Verlander, Cole and the best pitching duos in MLB history
Houston Astros aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole made history in 2019 by becoming just the second teammates to record 300+ strikeouts in the same season. The perennial All-Stars finished the regular season ranked first or second in the American League in wins, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP. If there’s any justice in the world, they'll also finish first and second in the AL Cy Young balloting.
As impressive as Verlander and Cole have been, they aren’t the first dynamic duo to take Major League Baseball by storm. Here are five more pitching tandems that made opposing players think twice about stepping into the batter’s box.
Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar (1970)The Orioles may resemble a Triple-A team now, but they were an elite club back in the 1970s, thanks to a lights-out rotation led by Cy Young winners Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer. Cuellar was at his best in 1970, when he led the league in wins (24) and complete games (21) and posted the best winning percentage (.750) in the AL.
Not to be outdone, Palmer recorded his first of eight 20-win seasons in 1970 and finished first in the AL in shutouts (five), innings pitched (305) and batters faced (1,257).
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine (1998)Unlike some of the tandems on our list, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine didn't possess overpowering stuff, but what they lacked in power they more than made up for in pinpoint control. Their mastery was at an all-time high in 1998, when Glavine went 20-6 with a 2.47 ERA and 157 strikeouts. The crafty southpaw won his second NL Cy Young Award, but Maddux gave him quite a run for his money by finishing first in ERA (2.22), shutouts (five) and WHIP (0.980). During their 10 seasons together in Atlanta, Maddux and Glavine finished in the top five in Cy Young voting 11 times.
Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling (2001)It wasn't uncommon for opposing players to suddenly come down with mysterious illnesses when the Diamondbacks came to town at the turn of the millennium. Broadcasters referred to it as "Randy Johnson-itis" and it afflicted lowly scrubs and MVP contenders alike. The Big Unit was especially scary in 2001, when he went 21-6 with a 2.49 ERA and led the league with a career-high 372 strikeouts. It remains the third highest single-season total in baseball's modern era.
Schilling wasn't half bad himself that season. The three-time World Series champion won a career-high 22 games and led the league in victories, games started (35), complete games (six), innings pitched (256 2/3) and batters faced (1,021). The D-backs were 55-15 when Johnson or Schilling started in 2001, and just 43-49 when another member of the team's rotation took the mound.
Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale (1965)National Leaguers had little more than a hope and a prayer when facing Dodgers hurlers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale during the 1965 season. The Left Arm of God redefined pitching excellence that summer by leading the league in 12 different categories, including wins (26), ERA (2.04), complete games (27), strikeouts (382) and WHIP (0.855). His 7.83 base runners per nine innings smashed the previous record owned by—you guessed it—Koufax.
Although Koufax was indisputably the best pitcher in baseball in 1965, Don Drysdale wasn’t far behind. The nine-time All-Star finished with a 23-12 record and 2.77 ERA and was first in the NL in games started (42). Both players placed in the top five in NL MVP balloting, as they powered L.A. to 97 wins and an NL pennant.
Mordecai Brown and Jack Pfiester (1906)Long before he was a throwaway joke on The Simpsons, Moredcai “Three Fingers” Brown was one of the most dominant pitchers in America. The digitally impaired Hall of Famer turned in one of his finest performances in 1906, when he went 26-6 with a 1.04 ERA and a league-leading 0.934 WHIP for the NL champion Chicago Cubs.
As if dealing with Brown wasn’t difficult enough, National Leaguers also had to face Jack Pfiester every time the Cubs came to town. The two-time World Series champ had a season to remember in 1906, as he finished with a 20-8 record and a minuscule 1.51 ERA.