ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 22: Allen Craig #21 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a homerun in the first inning off of Matt Harrison #54 of the Texas Rangers during Game Three of the MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 22, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Last year's World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers was an undeniably memorable seven-game showdown, easily the most entertaining Fall Classic since 2001's Yankees/DBacks Series. But what we saw between these two teams in October was perhaps just a taste of the next several years, as both teams have put themselves in positions to dominate for the next few years -- and potentially longer than that.
As of now, the Rangers and Cardinals are both in first place with fairly comfortable leads -- the Rangers four games ahead of the second-place Athletics, and the Cardinals three and half games ahead of Cincinnati. Moreover, both Texas and St. Louis have far-and-away the best run-differentials in baseball. With 194 runs scored and just 121 runs allowed, Texas is sitting at a major-league best +73 run differential. St. Louis, meanwhile, is at +68. No other team in baseball has even half as good a run differential as either of these two teams.
It's still early, but they're both already essentially shoo-ins to make the postseason -- especially with expanded playoffs. Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds has the Rangers and Cardinals at 96.9% and 90.0%, respectively; only one other team -- the New York Yankees (81.7%) is above 75% at this point.
Both teams have been solid pitching-wise -- the Rangers are 2nd in the AL in xFIP and 1st in FIP; the Cardinals are 2nd in the NL in xFIP and 3rd in FIP.
Including Lance Lynn's start from today, the Cardinals' unheralded trio of Lance Lynn, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook have combined to allow 31 runs over 123 innings. That's a 2.27 RA(!) from a group of Cardinals starters that doesn't include Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, or Jaime Garcia.
And while Rangers starters (the likes of Neftali Feliz, Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, et al.) have also performed quite well thus far, Texas' bullpen has been even more impressive. They have the major-league lead in each of ERA, FIP, SIERA, and xFIP. Of the 337 batters they've faced to this point, they've struck out 81 and only allowed 14 to reach base via the walk. No bullpen is even close to matching the Rangers' strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.79 (and, in fact, the Cardinals are tied for 2nd at 3.19).
It's much more than pitching, though. Both teams have been offensive juggernauts. The Cardinals, as a team, are currently hitting .284/.355/.468 (130 wRC+). The Rangers are at .291/.349/.480 (124 wRC+). It's absurd.
Here are the individual wRC+ marks of each Cardinals hitter with 90+ PA: 120, 169, 192, 140, 151, 148, 124. And it's worth noting that neither Lance Berkman nor Allen Craig are among those guys, and that Matt Holliday is actually the lowest among that bunch.
The Rangers offense, on the other hand, has been largely carried by Josh Hamilton, whose numbers are off-the-charts good: a .402/.457/.877 line, .548 wOBA, 256 wRC+, and 18 homers through 122 at-bats. Even as Hamilton inevitably slows his pace though, guys like Nelson Cruz (currently at a sub-.300 wOBA) can be expected to pick up some of the slack.
Now, keep in mind that the Rangers and Cardinals both entered this season with strong farm systems -- the Rangers at #3 in John Sickels' rankings, and the Cardinals at #5. Not only is now the window to win for both teams; now is the window to dominate. These are two incredibly stacked teams, and it's looking like it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.