It appears as though the pitcher's era has begun.
There have been many surprises this season, and many teams have ended up with great pitching staffs.
It is very debatable which team actually has the best pitching staff.
In this article, I will give my opinion on the matter, and rank the top five staffs in the NL, along with a few honorable mentions.
The Cardinals were expected to have a fantastic pitching staff this season.
It turned out good, but not nearly as well as it could have.
This is owed in part to the injury of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals' ace.
Without Wainwright, the three main starters for the team are Kyle Lohse, Jaime Garcia, and Chris Carpenter, all who are great pitchers, and have handled the loss of their teammate very well.
Lohse, Garcia, and Carpenter have ERA's of 3.32, 3.23, and 3.74.
The only drawbacks to their starting rotation are fourth and fifth starters, Jake Westbrook and Kyle McClellan. Westbrook has an ERA of 5.34, and McClellan 4.32.
The Cardinals have a very good closer in Fernando Salas, who has 15 saves and a 2.36 ERA.
Also in their strong bullpen are Jason Motte, with a 2.60 ERA, Mitchell Boggs, with a 2.70 ERA, and Eduardo Sanchez, with a 1.88 ERA.
The Nationals great pitching this season came as a bit of a surprise.
Jordan Zimmerman is considered the ace of the team, with a 2.82 ERA.
He pitches alongside starters John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny, with ERA's of 3.38 and 3.64.
In the bullpen, setup man Tyler Clippard was awarded a spot on the All-Star team roster, with a 1.79 ERA.
They also have a great closer, Drew Storen, with 22 saves and an ERA of 2.58.
The Nationals have an impressive overall team ERA of 3.59, which is the sixth best in the National League.
The Dodgers pitching this year has been a slight disappointment, and is only about average.
While Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda have pitched very well, with ERA's of 3.03 and 3.06, the remainder of the staff has not been quite as impressive.
Chad Billingsley is 8-7, with a 3.87 ERA, and Jonathan Broxton, who was recently one of the best closers in the game, has only seven saves, and a 5.68 ERA.
Their overall team ERA is 3.96.
While it is not quite as good as it could be, the pitching staff is better than many others in the league.
While the Padres' pitching staff isn't quite as good as it was last season, it is still up there with some of the best in the league.
Their number one starter is Mat Latos, and though his ERA is only 4.04, his FIP is a more impressive 3.43.
Fellow starters Dustin Moseley, Tim Stauffer, and Clayton Richard have ERA's of 3.21, 2.97, and 3.88.
The Padres also have, of course, closer Heath Bell, who has 26 saves, the second best in the league, and an ERA of 2.43.
Accompanying him in the bullpen are Chad Qualls, with a 2.79 ERA, and Mike Adams, with a 1.35 ERA.
Along with their fourth-best team ERA of 3.25, the Padres have also given up the fourth-to-least runs—only 333.
I doubt anyone expected the Pirates to be only one game back from first place in the NL Central, a day before the All-Star break.
The Pirates sudden surge is owed partly to their great pitching.
They have four starting pitchers with an ERA below 4.00, and their overall team ERA is 3.44.
Starting pitcher Jeff Karstens is 6-3, with an ERA of 2.57.
Their closer, Joel Hanrahan, is tied with Heath Bell for the second-most amount of saves, with 26. He has an ERA of 1.34.
Two of the Pirates other main relievers are Daniel McCutchen and Jose Veras, with ERA's of 2.42 and 2.68.
The Giants fantastic pitching last season handed them a World Series title, and because their pitching staff has not regressed, they obviously have one of the best pitching staffs in the league.
Their pitching is currently holding them in first place, though only by one game.
The Giants ace, Tim Lincecum, who has two Cy Young awards under his belt, is once again displaying his amazing potential.
Matt Cain is also pitching very well, and has been selected for the All-Star team roster, with a 3.22 ERA.
The biggest surprise on the staff, in my opinion, is Ryan Vogelsong, who is currently 6-1, with an ERA of 2.17, and is also on the All-Star roster.
The Giants also have a great closer in Brian Wilson, who has 25 saves and a 3.00 ERA.
This is where the rankings get the most difficult.
It is debatable whether or not the Phillies have the best pitching staff in league.
I am going to go ahead and say the Phillies have the second-best pitching staff in the league.
They have their "Big Three" starters which consist of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Each of them have been just as good as expected, with ERA's of 2.45, 2.92, and 2.40. Their combined record is 30-13.
Also, the Phillies have been pleasantly surprised with the performance of rookie Vance Worley, who is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA.
Their bullpen has also been stronger than expected, and has been working through multiple injuries.
Aside from Danys Biaz, who has an ERA of 5.40, the bullpen displays very impressive numbers.
Antonio Bastardo has an 0.84 ERA, Michael Stutes has a 2.45 ERA, and Ryan Madson has a 2.03 ERA, along with 15 saves.
The Braves have the best overall team ERA in the league, an amazing 3.02.
The Braves can definitely make a case for the best pitching staff in the league.
Their ace, Jair Jurrjens, has a league-best record and ERA. He is 12-3 with an ERA of 1.87.
Their number two starter is Tommy Hanson, also one of the best pitchers in the league. He is 10-4, with a 2.44 ERA, along with a K/9 average of 9.49.
Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy have also been performing very well this season. They have ERA's of 3.57 and 3.21.
The Braves also have, arguably, the best bullpen in the league.
Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel are an ideal setup man/closer pair, with ERA's of 1.47 and 2.45. Venters has 19 holds, and Kimbrel has a league-best 28 saves.
They also have in their bullpen Eric O'Flaherty, with a fantastic ERA of 1.07.