SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Lance Lynn and Mike Minor won a combined 30 games last season, and now the Rangers have added two-time Cy Young Award-winner Corey Kluber to the mix.
The Rangers have reason to feel good about the top end of their rotation, but it is the back side -- Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles -- who could determine how good the Rangers will be this season.
“It’s kind of the difference maker when you look at the end of the year, what our win-loss record is,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Those top three guys will give us a chance to win every game even against the best. But I think the thing that sets you apart is when your four and five starters are as good as ours are, you have a much better chance to win 40 percent of your games.”
The Rangers' back end was almost non-existent last season. After Minor and Lynn, starters went 15-39 with a 7.22 ERA over 97 starts. Ariel Jurado (5-9, 6.68 ERA as a starter), Kolby Allard (4-2, 4.96) and Adrian Sampson (3-7, 6.41) were the only other pitchers who had more than one win as a starter.
The Rangers haven’t had more than three starters win at least 10 games since C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando did so in 2011. Rangers starters that season won 74 games and 72 in 2012. Over the last seven years, Rangers starters have combined for 362 wins, or 51.7 per season. That ranks them seventh in the American League over that stretch.
The Rangers are putting a lot of faith in Gibson and Lyles keeping the back end from crumbling this season.
“I am in line with that 100 percent,” Lyles said. “We got some horses up there at the front. Being at the back end of those three, I think we are in a good place, maybe give a little more security than they had there previously.”
Both have had mixed success in the big leagues. The Rangers look beyond the track record.
“We identified them early in the offseason as guys who could potentially do better than they have,” Woodward said. “It’s really hard to have four and five guys who are better than those two. If these five guys can stay healthy for the most part all year, we’re going to be in really good shape. A lot of it depends on those four and five guys.”
Gibson, who pitched two scoreless innings in a 3-2 win over the Indians on Monday, was a solid back-end starter for the Twins in 2018, going 10-13 with a 1.30 WHIP and career-best 3.62 ERA. His 196 innings pitched were also a career-high.
But his battle with ulcerative colitis last season kept him from building on that. Gibson said 2018 might have been the best year of his career, but he wants to be better than that.
“I’m not chasing after that guy,” Gibson said. “I’m trying to be the best version of myself that I can be. I want to be better than 2018. There are things that I can improve upon, whether it’s consistency, or getting ahead of more hitters, or not walking as many guys. There is always stuff I can work on."
With Lyles, it comes back to his 11 starts with the Brewers last season. Lyles was 7-1 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP after being acquired by the Pirates on July 29. That’s far above his career record of 43-60, a 5.11 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. The difference was emphasizing the high fastball over the sinker, and pairing it with a curve ball down in the zone.
“He came over, he was comfortable with us,” Brewers general manager David Stearns said. “He was on the same page with our catchers. He tweaked his usage a little bit and how he approached hitters, but at the end of the day he executed like crazy. That’s something that throughout Jordan’s career he hasn’t done as consistently as he would like to. But we had a two-month stretch with him that was as good as any pitcher in baseball.”
The Rangers will take that. Right now, they are just hoping for a back end of a rotation that stays intact.
Lyles will start against the Giants at 2:05 p.m. CT Tuesday in Scottsdale. This will be Lyles' first start of the spring, and he is hoping to throw three innings. His primary mission is to work on his fastball command.