If there is one thing I wish could happen this season, it would be this: for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers to play in the same league this season so that Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton could battle for the MVP award all summer long.
Kemp started the season on fire and has the Dodgers atop the NL West with the best record in baseball, and Josh Hamilton had a run-of-the-mill nine home run week and is on pace for something like 200 RBI.
While it seems that both Los Angeles and Texas could run away with their respective divisions based solely on their fantastic sluggers, both Kemp and Hamilton have aces on their team that give stability to the rotations.
If you think about the really good teams in the league, nearly every one has a top-tier hitter and a Cy Young-caliber pitcher to boot. On the Dodgers, that pitcher is 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The Rangers feature Yu Darvish, who is technically still a rookie but is definitely close to becoming a front-line starter in the big leagues.
The combos of Kershaw/Kemp and Darvish/Hamilton are the top two pitcher/hitter combinations in the league.
When you alter the question to “Which pitcher/hitter combination would you like to build around from this point forward?” I’d still have to say those two are at the top of my list. To make the argument though, here are the next eight pitcher/hitter combinations I’d like to build a major league franchise around.
10. Cincinnati Reds – Johnny Cueto/Joey Votto
This list starts in the NL Central and is based largely around one of the hitters that scares me, a Brewers fan, the most.
Votto will be with the Reds for a long time, having signed a 10-year, $225 million dollar deal. He is already 28 years old, but having watched him play enough I see no reason why he couldn’t keep hitting for average and power for years to come.
Cueto, on the other hand, has not been an ace for too long, but he is sporting a 1.12 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP to start the season.
9. San Francisco Giants – Tim Lincecum/Buster Posey
Lincecum is undoubtedly a fantastic pitcher, having won a pair of Cy Young awards (and he is a great deadpan artist as well), but it seems like the Freaky Franchise has lost something off his stuff this year with a 5.89 ERA. Still, he’s got great velocity and is a fantastic strikeout pitcher who could very well be just that for years to come.
Posey has already taken a career’s worth of beating playing catcher, but the 2010 Rookie of the Year is hitting well over .300 this season, to the surprise of very few.
8. Atlanta Braves – Brandon Beachy/Jason Heyward
The Braves are amongst the leaders in a tough NL East thanks in large part to Beachy and the pitching staff, but Heyward is one of those players that has all of the ability and potential in the world.
At 6-5, 240 pounds and only 22 years old, Heyward has struggled through some injuries but still has the raw ability to be a multiple-time MVP award winner.
Brandon Beachy has a 1.60 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP through seven starts in the early season, and is just 25 years old himself.
7. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of these Fifty Nifty United States – Jered Weaver/Mike Trout
Weaver is having a fantastic season (with a rough outing Sunday night, but still), including a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins, who surprisingly qualify as a major league team this season. He is already 29, but is undoubtedly a front-line pitcher in the bigs.
Trout, on the other hand, is just 20 and finally starting up to live up to all the hype that accompanied his call-up to the majors. He has 11 hits in his past 8 games, which only scratches the surface of his potential but starts to show that it is in fact more than just potential.
6. Tampa Bay Rays – David Price/Evan Longoria
I could have probably swapped in Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings for either of these two, which does mean the Rays are in a great place for the future. But if I could only pick two, I would go with the more-established Price and Longoria.
Price has a career 3.35 ERA and is besting that so far this season with a sub-3 ERA. Longoria, while hurt, is still a complete hitter with two Gold Gloves to his name as well.
5. Milwaukee Brewers – Zack Greinke/Ryan Braun
Greinke, 28, is thriving with the Brewers, much like he did with the Kansas City Royals, going 16-6 in his first season in Milwaukee. He has become the ace that Milwaukee has needed to be competitive in the NL.
Braun, whether you believe he is innocent or not, can undoubtedly rake, winning the 2011 NL MVP in the process. The Brewers already have the career .312 hitter locked up long term, and could do the same with Greinke soon.
4. Washington Nationals – Stephen Strasburg/Bryce Harper
This ranking here is based almost entirely on what could be. Neither player has been in the big leagues for long enough to see what they could really be.
Strasburg has a 9-4 career record with an impressive 167 strikeouts in 136 innings. Bryce Harper is only 19 and has been in the majors for all of 10 minutes, so it doesn’t make sense to even mention his statistics yet. If he can live up to even half the hype surrounding him, the Nationals will be something special for the next decade-plus.
3. Detroit Tigers – Justin Verlander/Miguel Cabrera
You could easily make the argument that the Tigers have the best pitcher and player in the league right now.
Verlander, who won both the MVP and Cy Young awards in the AL in 2011, has a fantastic 0.87 WHIP to go with his 4-1 record. The biggest question here is whether Verlander, 29, can keep up the velocity that has made him the power pitcher he is over the past few years.
Cabrera has a phenomenal combination of power and average, and while he is 29 as well, there has been nothing to suggest that he couldn’t keep up that ability for years to come.
2. Texas Rangers – Yu Darvish/Josh Hamilton
This ranking may be artificially increased by Hamilton’s super-human week, but the man is a freak of nature. He has a combination of power, speed and average that is superior to anyone else in the league.
What Hamilton has shown over the past few weeks has made everyone a believer in his ability and even though he is already 30, Hamilton only has 620 games of wear and tear on his body.
What Darvish can be is still largely unknown, but I would take that question mark knowing I have four or five chances every game for Hamilton to hit one out.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw/Matt Kemp
The Dodgers have the best combination of established talent and youth of anyone in the league, in my opinion.
Matt Kemp has emerged as a superstar with not only power but also speed, and he showed last year that he has the rare ability to be a 40-40 player.
Kershaw is only 24, and won the pitching Triple Crown and the Cy Young last year. And again, he’s only 24! He might not have even hit is prime yet.
Kemp and Kershaw should be able to showcase their abilities in the playoffs again this season, no thanks to the rest of their supporting cast.
Time for you to chime in:
Take to the comment section to voice your agreement or disagreement with any of the choices above.