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Each NL Team’s Most Dominant Pitching Duo Since 2000

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We recently took a look at the best starting pitching duos from the American League since the turn of the century. While there has been a ton of great talent in the AL, the National League has overall been the more pitching-dominant league. Every duo listed had at least one Cy Young candidate, and some had two pitchers finishing in the top three of voting.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, 2001

Johnson and Schilling are considered one of the best duos in MLB history. In 2001, they finished 1-2 in Cy Young voting, with Johnson taking home his third consecutive award. The Big Unit had arguably best the season of his Hall-of-Fame career, going 21-6 with a 2.49 ERA/2.13 FIP (188 ERA+), a 1.009 WHIP, and a whopping 372 strikeouts in 249.2 innings (13.4 K/9). Johnson led the majors in ERA, FIP, WHIP, strikeouts, and strikeouts per nine innings, while also allowing just 6.5 hits per nine. Schilling went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA/3.11 FIP (157 ERA+), a 1.075 WHIP, and 298 strikeouts in 256.2 innings pitched (10.3 K/9). Schilling led the NL in complete games, innings pitched, and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The dominance of these two didn’t stop in October. Schilling allowed just six runs in 48 innings, while Johnson allowed seven runs in 41.1 innings. Thanks in large part to them, the D-Backs won their first World Series, and Johnson and Schilling were named co-winners of the World Series MVP award.

Atlanta Braves: Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, 2002

2002 was the last year that Glavine, Maddux, and John Smoltz were all on the same roster. By this point, Smoltz was the team’s closer. While they weren’t as amazing as they were in the ’90s, Maddux and Glavine turned in strong years in their age-36 seasons. Maddux went 16-6 with a 2.62 ERA/3.43 FIP (159 ERA+), a 1.199 WHIP, and a solid 52.1-percent ground-ball rate in 199.1 innings. Glavine was an All-Star, going 18-11 with a 2.96 ERA/4.19 FIP (140 ERA+) and a 1.282 WHIP in 224.2 innings. The Braves were able to win 101 games thanks to their great pitching, but they fell in the NLDS to the eventual NL champion Giants.

Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, 2016

The Cubs entered 2016 as the heavy favorites to win the World Series, and they didn’t disappoint. They had an MLB-best plus-252 run differential and a sterling 3.15 team ERA. Hendricks had a career year, going 16-8 with an MLB-leading 2.13 ERA/3.20 FIP (196 ERA+, also best in the majors), a 0.979 WHIP, and a career-high 170 strikeouts in 190 innings (8.1 K/9). Surprisingly, Hendricks got left off the All-Star Game roster, but he finished third in Cy Young voting. Lester had arguably the best season of his illustrious career, going 19-5 with a career-low 2.44 ERA/3.41 FIP (171 ERA+), a 1.016 WHIP, and 197 strikeouts in 202.2 innings (8.7 K/9). Lester made his fourth All-Star Game and finished second in the Cy Young race.

On the backs of their fantastic pitching staff, the Cubs won 103 games and snapped their 108-year-long championship drought. Lester was the co-MVP of the NLCS, and Hendricks allowed just five runs in 25.1 playoff innings.

Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, 2012

The Reds were carried by their pitching staff in 2012, which had the second-best ERA in the NL at 3.34. The relatively young staff was led by Johnny Cueto, who went 19-9 with a strong 2.78 ERA/3.27 FIP (148 ERA+) and a 1.171 WHIP to go with 170 strikeouts in 217 innings (7.1 K/9). Cueto also finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race. Latos was strong in his first year in the Queen City, going 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA/3.85 FIP (118 ERA+), a 1.161 WHIP, and 185 strikeouts in 209.1 innings (8.0 K/9). The Reds managed to win the NL Central with a 97-65 and even took a 2-0 series lead against the Giants in the NLDS, but they lost the next three games to the eventual world champs.

Colorado Rockies: Kyle Freeland and German Marquez, 2018

The Rockies have never been known for their pitching, but Freeland and Marquez both turned in strong seasons in 2018. Freeland led the way, going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA/3.67 FIP (166 ERA+), a 1.245 WHIP, and 173 strikeouts in 202.1 innings (7.7 K/9). Freeland finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting and racked up an impressive 8.3 rWAR. Marquez meanwhile went 14-11 with a 3.77 ERA/3.40 FIP (125 ERA+), a 1.204 WHIP, and a franchise-record 230 strikeouts in 196 innings (10.6 K/9). Led by this duo, the Rockies won 91 games and defeat the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game before falling to the Brewers in the NLDS.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, 2015

The year that Kershaw and Greinke had in 2015 rivaled what Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale did in the 1960s. Greinke went 19-3 with an MLB-leading 1.66 ERA/2.76 FIP (222 ERA+, also best in baseball), a 0.844 WHIP, and 200 strikeouts in 222.2 innings (8.1 K/9). Greinke was selected to start the All-Star Game and from June 13 to July 26, he rattled off 45.2 consecutive scoreless innings.

Kershaw had another stellar season, going 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA/1.99 FIP (173 ERA+), a 0.881 WHIP, and a career-high 301 strikeouts in 232.2 innings (an NL-leading 11.6 K/9). Kershaw was also an All-Star and led the majors in innings pitched, strikeouts, FIP, complete games, and shutouts. The duo finished second and third in the Cy Young race, respectively, trailing Jake Arrieta. The Dodgers were able to win their third straight NL West title, but they fell to the eventual NL champion Mets in the NLDS.

Miami Marlins: Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett, 2005

The 2005 Marlins were pretty average across the board. They ranked eighth in runs scored and eighth in ERA and finished tied for third in the NL East with an 83-79 record. Willis was the team’s shining star, turning a career year. He went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA/2.99 FIP (152 ERA+), a 1.134 WHIP, and 170 strikeouts in 236.1 innings (6.5 K/9). The D-Train also twirled an MLB-leading seven complete games and five shutouts. He was an All-Star for the second time and finished second in Cy Young voting. Beckett was a strong second starter, going 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA/3.27 FIP (118 ERA+) and a 1.181 WHIP to go with 166 strikeouts in 178.2 innings (8.4 K/9). This would be the last year those two were together, as Beckett was traded to the Red Sox following the season.

Milwaukee Brewers: Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, 2021

This is the only duo on the NL list that is from the 2021 season. The Brewers won 95 games and took home the NL Central crown, but they wouldn’t have made it without Burnes and Woodruff‘s contributions. Burnes pitched to a 2.43 ERA/1.63 FIP (176 ERA+), a 0.940 WHIP, and 234 strikeouts in 167 innings (12.6 K/9). He led the majors in ERA, FIP, ERA+, K/9, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 1.63 FIP is the second-lowest mark in the live-ball era. Burnes made his first All-Star Game and is considered the favorite for the NL Cy Young award.

Woodruff was also an All-Star, finishing with a career-best 2.56 ERA/2.96 FIP (166 ERA+), a 0.965 WHIP, and 211 strikeouts in 179.1 innings (10.6 K/9). Woodruff finished fourth in MLB in ERA and will likely garner some Cy Young votes as well. Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s bats went silent in the NLDS and they were upset by the Braves.

New York Mets: Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, 2015

The Mets got what they were hoping for out of their young and talented pitchers in 2015. deGrom made his first All-Star Game, pitching to a 2.54 ERA/2.70 FIP (149 ERA+), a 0.979 WHIP, and 205 strikeouts in 191 innings (9.7 K/9). deGrom also finished seventh in the Cy Young race. Harvey meanwhile returned to form after missing the 2014 season due to Tommy John Surgery. He had a 2.71 ERA/3.05 FIP (140 ERA+), 1.019 WHIP, and 188 strikeouts in 189.1 innings (8.9 K/9). Thanks in large part to their pitching, the Mets won the NL East and made it all the way to the World Series before falling to the Royals.

Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, 2011

The Phillies’ pitching staff was projected to be dominant in 2011 and they came through on those expectations. They had the best ERA in MLB by a country mile at 3.02 and had five great starters with Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Vance Worley.

Halladay followed up his Cy Young season by going 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA/2.20 FIP (163 ERA+), a 1.040 WHIP, and 220 strikeouts in 233.2 innings (8.5 K/9). Doc led his league in FIP, ERA+, complete games, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season, finished second in Cy Young voting, and finished ninth in MVP voting.

After the bidding war for his services in the offseason, Lee returned to Philly and had the finest season of his career. He went 17-8 with a career-best 2.40 ERA/2.60 FIP (160 ERA+), a 1.027 WHIP, and a career-high 238 strikeouts in 232.2 innings (9.2 K/9) while also throwing an MLB-leading six shutouts. Lee was an All-Star and finished third in the Cy Young race. Yet despite all of this greatness and winning 102 games, the Phillies headed to the exits early, as they were upset by the eventual world champion Cardinals.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, 2015

It might be very hard to believe, but the Pittsburgh Pirates won 98 games just six years ago. Their pitching led the way, with their team ERA of 3.21 ranking second-best in the majors. In his age-24 season, Gerrit Cole had his first great season. He went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA/2.66 FIP (149 ERA+), a 1.091 WHIP, and 202 strikeouts in 208 innings (8.7 K/9). Cole made his first All-Star Game and finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting. Liriano made over 30 starts for the first time since 2010 and he turned in a solid 3.38 ERA/3.19 FIP (115 ERA+), a 1.205 WHIP, and a career-high 205 strikeouts in 186.2 innings (9.9 K/9). In the Wild Card Game against the Cubs though, Cole fell flat and the Pittsburgh bats were shut down by Jake Arrieta.

San Diego Padres: Jake Peavy and Chris Young, 2007

The Padres led the NL with a team ERA of 3.70 in 2007, but that number can mainly be attributed to their bullpen and the performances of Peavy and Young. Peavy was the best pitcher in baseball, going 19-6 with a 2.54 ERA/2.84 FIP (158 ERA+), a 1.061 WHIP, and 240 strikeouts in 223.1 innings (9.7 K/9). Peavy was an All-Star, won the pitching Triple Crown, and took home the NL Cy Young award. He also finished seventh in MVP voting. Meanwhile, the six-foot-ten-inch Young had the best season career too. Young had a 3.12 ERA/3.43 FIP (128 ERA+), a 1.098 WHIP, and 167 strikeouts in 173 innings (8.7 K/9). Young was also an All-Star and had the lowest hits-per-nine in MLB at 6.1. The Padres though saw their Wild Card lead slip away to the upstart Rockies and surrendered the playoff spot in game 163 in Denver.

San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, 2009

The year before the Giants began their even-year dynasty, the young duo of Lincecum and Cain were arguably the best 1-2 punch in baseball. Lincecum had a 2.48 ERA/2.34 FIP (171 ERA+), a 1.047 WHIP, and 261 strikeouts in 225.1 innings (10.4 K/9). He led the league in strikeouts, K/9, FIP, complete games, and shutouts. The Freak started the All-Star Game for the NL and took home his second consecutive Cy Young award. Meanwhile, Cain had his breakout season, pitching to a 2.89 ERA/3.89 FIP (147 ERA+), a 1.181 WHIP, and 171 strikeouts in 217.2 innings (7.1 K/9). Cain made his first All-Star Game and tied Lincecum for the league lead in complete games. After losing 90 games the year prior, the Giants improved to 88 wins in 2009, which served as a sign of things to come.

St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, 2009

After missing the postseason in consecutive seasons, the Cardinals bounced back to win the NL Central in 2009. They got a huge boost by having a healthy Chris Carpenter, who carved up the NL in his age-34 season after missing most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He went 17-4 with an NL-leading 2.24 ERA/2.78 FIP (182 ERA+, also best in the NL), a 1.007 WHIP, and 144 strikeouts in 192.2 innings (6.7 K/9). Carpenter finished second in Cy Young voting and was named the NL Comeback Player of the Year. Wainwright had his first great season, going 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA/3.11 FIP (155 ERA+), a 1.210 WHIP, and 212 strikeouts in an NL-leading 233 innings (8.2 K/9). Wainwright finished third in the Cy Young race behind Lincecum and Carpenter. The Cardinals were unable to keep the magic going in the playoffs though, and they were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS.

Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, 2017

Of all the years that Scherzer and Strasburg spent together, this was the season they were the most dominant. Scherzer won his second straight Cy Young award, registering a 2.51 ERA/2.90 FIP (178 ERA+), a 0.902 WHIP, and 266 strikeouts in 200.2 innings (12.0 K/9). He was an All-Star for the fifth consecutive season and led the NL in strikeouts, WHIP, and complete games.

Strasburg had the best season of his career, pitching to a 2.52 ERA/2.72 FIP (178 ERA+) with a 1.015 WHIP and 204 strikeouts in 175 innings (10.5 K/9). He was an All-Star and finished third in Cy Young balloting. While Strasburg dominated in the NLDS by not allowing an earned run in 14 innings, Scherzer faltered in the pivotal game 5 and the Nationals were sent packing by the Cubs after winning 97 games in the regular season.

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.