Texas Rangers Opening Day Starters of Years Past
It's March, it's spring training and Opening Day is just a few sleeps away, so teams are naming their Opening Day starters.
For some teams there is no need to announce who will start Opening Day, such as the Yankees, as CC Sabathia will get the responsibility of the first start for the Yankees.
Some teams have an open competition in spring training, with no real sure-fire candidate to get the nod.
Still other teams assign the role around the time pitchers and catchers report, like the Rangers did with C.J. Wilson.
The Opening Day start is typically awarded to the pitcher with the best season in the previous season or the pitcher with the most skins on the wall.
For the Rangers in years past, to be named the Opening Day starter was usually a rather dubious honor because he would be matched up against a far superior opponent on the mound and was only given the ball on Opening Day for the lack of better options. This chasm of talent on the mound has closed greatly in the previous year or so for the Rangers.
With the naming of C.J. as the Opening Day starter, it got me thinking of who the previous starters were in years past. Was the Opening Day starter the "ace" at the end of the season too, or was someone else more deserving of that title?
That is what I'm chronicling for you here, but with a twist. I'm going to give you the previous five Opening Day starters, how they fared throughout the season, how the Rangers did that season and who was actually the "ace" of the staff in that given year.
2006: True Ace Kevin Millwood
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Fresh off signing a five-year pact with the Rangers in February 2006, Kevin Millwood was dubbed the "ace" and Opening Day starter of the Texas Rangers. Millwood provided the Rangers with 34 starts, compiling a 16-12 record.
The Buck Showalter-led Rangers, with the newly acquired Millwood at the helm, only mustered 80 wins, which was good enough for third in the AL West in 2006.
Vicente Padilla, who was also a first-year Ranger in 2006, was Millwood's lone competition for the "ace" title. Padilla and Millwood posted very similar numbers; however, Millwood edged him slightly in a few statistical categories. Millwood was the Rangers' ace from start to finish in 2006.
2007: True Ace Jamey Wright
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No, Jamey Wright was not the Opening Day starter in 2007. However, he was indeed the Rangers' best pitcher in 2007, which speaks volumes to how bad the state of the Rangers pitching staff actually was in 2007.
Jamey Wright only started nine games and worked out of the bullpen, logging 77 innings. The lowest ERA of the main five of the starting rotation was Brandon McCarthy at a sparkling 4.87 ERA.
Yes, you guessed it—the Rangers were bad, last place in the West bad, with a paltry 75 wins. This was a rough inaugural season for Ron Washington, who clearly had very little to work with.
Kevin Millwood again was given the honors on Opening Day, but he failed for the most part in 2007 with an ERA over five compiled in 31 starts.
2008: True Ace Vicente Padilla
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While Kevin Millwood again was given the ball to kick off the season, Vicente Padilla went on to have the better season of the two. Padilla led Rangers starters in wins (14), ERA (4.74) and strikeouts (127), and only Scott Feldman had a slightly better WHIP.
The "ace" needs to be a shutdown guy who is supposed to stop losing streaks. With Padilla doing his best imitation of an "ace," he fell short, and so did the Rangers in 2008 with a second-place finish in the AL West.
That second-place finish amounted to nothing though. The Rangers ended the season 21 games back of the Angels, who beat up on the rest of the lowly AL West en route to a 100-win season.
2009: True Ace Kevin Millwood
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The 2009 Rangers took a very large step from below average to above average. The Rangers finished in second again but only 10 games behind the Angels this season. Kevin Millwood was a big reason why the Rangers improved to respectability.
Millwood only won 13 games while Scott Feldman won 17, but the difference between them was the run support. Millwood routinely lost games when the Rangers' bats went silent.
You could certainly make a case for Feldman being the true ace of 2009, as he had the lowest WHIP of the starters. Millwood and Feldman were the key to the Rangers' success and the difference from years past.
Millwood posted a 3.67 ERA, which was one of the lowest in his 14-year career. He got the nod in game one from manager Ron Washington, and had the Rangers gotten into the playoffs in 2009, Millwood surely would have gotten the nod in game 163 too.
2010: True Ace C.J. Wilson
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After four straight seasons as the Opening Day starter, Kevin Millwood was salary dumped on the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason. Scott Feldman was rewarded for his 2009 season with a multi-year deal and by being named the 2010 Opening Day starter.
Feldman returned the favor by giving the Rangers 22 starts in which he posted the highest ERA among Rangers starters, Rich Harden notwithstanding.
C.J. Wilson led Rangers starters in wins (15), ERA (3.35) and innings pitched (204). Cliff Lee only gave the Rangers 15 starts of league-average pitching while he battled back pains. Colby Lewis, however, finished a very close second to C.J. last year with 196 strikeouts and the lowest WHIP among Rangers starters.
The Rangers made it to the postseason after an 11-year drought without getting much positive from their one-two punch at the top of the rotation (Feldman and Harden).
So who is going to step up in 2011? Will C.J. tank like Feldman after one successful season? Who will end up being the Rangers ace of 2011?