Ranking the 10 Most Iconic MLB Starting Lineups of the Last Decade

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 16, 2020

Ranking the 10 Most Iconic MLB Starting Lineups of the Last Decade

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    Does it get any better than the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays and their unstoppable trio?
    Does it get any better than the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays and their unstoppable trio?Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Did the last decade of Major League Baseball have an answer to the 1927 New York Yankees?

    That's more or less the question we sought to answer as we tried to pick out the 10 most iconic starting lineups of the 2010s.

    Basically, we went looking for starting nines (or eights for National League clubs) that were laden with stars and ultimately productive enough so as to be memorable for a long time.

    We limited ourselves to one representative per team, and we considered both regular-season and postseason numbers. Offensive figures mattered most of all, but we gave standout defense its due credit when appropriate. 

    Let's begin with some honorable mentions and then count down to the best of the best.

Honorable Mentions

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 Cincinnati Reds

    Back in 2010, the Cincinnati Reds were an offensive juggernaut anchored by MVP Joey Votto and fellow stars Scott Rolen, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. It's too bad they crashed and burned in the National League Division Series, wherein they hit just .124 in a three-game sweep by the Philadelphia Phillies.

          

    2010 Philadelphia Phillies

    Speaking of said Phillies, their lineup was still led by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino in 2010. But on the whole, they weren't as dominant as they had been in 2009, in which the club played in its second straight World Series.

         

    2011 Milwaukee Brewers

    The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers didn't necessarily have a great offense, but they did have one heck of an offensive quarter. That year, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks accounted for a .922 OPS, 117 home runs and 50 stolen bases.

         

    2014 Pittsburgh Pirates

    The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates' lineup is one for the "Better Than You Remember" file. Andrew McCutchen was their big star, and he was supported by Starling Marte, Russell Martin, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison. Unfortunately, they put up a goose egg against Madison Bumgarner in the NL Wild Card Game.

          

    2018 Oakland Athletics

    The Oakland Athletics posted the league's highest OPS in the second half of 2018. That was the result of Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, Stephen Piscotty, Jed Lowrie and Ramon Laureano congealing into an overpowering force. But like the '14 Pirates, the '18 A's didn't make it past the Wild Card Game.

         

    2019 Washington Nationals

    The Washington Nationals had a knack for hitting in the clutch during the regular season in 2019, and it ultimately carried into October. In particular, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick came up with some huge hits. Outside of those three, however, the '19 Nats were relatively short on dangerous hitters.

10. 2014 Detroit Tigers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .277 AVG, .331 OBP, .426 SLG, 113 OPS+, 155 HR, 106 SB, 4.7 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. 2B Ian Kinsler: 103
    • 2. RF Torii Hunter: 114
    • 3. 1B Miguel Cabrera: 150
    • 4. DH Victor Martinez: 172
    • 5. LF J.D. Martinez: 154
    • 6. C Alex Avila: 94
    • 7. 3B Nicholas Castellanos: 96
    • 8. SS Andrew Romine: 58
    • 9. CF Rajai Davis: 103

           

    Breakdown

    For those who had to live through it, the 2014 season is one that most hitters would like to forget. Pitchers had the upper hand to such a degree that the league's 4.07 runs per game were the fewest since 1981.

    But during the regular season, the Detroit Tigers were the biggest exception to the rule.

    This mostly had to do with the sweet swinging of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. They had a .927 OPS and 80 home runs between them, and they still stand out as one of only nine offensive trios in which each hitter had at least a 150 OPS+ while taking at least 480 plate appearances.

    Though nobody else was on the same level as those three, Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter set the table well, and Alex Avila and Nicholas Castellanos did enough to carry the back half of Detroit's lineup.

    The big catch here is that the Tigers offense ran out of juice when the playoffs arrived. They hit just .218 and scored only 10 runs in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Division Series.

9. 2015 Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .269 AVG, .340 OBP, .457 SLG, 115 OPS+, 232 HR, 88 SB, 5.5 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. LF Ben Revere: 101
    • 2. 3B Josh Donaldson: 151
    • 3. RF Jose Bautista: 145
    • 4. DH Edwin Encarnacion: 148
    • 5. 1B Chris Colabello: 138
    • 6. SS Troy Tulowitzki: 89
    • 7. C Russell Martin: 112
    • 8. CF Kevin Pillar: 93
    • 9. 2B Ryan Goins: 83

            

    Breakdown

    If nothing else, the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays deserve a spot on this list because of the trio of sluggers that made their lineup click.

    Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were simply ridiculous that year. Their 120 combined home runs were as many as the Miami Marlins, and 20 more than the Atlanta Braves. To date, they're the only threesome of teammates to each notch at least a 145 OPS+ and 39 homers.

    The '15 Blue Jays also got solid seasons out of Russell Martin and, surprisingly, Chris Colabello. Once they acquired Troy Tulowitzki ahead of the trade deadline, they were surely hoping that their offense would reach still another level of dominance.

    Well, it did and it didn't.

    The Blue Jays offense did blow away the field after Tulowitzki came aboard, but the man himself struggled and things eventually fell apart in October. Though Bautista hit a homer for the ages in the Division Series, Jays hitters fell flat with a .709 OPS opposite the Kansas City Royals in the Championship Series.

8. 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .250 AVG, .333 OBP, .442 SLG, 109 OPS+, 235 HR, 75 SB, 4.9 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. LF Joc Pederson: 125
    • 2. 3B Justin Turner: 151
    • 3. 1B Max Muncy: 161
    • 4. SS Manny Machado: 122
    • 5. CF Cody Bellinger: 120
    • 6. RF Yasiel Puig: 120
    • 7. C Yasmani Grandal: 121
    • 8. 2B Chris Taylor: 110
    • 9. Pitcher

            

    Breakdown

    To be fair, the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't really have a "lineup" in 2018. 

    The Dodgers didn't use a single batting order more than twice during the regular season that year. Injuries and the midseason acquisition of Manny Machado were factors to that end, but it more so had to do with their sheer depth.

    The '18 Dodgers ultimately had 10 different hitters—not pictured above are Matt Kemp and Enrique Hernandez—take at least 290 plate appearances and post an OPS+ of over 110. Throughout all of baseball history, the number of other teams that have also accomplished that feat is...[checks notes]...zero.

    As such, the 109 OPS+ that the Dodgers put up in 2018 doesn't really do them justice. FanGraphs puts the wRC+ for their hitters, specifically, at 118. That was far and away the best mark of 2018.

    But despite all of this, the Dodgers experienced diminishing offensive returns in October. They started strong with an .803 OPS in the Division Series, but then slipped to a .632 OPS in the Championship Series and a .550 OPS in their loss to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

7. 2018 New York Yankees

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .249 AVG, .329 OBP, .451 SLG, 112 OPS+, 267 HR, 63 SB, 5.3 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+): 

    • 1. LF Andrew McCutchen: 145
    • 2. RF Aaron Judge: 150
    • 3. CF Aaron Hicks: 127
    • 4. DH Giancarlo Stanton: 130
    • 5. 1B Luke Voit: 193
    • 6. SS Didi Gregorius: 124
    • 7. 3B Miguel Andujar: 130
    • 8. C Gary Sanchez: 89
    • 9. 2B Gleyber Torres: 122

           

    Breakdown

    The obligatory question here is why the 2019 New York Yankees, who hit 306 home runs and scored 943 runs, didn't make the cut as the franchise's representative for the 2010s.

    Truth be told, we didn't know how to accurately represent what their "lineup" looked like. It was constantly changing because of injuries, and it thus didn't have many true regulars throughout the year.

    By comparison, the Yankees' 2018 lineup was more consistent. And by the end of the year, it looked like an all-timer on paper.

    For the first five months of the season, New York's lineup was led by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius and dynamic rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Come September, one-time MVP Andrew McCutchen and upstart star Luke Voit were also featured parts. In the end, the signature result was a then-record 267 home runs.

    When the Yankees went off for seven runs over the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card Game, it looked like their high-powered offense was ready for October. But once their hitters fizzled with a .616 OPS in a loss to the Red Sox in the Division Series, a chance at a truly historic legacy disappeared.

6. 2019 Minnesota Twins

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .270 AVG, .338 OBP, .494 SLG, 117 OPS+, 307 HR, 28 SB, 5.8 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. C Mitch Garver: 156
    • 2. SS Jorge Polanco: 120
    • 3. DH Nelson Cruz: 166
    • 4. RF Eddie Rosario: 106
    • 5. 3B Miguel Sano: 138
    • 6. CF Max Kepler: 122
    • 7. LF Marwin Gonzalez: 94
    • 8. 1B C.J. Cron: 103
    • 9. 2B Luis Arraez: 123

           

    Breakdown

    Nobody will be surprised to hear our primary justification for including the 2019 Minnesota Twins in our top 10: They hit a lot of home runs.

    To be exact, they hit 307 of them in the regular season. That shattered the all-time record that the Yankees had set the prior year, and getting there required a true group effort.

    Led by Nelson Cruz's 41 blasts—in only 120 games, no less—the '19 Twins got at least 20 home runs from eight different hitters. No other team has ever reached that mark.

    Moreover, the 939 runs that the Twins scored in 2019 made them the second-highest scoring team of the decade after that year's Yankees. And that wasn't all because of the long ball. Notably, Luis Arraez stood apart by slap-hitting his way to a .334 average and 54 runs in 92 games.

    There is, however, the question of how mighty Minnesota's offense would have been in 2019 without the aid of an obviously juiced ball. There's also the matter of the Twins' postseason flop, as their hitters managed only a .697 OPS in a sweep by the Yankees in the Division Series.

5. 2013 Boston Red Sox

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .277 AVG, .349 OBP, .446 SLG, 116 OPS+, 178 HR, 123 SB, 5.3 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury: 113
    • 2. RF Shane Victorino: 118
    • 3. 2B Dustin Pedroia: 115
    • 4. DH David Ortiz: 159
    • 5. 1B Mike Napoli: 128
    • 6. LF Daniel Nava: 127
    • 7. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: 118
    • 8. SS Stephen Drew: 111
    • 9. 3B Xander Bogaerts: 87

           

    Breakdown

    Frankly, it was difficult to pick out which lineup was the Red Sox's best of the 2010s.

    Their Mookie Betts- and J.D. Martinez-led offense in 2018 was the tip of the spear for both their 108-win regular season and their 11-3 romp through the playoffs. And while the 2011 club fell short of the playoffs, its offense did its part with a league-best 116 OPS+.

    But as difficult as this decision was, the depth of the Red Sox's 2013 lineup was too good to pass up.

    The '13 Red Sox had a weak spot at third base, but they could otherwise fill their lineup with quality hitters. They're the only team ever to have eight guys post at least a 110 OPS+ across at least 470 plate appearances. That isn't counting Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp, who also hit well in smaller sample sizes.

    That leaves two knocks against this particular lineup: David Ortiz was its only truly great hitter, and it barely did enough to lead the team to a World Series title. Throughout the playoffs, Boston hitters compiled just a .227/.313/.352 slash line with 10 home runs.

4. 2011 Texas Rangers

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .283 AVG, .340 OBP, .460 SLG, 110 OPS+, 210 HR, 143 SB, 5.3 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. 2B Ian Kinsler: 118
    • 2. SS Elvis Andrus: 89
    • 3. CF Josh Hamilton: 130
    • 4. DH Michael Young: 125
    • 5. 3B Adrian Beltre: 131
    • 6. RF Nelson Cruz: 113
    • 7. LF David Murphy: 92
    • 8. C Mike Napoli: 173
    • 9. 1B Mitch Moreland: 93

            

    Breakdown

    The Texas Rangers didn't actually have the best offense in baseball in 2011. But by the end of the year, it sure felt like they did.

    Specifically, the '11 Rangers hit .297/.351/.479 with an MLB-high .830 OPS in the second half. Incumbents Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy were hitting more or less like their best selves, while newcomers Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli were red-hot.

    Notably, the fivesome of Kinsler, Hamilton, Cruz, Beltre and Napoli each mustered at least a 110 OPS+ and 25 home runs. At the time, that feat had only been matched by the 2009 Yankees and exceeded by the 2003 Red Sox.

    Upon entering the postseason, the Rangers had a tough time against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series. Yet they prevailed anyway, and their bats promptly demolished the Tigers to the tune of an .817 OPS in the Championship Series.

    Though the Rangers tragically lost the World Series, it wasn't their lineup's fault. In seven games, they put up a respectable .745 OPS and 30 runs.

3. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Overall Offensive Stats: .273 AVG, .341 OBP, .425 SLG, 112 OPS+, 162 HR, 57 SB, 4.7 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. SS Rafael Furcal: 102
    • 2. CF Jon Jay: 112
    • 3. 1B Albert Pujols: 148
    • 4. RF Lance Berkman: 164
    • 5. LF Matt Holliday: 151
    • 6. 3B David Freese: 118
    • 7. C Yadier Molina: 124
    • 8. 2B Nick Punto: 125
    • 9. Pitcher

          

    Breakdown

    As good as the Rangers were in 2011, the team that beat them in the World Series did so in part because they had an even better lineup.

    It took some reconfiguring for the '11 Cardinals to get their lineup into ideal shape. But after trading away Colby Ramus and trading for Rafael Furcal, they were the one of the National League's top offensive clubs in August and September.

    Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday—who teamed up for a .926 OPS and 90 home runs—were the headliners, but it says a lot that there wasn't a single OPS+ under 100 around them when the Cardinals fielded their best lineup.

    They also had an ace in the hole in Allen Craig. Even in the face of irregular playing time, he hit .315 with a .917 OPS in 219 plate appearances.

    Though the Cardinals barely made the playoffs in 2011, their hitters led the way in October with an impressive .271/.353/.429 slash line and exactly 100 runs scored. There was, of course, no bigger hero than David Freese, who came to St. Louis' rescue with two huge hits in Game 6 of the World Series.

2. 2016 Chicago Cubs

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Overall Offensive Stats: .256 AVG, .343 OBP, .429 SLG, 104 OPS+, 199 HR, 66 SB, 5.0 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. CF Dexter Fowler: 123
    • 2. 3B Kris Bryant: 146
    • 3. 1B Anthony Rizzo: 143
    • 4. LF Ben Zobrist: 121
    • 5. C Willson Contreras: 122
    • 6. SS Addison Russell: 94
    • 7. RF Jason Heyward: 68
    • 8. 2B Javier Baez: 94
    • 9. Pitcher

             

    Breakdown

    Though there were other factors involved, the all-around excellence of the Chicago Cubs' lineup is arguably the biggest reason that they won the World Series in 2016.

    It shouldn't be forgotten that the regulars on the '16 Cubs were extraordinary defenders, so this is a case where the offensive numbers alone don't entirely sum it up. Per FanGraphs WAR, the Cubs had the second-most productive group of position players of the 2010s.

    Of course, they could also hit. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined for a .934 OPS and 71 homers, and Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras—who got the bulk of the catching reps in the season's final three months—provided good support on either side of them.

    October was more of a struggle, as Cubs hitters slashed only .233/.293/.399 throughout the playoffs. They also accounted for three or fewer runs in four of the first five games of the World Series.

    They did, however, come alive with 17 runs in the last two games of the series. Without that offensive onslaught, the team's championship drought would probably stand at 112 years right now.

1. 2019 Houston Astros

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Key Stats: .274 AVG, .352 OBP, .495 SLG, 119 OPS+, 288 HR, 67 SB, 5.7 R/G

    Best Lineup (OPS+):

    • 1. CF George Springer: 150
    • 2. 2B Jose Altuve: 131
    • 3. LF Michael Brantley: 126
    • 4. 3B Alex Bregman: 162
    • 5. 1B Yuli Gurriel: 126
    • 6. SS Carlos Correa: 137
    • 7. DH Yordan Alvarez: 173
    • 8. C Robinson Chirinos: 105
    • 9. RF Josh Reddick: 89

            

    Breakdown

    According to OPS+, the Houston Astros had a better offense in 2017 than they did in 2019. But for obvious reasons, we decided not to go there.

    We also wanted to heed wRC+, which rates Houston's offense from 2019 as the best since the one we mentioned way back in the intro: the 1927 Yankees.

    Though MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's investigation into the Astros couldn't prove that they knew what was coming in 2019, they sure hit like they did. They had the league's highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate, and their power output wasn't far behind those of the Yankees and Twins.

    Alex Bregman and George Springer did most of the heavy lifting, yet Yordan Alvarez was the Astros' best hitter on a rate basis. For that matter, his 173 OPS+ hit a mark that only Jose Abreu also touched as a rookie.

    The big "yeah, but..." with regard to the '19 Astros is that they ended up losing the World Series despite their overpowering lineup. That isn't an argument-ender, though, because the Astros were actually the superior offensive team in the Fall Classic. Their .794 OPS easily topped Washington's .739 OPS.

           

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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