Nine hours after dropping yesterday's semi-alarmist "Rotation Crisis Time in Arlington" post, C.J. Wilson dropped a lustrous gem of a start that, for a while at least, had potential history stamped all over it. Alas, he allowed the dreaded "finger-tip" base hit, lost his feel for both the ball and the strike zone thereafter, and was finished after just six innings -- but not before logging the 26th start by a Rangers pitcher since Opening Day last year where there were at least eight strikeouts amassed against just one walk or fewer. To put that into the necessary context, it took the Rangers an entire decade -- from 2000-09 -- to amass that many starts of that kind before last year. Ridiculous.
Yes, indeed, there is a certain humor in wailing about the state of the rotation just before the rotation has a somewhat close flirtation with perfection, but the same key points that were so unnervingly relevant yesterday are still just as relevant today -- the starting rotation, sans C.J. Wilson and possibly Derek Holland, has become a rather significant problem, such that we can't completely rule out Scott Feldman making a head-long dive into playoff rotation consideration. Wilson, after all, was never even close to being part of the problem, and I now find myself wondering if there's something about his approach to conditioning that his now-flagging rotation comrades could have followed to avert their currently sticky predicament. But I digress.
With the rotation currently sputtering along as it is, there has been increased chatter about how it could hang around the Rangers' necks as a liability come October, when they'd square off against one of Boston/New York in the ALDS (provided they get there, of course), and then one of Boston/New York/Detroit in the ALCS if they survived their initial test. I've seen it suggested that the Rangers' playoff rotation, in its present state, couldn't stand up to that which their post-season competition would be rolling out against them, and that the Rangers could end up disadvantaged in this department even if the rotation is revitalized with some carefully allocated downtime.
Here's the not-so-secret little secret, though -- the other contenders' starting rotations aren't anything great, either. To quote ESPN.com's Buster Olney on the matter: "Unless the Angels somehow chase down the Rangers, there will be no great rotations in the playoffs. Boston is two-deep, the Yankees would love to be two-deep, the Tigers need Max Scherzer to be an October force and Texas's Derek Holland is a major wild card. The managers will be leaning heavily on their bullpens." Here, in fact, is how each team's starting rotation has fared over the totality of the season:
TEX: 853.0 IP, 7.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.78 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 3.86 xFIP, 14.7 fWAR
NYY: 833.0 IP, 7.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.98 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 14.1 fWAR
DET: 833.2 IP, 6.4 K/9, 2.5 HR/9, 1.0 HR/9, 4.21 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 3.94 xFIP, 13.4 fWAR
BOS: 816.2 IP, 6.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 4.07 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 4.23 xFIP, 11.2 fWAR
And now, over the last 30 days:
BOS: 169.1 IP, 7.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 3.83 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.83 xFIP, 4.6 fWAR
TEX: 159.0 IP, 7.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 4.87 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 3.57 xFIP, 3.6 fWAR
DET: 164.2 IP, 6.7 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 5.03 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, 3.5 fWAR
NYY: 158.0 IP, 7.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9, 5.64 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 3.50 xFIP, 2.6 fWAR
Now, there is a problem with what I'm doing here -- first, and most obviously, past results don't necessarily reflect the strength of a team's starting rotation going forward. And second, all of these numbers include those starts made by each team's fifth-best (and in some cases sixth- and seventh-best) starter; in a playoff environment, you're only concerned about the four best pitchers that each team can deploy at a given point in time.
Both New York (CC Sabathia) and Detroit (Justin Verlander) boast no-doubt, bonafide aces. Boston would boast two such aces if the calendar still read 2009, but it doesn't, and while both Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are assembling fine seasons, neither one is pitching at an elite level on the fielding-independent ERA scale. Call them fallen aces, if you will. They both still pose enormous challenges to their competition, but they haven't pitched as well this season as Verlander or Sabathia, and, in Beckett's case, last year was a bummer as well. C.J. Wilson isn't as good as Sabathia or Verlander either, but you can probably insert him just barely ahead of Beckett and Lester.
And beyond that? Well, the Tigers have white-hot-but-due-to-regress Seattle import Doug Fister (2.97 ERA, 2.79 FIP), Max Scherzer (4.52 ERA, 4.24 FIP), and then one of either Brad Penny (5.07 ERA, 4.77 FIP) or Rick Porcello (5.01 ERA, 4.11 FIP). Verlander is terrifying, and Fister is solid, but this is not an impossibly difficult group to match toe-for-toe. The Yankees' situation is somewhat better, given the presence of Bartolo Colon (3.63 ERA, 3.71 FIP), Freddy Garcia (3.09 ERA, 3.66 FIP), and Ivan Nova (3.96 ERA, 4.06 FIP), but this is still an uninspiring collection of mid-to-back-rotation pieces that are experiencing either brief late-career revivals (Colon and Garcia) or the limitations of their upside (Nova). There isn't a name in this bunch that truly scares me, and, when physically and emotionally right, both Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison are superior to virtually every name in this lot.
And in Boston? Yes, that is a legitimately frightening one-two punch at the top (although Wilson and a capable Harrison/Ogando would give them a damn good run for their money), and then you have Erik Bedard -- who is throwing pretty well right now, and who I wouldn't have minded seeing the Rangers acquiring -- thrown in there as the No. 3 starter to give Boston a sturdy trifecta. Behind them, however, is John Lackey, who has pitched quite poorly this season and may not even be any better than Scott Feldman right now. Andrew Miller has strung together two very good starts in a row (his most recent being against Texas), but is likely headed back to the bullpen when October hits.
Let's take a somewhat realistic view of things and say that Texas gets Harrison right again before October, and that Derek Holland and Feldman continue to pitch fairly well, but that Ogando's goose ends up completely cooked and he's either shut down or reassigned to the bullpen. A Beckett/Lester/Bedard/Lackey combo is better than a Wilson/Harrison/Holland/Feldman combo, I think -- but is the chasm between the two groups really that wide? Detroit and New York boast the two best pitchers in the league, but when you pair those two with the kind of mediocrity that pervades the rest of their respective rotations, isn't the Rangers' rotation still fairly close?
And to reiterate Olney's above point: if it actually is fairly close to the Red Sox, Yankees, and Tigers, doesn't that thresher maw of a bullpen draw Texas even closer?
Yeah, I'm still concerned about the Rangers' starting rotation. I think everyone is justified in being concerned about it, and I think it's critical that at least one of Ogando or Harrison recapture their previously superb form. But I'm also realistic about what their opposition is having to run out there on the mound every night, and all of the objective evidence at our disposal seems to suggest that the Rangers picked a good year to lack that supposedly imperative second front-line starter ... because their forthcoming playoff enemies really aren't in all that much better shape themselves.