Prince Fielder. Albert Pujols.
Two of baseball's best first basemen sit at the head of the free agent class heading into 2012—potentially leaving behind their current "Bash Brother" to go find a new home in a new lineup.
As for 2011, they are fighting each other for the NL Central crown—desperately seeking to bring a World Series championship back to their respective cities in what could be their encore with their teams.
The good thing is that they don't have to go at it alone—both having a partner in crime who can do sufficient damage to opposing pitchers in their own right.
There is nothing quite like a dominating one-two punch in the middle of your lineup to harass pitchers and drive in extra runs.
Here are the Seven Best Hitting Duos in the NL.
It may seem unfair to keep Ryan Howard out of the top three hitting duos in the NL, but with Chase Utley being out the entire season thus far it doesn't give Howard much help in front or behind him in the lineup.
The Howard and Utley duo is generally one of the best in baseball—so it only felt right to give Howard credit for still putting up decent numbers without any other big bats in the lineup.
In Utley's absence, Howard has put up nine home runs and 35 RBI to begin the 2011 season. Expect those numbers to increase at an accelerated rate if and when Utley returns.
We could have mixed in both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, but the now and the future of Braves baseball is through the bats of both Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward.
Uggla, a two-time All-Star, was acquired by the Braves from the Florida Marlins this past offseason. In five full seasons Uggla has averaged more than 30 homers per year—abnormal power from the second base position.
The Braves hope to pair his strong bat in the middle of the order with second-year slugger Jason Heyward.
Heyward—who made the All-Star team as a rookie last season—is slow out of the gate to start the 2011 season. Although his power numbers are up a bit his batting average has plummeted.
Either way, the Braves will have plenty of power heading into the future with an Uggla-Heyward duo in the heart of the order.
Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp help make up one of the better young outfields in all of baseball—and they certainly aren't too bad in the batters box, either.
Everyone knows of Ethier's 30-game hitting streak earlier this season. He has been locked in at the plate—on pace for another season of 40-plus doubles. His home run and RBI numbers are down, but his average is way up so the lack of RBI could be partly due to runners not getting on base ahead of him.
Kemp, on the other hand, may have finally put it all together. He has been hot out of the gate—finally realizing his potential across the board. At his current pace, he will break his career highs in every major statistical category.
If the Dodgers can afford to hang on to both Kemp and Ethier through their financial crisis, the two could become a dynamic duo for years to come.
Joey Votto is the reigning NL MVP and one of the best hitters in baseball. The presence of Brandon Phillips adds an extra element of fear into opposing pitchers.
Votto has increased his home run, walk and batting average totals in each of his three full seasons with the Reds. This season doesn't look like an exception, as Votto is off to another great start while putting up MVP numbers.
Phillips more than carries his weight in the batters box—averaging well over 20 homers per season since he was traded to the Reds from the Cleveland Indians before the 2006 season.
Other than the aforementioned Dan Uggla, Phillips may be the best-hitting second baseman playing today. In a contract year, Phillips is off to a fast start in 2011.
Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki have both received mammoth contract extensions that will keep the dangerous duo in the heart of the Rockies order long into the future.
Gonzalez burst onto the scene in 2010 with 30-plus home runs and doubles, 117 RBI and batting .336.
It happened to be his first full season in the league—and the Rockies didn't hesitate to lock him up long-term after an MVP caliber season.
Tulowitzki is among the best hitting and fielding shortstops in baseball (barring life being found within Hanley Ramirez). In his last three full seasons (not including his injury-riddled 2008 season), Tulo' has narrowly missed the 100 RBI mark while slugging 24-plus home runs.
He is on pace to crush those marks so far in the 2011 season.
Albert Pujols will be the most coveted free-agent in MLB history come the offseason—but at this point he is teaming up with Matt Holliday to form the second-best hitting duo in the NL.
There is not much to say about Pujols. He is clearly one of the best hitters to ever play the game. Now into his 30s, it'll be interesting to see how long Pujols can produce at his expected level now that we're in the post-steroid era.
He is slow to start out the season in 2011, but Albert will surely rebound in the second half.
Holliday—even though I think he is overrated—has always hit for a good average.
His power numbers took a sharp fall when he left Colorado, but he came back to hit 28 for the Cards last season. Although his power numbers are down again to start the season, he is among the tops in the NL with a .360 batting average.
No question about it.
Sorry Pujols, but Brauny has taken over as the best hitter in all of baseball. The guy hits to both sides of the field—and for power. He's had the same batting stance his whole life and really has no weakness at the plate.
Since coming into the league in 2007, Braun has averaged 32 home runs and more than 100 RBI. He looks to be a front-runner for the NL MVP in 2011.
Aside from Pujols, Prince will be the most sought after player in this years free-agent class. Fielder is arguably the biggest home run threat in baseball—averaging 40-plus long-balls over the past four seasons.
He was the youngest player to ever hit 50 homers in a season and he has finally learned to hit the ball to all sides of the field.
If you could build a team around any hitting duo in the NL, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are without a doubt the only choice.