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2013 Draft Prep: Ranking the pitching staffs

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Sometimes, it's as simple as getting an e-mail on a day when things are a little light (in other words, no mocks and the rankings are finally in a good place):

Gentlemen:

Our Fantasy Baseball League draft uses "entire team" pitching staffs, rather than choosing an All-Star staff. Would you PLEASE, one time, somewhere, give us a list of staffs, much as you do for positional players.

Most sincerely,
John O'Connor

Consider us the wedding DJs of Fantasy Baseball advice. Here are your top staffs in baseball -- ranked, grouped, and accompanied by some quick commentary.

The Top Five

1. Washington Nationals
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Oakland Athletics
5. San Francisco Giants

The Nationals are a dangerous staff. Stephen Strasburg will not have an innings limit this season and has moved a full season away from his Tommy John surgery, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler continue to grow, and the team swapped out Edwin Jackson for Dan Haren in the rotation. The Nationals also added Rafael Soriano to close and will get a full year out of Drew Storen. An improved offense will likely lead to more wins, as well. ... The Dodgers re-loaded with Zack Greinke and an promising unknown in Hyun-Jin Ryu. But the staff's success may depend on late 2012 additions Josh Beckett and Brandon League. Either way, there should be a lot of strikeouts racked up this year. ... The Reds boasted a rotation that didn't miss a start last year and now have fireballer Aroldis Chapman in the mix, with Jonathan Broxton taking over at closer. This may be one of the more underrated staffs in the majors. Mat Latos is primed for an ace-like breakout. ... Oakland will have an embarrassment of riches with six legitimate starters (Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and Bartolo Colon). One will have to step aside when Colon returns from his PED suspension a week into the season, but they're set with depth. It will be interesting to see their exciting young arms get a full season of starts. ... The Giants return their entire 2012 staff, and with Tim Lincecum upgrading even to "bad" from last year's "miserable," San Francisco should find itself snugly among the top five.

The Next Seven

6. Toronto Blue Jays
7. Detroit Tigers
8. Philadelphia Phillies
9. Atlanta Braves
10. St. Louis Cardinals
11. Tampa Bay Rays
12. Los Angeles Angels

A year after losing countless pitchers to various arm injuries, the Blue Jays have a new rotation, bursting with talent. Reigning National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey headlines the staff, with Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson joining him in the NL exodus (courtesy of the Marlins). Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero should bounce back to upper-tier levels this year, and Sergio Santos' return will solidify a very good bullpen. ... The Tigers' pickup of Anibal Sanchez at the break last year -- and subsequent re-signing this winter -- makes this a dangerous staff. And don't count out Drew Smyly as Detroit's fifth starter. He was putting up great numbers before injury struck last year. ... Anytime you have Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels anchoring a staff, you're going to make some noise. The Phililes traded away Vance Worley and have a back end of the rotation that includes a motivated John Lannan and shaky Kyle Kendrick. Still, the top three in Philly are good enough to balance out the question marks at the end, and the Phillies have an electric bullpen trio in Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon. ... The Braves dumped Tommy Hanson on the Angels for yet another solid reliever. The team's starters can really just pitch just six innings every game and then hand it over to the bullpen (Note: this will not be happening). It will be interesting to see how long Kris Medlen can sustain success in 2013. ... The Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter for the year but have an interesting (and upside-filled) replacement for him in Shelby Miller. Lance Lynn was 18-7 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.32 WHIP last year -- and that was with him tiring at the end of the season. He'll be underrated in Fantasy, but could put up numbers close to Chris Sale-levels. ... The Rays had baseball's best ERA last season (3.19), but traded away James Shields and Wade Davis over the winter. And they probably shouldn't count on Fernando Rodney (4.42 ERA the five previous seasons) repeating that 0.60 ERA from 2012. Their top three (David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore) could be among the best trios in baseball, but the back end has plenty of doubt, and the shrinking strikeout rates from Hellickson and Moore (when held up against their minor league numbers) are a little disappointing. ... Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson join an Angels staff that sent away Ervin Santana and Dan Haren over the winter. While the team solved its fifth-starter problem (the Jerome Williams-Garrett Richards dance got a little tiresome last year), it still gave away some excitement in exchange for a brand of dull solidity.

Three that could take off

13. Pittsburgh Pirates
14. New York Mets
15. Kansas City Royals

Fun fact: the Pirates ranked 13th overall in ERA last season, so this ranking is just holding the line. Pitching coach Ray Searage is a miracle worker, as he turned around A.J. Burnett and James McDonald (for at least two-thirds of a season), while making Jason Grilli one of the best strikeout relievers in the majors last year. The team gets a full season of Wandy Rodriguez in 2013, and if Searage can work his magic on Francisco Liriano, this could be a dangerous staff. ... The Mets' staff deserves a column all by itself. Johan Santana will inch closer to ace status ("closer" -- not saying he will get back there) after a sometimes-brilliant 2012 was slowed by a tired arm. Dillon Gee should fulfill some of the potential he showed before injury struck last year while Shaun Marcum (career 3.76 ERA and 1.22 WHIP) is being badly underrated. Matt Harvey is one of the game's brightest young arms; and raise your hand if you knew Jonathon Niese had a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 2012. If those five stay healthy and come close to their potential, the Mets' staff could be spectacular. And that's before Zack Wheeler even enters the mix. The problem in Queens? The bullpen is a scattershot mess. ... Kansas City went for broke this winter, sending away four prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis, while adding Ervin Santana on a one-year deal. Those three form the core of a rotation that could be solid-but-unspectacular, rounded out by Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen. Unlike the Mets, the Royals have a top-notch bullpen, with Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, and Greg Holland forming a very tough back-end trio.

Six that are kind of ... meh

16. Baltimore Orioles
17. Boston Red Sox
18. Arizona Diamondbacks
19. New York Yankees
20. Texas Rangers
21. Chicago Cubs

If the Orioles' young arms (Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz) can put it together at once, this would be a top staff, especially if Dylan Bundy finds his way up to the majors by July. But they're limited by their history -- only Tillman has shown signs of the promise assigned him so far, while Jason Hammel came close last year -- and the team instead is looking at reclamations like Jair Jurrjens. ... Even if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz bounce back in 2013, the Boston rotation still needs turnarounds from Ryan Dempster (who pitched ineffectively through injury after a trade to Texas), John Lackey (who missed all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery), and Felix Doubront (who showed up to camp out of shape and failed to capitalize on a strong start last year). There is just too much finger-crossing in Boston to put the Red Sox much higher. Granted, everything could fall into place and they could be top 10, but there are options with far less risk for a Fantasy owner in need of a full staff. That being said, their bullpen -- again, if Daniel Bard can put it together -- could be stellar. ... Arizona has the potential to field a very good rotation, but Ian Kennedy is up-and-down, Brandon McCarthy is a flyball pitcher in a home run hitter's park, and Wade Miley may have been pitching a bit above his head last year. Trevor Cahill doesn't get as much love as he should, and Tyler Skaggs will probably surprise a lot of people as the fifth starter. The bullpen is a strength (Heath Bell, especially, may benefit from the change of scenery), but there are too many question marks. ... The whole "the Yankees are old" theme is kind of played out, but Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are a combined 78 years old. With the erratic Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova in the rotation (assuming David Phelps is sent to the bullpen) behind CC Sabathia -- who had some elbow issues last year -- this rotation does not inspire a lot of confidence. ... Yu Darvish's late-season surge set him up for a nice 2013, and Matt Harrison took a step forward in 2012, but the Rangers are relying on Martin Perez (a top prospect who hasn't put up numbers close to his potential) and Alexi Ogando (a converted reliever who will probably hit a wall at some point), along with the undependable Derek Holland to round out the rotation. And with Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis out for chunks of the season (if not all of it in Feliz' case), things may get ugly for Texas before they get better. ... Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza will be top Fantasy picks, and Edwin Jackson is a nice third starter, but Scott Feldman and Travis Wood remain unreliable options at the end of the staff for the Cubs. The bullpen is similarly uninspiring.

The Rest

22. Cleveland Indians
23. Seattle Mariners
24. Milwaukee Brewers
25. Miami Marlins
26. San Diego Padres
27. Minnesota Twins
28. Chicago White Sox
29. Houston Astros
30. Colorado Rockies

The most enigmatic staff in baseball could be the Indians, who are hoping that Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Justin Masterson and Daisuke Matsuzaka can regain old form. Throw in Trevor Bauer, and you have a rotation that could be either lights out, or a full-on disaster. ... Seattle and San Diego are getting the fences moved in, which may not have a huge effect on the staffs, but should allow for a few more home runs in both parks. ... The Brewers have some bright spots and will probably rack up a good deal of strikeouts, but that staff is looking increasingly like "Yovani Gallardo and the gang." Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers could come down a bit from their 2012 highs. ... The Marlins aren't terrible, but they will have some growing pains. Don't expect an entirely-possible hot start from the young, live arms to last past June. ... Even if Liam Hendriks, Vance Worley and Rich Harden come alive for the Twins, they still have two pretty blah spots in that rotation after that. ... Everyone on the White Sox staff has some kind of worry attached to him. Chris Sale had some arm trouble last year, Jake Peavy is always an injury risk, John Danks and Gavin Floyd both took trips to the DL with arm issues, combining to pitch just over 220 innings (with most of that time missed coming from Danks). Jose Quintana will be hard-pressed to repeat his debut season. ... You'll hear, "the Astros are so bad," a good deal this March, but each pitcher in that rotation has at least something to like. Whether any of those likes will come to fruition is a different story, but the Astros could be a sleeper staff for strikeouts. ... In any other home park, the Rockies' staff would be at least 10 spots higher. They have young, live arms that just happen to be trapped for half of the season in a stadium that sends balls flying out.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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