At the 2007 trade deadline, the Rangers traded closer Eric Gagne to the Boston Red Sox. To fill his role, Texas went to their oft-called upon set up man from the previous year. C.J. Wilson believed he had the stuff to become a top of the line starting pitcher. But, in '07, he'd have to settle for the bullpen. In 2008, despite posting an ERA over six, Wilson converted 24 of 28 save opportunities. The next year, due to a shaky '08 campaign, the California native was shunted to the set-up role; Frank Francisco became the team's closer. Although he was pitching well, Wilson knew he was capable of more.
Last year, Texas made an improbable run to the World Series. A big reason why: C.J. Wilson emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in the American League. He went 15-8 with an impressive 3.35 ERA. The same man who fought dearly for a spot in the rotation during spring training ended up leading his team in both wins and ERA.
After the departure of ace Cliff Lee in free agency, it was clear that Wilson would be Texas' No. 1 coming into this year. The 30-year-old, who advocates a "straight edge" way of life, hasn't disappointed: 5-3, 3.32 ERA in 2011.
It worked once for the Rangers, so why not give it another shot? That's exactly what they did. As a reliever in 2010, Alexi Ogando went 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA. In spring training, Texas lost Tommy Hunter - their ALCS game 4 starter - to injury. In need of another starter, the Rangers looked to their impressive 27-year-old reliever. Thus far, it's hard not to say that Alexi Ogando has been the best starter for the AL West leaders. In 11 starts, Ogando is 6-0 with a 2.20 ERA.
Without Lee, Texas' pitching was expected to struggle this year. Early season injuries to outfielders Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz only increased the burden on this supposedly "weak" rotation. The Rangers' young staff has exceeded expectations, currently ranked tenth in team ERA and fourth in wins. All of Texas' starters have been impressive; but the best? Alexi Ogando: a converted reliever.
With Hamilton and Cruz back in the lineup, Texas is improving; winning their last four series and opening up a 2.5 game lead in the always tight AL West. This team will score enough runs, you can be sure of that. But, come October, the question will be whether or not the rotation is formidable enough to make another deep postseason run. The answer to that will fall largely on the shoulders of the two converted relievers: C.J. Wilson & Alexi Ogando.