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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 17, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Are Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma the best one-two starting combo in the majors? (with minor league report)

(Here is today’s Mariners minor league report)

(It appears that Danny Farquhar is coming up from Tacoma to fortify the Mariners’ bullpen after it was emptied last night in their 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium. Hat tip to Ryan Divish for first reporting the pending transaction. Hector Noesi will be the odd man out after going 4 1/3 solid innings in an emergency start against the Yankees. With six straight games, the M’s will need a fresh arm in the pen, so Noesi goes down. Lucas Luetge went down under similar circumstances earlier in the year. Farquhar, who came to Seattle in the Ichiro trade, is not on the 40-man roster, so a move will have to be made. This will not be his major-league debut — Farquhar pitched in three games for the Blue Jays in 2010).

The question in the headline is starting to be heard more and more. The numbers are undeniable: Hernandez is 5-2 with a 1.53 ERA in nine starts, with a 0.93 WHIP, a .215 opponents average, and a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 64-10. Iwakuma is 5-1 with a 1.84 ERA in nine starts, with a 0.78 WHIP, a .183 opponents average, and strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 55-8. (Above, Dan Plesac of MLB Network talks about Iwakuma on MLB Tonight, comparing him to Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling).

Pick the statistic, and Hernandez and Iwakuma most likely rank in the top 10 in the major leagues. To have two such pitchers on one staff is a tremendous asset for a Mariners’ club in search of a .500 record, and beyond that, contention. It makes you realize how close they would be if the other three pitchers performed even at a league-average level. But that’s a story for another day.

The question on the table now is whether Hernandez and Iwakuma are the best one-two punch, among starting pitchers, in the major leagues. And a strong case could certainly be made.

There are just nin other teams that have at least two starters (minimum seven starts) with an ERA under 3.00. So right away, we’re eliminating more than 65 percent of the league. The Tigers slipped off this list last night when Justin Verlander got lit up for eight earned runs in 2 1/3 innings, his ERA rising from 1.93 to 3.17. Here are the pairings (or more):

Diamondbacks

Pat Corbin: 6-0, 1.52
Trevor Cahill: 2-4, 2.70

Red Sox

Clay Buchholz 6-0, 1.69
Jon Lester, 6-0, 2.72

Cubs

Travis Wood 4-2, 2.03
Scott Feldman 3-3, 2.53

White Sox

Chris Sale 4-2, 2.88
Jake Peavy 5-1, 2.96

Rangers

Yu Darvish 7-1, 2.97
Derek Holland 3-2, 2.93

Nationals

Jordan Zimmerman 7-1, 1.69
Ross Detwiler 2-4, 2.76
Stephen Strasburg 2-5, 2.83

Royals

James Shields 2-3, 2.48
Ervin Santana 3-2, 2.79
Jeremy Guthrie 5-1, 2.82

Phillies

Kyle Kendrick 4-1, 2.47
Cliff Lee 4-2, 2.86

Cardinals

Adam Wainwright 5-3, 2.51
Jaime Garcia 4-2, 2.88
Lance Lynn 6-1, 2.88

(Note: Jake Westbrook is 2-1, 1.62 in six starts)

There are other combos of high repute — CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels (or Cliff Lee), Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner (or Tim Lincecum), R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson, Verlander and Anibal Sanchez — but they haven’t performed up to the level of Hernandez and Iwakuma. Certainly, the Cardinals, Royals and Nationals have had more quality depth in their rotation, but as far as a one-two punch at the top, their pitchers haven’t matched the Mariner pair. It’s hard to argue with the 12-0 record from Lester and Buccholz, but we learned from Hernandez in 2010 that win-loss records can be overrated. I’d still take the Mariners’ guys.

The one duo to watch belongs to the Dodgers, with Clayton Kershaw (4-2, 1.40) and Zack Greinke (2-0, 1.62). But thanks to Carlos Quentin, Greinke has made just three starts. Right now, the Mariners duo stands at the top.

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