Sunday, April 21, 2019

Evil Ways


(...yeah, might as well. A new Music Pun streak begins with this low-hanging fruit)

I guess that both World Series teams from 2016 had about the same shelf life. As the Cubs are wading back to 3rd-4th place, the Indians have regressed back to second, letting the Minnesota Twins ascend to power. And like the Cubs, the Indians have made the mistake of not attracting major contracts while simultaneously gradually losing their stars to teams who are attracting major contracts.

The difference, though, is that while they are no longer a first-place team, the tribe seems to still have upward momentum thanks to its farm system, which hasn't been completely compromised in the come-up, as evidenced by second-years Greg Allen and Shane Bieber getting substantial playing time. Plus, although they're not chasing big contracts, they've still netted some intriguing pieces, like Jake Bauers and his power hitting, Carlos Gonzalez' bench numbers, and their old friend Carlos Santana, who has been absolutely ruling this team in Francisco Lindor's absence.

Good news is that Lindor is back, and the DP combo of him and Ramirez will begin to heat up with both of them in the lineup (yeah, seeing Jose Ramirez trying to act like he and Eric Stamets were compatible was kinda odd). Plus, Leonys Martin has become a pretty solid replacement for Michael Brantley, and it's good to see that his 2018 numbers weren't a fluke. As for the rotation...look, even with Kluber and Carrasco giving up a few more runs than usual, they're still ferocious as hell. Nobody wants to go up against those guys, especially Trevor Bauer.

So really, the only real issues involve rebuilding the lineup a bit after some inexperience early in the season, and figuring out the Twins' weakness. This isn't a bad team, but they're circling 'okay' about now, and they need to figure out how to lock down first again.

Coming Tomorrow- I checked just now to see who's ahead of the NL Central and legitimately did a double take. In a good way, though. I'll explain tomorrow, but the custom will be of the first baseman.

Too Close for Conforto


Meanwhile, back in the NL East...still pretty tight.

You've got two teams tied for first, two teams tied for second.....and the Marlins. Brother, don't expect the Marlins to be involved in this tight divisional race at all.

The Mets, who seem to be the favorite so far in the NL East, are tied for first with the Phillies, who've been dropping too many games to subpar teams recently, and are currently dropping a few to the Colorado Rockies because we simply have good things. This doesn't exactly mean the Mets aren't flawed, though; yesterday they started Chris Flexen for some reason, and...unsurprisingly, it didn't go well. Hell, he even made Jason Vargas' stuff look good, to be honest.

Flexen ineptitude notwithstanding (you think Philippe Aumont was watching just to laugh?), the Mets seem to be doing well. Yes, Robinson Cano seems to inherited David Wright's role as the moral center of the team, even though his average hasn't quite arrived yet, but the team really belongs to guys like Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, both of whom are offensive standouts early. Conforto's having his most well-rounded season yet, and Alonso is off to a powerful-ass rookie year. Even bit players like J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil have awesome batting averages, and even Wilson Ramos is giving the Mets a catcher worth showing off (for the first time since...I guess Paul Lo Duca?)

Granted, the rotation ERAs could be a bit problematic if they stay this high, and de Grom's brief injury spell isn't a TERRIFIC sign, but at least Noah Syndergaard's fastball is still definitely a thing, and at least the surefire success of Edwin Diaz has been shining through in the ninth.

I feel like the Mets could potentially have the edge over the Phils, but...in order to really cement their 1st place status, they need to cool down the rotation and work on Cano's contact hitting. They're very close to competing, but they could fall backwards very easily.

Coming Tonight: After a year in Philly, he's back to his old stomping grounds, and I assume he's ready for another sick guitar solo.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Heart of Glasnow


The Tampa Bay Rays were GOING to be good this season. That was bound to happen. But I don't think anybody thought they would be THIS GOOD.

Look, I think we're finding out that the secret weapon that separates this Rays team from last year's might have just been a healthy Kevin Kiermaier. Because he's completely back on his best numbers, and he's the leadership figure that they wished they had last year.

Plus, while the Rays' opener strategy is still very much in effect (thanks to Ryne Stanek and Jalen Beeks for doing the work of a starter, but...combined), there does seem to be a concrete rotation in effect, besides just Blake Snell. I mean...yes, as much as the Rays want to just use Snell as their only starter, they've come to realize that if they put all their eggs in one basket (HAPPY EASTER), the basket breaks, and they do not want to break Blake Snell. So they've trusted Tyler Glasnow with the #2 spot, and he's been beautiful so far, FINALLY getting to the ace numbers he'd teased in the minors. Yonny Chirinos and Charlie Morton are also pretty good in the other two rotation spots, with an edge to Morton with the ERA closer to 1.

And Jose Alvarado has embraced the closer position in Sergio Romo's absence (and don't worry, he's...at least being utilized in Miami), with 4 saves and not a single earned run allowed yet. The bullpen can be strong without being too flashy, and judging by the fact that only Stanek and Hunter Wood have been used as openers thus far, it seems like the bullpen is beginning to drift back towards sanity.

This isn't even mentioning the durable-as-hell lineup, with Avisail Garcia, Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi saving their careers, Austin Meadows having one hell of a breakout year at the plate, and Tommy Pham and Brandon Lowe doing some amazing contact hit work. This is honestly one of the most complete teams the Rays have amassed since the 2008 run, and that's saying something.

I sincerely hope that they can keep it up, as the AL East in general isn't going to be this dormant forever.

Coming Tomorrow- In the still-tight NL East, a perennial outfield standout is determined to help his team stand out.

Cody Bellinger is Just Getting Started


So, yes. Cody Bellinger's sophomore slump season happened. We are all aware of that.

...but it seems to be behind Bellinger now, because LOOK WHAT HE'S BEEN DOING SO FAR THIS YEAR!

In 20 games, Bellinger has 10 home runs, 24 RBIs, 32 hits and a .432 batting average. And he already has a 2.3 WAR. What kind of mere mortal, outside of Mike Trout, is capable of something like that?

Look, I guess that Bellinger was just hinting at his full capabilities in his first two seasons, even in his ROY season. Even then, he was high on strikeouts and low on average. Now? I think he's finally mastered something at the plate, in a way that's making him the marquee guy in LA...which is kind of something the Dodgers wanted for him.

Rest of the team is no slouch either, with the best record in the NL, and a pretty damn strong pitching rotation, complete with Julio Urias' better numbers and a returned, healthy Clayton Kershaw. Alex Verdugo has been impressing like hell off the bench, Muncy and Hernandez are continuing their great 2018s, and AJ Pollock is off to an okay start in his new city. It could be going a lot worse for this team, especially with the Padres on their tail.

Again, a lot of covering the first season is waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Cody Bellinger is looking pretty for real so far. I don't think he's especially flukey, especially with the amount of power he's shown thus far. I'm expecting a fantastic season from him, as well as the Dodgers.

Coming Tonight: Fine, another Tampa Bay Ray, seeing as they're the best team in baseball and everything. Here's their killer starter, saved from obscurity in Pittsburgh.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Bruce is Loose


So I guess this is how the Mariners rebound from losing Nelson Cruz. Instead of having one single-dimensional power-hitter, they get two more- Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion.

Not that...Jay Bruce didn't used to have multi-dimensions. He used to hit more for contact than for power, and he used to be a better defender, but you don't get to choose what happens to you when you get older. The only thing Jay Bruce can do for Seattle right now is hit home runs...which he has been doing. Granted, he hasn't been doing much else, he's got a low average, and he's losing playing time to Dan Vogelbach, who DOES hit for average. I wish he was a bit more well-rounded right now, but...the M's thankfully have other options.

Oh boy...do they have other options.

Look, for a team that pundits feared wouldn't have an identity without Cruz and Cano, the Mariners are off to a pretty nice start. And yes, I am aware that they lost six straight immediately after winning six straight. In the business, that is called balance.

What's working for this team are the outcasts, the unknowns, the stowaways. Dan Vogelbach was a bench player for a year before finally blossoming into a lineup piece with a killer bat. Domingo Santana and Mallex Smith were fighting for playing time last year, and now they've earned lineup spots. Tim Beckham's having his single best year yet, even considering his amazing second half in 2017. Omar Narvaez might be the first catching option in Seattle to NOT suck since roughly Dan Wilson. And Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales are still the statistical captains of their respective sectors. It's a clean team all round, even if there are one or two flawed pieces, like Yusei Kikuchi's ERA and Ryon Healy's average.

Granted, the Astros might be the better team for the long run of the season, and it may be a matter of time before they claim 1st place, but...the M's still have a lot more than anyone credited them for at the beginning of the year, and they might make a run at the playoffs now that the Angels and A's have been semi-compromised.

And look...after getting screwed out of playoff competition for so many years, a scrappy little underdog team like this deserves to break the Mariners' playoff drought. I just hope it happens.

Coming Tomorrow- Best player in the NL right now.

Is America Ready for an Okay Cubs Team?


Well, after four years of competing Cubs teams winding up in the playoff race, we've finally hit our first merely okay Cubs team since 2014. Which is kind of hard to believe, to be honest.

The thing is...not much has changed in between years. There isn't really an element that has made the Cubs more or less susceptible to other teams, because most of the 2016 squad is still here- the core of Rizzo-Bryant-Heyward-Zobrist is still powerful, some of the areas that were even hazy in '16 have been improved by people like Willson Contreras and Cole Hamels, and...I mean, the rotation is Darvish-Hamels-Lester-Hendricks-Quintana. I mean, regardless of injury and weak starts, those five are great across the board. Possibly an upgrade on the years with Hammel and Lester. Possibly, depending on how this year comes out.

Really, the problem is that while the Cubs have stayed level, they haven't made many steps upward. Literally every other NL Central squad took precautions and made moves, and the Cubs only made a few tiny ones. Compared to the last-place Reds, who revamped most of their lineup, it's minuscule. And as the Cardinals and Brewers, two teams that made big moves this offseason, are heading the division, the Cubs are in fourth.

I don't especially think this is the end of the dynasty, but it's definitely a roadblock. If enough of the team stays in its prime, which is looking semi-likely, then they'll be fine. But...I'm not the only one watching this Cubs team with a bit of concern.

Coming Tonight: We've gone through all 30, so let's go back to the top again. A professional home run hitter for a team with an insanely hot start.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Box Break: 2018 Panini Diamond Kings


It's become a running thing on this blog that a box of the previous year's Diamond Kings gets broken on here once it becomes cheap enough. Well...it's cheap enough, so I got one.

I really only collect DK as a nostalgia thing. I loved the old inserts, the old sets from the 2000s. This isn't...nominally DK, though; it's a bit more similar to Topps Gallery, which is kinda ironic because this new incarnation of Topps Gallery is actually more similar to Diamond Kings than anything. Which is slightly backwards, but a subject for an editorial rather than a box break post.

Anyway, 12 cards, with 8 cards per pack. Because we've got time, I'll try and knock everything out in one post.

There are two guaranteed hits, and other fun things to keep aware of, but we'll get there when we get there.

 Pack One- Design wise, this is fine. Allows for more colorful bits, which is fine. Logoless-ness is immediately a thing, but...it doesn't bother me as much as it should, I think.
The set's peppered with rookies, so here are two.

 Two weightier base cards, with one guy who's already moved onto St. Louis. A-Rod's is a 500 Club insert, which is kind of basic but looks kinda cool.

Of course, what really makes this set are the legends. Not just your everyday legends like Roberto Clemente, who's welcome of course, but early-century HOFers like Grover Cleveland Alexander and non-HOF team heroes like Carl Erskine.
 Pack 2- Standard current base, featuring a Chicago bench player and, I've got to say it, the best player on the Phillies right now. More Cutch cards is never enough.

 And more legends. We go from accessible, like Mick and the Big Hurt, to obscure, like Nellie Fox, to welcome in a modern product, like Leo Durocher.

But the pack's highlight was its double-dose of Lindor, first on a past-and-present insert paired with Lou Boudreau, and then on a base card.

 Pack 3- Two of these are dupes for me. The other is Tony Lazzeri.

 Lots to discuss here. First of all, Carl Furillo is one of my grandmother's favorite players, having watched him at Ebbets Field on multiple occasions. Secondly, good on Panini to produce a card of Shoeless Joe Jackson. We need more of those. And then there's Ohtani, who I have already pulled another base card of, of him batting. But this one isn't a short-print. Remember that now.

TWO AMAZING INSERTS.
First ANOTHER Lindor, this one from the painstakingly beautiful Aurora set. Then a Portraits insert of Ken Griffey, which look cool but...again, brings back to the Topps Gallery comparison.
 Pack 4- A quartet of fun legends pulls. Heinie Groh is NOT a Hall of Famer, but he's a Reds legend. Chuck Klein is a Phils home run legend who has evaded me for a while. And then Pee-Wee and Maris, always welcome.

 Two modern heroes in Judge and Betts, and one Iron Horse.
Here we are at the first hit- a sticker auto of Cleveland, and now Padres, backup catcher Francisco Mejia. Possibly the most common guy to pull a mediocre hit of last year. Until he blossoms, I'm regarding this as an 'okay' hit. I mean, even the signature is kinda measly.

Pack 5- A modern legend and a guy that likes to strike out. 


 Three more obscure legends. I mean...I love any set that prioritizes Paul Waner, Harry Hooper and Hack Wilson.
 Fun stuff here. Babe is babe, which is always welcome. Mick's is...a name variation, which are sort of rare, and nice to pull. And deGrom's is my Gallery of Stars...which look so cool this year.

Pack 6- Three dupes to start us off.

 Four spirited base cards. Averill's is welcome, and it's nice to see him in the same shot as Kluber.

...this was my second hit.

...of Nick Williams. Of the Philadelphia Phillies.

...just as a notice, I never usually pull hits of people who play for my teams. It is very rare, especially considering that there are 28 other teams out there with many other players. So getting a hit of Nick, and not only that but one that's numbered to 99, is kinda nice. I know he's hugging the bench this year, but he's still a fine player, and a member of this team nonetheless.

Still, a fine hit. And I'm happy I got this box, not some box with a Cardinals hit or something.

 Pack 7- Two more dupes, a subpar rookie, and a Cardinals HOF-er.

 CANO, Don Larsen, and Gabby Hartnett. May I mention again how cool these sets are?

And...good lord this card is beautiful. Even without logos. No Jackie card is a bad pickup, man.

 Pack 8- Lots of current players in this pack, all worthy of the collection, so why not throw 'em in with Billy Herman. Just as a contrast.

 Manny Ramirez is my second 500 Club insert. Again, not bad in terms of design.

DiMaggio and Cobb. Two of the greats.

 Pack 9- Averill is a dupe, but the rest are welcome. Lyons' is pretty cool. Thomson's has enough depth in the background.

Victor Robles is my first red border- they're not numbered but they're seeded relatively rarely. And Judge is my first Trophy Club insert, which harken back to a 90s Fleer insert.

 Pack 10- Donaldson and Ohtani are dupes, as I pulled this batting Ohtani a while back. Remember that now. Woodruff and Robles are new, though.

 Not a lot of old-timers in this pack, as Sevvy and Springer are our big stars here.

My gallery of stars is a SUPER-COOL WILLIE STARGELL. MY GOSH, THAT IS AWESOME. WELL DONE.
Additionally, Andrew Benintendi's card is a sepia short print/photo variation. So not a bad pull there, either.

 Pack 11- Other than Santander, some beautiful choices for this checklist.
 Rizzo and Stan the Man.
Bryant's is my second Trophy Club, while Alexander's is my second red border.

 Pack 12- Tyler Wade is the better of three subpar rookies, McGraw's a manager and Brecheen I pulled last year.

 ...A baseball card of Jim Thorpe. This just pushes my love for this set over the edge, doesn't it?
And Pedroia-Doerr Past and Present.

So...this is my last red border. And...I did not know that Black-and-white variations could get red bordered parallels. That's fantastic, and makes this even more valuable. It'd be crazier if it was numbered, but this is still a pretty huge hit of a player that everyone seems to want. And a great way to end this box.

So...that's 2018 Diamond Kings. I think it's an improvement on the last few, and it's intricate enough to allow a real baseball fan some genuine smiles.