The Texas Rangers are notorious for being a slug-first team. Ivan Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Juan Gonzalez, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, and many more donned Rangers' red, white, and blue and were considered some of the game's top hitters in their heyday.
Going into 2020, the tide has shifted for the Rangers. The backbone of the team is now their starting rotation. Since the 2018 season, the Rangers have used four free agent signings and a trade with Cleveland to build a pretty formidable rotation on paper:
- Mike Minor
- Lance Lynn
- Corey Kluber
- Kyle Gibson
- Jordan Lyles
In 2019, the rest of the Rangers rotation was quite lacking. All other starters outside of Minor and Lynn were a combined 15-39 with a 7.22 ERA. General manager Jon Daniels worked the phones over the offseason and signed Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles before the Winter Meetings. Just days after swinging and missing on Anthony Rendon, Daniels made the biggest transaction of the offseason when he pulled off a heist for two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
The Rangers appear to have a rotation that could catapult the team into contention, but not everyone agrees that the Rangers are a legitimate playoff team. Despite some upgrades, their offense still lacks a little firepower in the middle of the lineup. Then there are several question marks in the bullpen.
Just how good is the Rangers rotation? Is it among the very best in baseball? Is it good enough to carry the team to the postseason? Sports Illustrated's local and national writers help answer these questions, providing a broader perspective with views from both near and afar.
This may be the best rotation the Rangers have ever assembled from top to bottom—on paper. There's a lot to like, but there are red flags.
Mike Minor and Lance Lynn were both Cy Young candidates in 2019. Corey Kluber's 2019 season was devastated by injuries, but let's not forget who he was before then: a 20-game winner in 2018 and a Cy Young winner in 2017. Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles are solid duo that nearly any club would want at the back end of their rotation.
This rotation's greatest strength: all five guys can eat innings. Both Minor and Lynn pitched exactly 208 1/3 innings last season. Kluber pitched at least 200 innings in five straight seasons from 2014-2018. Gibson has eclipsed 194 innings twice in his career and Lyles has pitched at least 141 innings three times. For a team with a questionable bullpen, eating innings is an easily overlooked quality that could ultimately be the catalyst for a postseason run—especially in a truncated season.
However, there are legitimate concerns. Minor had a shoulder surgery that kept him out of baseball for all of 2015-2016. Even before Kluber's 2019 campaign was ended abruptly, his seven starts were very subpar. Kyle Gibson is coming off a battle with E. coli and ulcerative colitis in 2019. Finally, can Jordan Lyles find consistency in a Rangers uniform?
This group has the potential to be one of the very best in baseball if everything goes right, but that hardly ever happens. As long as the Minor-Lynn-Kluber trio can perform close to expectations, this group is good enough to give them an opportunity. I also think the Kyle Gibson signing could be one of the steals of the winter.
I think this one has a lot of variability. It’s entirely possible that we see a rotation here that can hang with the best of them—Lance Lynn and Mike Minor replicating their best work from 2019, Corey Kluber putting together a return to dominance, Kyle Gibson providing a solid boost, and Jordan Lyles performing like he did last season in Milwaukee. But none of those is a sure bet, let alone all of them.
In all? A playoff spot can be within reach, albeit not right at hand, and if it is, the rotation should be a crucial piece in making it possible.
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Finally, the Texas Rangers have a championship-caliber starting rotation to pair with an above average offense.
Last year, the duo of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn finished in top-eight in the AL Cy Young. With the addition of Corey Kluber to the staff, Texas adds an arm that has finished in the top-five of the Cy Young Award voting four times in the last six years, claiming the award in 2014 and 2017.
While we don’t yet know what to expect when it comes to the how the ball flies at the new, state-of-the-art Globe Life Field, what we do know is that the Rangers are loaded for bear on the mound, featuring three legitimate horses to ride in a condensed season.
It may take hitters a bit to get back up to speed, so pitching will carry the day early on in baseball. Fortunately for the Rangers, they have the arms.
When it comes to stacking up against some of the top rotations in baseball, you have to consider the Rangers one of the top five-to-seven rotations in all of baseball with the arms at the front of the rotation. Sure, Kluber is coming off of an injury-riddled year, but on paper he’s still a dominant force, as is Minor and Lynn.
With the arms available to them, I think the rotation is more than good enough to carry Texas to a playoff berth and the possibility of a deep run.
When the Rangers traded for Corey Kluber in December, I wrote for SI.com that adding him gave them the best rotation in the American League West. I wrote then:
Nothing that's happened in the six months since has changed that. If anything, the gap in the AL West has narrowed even more, considering the proposed framework of an abbreviated, 82-game season and the punishment leveled against the Astros for their illicit sign-stealing scandal (remember that?). Only the Yankees, Indians and Rays have both the front-end aces and depth to rival the Rangers for the best AL rotation. The Nationals, Mets, Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers all have rotations comparable to the best in the junior circuit.
To answer the second part of the question: Yes, the Rangers' rotation can carry them to a postseason berth, mainly because the new playoff format features three wild-card teams in each league. But, I don't think it will be enough. The Rays and A's/Astros should be locks for the first two AL wild-card spots, with four teams—the Rangers, Angels, Indians and White Sox—all competing for the final bid. I'd give the nod to Los Angeles (Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani—pitching and hitting) and Cleveland (strong rotation, Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez) over Texas, great rotation notwithstanding.
Perhaps the Rangers don't have a true ace atop their rotation, though their depth one through five is among the best in the American League. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn both tallied 200 strikeouts and 200 strikeouts last season, while Kyle Gibson is just one of 10 AL pitchers with at least 800 innings since 2015. Texas has the arms to reach the postseason in 2020. Can they win the AL West? Only if they get the best out of Corey Kluber.
The former Indians ace logged a trio of top-three Cy Young finishes in 2016-18, winning the award in 2017 as he led the American League in WHIP, ERA+ and innings. If the Rangers get the 2017 or 2018 Kluber, the Astros could be within reach. If he can't return to his dominant form, an uphill climb awaits.
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