Just like the American League, the National League playoff contenders will need strong starts from three starting pitchers. Who has the best three-man rotation? Let’s take a look.
St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter (rhp), Adam Wainwright (rhp), and Jaime Garcia (lhp). This group offers two aces and a rookie that doesn’t throw hard but knows how to pitch. These three just proved how good they are as they swept their division rival, the Cincinnati Reds, and moved into first place in the Central. Wainwright is tied for first in baseball with 17 wins, is third in the league in strikeouts (158), and has the second best ERA (1.99) and may have moved ahead of Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez as the favorite for the CY Young award. Garcia has been overshadowed by all the big name rookies but may be the best (10-5 with a 2.71 ERA and has allowed just 6 homeruns in 22 starts). Carpenter hasn’t been as dominant as in 2009, but has been good (13-3 with a 2.89 ERA), though his good is most people’s dominant.
Atlanta Braves: Tim Hudson (rhp), Jair Jurrjens (rhp), and Derek Lowe (rhp). Hudson has completely regained his pre-surgery form and is a favorite for the CY Young award. He holds a 2.24 ERA and opponents are hitting just .217 against him. Hudson joins fellow ground ball machine Lowe, who has not been great but gives the Braves innings and keeps them in the game. Jurrjens has returned from the DL and been the pitcher he was prior to the beginning of the season. In six starts after the All-Star break, he is 3-1 with a 3.10 ERA and he keeps the ball in the ballpark (he has allowed just 7 homeruns all season).
Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay (rhp), Cole Hamels (lhp), and Roy Oswalt (rhp). Halladay has never been to the postseason in his career but has pitched well against NL playoff contenders. Hamels has returned to his 2008 form and could be just as dominant this postseason. Hamels has been better at home than on the road. Oswalt was acquired by the Phillies to help with their postseason push. Oswalt has struggled in his career against the NL East, though he did just dominate in his Citizens Bank Park debut on Wednesday night.
San Diego Padres: Jon Garland (rhp), Mat Latos (rhp), and Clayton Richard (lhp). Pitching has been the reason that the Padres have held onto first-place in the NL West for most of the season. Many teams passed on Garland this offseason and he has pitched well for the young Padres, going 10-8 with a 3.55 ERA so far. He has been better at home and seems to have recovered from his June and July struggles. Latos is 7-1 with a 1.42 ERA in his last 10 starts. Richard, since coming over from the White Sox in the Jake Peavy deal, has made a huge impact. He has struggled as of late.
Cincinnati Reds: Bronson Arroyo (rhp), Johnny Cueto (rhp), and Edinson Volquez (rhp). The Reds have held their own this season to stay with the heavy favorite Cardinals. They have done so with pitching and defense and the two youngest starting pitchers, Mike Leake and Travis Wood, have been impressive.These two may be pushed aside in favor of more seasoned pitchers like Arroyo, Cueto, and Volquez (and even Aaron Harang) for the postseason. Arroyo has quietly racked up 12 wins with an ERA under 4.00 while opponents are hitting .230 against him. Cueto has also put up solid numbers (11-3 with a 3.38 ERA) though he has struggled against the Cardinals and some playoff contenders (Atlanta and SF). Volquez has returned from Tommy John surgery and his 50-game suspension and could be like a July trading deadline piece (and he is rested). He has gotten better in his last two starts.
SF Giants: Tim Lincecum (rhp), Matt Cain (rhp), and Barry Zito (lhp). The Giants are carried by their pitching staff. Lincecum has not been as dominant as in season’s past yet he still made the All-Star team and still has solid numbers (11-6 with a 3.41 ERA). He is second in the league in strikeouts with 163. Cain has quietly put up a solid season with a 3.06 ERA though his record is just 9-9. Cain has also pitched well against playoff contenders. Zito is having his best season since joining the Giants and has pitched well within the division.
LA Dodgers: Vicente Padilla (rhp), Clayton Kershaw (lhp), and Ted Lilly (lhp). Padilla missed the month of May, which makes him a well-rested ace who dominates when the games are on the line. The young lefty Kershaw has struggled against the Phillies (though he pitched well Thursday night) and who knows they might match up for the third straight postseason. The Dodgers traded for Lilly to fill out their rotation, which would most likely push Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda to the bullpen.
Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez (rhp), Jeff Francis (lhp), and Aaron Cook (rhp). The Rockies are 8 games back (as are the Dodgers) but we all know the type of run that the Rockies are capable. Jimenez has struggled as of late and maybe that has to do with all the innings he has accumulated. Francis has pitched well after missing all of 2009. Cook is currently on the DL so they could go to Jason Hammel or Jorge De La Rosa.