The 2012 Texas Rangers are the archetype of a winning team. They've scored the most runs in the American League, even away from their hitter-friendly home park. They've allowed the fewest runs in the American League, even in their hitter-friendly home park. No one can score against them, and no one can keep them from scoring. Whether they're in the field or at the plate, they look like a first-place team.
Even among the league's leading clubs, though, the well-rounded Rangers -- and the St. Louis Cardinals, who boast an even better run differential -- are the exception. Most first-place teams are flawed.
Take the two teams tied atop the National League East, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. On Wednesday night, the Nationals scored two runs in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Nationals haven't done a lot of losing this season, but they haven't done much scoring, either. In a third of their games, they've scored two or fewer runs, and half of their games -- tied for the highest percentage in the majors -- have been decided by a margin of one run. Pitching has made Washington's success possible. The Nats are tied with the Petco-repressed San Diego Padres for the second fewest runs scored in the National League, but they've also allowed the fewest runs in the league.
Atlanta's season has been the opposite story. The Braves have piled up runs, including seven in their Wednesday win against the Colorado Rockies. Only the Cardinals have scored more often among NL teams. However, the Braves have struggled to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard, allowing more runs than all but four other NL teams (two of whom, the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, play in hitter havens).
So far, the uneven attacks of the Nationals and Braves have served the two teams well. The same can't be said for the Boston Red Sox, who've scored more runs than any AL team except the Rangers but allowed the most runs in the league. Which is more typical of a lopsided team, the last-place Red Sox or the first-place Nats? If you can't be the best at both run scoring and run prevention, like the Rangers are, is it better to be balanced and average at both or one of the best at one and one of the worst at the other? And can Washington keep winning with baseball's lowest-scoring lineup?