ST. LOUIS -- For the most part, Adam Wainwright dismisses talk of individual honors and statistics. That's because in general, he gets it. He's a team guy, mindful of the fact that even individual honors don't come without help from others. Moreover, he understands that.

But still, there's a number that makes Wainwright smile a little bit. He's human. While he's on the mound, he's all business, but here and there, in a free minute, he thinks about what could be. He's closing in on 20 wins, long a magical number for starting pitchers, and he's a serious candidate for the National League Cy Young Award.

Pulse
Cardinals at a glance
2009 record: 91-71
2008 record: 86-76
NL Central champs

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
McClellan: Hometown boy
Cards: Shaking off walk-off
Ludwick: Dream fulfilled
Hawksworth: On way up
Ryan: Playing it cool
Pujols: Ready for fun stuff
Wainwright: Proud, durable
Holliday: Kids' play
Pujols: Triple Crown?
La Russa: 14th postseason
Carpenter: Heart of staff
Pujols: Eschewing rest
Holliday: A perfect fit
Carpenter: Ready to go
La Russa: Getting proactive
Wainwright: Apt pupil
Pujols: His place in history?
Pujols: The evolution
Holliday: Offensive spark
La Russa: Controls fate
Pujols: MVP No. 3?
Wainwright: Mr. Consistent
La Russa: Winning cures all
Carpenter: A go Game 1
Holliday: Big impact
Wainwright: Cy in cards?

He'd be the first Cardinal to reach 20 wins since teammate and mentor Chris Carpenter did so in 2005 -- coincidentally, that's also the year that Carpenter won the Cy Young.

His last time out, on Wednesday, Wainwright dominated the Brewers en route to win No. 18 on the season. It marked the fourth consecutive start in which he was credited with the W, and the 13th time in his past 16 decisions.

Wainwright is coming on, regardless of what the win total says. But there's no denying that the win total is a pretty nice one. Wainwright leads the Majors in the category, and on Tuesday against Florida, he'll go for No. 19.

"That's definitely a cool number," he grinned after picking up his 18th.

Wins have, rightly, lost some of their shimmer in recent years. Baseball analysis has made it very clear that a won-lost record is not a good way to evaluate a pitcher's ability. Nonetheless, to pitchers themselves, the number is an important one. To Wainwright, the even bigger number is his team's record when he pitches -- and, by the way, it's pretty good. The Redbirds have gone 22-8 when their young ace takes the mound.

As a result, he may also be closing in on another kind of individual recognition: the Cy Young. Carpenter, of course, has won one, and he's one of Wainwright's top challengers. So is San Francisco dervish Tim Lincecum. But that win total could secure it for Wainwright. Rightly or wrongly, the voters are extremely likely to reward him if he stands three or four wins clear of the rest of the league when the season ends.

"It would be cool," he admitted. "It would be awesome to win that. But winning for the team comes first. If I could get another ring, of course I would rather do that. But you win an award like that, it [means that] all the hard work that you've done going into the season and during the season, the adjustments you made during the season, it's paying off. Whether I win it or not, I still feel pretty good about my season."

He ought to. It's been an excellent one. He recently crossed the 200-inning mark for the second time in his career. His 2.59 ERA would be the lowest of his career, significantly better than even the year he spent in relief (2006). He's obliterated his personal mark in strikeouts, with 175. He is, simply, an elite pitcher.

Even the one number that might be used against him doesn't tell the whole story.

"Those seven losses," said manager Tony La Russa, "are very misleading."