Three Playoff Contenders That Need Better Starting Pitching

Elite starting pitching is always a scarce resource. As the free agent market heats up and trade rumors swirl, all types of teams are on the hunt for more arms. From a World Series team to Wild Card hopefuls, three contenders need an improved rotation to compete in 2024.

Three Teams That Need Improved Starting Pitching

Arizona Diamondbacks

Despite a memorable World Series run, the Diamondbacks need some extra juice in their rotation to have another chance at a trophy. Plenty of positives exist for a team that recently was one of the worst in the league. Arizona boasts a young core in its lineup and several stalwarts at the top of its rotation. With a few more pieces, they might enter the playoffs as more than just a frisky underdog.

It all starts with Cy Young contenders Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, who will be the pillars of Arizona’s rotation. After that, the rotation was shaky and unstable. Ryne Nelson (5.31 ERA) and Brandon Pfaadt (5.72 ERA) were the innings leaders after that top duo. Tommy Henry (4.15 ERA) was slightly more impressive, but he only pitched 89 innings.

Nelson, Pfaadt, and Henry all have the benefit of youth on their side. They will be 27 or younger next season, just entering the prime of their careers. This potential for growth is most applicable to Pfaadt, who dazzled the baseball world with his surprising playoff performances. If Pfaadt can carry over his postseason success, he could be a third reliable pitcher for this rotation. If you tack on an extra starter through free agency or trade, the rotation’s depth becomes much more formidable.

Cincinnati Reds

In a valiant effort, the Reds were one of the most surprising breakthroughs of 2023. They put together a scrappy season with plenty of comebacks, and the starters were under a noticeable spotlight as they gradually fell out of playoff contention. The Reds had the third-highest starting ERA last year while getting fewer innings out of their starters than most other playoff contenders.

Cincinnati’s future is incredibly promising, which makes the upside of adding one more viable starter incredibly appealing. The roster is already loaded with young talent at nearly every position. The Reds are likely to trade from this depth to add a starter.

Besides looking at external options, the Reds have plenty of young arms already set to break out. Graham Ashcraft made considerable improvements in the second half of the season, with a 2.70 ERA from July onward. That came with an unsightly 4.70 FIP, though. Andrew Abbott had an incredible start to his major league career but faded through the final few months. Hunter Greene showcased his tantalizing ability but struggled through inconsistencies and a two-month stint on the injured list. Nick Lodolo only pitched 34 1/3 innings with an injury of his own.

That’s a lot of promising names, with even more prospects getting a taste of the big leagues when so many of the Reds’ starters went down late in the year. This internal collection of starters is a promising starting point. Coinciding with so many young players in the lineup developing, the Reds have an opportunity to form a contender for multiple years. Will they be willing to make a splash in the competitive free-agent market? How many of their young players would they be ready to trade?

Baltimore Orioles

Similar to the Reds, the Orioles have a captivating group of youngsters set to make an impact in the years to come. This team, however, has already had an opportunity at a deep playoff run. The Orioles’ starting pitching was a top-10 unit by ERA despite lacking the star power that might be expected of the best team in the American League.

Kyle Bradish finished in the Cy Young conversation. Dean Kremer had a respectable 4.12 ERA over 172 2/3 innings. Most importantly, Baltimore saw highly touted prospect Grayson Rodriguez debut with plenty of flair. In his final 13 starts, Rodriguez had a 2.58 ERA.

The first significant obstacle is Kyle Gibson’s leaving for free agency. Gibson led the Orioles with 192 innings pitched and a 4.73 ERA. That’s a gap in innings that the Orioles will have to fill. Rodriguez getting an entire work season will be the first part of that equation. However, players like Kremer, Tyler Wells, and Cole Irvin will not provide an ace-like starting level that will push Baltimore into World Series-favorite territory.

This gives Baltimore multiple avenues for improvement. With such a young team, the Orioles could spend big on free-agent pitchers without compromising on other parts of their roster. They could also deal away some of their depth players if they find other opportunities on the trade market. Will one major addition in the rotation be enough for the Orioles to retain their division crown and make a push for the World Series?

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