The Dodgers' Chad Billingsley showed the stuff of a staff ace in striking out almost a batter per inning and winning 12 in '07.
William A Guerro/Icon SMI
Los Angeles Dodgers (15 points)
Above-average (9): Chad Billingsley, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe
Mystery (2): Jason Schmidt, Hiroki Kuroda
Up-and-coming (4): James McDonald, Clayton Kershaw, Hong-Chih Kuo, Scott Elbert/Jonathan Meloan
Below-average (0): Esteban Loaiza, D.J. Houlton, Eric Stults
Comment: The front three is formidable, with Billingsley poised to become the staff ace. Question marks abound thereafter -- with Schmidt perhaps never regaining his old stuff, Kuroda needing to show his ability to transition to the U.S. and a long list of prospects needing to prove themselves (or a change to prove themselves) in the majors.
Milwaukee Brewers (14 points)
Above-average (9): Ben Sheets, Carlos Villanueva, Yovani Gallardo
Average to above-average (4): Jeff Suppan, Chris Capuano
Up-and-coming (1): Manny Parra
Below-average (0): David Bush, Claudio Vargas
Comment: Villenueva and Gallardo might not be national names (compared to Sheets, anyway), but they are the keys to making the Brewers' rotation among the tops in the league. Suppan and Capuano could be as good as you'll find in the No. 4 and No. 5 slots of an NL rotation -- and Bush has his fans as well.
Atlanta Braves (13 points)
Above-average (6 points): John Smoltz, Tim Hudson
Average to above-average (4): Tom Glavine, Chuck James
Mystery (1): Mike Hampton
Up-and-coming (2): Jair Jurrjens, Jo-Jo Reyes
Below-average (0): Dan Smith, Jeff Bennett
Comment: Two keys to Atlanta's rotation, Smoltz and prodigal son Glavine, are each more than 40 years old, and Hampton hasn't pitched in a regular season game in more than two seasons. Jurrjens and Reyes are up-and-coming but unproven. And yet, as you'll see, this group qualifies as the best group of starters in the NL East.
San Diego Padres (13 points)
Super above-average (4): Jake Peavy
Above-average (3): Chris Young
Average to above-average (2): Greg Maddux
Mystery (1): Randy Wolf
Up-and-coming (3): Justin Germano, Wade LeBlanc, Will Inman
Below-average (0): Jack Cassel, Clay Hensley, Tim Stauffer, Cesar Ramos, Glendon Rusch
Comment: Some look longingly at Cy Young winner Peavy, but there are question marks behind the Padre ace. Young pitched superbly in '07 but missed several starts, while Maddux never missed a start but has become an average pitcher in his 40s. San Diego is taking a chance on Wolf, whom the Dodgers declined to resign after an injury-marred year.
San Francisco Giants (12 points)
Above-average (6): Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum
Average to above-average (5): Barry Zito, Noah Lowry, Kevin Correia
Up-and-coming (1): Jonathan Sanchez
Below-average (0): Nick Pereira
Comment: The Giants should be upbeat about their starting pitching, if only because they have little else to be happy about in the post-Barry Bonds era. High-salaried Zito was a disappointment in '07, but youngsters Cain and Lincecum particularly impressed. With Lowry giving you decent outings and Sanchez on the horizon, San Francisco has itself a staff of quality, if lacking in depth.
Colorado Rockies (11 points)
Above-average (6): Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook
Up-and-coming (5): Franklin Morales, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Hirsh, Greg Reynolds, Taylor Buchholz
Comment: Colorado's rotation is the fifth from the NL West to be in the top half of the league. Two solid leaders, and then five younger fellows with potential who will have to sort themselves out. In theory, last year's playoff run will have provided valuable experience.
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