It's obvious, but, the pitching has been good. It is the reason this team is still relevant, and why we can maintain some hope that if Joey V and EE ever get back and another bat is found, there still might be some interest in this season come August.
It is the reason that this thing has not cratered yet. Despite taking the mound for about a month now knowing that giving up more than three runs likely means losing, and despite not having Volquez for a long stretch now, they have carried this team to a degree that I have not seen in a few decades.
The team ERA stands at 3.89, good for sixth in MLB (5th in the NL). They are just a hair behind the Cards (3.86) and Cubs (3.84), so are within shouting distance of top 5. Their success has been something of a puzzle, as they BB a few too many for comfort (given up 247 walks, 8th most in the major leagues), and don't miss as many bats as you would expect (19th overall). Perhaps part of the reason for this is they are giving up a few less homeruns to date than in the past (13th overall in MLB right with 69 allowed), but a little closer look reveals the main reason for the improvement...their hits allowed. It ain't much. Right now they have only allowed 553 hits, 26th fewest in all of baseball. Wow. That helps.
So, through June 19, 2009, their pitching improvement has been real, and is largely tied to a rather impressive rate of hit suppression to this point. That has allowed them to walk a few more than you would expect, and has allowed them to benefit even more from a slight improvement in the home run allowed rate.
Is this sustainable? I don't know. I worry a bit that some balls will start to fall in at a greater rate, and that they could use a few more missed bats. Then again, EV's return (knock on wood) would help with that. And, we have to ask ourselves, is there a change with this staff that is allowing fewer basehits? Cueto, for one, seems to be thriving with getting more ground balls than I recall, and that may help. Owings, when he is on, also keeps the ball on the ground.
The other factor here, certainly, is an improved defense. I hate Alex G's bat, a lot, but he is a vast improvement defensively at SS over what we had their last year. When Dickerson is in CF, their D is good, and Bruce over Jr. is a quantum leap forward defensively in RF. Since Nix has gotten more playing time in LF, we have seen a decided improvement there as well. Add in that Hanigan has been an assassin at wiping out baserunners from behind the plate, and an improved D clearly has helped the pitching numbers. As uneven as EE is, we have seen worse defense in his absence at the hot corner, and getting him back should help, as should getting Votto back at 1b.
In short, I am hoping the return of Volquez along with decent gloves in EE and Votto will off-set any hit luck normalization to help keep the ERA around where it is now.
And IF the team's pitchers and defense can sustain this, then with some offense, from somewhere (Dickerson in CF? Find a bat for LF? Get Votto back? Get EE back?), we still have a shot to see this team relevant in the WC and Divisional chase into the dog days.
It is a bit of a "hold your breath" situation, but, so far so good. And it is nice to know that they can have as offensively incompetent a series as they just had against Atlanta and find a way to take two of three. Let's cross our fingers they can keep this up...