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Ranking the AL East: Pitching Staffs

David Price leads a formidable Rays pitching staff (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Our position by position ranking of the AL East is coming to a close and this installment focuses on the pitching staffs of the AL East. As the old adage goes, pitching wins championships, so which AL East team has the edge?

1. David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays: David Price is one of the best pitchers in the AL and front lines a rotation that is consistently one of the best in all of baseball. If Matt Moore can harness his control better, the Rays may have one of the best 1-2 punch in baseball. The rest of the rotation is no slouch either and should not have a problem giving above average performances on a daily basis. The addition of Grant Balfour helps solidify a bullpen that should again be a formidable force.

2. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox may not have “true” ace, but they have above-average pitchers in slots 1-5. The two pitchers to watch are Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz. Felix who is now 26 seems to be poised for a breakout season as his career K/9 (8.4) suggests that he may be ready to take the next step. As for Buchholz, there is no doubting his ability and if he can stay healthy the Red Sox rotation may even be better than the Rays. Koji Uehara will get the majority of the 9th inning situations going forward. While he cannot be expected to repeat his otherworldly season he had last year, he should be more than dependable.

3. Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles: For much of the offseason it seemed the Orioles would stand pat and make very few moves. Then during spring training they made a big splash with Ubaldo Jimenez. Ubaldo and Chris Tillman, who enjoyed a breakout season going 16-7, should anchor a rotation that should be better than last year’s squad. Tommy Hunter should get the bulk of the closing situations and has the potential to be solid but his career splits (.247 batting average against versus righties, but .297 versus lefties) are troublesome.

4. CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, David Robertson, New York Yankees: There was a time when CC Sabathia was one of the best pitchers in the game, but struggled mightily last year goign 14-13 with a 4.87 ERA. Coming off shoulder surgery it is hard to imagine Sabathia regaining the full prowess he once possessed. Tanaka, the Yankees biggest signing of the offseason should help the rotation, but will not be enough to help fix a rotationt hat struggled mightily last year. The Yankees no longer have Mariano Rivera to handle the closing duties and expect David Robertson to fill his shoes. This is worrying as Robertson has blown 10 of the 18 save opportunities he has been presented.

5. R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchinson, Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays: R.A Dickey has won a Cy Young, Buehrle has been a dependable starter his whole career, and Brandon Morrow can throw 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately, R.A. Dickey won his Cy Young while pitching primarily in the NL East which is far easier than its Al counterpart. Buerhle may have been dependable, but he is in the twilight of his career and barely breaks 80 mph on his fastball. Morrow has potential, but cannot stay on the field. On paper the Blue Jays rotation could have been great, but it is simply not meant to be.

Scott Siegler

1. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox: In spite of Dempster retiring, there is still a lot to like about what the Sox are bringing to the mound in 2014. Four solid veteran starters should help usher in the 26-year old Felix Doubront for his first season of 200+ innings. Then, there’s the Boston bullpen, which proved to be rock solid down the stretch in 2013. The addition of Edward Mujica as a setup-man makes the Sox nearly automatic with a lead after six innings as he joins Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, and Craig Breslow in the duty of getting the ball into the hands of lights-out closer Koji Uehara in the ninth inning. There’s no reason why Boston’s pitching won’t be among the best in the majors in 2014.

2. David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays: The Tampa Bay starting rotation may have the highest upside out of all of the teams in the AL East but the bottom line is none of its starting pitchers was able to put in 200 or more innings of work last season. Injuries plagued the Rays staff in 2013 and without a doubt has left question marks heading into this season. The youngster Alex Cobb took a huge step forward in 2013 posting a 2.76 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 22 starts and the Rays also have made an upgrade at the closer position after acquiring former A’s closer Grant Balfour. There is so much to be optimistic about with Rays pitching in 2014, and if it can maintain health better than last season, the end result could be dangerous.

3. CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, David Robertson, New York Yankees: The Yankees will have a new look on the mound in 2014 after acquiring Masahiro Tanaka in free agency and successfully getting Michael Pineda up to a major league level this spring. The addition of these two gives the New York bullpen the depth it was missing last season if they can perform as well as anticipated, they can make this rotation a real force. David Robertson is set take over the reigns as closer as the Yankees will rely on him to be lights out. Although there are a lot of ifs, this Yankees pitching staff also has the potential to be the AL East’s best. However, what’s most likely is an improvement over last season and a middle of the pack finish among AL East counterparts.

4. R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchinson, Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays: There is very little that the Blue Jays have to rely from its pitching staff in 2014. With question marks above the heads of every starter, it seems the only things Toronto can count on is another solid season out of its closer Casey Janssen, who has put together three impressive seasons in a row while maintaining a sub-1.00 WHIP. R.A. Dickey will be looking for a bounce back year after a disappointing season that followed up his Cy Young winning campaign and newcomers Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan will be looking to establish themselves as reliable members of a rotation. However, even operating at full capacity, the ceiling on this pitching staff is very low.

5. Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles: The Baltimore Orioles pitching is looking similar to Toronto’s in 2014. However, they lack the closing presence that Toronto has. It was definitely a good idea to pick up Bud Norris and Ubaldo Jimenez, but they still don’t give the Orioles much to rely on. Look for Chris Tillman to build off of a solid 2013 campaign and Tommy Hunter to establish himself as a household name among closers. Other than that, I don’t see very much happening in the Orioles pitching staff this season.

Brian Roach

1. David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays: Price anchors a rotation filled with young talent and should be in the running for the Cy Young if he can stay healthy all season, especially in the toughest division in MLB. Moore and Cobb will look to remain a consistent threat in the middle of the rotation this season. Archer and Odorizzi will try and flourish while Jeremy Hellickson is on the mind. Even without Fernando Rodney in the back of the bullpen, the Rays will still get ample production out of the bullpen, including Grant Balfour.

2. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox: Lester earned his fourth straight Opening Day starter and hopes to build upon a terrific 2013 postseason as well as a dominant spring. Doubront should take a step forward as he is only 26 years old and on the cusp of becoming a 200-inning starter. Peavy and Lackey will get the job done on a regualr basis. If Buchholz can start more than 25 games, then he can make a run at the Cy Young in this division too.The added bullpen depth helps the arm of Uehara, so John Farrell now has more reliable options during the marathon that is the baseball season.

3. CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, David Robertson, New York Yankees: With a loss of velocity over the past few seasons, Sabathia has finally been able to actually “pitch” instead of relying solely on his stuff to get him through the season. This season may be a huge comeback for the lefty. No one has any idea what Tanaka will give the Yankees, but it should be better than any other starter that was out on the market. The other three starters are looking to show that they still belong in the bigs, especially Kuroda who struggled towards the end of last season. Nova played well at times and Pineda earned his spot with an incredible spring. Robertson should be able to get the job done at the back end of the rotation barring giving him too many home runs.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles: Even with a couple signings this offseason, the Orioles rotation lacks any pitcher that is really an ace. Jimenez and Tillman have shown flashes in their careers, but it is not enough to really make this rotation better than the top three rotations in this division. Plus, the bullpen looked shaky at best except for Hunter in the closer’s role.

5. R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchinson, Dustin McGowan, Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays: The biggest part of the resurgence of the Blue Jays is going to be the health of their pitching. Morrow, Dickey and Buehrle need to all be on the field for at least 75 percent of the season in order to really make this team matter at all this season. Santos will provide a solid back-up closer with Casey Janssen on the DL to start the season.

Two out of three of our Sports of Boston writer have chosen the Rays as the strongest pitching staff in the AL East, but the Red Sox are not too far behind. Do you have a different idea of how the rankings should go? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for the culmination of our rankings; the prediction of the AL East standings tomorrow morning.

About Jamie Worthington - @Jam_Worth

Jamie is a regular contributor and editor for Sports of Boston, but has thoughts for all Boston areas sports for SoB. He loves that in sports everyone is allowed to have their own opinion and wants to hear yours! Follow him on twitter at: @Jam_Worth

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