Having a strong one-two punch in a starting rotation can be a formidable weapon for any club, but which 1-2 combinations are the best in baseball? We ranked the top 10 duos in MLB -- using a team's best two starters based on where they rank in terms of projected wins above replacement for the 2018 season (based on the Steamer projection system).
We added the ranking of each starting pitcher -- for example, Clayton Kershaw ranks No. 1 (5.8 projected WAR), and the next highest WAR projection on the Dodgers' starting staff belongs to Rich Hill (2.6), who ranks 41st among pitchers, so adding 1 and 41 creates an overall score of 42. The lower the overall score, the higher the duo ranks. To be clear: We ignored team depth charts, and instead took the two players with the best projections.
Here's a ranking of the top 10 starting duos in MLB:
1. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, Mets: 9
Limited to seven starts last season due to a torn right lat muscle, Syndergaard has a 1.38 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 13 Grapefruit League innings. The 25-year-old right-hander lit up the radar gun in his spring debut, throwing 11 of 22 pitches against the Astros on Feb. 26 that were clocked at 100 mph or higher. He then struck out seven straight Nationals in his third spring start, March 8. His projected WAR in 2018 is 5.5, third-best among MLB pitchers.
deGrom is projected to produce a 4.8 WAR in 2018. Following another strong campaign in 2017 (31 starts, 3.53 ERA, 10.7 K/9 innings), the 29-year-old right-hander dealt with back stiffness early this spring. He made his Grapefruit League debut last Sunday, giving up two runs but striking out four Astros over 2 2/3 innings, with his fastball hitting 96 mph. He followed that up with 5 scoreless innings and eight strikeouts vs. the Orioles on Saturday.
2. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: 12
With Scherzer coming off a second consecutive National League Cy Young Award, and Strasburg coming off his best season in the Majors, the Nationals look to the duo to lead the way in a quest to advance beyond the NL Division Series in 2018. Scherzer's projected WAR is a fifth-ranked 5.0. Strasburg's is 4.5.
Scherzer was never more dominant than he was last season, when he posted a 177 ERA+ and 12.0 K/9 innings. Strasburg was also overpowering, with a 2.52 ERA and 10.5 K/9 innings over 28 starts. In the NLDS vs. the Cubs, he tossed 14 scoreless frames, striking out 22 and walking only three.
3. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Indians: 16
Kluber, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, is projected to produce a second-ranked 5.7 WAR in 2018. The 31-year-old right-hander's 202 ERA+ was the best in baseball last season. He hasn't posted an ERA above 3.49 since 2013. So far this spring, Kluber has 19 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
Carrasco finished three spots behind Kluber in AL Cy Young voting, posting a 3.29 ERA and 10.2 K/9 over 200 innings. Over the last three seasons, he owns a 3.41 ERA and 10.1 K/9 innings. His projected WAR for 2018 is 3.9. He's also racking up the strikeouts in Grapefruit League play, with 16 over 10 innings so far.
T-4. Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana, Cubs: 29
Two of Chicago's newest starters -- Darvish and Quintana -- are projected to be their best in 2018.
Darvish, whom the Cubs signed to a six-year, $126 million deal in February, has been an All-Star in four of five Major League seasons, and has the highest K/9 innings rate (11.0) among all starting pitchers in MLB history with a minimum of 800 innings pitched. He is projected to produce a 3.9 WAR in 2018.
Quintana's projected WAR is 4.2. The 29-year-old left-hander had a 3.74 ERA in 14 starts for the Cubs following a cross-town trade from the White Sox last July. In six seasons, he owns a 3.53 ERA.
T-4. Chris Sale and David Price, Red Sox: 29
Early on last season, it looked as though Sale might finally win his first career Cy Young Award. Though he faltered some in the second half, he still finished with a 2.90 ERA and an MLB-leading 308 strikeouts. The lanky left-hander is projected to produce a fourth-ranked 5.4 WAR in 2018. He's given up a run over two starts (nine innings) this spring, with 12 strikeouts.
Price is projected at 3.4 WAR in 2018, after posting a 3.38 ERA in an injury-shortened 2017 campaign (74 2/3 innings). Given his elbow issues last season, Boston is bringing the former Cy Young Award winner along slowly this spring. In his Grapefruit League debut last Thursday, he tossed four scoreless frames vs. the Blue Jays, striking out four and walking one while allowing one hit.
6. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, D-backs: 30
Greinke bounced back from a rough 2016 campaign, posting a 3.20 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over 202 1/3 innings last season. His 2018 projected WAR is 4.2, though the 34-year-old right-hander's fastball velocity was down significantly in his Cactus League debut on Feb. 25, from 91 mph to around 84-86 mph. While the velocity was back up in his second start, he had to leave with a groin injury after the first inning.
Ray, meanwhile, is coming off a breakout season in which he was named an All-Star for the first time. He posted a 2.89 ERA and an NL-best 12.1 K/9 innings in 2017, and his projected WAR for 2018 is 3.8. If he can replicate his success from last season, and Greinke is his usual self, the D-backs could position themselves for back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 2001-02.
T-7. Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, Astros: 35
Verlander had a 1.06 ERA in five starts following a trade from the Tigers last August, and was named the AL Championship Series MVP with a dominating performance vs. the Yankees (0.56 ERA, 21 strikeouts and two walks in 16 innings). The veteran right-hander's projected WAR in 2018 is 3.8. So far this spring, he's picked up where he left off last October, striking out 21 over 15 Grapefruit League innings, with a 2.40 ERA.
Verlander's "co-ace" on the staff, Keuchel, is projected at 3.9 WAR. Keuchel looks to turn in his first fully-healthy season since 2015, when he won the AL Cy Young Award. Though he was limited to 23 starts in 2017, he bounced back from a difficult 2016 season with a 2.90 ERA.
T-7. Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: 35
Severino rode his blistering fastball and devastating slider to a breakout season in 2017, when the then-23-year-old finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting. In 31 starts, he posted a 2.98 ERA and 10.7 K/9 innings. The right-hander is projected for a 4.3 WAR in 2018. He gave up an unearned run and struck out three in 3 1/3 innings during his spring debut March 8.
Tanaka struggled early on last season, but began putting things together in the second half, particularly at home. The right-hander posted a 3.77 ERA after the All-Star break, including a 1.29 ERA at Yankee Stadium. He carried that over into the postseason, when he gave up only two runs over 20 innings (0.90 ERA). He's projected to end up with a 3.2 WAR in 2018.
9. Jacob Arrieta and Aaron Nola, Phillies: 41
When Philadelphia inked Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract last Monday, it lowered the Phils' starting pitcher duo score by 70 points ( Nick Pivetta ranks 96th with a projected WAR of 1.3). The addition of Arrieta places a former Cy Young Award winner atop a rotation that already included a rising star in Nola, whose projected WAR is a 15th-ranked 3.9. The 24-year-old right-hander posted a 3.54 ERA with 9.9 K/9 in 27 starts last season.
Arrieta turned in another solid season in 2017, posting a 3.53 ERA in 168 1/3 innings. But his ground ball rate (45 percent) was down, his HR/9 innings (1.2) was up significantly, and his 2.9 BB/9 innings remained high. His projected WAR for 2018 is 3.3.
10. Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, Dodgers: 42
Kershaw predictably has the highest projected WAR of any pitcher in the Majors for 2018, at 5.8. It's expected that the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner will put together another stellar season after a 2017 in which he led the league with a 2.31 ERA and 6.7 strikeouts per walk.
Hill had a solid season in 2017, with a 3.32 ERA over 25 starts, but that was a step back from his outstanding 2016, in which he posted a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts between the A's and Dodgers. For Los Angeles to reach the World Series again, it'll need Hill to be a strong No. 2 behind Kershaw. Hill's projected WAR this season is 2.6.
The next 5:
• Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, Cardinals
Martinez continued to demonstrate his durability and effectiveness as St. Louis' ace, posting a 3.64 ERA over 205 innings last year. Wacha had a 103 ERA+ in 30 starts, able to remain healthy after shoulder problems limited him to 27 appearances (24 starts) in '16.
• Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, Giants
If Bumgarner stays healthy and Samardzija's ERA comes down closer to his FIP last season (4.42 ERA, 3.61 FIP), the Giants should see much better results from their rotation.
• Chris Archer and Blake Snell, Rays
Though they will look a lot different in 2018, the Rays still have their ace in Archer, and the 25-year-old Snell -- a first round draft pick in 2011 -- has a 3.83 ERA in 43 career starts.
• Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon, Pirates
Nova posted a 104 ERA+ in 31 starts last season. Taillon, the second overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, overcame testicular cancer in 2017 and looks to replicate a rookie campaign in which he posted a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts.
• Garrett Richards and Shohei Ohtani, Angels
The key for the Angels' rotation will be health, and if they get a full season from Richards (3.42 ERA in 99 career starts), and Ohtani proves effective at the big league level, Los Angeles could be a team to reckon with.
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.