At the beginning of this season, very few people thought this St. Louis Cardinals team would be anywhere near contention in the NL Central, and deservedly so. After all, this is the team that finished an abysmal 78-84, just a year removed from their World Series Championship in 2006.
The difference? This is not that 2007 team. This year's team has had a staggering eight players make their major league debuts this season through 63 games. Eight.
Normally that is a sign of a struggling ballclub, bringing up kids from the minors just to see what they can do. Case in point: the San Francisco Giants, probably the worst team in the majors, who also have seen eight players making their debuts.
So the question is, where is this resurgence coming from? Well the answer is pitching.
This year's Cardinal staff has a combined ERA of 3.94, 12th best in the big leagues. Last year's staff had a combined ERA of 4.65, hardly an impressive statistic.
Adam Wainwright has developed into the ace of the staff at the age of 26, with a record of 5-3 and a 3.12 ERA. He has gotten help from other starters as well, such as Todd Wellemeyer and newly-acquired Kyle Lohse.
In fact, Wellemeyer, who was the NL Pitcher of the Month in May, has the best statistics on the staff, with a record of 7-1 and an ERA of 2.93.
The bullpen is also pitching well, as Ryan Franklin and rookies Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez have all posted ERAs under three. With the recent struggles and likely departure of Jason Isringhausen at the end of the season, Perez is most likely the closer of the future. He has a fastball that touches 98 on the radar gun, and a slider that compares to that of Phillies closer Brad Lidge.
Not only is this staff pitching well, but they're swinging the bats pretty well, too. Through the first 63 games, Cardinals pitching staff has the second best average in the league at .195.
They've also driven in 22 runs, a major-league high. While this doesn't seem too significant, it's nice for a team when they get some production from that unexpected place in the lineup.
All of this has the Cardinals sitting at 36-27, just 3.5 games behind the heavily-favored Chicago Cubs in the Central. While many people did not expect the Cardinals to even finish in the top three (some picked them in dead last) they're definitely turning many heads around baseball.
It's all coming from the pitching.