Saturday, May 27, 2017

Falling Down


I spent most of late-April talking about this deadlock in the AL Central, between the top four teams (read: everyone but the Royals). And now, about a month later, we finally have something resembling a resolution. The Twins and Indians are on top, the Tigers are swimming below them in third, and the White Sox...weren't really cut out for the whole thing, were they?

A majority of the lineup is doing well enough, but the people on this team who're doing disastrously badly are the ones yanking them towards the Royals. Cody Asche had a dreadful run as their DH, and Todd Frazier is having a horrible season, batting nowhere near the Mendoza line and striking out like it's his job. The majority of the team is hitting around .250, and while there are some good hitters, like Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu, people aren't...doing well.

The pitching's equally vexing- James Shields was having a comeback season until he landed on the DL. Derek Holland's having a great year so far, but the rotation has a ton of people who are pitching pretty alright, but have inflated ERAs. Jose Quintana falls under that category- he throws strikes and is still a good pitcher, but people are still finding ways to hit him. This is a problem, especially considering that Quintana, in Chris Sale's absence, is the uppercase ACE this year.

A very soggy mixed bag for the White Sox, but not without positive momentum.

Coming Tomorrow- The Brewers spent a good week on first, thanks in part to this versatile bench player.

Nostalgic Box Break: 1999 UD Choice (Part Two)


Previously on 'Jordan Comes Close To Bashing a Hobby Box with a Sledgehammer'...

Two days ago, I posted the first part of this UD Choice break. I absolutely loathe this set, with a burning passion, like no other baseball card set. There are three more pieces to this box, and we should get the next nine packs over with today.

Pack 10-
Hall of Famers: 2/10
Future Hall of Famers: 3/10

In terms of star power, this was a pretty nice pack. Both my StarQuests were MLB legends, in Mike Piazza and Chipper Jones. Neither were especially rare StarQuests though.

On the plus side, we get a rare 'David Ortiz in Minnesota' card, and a Cover Glory subset (that, again, WE CAN'T FRIGGIN' SEE) of Cal Ripken.

And we finish off the 'postable' portion of the pack with a card of Trevor Hoffman. I swear, if people continue to keep him out of the Hall of Fame for ridiculous statistical reasons, I'm gonna throw things.
Pack 11-
Steroids: 4/10
Future Hall of Famers: 1/10
Hall of Famers: 1/10
First of all, this Wally Joyner card isn't too bad, with a nice photo. Though the 'good' photography in this does sort of channel what Topps had been doing by that point.

More common StarQuests. Bonds' doesn't piss me off, but Johnson's....oh, boy. He's credited as a Seattle Mariner, he's pictured as a Houston Astro, and he'd already signed with Arizona by the product's release. So that is a TRIPLE-Screw-up. That is a new level of patheticness.

Vladdie and his surprisingly cool 90's Expos duds keep the momentum rolling along, along with the also-cool purple D-Backs uniforms.

McGwire gets a Cover Story. For once I'm glad I can't see this one. Troy Glaus gets a pseudo-rookie here, as well.

Pack 12-
Hall of Famers: 2/10
Borderline Future HOFers: 3/10
Future Hall of Famers: 1/10
Another particularly nice photo from this set, zoomed out just enough, but the border kind of kills it, to be honest. And possibly the fact that it's a photo of Moises Alou.

Vladdie again, this time with a slightly-rarer StarQuest. The problem with the StarQuest set, for me, is that the general-base set is so small that I keep getting the same ones in blue, and when I get one in green or red...it's the same photo and everything. They get less and less exciting as the rip goes on, which is the opposite effect of the 1998 version.

Two Hall of Famers. One got in on the first ballot, rightfully. The other, Jeff Bagwell, is getting in on his SEVENTH YEAR on the ballot. I'd have thought he'd have been in a few years ago.

Rolen again, with an assist by a 2nd-year Todd Helton card, which is a nice touch.

And, as it was 1999 and he was still cool, a relatively nice shot of Alex Rodriguez.

Pack 13-
Non-dupes: 3/10
Hall of Famers: 1/10

Can't complain about a base card of Ken Griffey Jr., even in his last season before leaving the M's. Glaus' would be better if...I'm gonna stop saying it. I have the same complaint with every Cover Story card, and it's getting tiring for me AND for you.

As an added bonus, Boomer Wells, a year after throwing a no-hitter.

Pack 14-
Steroids: 2/10
Ton of Kerry Wood in this product. You pitch one amazing game, and everyone wants to make a card of you. Him and Strasburg should be buds.
...and Barry Bonds is also here. Yaaay.

Larry Walker's probably never gonna be a Hall of Famer, but he was a great player, and helped the Rockies elevate from 'sucky expansion team' status.
Jason Giambi's career lasted 5 years more than it honestly should have. I'll give him credit for trying.

Brad Radke pitched in one place for 12 seasons, and did a pretty nice job of it. Can't say much more than that.
My these photos are boring.

Pack 15-
Guys who are STILL PITCHING TODAY: 1/10
Hall of Famers: 1/10
Racists: 1/10

Two common StarQuests. Curt Schilling pissed away all of his credibility, so I don't really need to talk about him. I've already seen that Vlad in green. Sure does take the fun out of it.

CAL! Never not happy with pulling a Cal Ripken card. All class.
Bartolo Colon was still a pretty big deal in 1998, two years after his rookie season. If you think that's crazy, imagine if he'd be a big deal 20 years after his rookie season...

Another 'Heads Up' insert, this one of Aramis Ramirez.

Pack 16-
Hall of Famers: 1/10
Future Hall of Famers: 2/10
Steroids: 3/10
Greg Maddux gives us another pretty nice StarQuest common, along with Larry Walker.

In 1999 it was still a pretty big deal that Clemens was pitching for the Blue Jays, so imagine the division's surprise once he was traded to the Yankees, which would be not too long after this card was produced.
Two Yankees I feel better about- Jeter does manage to make this base card look awesome, while Carlos Beltran, while looking slightly odd in a Royals uniform, does still look great as a rookie.

Annnd two steroid-abusers. Sosa was still riding high from his 1998 season, while Drew was just heading up the ramp to momentary stardom.

Pack 17-
Fun fringe players: 3/10
On the plus side, this product did manage to throw in a nice Bobby Abreu in Philly card, as well as giving me another likable John Olerud issue.

Garret Anderson I always thought was overrated. Buhner had some good years in Seattle, and essentially bowed out with the decade.

Pack 18-
Hall of Famers: 2/10
Future Hall of Famers (I hope): 1/10
Steroids: 1/10
Oh, hey, what feels like the millionth Mark McGwire card this box!
Thankfully, here's a Frank Thomas, equal rarity, StarQuest to even things out.

By the time of this release, Will Clark was already a member of the Baltimore Orioles, and Randy Johnson was already suiting up for Arizona. Nevertheless...I do take in any 'Big Unit in Houston' cards I can get.

And we end this excruciating part of the box with a base card of the greatest DH of all time, Edgar Martinez.

I will probably get to Part 3 relatively soon...but I do need to come up for air a bit.

Two Guys Named Aaron and Fifty Feet of Crap


It's, uh...it's not getting any better for the Phillies.

You can truss it up, you can make them look cool...but last night, the Phillies' twitter was more interested in showing pictures of dogs than actually reporting on how badly the team was losing. It's frigging MAY and the PR staff has exhausted every possible measure.

'GUYS, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING TO SHOW HOW BADLY THE REDS ARE KILLING US!'
'QUICK! SHOW A PUPPY!'
'FOR WHAT REASON?'
"...maybe CUTENESS will distract them?"

I'm serious, they're all grasping at straws. And yes, there are people, such as Aaron Altherr, Cesar Hernandez, Jeremy Hellickson and Tommy Joseph who ARE, in fact, doing well. But the other teams just have NO TROUBLE in beating the crap out of the Phillies' pitching. Remember that this team came into the 2010's with one of the most impressive rotations in baseball. Now, the fans pray for the 5th game to come so Nola or Hellickson can pitch again. Watching Phillies games has turned into Russian Roulette. Just praying that the wheel doesn't land on someone who gives up home runs.

Look, Aaron Nola's been up for 4 games, and I'm...worried. Because he's been great so far, and I'm worried that staying in the majors for long enough is going to corrupt him, and his ERA's gonna inflate to match the other four. I'm fearing for Aaron Nola's safety, because he's a great pitcher who could become truly great someday. And I feel SO BAD for him that he has to pitch for the 2017 Phillies.

I'm gonna be at some barbecues with a bunch of Phillies fans this weekend, and i'm gonna have to put on my 'optimistic stupid sports fan'. People are gonna say 'oh, things are gonna turn around', and I'll smile and nod. Uh, sure, boss. Whatever you want. Pass me another frank, would'ja?

Coming Tonight: Speaking of inflated ERAs, another strong pitcher for a team that's found itself in a similar rut to their 2016 squad.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Dylan Bundy (FINALLY) Rules


Some rookie prospects pay off 5 years after they were supposed to be rookies.

In 2012, even while a certain third baseman named Manny Machado was roaming around the base paths at Camden Yards, everyone was pulling for a pitching prospect named Dylan Bundy to ride in and take the reins of the still-shaky rotation. The minor leagues were buzzing, especially after the high drafting, and people were really excited to see what he had to offer.

They got to see it shortly...though, in relief.

As the rotation was filled with surefire guys like Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez and, later, Dylan's superior Kevin Gausman, there was never enough room for Bundy, and he was forced to stick in the bullpen until he got truly hot.

Last year he got truly hot, and snuck his way into the rotation. He actually showed up in time for me to watch him pitch in Baltimore, and while he was a bit shaky the day I was there, and gave up some runs to Washington, he still threw a ton of strikeouts, and surprised me.

So far this season he's been surprising even more people, taking command of the Baltimore rotation and helping the O's circle first, even with the Yankees battling for the spot as well. Bundy definitely has the talent and materials that people were talking about 5 years ago, and he's helping others in the rotation, such as Wade Miley and, yes, Chris Tillman, excel in the rotation as well.

So yeah, I'm pretty happy that Dylan Bundy's having a great 2017. It is about time.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the few things Phillies fans have to look forward to.

Reynolds Wrapped


I don't think any team in the bigs has become as surprisingly amazing as the Rockies have. Like, I have no idea how everyone on that team was able to suddenly click at the same time (with the exception of poor Trevor Story). I'm just really happy it's happening.

Mark Reynolds hasn't had a season like this in years. Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have been fantastic. Nolan Arenado's been even more powerful than he's been in the past. Charlie Blackmon's having a career year. Even people you thought were done, like Alexi Amarista, Tony Wolters, Gerardo Parra and GREG HOLLAND have all been on fire so far.

The odd part about this is that they've played more road games than home games, and they have a better road record than they do a home record. So most of this insane HR-bashing is happening OUTSIDE of Coors Field. Which is pretty hard to believe. I kinda thought Coors Field was the deciding factor in Mark Reynolds' decision to spontaneously return to his 2009 self. But apparently not. They're defying convention.

They're still a game ahead of the Diamondbacks, but the D-Backs have won 9 out of their last 10, and this might be a tough little scuffle. I am rooting for the Rockies to stay hot, because there's so damn much going on in this lineup.

Coming Tonight: Five years ago he was everybody's go-to prospect. Now, a year or so into his starting career, he's FINALLY walking the walk.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Not Necessarily Angelic


It's gotten to the point in the season where two teams have deviated from the pack and are on top of a division...and honestly, you can just forget about the other three teams.

The AL West is like that this year. The Rangers and Astros are doing things right, and everyone else has a ton of problems. The Angels are still technically winning games, but they're so structurally flawed that I'm not sure if it'll go on for long.

Yes, Mike Trout is still the best player in baseball. We all know that, this is a fact. Nobody else on the Angels is willing to go anywhere near his level of gameplay this season, which is sad. The pitching isn't great, the hitting's lackluster, and they're winning games by the skin of their teeth. Without Mike Trout, I have no idea where they'd be.

Ricky Nolasco was kept around as an opportune rotation leader, but Matt Shoemaker's basically taken that on himself, and Nolasco...hasn't had much to do. Anybody who got anywhere near doing well has gotten injured.

The Angels need to find whatever's keeping them at third and harness it, because it's all they've got left.

Coming Tomorrow- Hard-hitting first baseman for a team that didn't know they needed one until a month before the season started.

Nostalgic Box Break: 1999 UD Choice (Part One)


I'm feeling generous today- d'you guys wanna see the absolute WORST product I've ever busted a box of?

Oh, you guys are gonna need to buckle up. Seriously. This is one I've been saving for a few years. I've missed a few opportunities to post it, and I've been waiting for the exact right moment...which I think could be this one.

In 1999, Upper Deck decided they were going to retire their long-running rival brand to Stadium Club, Collector's Choice. This was met with outcries from fans, people who adored the product. So...Upper Deck compromised.

1999 UD Choice was their compromise. To this end, 1999 UD Choice is the Fant4stic of baseball card sets. It arrived at an odd point, it was made as a cash grab, it was doomed to fail, and it was a heartless, soulless way to attract fans of the original brand.

This hobby box contains 36 packs of 'CHOICE'...which was now even-more kid-engineered than its predecessors.  The base set, the ENTIRE BASE SET, is 155 cards, which means that opening a 36-pack hobby box of the product is kind of counter-intuitive. i might see if I can get a complete base set out of this, not that anyone would pay for it.

I'm going to open 9 at a time...that's all the pain I'll allow per day. Here are the first nine packs. Remember that I warned you:

 Pack 1-
Hall of Famers: 2/10
Future Hall of Famers: 1/10
Things That Piss Me Off: 5

 THIS...IS YOUR BASE DESIGN.
I'd like to point out, first of all, that it looks nothing like any previous Collector's Choice design. It looks very formulaic, very basic, very white-driven. It almost looks like an Upper Deck Victory design, Upper Deck MVP design, which...by COINCIDENCE, this set ended up being replaced by. It's almost like this product was a test-run for UD MVP that was essentially doomed to fail.

The photography is zoomed-back, and features a ton of pedestrian, commonplace poses, which is the exact opposite of what made Collector's Choice great. It's all too slick, too formula-driven, too...nice. Collector's Choice wasn't nice, it was relaxed, fun-looking.

 The backs...again, look like UD Victory. The stats are squeezed tightly towards the center, there's  TON of empty space, especially that little bit next to the logos. Did...did they just not know what to put there? Did they finish cramming everything in and think that leaving a third of the card with empty space was okay?

I will give them credit for the small inset of the player, as well as color-coding the cards with the minor color, the blue. But...this is still pretty pathetic.

 The horizontals aren't much better. In the past, horizontal cards gave us insanely quirky poses. This...is probably the craziest pose in the pack, and this is insanely boilerplate.

 The Rookie Class subset is a little better, especially the wood-panel inset. But there's so much unused space in this card, especially with the photo-cut-out. Bad execution.

 The Cover Glory subset isn't much better, because 80% of the card is obscured by orange filtering, where only a small subset shows the actual photo. If you're going for an actual cover-of-a-mag thing, maybe we should, you know, be able to see the actual cover photo.

 Starquests are back in this set, which I don't have a ton of problems with, as the '98 CC edition went pretty well. This one, again, is kinda boiler plate, though I'll give the design credit for popping more than the base does. Great two players, too. Blue, is, of course, the commonest shade of SQ, so we'll be seeing a ton more of those.

 We did get a base-HOF-er in this, and it's Pedro Martinez, but...that's the best Pedro photo you could find, UD??

 Pack 2-
HOFers: 2/10
Future HOFers: 1/10
Guys That Showed Up in the Last Pack: 3/10
Things That Piss Me Off: 1
 More Starquests. These ones haven't really held up over time.

 Robert Fick looks really awkward in this one. Like he knows this product's gonna be crap.

 More Kerry Wood action, as he was pretty huge in 1998.
Randy Johnson's Cover Glory one is nice, but it'd be a ton nicer, especially for people trying to nab any Johnson-in-Houston cards they can, if we could see more of the main photo.

 Base heroes. Thome was still one of the strongest bats in baseball, Martinez was still helping the Yankees win titles, and Piazza was JUUUUUST getting started fulfilling his legacy in Queens.

 Pack 3-
Hall of Famers: 2/10
Future Hall of Famers: 2/10
90's Team Heroes: 4/10

Did a little better with StarQuests in this one- yes, A-Rod is A-Rod, but the Chipper Jones red parallel comes 1 in 23 packs, making it the 2nd-rarest. Still a pretty nice pull.

 Mark Grace is one of the best overall hitters of the 1990s. If he'd done it anywhere else but Chicago, maybe he would have gotten more HOF votes.

 The guy on the left was a living legend, a Padre til the day he died. The guy on the right was an Angels hero that never amounted to a great deal after his rookie season.

 Two legends. Derek Jeter was just getting started on his legendary career in the Bronx. Ken Griffey Jr., seen in this surprisingly awesome Yard Work insert, was just ending his equally-legendary reign in Seattle.
I didn't have a ton of problems in this pack aside from the ones I'd already discussed. I am, however, still very mad.


Pack 4-
Steroid Abusers: 3/10
Team Heroes: 3/10
HOFers: 1/10
Juan Gonzalez: 2/10
Nice StarQuests in this one. Scott Rolen was all over the product, as he was still in his 'greatest-ever' phase after his rookie season in '97. Jason Giambi's is a green parallel.
Bernie Williams had so many great cards with Collector's Choice...and here we go with a really commonplace shot.

TWO SEPARATE BLAND JUAN-GONE SHOTS. They're so similar, too. And one of them's supposed to be a subset.

Alright, at least this one's a pretty nice shot of Frank Thomas, but...it feels more like something Topps flagship would use than Collector's Choice.

Pack 5-
Hall of Famers: 1/10
Guys We Literally Just Talked About Last Pack: 2/10
World Series Heroes: 2/10

ANOTHER JUAN-GONE.
At least the Kenny Lofton's a pretty good one, though...another really bland photo.

Scott Rolen and El Duque, in uninspired subsets. Even El Duque just looks tired and bored in his Rookie Class photo.

Andruw Jones, and a nice green, semi-rare StarQuest of Jeff Bagwell.

Pack 6-
Steroid Abusers: 2/10
INSERT DUPES: 1/10
Future Red Sox: 2/10
Hall of Famers: 1/10
I already pulled this Jim Thome StarQuest a few packs ago, but they were nice enough to give me another one. Ugh. Also, I got a Ken Griffey StarQuest, which is always a plus.

Man-Ram's photo at least has a little bit of life in it, but the grey tones do suck it out. As a bonus, Adrian Beltre's rookie card...ish. Like, people were doing his rookie cards in 1997, but this is still technically a rookie card.

Also for the KIDS, there's this insert set of HEADS-UPs, I think, of foldable little bobble heads of players. This one's of 1998 home run hitter Greg Vaughn. These haven't really aged well. It just look like headless Greg Vaughn is just spookily confused.

Pack 7-
Hall of Famers: 1/10
Steroid Abusers: 2/10
SAMMY SOSA: 2/10

One StarQuest is of current standout and then-Dodgers prospect Adrian Beltre. The other is of the guy that had just chased Mark McGwire for the 61 race, Sammy Sosa.

...and HERE HE IS AGAIN! Man, with such a small set, you do get a ton of player takeovers. Also, a Cover Glory subset of Tony Gwynn, blah blah I can't friggin see him.

I'll give this Carlos Delgado one credit for being a bit more out-of-the-box than most of the photography in this set. It's still a bit lifeless though.

Pack 8-
Ugh: 10/10
Gary Sheffield's card does look cool, but I would have zoomed the photo in a bit more to get the full awesomeness. Nomar Garciaparra cards were just mailed in back in 1999, as they knew kids were gonna buy them.

Jeromy Burnitz and Ray Lankford were my highlights, so you can tell how thrilled I was with this pack. Maybe I was just thrilled to pull non-dupe non-star cards.

Pack 9-
Hall of Famers: 1/10
Future Hall of Famers: 2/10
Steroids: 3/10

Two of the most legendary infielders in major league history. Jeter's is a common, Ripken's is a rare.

Rafael Palmeiro was still in Baltimore in 1999 for some reason. Chipper Jones was still one of the greats in 1999, on the way to leading Atlanta to another Series.

On the top, you'll see a Cardinals prospect with a swollen head. On the bottom, you'll see a Cardinals hitter with...everything swollen, I'm guessing. McGwire's card is actually pretty good, but the league's infatuation with JD Drew in 1999 has not aged well.

I'll post the 2nd half of this relatively soon, but...it's not gonna get much better.