Making sense of Pirates pitching

Updated: June 12, 2012, 2:57 PM ET
By Eric Karabell

The Pittsburgh Pirates enter Tuesday tied for first place in the NL Central, and it's certainly not because of the likes of Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes. Pitching has carried this team, and two surprise fantasy assets have been right-handers A.J. Burnett and James McDonald, two of the top 13 pitchers on ESPN's Player Rater for the past 30 days. While I liked Burnett and, to some degree, left-handed teammate Erik Bedard as late-round sleepers and admit to wanting little part of McDonald, the fact is few expected this kind of performance. This trio has a 3.14 cumulative ERA and 190 strikeouts in 201 1/3 innings.

While McDonald has really blossomed this season, at 27 years old, the case can be made Burnett is just as big a surprise after a few painful seasons with a plus-5 ERA in New York Yankees pinstripes. He enters Tuesday among the top 45 starting pitchers for the season with a 3.61 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings. Remove the 12-run disaster from May 2 against the St. Louis Cardinals, and Burnett boasts a 1.96 ERA in nine starts. Of course, we can't simply forget that outing, but if you happened to have him on your bench that day but active the rest of the time, congrats.