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A New Normal? Rangers Starting Pitching On Hot Streak

The Texas Rangers starting pitching has taken many by surprise thus far. What's lead to their success?

Over the course of their history, the Texas Rangers have been known to be a slugging team. The franchise has boasted some of the most feared or accomplished hitters in the game, including Juan González, Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, and future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Adrián Beltré, just to name a few.

The pitching side has not been quite as dominant. Texas has surely had some sensational pitchers over the years, most notably having five years of the iconic Nolan Ryan. But while the Rangers have churned out American League MVPs and batting champions, they have yet to have a pitcher win the Cy Young award. Yu Darvish came the closest as the runner-up in 2013.

Now, don't worry. There isn't an incoming hot take that the Rangers are about to shock everyone and have one of the best starting rotations in baseball this season. We're just 17 games into the season, which meant a lot more in last season's 60-game schedule. This year, we're back to the 162-game grind. That means the Rangers have completed barely over 10 percent of their schedule.

But what the starting rotation has done so far shouldn't be completely ignored. The Rangers are 8-9 after Monday's 6-4 win over the Angels, and their pitching is a big reason why.

According to FanGraphs, the Texas starting rotation is currently seventh in ERA (3.07) and WHIP (1.07), and fourth with 2.15 walks-per-nine-innings (BB/9). Their 3.81 FIP is closer to the middle of the pack at No. 14, but that speaks to the defense behind the Rangers starters, specifically the three pitchers on which we're about to focus.

Before we jump into that, we don't want to forget about the tandems in the rotation. If you include Wes Benjamin and Taylor Hearn pitching behind Jordan Lyles and Dunning respectively, the group has a 3.34 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP — both of which would rank them 10th in Major League Baseball.

The Rangers rotation has been especially good in the past three games with Dane Dunning, Kyle Gibson, and Kohei Arihara combining for 19 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Texas is 2-1 in those games as their bats fell silent in Dunning's six-inning start on Saturday. During this streak, the trio have helped limit baserunners with a spectacular 0.66 WHIP while striking out 17 hitters.

All three pitchers have a common trait: They are all ground-ball pitchers. All three employ a sinker, with Dunning and Gibson relying on a heavy sinker-slider combination. Arihara is a different breed, boasting a seven-pitch arsenal that includes a splitter that is currently baffling opposing hitters, including Mike Trout.

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Ground-ball pitchers rely on the defense behind them to get quick outs and turn double plays. Thankfully, the Rangers have a Gold Glove winner at shortstop in Isiah Kiner-Falefa and two respected veterans in Charlie Culberson and Brock Holt to man third base. Second baseman Nick Solak and first baseman Nate Lowe are young and just beginning to establish themselves, but have flashed some athleticism at their respective positions.

Who knows how long this group can sustain this kind of production on the mound. Dunning is young and one would assume he'll have his growing pains. Kyle Gibson is an established veteran, but his newly employed cutter could be taking hitters by surprise early on. If and when hitters catch on, we'll need to see how Gibson adjusts. Kohei Arihara has gotten better each time out, but the league is still trying to figure him out. He is also in the beginning stages of adjusting to the heavy workload and length of the MLB season as opposed to what he did in Japan.

In addition, we shouldn't forget about Jordan Lyles and Mike Foltynewicz. Both pitchers have flashed moments of when they were at their best previously in their career. Lyles has had some success employing a slider and Foltynewicz has his velocity back to where it was in 2019. The Rangers just need more consistency from them.

Overall, the Rangers' starting staff has performed better than most expected thus far. That should be commended. However, the season is just beginning. We are far from finalities regarding the rotation, or projecting the next Cy Young candidate. We'll have a better idea of what this group will look like in several weeks. But so far, so good.

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Chris Halicke covers the Texas Rangers for SI's Follow him on Twitter @ChrisHalicke.
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