Michael Wacha was the 2013 NLCS MVP. Trevor Rosenthal is the shutdown closer, on the mound when the pennant was clinched.
But I maintain that none of the endless parade of young pitchers in the Cardinals' organization (and there are more coming, by the way) is as much fun to watch as Carlos Martinez. He might just end up the best of all of them.
So it was a big deal when Martinez started against the New York Mets on Monday night. If you like pitching, I hope you had the chance to watch him.
The Cardinals are in a difficult position with Martinez. They entered spring training knowing that, purely on talent and potential, they didn't have five pitchers better for the rotation than Martinez.
But they also knew they wanted Martinez contributing for the entire season, and the young hurler had thrown a total of 108 innings last season.
Accordingly, he's been pitching a hybrid role for the team this season, first in the eighth inning, then in longer relief stints with an eye toward stretching him out. And when Adam Wainwright needed to miss a start due to injury, the Cardinals gave Martinez the shot.
It was interesting, and instructive, to hear Cardinals manager Mike Matheny talk about giving Martinez this chance in the context of the team's communication with the young pitcher.
"It's part of keeping to our word," Matheny said prior to the game. "We've had other opportunities that didn't seem quite right. The role he was filling in the bullpen didn't allow us the freedom to bounce him into a start. He still has a big role for us in the bullpen, but this is an opportunity that is also a necessity. We need somebody to step up and take this start for Adam. I think Carlos can do a good job with it."
It was noteworthy because, for all the abuse Matheny takes about his in-game managing, his strength is communicating with players. Now, this is something you'll often hear as a defense for managers. Sometimes it's true, sometimes it's a fig leaf. Matheny is an example of the former. If you talk to Cardinals players, and not even explicitly about the manager, they'll routinely mention something Matheny has said to them, or the way he interacts with them.
In Martinez's case, that's particularly important. He's a very young man, hyper-aware of how talented he is, and deeply committed to becoming a starting pitcher. I witnessed his first start in person last August and saw how much it meant to him.
As Matheny put it back then: "He's been wanting to start, he's been asking me for a long time," Matheny said at his postgame presser. "I make rounds every day, talk to the guys. I've been working on his English, he's been working on my Spanish, and that was one of the conversations we had one day. He was asking me what he could do to where he could start for this team one day."
What he can do was on display from the very beginning against the Mets on Monday night. He first hit 100 MPH on the third pitch of the game. He threw his devastating changeup, at 89, to strike out Bobby Abreu. Then came another 100 at pitch 17, a third at pitch 19. The Mets did very little against Martinez, when he executed his pitches. No one really can.
There were some clear signs Martinez was making just his second major league start. Possessing that arsenal, yet walking Ruben Tejada, is one of them. The most encouraging sign of Martinez's growth was not just the result, but the process for getting out of trouble.
After that Tejada walk, an error by Jhonny Peralta put two on. Two batters later, Martinez faced David Wright in a 1-1 game. With the count 1-1, Martinez elected to throw his 86 MPH silder, perhaps his best one of the night, and had Wright flailing to get ahead 1-2. Another slider froze Wright, and the inning was over.
Martinez seemed to tire in the fourth, which was understandable. He'd entered the inning having already thrown 41 pitches, and his season-high was 47. But rather than fall back on his remarkable fastballs to try and power him through the inning, Martinez knew he needed to mix to pitch out of trouble. Another great slider got him even on Taylor Teagarden. A first-pitch slider got him ahead of Tejada.
Here's how a tired Martinez ended his night, striking out Eric Young Jr. to leave the bases loaded: 99, 99, 89, 91 (a pair of changeups), 99, and an 86 MPH slider to finish Young off.
You can be sure Mike Matheny noticed.
"Even though he still had the velocity, he was trying to make pitches," Matheny said after last night's game. "That's really the next level he has -- what he can do with his offspeed pitches."
The way the Cardinals have used him gives them maximum flexibility with Martinez as he approaches that next level. The team uses more sophisticated metrics than innings pitched when determining workload, but a decent rule of thumb is to look at a max of 30 to 40 innings over last season's total. He threw 108 last year. If he averaged six innings per start, going every fifth day for the remainder of 2014, he'd check in at 146 2/3 innings.
He's not going to do that right away, in all likelihood. Wainwright looks ready to resume his season Saturday, bouncing Martinez from his current slot. Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Jaime Garcia and Wacha are all pitching quite well. It'll take some creative thinking to get Martinez the multi-inning outings he'll need to stay stretched out, but there's little reason to believe the Cardinals won't do it. They've managed it well so far.
And they should. June's extra starter could well be October's Game 3 starting pitcher. The baseball season has a way of converting today's pitching surplus into tomorrow's best hope.
In the meantime, expect Martinez to keep working on his full complement of pitches. Expect Matheny to keep talking to him, in two languages, getting him ready for that moment Martinez's start is more than a season filler, and his name embodies the national buzz of Wacha and Rosenthal.