I did the Baseball Today podcast with Eric Karabell on Wednesday and randomly mentioned that Colby Lewis is one of the most important pitchers in baseball. He returned from Japan last season and was a huge key to the Rangers' World Series run, winning 12 games with a 3.72 ERA, finishing fifth in the AL in strikeout rate and then beating the Yankees twice in the ALCS and winning his only World Series start. This season, however, he's been up and down, with four starts of six or more runs allowed, but three with zero.
Anyway, after bringing up Lewis, Eric and I decided to each submit our list of the 10 most important pitchers in baseball. The best guys aren't on here; we know Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia and Jon Lester are good and that they just need to stay healthy. So our lists are more a sample of guys who need to keep pitching well or guys who need to step it up. Eric's list tended more to include guys currently pitching like aces; my list tended more towards guys who need to step it up, although we did end up with a few duplicates.
Edinson Volquez, Reds: His ERA is through the roof (5.65), but Dusty Baker chose him for Game 1 of the playoffs last year for a reason, and needs him to anchor the current staff if the Reds are to get back there.
Josh Beckett, Red Sox: Baseball’s ERA leader until Tuesday, if he reverts to his 2010 self this team is in trouble, because depth/health is already an issue.
Shaun Marcum, Brewers: The real ace of the NL Central leaders so far, he’s dealt with a hip problem lately, and the team has lost six of his past seven starts.
Erik Bedard, Mariners: He was placed on the disabled list Wednesday, but don’t panic. How the Mariners play in the next month will decide which contender Bedard pitches for the final two months.
Rick Porcello, Tigers: He’s third on the staff in wins, but you won’t win much when allowing 21 runs over your past 12 1/3 innings (three starts). The Tigers need Porcello to fix things.
Colby Lewis, Rangers: Home runs have been his problem as Eric wrote, as he's allowed an AL-leading 20, just one fewer than last season.
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox: The Red Sox have allowed more runs than the Yankees, so they need Buchholz to return from the DL and give them that solid No. 3 behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
Kyle Lohse, Cardinals: Lohse isn't going to keep his ERA under 3.00, but with the bullpen in tatters, Tony La Russa needs him to keep soaking up innings ... and keep that ERA close to 3.00.
Edinson Volquez, Reds: Johnny Cueto has been really good lately, but the Reds need somebody else in the rotation to become a strong No. 2.
Fausto Carmona, Indians: He's 4-10 with a 5.89 ERA, including 1-7 with a 7.99 ERA over his past nine starts, and while that hard sinker is still there, the Indians can't afford to wait much longer.
Rick Porcello, Tigers: His ERA is 5.06, his strikeout rate is low, and with Phil Coke just demoted to the pen, the Tigers need second-half improvement from Porcello.
Bartolo Colon, Yankees: He's important precisely because he has been so good.
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: If Arizona wants to stay in the NL West race, it needs Kennedy to keep pitching like the staff ace he's been, as he's third in the NL in innings pitched and has a 3.01 ERA (excellent for that ballpark).
Zack Greinke, Brewers: He's 7-3 but his ERA is 5.63; his strikeout-to-walk ratio is an excellent 80/12, so odds are that ERA will drop significantly in the second half.
Brandon Beachy, Braves: He's been so impressive in his 10 starts that suddenly the Braves need him to keep it up, considering their lackluster offense.
Follow Eric on Twitter @karabellespn and Dave on Twitter @dschoenfield.