Ryan Dempster pitched well again on Wednesday night, further removing himself from the memories of his shaky arrival in Texas and renewing memories of why the team traded for him in the first place.
After a lot of talk about how Dempster would struggle switching leagues (and evidence that he was in fact struggling after switching leagues), Dempster's Rangers numbers now look exactly like the ones he put up in Chicago. Oh, the ERA is higher in Texas but, contrary to popular belief, that doesn't have everything to do with how well Dempster's pitching.
His fielding independent pitching (FIP) and expected FIP (xFIP) are almost identical to what he put up while he was with the Cubs. That means his results have been superficially worse because of issues that are largely outside of his control. Dempster's handled the transition just fine while the Rangers have had a little bit of a harder time with it, in other words.
That leads us to the question of who the Rangers should start in Game One of their first playoff series, assuming, of course, that their first playoff experience is an entire series and not the winner-take-all Wild Card showdown that the league has introduced this season. There are two non-Dempster candidates in Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison.
Since the question of who starts Game One is really about who starts a potential Game Five, there's a strong case to be made for Darvish. He's the Rangers pitcher most capable of shutting down the opposition with nothing more than his right arm and his pitching of late has shown he's started to figure out how to do exactly that on a regular basis.
The key word there is started, however. Darvish has had plenty of ups and downs during his rookie season and the playoffs are going to be a new experience where the margin for error shrinks down beyond anything he's seen to this point in his career. Dempster has experience in his favor, although that's not necessarily enough to overcome the fact that Darvish likely has superior talent.
For most of the season, you'd give Harrison the edge over the other two because he was the most consistent option. And also because Dempster wasn't here all year, but let's just focus on the task at hand.
The issue with Harrison is that he's looked like a pitcher with a serious deficit when it comes to what's left in his left arm and this week's meltdown at around 70 pitches did nothing to alleviate those fears. Can the Rangers really trust Harrison to pitch two good games in short order at this point in the year given his recent struggles and the way he totally ran out of gas in the playoffs last year?
If the game was being played today, we'd go with Darvish because the upside he brings to the table is much more intriguing than what Dempster and Harrison have going for them. With a few weeks left before any decision gets made, however, we'll be reserving our right to change our minds.