Saturday, April 29, 2017

Maik Drop


So...the Philadelphia Phillies still exist..

Yeah, you probably forgot about that, didn't you?

Ever since the collapse of their unstoppable 2008-2011 rosters, they've been sort-of an afterthought in the MLB. In 2012, the Nationals took over, and since then pretty much everyone else in the league (save for the Marlins) have had a chance to take over the division for a year. Meanwhile, the Phillies have lost all of the young stars that made their 2008 team great...though most of them just became old stars. They've been trying to bank on an alright farm system, and things are...sort of panning out?

Right now the Phils are in second place in the NL East, behind the still-fantastic Washington Nationals, and in front of the suddenly-injury-prone New York Mets. It's a very odd place to be for a team that's been really bad for a while. And this isn't even their best squad- right now Howie Kendrick's injured, and the roster isn't completely wonderful...but they're winning games, and that's reason to be a bit happy.

Mostly it's the pitching- Jeremy Hellickson, Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and even a surprisingly good return performance from Aaron Nola. They're keeping the team afloat, and Hellickson, like last season, is getting a ton of acclaim. At the same time...Cesar Hernandez cannot be ignored. He's having the best season of his career, and he's redeeming himself from his poor start after replacing Chase Utley. Yes, this is the Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera show, but Cesar Hernandez is doing a fantastic job of making Citizens Bank Park his own amphitheater.

Again, the Marlins and Mets have a bit more meat on them, so I'm not sure how long this will last, but it's amusing enough to see the Phillies win games against the best of them.

Coming Tonight: Testament to the youth movement in Cleveland- two years ago nobody knew who this guy was. Now he's one of the more powerful members of the Indians' lineup.

Friday, April 28, 2017

No Wieters? No Problem!


This is Welington Castillo. He's the catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. He is NOT Matt Wieters. However...that may not be an especially bad thing, as the Orioles are still winning games and owning the AL East even without the perennial All-Star catcher.

The most surprising part of the rise of this Orioles team is the efficiency of the pitching staff- guys who were simply 'okay' last year are doing some fine work so far, including Wade Miley, Dylan Bundy and former Philadelphia Phillie Alec Asher. Now...Kevin Gausman's lost some of the control of last season, and Ubaldo Jimenez...shouldn't be pitching on a major league roster, but the pitching staff as a whole is doing a TON better than people thought they'd be. There's some equality and the consistency of the lineup and the rotation for once...which is nice.

I mean, the lineup's still impressive- Adam Jones is back to playing insanely well, newbies Welington Castillo and Seth Smith are doing pretty well, and the usuals, like Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Jonathan Schoop, are doing pretty well. There are some holes, some guys who aren't playing as well as people thought (looking at you, Trumbo), but this is a team that's staying atop the AL East despite some competition from the streaking Yankees.

It's looking like it might be a two horse race for a while, until the Red Sox all get healthy, and the Orioles are more than well-equipped to fight for a while.

Coming Tomorrow- I've done customs for all 30 teams this month, except for one. Their star third baseman is still one of the coolest players in the leagues.

Ray of Light


(Both the post title and the uniform reek of 1998).

The Arizona Diamondbacks have finally managed to wrangle a squad capable of winning games. And it only happened a year after everyone thought it would.

The more interesting development is the rise of the farm system, and some of the guys on the team before the contract-buying frenzy. Brandon Drury, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas and Chris Owings are off to fantastic starts, and those are the guys that, for the most part, were here in 2015, before the big guys got here. So, what's honestly happened is the Diamondbacks have come into their own independently, just with the help of one or two contracts (or, really just with the help of Zack Greinke, as he's the only one that really worked).

This was kind of what I was expecting to happen- the D-Backs had a solid core, a leader in Paul Goldschmidt, and some starting points that the newbies would help with, and while most of said newbies have left, there's still a ton of improvement, growth, and success here. A lot is clicking, and a lot of people are succeeding, even after tanking last season. Robbie Ray, one of the few bright spots of the 2016 roster, is throwing beautifully, and making even more of a case for legitimacy (even in a rotation with Zack Greinke at the helm.)

Look, with the Giants tanking and the Dodgers succumbing to injuries, it makes sense that the D-Backs and Rockies have taken the opportunity to rise to the top of the division. The real test is going to be whether or not a team like Arizona can stay on top throughout the season, without succumbing to some of the problems they've faced in the past. It's gonna be very interesting to see how it pans out.

Coming Tonight: Former 2016 Diamondback (HEY!), now impressive catcher for an impressive team.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

...THEY'RE in Last???


I mean...they've got a guy with a 1.39 ERA, two rookies who're blazing through the league, and Nelson Cruz finally deciding to hit again. Yes, they're uneven, but with so much going for them, you'd think the Mariners would be higher than last.

I saw James Paxton pitch against the Pirates, and on this particular night the Pirates clobbered the hell out of him. He didn't have his best stuff, and he was dominated by Marte and McCutchen and those guys. So imagine my surprise when, top of the season, James Paxton is on a ton of the Leaders charts. Like...I thought he was crap!

Whatever he's been doing has been working- he's got a low ERA and a ton of strikeouts right off the bat. He hasn't had many bad outings thus far, and he's currently anchoring the dilapidated Mariners rotation, in the absence of an alarmingly weak Felix Hernandez. In a last-place team, you need a few sources of hope, and Paxton's performance thus far is a sign that maybe this won't be a perennial last place squad this season.

Look...Taylor Motter and Mitch Haniger have come from nowhere (read: trades) and are having amazing rookie seasons. Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz are FINALLY hitting.  Even if a lot of the lineup is slumping, and even if the rotation's looking dire, all hope's not lost if what's surging currently for the M's continues to surge.

Coming Tomorrow- Strikeout artist for a surprisingly wonderful NL West squad.

Red Rain is Coming Down...


Okay, so the Reds aren't in first anymore, but...to be honest, well kinda knew that was coming. No offense to Reds fans, but if it seems too good to be true, and if it happens in April...it might be.

And it's not to say the team isn't bad- people are hitting pretty well, and the momentum is strong. There's a nice assortment of new players begin tested in positions, along with people who've been there a while, like Zack Cozart and Joey Votto, just watching over it all. Things aren't perfect in the lineup, but it's working well enough.

Really, what's stopped the Reds from doing well so far is the pitching- Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Rookie Davis, three strong starters, are all on the DL. And they don't have much to clean up. Tim Adleman and Cody Reed have started games, but they're kinda inexperienced. Bronson Arroyo and Scott Feldman are anchoring the rotation, but neither one has a great deal left in the tank. It's problematic...and, honestly, it has been ever since Johnny Cueto left.

While this team does have a chance of being good this year, so much is holding them back that it's hard to say anything definitive. They're incomplete, a bit untested, a bit rusty. They're winning games, which is fantastic, but I'm not sure if they're gonna factor into the season's endgame.

Coming Tonight: A Mariners pitcher who's suddenly, inexplicably, become one of the most un-hittable pitchers in baseball.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Avisail of the Century


The AL is weird this year, man.

All three divisions just have, like, a ton of teams either trying to compete or not even trying, leaving just one team out, that's either way out in first or heavily behind in last. There's really not a middle ground.

The AL Central has one team that's completely out of the race, no real shot, and that's the Royals. The rest of the league is made up of teams that are lucky and holding court, like the Tigers and White Sox, teams that really should be heading to first, like the Indians, and teams that are just lucky to be winning this many games to begin with, like the Twins. It's all a weird, elaborate mess.

By this weird logic, the White Sox, formerly the worst team in the AL Central, are currently tied for second with the Indians...you know, those guys who almost won the World Series last year. Yeah. Them. What the hell kind of season is this?

I mean, the White Sox aren't doing too badly, as the pitching staff, even WITHOUT Chris Sale, is doing well- Miguel Gonzalez, James Shields and Derek Holland are doing a pretty nice job, and Jose Quintana may have to do a bit more work to get his ERA down. Avisail Garcia, usually the strikeout king, is sporting a HUGE batting average and playing better than ever, and even people like Tyler Saladino and Leury Garcia are doing pretty well.

Now, it's gonna take longer to get the rest of the lineup up to speed. I mean, Cody Asche, the DH, has a .057 Batting Average. There is a REASON the Phillies let go of him. It's a flawed team, but as long as they're doing well enough to stay out of last, it won't be too problematic. I'm not seeing the Sox making a serious October run, but it's looking like they'll be better than last year.

Coming Tomorrow- Hard-hitting outfielder for a team that's gone back down to earth since early April.

Box Break: 2015 Topps Pro Debut (Part One)


Wellllll...I took a risk.

Pro Debut has given Topps an opportunity to let collectors return to the usually-tricky art of prospecting, by giving them a non-Bowman set that allows them to find minor-league cards, XRCs, of players who'll be huge someday. So, given that now is probably the greatest time for Yankees rookies since the 1990s, I figured I'd pick up a box of 2015 Pro Debut, see if I could nab something resembling XRCs of players I collect.

Yes, I know it's more difficult than that, and if a player's already been in a bunch of Pro Debut sets, it's not really their XRC, but...still...a minor league card of a legitimately cool player is still a decent pickup.

24 packs per box, so I'll do 8 per post. 4 hits, but...I'm not really in this for the hits, as you'll see from the "hits" I ended up getting.

 Pack 1-
Current Major Leaguers: 2/8
Clint Coulter cards: 2/8

 The base set is kinda cool, as it's got more varied border colors than '15 Flagship, as well as having this cool, grayish feel. Coulter hasn't made it p yet, but he managed to snag a Promo Night Uniforms insert (a fantastic innovation),
 These two made their MLB debuts last year...and sort of fell apart after that. Giolito's now in the White Sox organization, and Tyler Glasnow's doing an okay job with a rotation slot in Pittsburgh.

 Pack 2-
Major Leaguers: 5/8
People Who Play for One of my Teams: 2/8
 Refsnyder's not as present this season, but was indeed a Yankee. Jones is having a great rookie year, and Hanson has worked some games for Pittsburgh.

 And a Distinguished Debuts insert from a guy who's thankfully rebounding a bit for Philly, Aaron Nola. Nice enough looking insert.

 Pack 3-
Current Major Leaguers: 5/8
Carlos Rodons: 2/8
MVPs: 1/8

 Before Carlos Rodon came up, there was a lot of hype surrounding him, how he'd be a huge prospect. How that he's in the bigs, he's...a third-string pitcher. Welp.

 Sano's having a HUGE season, one they've been waiting for. Alex Reyes is injured, but will hopefully come up soon for St. Louis.

 ....and this guy.

This isn't exactly an XRC, because he'd be up in the bigs that very same year, but...still, it's a minor league card of Kris Bryant. This is still a very, VERY big deal. I'm happy I have it.

 Pack 4-
Major Leaguers: 3/8
Relatives of Future HOFers: 1/8

 Waldrop's been tossed around in prospect lists. Gabby Guerrero's Vlad's nephew, and he's doing alright.

 Two third-string pitchers. McCullers is having a great season so far, though.

 Pack 5-
Major Leaguers: 1/4
....what?: 1/4
 Jose De Leon, now on the Rays, was the only MLB highlight.

So...we've hit our first, uh, hit...and, uh...


Let's just...let's just dissect this for a moment.

One of my guaranteed hits in a prospect-heavy product like Pro Debut...is a MANUFACTURED PATCH CARD...of a MASCOT. A mascot for a Minor League team. Is one of my two 'relic cards'.

This is a HIT that Topps places into a product to add the value. This is supposed to be worth something.


THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A SECOND.

What the HELL am I supposed to do with a manufactured patch card of a Mascot? Seriously! What can be done with this?

rrrrrgh I'll move on...

 Pack 6-
Major Leaguers: 5/8 (Welcome to the bigs, Christian Arroyo!)
Yankees: 2/8
Phillies: 1/8
 McKinney was still in the Cubs organization, but would land in the Bronx in the Chapman trade. Peter O'Brien was on the D-Backs...I forget if he's still there. Aaron Nola is, as i said earlier, finding his range again, possibly making a comeback.

 This guy, meanwhile...once he gets off the DL, will be back to his old tricks, I'm hoping.

I'm happy about what Gary Sanchez has brought to the Bronx. He's a huge hitter, a great field presence, and a guy I'd probably hate if he played anywhere else. Glad to have him, excited to get him back soon.

 So...PACK 7-
TWO CARDS IN THIS PACK...


And one of them was ANOTHER Manufactured Patch, this one of a pennant for a team, not even indicating a player, like Henry Owens, who's on the card. Again, it's barely even a relic, because it's a manufactured patch that hasn't gotten playing time, and has NOTHING TO DO WITH Henry Owens, even if he's played for that minor league team.

This isn't as bad as, say, having one of my hits be a manupatch of a fricking mascot...BUT IT'S CLOSE.
 Pack 8-
Major Leaguers: 3/8
Middle of the road pack here- Reed and Conley are struggling for playing time, and Dahl's on the DL, but he's gotta be awesome when he comes back.

Part 2 will be up soon. Hopefully it'll be better than...whatever that was.

Freddie Freeman Still Can't Catch a Break


For twenty years, Chipper Jones played third base for the Atlanta Braves. With him at the helm, they won a World Series, attended two others, stayed a solid team throughout, and held a standard as a consistently strong roster with great pitching, home run hitters, and fielding beyond compare. In 2012, Jones finally hung up his spikes, on a definite route to Cooperstown. He left the keys to Turner Field in the hand of a successor...a first baseman, named Freddie Freeman.

In Jones' absence, Freeman figured things would be exactly the same as they were when he resided over Atlanta. He was quite mistaken.

Since 2012, the Braves have won a single division title...and since then, they've been sinking deeper and deeper into the earth, giving up more and more star players, and signing more and more aging stars to try and take their places. And Freddie Freeman, despite being excellent at the game, despite being the best in average and homers every year...cannot...frigging...leave.

I feel bad for him, because if he hadn't had 'anchor of the team' status from the second Chipper left, he'd be tending a corner in San Francisco or something, someplace where there's titles. But he just can't seem to get out, mostly because of the contract, but also probably because of some blood pact he signed with Chipper and Bobby Cox that we don't know about.

The Braves are doing slightly better than last year, but...I mean, honestly, they could have set the whole stadium on fire and done better than last year. People are sort of hitting, Ender Inciarte's having another nice season, Julio Teheran's doing what he usually does, and Freeman, as usual, is unstoppable. But it's kind of all-for-naught, knowing that there's gonna be an outcome in the NL East that won't really include them.

At this point, Freddie Freeman should keep doing what he's doing. Not sure it'll get him anywhere but Atlanta, but he's at least still among the best.

Coming Tonight: Surprisingly well-hitting outfielder for a dilapidated Chicago team.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Are the Rays Not Doing Phrasing Anymore?


(You have no idea how hard it is to make a post about Chris Archer without referencing FX's Archer. No task it more difficult.)

Yeah, the Rays have continued their recent streak of being basically ineffective for most the time. Injuries have struck the lineup, and while Steven Souza and Corey Dickerson are sure as hell trying, nothing's really getting off the ground.

Partially, it's because the AL East is essentially a 3-horse race this year- the Orioles are the heavy favorite, with a ton of surging hitters- the Yankees have been streaking like hell and are already getting some 'are the Yankees for real' articles- meanwhile, the Dark Horse would have to be the Red Sox, as they're currently slumping in third, but...y'all know they're gonna make a comeback mid-season.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile...are still technically a baseball team.

The Rays, at this point, know they might not be able to compete with the top 3, so they're trying to be the best fourth place team they can be, which is...kinda working. Chris Archer's still a great pitcher, but he gets no run support. Sadly, the rest of the rotation doesn't have much going on. The lineup had so many great kernels and extra players...and now that half the team's injured, they're all being rushed into starting positions and it's not going very well.

For right now, they need to get to an equilibrium and figure out what kind of fourth place team they're gonna be. From there...things will kinda work themselves out.

Coming Tomorrow- Best player on one of the worst teams.

It's About Time: Rockies Edition


It may not seem evident by my posting of a pitcher who's only been around for a month as my totem for this, but the Colorado Rockies are FINALLY the team we've all been waiting for them to become. And it's about time, man.

This has been a lineup that's been slowly building, and growing, and getting stronger. I proclaimed last year that the infield of Reynolds-LeMahieu-Story-Arenado was one to be feared around the league...and this is still the case, even if Trevor Story needs a few less strikeouts to wind up above the Mendoza line. Mark Reynolds and Nolan Arenado are RULING this team, and DJ LeMahieu is still one of the best hitters-for-average in the game. Plus, even people like Gerardo Parra and Charlie Blackmon are contributing a ton to this team.

(Insert 'man, I wish Carlos Gonzalez was hitting' lamentation here, but this is supposed to be a happy post.)

I think that the defining factor here is that two relatively huge pieces of the 2016 team, Jon Gray and David Dahl, are out with injuries for a bit, and the team is thriving without them. Parra was supposed to be the backup outfielder, but with Dahl gone he's taken a full-on position and is running with it.Antonio Senzatela was brought up early on in the season as a rookie, and he's been producing enough stellar starts to slowly rise to the top of the rotation in Gray's absence, despite decent showings from Tyler Chatwood and Kyle Freeland.

This is a team that can withstand injuries to solid, integral players.

..and also Ian Desmond. But NEVERTHELESS...

Like with most posts around this time of the season, I've gotta end it with an 'it may not last' disclaimer, because if you think that things in April are going to stay exactly as they are in November, well...uh, hi Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Didn't know you read the blog. But I digress.

There's a chance that this could all fall apart in the next week or so, because it's not June and things aren't exactly set in stone on the season yet. But at the same time...this Rockies team has been sitting in third place for a few years, and maybe this is the year they do something. This might be it. But you never can tell, can you?

Coming Tonight- D'you wanna get a mediocre AL East team? Because this is how you get a mediocre AL East team.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Angels in the Danger Zone


(Okay, that was a relatively forced pun based on a direct-to-TV sequel that I'm surprised even got Christopher Lloyd back.)

I think it's pretty sad that even when you have Mike Trout, indefinitely the best player in baseball, on your team, you still can't friggin' win games.

The Angels have been gutted. Jered Weaver, Mark Trumbo, C.J. Wilson, Torii Hunter and David Freese, all of whom made a division title slightly easier to imagine, are all gone. Garrett Richards and Huston Street are injured for the second year in a row. Albert Pujols, Cameron Maybin, C.J. Cron and Danny Espinoza aren't off to great starts. Plus, with Richards gone, nobody's stepping up as an ace, and none of the starters are doing very well.

The team is a mess, and this is a sad sign to come from a club who was very close to competing only a few short years ago. At the very least, people like Trout, Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons and Yunel Escobar are off to some nice starts, but it's not going to be enough. This team needs to figure out how to rebuild without giving away Mike Trout to someone who'll use him to win World Championships....and if they can't, they have to legitimately consider that possibility.

Coming Tomorrow- A rookie hurler for a first-place Rockies team.

Box Break: 2016 Panini Diamond Kings (Part 2)


I posted the first half of this box break the other day, and so far, despite the fact that I'm not 100% in love with the new version of Diamond Kings, it's been a nice break. The inserts are kinda cool, the base design isn't the worst, and I also got a pretty great hit in a Gil Hodges jersey/bat card (the jersey swatch is slightly suspect, but I'm being optimistic.)

So, now for the rest of the box. I'm on the lookout for one more hit. I didn't really get this box for the MOJO HITZ per se, but they're a nice touch. Last box of DK I broke, I pulled a Starling Marte relic, which was a lot cooler before the PED outing.

Onto the last 6 packs...

 Pack 7- Two guys that haven't really done a ton in the NL West.

 Better. Guy on the left is doing a ton better than the guy on the right so far this year.

 LEGENDS.
1. You never see any Ellie Howard cards, and that's a damned shame. Ellie was an All-Star catcher and MVP, as well as being the first black New York Yankee, and one of the greatest non-HOF Yankee legends.
2. No Nap Lajoie in many products either, and since he was so legendary that a team was basically named after him, it's kinda deserving. True, he was a horse's ass, but back in that era of baseball it was alright to be a dick in baseball.
3. Mariano Rivera. I'm lucky to have seen him work the ninth, man.

 Finally, ANOTHER GUY you don't see in products a lot, and that's Cubs slugger Hack Wilson. Legendary hitter, even if his career was short for the time period. Glad to see an Honorable Feats insert dedicated to him.

 Pack 8-
2 more ineffective rookies, and an ineffective mini of Joe Mauer.

 Retire Legends- Half are in the Hall of Fame, and that's Brett and Bresnahan (another guy I'm happy to nab a card of). Vlad will be a Hall of Famer very soon. Maris...if the Veterans Committee is kind, will probably be there someday.

 Our Aficionado insert is of Nelson Cruz, whose spree of home runs has stopped short, suddenly, as he's having some trouble at the bat so far this season. Still, great to nab a card of him.

 Pack 9-
Two kinda weak rookies, and two kinda-weak legends. Groh I only know from a Dan Gutman book. Gil McDougald was the Yankee 2nd Baseman in the 1950's.

 Three superstars. Bryant and Kluber met briefly last October. Syndergaard was there a year early.

 My Heritage insert for this pack is of a guy I don't collect, Will Clark. Lovely.

 Pack 10-
One interesting rookie there in Davies. Two kinda failed rookies. And a guy who took steroids.

 There are your regulars for HOF legends- Foxx and Cobb at least have new photos, and Appling is a welcome addition.

 Here's my second hit, and I can't say I'm disappointed- despite recent slumpage, Jose Abreu is still the defacto leader in Chicago, and still a pretty great overall hitter, a few years after his insane Rookie Year. Yeah, it's a sticker auto, but those swatches are less suspect than Hodges'. I'm pretty happy with the hits, as they're two players I'd heard of, and were legitimately good at the game, other than some rookie that wasn't gonna pan out.

 Pack 11-
Mondesi's having a tough sophomore season, while Drury and Tomas are doing pretty well this season.

 Honus Wagner is so awesome that he has an entourage of two oft-injured AL West pitchers. I feel like the way the uniform bended is a bit unfortunate for the lettering on Gray's card.

 Gregory Polanco is my Expressionists insert...I foolishly picked up that card at a card show last year. Also, the Piscotty is a non-numbered brown bordered parallel.

 Pack 12- Three rookies that haven't done as well as people would have thought, though Michael Conforto is having a promising start.

 Two HOF stars including Gabby Hartnett, another guy you rarely see in these types of products, and Tony Lazzeri, the most underrated member of Murderer's Row. Here, we also have Max Scherzer, two-time Cy Young winner, and Wei-Yin Chen, incorrectly painted in an O's uniform (he'd already been signed as a Marlin by that point).

My last insert is a DK Originals of Bo Jackson, which I can't NOT be pleased with- it's Bo Jackson, one of the better true athletes to play the game, and a guy that would have been a Hall of Famer had it not been for an unfortunate football injury. Can't help but respect the guy.

That was 2016 Diamond Kings. It's an imperfect set, but damn if I didn't enjoy this break. The base set, inserts and hits had enough charming things about them that I couldn't help but leave the break happy.

Also, in the next few days I'm gonna post a rip of, well, the opposite. It's a nice enough set, that yields some pretty nice stuff, but...I did not enjoy ripping this particular box. You'll see why when I post it.