Friday, August 31, 2018

The Cole Hamels Renaissance We Needed

Sometimes I forget that Cole Hamels has been playing for 13 seasons. And sometimes I forget that he  was only still a Phillie 3 years ago. Time moves really quickly, and even at 34, Hamels feels young, fresh, and dominant on the mound. And this is especially since landing in Chicago, for the first time since his no-no.

The guy, in 6 starts, is 4-0, with a .69 ERA and 38 strikeouts. He had 5 wins over 4 months in Texas. Pitching for a good team really changes your mojo.

And also, even in Texas, Hamels was never the weak link, and was never the reason the team lost- he was dominant, dealing and strong even in the 9 losses. The guy has not regressed as a strikeout artist, or as a big-game pitcher. And now that he's on the Cubs, in a rotation with Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana, he's only gonna become a bigger deal. Which is nice, as there are only so many survivors from the 2008 Phillies team left, and it's nice that he (and J.A. Happ) are doing well this year.

The Cubs also landed Daniel Murphy, called up David Bote for good, and have one of the strongest teams in the NL, looking at first seed in the playoffs with a month left to go, and getting by on different ideals than their previous playoff runs. It's not a 'we're gonna win because we're the best' kind of team. This team is a lot craftier, with more of a bench presence, a strong bullpen, and several unsung heroes who can leap in and be a game standout every now and then.

The Cubs have a nice shot of making it 4 NLCS' in a row. And with Cole Hamels playing like he is, they might be able to shoot for more than that this year.

Coming Tomorrow- Meanwhile, in Oakland, a promoted former bench player makes the most of his come-up in the year of the A's inexplicable rise to power.

Let's Talk About Cutch in the Bronx

I had a very, very busy couple of days. Work led me into the late hours of the day, with no real time to post. Then, when I was home, I still had things to do for work. It was one of the most exhausting two-day spans I've encountered in a while. And, as an added bonus, the Yankees kept blowing games to easy AL Central opponents.

Thankfully, this morning, I was rewarded. One of my favorite players landed in the Bronx, as the exact antithesis to Jose Bautista landing in Philly.

So, here's why Andrew McCutchen as a Yankee works:

Aaron Judge is currently injured. You all know that. What no one knows is how long he'll be injured. Boone has been very wishy-washy on when he's coming back, Judge himself has been evasive, and I think that either no one knows...or everyone does know, and it's not good news. And it's probably the latter one. Judge may be out until October. And I don't even know how much of October this team will see.

The other outfield issue is Giancarlo Stanton, who was essentially hired to be this team's DH, and is playing a bit too much outfield. He's great and all, but he's not a career right fielder like he once was, and having people like Gardy, Hicks and...well, someone else who's good defensively, is better than playing Stanton in the outfield every day.

So...we went and got Andrew McCutchen. Yes, he's not at 2013-levels, but he's an important piece. He's a good defensive outfielder, he's a great hitter, and he's an infectious team presence. He is more than capable of replacing the marketing behemoth that was Aaron Judge, simply because he's a great, fun player, he's versatile, and he can win over the fans just by being himself.

Plus...I can get some use out of my old Cutch Pirates shirt...which I am wearing today.

I don't know how successful this move will be, or how long-lasting, but...I'm just happy Cutch is playing for my team. It's a great feeling. I hope he does well, because the fans are quick to point fingers if there isn't immediate success (look at the first week of the Luke Voit era...or the Stanton era in that matter).

I'm sure he'll do fine. Besides, he's Andrew McCutchen. That alone is pretty damn awesome.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Let's Talk About Joey Bats in Philly

In 2013...Kevin Youkilis was traded to the Yankees. At that point, he was one of my least favorite players in the game, and somehow he was being trusted to play 3rd base for my Yankees in place of A-Rod. And I had to severely stomach the fact that someone so awful, horrible, and scary for my team...was now playing for said team...and I had to root for them.

Thankfully Youk's tenure in New York was very, very short, and I didn't have to worry about him being a long-tenured face of my team. And I find myself in a similar conundrum now.

Jose Bautista, who was putting up alright-enough numbers for the Mets, just landed in Philadelphia last night, and has been traded to the Phils in an effort to boost the lineup's power for the stretch run. I don't think this is a move for the future of the team, because...I mean, look at him, he's 37! His numbers haven't been too spectacular since the bat flip. Also, he wasn't even supposed to play this season- the Rangers dropped him before the season started, and he was only a last-minute addition to the Braves roster.

So...the Phillies are taking a serious gamble on a guy who hasn't played particularly well since 2015. If that. And it's because they're desperate to make the WC race, and because they want to catch up to Atlanta, which...I'm not thinking they'll be able to do. And even if they did, I don't think Bautista would really be the catalyst. He's over the hill, he's a career power hitter, and he barely hits for average. What were the Phillies expecting? I don't know if they wanted a one-dimensional guy for this run, he is. Huzzah.

And even worse...I still don't love this guy after what he did to my Yankees all those years. I never liked him, and now he's playing for my team. Because of course.

I dunno, this could end up being fine after all, but I'm still very wary of the entire thing. And will probably continue to be so.

Twins and Needles

And now, a moment with one of the AL Central teams that isn't the Indians. SPOILER: things aren't going well.

The Twins have shed a lot of their former semi-dominance, dealing Lance Lynn, Brian Dozier, Fernando Rodney, Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Pressly to other teams, and only gaining a surprisingly spry Logan Forsythe and the handy playing time of Tyler Austin in return. They're limp, tired, and the youth movement isn't doing too many favors, only yielding Jake Cave and Mitch Garver, and barely using the strengths of their standouts, like Max Kepler, who's having a comparatively down year, but still has a bunch of home runs because of course he does.

Look, the Twins are 13 games behind, are well under .500, and yet are the second place team in this division that is definitely going to the Indians, because of f--king course it is. And even if they are in second place, and are another 8 games ahead of the Tigers, therefore DESERVING TO BE in second, the 4th place San Francisco Giants are better than them, and they're without Posey AND Longo.

On the bright side...Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios. If they stay Twins, and are built around, the Twins might be okay after all. But after Sano and Buxton failed them essentially, and Santana disappointed after being handed the ace card, they need to be careful about who they're trusting the franchise to.

Coming Tonight: He played for my team, won a World Series...then left for a team he thought would lead him back. They didn't. So he's playing for the Cubs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Only the Braves

Alright, I've prolonged it long enough- my, Ronald Acuna is great at baseball.

Yes, Ozzie Albies has been more consistent throughout the season, but Acuna just came back from a brief trip away, and started owning the ball again, plowing through August and taking the team by storm...which is what we all thought he'd do in, like, May or something.

And he picked the best season for his come-up: not only are the Braves in first, but they have outlasted the Phillies, and are in a relatively good position in the NL. Right now, they're seeded second, and look to play whoever wins the NL West in the playoffs, which could be...again, any of the big three in that division, to be honest. The Braves have the high ground because they have the bigger division lead, and are deferring to the Cubs only by a few games.

Also...the Braves are surprisingly October-ready. I don't know how this team got into shape so quickly, but they've got a well-stocked lineup, with only Dansby Swanson hitting below .250, a nice bench, with Charlie Culberson making up for Adam Duvall's inadequacies, and a strong rotation, with Kevin Gausman earning his place among the Newcomb-Folty-Teheran-Anibal arrangement. The bullpen isn't perfect, with AJ Minter taking over for oft-injured Arodys Vizcaino as closer, but the O's additions have definitely made things work.

And plus, this team is proof that a squad can exist with both a youth movement and a steady veteran presence. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis can work alongside Albies, Acuna and Swanson, without there seeming like there's dissonance. It's a nice, cohesive unit, which is more than I can say for Philly right now (who's excited for my This Trade Makes No Sense post on Joey Bats tomorrow??)

Coming Tomorrow- We've got a month left, and already the Twins' German delegate is surrendering.

Thinking Realistically About the Red Sox in October

Okay, lemme clarify. THE RED SOX WILL DEFINITELY BE PLAYING INTO OCTOBER. I mean...look, they're at 90+ wins. They're gonna hit 100, there's 30 games left, and they'll win more than 1/3rd of the games they have left. we start to think critically about the Red Sox' chances past the first round of the playoffs. Because it has been ESTABLISHED that the Red Sox are the best team in baseball, as their lineup is surging, their rotation is strong, and everything seems to be going right for them. Which is nice for baseball...if problematic for Yankees fans.

So...assuming they will get 1st seed...they will be playing either the A's or the Yankees. Or possibly the Mariners. Hell, if the M's manage to win 4th seed, expect Boston to advance indefinitely. But the A's and Yankees will both give the Red Sox a fair fight. I feel like it'd be easier right now to defeat the Yankees, as the Sox seem to be proficient in outlasting the Yankees. Either way, with the current momentum the Sox have, they could possibly defeat either one...but it's a question of whether or not the A's or Yanks can accumulate the same momentum. Either one could.

The odd part is, I feel like the Sox might have an easier time with either the Astros or Indians in the second round, than either Oakland or New York. Both WC teams might be streakier, and with more to fight for at the current moment, they may have more momentum than the teams that have defined seeds at the moment.

The Red Sox...still might be the best of these teams...and I can conceivably see them making it to the World Series...and possibly winning. But then again, I'm saying this a month before regulation ends, and several things could happen before then. All I'm saying is that if the Red Sox can keep this stretch going, the other teams may need to toughen up in order to conceivably take them down.

Coming Tonight: Yeah...that big Braves rookie that's heated up in the last month.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Street Fighting Man

(AHAH...AHAH...AHAHAHA....that is the SINGLE WORST reference joke/pun I have ever done for this blog. TOP HONORS. After almost 10 years, I've never done one that bad.)

Okay, so back to the Dodgers. The sportscasters have been wanting the narrative to go back to favoring the Dodgers, because they're so much fun when they're on top, and that happened...for a week. And then it went back to being the Rockies-D-Backs race again. The Dodgers are a few games behind, but...they're just stuck there. And the race is just sort of going on...around them, sort of like it was before they got hot and made it to 2nd.

And the thing about the Dodgers is that a lot of the team is injured, or in the process of coming back from injury. Even with the reinforcements from the trade deadline, a lot of members of the team are choosing the exact wrong moment to stop playing well, like Kenley Jansen, who's blown a few saves recently. Meanwhile, the other four teams who are thick in the Wild Card race, like the Rockies, Cardinals, Brewers and Phillies, are dealing with less injuries, and comparatively better luck.

Look, even with surging Machado, Turner and Dozier...this may not be the strongest team. There's not as much of the dominance across the board that we saw last year, and a lot of the lineup is comparatively struggling. There are standouts, great players, but...this may not be the team.

And also...the Diamondbacks might have it this year. Because they had a stronger core, and didn't really rely on a part-year come-up. They were just there from the start. And it's sad that the Dodgers aren't able to repeat, can't kill this season for the sportswriters, as much as THEY want the Dodgers to do well.

I the end of the day, it's hard to explain to people with money that sometimes the people with money won't always be so lucky. But here we are.

Coming Tomorrow- The actual best team in baseball, and their young standout.

Another Blaster of 2018 Topps Archives.

 You saw my blaster from yesterday. It was...pretty good. A lot of base, but also a rare PHOTO VARIATION....OF AN AWESOME PLAYER. So yeah.  Now, here's another one. Hopefully it'll be a little snazzier.

COINS: Rafael Devers, a Red Sock, and...Squints, from the Sandlot. It's not a player, but it's a pretty fairly big Sandlot character, so I'll allow it.

 Pack 1-
We start with a Cardinal and a Blue Jay. Not a great sign.

 The 77s wielded better stuff, like an Ozzie Smith, a RARE card of David Ortiz as a Twin, and TURN BACK THE CLOCK SHORTPRINT of ICHIRO AS A YANKEE. LOTS OF GOOD THINGS HERE. Plus, I'll say that I like the short prints better as TBTC cards, rather than just impossible-to-find-base-cards. These TBTC SPs are 1:14, which is a TON better than the 1:70 ratio from 2015, and make these short prints fresh and obtainable. Score for Topps.

And, despite Starling Marte's best efforts, we end Pack 1 with another Cardinal. Grrr.

 Pack 2-
Lots of Braves going on early on, plus a cover-boy shot of Kris Bryant. How lovely.

 Iglesias' card I would have filtered differently, as there's too much shadow. Turner's is nice, despite the trimmed Turner-beard.

The Albies-Acuna-Gohara FS, while not exactly an under-the-radar observation, is nice. Turner's is a good base card, and Darvish's would be a lot better if Yu Darvish as a Cub was actually a pretty sight at this point.

 Pack 3- GREAT LEGEND CHOICES HER. HOYT WILHELM? Fantastic! Single most underrated HOF pitcher of his era. Schoendienst is a nice touch too, having just passed.

 Fun, inoffensive 77s. I like the poses here. Very retro.

And some cheerful 81s. Great use of Phillies here, even if Crawford has been slightly disappointing. A Robin Roberts card is always a nice pull.

 Pack 4-
The Seaver and Aaron photos I have seen before, but they're both welcome here. Blackmon's shot is awesome. And the Stanton-Judge combo card is a really cool one for me to pull.

 Two largely-ineffective second-year players for 4th place teams.

Annnnd two Hall of Famers, with fairly unused photos. No complaints here.

 Pack 5- L TO R: The best ace in the game, and the worst ace in the game.

 Solid posed 77s, though Marky's does stand out a bit in an odd way.
 Jon Gray's is nice and all, but...A-Rod as a Mariner...AND ICHIRO'S FINAL SENDOFF. A bit less showoffish than his other ones, but still welcome.

And...not gonna lie, it does feel pretty cool to pull a card of Benny The Jet. It's kinda awesome.

 Pack 6-
Bringer of Rain, and Bringer of Disappointment

 Three absolute legends. Sucks not seeing Bunning as a Phillie too, but as the shot of him in Detroit seems to be more rare these days, I'll allow it. Ashburn and Bench, of course, look great here.

And some solid 81s. Scherzer's stands out because, OMG, AN ACTION SHOT. Also, I love Daniel Mengden's mustache. Not since John Axford in 2011 have we had a stache that cool.

 Pack 7-
Rookies and a Royal.

 Ah yes, now the REGULAR BASE JETER, which is a little less flashy than the SP I pulled last box, paired with an Arenado. I don't agree with the Rockies using red as their base color, but...oh well.

 Two nice cards here, and ANOTHER ACTION SHOT. MY GOD.

And we end on another rookie history card of a Dodger.

Another fine blaster, with a ton of base card love, and some good stuff all around. I still enjoy this set, but I do think there are a few issues that Topps could have solved if they put in a liiiiiitle more effort.

The Astros vs. Inevitability

Here's the deal, folks. If you win the World Series one is VERY DIFFICULT to win it again the very next year. It has not been done since the Yankees, 1998-2000. That was three in a row...and that was the Yankees. It takes a certain type of Super-team to win consecutive World Series titles, i.e.: Connie Mack A's of the 30s, A's and Reds of the 70s, Yankees of the 90s.

Now...this is the year we find out whether or not the Houston Astros is that sort of super-team. Because we haven't had a team like that recently. I mean, we've had perennially great teams, like the Giants of the early 2010s, and these Cubs teams nowadays, but...a lot of the W.S. caliber teams, like the Royals, have fallen apart since winning the title.

And the Astros...still look pretty damned strong. They've not only retained the skill of their 2017 roster, without letting many of the players go, but...they might be even stronger. The pitching? Oh my god. If last year's rotation had one or two weaknesses...the only weakness now is some general Dallas Keuchel inconsistency. Plus, the closer issue? Not really a thing anymore, since Roberto Osuna, battery notwithstanding, is holding the fort pretty damned well.

Again, the lineup was pretty worrying for a split second, but now that Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer are ALL's looking a lot better. Yuli Gurriel, for a brief second, was one of the more crucial bats on the team, but now that the weight is a little less on his shoulders, he's breathing a bit easier. Still, this is a team where people like Gurriel and Josh Reddick can step up in a moment of weakness.

This Astros team is still on first, and has managed to fend off Oakland. With a month or so left in the season, they need to hold onto their momentum, and try to make it to another World Series, and keep the dynasty going. I think they've got it in them, but this playoff season might be a particularly tough one to outlast.

Coming Tonight: The Dodgers have so many great pitchers this year, that even this guy, who I was worried about for a second, is having a great year.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Forever DeJong

[loud sigh]

The Cardinals seem to have a pretty nice team this year.

As usual, they've decided to get really good not in June, or May...but August. The narrative of this game changes so often that if you get good close to the end, you're in the clear. Doesn't matter whether or not you deserve it. And the Cardinals, at least this season, kinda deserve it. They've shaved off any remnants of the depressing 2017 team (including the inconsistent duo of Piscotty and Grichuk), and have picked up some nice reinforcements (welcome back to St. Louis, Matt Adams).

Not only that, but their farm system is spitting out a TON of winners. John Gant, Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill, Austin Gomber, Jordan Hicks. It's proof that after their high-spending phase, the Cards still kept some cards close to their belt, and kept the future with the team, so that what's happening now, a mostly-homegrown resurgence, makes sense. The people aiding in this come-up, with some Mikolas-esque exceptions, are all pretty much homegrown. I can say that firmly since the duo of Fowler and Ozuna are both injured (though Ozuna will thankfully be back soon).

I'm internally horrified at the prospect of this team's rise to glory, especially as they head towards the Cubs in the standings. This team can be versatile, it can hit for power, and it could DOMINATE the postseason if given the right momentum. And as someone who's been spurned by the surging Cards in the postseason before (especially 2011), I'd rather the Cardinals not take over the postseason this year.

It's been five years since we had a World Series between my two least favorite teams, the Red Sox and Cardinals. And I think we can go a lot longer.

Coming Tomorrow- The unsung hero of this perennially great Houston Astros team.

A Blaster of 2018 Topps Archives (FINALLY!)

...I don't know about you, but I liked it better when this product arrived in June. Not in August, which is A&G territory (and everyone knows it). I mean, it's become clear that Topps is keeping this product alive on routine alone, and is putting less and less effort into replication (just look at 1959 Topps), still exists, and as someone who claims to have inspired the set (not really), I find it a necessity to open some of it.

I bought two blasters from Target. One I open today, the other I open tomorrow. It's looking like I might try and chase the set if I yield enough of it on these.

 Each blaster comes with a pack of these little things. I'm not sure what I'm gonna do with them, but they sure are cool:

I yielded these two. As far as this checklist goes, not bad at all: both are five-tool, excellent players. Sadly Posey just landed on the DL today.

 Pack 1-
59s! Yes, the font isn't perfect, but the style is pretty much there. Lots of posed Spring Training shots, which is essentially the point of this set. Cain's is nice, for the contrasting colors.

 77s! I agree that the font is a bit too thin on some names (like the tigers), and the white position-age on some colors does not work at all, but as one of my dad's favorite sets, this one's still enough of a hit, I guess. Two legends here, including Hal Newhouser, who we really don't see enough of in modern Topps cards.

81s! This is one of my favorite Topps designs, so they mostly got it right. My only qualm is some font issues with the cap, as the team name seems to be in an odd place compared to the position. Some photoshop work that wouldn't have taken more than just 2 minutes in the template design, but...if Topps doesn't want to try, then fine. Good enough cards here. Once again, the vintage photo stands out.

 Pack 2- The blue-sky background does fit a bit better in this set. Also, always nice to pull an Aaron Nola card.

 Two more legends. The Sutton photo was taken a little before 1977, but it's fine. Clemens looks hungover.

Our first insert is an 81 Future Stars; neither of the three Orioles depicted here has really made an impact this year. Ironically, a catcher named Austin nullified two of these guys.
And NL East 81s. The modern M Brewers cap contrasts a bit with the colorful blue and yellow of the cap insignia on the car.

 Pack 3-
Do Cubs fans call Russell 'Ad-Rock'? It'd be so cool if they did. I know the Beasties are a NY export, but there's got to be one or two Beasties fans in Chicago.
Jones has changed position, and Banda has gotten...some playing time? He's not one of the more heralded rookie arms in Tampa, let's just say.
 Yay for people still talking about Enos Slaughter in 2018!
Also, more notes from the photoshopper here: I would have filtered Mahle's photo a little more so there's less shadow. We want to see him.

We Like Maik. Carpenter's been on a tear, and that's a cool card.
In terms of Hechavarria's card...not exactly the color scheme I would have gone with for Tampa. I'd have gone navy- orange, instead of baby blue-yellow. But...whatever.

 Pack 4-
More legends. Fisk in Chicago rather than Boston. Bobby Doerr, another nice find for this set. And a combo card of Trout and Ohtani. Nice stuff.

 The 77s might be the more likable ones this set, even if the photography still isn't at 77 levels exactly. Nice enough stuff here.

I still love the 81s though. Plus, a rare action shot in this set, from current Brewer Jonathan Schoop.

 Pack 5-
L TO R: Hall of Fame Class of 2027; Hall of Fame Class of 2007
 The Slamtana and Ozuna are DEFINITELY picks '77T would have used, and thusly I really like those cards. Murph's is good too, even if he's now in Chicago.

 Fowler has been inefficient in Oakland. The Catfish is a nice 'What If' card, that sees a future where Cat winds up pitching for us past his injury in '79. Oh, what could have been...

And, of course, I gotta mention a Sandlot insert. Not my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE baseball movie (still waiting on an insert set for Field of Dreams, or even Little Big League), but I definitely see why people love it.

 Pack 6-
A guy who spent the year on the DL, and a guy who spent the year batting under the Mendoza line.

 Again, I like the 77s, despite minor stuff.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE JETER FOR A MOMENT. I originally thought that was a flashy, non-static photo choice for Jeets. And then I did some research. TURNS OUT...THAT JETER CARD IS A PHOTO VARIATION.
The odds of pulling one? ONE IN TWO-HUNDRED-THIRTY-NINE. So...that's a nice pull. And it's of one of my favorite players. So that's awesome.

I LOVE THESE. The Smoltz and Ryan are static shots we haven't really seen in other products. The Kinsler is a nice posed shot, even if it was nullified by a trade to Boston.

 Pack 7-
I feel like the Polanco had the field edited in afterwards. Fitting, given his real-life HGH suspension.

 Mejia's now in SD, but I like this card. The Sutter is pretty cool, despite Sutter playing for Chicago in '77.
 Three cool 81s. Just good work all around.

And my insert, a Rookie History one of '08UH's Clayton Kershaw rookie. It's weird having already owned this one, yet feeling how different the stock is to the original. Oh well.

I'll post the second box tomorrow.