ST. LOUIS – With a thrilling 12-inning victory Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals have surpassed the .500 mark for the first time since early April.

The Cardinals, now 36-35, have surged to the National League’s best record since Mother’s Day (20-11). The birds are building momentum after a sloppy start to the 2024 campaign. And suddenly, they find themselves in the National League’s second Wild Card spot.

Baseball can be quite unpredictable at times, not just with the results, but with who delivers them. As the Cardinals draw closer to the second half, many unsung heroes have emerged and contributed in unique ways.

Here’s a closer look at five players who have quietly helped the Cardinals build an edge.

Alec Burleson

As injuries and inconsistencies have piled up among Cardinals outfielders, Alec Burleson has been a steady presence. His fielding and speed have been underlooked for much of his big-league career, but have set the tone for several comeback wins this season.

Burleson built up a season-best 11-game hitting streak in late May and has at least one hit in all but four games this month. His strikeouts are the fewest among teammates with at least 100 at-bats, and he puts the ball into play around 85% of the time. As the old adage goes, “Put the ball in play, and good things happen.” That’s held more true for Burleson now compared to his rookie season last year, especially with extended opportunities.

Pedro Pagés

The storybook Pedro Pagés moments came over Father’s Day weekend at Wrigley Field. The rookie catcher slugged game-winning home runs in Friday’s series opener and Sunday’s series finale versus the rival Chicago Cubs with his father in attendance. “We’ve been through a lot together. That’s the best gift I could’ve given him,” said Pagés via Bally Sports Midwest.

Pagés earned his first call to the big leagues in April after five minor-league seasons and has earned an extended look after Willson Contreras’ long-term injury. He’s platooned catching duties with Iván Herrera over the last month, and guiding a veteran pitching staff hasn’t always come easily. He’s handled the challenge with poise, occasionally showing Yadi-esque moves behind the plate.

Michael Siani

His baseball card stats aren’t the strongest, but there are two spots where Michael Siani has been better than almost anyone else at the MLB level this year. Making difficult plays and dropping sacrifice bunts. Siani’s Outs Above Average mark (8) is better than all but two outfielders this season and ranks among the Top 10 league-wide. His nine sacrifice bunts also lead the league by a healthy margin.

Small ball makes a big difference for Siani, helping him succeed in various split situations on the basepaths, at centerfield and in the batter’s box. His output seems close to what the Cardinals had envisioned with prospect Victor Scott II as he broke spring camp on the Opening Day roster. Slick plays and occasional pop should keep him in the lineup semi-regularly until Scott improves or sidelined utilityman Tommy Edman returns to full strength.

Kyle Gibson

The Cardinals signed Kyle Gibson in the offseason primarily with hopes he would eat innings and mentor younger pitchers. To this point, it’s safe to say he’s exceeded those expectations. Gibson has worked at least five innings in all but one of his 14 starts this season. He’s worked at least six innings in more than half of his starts. And he’s worked to at least seven frames in three.

The length has provided relief to a St. Louis bullpen that’s been taxed at times this season. Gibson said after his first Cardinals start that understanding how to pitch to a game score, whether ahead or trailing, can help in the grind of a season. “I try not to focus too much on the length of the game when you try to get through the inning,” he said via Bally Sports Midwest. “Playing to the game is something I’ve learned to do, and maybe to a fault at times.”

Gibson’s eight quality starts (at least 6 IP and no more than 3 ER) show he’s found a balance between quantity and quality on his new squad.

Ryan Fernandez

A Rule 5 pick in the offseason, Fernandez broke the Cardinals’ big-league roster out of spring camp and hasn’t looked back. He’s been a Swiss Army knife in the bullpen, gradually advancing from low-leverage and high-leverage assignments while also showing the ability to go beyond just one inning as necessary.

Recently of note, the rookie Fernandez picked up his first career save against the Baltimore Orioles on May 22 and escaped a potential walkoff threat in Monday’s extra-innings affair over the Miami Marlins. He has yet to allow an earned run through eight June outings. His bullpen presence is growing stronger, and his versatility should continue to help the Cardinals adapt to tricky situations within games.