Friday, December 14, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Marlins

 Well...what did you expect?

Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna left. Bour left midway through the season. There wasn't a great deal of talent abound anyway, was just gonna be a long year for the Marlins any way they shook it. The object was to rebuild, and I don't even think they even did that.

Jose Urena, who was their breakout ace in 2017, floundered, finishing with a 9-12 record, and a 4.00 ERA. He's not as terrible as other Miami starters, and he could still become something great, but his abilities could not withstand this Marlins season.

 J.T. Riddle, who previously lost the SS spot to Miguel Rojas last year, gained it back after Rojas moved to a utility position, and did marginally better than 2018, though his .231 average left a bit to be desired.

Isaac Galloway, a 28-year-old rookie who'd toiled in the minors for 10 years, finally was able to add his piece to the argument, and managed to notch some crucial starts late in the year, proving his ability to hit for distance (despite not necessarily hitting for average). Galloway will definitely be in the mix for a starting gig in '19, possibly having more of a case than Lewis Brinson.

Coming Tomorrow: Meet the Mets. While, uh, while they're still here.

2018 Topps Holiday Box, or Snow (Hey Oh)

We've reached the dregs of the card-buying season. The point in the year where there's really nothing on the shelves truly worth buying except for reruns, repacks, old football boxes that nobody bought, and...Topps Fire, which I didn't especially WANT. But there you go.

And yet I wanted cards, had been a hot second, and we need some tangible content on here. Wal-Mart had some surpluses of 2018 Topps Holiday. Now, I haven't bought the last few Holiday releases Topps has done, mostly due to the lightweight nature of the release, but...desperation, and the 'one hit per box' thing, got the best of me.

Topps Holiday is merely the flagship set...but slightly thicker and with snowflakes. It's the opposite of Opening Day, which represents Spring and new opportunities. They should call it Closing Day, because everything is cold and depressing.

Like I said, one hit per box, in ten packs. Thanks to my 'guaranteed hit' from 2018 Topps Update, which was a manu-plastic-thingy that isn't in any way a hit, I'm skeptical, but...I'm not getting this JUST FOR the hit. I'm getting this because I haven't got any better options.

Here we go:

 Pack 1-
So yeah, this is what it is. If you've seen Flagship, you know exactly what you're getting, but it's pretty amusing how the snowflake gradient factors in. On Hamilton's, it just looks like the wall needs to be cleaned. On Buxton's, it just makes the action shot a bit cooler.

The pack highlights, at least for me. Nola's is a must have, as I'm slowly becoming a player-collector of his. Kinsler's brings up the point that Update Series cards are also included in this checklist, which is a nice touch.

Pack 2-
Standard base. Something about the way Greinke's blue number pops with the gradient is kinda cool.

 Horizontal highlights. Thor looks like a boss, but what else is new. I like that the gradient is slight enough on Story's that it doesn't really impede much on the loud purple tones.

Personal highlights. The Schwarber is a 1-in-2 Metallic Snowflake parallel. You can't really tell from the scan, but some of his card's gradient pops a bit, and is a more metallic finish. It's slight, but in a set without inserts it's pretty cool.
And Happ and Frazier are always welcome.

Pack 3-
Standard stuff here. Seager and Encarnacion's teams have been doing some dealing with each other this year. Now they're teammates, I think.

Some cool horizontals. The snow looks kind of odd on Gordon's, but the Felix and O'Neill ones benefit from it, I think.
Pack highlights. It's nice that Topps picked a different photo for Chris Archer than his Update release, which is a nice touch. The rest are the same, but they're still pretty cool, especially Posey's.

Pack 4- Standard base stuff. The one problem with making the gradient the same for each card is you run the risk of having the snowflakes interfere with the photo, like it nearly does with Gallo's, getting damn close to his helmet. If it weren't standard, it'd give you more room to have fun with it. Heck, you could make only the batter's figure pop out and cover the rest in snow, as a sort of reverse of the 2009 Black packs.

The lone horizontal in this pack. I think it looks pretty cool in the snowflake pattern. This box is also an excuse for me to evaluate 2018 flagship cards I didn't end up pulling. This Thames one is pretty nice.

 Highlights. Fowler's is a metallic snowflake. How funny is it that of these three, Fowler's the only one staying in that uniform for 2019.

Pack 5-
Base stuff. I feel like the more dramatic the card, the more fitting the snowflakes are- the Smith and Olsen ones work with these, I think. But also, action shots, like Martinez and Rendon, also work.

So this was my hit.

...Not bad, eh?

I put Hader in as an extra Brewer, but getting a bat card of Lorenzo Cain in an ASG-Caliber year for him...where he made the NLCS? Not bad at all. I like that this wasn't just another plain white swatch of a Baltimore backup outfielder or something. BAT CARD...of a great player. Nice job, Topps.

 Pack 6- With the suspense out of the way, the rest of this box is still kinda cool. Again, I've seen most of these before, but Mejia's San Diego uniform still looks fresh.

Didn't have the flagship version of this. 'Tis a nice shot.

A trio of Pirates ends this pack. Marte's is a metallic snowflake.

Pack 7- Fun base standards. Merrfield and Hamels are the only ones here who had a halfway decent year.

Some definite highlights. Andujar's rookie is cool no matter what the theme is. Plus, depictions of Curtis Granderson's brief-but-awesome tenure with Toronto are always welcome in my house.

Pack 8- Commons. Merrifield's is a metallic snowflake. Newcomb's looks even cooler with the gradient.

Some cool sideways shots. Anderson's is the best, which is why he gets to stay on his team this year. Bruce and Dozier won't be so lucky.
Genuine legends right here. All benefit from this gradient. Ichiro's might be the coolest, as it works with or without the snowflakes. Because he's Ichiro, and he's that awesome.

Pack 9- Unspectacular base stuff early on. Kingery's does stand out, as the bright red and the white border do mix well. Renfroe's is just a great photo.

Horizontal favorites. It is kinda nice, though, that I really liked Segura's style of gameplay before he joined one of my teams. And Tanaka's just awesome.

Base highlights. None of these photos were especially new to me, but the Correa one does fit the best with the theme, I think.

Pack 10- Doolittle's reds stand out the best here amidst the snow. Also, the beard doesn't hurt either. More Brewers add to the unintentional theme of this box, even though Schoop's year in Milwaukee wasn't great.

Both of these cool photos work with the snowflakes. Especially the Frazier. Hell, that just improves the original card.

And we end with a Ramirez metallic snowflake, a welcome Ohtani RC, and...the most intriguing card of the box. Justin Bour's is a card that wasn't in Update or flagship, as his Phillies deal went through after Update went to print. So this Justin Bout card is a rarity that won't be found anywhere else. And as a Phillies fan, that's pretty nice.


If the Bour deal went through on August 10th, WAY before this went to print...what was stopping Topps from adding LATER waiver trades to this set? Hell, how come Curtis Granderson still gets a Blue Jays uniform, but Bour gets his new one? If you're making room for some, why not make room for all? I know August 31st is a bit closer to print for Holiday, but...there could have been more room made.

Again, it's silly, and I'm glad I got a Bour Phils card anyway, but...c'mon Topps!

Overall, this box was...amusing. I'm certainly glad I got some of these, especially the Bour, Archer and Cain relic. If you're gonna do a set like this, you should have variation from flagship, and this set...sort of does? There's enough that's different to make me feel like I got something from this, but there's still a lot of reused base.

Still...I enjoyed myself. Which, at the holidays, is all one really needs.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Mariners

Back in about...July, I'd say, I had a conversation with my uncle, who's a lifetime Mariners fan. And we were talking about the Wild Card game. How our teams were gonna square off, and it'd be a matter of whether Mitch Haniger and Nelson Cruz could outhit Severino.

That...didn't exactly happen. And the Mariners CONTINUE to be the unluckiest team in baseball. Their playoff drought is about to go into its eighteenth year, they've given away Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, James Paxton and Edwin Diaz...for practically nothing, and they're continuing to unload as we speak. A team that felt playoff-bound midway through this season is going to start next season looking like a shell of itself. Which is unfortunate.

Speaking of a shell of itself, Felix Hernandez is...that. He's lost his velocity, and his ability to consistently win games, and now all he a strikeout artist that's resting on mythology. He's 32, and he's not quite a lock for the Hall, but...if he can turn his rotten luck around, and regain his mid-decade mojo, the Mariners could be in better shape.

 Ryon Healy was plucked from...the eventual Wild Card finalist to play first base, and occasionally DH, for the M's, and this kind of illuminated how unfit he was for that A's roster. He's a hitter with middling defensive ability and a low average, and could only do so much with a .235 average, despite the 24 homers. He'll have to compete with Edwin Encarnacion in 2019, who had a much better season this year.

 Even in a season where he'd be the MLB's top Seager brother by default, Kyle Seager still disappointed for the umpteenth year, continuing his 2017 trend of striking out too damned much and slipping his average. He's becoming a liability both at the plate and in the field, with negative saber metric stats in both categories. Perhaps Healy will be competing with HIS position.

 Alex Colome was a solid eighth-inning man for the M's this year, and made up their impressive bullpen. In a perfect world, he'd be their closer for 2019, but he was traded to Chicago for, admittedly, a needed catching pickup in Omar Narvaez.

Cameron Maybin, kind of like last year, came to a new team at the trade deadline and didn't really do a whole lot for them. Which is a shame, because he was doing alright in Miami. He'll likely be a cheap free agent for someone who needs outfield help (so perhaps he'll return to San Diego?)

Coming Tomorrow- Speaking of Miami, they had a predictably atrocious year after losing all their big stars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Indians

The Cleveland Indians, though not quite as powerful as years past, did manage to put together an outstanding squad this year, though their foibles did shine through during their playoff series with the Astros, causing an earlier exit than they'd have liked. But they still have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to keep in mind when crafting the 2019 team.

For instance...Greg Allen's a pretty great choice for a starting outfielder. Granted, his addition to the fold came after Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall got injured, but his speed, youth, and superior hitting beat out Rajai Davis for the final spot, alongside Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera. He'll probably be well within the fold next year.

Speaking of Melky Cabrera, the ex-Yankee did have something of a comeback season after fading off into Kansas City last year. The Tribe took a chance on Melk well into the season, and his home run hitting and power quickly returned, surprisingly bringing a .280 average along with it. He's a free agent next year, so expect someone less fortunate to pick him up, but the Indians must be thankful for his work down the stretch.

And despite not being at 2016 levels, Rajai Davis' return to Cleveland was alright, as he did pretty well off the bench, with 21 steals, and 44 hits. He's obviously not what he used to be (I mean, he's 37 for Pete's sake), but he's still a good bench tool for any team to have.

 As for the rotation, while it was primarily predictable as to who would dominate, Shane Bieber did manage to sneak into the 5th spot and notch an 11-5 record, as well as being the fifth of five Cleveland starters with 10+ wins. His starting spot may be in slight jeopardy next year, especially as he's still in fifth, but I imagine he'll prove himself in Spring Training.

 Another comeback story in Cleveland concerned Oliver Perez, a former starter and Mets hero, who quickly became the only competent relief pitcher in the city. Thankfully he wasn't spread too thin, and ended the year with a 1.39 ERA.

Leonys Martin's Indians tenure this year ended a bit prematurely, thanks to a freak injury, but he still proved they made a great choice in trading him from Detroit, as he hit .333 in his 6 games in Cleveland, with 2 home runs. He'll definitely be an integral piece of the team in 2019.

And Cody Allen, the Indians' usual choice for closer, had a weak end to the year, hitting only 27 saves, his lowest since getting the gig in 2014, and blowing 5, his most ever. His job was mostly usurped by Brad Hand, though he still found some time in middle relief throughout the end of the season, as well as the postseason.

Coming Tomorrow- They're giving their best away, which proves that some bad decisions spoiled what could have been a great 2018 for them.

Cutch in Philly: The Upside

I'm gonna be honest: following the Winter Meetings has been relatively disappointing so far. Not much has happened. Yes, a cheap starter is signed here and there, a bench player is traded, but the BIG GUNS have stayed on the board, and except for Billy Hamilton heading to Kansas City and Ivan Nova heading to Chicago, there hasn't been a lot worth analyzing.

Hell, the most analysis-worthy move is one that's probably never going to happen: the much maligned deal that would send J.T. Realmuto to Queens, Noah Syndergaard to the Bronx, and Miguel Andujar to Miami, which has thankfully been vetoed by several persons involved.

So...if that's not happening, then what do we have to show for the first two days of the Winter Meetings??

...We have Andrew McCutchen. Or, more specifically, the Philadelphia Phillies have Andrew McCutchen.

First of all, how do I feel about this deal? One of my favorite players gets to play for one of my favorite teams for 3 years. That's friggin' awesome. I don't need to travel across the damned state to see Cutch play, I can just hop on the subway and see him in town. That is convenient as all hell, and I love it. Also, Cutch will now get to commandeer the Philadelphia outfield, and will get to work with Odubel Herrera and probably Nick Williams. As for Altherr and Quinn, uh...I have no idea, but...maybe?

Now, the fans online, especially Phillie fans, have felt betrayed by this move, as it apparently came 4 years too late, and it's apparently a cruel replacement for the Harper deal they're all waiting for. Do I think they're being harsh? Of course. They get a solid outfield bat, and they're complaining because they didn't get THE solid outfield bat they wanted. Are they forgetting that Bryce Harper has really only had two good seasons? Cutch has only really had one BAD season, comparatively. Cutch is also less of an infuriating personality, more of a leadership figure, and, ahem, more likely to have consistent progress for the length of the contract.

Again, we may still get Harper, and we may still deal with the consequences of that contract, but...Andrew McCutchen is less of a risk than Harper. Yes, Cutch is 32, but...he also had a nice 2018, which I can't really say about Harper. This is one of those times where I'd like to be wrong about Harper, but right now the name outweighs the talent. it stands, we have a former MVP outfielder who might be the piece that makes us a playoff threat again. Which isn't bad at all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Giants

Well...I'm not really sure what the Giants were expecting in 2018, but they finished in fourth place, thanks in part to dedicating 60% of their roster to people over 30. Of the two major 30+ signings this year, one lasted 5 months, while the other was injured for a portion of the year...and their marquee catcher decided to follow suit.

So, not a great year, but they learned a lot. Hopefully. I don't know, if they sign J.A. Happ, Bartolo Colon and Jose Reyes this offseason, then maybe they haven't.

One of the few signals of youth in this roster was Alen Hanson, a 25-year-old journeyman utility specialist who spent the majority of the season filling in for Joe Panik and Evan Longoria. He did a heck of a job, too, sporting 74 hits in 110 games, and stealing the exact amount of bases the two men he covered for stole combined this year. He's gonna be a decent guy to have around next year.

 In a year where the two most likely aces, Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, missed time due to injury, it was Derek Holland who was the most consistent head of the rotation, notching his best season since 2013, with 169 strikeouts and a 3.60 ERA. Not bad at all, especially after a mediocre year in Chicago in 2017.

 One of the few homegrown talents to step up this year was Chris Stratton, whose solid early material ballooned out to a 10-10 finish. I expect him to be a solid fifth man next year.

 Still one of the better relievers in the NL, Tony Watson did his usual damage on the unsuspecting lineups of the NL West this year, with 72 strikeouts in 66 innings, and a 2.60 ERA. Not bad at all for a fourth place team. tough.

Hunter Pence is one of my favorite players, thanks to his insatiable spirit, and his wonderful season in Philadelphia. After several great years with the Giants, 2 rings, and a load of fan support, Pence decided he'd be retiring after the 2018 season, thanks to some pesky injuries. It made sense, still hurt. And as you can see from this photo, the fans weren't ready to say goodbye yet, but they gave him one hell of a finale.

Coming Tomorrow- The unluckiness continues for one of the strongest perennial teams in the AL to be stuck without rings.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Dodgers

Wanna know how good the Dodgers were this year?

Rich Hill had a 3.60 ERA, 150 strikeouts, and a 11-5 record...and I only JUST NOW got to making a custom of him, because he kept getting usurped by more urgent subjects throughout the year.

...There were people on the Dodgers more urgent...than a guy with an 11-5 record and 150 strikeouts.

Even though they lost the World Series again, the Dodgers were still a fantastic story, going from a disappointment in third to owning the leagues in September. Rich Hill, who sadly has become a bit more normalized after breaking back into the majors 8 years after we'd counted him out, had a great season as third man, even if his usual injuries midseason lessened his power.

Same with Alex Wood, who, after an impressive 2017, slumped to slightly lower numbers, with only 135 strikeouts, and a 9-8 record. Wood, to his credit, was one of the few pitchers who mostly avoided the mid-May injury spree. He missed a FEW starts, but mostly stayed a useful arm. By the season's end, he was sadly optioned to the bullpen, but I doubt he'll stay there for long.

 While not necessarily at starter caliber yet, Enrique Hernandez is a dangerous bench bat who went to work this postseason, getting back to his usual low-average high-power stuff.

 Kenta Maeda, seen here in a really cool shot, went the route I thought Hyun-Jin Ryu would go...he pitched moderately as a started, then was moved to the bullpen post-overflow. He's still a great arm, but he's down a ways from his epic 2016 debut.

 Pedro Baez is still a fantastic bullpen arm during the regular season, despite his dominance sliding a bit once the postseason begins.

And...yeah, this happened this year.

Chase Utley, one of the heroes of my youth, one of the icons of Philadelphia sports of my generation, announced his retirement, and said goodbye during his series in Philly. He's definitely got a HOF case, and he's definitely a legend in Philly, so I couldn't help but memorialize him with a dramatic, dynamic custom. You'll be missed, Chut.

Coming Tomorrow- Proof that signing a bunch of 30-year olds pre-season doesn't amount to a ring.