Recently, we looked at each team’s deadliest lineup trio since the turn of the century. Now, we are taking a look at the pitching side and dissecting each team’s best pitching rotation duo since 2000. Starting with the AL, some teams have been blessed with multiple Cy Young candidates on the same roster, while others have gotten by with unexpected pitchers stepping up.
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen, 2014
The Orioles haven’t had a true ace since Mike Mussina left, but Tillman and Chen were key to the team winning the AL East in 2014. Neither pitcher made the All-Star Game and they weren’t strikeout artists, but they chipped in ERAs of 3.34 and 3.54, respectively. Thanks to Tillman and Chen, the Orioles swept the Tigers in the ALDS before falling to the Royals in the ALCS.
Boston Red Sox: Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez, 2002
Lowe and Martinez both won 20 games in 2002, but they had completely different styles of pitching. Lowe had a 2.58 ERA/3.34 FIP (177 ERA+) and a 0.974 WHIP but only had 127 strikeouts in 219.2 innings (5.2 K/9). The fireballing Martinez meanwhile pitched to a league-leading 2.26 ERA/2.24 FIP (202 ERA+) and a 0.923 WHIP with 239 strikeouts in 199.1 innings (10.8 K/9). Martinez and Lowe finished second and third respectively in the AL Cy Young race. Outside of these two though, the Red Sox had very little starting pitching depth. As a result, Boston missed out on the playoffs despite winning 93 games.
Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon and Lance Lynn, 2021
This is the lone AL duo from the current season. Rodon and Lynn both missed time due to injuries, but they were electric when healthy. Lynn pitched to a 2.69 ERA/3.32 FIP (161 ERA+) with 176 strikeouts in 157 innings (10.1 K/9). Rodon had a career year, boasting a sterling 2.37 ERA/2.65 FIP (183 ERA+) with 185 strikeouts in 132.2 innings (12.6 K/9). On April 14, Rodon threw a no-hitter against the Indians. With the help from Lynn and Rodon, the White Sox won the AL Central for the first time since 2008. Unfortunately, they were sent packing by the Astros in the ALDS.
Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, 2017
The 2017 Indians were arguably the best team in baseball, winning 102 games including 22 in a row at one point. They sported a 3.30 team ERA, which was tops in the AL, and had a monstrous plus-254 run differential.
Kluber was the best pitcher in MLB. He went 18-4 with an MLB best 2.25 ERA/2.50 FIP (202 ERA+) with a 0.869 WHIP and 265 strikeouts in 203.2 innings (11.7 K/9). He won his second Cy Young award and finished seventh in AL MVP voting. Carrasco had the best season of his career, going 18-6 with a 3.29 ERA/3.10 FIP (139 ERA+), a 1.095 WHIP, and 226 strikeouts in 200 innings (10.2 K/9). He finished fourth in Cy Young voting. Unceremoniously though, Cleveland was upset by the Yankees in the ALDS after taking a 2-0 series lead.
Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, 2013
You could pick any season these two were together and you would get a great duo. You could also expand to this to include Anibal Sanchez, who was also dominant in 2013. Scherzer had his first great season, going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA/2.74 FIP (144 ERA+), a 0.970 WHIP, and 240 strikeouts in 214.1 innings (10.1 K/9). Scherzer started the All-Star Game and won his first Cy Young award. While Verlander got off to a slow start, he still made the All-Star Game and pitched to a 3.46 ERA/3.28 FIP (120 ERA+) with 217 strikeouts in 218.1 innings (8.9 K/9). The Tigers won the AL Central for the third consecutive season and beat the A’s in the ALDS before falling to the Red Sox in the ALCS.
Houston Astros: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, 2019
The Astros won a franchise-record 107 games in 2019, and Verlander and Cole terrorized opposing hitters all season. Verlander went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA/3.27 FIP (179 ERA+) with a career-high 300 strikeouts in an MLB-leading 223 innings (12.1 K/9). Cole had the best season of his career, going 20-5 with an AL-best 2.50 ERA/2.64 FIP (185 ERA+) and leading MLB with a whopping 326 strikeouts in 212.1 innings (13.8 K/9). Verlander ended up narrowly edging out Cole for the AL Cy Young. The Astros rode the magic to the World Series, where they fell to the Nationals.
Kansas City Royals: James Shields and Yordano Ventura, 2014
Kansas City hasn’t had a ton of great pitching other than Zack Greinke, and he never had a co-ace to go with him. The 2014 Royals are remembered for their amazing bullpen, but they had some solid starting pitching too. Shields pitched to a 3.21 ERA/3.59 FIP (123 ERA+) and a 1.181 WHIP with 180 strikeouts in 227 innings (7.1 K/9). Ventura was strong too with a 3.20 ERA/3.60 FIP (123 ERA+) and a 1.295 WHIP with 159 strikeouts in 183 innings (7.8 K/9). The Royals made a Cinderella run all the way to the World Series before falling to the Giants in seven games.
Los Angeles Angels: John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, 2007
The Angels only had a 4.23 team ERA in 2007, but Lackey and Escobar were both very strong. Lackey went 19-9 with an AL-leading 3.01 ERA/3.54 FIP (150 ERA+) with 179 strikeouts in 224 innings (7.2 K/9). Lackey made the All-Star Game and finished third in AL Cy Young voting. Escobar went 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA/3.39 FIP (133 ERA+) and 160 strikeouts in 195.2 innings (7.4 K/9). Thanks to this duo, the Angels won the AL West with 94 wins before losing to the Red Sox in the ALDS.
Minnesota Twins: Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano, 2006
Unfortunately, Liriano and Santana didn’t get to pitch together for a full season due to Liriano suffering an elbow injury. When they were healthy though, they were the best pitching duo in MLB. Santana went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA/3.04 FIP (162 ERA+), a 0.997 WHIP, and 245 strikeouts in 233.2 innings (9.4 K/9). Santana was an All-Star,, won the pitching Triple Crown, and took home his second Cy Young award.
Liriano began the season in the bullpen but ended up in the rotation early in the year. He went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA/2.55 FIP (208 ERA+), a 1.000 WHIP, and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings (10.7 K/9). Liriano made the All-Star Game and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He could’ve finished higher and had a shot for the Cy Young had it not been for his injuries. The Twins won the AL Central with a 96-66 record, but they were swept by the A’s in the ALDS.
New York Yankees: Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens, 2001
The Yankees have been a very offensive-minded club this century, but Mussina and Clemens were a formidable duo in 2001. In his first in pinstripes, Mussina went 17-11 with a 3.15 ERA/2.92 FIP (143 ERA+), a 1.067 WHIP, and 214 strikeouts in 228.2 innings (8.4 K/9). He led the AL in FIP and finished fifth in Cy Young voting. Clemens went 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA/3.29 FIP (128 ERA+), a 1.257 WHIP, and 213 strikeouts in 220.1 innings. Rocket was an All-Star and won his sixth Cy Young award. Both pitchers continued to pitch well in the postseason before the Yankees fell to the D-Backs in the World Series.
Oakland A’s: Barry Zito and Tim Hudson, 2002
The 2002 A’s are better known as the team from Moneyball. An aspect of the team they didn’t focus too much on in the movie is how dominant the A’s starting rotation was. Neither Zito nor Hudson were strikeout artists, but they found ways to keep runs off the board. Zito went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA/3.87 FIP (158 ERA+), a 1.134 WHIP, and 182 strikeouts in 229.1 innings (7.1 K/9). Zito made the All-Star Game and won the AL Cy Young award. Hudson went 15-9 with a 2.98 ERA/3.60 FIP, a 1.255 WHIP, and 152 strikeouts in 238.1 innings (5.7 K/9). Both pitchers played a big part in the A’s firing off a 20-game winning streak en route to a 103-win season. Unfortunately, they were bounced from the playoffs by the Twins in the ALDS.
Seattle Mariners: Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, 2013
The 2013 Mariners only went 71-91, but Iwakuma and Hernandez were two of the best starters in the AL. Iwakuma had a career year, finishing with a 2.66 ERA/3.44 FIP (138 ERA+), a 1.006 WHIP, and 185 strikeouts in 219.2 innings. Iwakuma made the All-Star Game and finished third in Cy Young voting. Hernandez had a typically strong season, pitching to a 3.04 ERA/2.61 FIP (121 ERA+) with a 1.131 WHIP and 216 strikeouts in 204.1 innings (9.5 K/9). King Felix was an All-Star for the third straight season and finished eighth in Cy Young voting.
Tampa Bay Rays: David Price and James Shields, 2012
The 2012 Rays paced the AL with a team ERA of 3.19. Price led the charge, going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA/3.05 FIP (150 ERA+), a 1.100 WHIP, and 205 strikeouts in 211 innings (8.7 K/9). Price made the All-Star Game, led the AL in ERA, and won the AL Cy Young award, narrowly beating out Justin Verlander. Shields was a workhorse as always, going 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA/3.47 FIP (109 ERA+), a 1.168 WHIP, and 223 strikeouts in 227.2 innings (8.8 K/9). Unfortunately, the Rays’ offense didn’t match the pitching’s performance and the team missed the playoffs by a few games.
Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, 2013
The Rangers haven’t had a ton of great starting pitching, but they had a strong rotation in 2013. Darvish was one of the best pitchers in baseball, pitching to a 2.83 ERA/3.28 FIP (145 ERA+) with a 1.073 WHIP and an MLB-leading 277 strikeouts in 209.2 innings (11.7 K/9, also tops in MLB). Darvish was an All-Star and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Holland had the best season of his career, turning in a 3.42 ERA/3.44 FIP (120 ERA+) with a 1.286 WHIP and 189 strikeouts in 213 innings (8.0 K/9). Despite their efforts, the Rangers failed to make the playoffs. They lost 16 of 21 in September and lost to the Rays in a game 163 for a Wild Card spot.
Toronto Blue Jays: Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, 2008
The 2008 Blue Jays led the AL in team ERA at 3.49, and they were once again led by Halladay and Burnett. Halladay went 20-11 with a 2.78 ERA/3.03 FIP (152 ERA+) with an MLB-best 1.053 WHIP and 206 strikeouts in an AL-leading 246 innings (7.5 K/9). Doc also led the AL with nine complete games, made the All-Star Game, and finished second in Cy Young voting. Burnett went 18-10 and while his 4.07 ERA may not look great, he had a solid 3.45 FIP and he led the AL with 231 strikeouts in 221.1 innings (9.4 K/9, also best in the AL). Despite their strong pitching though, the Jays missed the playoffs at 86-76.
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