Sports

Javier Vazquez gives Yankees a fistful of aces

Good teams start with good starting pitching. And after trading for Javier Vazquez and re-signing Andy Pettitte, the New York Yankees have more of it than any other team. Here's how the baker's dozen of top rotations stacks up:

1. Yankees and Giants, tie: Vazquez's transition back to the AL (and specifically to New York, where his ERA spiked to 4.91 in 2004) is a question. Injury risk is high, given an average age of 33.3 for Sabathia & Co. Lincecum and Matt Cain can challenge the Mariners' tandem of Lee and Felix Hernandez and the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter as the best in the majors. Rising prospect Madison Bumgarner could give the Giants a fierce top three once he arrives.

3. Phillies: Halladay should dominate in the National League. There's depth but no clear-cut No. 2 among Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton. Hamels must shake off a disappointing 2009.

4. Cardinals and Rockies, tie: The key in St. Louis, as always, will be Carpenter's health. Newcomer Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse provide depth. Can Jorge De La Rosa repeat his 2009 success for Colorado? That's a key for a Rockies staff fronted by Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook. Former ace Jeff Francis hopes to get back into the mix after missing all of '09.

6. Red Sox: If John Lackey pitches better than he did last year, the Red Sox could outperform all the teams listed ahead of them. They have an excellent 1-2 in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester and depth in Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden.

7. Tigers: Max Scherzer nicely replaces Edwin Jackson, but the bottom of the rotation is a question mark. You also have to wonder how Justin Verlander will hold up after Jim Leyland used him like a modern-day Bob Gibson in 2009. But Verlander and Rick Porcello are a formidable 1-2.

8.Mariners and Cubs, tie: The Seattle outlook gets cloudy fast after Hernandez and Lee. Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith are keys. The Cubs are this high because Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells combined for a 3.40 ERA last season, but Lilly's recovery from shoulder surgery is a flashing caution light. If he doesn't come back strong, they don't belong among the top rotations.

10.Rays: Some see Tampa Bay as an also-ran because of the strength of the Yankees and Red Sox. That's not true. In James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann and David Price, the Rays have an upwardly mobile rotation. Those four average 26.3 years in age, making this the youngest collection of solid arms in the majors.

11.Braves: Atlanta is trying to win with pitching, as it did for so long behind the old Big Three. Tommy Hanson is as impressive as any baby-faced pitcher, and the Braves have depth, which was why they could trade Vazquez to clear salary space for a hitter (Troy Glaus, apparently). But only Jair Jurrjens reached 200 innings last season. Tim Hudson is a wild card.

12.White Sox: If Jake Peavy delivers 30 starts, this group should wind up better than this ranking (which suffered from Peavy making only 16 starts in 2009). Few pitchers are mentally tougher than Mark Buehrle, and he sets the tone for John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Freddy Garcia is penciled in as the fifth starter, but Daniel Hudson could be an impact arm in 2010.

13.Angels: Lackey will be missed, but Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana are solid. Durability is a question, as only Weaver and Saunders pitched more than 150 innings last year.

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