BASEBALL 2016: Who has the top pitching rotation?


By Janie McCauley

AP Baseball Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — New York’s young fireballing rotation led the Mets back to the World Series at last.

Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are eager for an encore after missing a chance at a championship — and they might be baseball’s standard this season for ace starting staffs.

“We know what we’re capable of and that makes it more exciting,” Harvey said. “We’re not trying to compare with anyone else. We’re excited to be where we are. We definitely have a lot of confidence. Expectations, if you turn them in the right way, should be confidence toward us.”

New York is not the only club counting on a deep and talented rotation to carry things with hopes of a championship run come October. From Cleveland to the World Series-starved Cubs, the every-other-year Giants and Dusty Baker’s Nationals in D.C., baseball begins with some star-studded rotations in nearly every division.

It’s an even year and the San Francisco starters are loaded, with Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija coming aboard to join 2014 World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Jake Peavy. And this group has one of the game’s top catchers in Buster Posey calling things from behind the plate.

“They’re always tough because they can pitch and play defense,” Cubs ace Jake Arrieta said. “They’re one of the teams that everybody views as a championship-caliber team and they’ve proven they’re worthy of that consideration. You have to view them as one of the top contenders.”

Arrieta and the Cubs hope to say something about the Giants winning again as they have in the even years so far this decade — 2010, ‘12 and ‘14. Chicago boasts Arrieta, Jon Lester and new addition John Lackey. There’s Washington with Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez, and new Arizona ace Zack Greinke ready to lead the Diamondbacks.

Harvey, who passed a blood clot in his bladder this past week, is set to take the ball opening day Sunday at Kansas City in a World Series rematch after the Royals’ five-game victory last October.

Mets manager Terry Collins has a stack of aces to pull from, heading into a new year — and his rotation will only get better once Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery.

“I don’t try to number my guys, but if there’s a staff that has a possibility of five No. 1 guys, we’ve got it,” Collins said. “We’re sitting here today, but we have four of the best arms in all of baseball and a Cy Young Award winner at the moment. That’s pretty impressive.”

San Francisco spent $220 million on two top-tier starters, acquiring Cueto on a $130 million, six-year contract, and Samardzija for $90 million over five seasons.

“It’s definitely got a lot of potential to be really, really good,” Bumgarner said. “I’m sure everyone’s been putting a lot of work in to get ready for the season. It’s going to be fun to watch, that’s for sure.”

Arrieta, who no-hit the Dodgers last Aug. 30, is a Bumgarner fan. Mad Bum also has something Arrieta craves: A World Series ring, or three in the big lefty’s case.

“I admire him. I think he’s a great competitor and has pitched well in this league for a while,” Arrieta said. “There are several guys I like to watch pitch and he’s one of them.”

The Indians’ deep starting staff is led by 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who was victimized by a lack of run support and lost 16 games last season. The Indians scored just 82 runs in the stoic right-hander’s 32 starts, scoring two or fewer 21 times. Kluber is the Indians’ best-known starter and presumptive ace, but Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar could both be on the cusp of breakout seasons.

Carrasco won 14 games in his full season and Salazar went 14-10, including a 7-2 mark at home.

The Indians starters led the majors in strikeouts last season and there’s not a major drop off after Cleveland’s top three, with Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin rounding out the rotation as Trevor Bauer goes to the bullpen.

The Indians have what experts figure to be among the best staffs in baseball behind the Mets.

“I guess it just kind of puts the pressure on me to not mess this up,” cracked catcher Yan Gomes. “The sky’s the limit right now.”

Out West in the Bay Area, Bumgarner hopes the Giants can live up to the hype with their strong list of starters.

Oh, and that tradition of winning it all in even years.

“I knew we were going to have to add a couple guys, and we did,” Bumgarner said, “And we got some really good pitching out of it.”

Samardzija plans to do his part every fifth day, looking for much improvement after going 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA in 32 starts for the White Sox last season.

“It doesn’t matter how it gets done. We’re going to do it,” Samardzija said. “We’re going to win a lot of ballgames.”

By Janie McCauley

AP Baseball Writer

AP Sports Writer Tom Withers and AP Freelance Writers Jonathan Santucci and Rick Eymer contributed to this report.

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