Saturday, April 30, 2016

Precious CarGo

Having a baseball team in Denver is really vexing, if you think about it. The ballpark is engineered for long balls, because the air is thinner. There are players who did amazing stuff in Colorado, and then went back into the league depleted and suckier, because playing in Colorado made them amazing hitters to begin with. Still, people like Todd Helton and Larry Walker can make careers out of playing in Coors Field and smacking home runs.

The other downside is that no pitcher can survive especially long in Colorado. As the air's thinner, even the best pitchers can't really survive for very long, and get repeatedly beaten by opposing batters. So batters are only good when they're there, and pitchers are almost never good.

So, all of this being said, it shouldn't especially shock you that the Rockies aren't doing too great this season, so far.

Yes, Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez are hitting really well, and the youth movement that started a few years ago is still a success, but the pitching is especially atrocious this year, with no one of note making any important starts. So the inverse is attacking the Rockies at this point, although they're close enough to the top three, and it's early enough in the season, that I'm not counting them out yet.

CarGo, meanwhile, is back to his usual, home-run bashing self, after a season or two of inactivity back there. 2015 he came back in a big way, and so far he's up to his old tricks, which is great for the Rockies, as he's basically become the anchor in the absence of people like Todd Helton or Tulo.

Not sure if the Rockies are going to make much more news this season, aside from CarGo and Story, but I'll be keeping watch.

Coming Tomorrow- Probably another piece of the CC rip, but also a guy who most of the MLB counted out last year, who's back to smacking home runs for a surging AL East team.

What the Hell Happened to the Astros??

No, seriously. This is pretty baffling to me, actually.

The Astros were so phenomenal last year, in just about every way. The lineup worked, the pitching staff was dominating, the momentum was there. There weren't too many drastic roster changes for 2016, and most of the guys who were killing it last year are still there. In fact, a few crucial pieces were added rather than subtracted.

So...I really don't understand why they aren't winning games.

They have the same guys hitting, too. Colby Rasmus is off to a pretty nice start, and Tyler White had some pretty electrifying stuff earlier, and Dallas Keuchel is still shutting people down. And yet people like the Mariners and Rangers are taking care of the top of the division.

This isn't like the Twins thing, because the Twins were juuuust running out of momentum at the end of 2015, and their decline sort of makes sense in hindsight. The Astros ended last season still with a ton of momentum, still really powerful, which is why the deflation right now doesn't make sense to me.

Hopefully this is just a momentary thing, and hopefully they'll get hot again in the next few weeks and put to rest all the really worried sportswriters. They're a fun team, and they don't deserve to be back in last after everything that's happened to them.

Coming Tonight-  He hasn't hit as many home runs as Trevor Story, but he's still one of the most impressive home run hitters in Denver.

Friday, April 29, 2016

On Stranger Tides

They worried me for a second, but the Pirates have a pretty solid record and are hitting pretty damn well in some pretty odd places. The Pirates coaching staff have this miraculous ability to turn players who nobody thought could succeed, like Jason Grilli, Juan Nicasio, John Jaso and Frankie Cervelli, into serious threats and prime tools. I do adore that, and I adore that the Pirates have spent the last five seasons being a legitimate threat in the NL Central. This does not happen often, especially after the slog that was the 2000's.

Starling Marte is one of the more important parts of this lineup, because he's one of the main home run hitters on the team, thanks to the absence of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker (who's blowing shit up in Queens right now). He's also come a long way from his debut in 2012, and, combined with Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, make one of the most impressive outfields in baseball right now.

The toughest part of this season is not only going to be diffusing the Cardinals, as usual, but keeping up with the Cubs. Last year's season ended because, even though they had the WC spot locked up, the Cubs still won that one-game playoff because they were hotter at that point. The Pirates need some serious momentum this year, and it involves keeping what they have right now going for another few months.

It'll be tough, but they're the 2010's Pirates. They've done tougher.

Coming Tomorrow- The little guy whose breakout team from last year has hit a slight snag.

1990 Called...they want their gimmick back

Right now the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves have the worst records in their respective leagues. I know this is early, but if this is how this season is gonna turn out, it won't be the first time.

The diehard baseball fans should know this, but I'll go over it anyway. In 1990, both the Twins and the Braves were at the bottom of their respective divisions. In 1991, they were both in the World Series.

This is a classic example of how quickly baseball can turn, and that the guys on the bottom have as much of a chance as the guys on top. Fun little tidbit.

However, it's 25 years later...and we have the same scenario. One of them, the Braves, isn't surprising, as they've made it a point to clear the team of most of the talent, in order to lose games now so they can win them in the future. The Twins...that one confuses me. Last season they were pretty damn good, and in the offseason, realigned their team around people like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton...guys who aren't doing so well right now.

So, right now, both teams are on the bottom. Now, are they gonna be on top next year??? Ehhhh....probably not. I mean, I'm a fan of miracles and underdog stories, but there's no way that can happen in 2017. A lot of stars would have to be aligned perfectly, and that's a lot of luck that might not be on Atlanta or Minneapolis' side.

But to dream about, isn't it?

Coming Tonight: A third of the most powerful outfield in the NL.

Jeez, Dee...

Way to wait your turn for me to post your custom, man.

I make the custom, I slide it in to go up in a week or so, and then you go and get busted for PEDs like an idiot, so I can't save this until the entire 80 games are off. I have to get it out of the way now, and give you a whole walk of shame thing like on Game of Thrones. This is what you're making me do, Dee.

Damn...I had so much respect for you, and then you pull something like this. Phenomenal, man...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Nostalgic Box Break: 1998 Collector's Choice Series One (Part One)

Today, since it's been forever since I've done one of these, we're gonna look at Collector's Choice's last hurrah.

Yes, the penultimate Upper Deck Collector's Choice set, and the last time they could retain some of the gonzo, awesome concepts that made the set fun originally. You can see that CC's beginning to lose its way, as this is probably the most composed base set since the trial run in 1994. Plus, more kid-oriented concepts are beginning to come in, and even more inserts.

This is a changing brand, but it's still an awesome set. So, we have 36 packs, 12-per-pack. 12 packs today. Let's see how things were in 1998.

 Pack One- Now you see what we're up against. Inserts take up about half the pack, but they're GOOD inserts.

 This is the base design, and it's pretty slick and refined, especially for CC. This year was Jose Canseco's return to Oakland, after becoming a Jim Carrey reference back in Boston. Here....I guess he did okay, but he ended up in Toronto very soon after. Mostly because of this shirt thing.

 Landscapes work well with this base set, and CC had a ton more zoomed in shots this year. Especially with the Frias.
 Cover Glory is a semi-nod to Sports Illustrated, I believe. Sandy Alomar's not as surefire of a choice as his bro, but he still works. The rookie design is kind of cool this year, even though Javier Valentin's big ol' head is blocking most of it.

 THESE are the main event though. STARQUESTS, dedicated to big stars, big rookies, etc. They vary in rarity, so most of them are ONE STAR, but the more stars, the rarer. This, with no offense meant to the 08-09 UD Flagship insert set, is the real deal. Helton and Konerko both got to be pretty big stars, and it's nice when UD hits it on the head like that.

 Instead of the huge stars being full bleed, like usual CC, the stars were grey-bordered and team-colored in the bottom left corner. This works well enough, especially with Pudge.

 Pack 2- Also, at least the inserts stand out here.

 I have no idea how long Billy Wagner will stay on the Hall of Fame ballot. Not sure if he's going to get in, though.

 This shot is classic CC. Capturing the run at the exact right moment. I love it.

 I'd really love it if Vlad got into the Hall of Fame next year. He was so much fun to watch.

 Scott Rolen, a year after Rolen-Mania in Philly, in a nicely hued Starquest. Piazza gets the star-base, and it's a nice one.

 Now we get to talk about these. These...are weird little darlings. They're the only full-bleed cards in the set, and they picked one big star per team. The fact that it's Jeff Cirillo here says a lot about the 90's Brewers. But anyway, they barely even count as cards, because...

 Flip this over, and it's a fold-out card. You open the little compartment that's been taped off and there's stats and info in there about the Brewers. I didn't feel like opening it, because...Brewers.

 These are also here, and they're Baseball Stick-Ums, also one-per-team, which are flimsy cards that act as stickers. Nice concept, but I wish they'd be a bit more convincing

 Pack 3- Just looking at the pack, it just breathes classic CC.

 Love this shot. Trevor Hoffman looks for the ultimate shot. Hopefully he'll be a Hall of Famer next year.

 Jeff Kent turning two. I still can't look at a card of his without thinking of his stint on Survivor.

 Nomar's StarQuest makes sense, but Dante Powell was a bit of a lame prediction for UD, even if the card does look cool.

 The throwback/minor-league uniform makes this one a little cooler than most Magglio rookies.

 Such a cool card. He must have been demonstrating to an offscreen Jose Canseco how to properly catch an outfield ball.
 Pack 4- The vertical base photography here was a bit underwhelming, to be honest.

 Man, this card makes it look like JT Snow actually did something impressive as a member of the Giants.

 This is what the Leader cards look like. Man, 1997 was a weird year.
 Most underrated home run hitter of all time.

 Blech Part 1.
 Blech Part 2. UD was a bit late throwing McGwire in a Cardinals uniform.
 On the upside, here's a rookie card of future Cardinals Cy Young hero Chris Carpenter.

 And the only proof you need that Rickey Henderson spent late 1997 with the Angels.

 Pack 5- Downside is we already get a few insert dupes right off the bat.

 Another uniform I didn't know Bret Saberhagen wore.

 Oh my gosh, what a great card. So much indecisiveness.

 A reminder that Brad Fullmer was a young, non-DH player once.

 Tim Salmon was still a pretty big deal in 1997, even though he was nowhere near his 1993 self.

 Another cool insert set, Masked Marauders, showcasing cool catchers. Brad Ausmus is the subject here.

 Gary Sheffield, fresh off a World Series title, fresh onto some kid's wall.

 Pack 6- Even more Inserts. Not the worst thing, either.

 Gee, I wonder who won the World Series in 1997. Naw, Livan looks pretty happy nonetheless.

 Hey, Cubs fans. Remember Kevin Orie?
Think about that every time you see 'em win this year. Times have been worse.

 Two pitchers who did some pretty crazy things in the late 90's. One gave up Mark McGwire's 62nd home run. The other pitcher a perfect game.

 Jose Cruz Jr, and TWO DIFFERENT MARK MCGWIRES! My God, the steroids are making him multiply!
 Javy Lopez, then just Javier, on another Masked Marauders insert.

 Pack 7- Inserts, 7. Base Cards 5. 1998, everybody.

 Oh my gosh. If I had this card a few years ago, I would have totally had Ricky Bottalico sign it instead of a little mini-poster I bought. This is insane.

 Bagwell's the one I'm keeping, but Knoblauch's is a TWO STAR, slightly rarer parallel.

 Eddie Murray as an Angel. Gotta love it.

 Jim Thome's this pack's Stick-Ums.

 Pack 8- I even made a little insert barricade at the bottom there.

 Tony Pena was still playing in 1997? For the Astros???
 There we go. Tony Gwynn, spending his last few seasons just pounding the ball.

 Double Frank, which is great, because he was killing it in 1998.
 Annnnd double Piazza. Man, I feel like Piazza going to the Mets disheartened a lot of UD execs.

 Pack 9- I feel like the base set was one of the least important parts of this set.

 Wow...Bob Hamelin was still playing in 1998...learn something new everyday.

 Kevin Millwood's rookie card, which is kind of cool.

 Wow. Commemorating Ryne Sandberg's last season in the bigs (for real this time). Nothing but respect.

 Scott Rolen, fresh off an awesome rookie year, quickly became the face of Philadelphia in 1998.
 Pack 10- Some freshly cooked irony coming up.

 Some 90's era heroes, like Jeff King.

 More evidence that everybody thought Jose Cruz would be huge in 1998.

 STEROIDS CORNER! Clemens gets the Cover Glory, while our FOUR-STAR-ULTRA RARE Starquest is of, of all people, Mark McGwire, who'd break Maris' record that year. So...UD will put an A's photo on the one-star StarQuest, but save the Cardinals one for the rarer one. Riiiight...
 Here's a slightly more respectable StarQuest, of Brad Radke.

 DID I MENTION THIS WAS 1998? Wow, these Steroid guys are everywhere.

 Pack 11- Slightly less steroids, I believe.

 Write in your own joke here.

 DOC! He wasn't at 1985 level, but he was still striking out batters for my Yankees back in '97.

 A rare non-Phils Doug Glanville.

 Glad to see Edgar was still an offensive powerhouse back in 1998.

 Kevin Brown, "THE THINKING MAN'S PITCHER". Man, that's a good one. And Ken Caminiti, post-MVP.

 Pack 12- Attack of the horizontals.

 Hard to believe this guy'd end up as the starting third baseman for the '04 Red Sox.

 Nomar and Jeff Kent. A preview of 1999.

Last one for today is a really cool, pensive shot of Garret Anderson.

I'll get around to Part 2 sometime this week,  but this is a pretty cool set.