We recently revealed the most dominant bullpen duo from every AL team since the turn of the century. Turning our attention to the NL, every duo was on a competitive team. Some were able to lead their team to glory, while others fell short of October. Regardless of how far their team made it, they should be remembered for their greatness.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Jose Valverde and Matt Mantei, 2003
After two-straight division titles and a World Series ring, the D-Backs moved on from Byung-Hyun Kim as the closer in 2003. Valverde and Mantei both spent some time as the team’s closer throughout the year, and when they weren’t closing games, they were serving as the setup man. Valverde debuted in June and was very impressive, turning in a 2.15 ERA/2.91 FIP, a 0.993 WHIP, 10 saves, and 71 strikeouts in 50.1 innings (12.7 K/9). The veteran Mantei turned in his best season since 1999, pitching to a 2.68 ERA/3.07 FIP and a 1.000 WHIP with 29 saves and 68 strikeouts in 55 innings (11.1 K/9). The D-Backs took a step back though due to injuries and missed the playoffs with a middling 84-78 record.
Atlanta Braves: Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, 2011
You can pick almost any combination of Kimbrel and his setup man from his time in Atlanta, but Venters was the most dominant in the setup role. He pitched to a sparkling 1.84 ERA/2.78 FIP and a 1.091 WHIP while racking five saves and 98 strikeouts in 88 innings (9.8 K/9). Venters also made the NL All-Star Game for the only time in his career.
Kimbrel meanwhile assumed the closer’s role from Billy Wagner and did nothing but baffle hitters. Kimbrel registered a 2.10 ERA/1.52 FIP, a 1.039 WHIP, and a whopping 127 strikeouts in 77 innings (14.8 K/9). He also established a rookie record by locking down an NL-best 46 saves. Kimbrel made his first All-Star Game, unanimously won the NL Rookie of the Year award, finished ninth in Cy Young voting, and picked up some down-ballot MVP votes. Unfortunately, the Braves infamously collapsed in September and saw their 8.5-game Wild Card lead slip away to the eventual world champion Cardinals.
Chicago Cubs: Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood, 2008
The Cubs have had a few different duos who were great this century, but Marmol and Wood get the nod here. Marmol was known for having high walk rates, and 2008 was no exception, but he held opponents to just a .135 batting average. He had a 2.68 ERA/3.62 FIP, a 0.927 WHIP, and 114 strikeouts in 87.1 innings (11.7 K/9). Marmol also racked up seven saves and made the All-Star Game.
This was Wood’s first season as a closer after battling injuries from 2005-2007. He rewarded the Cubs with a 3.26 ERA/2.32 FIP, a 1.085 WHIP, and 84 strikeouts in 66.1 innings (11.4 K/9). Wood also only averaged 2.4 BB/9, which is way lower than his career average of 4.3. He racked up 34 saves and was an All-Star for the second time in his career. The Cubs won 97 games to take home the NL Central crown for the second straight year, but they were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Cincinnati Reds: Sean Marshall and Aroldis Chapman, 2012
As previously discussed, the 2012 Reds had a number of great arms, but none were better than the southpaw duo of Marshall and Chapman. In Marshall‘s first year in the Queen City, he posted a strong 2.51 ERA/2.24 FIP and a 1.164 WHIP with 74 strikeouts in 61 innings (10.9 K/9). He also recorded nine saves and only surrendered three homers.
The flamethrowing Chapman won the closer’s job in Spring Training and excelled in the role. He turned in a stellar 1.51 ERA/1.55 FIP and a 0.809 WHIP with a whopping 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings (15.3 K/9). Chapman also locked down 38 saves and struck out 44.2 percent of his opponents. He was an All-Star while finishing eighth in Cy Young voting and 12th in MVP voting.
Colorado Rockies: Manny Corpas and Brian Fuentes, 2007
The Rockies haven’t had many great closers in their team’s history, but they had two strong options in 2007. The right-handed Corpas had the best season of his career, pitching to a 2.08 ERA/3.60 FIP and a 1.064 WHIP with 58 strikeouts in 78 innings (6.7 K/9). Corpas also picked up 19 saves and had a pristine 57.1-percent ground-ball rate. The southpaw Fuentes had a 3.08 ERA/4.15 FIP, a 1.125 WHIP, and 56 strikeouts in 61.1 innings (8.3 K/9). Fuentes also recorded 20 saves and was an All-Star for the third straight season.
Thanks to this duo, the Rockies surged into the playoffs by winning 14 of their last 15 games, including a game 163 against the Padres. While Fuentes struggled in the playoffs, Corpas locked down five saves and only allowed one run in 10.1 innings. The Rockies won their first-ever NL pennant but were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen, 2017
The Dodgers were arguably the toughest team to decide on because of how many great arms they’ve had. In 2017 though, Morrow and Jansen were the best back end to a bullpen in MLB.
After pitching just 16 innings in 2016, Morrow flourished while pitching in high-leverage situations in 2017. He registered a 2.06 ERA/1.55 FIP, a 0.916 WHIP, and 50 strikeouts in 43.2 innings (10.3 K/9). Morrow also walked just nine batters and didn’t allow a single home run in the regular season.
Jansen meanwhile had the best season of his illustrious career, turning in a stellar 1.32 ERA/1.31 FIP, a 0.746 WHIP, and 109 strikeouts in 68.1 innings (14.4 K/9). Jansen also picked up an NL-leading 41 saves and walked just seven batters, giving him a ridiculous 15.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For the second straight year, Jansen was an All-Star and won the Trevor Hoffman award. He also finished fifth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting.
The Dodgers won 104 games and claimed their fifth straight NL West crown. Jansen and Morrow both helped the team make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1988, but they fell to the Astros in a classic seven-game series.
Miami Marlins: David Phelps and AJ Ramos, 2016
This is the only duo on either list whose team had a losing record. The Marlins were in the playoff race for most of the season but finished at 79-82 on the season. Part of their success was a result of Phelps and Ramos having career years while eating up most of the high-leverage innings.
This was Phelps’ first full season as a reliever, and his performance improved drastically. He turned in a 2.28 ERA/2.80 FIP, a 1.142 WHIP, and 114 strikeouts in 86.2 innings (11.8 K/9). Phelps also picked up four saves and saw his velocity increase significantly on all of his pitches. Ramos had some control issues which resulted in a 4.9 BB/9, but he still pitched to a 2.80 ERA/2.90 FIP and recorded 40 saves and 73 strikeouts in 64 innings (10.9 K/9). Ramos was an All-Star and finished fourth in the NL in saves.
Milwaukee Brewers: Devin Williams and Josh Hader, 2021
Williams proved that his dominance from the 60-game season wasn’t a fluke. He turned in a strong 2.50 ERA/2.82 FIP with a 1.185 WHIP and 87 strikeouts in 54 innings (14.5 K/9). Williams was particularly dominant in the month of August, securing three saves and not allowing a run in 14 innings.
Hader bounced back from a disappointing 2020 season with arguably the best season of his career. He recorded a microscopic 1.23 ERA/1.69 FIP and a 0.835 WHIP to go with 102 strikeouts in 58.1 innings (15.6 K/9). Hader also picked up 34 saves and struck out 45.5 percent of the batters he faced. He was an All-Star for the third time and also collected his third Trevor Hoffman award. Unfortunately for the Brewers, Williams fractured his hand at the end of September and their bats went silent in an NLDS defeat at the hands of the eventual World Series champion Braves.
New York Mets: Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, 2016
The Mets have had all sorts of problems with their bullpen this century, but it was one of the team’s strengths in 2016. Addison Reed was strong after the Mets acquired him in 2015 and he picked up right where he left in 2016. Serving as the team’s primary setup man, Reed turned in a sparkling 1.97 ERA/1.97 FIP and a 0.940 WHIP with a career-high 91 strikeouts in 77.2 innings (10.5 K/9). Reed also led the team with 80 appearances and only allowed four homers all season.
Familia backed up his spectacular 2015 season with another strong year. He pitched to a 2.55 ERA/2.30 FIP and a 1.210 WHIP and 84 strikeouts in 77.2 innings (9.7 K/9). Familia also led MLB with a franchise-record 51 saves and made his first All-Star Game. Just like Reed, Familia excelled at keeping the ball in the yard, only allowing one home run in the regular season. The Mets made it to the NL Wild Card Game, but they fell to the Giants.
Philadelphia Phillies: Chad Durbin and Brad Lidge, 2008
Similar to the Mets, the Phillies have had a pretty rough time with their bullpen this century, but they didn’t in 2008. They had a number of great arms to support their rotation and their high-scoring offense. Chad Durbin was the best of the team’s setup men, pitching to a 2.87 ERA/3.77 FIP and a 1.323 WHIP with 63 strikeouts in 87.2 innings (6.5 K/9).
Lidge bounced back from a couple of disappointing seasons with nothing short of a phenomenal year. He pitched to a 1.92 ERA/2.41 FIP and a 1.226 WHIP with 92 strikeouts in 69.1 innings (11.9 K/9). Lidge also went a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities and allowed just two homers. He was an All-Star, finished fourth in Cy Young voting, and finished eight in MVP voting. The Phillies won the NL East for the second straight year, and Lidge’s dominance didn’t stop in the regular season. He allowed just one run in 9.1 innings with 13 strikeouts while going 8-for-8 in save opportunities. Lidge also was on the mound in game 5 of the World Series to seal the Phillies’ first title since 1980.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, 2014
The Pirates were built around great pitching in the mid-2010s, having some of the best starters and relievers in the game. In 2014, Jason Grilli began the year as the closer, but struggled and was traded to the Angels. The rest of the team picked up the slack though, especially Watson and Melancon.
Watson had a career year, pitching to a 1.63 ERA/2.69 FIP and a 1.022 WHIP with 81 strikeouts in 77.1 innings (9.4 K/9). Watson also led the NL with 78 appearances and was named to the All-Star Game.
Melancon was snubbed from the All-Star Game despite turning his second great year in a row, with a 1.90 ERA/2.09 FIP, a 0.873 WHIP, and 71 strikeouts in 71 innings (9.0 K/9). Melancon also recorded 33 saves and only allowed two homers. The Pirates made it back to the postseason for the second consecutive season, but they were sent packing by the eventual World Series champion Giants in the Wild Card Game.
San Diego Padres: Cla Meredith and Trevor Hoffman, 2006
The Padres made the 2005 playoffs with an 82-80 record and were expected to improve upon that in 2006. Nobody could have predicted however that they would be helped by an unheralded rookie working as the setup man for future Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman.
Cla Meredith did nothing but baffle hitters after getting called up in the middle of the season. He began his Padres career with a franchise-record 33.2 consecutive scoreless innings, which at the time also set an MLB rookie record. The submariner finished the year with a minuscule 1.07 ERA/2.93 FIP, a 0.711 WHIP, and 37 strikeouts in 50.2 innings (6.6 K/9). Meredith also recorded a strong 68.6-percent ground-ball rate and had a 6.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Hoffman, steady as always, turned in another spectacular season. He had a 2.10 ERA/3.46 FIP, a 0.968 WHIP, and 50 strikeouts in 63 innings (7.1 K/9). Hoffman also paced the NL with 46 saves and held his opponents to just a .566 OPS. He was an All-Star while also finishing second in Cy Young voting and 10th in MVP voting. The Padres won the NL West for the second straight season, but they were upset by the Cardinals, who rode their momentum all the way to a championship.
San Francisco Giants: Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson, 2010
The Giants were blessed with a great pitching staff in 2010, pacing the NL with a 3.36 team ERA. Their back-end duo of Romo and Wilson was the best in baseball, stifling hitters with their different velocity levels and movement on their pitches.
Romo pitched to a 2.18 ERA/2.95 FIP and a 0.968 WHIP with 70 strikeouts in 62 innings (10.2 K/9). Wilson meanwhile was the best closer in MLB, turning in a 1.81 ERA/2.20 FIP and a 1.179 WHIP with 93 strikeouts in 74.2 innings (11.2 K/9). “The Beard” also led MLB with a career-high 48 saves and he only allowed three homers. Wilson was an All-Star and finished seventh in Cy Young voting and 13th in MVP voting.
Thanks in large part to their bullpen, the Giants rallied past the Padres to claim the NL West crown. Wilson’s dominance continued in the playoffs, pitching 11.2 scoreless innings while racking up six saves and 16 strikeouts. Wilson also secured the Giants’ first title since 1954 by striking out Nelson Cruz to end game 5.
St. Louis Cardinals: Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal, 2015
Siegrist bounced back from a rough 2014 by posting a 2.17 ERA/2.91 FIP and a 1.165 WHIP with 90 strikeouts in 74.2 innings (10.8 K/9). He also recorded six saves and appeared in an MLB-leading 81 games.
The fireballing Rosenthal meanwhile had the best season of his career, recording a 2.10 ERA/2.42 FIP and a 1.267 WHIP with 83 strikeouts in 68.2 innings (10.3 K/9). Rosenthal also recorded a franchise-record 48 saves, made the All-Star Game, and finished 17th in MVP voting. The Cardinals had the best record in baseball at 100-62, claiming their third straight NL Central title. In the playoffs though, they were upset by the Cubs in the NLDS.
Washington Nationals: Hector Carrasco and Chad Cordero, 2005
The Nationals’ bullpen has been the team’s weakness even when the team is successful, but they had a surprisingly great ‘pen during their inaugural season in DC.
The journeyman righty Carrasco had the best year of his career in his age-35 season. He recorded a 2.04 ERA/3.70 FIP and a 1.098 WHIP with 75 strikeouts in 88.1 innings (7.6 K/9). Cordero had one of the best reliever seasons in franchise history, posting a 1.82 ERA/3.72 FIP and a 0.969 WHIP with 61 strikeouts in 74.1 innings (7.4 K/9). Cordero also led the majors with a franchise-record 47 saves. He was an All-Star while finishing fifth in Cy Young voting and 13th in MVP voting. The Nationals though had the lowest-scoring offense in the NL and finished just 81-81 on the year.
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