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Evan Grant on the Rangers pitching

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Evan Grant has a new piece up at NBC Sports, looking at the Rangers' pitching situation. Grant points out that, for the first time this millenium, the Rangers actually have what looks to be a pretty decent pitching staff. Grant identifies the two main question marks, about whether the staff can go from "decent" to "very good"...the #3 and #4 spots of the rotation:

The starting rotation is where things will either come together or fall apart. Since 2000, the rotation has mostly been an annual disappointment. The Rangers' composite 5.48 rotation ERA over the last seven seasons is the worst in the majors.

There are indications things are moving in the right direction, though. Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla joined the rotation last year and neither was intimidated by the new home park. Both won at least 15 games, pitched 200 innings and struck out 150 batters. They are the only two Rangers starters to reach all three thresholds in the same year in the last 10 seasons.

They are joined by Brandon McCarthy, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a big deal of young arms in December, and Robinson Tejeda, who pitched very well after a slow start that may have been due to sitting around idly in the Dominican Republic's bullpen during the World Baseball Classic. Both are primed to have breakout seasons. On the other hand, neither one has as many as 30 starts for their career, let alone 30 in a season, so it could be a year of growing pains.

Bottom line, if Tejeda and McCarthy pitch to their capabilities, this team will be in the playoffs.

If they don't, then the Rangers are going to need bounceback seasons from Brad Wilkerson and Hank Blalock, a solid performance from either Nelson Cruz or Jason Botts, and either some rapid development from within or a big time trade this summer to shore up the rotation to the point where the Rangers can be a legit playoff contender.

Wilkerson, Blalock, Cruz...those guys are important for the Rangers in 2007. But McCarthy and Tejeda, and their development this season, probably have more bearing on 2007 -- and beyond -- than anything else.