Are the St. Louis Cardinals the Early Surprise of the 2011 Baseball Season?

With a 7-5 victory over the Florida Marlins Tuesday night, the St. Louis Cardinals’ record is now 17-13. An average record like this won’t attract too much attention around the league but in the Cardinals case it should.

Before the 2011 season started, all of the media attention surrounding the Cardinals organization was regarding perennial All-Star and multiple time MVP winner, first baseman Albert Pujols. With Pujols, and his agent Dan Lozano, setting a deadline for a contract extension, before the start of the season, the pressure was on to ink the face of the Cardinals franchise in a multiyear deal. A long term deal would certainly make Pujols a Cardinal for life and place him amongst the teams’ greatest.

The deadline came and went with no deal. Media speculation was enormous. Terms of possible deals were being rumored but no confirmation was ever given by either side validating the rumors.

This kind of attention can be a major distraction for a team during Spring Training but for the Cardinals it was just beginning.

Staff ace Adam Wainwright felt something in his throwing elbow during a routine bullpen session on February 21st. Again, speculation took over regarding the injury. After having it evaluated, the worst possible diagnosis was made. Wainwright would need Tommy John surgery and would be lost for the 2011 season.

Wainwright finished second in the Cy Young award voting last year and was a twenty game winner for the Cardinals.

The regular season hadn’t even started yet and the Cardinals were already hearing about how their best position player may be playing his last season in Cardinal red; add to that the loss of their best pitcher. Things were not looking well for the Cardinals.

Flash forward to the present. St. Louis is 2.5 games ahead of National League Central favorite the Cincinnati Reds and they have the fourth best record in the National League. The hotly debated signing of Lance Berkman has so far been paying off with great offensive numbers. Matt Holliday has been swinging well despite missing time due to an Appendectomy. What about Albert Pujols? So far he has below average numbers across the board; just another reason to be impressed with their play to date.

The season is still early but the experts did not predict a good year for the Cardinals. At best they were finishing second, behind the Reds, but were shown as low as fourth behind Milwaukee and Chicago.

Can they keep it up? Only time will tell.

Standings verified with Yahoo! Sports at the creation of the article.