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For the Braves to win the National League East for the third season in a row, the starting rotation must do better this season. They have two teams in the division with outstanding rotations – Washington and New York. Plus, the Phillies have added one of the biggest free agent starters on the market in Zack Wheeler, so the division could be decided by the rotations.

Atlanta passed on Madison Bumgarner and instead went with the one-year option of Cole Hamels, who is 36 years old but should be the perfect veteran to lead the rather young group of talented starting pitchers. As for the other veteran presence, the Braves must hope Felix Hernandez somehow returns to his All-Star form, or they must hope Sean Newcomb can at least be as effective as a starting pitcher as he was in 2018.

Will the Braves get good Mike Foltynewicz in 2020 or bad Mike Foltynewicz? If he can be as good as he was in 2018 and in the second half of last season, the Braves could have just as good a rotation as the Nationals or Mets. But if Foltynewicz goes back to Triple-A, the Braves could be in big trouble.

Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson will likely return to Triple-A Gwinnett to start the season. If they get another shot in Atlanta, they cannot afford to do as poorly as they did last year in their four starts. It’s time for Wright to step up and live up to his potential he had when the Braves selected him fifth overall a few years ago.

Here is how Atlanta’s rotation stacks up with the other teams in the National League East.

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Last year’s Rotation ERA: 4.20 – 12 in MLB and 7 in the NL
Gone from last season: Julio Teheran (33 starts), Dallas Keuchel (19), Kevin Gausman (16), Josh Tomlin (1)
Returning Starters: Max Fried (30), Mike Soroka (29), Mike Foltynewicz (21)
New Starting Pitchers: Cole Hamels (27 with the Cubs), Felix Hernandez (15 with the Mariners)
Candidates: Sean Newcomb (4), Bryse Wilson (4), Kyle Wright (4), Touki Toussaint (1)
Competition: Newcomb and Hernandez will have the inside track on the fifth starter’s job. Newcomb is returning from the bullpen, where he had a 3.04 ERA in 51 games last season. Will the new team and new league help get Hernandez back on track?
NOTES: The potential for improvement in Atlanta’s rotation could depend on Foltynewicz, who had a 6.37 ERA in his first 11 starts last season. Then, after a stint in Triple-A Gwinnett, Foltynewicz had a 2.65 ERA in his final 10 regular season starts of the season. Which Foltynewicz will show up in 2020?
AGES on Opening Day: Hamels (36), Hernandez (33), Foltynewicz (28), Newcomb (26), Fried (26), Wright (24), Soroka (22), Wilson (22)

Last year’s Rotation ERA: 3.53 – 2nd in MLB and in the NL
Gone from last season: Jeremy Hellickson (8), Matt Grace (1)
Returning Starters: Stephen Strasburg (33), Patrick Corbin (33), Anibal Sanchez (30), Max Scherzer (27)
New Starting Pitchers: None
Candidates: Erick Fedde (12), Joe Ross (9), Austin Voth (8)
Competition: Fedde, Ross and Voth will fight it out for the fifth starter’s job, with Voth considered the leading candidate entering camp.
NOTES: The Nationals will have the top rotation in the division on paper heading into the season with the return of Strasburg. The rotation will be the strength of this team, especially until we know if their bullpen can be improved. People will wonder if Scherzer’s back will hold up this season.
AGES on Opening Day: Sanchez (36), Scherzer (35), Strasburg (31), Corbin (30), Voth (27), Ross (26), Fedde (26)

Last year’s Rotation ERA: 3.84 – 7th in MLB and 4th in the NL
Gone from last season: Zack Wheeler (31), Jason Vargas (18)
Returning Starters: Jacob deGrom (32), Noah Syndergaard (32), Steven Matz (30), Marcus Stroman (11)
New Starting Pitchers: Rick Porcello (32), Michael Wacha (24)
Candidates/Competition: The belief is the Mets will allow Matz, Porcello and Wacha battle for two rotation spots, with the loser heading to the bullpen. Some wonder if Matz would be a better reliever, but he’s the only left-hander in the entire group of starting pitchers.
NOTES: Can deGrom continue his dominance? Will there be more trade rumors surrounding Syndergaard? How will Stroman do for the full season? This rotation could be the best in the division, even better than Washington’s, if the bottom of the rotation can be dominant. Porcello is not too far removed from winning a Cy Young, so he could get back on track.
AGES on Opening Day: deGrom (31), Porcello (31), Stroman (28), Matz (28), Wacha (28), Syndergaard (27)

Last year’s Rotation ERA: 4.64 – 17th in MLB and 11th in the NL
Gone from last season: Drew Smyly (12), Jason Vargas (11), Jerad Eickhoff (10)
Returning Starters: Aaron Nola (34), Jake Arrieta (24), Zach Eflin (28), Vince Velasquez (23), Nick Pivetta (13)
New Starting Pitchers: Zack Wheeler (31)
Candidates/Competition: Velasquez and Pivetta both got banished to the bullpen for a while last season. They’ll fight it out for the fifth starter’s job in spring training. Eflin does not have a great hold on the fourth spot, so he needs to have a good spring, as well.
NOTES: The Phillies believe the hard-throwing Wheeler is needed to compliment Nola. Arrieta must show he’s healthy after having elbow cleanup surgery late last season. They must get more production from the bottom of the rotation. Could the Phillies still bring in another starter?
AGES on Opening Day: Arrieta (34), Wheeler (29), Velasquez (27), Pivetta (27), Nola (26), Eflin (25),

Last year’s Rotation ERA: 4.59 – 16 in MLB and 10 in the NL
Gone from last season: Trevor Richards (20), Zac Gallen (7), Hector Noesi (4)
Returning Starters: Sandy Alcantara (32), Caleb Smith (28), Pablo Lopez (21)
New Starting Pitchers: None
Candidates: Elieser Hernandez (15), Jordan Yamamoto (15), Jose Urena (13), Robert Dugger (7), Nick Neidert, Jorge Guzman, Sixto Sanchez
Competition: Yamamoto likely has the edge over Hernandez for the fourth spot in the rotation, and the Marlins say they want Urena back as a starter. The belief was Urena would be a reliever, since he did well in that role late last season. The young kids have a chance to make an impression and win a job. Sanchez is the top prospect, and he could be ready at some point this summer.
NOTES: The Marlins must worry a bit about injuries. Smith had a left hip inflammation, while Lopez missed time with a right shoulder strain. Alcantara is the ace, but the Marlins need others to step up and be consistent starting pitchers.
AGES on Opening Day: Smith (28), Urena (28), Alcantara (24), Lopez (24), Guzman (24), Dugger (24), Hernandez (24), Neidert (23), Yamamato (23), Sanchez (21)

Listen to The Bill Shanks Show weekdays at 3:00 p.m. ET on Middle Georgia’s ESPN. You can listen online at Follow Bill on Twitter at @billshanks and you can email him at