Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Year in Review

Odd year, this one.

I began 2018 literally banging pots and pans and drinking champagne, and tonight I'll end it seeing They Might be Giants at Philly's Theater of Living Arts. Obviously a lot changed in 12 months. I'll say that I never would have gotten into TMBG if it weren't for an influential card-blogger.

Then, as I went to write this, it occurred to me that this is the end of the tenth year I've had this blog, and this is the tenth consecutive year-end post I've written for it. For shits and giggles I looked back at the first one of those I wrote. It's...definitely indicative of my age, as a fourteen year old. Obviously I've gotten better at this sort of thing.

Like usual this time of year, I'll look back on the year that was, by sharing tidbits of the collecting, sporting, and living worlds, all of which beginning with 'this was the year that', as if we'd need to separate them from other years in the future.

This was the year that one of the biggest home run hitters in baseball, Giancarlo Stanton, was traded to my team. And he did pretty well for himself.

This was the year that Topps improved on their flagship set only minimally. The inserts, on the other hand, have a ways to go.

This was the year that the Raiders' gradual departure from Oakland was converted to a swift 'get the f--k out', thanks to the lovely people of Oakland. Now we appear to have a homeless football team, for the first time since arguably the '95 Browns....or the 2007 Browns, who spent most of the offseason hiding in Drew Carey's house.

This was the year that the best movie of the year was an animated Spider-Man movie, and the most buzzed about Oscar favorite was a posh costume drama directed by an absurdist Greek auteur.

This was the year that my girlfriend and I took a trip to Yankee Stadium, thanks to our college being generous to its senior class, and got to see the Bombers take down the A's in extras, thanks to a Neil Walker walk-off.

This was the year that rock and roll seemed dead, and everything new made an attempt to sound old, and the only sign of mainstream success was a cover of a Toto song by Weezer.

This was the year that I got back into card-show attending for the first time in a while, with recurring trips to the White Plains show and Philly Show. Definitely going back to the latter next year.

This was the year that I didn't go to a Phillies game. And after August, I wasn't missing much.

This was a year that my dad spent a ton of time convincing everyone that The Marvelous Ms. Maisel was the best show on television (it wasn't far off).

This was the year that Topps Stadium Club continued to be unrivaled in its excellence...though a little set called Topps Big League came very, very close. 10 packs for 10 bucks, exceedingly collectible, fun inserts, and decent collation? I want to go to there.

This was the year where my family and I undertook a MASSIVE road trip, hitting minor league affiliates of the Pirates, Tigers, Nationals and Yankees, and knocking the major league parks of the Reds, Tigers and Blue Jays off my list, bringing me to 15 overall, the halfway point. Next up? not know. I might just stick to ones I've been to for now- return visits to the Bronx and possibly DC are in order.

This was the year that Wes Anderson put out an adorable movie about dogs, Steven Spielberg made a cool movie about nostalgia, and Ron Howard directed a Star Wars movie that didn't need to exist.

This was the year that Gritty.

This was the year that Panini perfected their frankenset, Chronicles, and I...should have gotten more of it. It's not an A+ product, but I enjoyed it for what it was, sort of like 08 UD Timeline.

This was the year that after years of trying, and years of failure, the Philadelphia Eagles FINALLY won a Super Bowl. And their was much rejoicing. Plus...with the sneakiness of this birds team, they may make a run at a repeat, which, while low in probability, isn't impossible.

This was the year that Andrew McCutchen got to play for my team. Next year, he'll play for my other team. Good to see his priorities are in line.

This was the year that I graduated from college and subsequently started a real, difficult job. And it's been going smoothly so far.

This was the year that the best team in baseball happened to be the Boston Red Sox. And nothing could stop them from taking it all.

This was the year that I met the voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy. And he did not disappoint.

This was the year that we lost Stan Lee, and I don't think we as a species will ever recover.

This was the year that I marked ten calendar years blogging and doing customs. Which is a nice accolade, I think.

I hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year. Keep doing what you love. I certainly will try to.

Now if you need me, I'll be belting out all the words to 'Don't Let's Start'.

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Yankees

Once again, for my last post of new customs of the year, I have to look at my favorite team's season. And...while they were good, and while there were definite heroes, they were never going to completely eclipse the Red Sox, so they were playing for second place and any accolades that came with it. The Yankees, in 2018, were flawed; the Sox weren't.

For the first time since 2013, Dellin Betances did not make the All Star team. But...the dude had 115 strikeouts in 66 relief appearances, and a 2.70 ERA. So...he's still one of the best middle relievers in baseball, even if the ASG didn't reflect that this year. He's 30 years old, and he's already one of the better relievers of his era. The Yanks are lucky to have him.

Unfortunately, Sonny Gray in the Bronx just hasn't worked out. He's continued his 2017 woes as a starter, ending up with a 4.90 ERA despite a modest enough 11-9 record. He had to spend 7 games out of the bullpen after the acquisitions of JA Happ and Lance Lynn. Next year, he'll likely be on a squad with a lot less pressure.

 Another insane bullpen talent was Chad Green, who was used as a longer relief man, and in 75 innings notched 94 strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA. Not bad at all. Best will come next season, after a few veterans will be cleaned from the 'pen.

 Ronald Torreyes had a less-starry but still impressive season as backup infielder extraordinare in the Bronx, covering for Didi and Gleyber in injury-plagued moments for both guys, and batting .280 with 28 hits. Unfortunately the Yanks DFA'd him, and he'll be spending next season in Minneapolis.

More proof of the Yanks' bullpen dominance in 2018, another fantastic performance from David Robertson as a setup man and middle reliever, ending his Yanks' tenure with a 3.23 ERA and 91 strikeouts. D-Rob is a free agent next year, so hopefully someone good will snap him up.
 Lance Lynn was a high-profile starting get for the Yanks, and though his numbers paled in comparison to JA Happ's, his strikeouts were still welcome, with 61 in 9 starts, and 10.1 SO per Win ratio. His W/L was a little less lucky. Lynn will be the ace in Arlington next year.

And perhaps the most important move for the Yankees was blocking anyone else from getting Zach getting him themselves. He wasn't used as a ninth inning man, and was mainly used in setup (which accounts for the 2.88 ERA, kinda high for him), but he was still sharp enough to notch 21 strikeouts in 25 games. It'll be interesting to see who signs HIM in 2019.

So...that's the end of the customs for 2018. I'll have some 'insert' additions in the next few months, more Anyone Can Pitchs and such, and some more content until Spring Training.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: White Sox

 Another year, another failure for the South Side of Chicago. In all fairness, they weren't exactly aiming for the stars in 2018, but...I imagine they were aiming for somewhere other than 4th. Which, while not far from good baseball. Like, that's still 100 losses.

This team has already accumulated Yonder Alonso and Ivan Nova, and is making a SERIOUS run at Manny Machado. So they're quickly trying to pivot from a losing year, but...this quick-pivot strategy hasn't worked the last few times. Will it in 2019?

They'll have to find out without the help of Avisail Garcia, their trusted outfield bat, who was non tendered after a disappointing year at the plate, with only 19 home runs in 93 games.

 It was even more disappointing for James Shields, the once mighty Tampa and Kansas City ace who mustered up a paltry 7-16 record with only 150 strikeouts and a 4.53 ERA. If you want a horrifying stat- from 2007 to 2015, Shields notched ten or more wins per season. He hasn't had more than 7 in a season since.

 A sliver of hope came from Daniel Palka, a professional power hitter who led the team in home runs with 27, and proved to have more staying power than positional rivals Garcia and Nicky Delmonico. He'll definitely be a part of the picture for 2019.

A surprising breakout for Chicago was Ryan LaMarre, seen here in a throwback (though not a 50s Throwback, like another Lamarr that nobody who reads this blog would possibly have heard of), came over from Minnesota, where he was already having a breakout season. Why the Twins waived him, I have no idea, but he took his average to the Sox and ran with it, hitting 20 hits in 32 games, and allowing for some interesting outfield flexibility in the later months of the season.

Coming Tomorrow- My team, who went far enough to make me happy, but came short enough to keep me waiting.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Twins

The good news is that the Twins had a good July and a great September. The bad news is the other five months of the season.

The Twins are just this Jekyll and Hyde type of team lately, where one season they'll be fantastic and the next season they'll be terrible. It's honestly just a question of when their big stars are on. Miguel Sano, one of the defining presences of their great 2017 team, was sidelined for a lot of the year, only hitting .199 in his 71 games this year. I doubt Sano's best days are done, but I do think the Twins should be concerned.

 In place of the injured Jason Castro came rookie Mitch Carver into the starting catching position, and he did an admirable job, with only 4 errors, and a .268 batting average. With Castro likely back in the mix for 2019, expect him to make a run at the starting position.

 Thanks to Jorge Polanco's PED suspension and Eduardo Escobar's midseason trade, Ehire Adrianza got a lot of time at shortstop this year, and it's about time, too, as he's been kicking around as a backup infielder since 2013. His defense wasn't perfect, and he was more of a utility presence in place of a more permanent option, but...he could definitely be in the mix next year, even as the team makes a push in the realm of power-hitting.

Robbie Grossman continued to be one of the more low-key DHs in the league, with only 5 homers but a .273 average and 108 hits. Perhaps he'll be a bit more suited to an NL squad, or whoever ends up signing him. Meanwhile, the Minnesota DH in 2019 will either be CJ Cron or Nelson Cruz, which is a major upgrade.

 Willians Astudillo...seems like the right kind of weird for Minneapolis. In 93 at bats, Astudillo only struck out thrice, and had an average of .355. And, I'm not sure if you've seen the viral vid, but this guy can RUN. He's also a valid option at catcher, third base and second base, and will NO DOUBT factor into the Twins' options for 2019. This guy is just too much fun. If Colon doesn't re-sign somewhere, at least we'll have Willians Astudillo.

 In exchange for Brian Dozier, the Twins sent a guy that...honestly had a better second half. Logan Forsythe's at came alive again in Minneapolis, with 46 hits and 14 RBIs in 50 games. Not sure if he's officially back at Rays status, but...he's definitely putting in the effort again.

After fifteen seasons of leading the team, Joe Mauer finally hung up his cleats this year. Mauer is DEFINITELY a hero in Minnesota, and is a surefire Twins HOFer, though his Cooperstown credentials will have to be seriously looked at. Having seen him play once or twice, most recently hiding out on the Twins' AAA affiliate, I respect his style of play, and his sportsmanship, and I am gonna miss him on the Twins.

Coming Tomorrow- A team that lost 100 games, yet is somehow still in the race for Machado.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Tigers

 What you're gonna find with these Tigers customs is that a lot of the big stars of the team either got injured or didn't have a great year, so the less heralded guys, like Iglesias, Castellanos and Boyd, had to rise up and drive the team...which sort of worked? Kind of did? I mean, they ended up in third place, with two losses away from 100, the AL Central, that's not the worst you can do. There's still a lot from this year that's gonna be carried over to next.

I'll note that I did get to see Miguel Cabrera play one of his few 2018 games, and I was very impressed, especially by his defensive abilities. To be honest, a lot of the rest of his career is just the frosting on his surefire Hall of Fame case, but it's nice to see he can still play pretty damn well. The guy's 35, and he's signed for 5 more years, theory he may have one or two good years left, and it may not be a Pujols thing where you're just waiting for the contract to give out, was sad to see a great like Cabrera sidelined for most of the year.

 Similarly, Michael Fulmer, the staff ace, left with a 3-12 record, and only 24 games. He missed some substantial time due to injury, and lacked the offensive backing to truly be great this year. Hopefully he gets back to greatness, as his ROY season didn't feel like a fluke to me.

 Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, had a slightly more consistent year than his 6 ERA 2017, despite a 7-8 record and a 4.52 ERA. What I'm getting from the pitching is that even if the material was kinda alright, like Zim, the lineup really couldn't be the deciding factor over the win.

 An intriguing experiment was sliding Blaine Hardy to the rotation, and in 13 starts he did fairly well, keeping his ERA at 3.56 and improving his WAR to a 1.8. I have a feeling he'll be relied upon as a starter for 2019, though competition from Tyson Ross and Matt Moore could send him back to the 'pen.

This season was the final one for legendary power hitter Victor Martinez, and it's a shame he didn't go out with a bit more of a bang. While still hitting 117 hits, the team's third-most, he only hit 9 home runs, and batted .251. It was a very, very okay year for a guy who'd been very shy with his home run and power numbers. I'm not saying it was the wrong move, I'm just saying it's an odd way to close out a career for a power hitter. Still, V-Mart was an integral part of some great Indians, Red Sox and Tigers teams, and will be missed.

Coming Tomorrow- A team that came in with great expectations, floundered for 4 months, then somehow got really good at the end of the year.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Royals

 The 2018 Royals. As ho-hum as ya get, really.

One of three teams with 100 losses, and one of two teams in the AL Central with 100 losses. Their remaining stars from the 2016 run either stuck around in injury-shortened years, or left in July. The few remaining veterans, such as Ian Kennedy, came up with paltry numbers like a 3-9 record and a 4.55 ERA. Far from the D-Backs runs, are we Ian?

 A bright spot in this roster was Adalberto Mondesi, or Raul Jr. Mondesi proved to be vastly different from his dad by relying less on power and more on defense and little hits. Though...his 14 home runs were the third-most on the team, and second-most of people who actually stuck around to September, MOOSE...
 Ryan O'Hearn was the usual choice for DH in 2018, and in 44 games he did fairly well, with a .262 record and 30 RBIs. I'm interested to see what he'll do with a full season.
And after Kelvin Herrera left for Washington, the closing job went to former Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta, who managed to give a decent enough run at the job, with 14 saves in 14 opportunities, and a 3.67 ERA. Not bad at all for a last place team.

Coming Tomorrow- Another AL Central squad, and a marginally better one at that, with some signs of a future.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Rockies

The Colorado Rockies...a year after just missing the playoffs, managed to sneak in, and go up against the Brewers for a little bit. Granted, they weren't going to win, seeing as the Brewers became unstoppable at that exact moment, but they managed to chase them for a little bit.

And oddly enough, it was a year that their core was a little less consistent than in 2017, despite better years from Trevor Story and Tyler Anderson. Plus, there was a slight improvement from Ian Desmond, whose average was a bit higher over .200 than it was last year. The guy's still far from his Nationals numbers, but he's still a fine first baseman.

 Chris Iannetta's first year in a Rockies uniform since 2011 was...not bad per se, but he's still one of the more unspectacular catchers in the league. He's not known for his offensive numbers, and he only had 4 errors behind the plate, so while he's not quite indestructible, he's still a solid defensive catcher. The Rox do seem intent on keeping him around, but I'd prefer them to pick up a younger, steadier catching option.

 After missing a year due to injury, David Dahl finally bounced back onto the Rockies' lineup, and did fairly well for himself, with a .273 average and 16 homers over 73 games. He's probably guaranteed a starting spot next to Gerardo Parra and Charlie Blackmon next year.

 Antonio Senzatela's role in the Rockies' pitching setup was greatly diminished compared to 2017, but he still pitched well enough. Senzatela only started 13 games, and only had 66 strikeouts, but with a 4.38 ERA. So he's inoffensively okay. Still, the core five of this rotation may continue to outdo him for time, and he may just be an extra option in the case of injuries. So hopefully he'll rise to that occasion.

Seung Hwan Oh was a late addition, dealt from Toronto to bolster the weak bullpen, and he definitely delivered, giving up only 6 earned runs in 22 innings, and leaving with a 2.53 ERA and a 1.031 WHIP. Thankfully Oh will be staying in Denver for 2019.

Coming Tomorrow- Three years ago they won a World Series. Now...ugh.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Reds

 Boy, these guys have been having a very Merry Christmas, eh?

Between nabbing Tanner Roark, letting go of Homer Bailey, and netting Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Yasiel Puig...the Reds are making a go at 2019, and making things in the NL Central even more competitive. They're one or two starters away from a full fledged run, which is a nice thing to say about such a fun, breezy team like the Reds.

Yes, they spent most of 2018 in last place, I witnessed during a game against Colorado, it's a fun last place, and there are several fantastic, bootable players on that roster. Tucker Barnhart, who only came in as a pinch hitter, is a fantastic defensive catcher with a few trusty offensive tools. In a season where catching was many teams' weak point, he was solid in the face of chaos. His backup, Curt Casali, was pretty good too.

 Once again, the pitching was a mess, but Luis Castillo did fairly alright behind Tyler Mahle, starting a staff-high 31 games, notching 165 strikeouts and improving to a 4.30 ERA. Not bad, but for a staff ace he's...lacking in a few basic qualities.

 The Reds had two choices in terms of outfield bench bat. Their primary choice, Jesse Winker, had a fantastic season before succumbing to an injury halfway through. Winker had 43 RBIs in 89 games, and walked-off in the one I went to.

 After Winker's DL stint arose, the Reds relied on Phil Ervin, who was a bit speedier of an option, and  while a bit less potent, still had enough power to help in late innings.

 The bullpen specialist of the year was undoubtedly Jared Hughes, who went from a journeyman middle relief experiment for multiple teams to a guy with a 1.53 ERA, and a popular choice for holds, with 23 finishes and 7 saves. For a guy backing up Raisel Iglesias, not too bad.

Arguably the most shocking bench bat came from Mason Williams, the former Yankee farmhand that FINALLY got some consistent time in the majors. He batted .293 in 51 games, with 36 hits.

Coming Tomorrow- Nothing, since it's Christmas. But the day after, expect some talk about a Wild Card sleeper that became a formidable playoff piece.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Red Sox

...So yeah. The Red Sox won the World Series this year. Which really says all that needs to be said about my mood.

Look, I'll agree that this was a ferocious, exciting Sox team, with a lot of standouts, a ton of dominance, and so many great postseason moments.'d have been nice if it wasn't the Red Sox. They've won almost as many titles in my lifetime as the Yankees have (Yanks still win 5 to 4). It'd be nice to see some other teams get a title...and yes, I see the irony of being a Yankee fan and saying that. But still.

Even as the designated fifth starter, Eduardo Rodriguez was still hella sharp for regulation. A 13-5 rotation and a 3.82 ERA is nothing to shake a stick at. But, with the impending playoffs, and the Price-Sale-Eovaldi-Porcello combo looking unbeatable, I can see why the comparatively-tame Rodriguez spent the postseason on the bullpen staff.

 ...not that the bullpen needed the help.

Hector Velazquez was the primary setup man, with a 3.18 ERA and a 7-2 record. He was also an impressive long reliever, getting a pen-most 85 innings of work.

 However, Ryan Brasier supplied the intensity in the pen, with only 6 earned runs in 43 appearances, and a 1.60 ERA. He was also one of the more trusted postseason relievers, as was...

Matt Barnes, another homegrown fireballer from the pen. His 96 strikeouts tie Craig Kimbrel's for pen-most, and he only gave up 1 earned run in 8 innings of postseason work.

 These last two already got customs this year, but they deserved another. JD Martinez took his fantastic 2017 and built on it, giving us 43 home runs and 130 RBIs, as well as a .330 batting average, which...coming from a career power hitter is pretty damn impressive. I think he should have been considered a bit more for MVP, but Betts deserved his.

And here's the World Series MVP, who went from a journeyman outfielder with mediocre bench numbers to the SINGLE MOST LETHAL CLUTCH HITTER OF 2018. No one was safe for this guy's Boston stuff. His .394 On Base Percentage was the third highest on that team, behind Betts and Martinez. And his postseason miracle work has already been documented.

In summation...I didn't love that it had to be a Boston team to win it all...but this team was pretty damn spectacular. If anybody was gonna win it all this year, it had to have been Boston, and I'm kinda glad they did.

Coming Tomorrow- A midwestern team that even made last place look fun.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Uncustomed Heroes of 2018: Rays

Pop quiz: out of all 20 teams that missed the playoffs this year, which one had the best record?

...Okay, having this being a Rays post is kind of a giveaway, but...say you didn't have the title as a clue? You could have guessed Colorado, or Seattle, or the Cardinals or Nationals...but the Rays, with their mega-September, and their...incredibly strange tactics, finished with 90 wins, which would be impressive in a division that didn't have the Yankees or Red Sox.

Again, this is thanks to Kevin Cash's impressive managing, the homegrown oddball quality of the roster, the team's ace winning a Cy Young, and the pitching staff embracing the 'opener' concept after losing two of their strongest starting pitchers.

And the guy that was thought to be the star of the show this year, Kevin Kiermaier, was...not really a factor. In missing a few months to injury, he effectively handed the reins to the team to...okay, first to Denard Span, but then to Matt Duffy, who's trying to Travis Shaw his way to a leadership thing in Tampa. Kiermaier is still a sharp player, but his .217 average doesn't bode well.

Carlos Gomez, seen here clutching a gigantic glove yet still sporting a .967 fielding percentage, was hired as a veteran bat. But...his bat didn't really show up, did it? The guy batted .208 with 9 home runs. Far from his Milwaukee days, I think. Honestly, his success may have a geographical component- some cities, like Milwaukee and Arlington, suit him well. And some, like Houston...and not.

Daniel Robertson was a utility infielder/outfielder that had been stewing in the minors, waiting for a chance to start, and thanks to the rise of the rookies he got his chance, and did fairly well. He notched 34 RBIs in 87 games before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year.

 Thankfully Willy Adames was on hand to keep the rookie train going, putting up some fierce rookie numbers while vying for the starting 2nd base position with Joey Wendle. He was so good that he was essentially handed the shortstop gig, and managed to hit 10 home runs, which is not bad for a primarily defensive standout.

 But, again, we can't talk about the 2018 Rays without mentioning the bullpen. Ryne Stanek was one of the more impressive bullpen pieces the Rays had, because he could do middle relief, and he was the most likely to open games for Tampa, notching 29 opener appearances. This is definitely a similar reliever to Josh Vader, the long-haired, hard throwing tall dude. And hopefully his role in this bullpen will expand further in 2019.

 Jose Alvarado was the more traditional reliever, used for holds and saves in place of the main closer, and he did a nice job, getting 8 saves, and leaving with a 2.39 ERA.
Plus...Sergio Romo got to hold down a closing gig for the first time since the Giants were a contending team. He put up 25 saves (alright, granted, on 33 opportunities), but was one of the voices of experience in a very young bullpen.

Tommy Pham was a surprise deadline acquisition for Tampa, as the Cardinals thought they were in a dealing mode in July, when in reality they were just freeing up a starting space for Harrison Bader. But...Pham hit 7 home runs in 34 games, with a .343 average. The guy clearly has mastered hitting for average, and he's turned his career around from being a bench mainstay. Hopefully he keeps it up.

Coming Tomorrow- They're big, bad, and they won the whole thing.