Even now, in an era of ongoing league-wide change, it remains vitally important to have a strong middle infield.
Yes, shifts and other adjustments in defensive positioning have reduced the need for exceptional range. Yes, strikeouts continue to rise higher than ever, reducing the number of balls in play. Yes, batters are placing greater emphasis on lifting the ball, reducing overall chances in the infield. And yes, we've seen that second basemen and shortstops are getting far less action than they used to.
The game of baseball is in transition. That much is no secret. Yet the middle infield positions remain at a premium. Shortstop, especially, is still far harder to play than first or third base. There are fewer players available who can play regularly in the middle, so teams that are strong there have a distinct advantage over their rivals.
It's worth considering, then, which teams appear to be strongest at the two positions -- that is, the two positions together, taking everything into account. This isn't just offense, and this isn't just defense. I have chosen what I think are 2018's five best double-play combos.