WASHINGTON — This may not be 1968, when Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA and allowed just 260 base runners in 304-2/3 innings, but it’s not far off. Pitching is enjoying a renaissance, much to the dismay of hitters, and given the investment the Nationals have made in this year’s sterling rotation, it’s worth assessing each of the 30 starting staffs in baseball because, more than any other area, they’ll impact each organization’s chance to be successful over 162 games. In Washington, they have a saying: With good starting pitching, anything’s possible. Without it, nothing is.
Let’s see how that carries throughout baseball.
1. Washington Nationals — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez
The Nationals had the best rotation ERA last year (3.04) then added Scherzer, making this the easiest choice on this list. Will it be historic?
2. Seattle Mariners — Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker
King Felix leads the way, but this group is complete — with up-side.
3. St. Louis Cardinals — Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez
If Wacha is back to 2013 form, look out. Lynn is perennially overlooked.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers — Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson
Kershaw/Greinke helps lift this group above the questions regarding Anderson/McCarthy.
5. San Diego Padres — James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Morrow/Odrisamer Despaigne
Shields provides the front-liner, but watch for Cashner to break out.
6. Chicago White Sox — Jeff Samardzija, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Hector Noesi
Sale and Samardzija lead the way. Will 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon round it out by season’s end?
7. Atlanta Braves — Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Shelby Miller, Mike Minor, Chien-Ming Wang/Eric Stults
Teheran fronts a group that will benefit from the development of newcomer Miller.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates — Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke
Posted the 10th-best rotation ERA last year, and could get a full season from Cole.
9. Baltimore Orioles — Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman
This is an underappreciated, un-flashy group that gets results. Gausman brings real upside.
10. New York Mets — Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee
Harvey’s return pushes the Mets into the top 10; Zack Wheeler’s Tommy John surgery prevents them from climbing higher.
11. Detroit Tigers — David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene
Whatever you make of Verlander’s bounce-back ability, Price and Sanchez are still here.
12. Tampa Bay Rays — Chris Archer, Nate Karns, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly
Early injuries are cause for concern, but this group should get Matt Moore back by July.
13. Cleveland Indians — Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, TJ House, Zach McAllister
Is Carrasco for real? Will Danny Salazar return from the minors? Potential — but questions.
14. Miami Marlins — Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Tom Koehler
No, Jose Fernandez isn’t back yet, but Alvarez is, plus veterans Latos and Haren.
15. Kansas City Royals — Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie
Ranked 11th in rotation ERA last year, and both Ventura and Duffy should be better.
16. Chicago Cubs — Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks, Travis Wood
The arrival of Lester completes a group that already included upstart 25-year-old stud Hendricks.
17. Cincinnati Reds — Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Anthony DeSclafani, Jason Marquis, Raisel Iglesias
Cueto is a bona fide stopper, and Homer Bailey should get healthy again.
18. Oakland Athletics — Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Scott Kazmir, Kendall Graveman, Drew Pomeranz
Rotation ERA was fourth-best in baseball last year, but there’s no more Lester or Samardzija.
19. Los Angeles Angels — Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago
Richards’s return from a knee injury is a key here. Weaver forever amazes.
20. San Francisco Giants — Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain (elbow pain), Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum
This group still has Bumgarner and Cain. Doesn’t that offset the Lincecum/Peavy/Hudson questions?
21. Boston Red Sox — Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson
There’s lots to like in Porcello, Miley and Kelly. But where’s the stud?
22. Milwaukee Brewers — Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Jimmy Nelson
Lohse, Garza, Fiers and Co. make up a decent group of No. 3 starters.
23. New York Yankees — Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren
We’re convinced Tanaka is healthy and Pineda and Eovaldi have potential. Sabathia, however . . .
24. Houston Astros — Dallas Keuchel, Scott Feldman, Collin McHugh, Brett Oberholtzer, Roberto Hernandez
Keuchel could be on the verge of fronting a good rotation. But who else will emerge?
25. Philadelphia Phillies — Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, David Buchanan, Sean O’Sullivan
If Hamels had already been traded, this group might somehow rank 31st.
26. Toronto Blue Jays — Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, Aaron Sanchez, Mark Buehrle, Daniel Norris
Can Dickey, 40, and Buehrle, 36, keep it up? Particularly without injured Marcus Stroman, this group has questions.
27. Texas Rangers — Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Ross Detwiler, Nick Martinez
Yu Darvish is out for the season for a group that was third-worst in ERA in 2014.
28. Minnesota Twins — Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone
Posted the worst rotation ERA in 2014 (5.06). Santana isn’t enough to cure that.
29. Arizona Diamondbacks — Josh Collmenter, Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa, Trevor Cahill, Chase Anderson
Until Patrick Corbin comes back . . .
30. Colorado Rockies — Jorge De La Rosa, Kyle Kendrick, Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, TBD
It’s not just the ballpark. It’s the pitchers, too.