In 2010, of course, it was Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner who provided the four-cylinder engine that drove the Giants to the World Series title. The year before, it was a three-man job -- CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte -- that covered all the postseason starting assignments en route to the Yankees' 27th championship.
It's obviously more tried and true than those two examples. Having a strong rotation that goes four or even five deep is as treasured as any asset on a baseball roster.
Perhaps the tale of Felix Hernandez is the most vivid example: He's a Cy Young favorite, yet with King Felix practically a solo act once Cliff Lee went to Texas, the Mariners' fortunes didn't follow his lead.
Moral: An ace does not a winning rotation make.
So, with the page turning to 2011, here's a look at some rotations around baseball that already look like strengths, and a few others that are rotations to watch this offseason.
Giants: The aforementioned foursome of twenty-somethings also has Barry Zito as the fifth Beatle, as it were, and coming off his best National League season, despite his postseason absence. With all five under control for at least two more seasons, the Giants are as well-armed as anyone.
Rays: Rookie Jeremy Hellickson is knocking on the door following a season in which he was a consensus Minor League Player of the Year, so a deep rotation gets even deeper. David Price became the hype this year, Matt Garza went all no-no and Wade Davis' arrival was impressive, giving the Rays starting talent and then some.
Phillies: There is no stronger, more established trio in the big leagues than NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. They led the way to a Majors-leading 14 complete games and six shutouts for the entire Philadelphia rotation in 2010. Could they really be in the running for Lee? Or would that be a re-Lee?
Cardinals: If the Phillies have the trio, the Cardinals have the duo -- Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, who both have put together back-to-back stellar seasons. Rookie Jaime Garcia joined the fun and should be that much better with another season of seasoning on his left arm, while veterans Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook round out a solid five.
A's: Oakland's starting staff led the Majors with a 3.47 ERA, so this young and confident group is one to really watch. Trevor Cahill blew up into a Halladay-type imposing right-hander, and if lefty Brett Anderson can rebound from injuries and Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma can add yet another dimension, the A's could have something special starting ... again.
Red Sox: Had John Lackey performed as hoped, the Red Sox would be among the elite. They still have the credentials with Jon Lester becoming one of the game's top lefties, Clay Buchholz winning 17 and Josh Beckett presumably in better stead next year if healthy. But wither Daisuke Matsuzaka's future in Boston?
White Sox: Ditto on the would-be elite status. With Jake Peavy's health an issue, the White Sox rotation wasn't what it could have been in 2010. But Mark Buehrle and John Danks lead a solid core that will be deepened with the anticipated arrival of rookie Chris Sale to the rotation after he shined in the bullpen -- and the hope of a healthy return from Peavy.
Angels: Adding Dan Haren to the mix made an Angels strength even stronger, and Jered Weaver is coming off a career year with a 3.01 ERA in 224 1/3 innings.
Braves: With Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe back and top prospect Mike Minor ready after a bit of a bumpy baptism, the Braves have the foundation for another strong rotation. A healthy return of Jair Jurrjens would make it that much better.
Padres: The Padres like their trio of Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and Tim Stauffer, but they need a Jon Garland-type to eat innings and help hold the rotation together -- assuming Garland, a free agent, is priced out of their range.
Calling for relief?
Yankees: Mr. Lee, would you like to wear pinstripes? The Yankees are looking for another ace and -- gee, wouldn't you know it? -- they're hot on the trail of the one game-changer of a free agent on the market. With Burnett coming off a down year and Pettitte not getting any younger, Sabathia and Phil Hughes aren't enough to keep up.
Twins: They could try to bring back Carl Pavano, but they're not expected to get into a bidding war for him. That said, how will they replace those 221 innings, including seven complete games?
Rangers: You know they want Lee back badly, having seen exactly what he can deliver as part of a postseason team. C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis emerged as tremendous wing men to an ace like Lee, actually outperforming him in his regular-season stay. But if it's not Lee, you'd have to think the Rangers -- flush with an influx of payroll and the lure of being so close -- will make a move for a top-of-the-rotation starter, though it might take some dealing.
After all, a strong rotation helped the Rangers reach their goals this season, and they'd need another to reach them again in 2011.