Monday, July 16, 2018

Final Man, Derby Man

Well, we're officially at the All Star Break, we're essentially halfway through the season, and, by law, some of us are supposed to reflect on the season so far. And honestly? Not weird enough.

The teams that have come to power, like the Phillies, Braves and Mariners, have had rosters building for some time, and have been prime for a come up. The teams that have declined, like Washington, have showed signs. The players ahead of the curve, like Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman and Aaron Judge, were kinda predicted to be there. So, with some exceptions, this has been a fairly straightforward season so far.

Of course...I don't think anybody could have predicted the insane come-up of Jesus Aguilar, a guy who was a reserve first baseman last year for Milwaukee. In the absence of Eric Thames, Aguilar struck hard at the plate, hitting a league-high 24 home runs, getting the final man vote in the All Star Game, and earning a spot in the Home Run Derby (This Year Without Stars). Aguilar is probably a more versatile, impressive hitter than Thames, and probably has more of a future in the league, especially considering the slow rise of Milwaukee in the standings.

Aguilar may be the face of the second half, in that he's consistent, he's strong, and he doesn't have to carry the team on his back. The Brewers are a pretty well-rounded team that could do some sneaky stuff this year, especially if they nab a few extra players from the deadline deals.

For now, let's hope Aguilar does well in the Home Run Derby....but not too well, as he's against Rhys Hoskins.

Coming Tomorrow- Probably a box break post, then my usual ASG roster post.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Hey Joe (Where you going with that fastball of yours?)

Nick Castellanos. Mike Fiers. Jose Iglesias. Leonys Martin. Jordan Zimmermann. Shane Greene. Jeimer Candelario.

All players doing pretty well for Detroit right now. And yet, the guy that squeezes into the All Star Game is the fire-throwing middle reliever that you've never heard of. Joe Jimenez. A guy that, if you squint a little bit, looks like he's wearing eye makeup on his Baseball Reference dot com picture. Actually, screw it. I am pulling this up for you:

I don't know if it's eye makeup, or an eyebrow disorder, but something is going on there, and it's very unusual. And hey, if you wanna put on some makeup before your photo, sure! Go ahead! But...blend, I guess.

Okay, I'm gonna talk about something else other than Joe Jimenez' eyes, before I get shit from people. I'm not making fun, either, I'm just kind of impressed.

Right right, anyway. He throws smoke and and is the best reliever on the Tigers right now. In the absence of Shane Greene, which...okay, wasn't long at all, he took over as closer, and proved he could definitely take on the gig if a trade were to happen. He's also a testament to the surprisingly compact bullpen in Detroit, that can keep games from spoiling- in matches against Cleveland, this works especially well.

Jimenez is ALONE representing the third-place Tigers. I don't think it's too far off, as if you're gonna commemorate this team, it should be someone from the pitching end, as no hitter has really excelled this year so far. Plus, I don't think someone like Fiers or Zim would have done well compared to some of the other arms on the ASG's pitching arsenal (Snell, Sevvy, Sale, etc.) So, having just a reliable middle reliever on the roster is a fine idea, as the AL pales in comparison to all the ones in the NL (Josh Hader, Jordan Hicks, Seranthony Dominguez, etc.). It's just...a bit eye-catching (HA) to see someone who's barely even a household name being thrown into the mix with people like Aaron Judge and Mike Trout.

I'm happy for the guy, but...this is the kind of shocker that could lead to something cool this Tuesday.

Coming Tonight: The NL picked this guy over Max Muncy, and, to be honest, they chose pretty wisely.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

First Place Phillies (Don't be so Shocked)

I'm going to start this post about the Philadelphia Phillies by talking about Chicago. And even though Jake Arrieta is pictured, this anecdote isn't about the Cubs.

I was at Guaranteed Rate Field in 2005, the 10-year anniversary of the White Sox' World Series victory. I mean, yes, when you do a 25-year, or a 50-year anniversary, that's fine, it's good commemoration, but what does it say about how your team's doing now if you have to roll out a 10-year anniversary? They didn't even have the biggest guns for this commemoration, because Mark Buehrle was still playing, Ozzie Guillen was blackballed from baseball, and...come to think of it, that 2005 White Sox roster didn't have the most long-lasting stars. It was a scrappy, underdog team that took down the massive Astros. They had enlisted people like Scott Podsednik, Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye. People like that, who are big in Chicago, but nowhere else.

I mention this because, in case you've forgotten, the Philadelphia Phillies won a world series 10 years ago. It was fantastic! Yes, I realize that only 4 members of that team are still in the major leagues, and one will be retiring at the end of this season, but the amount of positive momentum that team worked up for several years after was pretty incredible. Of course, by 2012 it was mostly gone, and some of the best players of those teams started leaving, culminating in...what we have now. An entirely new team of call-ups, 'player to be named later's, and signees, capitalizing on whatever momentum they can keep going.

So in 10 years, the Philadelphia Phillies have turned into the 2005 White Sox.

I think.

The Phils have the lead on the division right now, thanks to a fantastic turn by its pitching rotation, led by All-Star Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta's better numbers, and great turns from Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Zach Elfin. Heck, Enyel de los Santos is pretty great, even if there's not really any room for him right now (though at this rate, he could be a great ace for Baltimore someday). This rotation may not look like much, but it's putting out really nice numbers behind a pair of legitimate aces...kinda like the '05 White Sox.

The lineup has rallied behind Odubel Herrera, no longer in danger of being traded, Rhys Hoskins, who's mellowed into a solid bat, and Maikel Franco, who is FINALLY hitting. Carlos Santana's  hitting for average, Jorge Alfaro's finally hitting at a major league level, and Cesar Hernandez has improved vastly since taking over for Chase Utley in 2015. This team has come together, despite cries of 'they're not ready'. Well, they are, and they're currently outdoing a team that definitely IS ready, those Atlanta Braves.

I don't know how long this will last, and I don't know where it will leave this team post-season, but I like the positive momentum the Phillies are getting, and I like how we're looking heading into the break. As a Philadelphian, and as someone who's seen his football team get far this year already...I'm gonna keep an optimistic view of this team.

Coming Tomorrow- The Detroit Tigers needed one All-Star nominee. And this is who they picked.

What if Adam Jones Leaves Too?

All of baseball has been playing the game of 'Where's Manny Machado Going?' It's become excessive at this point. Is he heading to Philly, to New York, to Milwaukee? It seems to be the only thing on everyone's minds, which distracts from another troubling fact for Baltimore fans: the buyers could come for Adam Jones as well.

The top conversation has been coming from Cleveland, who is looking for an extra outfield bat to join Michael Brantley. They also might try to target someone from the surprisingly-alright bullpen that Baltimore has accumulated. The talks may not lead to anything, but with Adam Jones having another very solid season, and with the Orioles looking like they may need to rebuild after their contract-heavy mindset has led to this 5th-place dissolution, it may be the best bet for both Jones and the O's.

Adam Jones has been a flagship star for the O's, coming to the team in 2008 in exchange for Erik Bedard, and joining a roster that included Corey Patterson, Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott and Melvin Mora. By 2012, the O's were contenders, thanks to rookies like Manny Machado, and some intriguing fringe players like Delmon Young, Chris Davis, Chris Tillman and Jim Johnson. Jones was never the ultimate source of power, but he was one of the players these teams were built around; eventually that distinction would be placed upon Manny Machado's shoulders, once he started having herculean seasons.

This has, to date, been Adam Jones' team, but it's not at the point where it was in 2011 where it might not survive without him. He's a sharp player with a ton of uses, but the Orioles may not be making a mistake in letting him go. The team's already in fifth, they're already losing Machado (and probably more), and they might need to clean house entirely (Buck too) in order to get back into contention.

So...if these means we've seen the last of Adam Jones' best days in an Orioles uniform, it's a sad truth, but one that may lead to some more pristine career accolades for Jones...and possibly a better future for the O's.

Coming Tonight: One of those 'we'll never get him in a million years' kind of characters. And we got him, and we're bobbing for first.

Friday, July 13, 2018

FINALLY First Place Dodgers

Yes, you all figured that the Los Angeles Dodgers would be a first place team this year, but I bet you didn't think it'd take until July for them to get there.

This is a very different Dodgers team, one that's had to rely on a lot of unconventional wisdom, rather than resting on the laurels of Kershaw, Bellinger and Puig. For a while, they kinda had to wait for the pitching staff to get back off the DL for any positive progress to happen, and now that Kershaw, Hill and Maeda are all back, things are looking up again. Yes, it'll look better once Walker Buehler returns as well, but I'm just happy they've got a five-man rotation again, and that Ross Stripling has stepped up BIG TIME as the defacto ace in the absence of Kershaw...and now that Kershaw's back, he's still pitching well.

Unconventional heroes in this Dodgers team. Max Muncy has taken California by storm, and will be repping LA in the Home Run Derby. Chris Taylor, who is somehow leading the team in strikeouts (and need I remind you, THIS TEAM HAS MATT KEMP ON IT), is still an offensive standout, and a flexible defensive piece. Andrew Toles is FINALLY being relied upon in the majors again, and is proving his place in the lineup in the absence of Yasiel Puig, and the ineptitude of Hernandez. Cody Bellinger, while feeling the sophomore slump, is still a sturdy offensive piece. Joc Pederson is having a quiet comeback off the bench, and Chase Utley is intending on finishing his career admirably, as a mentor and occasional standout at second.

Is this team at the point it was last year? Hell no. But they're still a game ahead of the Diamondbacks, the momentum is on their side, and they're going into the break in the best of spirits. So that's not the worst thing.

Coming Tomorrow- He's been playing for the same team for ten years, has gained legend status, and...might be traded in a few weeks?

Two Surprisingly Fresh Rack-Packs of 2018 Stadium Club

Yes, more Stadium Club. I know. But it's a great set, it's surprisingly collectable, it's got nice inserts, and I enjoy the fact that Stadium Club is this good. We haven't always been so lucky. So, I got 2 rack packs from Target. I knew that, having busted a lot of this product, I might be subject to dupes, but I kept an optimistic mindset, and I think that helped:

Pack 1-

 Okay, so...already, you can see I'm happy that I picked these up. That Ohtani card is currently stymying some pack-searchers, so it's nice that I nabbed that by accident. The Sano and Delmonico are also great cards, as they embrace static moments without feeling boring. And the Shaw is great because of Shaw's passion.

But yeah...I got an Ohtani card. That's nice.

 These three are dupes, but I love them so.

 IN ADDITION TO MY OHTANI BASE, here's a Shohei Ohtani INSERT, on the Never Compromise set. THAT is nice, as this one definitely credits him as a pitcher, as opposed to the base card, which is neutral.

And here are four more awesome base cards, including Margot making a diving catch, Polanco goofing around coming up the stairs, Longo as a Giant, and Hunter Pence looking awesome as always.

 Pack 2-
The Scribner may be the best photo here, but it's nice to see Eric Hosmer in the correct Padres uniform. I do enjoy that. And Ramirez' intensity on that card is nice.

 The Sale card I'd heard a ton of great things about, so it's nice to finally have it. The Buxton is a great, underrated running card, that's a bit better than Buxton has been this year.

 Two more awesome horizontal shots- Chapman going for an insane fielding play, and Kenley Jansen, a black parallel, stepping in late in the game. The Jansen's dramatic elements work for it.

 The Ripken is a very nice early-90s action shot, which is welcome here. The Posey is a dupe, but I won't say no to it.

And we end with two AWESOME shots of Pittsburgh Pirates, who, along with the Polanco from earlier, have been giving some good cards in this set. Not Red Sox good, but still good.

So, that was my incredibly lucky break. I was expecting 22 dupes. I only got 4. And some Ohtanis, to boot.

LA Letdown

In 2012, Albert Pujols was hired to lead the team, but the Angels are not Albert Pujols' team.

In 2013, Josh Hamilton was hired to lead the team, but the Angels certainly never became Josh Hamilton's team.

In 2018, Shohei Ohtani was hired to lead the team, but it's not Ohtani's team either.

The Angels have had this habit of rejecting identity if it's imported from somewhere else. Even if you're an MVP in St. Louis or Texas, or...Japan, it matters what you prove in Anaheim, and those three, to this point, deferred to homegrown talent. For instance- Mike Trout came up through the Angels' farm system, as did Kole Calhoun and Garrett Richards. Only Andrelton Simmons has made a successful transition to LA, but for people like Albert, who are surefire HOFers, it's sad to see.

This season, which has seen Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Zack Cozart translate haphazardly to this roster, may have had the most letdown-ish quality. The A's have risen up and taken third place, and are coming for the first two spots as well. It's not like the Rangers are in any danger of lapping the Angels, fourth place in a year that they should have been in at least second, it's pretty disappointing.

At this point, they need to work on resuscitating a youth movement, and getting some call-ups, especially in the pitching area, to stay healthy, or else the Rangers WILL come for them.

Coming Tonight: On the other side of LA, a former ROY tries to cement his status as a consistent player.