To anyone unfamiliar with baseball and even to most casual fans, if asked to name the best-hitting team in baseball, the name that most easily rolls off the tongue is that of the Bronx Bombers, the New York Yankees. This title is not without warrant: the Yankees have scored the most runs (4,234) in the MLB over the past five years and the most home runs by a significant margin; their 1,092 home runs are more than 100 ahead of the Texas Rangers, the second best team in that category.
Quietly in the opposite conference, the St. Louis Cardinals, perennial contenders in the National League with some of the most powerful and reliable bats in the business, surface as easily the best hitting team in their conference. Compared to the statistics of the Yankees, St. Louis seems to pale in comparison: lower runs, home runs, average, OBP and slugging percentage. While the Yankees production is indeed staggering, their presence in the American League masks their numbers quite a bit.
If the Cardinals numbers are adjusted to eliminate their pitchers’ at-bats, they suddenly have the best average and OBP in the MLB, arguably two of the most important offensive statistics in the game. While their slugging numbers (only seventh best in the league) cannot compare to those of their east coast brethren, Yankee Stadium extends a helping hand to the Yanks.
Yankee Stadium and its obnoxiously short right field porch inflates the amount of home runs hit by 11 percent, while Busch Stadium in St. Louis depresses the amount of home runs hit by nine percent. Taking that into account via wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), the Cardinals and the Yankees hitters have nearly identical performances in the past several years; the Yankees are still first in the league with an wRC+ of 113, but the Cardinals were just behind them at 112.
All major strongholds for St. Louis are returning this year. Admittedly, Carlos Beltran is getting up there in years. However, assuming that Allen Craig stays healthy and plays in more than the 119 games he did last year (eliminating the ineffective plate appearances of Matt Adams) and that Matt Carpenter can undergo the successful transition from third to second base that the Cards are hoping he can make (eliminating the woeful .240/.309/.363 2nd base play they got last year), it’s hard to find too many weak spots in the starting lineup.
Moreover, given the abundance of talented prospects (see Oscar Taveras, the number two prospect in baseball), the Cards are armed and ready to take the field in case of injury.
The Yankees are taking a mild step back in their lineup due to age and injury. With an older Jeter coming back from a broken ankle, Texeria missing 8-10 weeks, A-Rod’s hip surgery, and Mariano Rivera coming back from his freak injury (just to name a few), it’s hard to imagine the Yankees will maintain their offensive dominance from last year.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are young (they have the best farm system in the MLB as analyzed by ESPN), more experienced than last year and fresh. They have all the tools necessary to ascend in the ranks, and with only one more spot to climb, you can expect to see the Cards atop all major offensive statistics. Adjusted for National League standards, of course.
Yes, there are pitching questions after the shoulder surgery of Jamie Garcia, the reduced workload capabilities of Lance Lynn, Chris Carpenter’s disappearance from the active roster due to injury and the sudden reliance on future ace of the Redbirds, Shelby Miller. Indeed, should Rafael Furcal go down due to his nagging injury that has been bothering him even into spring training, the Cardinals would be in trouble (who on earth wants Ronny Cedeno as their day-to-day shortstop?).
The bottom line, however, remains that creating runs wins championships. The list of top 10 wRC+ leaders contains the Rangers, Tigers, Phillies, Rays, Yankees and Cardinals, or six of the last seven teams to appear in the World Series, with the only exception being the Giants, who compiled an unreal pitching staff to assert their playoff dominance.
Despite trials and tribulations, the Cardinals have the most powerful and the most varied offensive talent not only in the major leagues, but also in those waiting for an opportunity in the farm system. Everything is lined up for their first NL Central title since 2006 and yet another strong playoff push.