After the Washington Nationals signed 28-year old right-hander Edwin Jackson to a one-year deal worth around $10 million on Wednesday, I did something I haven't done since a wild Colt 45-filled night in a Holiday Inn on the Tennessee border long ago. I went to the drawer and pulled out the Good Book looking for some scripture.
I had some idea of what I wanted to find. I don’t claim to be the holiest of rollers, but I knew I had to flip to the back of the book. While thumbing through the bible paper, my mind thumbed across the top of the Nationals rotation and its saints. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and now Jackson—have mercy! That is a rotation Washington has been praying to have and a rotation their rivals have been praying never to meet.
Sure, up north the Philadelphia Phillies have their "Holy Trinity" in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels; a Bermuda Triangle of pitchers that many of the Phillies faithful believe will one day lead them back to the promised land. But if the 2011 season taught us anything, it is to beware false prophets. That seemingly ordained rotation was infallible and you can certainly argue the Nationals' new rotation still has some work to put in. A lot clearly has to go right.
But I was not looking for its vindication as a new power. I was trying to get a sense of what a rotation of this magnitude might do to the division and what it might mean for the Nationals themselves. What is a better place to look than the big black book? Finally, I found the passages I wanted:
"I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come and see!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest..."
So began the End of Days and the story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Great Seals were broken and the riders were unleashed upon the world as harbingers of doom and judgment before the glory. The book goes on to talk about how these guys brought on earthquakes, famines, horrible wars, the moon turning to blood and other lovely fireside tales to tell the kiddies. Heavy and horrible stuff. Revelations.
Oh, Mike Rizzo. What have you turned out on the NL East?
Jackson has his issues. His career numbers are lackluster: 60-60 overall with a 4.46 ERA. He tends to give up a lot of hits and in the past teams have been willing to part with him for whatever reason. However, Jackson is still young enough that his potential ceiling has yet to be reached. He has postseason experience. He has a cannon for an arm that, when added to the Nationals rotation, makes it a much more potent machine of destruction.
The most important key to the Jackson signing is not necessarily just adding another arm to the Nationals stable or even adding Jackson himself. Rather, it's about sending a message. Last season, the Nationals adopted an "Expect It" motto. In 2012 they have declared, "Expect the Unexpected." After the Nationals "lost" free agent Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers, many (including myself) closed shop and figured the Nationals were content to go into the 2012 campaign with what they had. If they did, words like "contenders" wouldn’t be part of the Washington vocabulary right now. Instead, they unexpectedly invested in Jackson and have changed the NL East even without the addition of a mega-signing like Fielder.
The Nationals have signed and sealed their Four Horsemen. Yes, it is a five-man rotation, but the fifth man at this point doesn’t really matter, be it Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan or Ross Detwiler. The Nationals will have seven deadly sins to choose from when Strasburg reaches his post-Tommy John innings limit, if Zimmermann can’t get to his 200-inning goal or if any unforeseeable events such as injuries happen.
Contention in 2012 now heavily rides on the Nationals' offense and whether they stay healthy or even show up. Rizzo and his Nationals have the pitching thing nailed down and every team in the division is crossing themselves and saying their Hail Mary's. I can’t say with absolute certainty the Nationals will reach Avalon in 2012, but they will certainly wreck absolute havoc on MLB, and much in part of it will come from their Horsemen.
The days of rotations full of the Livan Hernandezs’, Shawn Hills and Tim Reddings are in the history books. A wise man once said, "The meek shall one day inherit the earth." Indeed, it looks like that prophecy is reaching fulfillment, at least in Washington, for the "lowly Nationals" aren’t so lowly anymore.