Prior to the trading of James Shields, the “best starting rotation in Major League Baseball” argument could be easily made for the Tampa Bay Rays. What’s more amazing is that even after the trade this argument remains plausible.
With left-hander David Price, right-handed Jeremy Hellickson, right-hander Roberto Hernandez — not as impressive but merely filling in momentarily for young gun Jeff Niemann — left-hander Matt Moore and right-hander Alex Cobb scheduled to start the first five games of the 2013 MLB season, Tampa Bay is set up well to both come out of the gate on Opening Day on fire and battle the postseason this year.
Losing Shields certainly does create a need for other pitchers to elevate their game if the Rays are to notch the lowest ERA in the majors once again.
“I’m not a big believer in stepping up. I’m not a believer in that phrase. I’m more a believer in a guy’s natural maturation, ascending to the next level and become a starting pitcher who’s able to pick up 20 or 25 more innings this season,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said, via The Associated Press. “I don’t want them to think they have to do great. Just be good. Be yourself. I don’t think that’s a reach with any of these guys.”
The resumes on this staff certainly inspire optimism. Price is the reigning Cy Young Award winner. Hellickson earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2011, while Moore was a preseason favorite to nab 2012 Rookie of the Year honors. He took a while to get hot, and improved dramatically down the stretch.
Niemann and Cobb could both very well come into their own this year, and may need to for Tampa to end their playoff hiatus.