The Rangers scored high off-season marks for their acquisitions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, moves that were understandable considering the historic power outage that derailed the 2013 season. While you certainly have to tip your cap to Jon Daniels for the makeover, it’s hard to ignore another gaping hole in the Ranger roster, one that could very well derail the 2014 edition. Starting pitching.
From the start of the off-season, the starting rotation has been a source of worry. Texas seemed set at the top of the rotation with Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, but after that there was nothing but question marks. Then Derek Holland went down, making an already tricky situation worse. The 2014 Rangers look much like many past Ranger squads, terrorizing at the plate and ordinary on the mound. That is hardly the recipe for October success, and nothing less than a pennant run this year can be considered a success.
Even Darvish comes with some questions. First, there is the disturbing trend of Japanese pitchers in their third year, best discussed here. Darvish has been so solid in his first two seasons that it’s hard to envision a dramatic falloff, but it will bear watching.
There’s another issue about Darvish. The last two seasons, as the Rangers have wilted in the late summer heat, Darvish has been unable to be the stopper Texas needed. Last season, he struggled to hold late leads or make it through six innings. Our bullpen looks to be as solid, if not more so, than last year’s; but we need our starters to get the ball to them in favorable situations. If Darvish is going to become a legitimate top of the rotation ace, he has to be his best at the biggest situations. He has yet to show that he is the type of big game pitcher that every serious contender needs.
The loss of Derek Holland will be a major story line in the first half. 2013 was a breakthrough season for Holland, who had a career best 3.42 ERA and lead the team in innings pitched with 213. It was refreshing to see Holland blossom after an erratic start to his career. Now, will he be able to rebound from the injury? Will Texas be able to stay afloat until he gets back?
Lefty Martin Perez can ease some of the concern if he builds on last season’s 10-6 record. Ron Washington had enough faith in Perez to start him in the play-in game against the Rays last season, although his performance was shaky. The Rangers need Perez to bloom this season. Right now, he stands as our number two starter, we need him to pitch like it.
Then thinks really get shaky. Robbie Ross, Alexi Ogando and Nick Tepesch all will get looks. Ross has been a bullpen guy, and a valuable one. Could he translate his bullpen success to a starting role and can he stand up to the workload? Ogando appears too fragile to be anything more than a swing man, and that was before his disappointing Cactus League debut Friday. Tepesch’s best role is as an innings eater. None of these guys project as difference makers right now.
Then there’s the walking wounded: Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hanson. IF they are healthy, then the Rangers could wind up with a top flight staff after all. Each has shown the ability to be a reliable big league starter. Lewis has started some big games for the Rangers and Harrison was our opening day starter last season. However, both have been so injury plagued that it’s hard to put much faith on them lasting a full season. Even if they do, will they be anything more than average after being gone so long?
My hope is that Tommy Hanson might be a year ahead of Lewis and Harrison in returning from injuries. Hanson has the stuff to be a top end starter if healthy. Darvish, Perez and Hanson could be a top three to keep us in it while we wait for Holland to return.
Regardless of who it is, the Rangers desperately need at least one of the injured three to return to form and Perez to be solid if they are to contend this year. Daniels obviously isn’t completely sold on this staff either, as he continues to look at other veteran options like Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana.
Finding reliable starting pitching in the majors is these days is the biggest challenge every GM faces. It’s hard to find any team that doesn’t have questions regarding their staff. For a team with World Series hopes, a team that spent a lot of money to fill their biggest void from last year, this rotation just doesn’t stand up. I personally would have ponied up whatever it took to pry David Price away from Tampa Bay, even if it meant not getting Fielder or Choo, because starting pitching can carry a team a lot further than a big offense can. Since that’s not going to happen, the best hope is that some young pitcher will step up or a couple of our injured veterans will find the fountain of youth. Otherwise, brace yourself for a summer of 10-9 games and a lot of different faces taking the mound.