if they could all manage to stay healthy for a season. This year has been no different so far as their top two guys have both missed the majority of the season thus far. But when both Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are in the lineup, it forms one of the scarier one-two punches in the National League. Add in Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Suarez, and Chris Stratton and you have a pretty dependable stable of starters in the Bay Area.
12 Philadelphia Phillies
Rotation: Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Jared Eickhoff & Nick Pivetta
Prior to spring training, the Philadelphia Phillies' pitching rotation looked like a serious weakness for this young team, but after the signing of veteran Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and the emergency of youngster Aaron Nola this season the top of the rotation can compete with anybody. Nola in particular has been outstanding so far in 2018 and currently is 12-3 with a 2.30 ERA at the All-Star break. The Phillies could use a little more pitching help, however, if they want to turn this surprise start into some post-season memories.
11 St. Louis Cardinals
Rotation: Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver & Mike Mikolas
Do the St. Louis Cardinals ever actually have a really bad season?
It always seems like they are able to compete year in and year out no matter what big name players they lose that prior offseason.
This is because the Cardinals are one of the best ran franchises in baseball and they stick to what they know. There are always prospects ready to come up and make their name known. Guys like Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver have all only played for the Cardinals. Throw in the surprise season of Miles Mikolas and you have an outstanding group of guys.
10 Chicago Cubs
Rotation: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood & Yu Darvish
The Chicago Cubs really made an interesting move this offseason when they signed Yu Darvish to a large free agent contract, despite the fact that he had clearly just struggled mightily in the Los Angeles Dodger post-season run. The signing of Darvish came after the Cubs were unable to come to an agreement with starter Jake Arrieta, which has made the Darvish move doubly frustrating for Cubs fans. Still, the Cubs have All-Star Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana pitching well so far in 2018. Let's just hope for their sake that Darvish is able to return from injury sooner than later.
9 Milwaukee Brewers
Rotation: Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, Junior Guerra, Wade Milley & Brent Suter
The Milwaukee Brewers have easily been one of baseball's biggest surprises so far in the 2018 season as they continue to challenge the Chicago Cubs for first place in the NL Central division. One of the biggest reasons for this surprise is the Brewers pitching. With proven starters in Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, and Junior Guerra leading the pack, this rotation has been very strong. If Wade Miley can provide another strong arm in the #4 or #5 spot in the second half of the season, the Brewers will continue to hang around in the Central.
8 New York Mets
Rotation: Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Sean Matz & Zach Wheeler
It's a shame that the New York Mets offense is as stagnant as it has been in 2018 because their pitching is extraordinary. Because of their lousy record in the summer, there is a lot of speculation swirling around the Mets possibly trading Jacob DeGrom. But for now, the Mets rotation ranks easily in the top-10 with a group of Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Sean Matz, and Zach Wheeler. This is a young and talented group, even after losing former ace Matt Harvey earlier this season. Will the franchise keep these young studs in place or is there a big rebuilding phase approaching in the Big Apple?
7 Arizona Diamondbacks
Rotation: Zach Greinke, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Zach Godley & Clay Buchholz
This ranking might surprise many of you, but the Arizona Diamondbacks have quietly put together one of the nastiest starting rotations in all of the league.
The leader of the pack continues to be the ageless veteran Zach Greinke and his incredible strikeouts to walk ratio this season.
2018 has also seen Patrick Corbin elevate his game to Cy Young caliber early on in the season and he will be a huge free agent target at the end of the season. Behind them, the D-backs have 2017 All-Star and strikeout master Robbie Ray and current 11-win starter Zach Godley. Add in the impressive resurrection of Clay Buchholz and the D-backs are in solid shape to contend with the Dodgers in the West all season.
6 Cleveland Indians
Rotation: Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco & Shane Bieber
Honestly, this group of pitchers probably should be ranked even higher than they are but they just haven't received the same attention as the groups ranked higher than them this season. Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer both have sub-3 ERAs at this point of this season and look to be as dominant as ever. The Indians also have Mike Clevinger embarrassing hitters every fifth night and Carlos Carrasco eating up innings on a consistent basis. This group is dominant and underrated at the same time. Is another post-season run in the cards this season?
5 Los Angeles Dodgers
Rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Ross Stripin, Rich Hill & Kenta Maeda
The Los Angeles Dodgers have quickly become the new-age New York Yankees in that they are willing to fill their roster with the best players that money can buy, regardless of the price. For that reason, it's clear that they would have a talented pitching staff and it's true. Led by baseball's most dominant lefty (when healthy) Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers are always in a prime position come playoff time. The Dodgers have an interesting group of names behind Kershaw, but Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda can be dominant in their own right. The Dodgers will hope to bring in a new prized arm to replace the struggling Rich Hill before the playoff run begins.
4 Boston Red Sox
Rotation: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez & Hector Velasquez
It was very difficult in deciding who should be ranked higher, the Boston Red Sox rotation or the New York Yankees rotation?
Ultimately, the Yankees have a superior five, but don't let that distract you from the fact that the Red Sox are equally loaded.
The Red Sox rotation consists of premier lefty Chris Sale and is continued with All-Star caliber talent like David Price, Rick Porcello and hard throwing youngster Eduardo Rodriguez. With how talented the Red Sox offense, their pitching staff just has to be better than average to win most nights. Luckily, the pitching staff is also elite.
3 New York Yankees
Rotation: Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, J.A. Happ
The Bronx Bombers have all the offense a team could dream of after acquiring the reigning NL MVP and homerun leader Giancarlo Stanton this offseason. This gave the Yankees the top two power hitters in all of the MLB last season. While their offense is impressive, their rotation is also undeniably stacked. The ace of the staff is currently the youngster Luis Severino, who arguably should have started the 2018 All-Star game over Chris Sale. The Yankees then turn to former standouts Sonny Gray and C.C. Sabathia on back to back nights. The Yankees should feel comfortable given their dominant top of the rotation.
2 Washington Nationals
Rotation: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross
If the Washington Nationals could just finally put everything together for one full season, they could be one of the better teams of the decade. Specifically their pitching has the potential to carry this team to a World Series if they can stay healthy.
Led by reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, the Nationals are pretty much guaranteed a victory every five games when he starts.
Following Scherzer is another strikeout champion in Stephen Strasburg (who just needs to stay healthy), which forms a formidable one-two punch. Rounding out the order are two time All-Star Gio Gonzalez and the hard throwing youngster Tanner Roark. Good luck stacking hits against this rotation.
1 Houston Astros
Rotation: Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Kuechel, Lance McCullers & Chad Morton
Usually when you are the reigning World Series champion, your team is going to be stacked when it comes to the starting rotation. This is exactly the case for the Houston Astros, who made a big splash at the trade deadline last season when they landed ace Justin Verlander to make their World Series run. This offseason they added former all-star pitcher Gerrit Cole to the roster as well. With Verlander, Cole, Dallas Kuechel (former Cy Young winner), Lance McCullers Jr., and Chad Morton as their starting five, the Astros are completely stacked and well deserving of this top ranking. No other lineup comes close to touching the Astros rotation.