Every baseball team has one or two aces to lean on, but the difference between watching the postseason and playing in it, come October, is how your pitching staff holds up when you get three, four and even five men into the rotation.
With the backend of the pitching corps coming around following opening week, we go scouting for the best fourth starters in the major leagues:
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
The backbone of the Phillies is their stacked pitching staff. Hamels is the No. 4 man in the rotation, after Vance Worley’s breakout 2011, and out-classes about 99 percent of the opposing pitchers he’ll duel this season. Hamels extended his stay in Philly for one more season but the motivation of a potential monster deal next winter could give the former World Series MVP an extra boost on the mound.
C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
The Angles’ other big offseason signing makes his Los Angeles debut Monday. Wilson was a huge part of the Texas Rangers’ back-to-back American League pennants. The southpaw won a combined 31 games the last two seasons and looked sharp in spring ball for the Halos. It’s sick to think he’ll have even more support in L.A. than he did in big-hitting Texas.
Ivan Nova, New York Yankees
Baseball bettors in the Bronx are waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to Nova. He surprised last season with a 16-4 mark, going undefeated from June to September. Despite the always present “Yankee Tax”, the righty still finished 12th in the money, earning 7.84 units. Nova got smacked around this spring, with an ERA north of 8.00 in just over 22 innings.
Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee Brewers
Take the DeLorean back to last spring and Marcum was a dark horse to win the National League Cy Young. He went 6-2 with a 2.82 ERA through April and May and even looked like an ace heading into the All-Star break, with a 7-3 record and 3.39 ERA, before slowing down in the summer heat. The righty was bothered by shoulder soreness this spring but appeared ready in his final tuneup start.
Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Darvish gets the nod on potential alone. I mean, $111.7 million can’t be wrong, right? (That’s what it took to not only sign Darvish, but talk to him) By all accounts, the Japanese sensation should be the Rangers’ opening day starter next season, if there’s any truth conducting the hype train. The right-hander went 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA during his career with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.