As we sit here on this fine Sunday morning, the Cardinals’ season is five games old. Now, admittedly, five games is not nearly enough time to really figure out much of anything in the game of baseball, where trends are usually measured in months, if not years, and you can always always always find both old-timers to caution you against flash in the pan so-called prospects before they’ve made their third all-star team and nauseatingly dogmatic internet posters to castigate you for ever daring to try and have a point of view before the sample sizes have stabilised. Which you find more insufferable is really a matter of personal taste.
However, what five games does, in fact, give us is one full turn through the starting rotation. And what a turn through the rotation we’ve seen. From Carlos Martinez’s Opening Night domination of the defending champs to yesterday’s Pac-Man Fever, which showcased what could comfortably be termed ‘vintage’ Michael Wacha in spite of the fact September of 2013 really doesn’t qualify as vintage anything, we saw the sort of pitching this first trip through the rotation that could make the Cardinals a force to be reckoned with in the National League this year. (Of course, we also witnessed a whole bunch of other issues with the team that will probably keep them from reaching those heights, but let’s accentuate the positive for the moment, shall we?)
The collective ERA of the Cardinal starters over the first five games of the season was a remarkable 1.71. Lance Lynn was probably the shakiest of the five, and even in his first proper start back since undergoing Tommy John surgery Lynn looked more than solid. This was the starting rotation we hoped we would see last season, but never quite showed up. Well, aside from some El Gallo starts; Carlos was mostly what we hoped he would be. The rest of the rotation, though....
So here’s the thing: I think the Cardinal rotation this year has a chance to be a dominant force. And I think the Cardinal rotation deserves a gimmick to match that potential level of dominance. And while I know there have been some rumblings and grumblings all around Redbird Nation that some fans are perhaps tired of being heels, tired of being hated, that these so-called fans want to go back to being classy, respectful, knowledgeable Cardinal fans cheering for a tough underdog team, I say to hell with that. Me, I’m nowhere near done with this heel run, and the fact the Cubs are on top now just means the takedown is going to be all the sweeter.
What I’m proposing is that our rotation needs a new gimmick, and I have just the thing. This is clearly an all-time great starting rotation, and so this all-time great starting rotation should be named after an all-time great heel stable.
I speak, of course, of the Four Horsemen.
Now, for those of you who are not familiar with wrestling history of the 1980s — which I can’t imagine is a real thing, but I’m trying to make allowances for the fact some of you have never even seen a pair of $600 alligator shoes, much less worn them — the Four Horsemen were perhaps the greatest heel faction of all time. They ran roughshod over the NWA and Jim Crockett promotions, and left an indelible mark on the business. Which is just what our starting rotation is going to do. And I think you’d be surprised just how well the Cards’ starters match up with the original Horsemen.
We can tackle Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha together, mostly because I’ve got one video clip that covers both perfectly. Waino is J.J. Dillon, the eldest of the group, and often considered the brains of the operation. Dillon was a classic talker, a slick dresser, and the man who greased palms when palms needed to be greased. Behind the scenes, Dillon was the right-hand man of Dusty Rhodes when Rhodes was the booker for Crockett, and exactly the sort of man who would be consulted before anyone but he was handed an opening day starting slot.
Wacha fits perfectly into the Barry Windham role, as the ultra-talented but fragile big man from Texas. Windham’s career was frequently interrupted by injury, most often to his knees, but when in the ring he performed at a level very few of his contemporaries could match. Wacha’s changeup could conceivably be called a ‘flying lariat’, if we really wanted to lean into the gimmick, although I doubt we could talk the idiotic announcers this club is saddled with to help us out on this one. Windham and Wacha also both qualify as ‘unconventionally handsome’, at least if we are to trust li’l scoot’s taste in tall righties.
Moving on, we come to Lance Lynn, and his counterpart Arn Anderson. Like Anderson, Lynn is easily the most underrated performer in the rotation (particularly by blog authors composing super dumb wrestling-themed articles), and at first blush perhaps comes off as the least interesting of the group. On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent Lynn and Anderson were both the bedrock upon which so much of the success of their stables were built. Deceptively straightforward, both men were powerhouses who outperformed less-than-chiseled physiques, and did so by simply punching harder than the guy they were fighting. If the Cards’ rotation has an enforcer, I don’t think there’s really any debate who it is.
Mike Leake might be the easiest parallel to draw of anyone (well, with one notable exception I’ll get to here in a moment), as he matches so perfectly with Tully Blanchard it’s a little scary. Both are smaller than their compatriots and competitors, have small men’s chips on their shoulders, both look ever so slightly weaselly, and both have pretty clearly sold someone a very light dime bag out the passenger window of a Trans Am at least once or twice in their lives. I would also bet that either one of them would be more than capable of fighting their way out of a bar with a broken off billiard cue, or perhaps just a really good cut fastball. You don’t have to outmuscle your opposition when you can outthink them, or maybe plant some shoplifted shirts in their locker. And both have at least a mild case of the crazy eyes.
You may notice that I didn’t start at the top of the rotation, and so far have yet to mention the man who took that Opening Day start away from J.J. Dill- er, Adam Wainwright. And considering I drew the parallel to the Four Horsemen, yet I have a pitcher left over, you might be wondering what — or who — I could be saving for Carlos Martinez.
Well, the answer is simple, children. Carlos Martinez is the one member of the Horsemen who was never really a member at all. If there’s any starter on this Cardinal team who can rightly be described as both stylin’ and profilin’ every time he takes the mound, it is most definitely Mr. Carlos Ernesto Martinez. When El Gallo is on the mound, you’re looking at the man. Admittedly, I don’t think Carlos has a Ric Flair robe to wear when he’s coming out of the bullpen at the start of the game, nor alligator cleats, but I think he’s plenty ready for a Nature Boy gimmick of his own all the same.
And who could forget the promo Carlos cut on Kris Bryant after that Opening Night performance? “You wanna be the man, you gotta beat the man. And Bryant? Right here in St. Louis Missouri, I’m. The. Man.”