Key under-the-radar guys

Joe Kelly has been a key contributor to the Cardinals this season. Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE -- Yadier Molina is probably the Cardinals’ leading candidate for National League most valuable player, with Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig well-positioned to get some top-10 votes. Adam Wainwright will get some consideration for the NL Cy Young Award behind Clayton Kershaw.

But if there were an award category for the best under-the-radar guy who has affected a pennant race, Joe Kelly would probably be the front-runner in the National League. “Huge,” said St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak, in assessing Kelly’s importance to the 2013 Cardinals.

Kelly opened the season in the bullpen and wanted an opportunity to pitch more, and contribute more, and when the Cardinals developed a rotation hole in midseason, Kelly stepped in. Going into his start against the Brewers on Sunday night, he has a 2.14 ERA in 14 starts for the Cardinals, allowing only five homers in 340 plate appearances. Since the All-Star break, the only three pitchers in the majors with a lower ERA are some you might’ve heard of:

Jose Fernandez, the presumptive front-runner for NL rookie of the year, at 1.32.

Ubaldo Jimenez, with a 1.70 ERA for the Indians.

Kershaw, 1.77 ERA; he has all but wrapped up his second Cy Young Award.

Kelly sits at No. 4, with a 1.86 ERA.

The best of the rest, in the category of the best under-the-radar guys who have affected a pennant race (in no particular order).