Just before MLB owners decided to lock the players out, there was a bit of a splurge in free agency spending that included a record-setting deal for Max Scherzer to join Jacob deGrom and the Mets. I mention both of those names because I believe they now form the best 1-2 rotation punch in all of baseball.
For the purposes of internet arguing, I have run through all 30 teams and compiled what I believe to be the top 10 1-2 rotation punches for the 2022 season (as rosters stand in the lockout). Let's check it out.
Shohei Ohtani and Noah Syndergaard, Angels - There's huge upside here, but Syndergaard has only thrown two innings since 2019 and Ohtani's two-way action limits his innings (he threw 130 1/3 innings last year).
Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright, Cardinals - If we were guaranteed to see 2019 Flaherty and the Wainwright from last season's last three months, they'd be way higher on the list. But Wainwright is going to be 40 next season and we need to see another full season from Flaherty.
Shane Bieber and ?, Guardians - Bieber is coming off a shoulder injury and that's always worrisome. And who is the two? Cal Quantrill? Zach Plesac? Aaron Civale? There are too many questions here to say they'll be a top-10 duo in 2022.
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11. Marlins: Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Rogers
Sandy Alcantara has made 40 starts in the last two seasons, pitching to a 3.16 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He struck out 201 in 205 2/3 innings last season. Heading to his age-26 season, he's a bona fide frontline starter. He'll pair nicely at the top with lefty Trevor Rogers, who had a 2.64 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 133 innings last year as a rookie.
10. Padres: Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish
We'll go with Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish here, but keep in mind Mike Clevinger will be back from Tommy John surgery and Blake Snell has won a Cy Young before. Musgrove was excellent last season, his first in San Diego, and Darvish looked like a Cy Young candidate through June before a rough second half. The bet is he's got something left in the tank.
9. Yankees: Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino
Behind Gerrit Cole it might be Jordan Montgomery, but we'll go with Luis Severino. Cole carries a ton of weight here on his own as an obvious top-three Cy Young contender. If Severino is finally healthy, he's a decent bet to pitch like a frontline starter, as he did in 2017 and 2018. He's still only 27.
8. Astros: Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers, Jr.
I originally only ranked 10 and didn't include this Astros duo, and it wasn't an oversight. Verlander's reported deal hadn't been made official before the lockout, which made me think maybe there was some issue that would cause it to fall through -- or at least linger until after the lockout. Instead, the deal was pushed through just a day after this article went live, so we'll loop this duo in now.
Verlander is certainly a question mark at his age (38) coming off Tommy John surgery, but I'm confident he has at least one more year of Vintage JV left in him. McCullers is 28 and coming off the best year of his career. He had the lowest hit and home run rates in the AL last season and pitched to a 3.16 ERA (136 ERA+).
These two could potentially be good enough to top the list. The concerns with Verlander coming off TJ and McCullers' forearm injury in October keep them right here, for now.
7. Phillies: Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola
Zack Wheeler is coming off an incredibly impressive season that could have won him the Cy Young. He played the role of both workhorse and run prevention ace. He does the heavy lifting here. Can Aaron Nola get back to 2018 form? The defense sure didn't help him last season (4.63 ERA compared to 3.37 FIP, for example), but he struck out 223 against 38 unintentional walks in 180 2/3 innings.
6. Blue Jays: José Berríos and Kevin Gausman
The Blue Jays lost the Cy Young winner to free agency and still end up here. José Berríos is a proven All-Star heading toward age 28 and will benefit with a full season in the Jays' pitching infrastructure that unlocked Ray's full potential. Are the gains Kevin Gausman made with the Giants sustainable? I believe so, which earns the Jays this lofty ranking.
5. Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale
There's a chance they'll be better than this. Nathan Eovaldi just finished fourth in Cy Young voting and Chris Sale should be unleashed again next season. If he returns to prime form and Eovaldi can stay off the injured list, watch out.
4. White Sox: Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito
Lance Lynn has finished fifth, sixth and third, respectively, in Cy Young voting the last three seasons. He heads to his age-35 season, but it says here he'll stave off Father Time for another few seasons. Lucas Giolito has been on the periphery of Cy Young contention the last three seasons and heading to his age-27 season it's possible there's another gear in there. He struggled with consistency in the first half last season, but had a 2.70 ERA in his last 14 starts.
3. Dodgers: Walker Buehler and Julio Urías
The Dodgers lost Max Scherzer to free agency, Dustin May is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and Clayton Kershaw remains a free agent. And yet, here they are. Walker Buehler has fully established himself as an ace as he moves toward his age-27 season. Did you know who led the majors in wins last year? Julio Urías. We all know by now that isn't a primary indicator of the best pitchers, but all his other numbers line up to say frontline starter as well.
2. Brewers: Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes
Freddy Peralta just struck out 195 with a 2.81 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 144 1/3 innings and he doesn't crack the top two. Brandon Woodruff finished fifth in Cy Young voting and he's the second-best pitcher on the team, behind Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes. It's quite a rotation for the Brewers, and they are right there for number one when we go with 1-2 punches.
1. Mets: Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer
This actually isn't a no-brainer. Jacob deGrom only managed 15 starts last year and Max Scherzer is 37. Of course, deGrom had a 1.08 ERA and 0.55(!) WHIP with 146 strikeouts against 11 walks in his 92 innings last year. Scherzer had a 1.98 ERA in his 11 starts with the Dodgers and led the majors, among qualifiers, with a 0.86 WHIP. Even better, both are the type of pitcher when taking the mound where everyone knows it's a must-watch game. While it might not be a sure thing, the best bet as to the top rotation tandem in baseball next season is with the Mets, Scherzer and deGrom.