The Super Six of the American League have been established. Everyone knows who they are. An underdog challenger may surface–the Cleveland Indians, maybe–but for now, the teams to take seriously in the AL are the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, and Detroit Tigers. When they clash, the masses will tune in (two of those clubs will play each other 164 times this coming regular season–44 of those games involve Detroit–with at least 18 contests on national television).
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com was the first to use the Super Six term as far as I can tell. He did so right after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and added to the growing list of stars joining AL contenders during this offseason. Rosenthal ran down the rosters of each member of the sextuplet then, but what he didn’t do was reveal who he thought would emerge from the pack. With limited playoff berths on the table, one, maybe two of these teams will have to watch October baseball from home. Who? I’ll examine that question here.
I’ll begin with starting rotations. Each of the clubs in question have at least a solid one–you don’t often enter the elite category by bats alone. The staff that stands out, though, is that of the Angels. Besides maybe the Philadelphia Phillies, no team in baseball can match the front four of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana–at least on paper. Los Angeles’ number five spot will also be in capable hands with veteran Jerome Williams, prospect Garrett Richards, and reliever Trevor Bell set to vie for the job.
The Rays have the second best rotation in the AL. The top two of their order, James Shields and David Price, is probably not quite as strong as that of the Tigers, but Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore in the three and four spots would easily be the premier attractions on the mound in quite a few other big league organizations right now. After those guys, Tampa Bay has even more depth to speak of; Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann have both proven serviceable while fresh talents like Alex Cobb and Alexander Torres, among others, are waiting in the wings.
After them, you could make a case for any of the rotations put together by the Rangers, Tigers, and Yankees. You can call me a homer if you like, but to me, out of that trio, Detroit has the most talented complement of starters. Doug Fister, ready for his first full season backed by a legitimate major league offense, will join reigning league MVP Justin Verlander, and while both are, admittedly, likely to regress from the stellar numbers they posted last year, I still expect them to outshine the top twos in Texas and New York. I feel like one of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello is almost sure to have a breakout year, and there’s enough competition for the fifth starter job that even if stud Jacob Turner doesn’t prove ready, Detroit will probably get plenty of quality out of that spot.
Next, I’ll go with the Yankees. A rotation that looked precarious at best just a month ago was made over in one night by the snappy acquisitions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda. They’ll probably be the second and third starters for a staff that already included ace CC Sabathia and 2011 rookie of the year candidate Ivan Nova. New York, not long ago desperate for pitching, now has enough of it to part ways with A.J. Burnett. Very decent hurlers in Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes are left to compete for the fifth spot.
While I am ranking the Rangers as the team with only the fifth finest rotation out of the six in question here, I should note that this is a difficult group to assess; Texas is taking some risks, but if they pan out the results will be wonderful. They lost C.J. Wilson to their division rival Angels but kept plenty of talent around and even landed a huge prize this offseason in Japanese import Yu Darvish. Darvish has star potential but could conceivably be disappointing, especially considering the money it took to sign him. Colby Lewis is good as well, but I’m not sure I buy the notion that he has the ability to serve as a staff ace (he is set to start the season opener for Texas). Derek Holland is an excellent, young left-hander who will anchor the rotation nicely and Matt Harrison projects to be quite solid as the fifth starter, but turning Neftali Feliz back into a starter (he was that for one full year in the minors in 2009) is one more step that may or may not work out. Then again, if one of the aforementioned guys fails, Alexi Ogando can step in out of the bullpen, where he’ll probably start the year. Tiger fans certainly should be aware of what Ogando can be. If everything works out as planned for the Rangers, their rotation could be about on par with Detroit’s.
The Red Sox have far too many question marks beyond Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Clay Buchholz will presumably be healthy after missing the whole second half of 2011, but John Lackey is out for the year and Daisuke Matsuzaka the first half. Who knows how Daniel Bard will fare as a starter for the first time since the Single-A level in 2007 and who knows if anyone at all–out of around seven candidates–will step up to hold down the fifth slot? These are different kinds of issues entirely than the ones the Rangers might face. Boston’s rotation just feels incomplete. Roy Oswalt could do much to help, but it doesn’t look at this point like they’ll be able lure him to the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park.
So, those are my rotation rankings: Angels, Rays, Tigers, Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments, and keep checking back here at Motor City Bengals for a ranking of the premium offenses put together by the AL elite.