The Nationals are signing left-handed starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, giving Washington one of the best rotations in baseball heading into 2019. Without waiting on Bryce Harper’s free-agent decision, the Nats have been aggressive to improve the roster before next week’s Winter Meetings. Could a signing like Corbin sway Harper to re-signing with the franchise that drafted him? Either way, the Nationals shouldn’t fret, as their top-three trio of pitchers might be able to help take them a long way in the postseason next year.
These are the teams with the top “big three” starting trios in the MLB. The Astros are notably left out, as Lance McCullers Jr. will miss 2019 after Tommy John surgery, while Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton are free agents that might not re-sign with the team. Also, the big prize of starting pitchers in free agency is off the board, but there’s time for other teams (like the Phillies, who have Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta atop the rotation) to add a formidable third option and get into this discussion.
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin
Let’s start with the Nationals. The wild-card of their rotation is Stephen Strasburg, as he’s struggled with health and some inconsistency (mostly by reason of his health) throughout his career. If they can all stay healthy, the trio includes two powerful righties and a savvy lefty—all of whom have had over 240 strikeouts in a season. If the offense with or without Harper can help get this team in the postseason, they’ll be tough to beat in a five- or seven-game series with a rotation spearheaded by Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin.
Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks
When you look at the Cubs starting rotation, you see deep-postseason experience. The top-three of Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Hendricks all have World Series experience—and five rings between them (three owned by Lester), including a World Series MVP (Hamels, in 2008 with the Phillies). After Hamels arrived in Chicago ahead of last season’s trade deadline, he was exceptional, posting a 2.36 ERA with a low home-run-allowed rate in his switch back to the National League. In an October setting, it’s hard to argue against the Cubs having the MLB’s best top-three.
Clayton Kersahaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu
It hasn’t led to a World Series ring, but the Dodgers also have plenty of postseason experience. Walker Buehler was sensational as a rookie in both the regular and postseason, including an outstanding seven shutout innings (two hits allowed) against the elite Red Sox offense in the Fall Classic. Despite dipping velocity, Clayton Kershaw is as good of a pitcher as we’ve seen in baseball. The third of the Dodgers rotation is a toss-up between Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill, but either one is a steady third option in one of the league’s best rotations.
Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zach Wheeler
While mic’d up and talking during the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, Bryce Harper went on about how great the Mets’ starting pitchers are, and he would know as someone that faced them often in the NL East. All three of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zach Wheeler can hit the upper 90s with ease, but they also have devastating secondary pitches and good command. There’s been trade talk around Syndergaard in particular, but it might be unwise to break up a strength that can be built upon as the Mets look to turn things around.
Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello
Keep in mind that Nathan Eovaldi is a free agent, but he could be returning to Boston after he was great during their World Series run. Either way, a Cy Young winner (Rick Porcello) as third or potentially fourth in the rotation is impressive. Chris Sale has started the last three All-Star games for the American League, so he’s as good as it gets assuming he’s fully healthy; and David Price’s confidence should be at an all-time high after the postseason he had. It also doesn’t hurt that the Red Sox might have the league’s best offense to take pressure off the pitching staff.
Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka
Many have called the Yankees’ acquisition of former Rays pitcher James Paxton a robbery, and he could really shine with an elite offense having his back in the Bronx. Luis Severino had his cold stretches last season, but he’s shown he can be truly dominant when he’s on his game. Masahiro Tanaka—who somehow has already been with the Yankees for five seasons—is the key, as he got back on track last season but is looking to get back to where he was when he first arrived in the majors. And there’s also the veteran steadiness of CC Sabathia in the mix, but don’t be surprised if the Yankees make another move for someone like Dallas Keuchel or J.A. Happ as they look to compete with Boston in the AL East.