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Rangers’ Top 5 lefty starters: Sullivan’s take

@Sullivan_Ranger
June 1, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is T.R. Sullivan’s ranking of the Top 5 left-handed starters in Rangers history. Next week: relievers.

Rangers' all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RH starters

1) C.J. Wilson, 2005-11
Key fact: Was the Rangers Pitcher of the Year in both 2010 and ’11, the two years they went to the World Series ... Over 67 starts, he was 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP

Wilson’s terrific body of work over the two American League pennant-winning seasons makes him the clear choice as the top lefty starter in Rangers history.

But many Rangers fans don’t remember him for that. They dwell on Wilson’s shortcomings in the postseason. So let’s review those starts:

• Game 2, 2010 AL Division Series: 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 6-0 victory over Rays.
• Game 1, 2010 AL Championship Series: He took a 5-1 lead into the eighth, then was pulled after allowing a single and a double as the Yankees rallied to a 6-5 victory.
• Game 5, 2010 ALCS: Five earned runs in five innings in a 7-2 loss. Not good.
• Game 2, 2010 World Series: He trailed 1-0 into the bottom of the seventh before being taken out after a leadoff walk. The Giants went on to a 9-0 victory.
• Game 1, 2011 ALDS: Eight runs, six earned, over five innings in a 9-0 loss. No excuses. Bad start.
• Game 1, 2011 ALCS: Two runs in 4 2/3 innings in the Rangers' 3-2 victory over the Tigers. This was the night that two rain delays and a tight strike zone led to short outings for both Wilson and Tigers starter Justin Verlander.
• Game 5, 2011 ALCS: This game was 2-2 into the sixth with Wilson and Verlander hooked up again. The Tigers scored four runs in the sixth, but only after Miguel Cabrera’s otherwise routine double-play grounder right at Adrián Beltré hit the third-base bag and went for a double, bringing home the first run. Not many people remember that play, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland, after a 7-5 win, said he was going to keep the base in his memorabilia room, “I promise you that.”
• Game 1, 2011 World Series: Three runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals. Not a great start, not bad either.
• Game 5, 2011 World Series: Two runs over 5 1/3 innings and left with the score tied at two. The Rangers went on to a 4-2 win.

The bottom line was there were two clunkers against the Yankees and the Rays, a couple of tough-luck starts against the Tigers and five good-to-excellent starts among the others. Wilson's walks -- 5.12 per nine innings -- were his biggest problem.

Cliff Lee and Colby Lewis have better postseason résumés from 2010-11. But Wilson is the No. 1 reason, at least on the pitching end, why the Rangers went to the postseason both years.

2) Cole Hamels, 2015-17
Key fact: Was an AL All-Star and the Rangers Pitcher of the Year in 2016

The Rangers were 50-52, in third place and seven games back in the AL West when they acquired Hamels from the Phillies at the 2015 Trade Deadline. The deal appeared to be more about the future than the present. But Hamels made it clear when coming to Texas that he believed the Rangers could still win the division.

He then went 7-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 12 starts. The Rangers went 10-2 in those and clinched the division on the last day of the regular season -- with Hamels throwing a complete game in a 9-2 win over the Angels.

3) Mike Minor, 2018-19
Key fact: Was an AL All-Star and edged out Lance Lynn for Rangers Pitcher of the Year in 2019

Minor has slightly better numbers than Hamels in a Rangers uniform, but in 28 fewer starts and 181 fewer innings. Minor has the edge in ERA (3.84 to 3.90), WHIP (1.19 to 1.28) and Fielding Independent Pitching (4.29 to 4.39). They both averaged 8.18 strikeouts per nine innings.

4) Kenny Rogers, 1989-95, 2000-02, '04-05
Key fact: Member of the Rangers Hall of Fame

Rogers broke in as a reliever in 1989. The Rangers thought about using him as a starter in '90, but they pulled the plug in April after just one start. Rogers got a real chance in '91, but this time lasted nine starts. He was 4-4 with a 7.53 ERA when the Rangers sent him back to the bullpen in June for the rest of the season.

Rogers spent all of 1992 in the bullpen, leading the AL with 81 appearances before the Rangers decided to give him one more chance to start in '93.

This time, he went 4-5 with a 6.57 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP in his first 12 starts and again the Rangers were running out of patience. Rogers was clearly one or two bad starts away from going back to the bullpen and -- who knows? -- it might have ended any chance of ever being a starter again.

But Rogers experienced a remarkable turnaround, going 11-5 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in his final 19 starts. His days as a reliever were over.

5) Jon Matlack, 1978-83
Key fact: Compiled a 2.27 ERA in 1978 that remains the lowest in club history (min. 200 innings pitched)

On Dec. 8, 1977, the Rangers were involved in a four-team, 12-player trade along with the Mets, Braves and Pirates. When they finally figured everything out, the Rangers acquired Matlack, outfielder Al Oliver and Minor League shortstop Nelson Norman.

Owner Brad Corbett drove the trade and the Rangers biggest loss was right-hander Bert Blyleven. They also gave up pitchers Tommy Boggs and Adrian Devine and outfielders Tom Grieve, Ken Henderson and Eddie Miller.

Matlack was a three-time All-Star while Blyleven was a year younger and had slightly better numbers. Little did anybody know Blyleven still had 15 more years left and would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Matlack was terrific in 1978, then he had some elbow problems and was done by '83.

Honorable mentions

Derek Holland had an excellent career before suffering many injuries.
Mike McCormick pitched for the Senators from 1965-67, then he was traded to the Giants and won the '67 National League Cy Young Award.
Rick Honeycutt led the AL with a 2.42 ERA in 1983 even though he was traded to the Dodgers on Aug. 19.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.