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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Winning's still main thing for Cards, Rangers

Despite constant changes, both clubs maintain high levels of success

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Winning's still main thing for Cards, Rangers play video for Winning's still main thing for Cards, Rangers

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Since the Rangers and Cardinals went toe-to-toe for seven tense, wonderful games in the 2011 World Series, plenty has happened to both franchises. Yet, in a lot of ways, nothing at all has happened. In many respects, these two organizations that exchanged punches for 10 days are mirror images of one another.

If you're looking for splashy signings or wild spending sprees or mega-trades, you're going to have to look elsewhere. Sometimes, these two teams don't even seem to care what's on talk radio, and isn't that some kind of crime?

If you're into winning, these franchises are for you. Their drama is largely on the field. They believe that great organizations can endure all sorts of comings and goings. Through highs and lows, they stay the course.

They assign a value to every single player, and sometimes that makes for painful goodbyes. More on that later. They also invest in scouting and player development and count on a flow of talent to keep the clubs vibrant and successful. They're unable to spend with the big boys, but they're OK with that.

Both have changed significantly since the 2011 World Series, but the results haven't. The Cards and Rangers sit atop their divisions and have two of baseball's three best records. As for spending, Texas is eighth in overall payroll, St. Louis 11th.

First, the Redbirds.

First baseman Albert Pujols signed with the Angels a few weeks after the 2011 World Series. The Cardinals wanted him badly, but would not touch the Halos' offer of $254 million over 10 years.

By the time Pujols left, manager Tony La Russa had already retired. So had Dave Duncan, arguably the greatest pitching coach who ever lived.

Of the nine players who started Game 7, only three of them are still contributing in 2013: Allen Craig, David Freese and Yadier Molina.

What did the Cardinals do? Throw money at free agents? Make a couple of dazzling trades? They couldn't just do nothing, could they? The Cards believe winning teams are built largely from within and found answers inside their own system, including manager Mike Matheny, who has been every bit as good as general manager John Mozeliak hoped and then some.

They made one impact free-agent acquisition by signing outfielder Carlos Beltran to a two-year, $26 million deal. Mostly, they gave their best young prospects to grow and to carry the mantle. They made the 2012 postseason and got all the way to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series before losing the Giants.

This spring, they were hit hard again. Shortstop Rafael Furcal went down, and young Pete Kozma stepped in. Ace Chris Carpenter couldn't continue, and former first-round Draft pick Shelby Miller won his spot. Closer Jason Motte was injured, and after a bad start, the bullpen now has an assortment of young homegrown pitchers.

The Cardinals have six pitchers who were in the Minor Leagues at this time last year. Three rookies, all summoned from the Minor Leagues since Opening Day, including starter John Gast, who made his Major League debut, pitched the first eight innings of a 10-4 victory over the Mets on Tuesday.

Their usual everyday lineup has five homegrown players, only one of whom, catcher Yadier Molina, has turned 30. The Cards have the NL's best ERA. Their starters are 23-8. They're third in runs despite being near the bottom of the NL in home runs.

It's pretty much the same story in Arlington, where general manager Jon Daniels has the Rangers positioned for a fourth straight postseason appearance, this after an offseason in which he lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara to free agency.

Texas' ace, Colby Lewis, is recovering from elbow surgery. Opening Day starter Matt Harrison is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery.

Daniels attempted a dramatic offseason acquisition, having had an interest in both Justin Upton or Zack Greinke. In the end, he would not meet either asking price, in terms of surrendering prospects or committing to a mega-contract.

The Rangers signed veterans Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski to one-year contracts and gave more playing time to first baseman Mitch Moreland. Two replacement starting pitchers, Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm, have filled in nicely.

Texas has not used a starting pitcher that has pitched a Major League game for another organization. The Rangers' bullpen, other than closer Joe Nathan, is largely homegrown.

And Texas began Tuesday at 25-14 and with the largest division lead (six games in the AL West) in baseball. Because Daniels held onto his top prospects over the winter, he will have the flexibility to make a move if a need arises.

When baseball people talk about the Rangers and Cardinals, their admiration begins with a couple of things. One is the productivity of the farm systems, which allows the teams to spend relatively modestly and stay competitive.

The other thing they talk about is organizational discipline. Both clubs have a confidence in what they're doing, and that confidence never seems to waver. That's a tribute to ownership and also to Mozeliak and Daniels.

Both men have the ability to focus on the big picture in a game sometimes ruled by emotion. So far, this season has been a tribute to their organizations and to their judgment.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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