Texas Rangers Pitching Their Way to AL West Lead

Sid NoyceContributor IMay 7, 2009

SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 04:  Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood #33 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Kansas City Royals during the spring training game at Surprise Stadium on March 4, 2009 in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Ask any baseball fan to name two things about the Texas Rangers, you'll probably get these answers: an explosive offense backed up by horrible pitching. In past seasons, this combination has not led the team to anything higher than second place. This season appeared unlikely to be any different.

Key word being appeared.

As of May 7, the Rangers sit atop the AL West. While Texas has taken advantage of slow starts by the Angels and A's, a big reason for their early success has come by way of the pitching staff.

Aside from Vicente Padilla and Matt Harrison, the starting rotation has been consistent in giving the team an opportunity to win.

Kevin Millwood has been the star of the starters. His stat line reads: 3-2, 45.1 IP, 2.78 ERA, 25 K, 8 BB, and a 0.99 WHIP. Most impressive is that he is 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA at home, his lone loss being Zach Greinke's shutout (a game in which Millwood pitched a complete game and allowed only two runs).

Taking second place in the rotation is Brandon McCarthy, who has gone 3-0 in 27 innings with a 4.67 ERA. Traded in exchange for John Danks a few years ago, McCarthy is finally beginning to show fans the trade was no mistake.

Following those two are Vicente Padilla (biggest contribution: eating up innings), Scott Feldman (who has stepped in admirably in place of Kris Benson), and Matt Harrison (who has given up 19 runs in 26.2 innings).

Also surprising has been the success of the bullpen.

Frank Francisco was given the closer role and has shut down the competition. Through 14 innings, he's converted all nine of his save opportunities and has yet to allow a run. Some of the credit for that can also go to the starting rotation and the defense, but Francisco has still done a great job so far.

The other standout names have not been standouts this early in the season. CJ Wilson has done an average job so far (1-2, 12 IP, 5.25 ERA), but Eddie Guardado has an astronomical ERA of 10.13 in 10 appearances.

Three surprises have emerged in the bullpen from the struggles of the others.

Jason Jennings has apparently been reborn in his switch from starter to relief this year. After racking up an 8.56 ERA in six starts last year, Jennings has kept a stable ERA of 4.30 in 14.2 innings, along with 10 K and a 1.36 WHIP.

The other two surprises are newcomers to the Rangers this season: rookie Derek Holland and Darren O'Day. Holland has pitched 8.1 innings with a 2.16 ERA and O'Day has a line of 1-0, 5.2 IP, and a 1.59 ERA. Because of the lack of innings (especially in O'Day's case), it remains to be seen if these two will continue their success.

Should the pitching staff continue to produce these results, the Rangers have a serious chance to compete for the AL West title. The offense will always put up numbers; now can the pitchers do what previous Texas teams have failed to do?