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Sunday, July 5, 2020

10 best aces in MLB this season

Chris Sale

Any MLB team will feel better if they have a dominant ace pitcher they can turn to every fifth day. These aces can stop a losing streak or prolong a winning one. Overall they make everyone feel better about their chances at least once or twice a week. Aces are even more valuable in the playoffs, where a dominant pitcher can theoretically pitch three times in a best-of-seven series, making his team an incredibly tough out in October.

There are always ups-and-downs during a season, and players performing well early in the season could fade late. But for now, here is a list of the ten best ace pitchers in baseball currently.

1) Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

Sale is already proving to be well worth the prospect expenditure that the Red Sox surrendered to acquire him in the offseason. He’s walked into Boston — a tough market in a tough ballpark in a tough division — and only gotten better. His strikeout rate is at an all-time high, having fanned 12.46 per nine — that’s 126 strikeouts in 91 innings, including eight consecutive starts in which he struck out ten batters or more.

Sale has earned praise from arguably the best Red Sox pitcher of all time, and he shows no sign of stopping. He strikes out a ton of batters, doesn’t walk many, and is an uncomfortable at bat for righties, much less lefties who have to deal with his unorthodox delivery and wipeout slider. He, too, is only 28.

The Red Sox have a stud leading their staff for years to come.

2) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

One could have quite the debate on who’s better right now between Kershaw and the man who will follow him on this list (a certain Washington Nationals ace). The Dodgers ace edges it on this list thanks to a slightly better ERA and walk rate, though you can hardly go wrong with either of them.

Kershaw’s merits are well-established by this point. The upper-90s fastball from the left side, the filthy curveball, the general dominance from a guy who is still just 29 years old. For a guy with such filthy stuff, he keeps his walks so low, issuing just 14 in 90 innings. Opponents are hitting .202 against him this year, which would actually be the highest opponent batting average against the lefty since 2012.

Kershaw remains the best pitcher in the National League, and he likely has more years of dominance ahead of him.

3) Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Scherzer has actually gotten better since he left Detroit and the American League for the comforts of the Nationals and the NL. Always a strikeout pitcher, he’s fanning batters at a higher rate than ever before, with his 12.17 K/9 mark easily the highest he’s ever put up in his career. He does it all while limiting walks — he’s issued only 21 in 91 innings. He recently became the third-fastest pitcher in MLB history to reach the 2,000 career strikeout plateau.

Despite being in a league with Clayton Kershaw, Scherzer could make a strong argument for NL Cy Young at this point. He’s proving to be worth every penny of the $210 million Washington shelled out for him, and has become the undisputed ace of a staff that also features Strasburg.

If Washington goes far in the playoffs, the ace right-hander will almost definitely be a huge reason why they do.

4) Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

Keuchel is back to the form that won him the AL Cy Young in 2015. His 1.67 ERA comfortably leads all of baseball, though he’s admittedly been boosted by some luck.

Keuchel doesn’t post the gaudy strikeout numbers of some of his fellow aces, but he limits hard contact and home runs. He’s a ground ball machine, getting them at a nearly 70 percent rate, and opponents are hitting just .182 against him this season. His numbers across the board are even better than they were when he won that Cy Young.

The only thing that could stop Keuchel at this point appears to be injury — he’s on the disabled list for the second time in 2017 with a neck issue, and nobody is quite sure how serious it is.

5) Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

Ray, now on his third organization, has essentially come out of nowhere to become, at least at the moment, Arizona’s best pitcher. He’s prone to walks — 3.83 BB/9 is certainly higher than where Arizona would prefer that walk rate to be — but it hasn’t much mattered. They’ll be elated with 107 strikeouts in 82.1 innings, the third-best K/9 rate among qualified starting pitchers this season.

A keen eye could have seen this breakout coming. Ray’s peripherals aren’t much different than they were last season, when he put up a 4.90 ERA thanks to some bad luck with runners on base and on batted balls in general. This year, those figures have returned to normal, and Ray’s ERA has plummeted to 2.62. Not bad for a guy who was moved from Washington to Detroit to Arizona in the span of a little over a year. The Tigers in particular must be kicking themselves over letting this lefty get away.

See Nos. 6-10 on Page 2

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