I know I'm probably acting like Captain Obvious here, but the starting rotation for the Rangers will control their destiny. I know that, you know that, everyone in baseball knows that. In fact, people who don't even know what a baseball looks like know the Rangers' rotation will be the deciding factor this season.
The real question is, do the Rangers fab five have what it takes to get the Rangers into October?
The head of the rotation will be Kevin Millwood; personally, I would have picked Vicente Padilla, but I'm not the manager. Granted, Millwood was terrible last season in every category, but his 168.2 innings pitched and 5.07 ERA have got to improve this season.
The good news for the Rangers is the option they hold on Millwood will provide a little extra incentive. I'm not saying Millwood needs the extra incentive, I just think it's no coincidence one of his best seasons came in a contract year prior to signing with Texas.
Kevin Millwood Projections: 15-9, 34 GP, 190 IP, 4.70 ERA
Vicente Padilla did a lot of things right last season in arguably one of the best rebound seasons in club history. In 2007, Padilla was an embarrassment who started a brawl with the rival Angels late in the season. His numbers were equally as terrible: starting only 23 games with a 5.76 ERA in 120.1 innings pitched.
Last season, Padilla opened camp with much to prove both on the mound and in the clubhouse. What he earned throughout the year was redemption. He hit fewer hitters, started 29 games and lowered his ERA a full run to 4.74 in 171 innings pitched.
Padilla is also pitching for a club option, which adds a little more motivation to a pitcher who sometimes suffers lapses in motivation.
Vicente Padilla Projections: 14-9, 31 GP, 184 IP, 4.85 ERA
The back end of the rotation is where things get interesting. Matt Harrison appears to have locked up the third spot, with McCarthy and Feldman to follow. All three of these kids are difficult to project given their lack of experience at the big league level.
Harrison is a soft-tossing lefty who started 15 games for the Rangers in '08. His numbers were inconsistent, as he had a complete game shutout in one start, yet still posted an ERA of 5.49. However, he showed some ability to adjust late in the season and has had an outstanding spring.
Matt Harrison Projections: 12-8, 30 GP, 180 IP, 4.80 ERA
Brandon McCarthy has had a terrible time in Texas, both with injuries and on the mound. After a bullpen session with Nolan Ryan, McCarthy fixed his delivery and started to resemble the pitcher the Rangers thought they were getting for John Danks.
After a rocky start this spring, McCarthy has caught fire, pitching as dominant as the Rangers have seen. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest McCarthy will have a relatively injury-free season and put up great numbers. The reason why has everything to do with his bullpen session with Nolan Ryan.
Since then, McCarthy has pitched effectively and the change in mechanics has reduced his injuries from chronic to freak.
Brandon McCarthy Projections: 16-6, 28 GP, 192 IP, 3.95 ERA
Scott Feldman was the Rangers' surprise pitcher last season. Coming out of the bullpen and locking down a spot in the rotation was necessary because of injuries, but Feldman exceeded the Rangers expectations.
This spring, Feldman is working on a slider to go along with his sinker. If he's able to use the slider effectively, he could give the Rangers just enough from the fifth spot to keep them in contention, but any progress will be just fine with Texas. Look for Feldman to also help out in the bullpen.
Scott Feldman Projections: 8-10, 26 GP, 146 IP, 5.10 ERA
A big season from Harrison and McCarthy could be enough to help the Rangers contend this season, but they will also need above average performances from Millwood and Padilla.
The Rangers' offense is capable of picking up the pitchers some of the time, but it's time for the Rangers' pitching staff to start returning the favor if they want to have any hope in the AL West.