Dynamic 3-4 duos abound around big leagues
Pujols-Hunter, Fielder-Cabrera latest in long list of power combos
By John Schlegel / MLB.com | 02/01/12 11:25 AM EST
The conversation about the greatest 3-4 combinations in baseball history begins with Ruth-Gehrig, whose uniform numbers, one-name notoriety and Hall of Fame credentials tell you why.
In more recent years, there have been some venerable combos, like Barry Bonds-Jeff Kent and Manny Ramirez-David Ortiz, and there remain many solid power duos taking up the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in lineups throughout the Majors today.
But the 3-4 conversation has changed a bit this offseason.
No longer will Braun-Fielder be a hyphenated word in these discussions. Pujols-Holliday didn't last very long, and the Tigers came up with a pretty solid Plan B for losing half their 3-4 combo to injury this winter.
With the pieces seemingly in place now, here's a glance at some of the best 3-4 combos in the game heading into 2012:
It's hard not to put Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder right at the top of the list before they have even played their first game together, because their potential together is so spectacular.
The Tigers already had a great combo with Cabrera and Victor Martinez, but the blockbuster Fielder acquisition takes it up a notch. Fielder was already part of one of the game's best while teaming with reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Ryan Braun in Milwaukee, and he's on to another good thing in Detroit -- on paper, at least.
Of course, that new combo under the halo has some pop to it as well. Albert Pujols-Torii Hunter combines the best hitter of his generation with an All-Star who has put up 20-plus homers in 10 of the past 11 seasons.
Another boffo offseason move altered a 3-4 combo, albeit indirectly. With Jose Reyes installed at the top of the Marlins' lineup, Hanley Ramirez-Mike Stanton hope to have more opportunities to knock in runs and, in Stanton's case, knock baseballs to the moon. Heading into only his second full season in the Majors, Stanton is emerging as one of the game's must-see power hitters behind the star Ramirez, who will be shifting to third base.
The American League East's beasts have the middle of the order covered with veteran hitters who have a powerful list of accomplishments. Mark Teixeira-Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees stands out as having perhaps the game's best switch-hitter and the active leader in career homers, although a rebound year for A-Rod is in order.
In Boston, the Adrian Gonzalez-Kevin Youkilis combo is only one year in, but it has great potential. While Gonzalez delivered as advertised in his first season after being traded from the Padres, Youkilis has a two-year downturn to rebound from in the final year of his contract with the Sox.
And in the category of young duos taking over where Braun-Fielder left off, Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez-Troy Tulowitzki emerged the last few years as an up-and-coming combo. CarGo experienced a dip from his 2010 MVP Award-caliber season, but he still came close to matching Tulo's 30-homer, 100-RBI effort.
The current combo with the most quality miles together is Philadelphia's Chase Utley-Ryan Howard, but they're on the mend. Utley lost much of last season to chronic knee pain, and Howard will be on the shelf at least into May with the Achilles tendon injury he suffered in the Phillies' postseason finale. When on their games and healthy, Utley-Howard has been hard to top.
The Rangers, meanwhile, had an unorthodox 3-4 combo most of last season and into the playoffs, with Josh Hamilton-Michael Young, the latter of whom delivered just 11 homers -- but also more than 200 hits and 100 RBIs -- in the cleanup spot. But Young shared that spot for half the season, so Hamilton-Adrian Beltre might be considered one of the stronger combos around, too.
ON THE RISE
As seen in Pujols' career, if you have an MVP Award candidate as half of a combo, you have a good combo.
In Toronto, Jose Bautista-Adam Lind isn't a one-man show by any means, but it doesn't hurt that Bautista is hitting the last couple of years like he's a Triple Crown winner waiting to happen. Ditto in L.A., where Andre Ethier-Matt Kemp has been a buzz combo for a few years now. But while Kemp's star rose high in the sky last year, Ethier has seen his numbers dip each season since his career year in 2009.
And in Cincinnati, Joey Votto-Jay Bruce really began to mesh as a formidable duo in 2011. They actually came the closest to any of these current 3-4 combos to hitting for 30-100 last year, falling one Votto homer and three Bruce RBIs short.
Then there was Braun-Fielder both crashing that barrier for the third time in the past four years. Meanwhile, the top power duo in the game was the 2-3 combo of Curtis Granderson and Teixeira, who combined for 80 homers and 230 RBIs.
Every team has a 3-4 duo, and perhaps 2012 will bring others into the discussion. Maybe Ryan Zimmerman-Jayson Werth will get something going in Washington. Maybe Minnesota's Joe Mauer-Justin Morneau will get back on track, together. Maybe a new combo will emerge for us to admire, or one we've known will take it to the next level.
For now, there are plenty of 3-4 duos to keep pitchers on their toes and put their teams in position to make noise offensively.