The Texas Rangers pitching staff has burst out of the gates here in 2013. Prior to Sunday’s victory over the Mariners, they ranked third in MLB in team ERA, sixth in strikeouts and were tied for most shutouts.
With the offense sputtering the first couple weeks, they've needed every bit of it.
The Rangers have ascended to the top of the division thanks almost entirely to the players in their rotation and bullpen.
The front office made pitching a priority years ago and it appears they are reaping the benefits early on the season.
But can they keep it up?
Despite Matt Harrison's injury, there are still plenty of positives at this point. The pitchers are excelling in three areas that indicate their success can continue.
Lots of Strikeouts
Strikeouts make things easier on everybody, and as mentioned earlier, the pitchers are collecting a healthy amount of them on a nightly basis.
Yu Darvish leads the pack with an outstanding 12.8 SO/9. In the bullpen, Joe Nathan has seven strikeouts in just over six innings of work.
While the competition hasn’t presented a huge challenge—Houston and Seattle will probably strikeout a lot this year—these are still big league hitters who are capable of putting the ball in play and capitalizing on pitcher’s mistakes.
When opposing batters step to the plate, the Rangers are forcing them to take the bat off their shoulders. They have issued just 45 free passes in 2013—seventh fewest in the league.
Walks are an excellent way to get a pitcher in trouble. They drive pitch counts up, force them to work from the stretch and increase the chances that the other team will score a run.
So far, the Rangers have minimized this issue by pounding the strike zone and forced hitters to earn their way on base with a hit.
Low Opponents Batting Average
Speaking of hits, opposing batters aren’t getting them frequently against the Rangers. The pitching staff is posting a .221 Opponents Batting Average—fourth best in baseball.
They have also done an excellent job keeping the ball away from the middle of the plate (only two teams had surrendered fewer home runs prior to Sunday).
It helps to have an excellent defense behind them, but give the staff credit for executing their pitches and putting hitters away when they’re ahead in the count.