Sunday, June 30, 2019

Ravine Machine

This is one of those weeks where the Dodgers have lost 4 of their last 5, and since this happens so rarely, it should be accompanied by a parade or something. Like, it's national 'Dodgers are in a rare slump' week. You know it's not gonna last, wanna wave as it passes by.

Looking at this team, it makes sense that these slumps only happen a few days at a time. Three guys have 20+ home runs, the highest starter ERA is Kenta Maeda's with 3.76, there's a pitcher with 100 strikeouts who isn't named Clayton Kershaw, and they are perfectly capable of hitting 60 wins before the All Star Break (which is a very, very big deal).

And if you look beyond the guys like Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Walker Buehler, who are recent additions, you'll see that the members of the old guard, like Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda are all doing the same, consistent stuff they've been doing. Ryu has been on a lot of people's Cy Young shortlists, while Turner is hitting .300 with 32 RBIs and 82 hits.

Right now, the only issues the Dodgers are having seem small, like Corey Seager and Rich Hill's injuries, can also see the next generation beginning to be seeded in. Matt Beaty, Kyle Garlick and Will Smith have been playing a lot, especially considering how set-in-stone this lineup felt in April. The Dodgers also gave a start to Tony Clifton-I MEAN...Tony Gonsolin the other day, and while it went less than swimmingly, it cemented the fact that the Dodgers are still trying to keep the team rejuvenated and young, while also keeping its current incarnation healthy and strong.

Not a ton these guys are doing wrong. Hope they keep it up.

Coming Tomorrow- This guy's about to start his very first All-Star Game, and I couldn't be happier for him.

Heard About Houston?

[Heard about Detroit? Heard about Pittsburgh, PA?]

So maybe I was a little off on my 'why are we playing the rest of this season when it's obvious that the Dodgers and Astros are gonna be meeting in the World Series?' post.

Since then, the Dodgers have stayed very strong, while the Astros, suffice to say, have dropped a few series. Not just to actual good teams, like the Yankees. They dropped a series to Cincinnati, and then they dropped one to Pittsburgh. And now they've got a series with Seattle, so if they're dropping multiple games there, the Astros will need to seriously reevaluate itself.

And it's not like a massive part of the team has stopped working. You still have Yuli Gurriel on a tear (this has been a two week stretch where both Gurriel brothers have been hitting extraordinarily), you still have Alex Bregman playing like a pro, and you still have a Cy-Young caliber year from Justin Verlander. But the closer you look, you begin to see little things that aren't working, like Tyler White's bat, Jose Altuve's contact hitting, Collin McHugh's high ERA, and Tony Kemp's disappointing sophomore numbers.

The core of the team is still really good, but these little things are beginning to cluster up and bite the Astros in the butt. I don't think this is a death sentence for this team, because bad weeks happen and I don't think the Rangers deserve to be a first place team this year, but...this is definitely a 'back to earth' week. Maybe they're not the best team in the AL, and maybe they're not gonna be the ultimate underdogs they've been in years past. But...they're still gonna be good, and they're still gonna use the second half to get some major momentum back.

Coming Tonight: The bearded constant for what's become one of the best teams of the decade.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Pirates Claw Back

There was a season of Survivor that just aired called Edge of Extinction. It wasn't very good. But the premise, or gimmick, behind this season was that once players were voted out of the game, they went to a separate island where they just stewed there until they got another chance to come back into the game and potentially win everything.

That's kind of what the NL Central is like this year. Even the last place team still has a chance to come back and take it all. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were reeling from a series of losses last week, have managed to sweep the Houston Astros, win 8 of their last 10, and jump right back into the race.

And that's what I love about the Pirates, too. Even if they have a bad run or so, they still have the propensity, and the potential, to be good again for a bit. This is a very different team than the one that was a playoff contender for a few years, but the chief similarity is the emphasis on contact-hitting rather than power-hitting. Yes, Josh Bell has 22 home runs, but he's also hitting .307 with 72 RBIs. There aren't really any one-dimensional power hitters on this team, and with that you get a lot of guys like Bryan Reynolds, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman and Corey Dickerson, who can just hit where the infielders aren't and keep momentum rolling.

The duo of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco is still leading this team, even if post-HGH-suspension Marte isn't the biggest MLB name anymore. Marte is still having a nice enough season, with a .273 average and 12 home runs. I do think he's a better player when he's not the sole reliable hitter, and when he's not really pushed into a leadership position. Josh Bell might be the better anchor, so Starling might just be there to be a formidable outfield bat...which he can do.

It also helps that the rotation is coming around, too; with the exception of Chris Archer, the main core of the rotation is heating back up again, with Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and Jordan Lyles having fantastic recent starts, and Steven Brault inching his way back into the rotation as well. There's still a few injury issues, but pitching has definitely improved since the May struggles. And...there's always Felipe Vazquez. Despite trade rumors, he's still one hell of a closer (reminds me: compare/contrast Vazquez now to Mark Melancon in his prime, see if we were fooling ourselves back then).

Look, I'm just glad there are things to talk about with this team. 3 years removed from working in Pittsburgh in the heat of Pirates-mania, and I'm still rooting for these guys.

Coming Tomorrow- When you look at a rookie class, it's always hard to pinpoint which guys are gonna become superstars. Looking at this guy's rookie and sophomore years, I never would have thought he'd be up to 4.1 WAR this year, closing in on a starting ASG gig, and LEADING one of the best teams in baseball.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Kansas City Shuffle

I...I don't know, man.

This Royals team is just...I don't think even THEY know what's going on there. Outside of Merrifield, Dozier, Gordon, Mondesi and Brad Keller, this team is...dire. Very, very dire.

I mean, I knew they wouldn't look too good without Salvador Perez there this year, but...they got Billy Hamilton to steal bases and he's stolen less than Adalberto Mondesi. They got Homer Bailey to be a fifth starter, and he's...perhaps one of the two reliable pitchers on the team. Martin Maldonado is a fine catching option, but he's not hitting, and neither is Cam Gallagher. Ian Kennedy is closing games. They got Lucas Duda back to hit home runs off the bench, and he's barely even doing that. Jorge Soler is their big home run hitter, but he's the kind of one-dimensional hitter that isn't gonna last long in baseball, let alone in KC.

There' depth. None. You can see a guy like Humberto Arteaga trying to weasel his way onto the forty-man, but you know he'll be back in Triple-A once Mondesi comes back. They're basically shitting away all their bullpen options one by one in the hopes that one of them works. And if you look at Triple-A, there's not much going on there either. Like, other than Bubba Starling hitting over .300 for the first time in ages (boy, wouldn't it be funny if the season gets so dire that they have to bring up Bubba Starling?).

So, what do the Royals have to look forward to? I have no idea. I have no idea how long it's gonna take them to rebuild. I just hope something good happens to them soon.

Coming Tomorrow- Former can't-miss prospect, current...formidable outfield bat for a low-tier NL Central team trying to claw its way back

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Box Break: 2019 Topps Stadium Club (Part Two)

Yesterday we started this box, got our two hits (Jalen Beeks & Sean Reid-Foley), and pulled a lot of really cards. Today, we've got 8 more packs, 64 more cards, and a lot of fun, to get through.

So let's not waste anymore time.

 Pack 9-
Let's start with a familiar face from last half, Sean Reid-Foley, and a Dodger...also-ran at this point, Julio Urias

 I'm still a bit puzzled as to why Topps keeps making Will Clark cards, but...sure. Fine.
DeJong's and Gennett's are both interesting enough, but middling by SC standards.

 These two are fantastic. I love the lighting on that Cole card. Nick, the second you put the Berrios in a Frankenset poll, I am voting for it. It's that simple. It's the 2017 Tyler Skaggs card, but even more awesome.

I love these inserts. Love love love. They are exactly the type of insert they used to make in the 90s, right down to the super-90s TSC logo. This is so 90s that I love it, and I wish I could pull more of these. Javy Baez is a great choice for it, too.

 Pack 10-
I like all of these. I love the finality of the Beltre, the contract between the gold and Stroman's white teeth, the rosin dust in Hamels', and the poignance of Yount's.

 Solid stuff here, but I dig the wide shot on the Laureano one.

This might be a top-10 card for me. Choo in Tampa. Beautiful.

 Pack 11-
the difference between a posed static shot and a candid static shot, right here. Straw looks kinda awkward. Wagner looks badass. This is late-career Honus, even.

I still love pulling Honus Wagner cards in 2019. Well done.

 A trio of pitchers. I love how off-centered Burnes' is, and I love the wide shot in Marquez'.

 Ohhh, I love both of these. Archer's is from his first game in Pittsburgh. Ripken' just a fun shot.

Another Power Zone, which is growing on me. Also, always nice to pull a Vladdie, and unlike his kid I actually have a chance at pulling a card of him in this set.

 Pack 12-
The Jackie photo, like the Murphy photo from last half, has been used before by Topps. Good news is the Jones is an early April shot, and the Anderson is a nice zoomed-in one from last year.

 All class here. Halladay's always welcome, Dans look dramatic, and Ohtani and Altuve just look cool.

I still love these. I just...I really love these.

...this one's of Trevor Story. And I still love these.

 Pack 13-
Another row of cards I love without being too showy. Murray's a solid legends card, Hoskins' is a great Players Weekend shot, and Musial's may be one of the most fun cards I've seen from this set.

 Hamilton and three rookie-ish things. Alonso's may be the bigger name, but I'm excited for every Willians Astudillo card I pull. And Calhoun's mohawk is hella cool.

Another cool SC base card from Pedroia. Once again, COULD THIS BE THE LAST EVER SC PEDROIA BASE, to hell with it, I have no idea, and neither does Pedroia.

 Pack 14- Three rather basic shots here. All three have played for the Cardinals.

 The shadow on Pham's is pretty awesome. I also love the decision to make Ray's a landscape.

 Both of these cards are amazing.

...but not my favorite of the pack...or of the whole set...

Not even close.

...Topps is gonna have to stay up all night in their photo archives next year to find a better photo than this one for Stadium Club. Lord almighty.

Worthy of Edgar's awesomeness, too.

 Pack 15-
Three very basic shots.
 Slightly less basic. Photography-wise, this one was a letdown. Cano's is pretty cool, though.
And this exciting little Ryan O'Hearn is our chrome parallel.

 Pack 16- Cobb's is alright, but I feel like I've seen this photo before. Duggar's and Wright's are alright commons.
 Two future HOFers. The Tiger in the back of Cabrera's is the MVP, though.

 Our last two base cards are two team icons, and two beauties. Bryant's is just...picturesque. So much to love. And Kershaw's is amazing because who doesn't love seeing Clydesdales on a baseball card?

...And we end with a good-old-fashioned case hit.

This is a Power Zone insert of Cal Ripken, which we sacrificed our second Beam Team for. This is, though, a red parallel of Power Zone, which is seeded one per case. So...this is kind of a huge deal, even if it's not numbered or anything.

So...on that actual case hit, we bring this genuinely great box of Stadium Club to a close. Lots to love about this set, with amazing base cards, a reinvigorated design, and relatively alright, if minimal, inserts. Genuinely happy with my results.

One-Eyed Ace

...So we're just gonna gloss over the fact that Max Scherzer broke his nose in practice, then pitched a gem the next day with a black eye?

I mean, for Scherzer, it's just another postscript on his HOF plaque. Like there's any doubt that he's getting one. I mean, come on. At this rate, Scherzer will hit 3000 strikeouts and 200 wins before turning 37, he's come in the top 5 of Cy Young voting every year since 2013 (and in that interim has only seen his ERA rise above 3 ONCE), he's got 3 Cy Youngs, six going on seven ASG appearances, and he's saved this Nationals team from completely bottoming out. I know that people have always been fixated on Clayton Kershaw as our generation's ace, but if Kershaw is the Greg Maddux, then Scherzer might be the Randy Johnson. Kershaw has had human moments in the last few years. Scherzer hasn't had one since 2012.

The Nats, however, have had several human moments this year. The non-performances of Brian Dozier and Yan Gomes, the inability for any prospect to stay on the 40-man for more than five minutes (Kieboom, Stevenson, Noll...they've gotta keep waiting), the umpteenth injury to Ryan Zimmerman, the inefficiency of most of the bullpen (like, you know you're in trouble when your idea to spice up the 'pen is signing 42-year-old Fernando Rodney), and the inefficiency of Dave Martinez to manage the team out of tough spots. It's the final phase of the Nats' transition from contenders to rebuilders, and it's not looking pretty.

You look at the pitching, though, and...there's still some hope. Scherzer's here til 2021, Strasburg's here til 2023, and Corbin's here til 2024. Unless massive trades happen, this pitching staff is gonna stay pristine for a couple years. I just wonder the time these contracts are up, will the Nats have another contending roster? Or will said contracts keep them from rebuilding completely.

Food for thought.

Coming Tonight (?)- I might get the 2nd half of the SC break up, but next custom is a Royals pitcher, so excuse my lack of drive to post it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Box Break: 2019 Topps Stadium Club (Part One)


As the blogosphere's resident Stadium Club expert (according to me) I find it only fair that the first major box break of 2019 Stadium Club happens on this blog. It just makes the most sense. Plus, it's the third year in a row that I've celebrated the start of SC season by breaking a hobby box on the blog. I was not expecting this box to get here so early, but...lemons from lemonade and all.

16 packs, 8 cards per pack, and guaranteed hits. Brief disclaimer...we are not here for the hits. They're nice, but...original Stadium Club was not about hits. It was about amazing base photography and state-of-the-art inserts. And both of those are definitely gonna be here, regardless of satisfying hits.

Oh, before we get to packs:

 Stadium Club comes with a box-topper this year. Instead of being some niche carve-out, or three-card printed cut, or's just an oversized base card.

...I don't know what the checklist was for these, but regardless...I think I did pretty well with this one. Like...I know of no mammal who will ever say no to a Roberto Clemente card. He's just that universally loved, and he's one of the few legends that doesn't feel overplayed by appearances in modern Topps products.

Alright, on with packs:

 Pack 1-
Okay, so...already I feel like this set is back on the right track. I didn't realize it until breaking 2019's set, 2018's set feels a bit disappointing in comparison. This design is minimalist, but last year's was...too minimalist. This brings us right back to the style of the 2016 and 2017 sets...granted, that means it's slightly Fleer Ultra-esque, but it's still good.

And photography-wise? Come on. These four are awesome, and yet they might not even factor into my Top 10 on the set. Even the Ichiro. EVEN...THE ICHIRO.

 This pack's insert is a rather colorful one for SC, Emperors of the Zone, this one featuring a throwback-rocking Zack Greinke. I dig it. My one problem with a lot of the inserts in this set is the lack of dufex, because that's what made them feel like inserts back in the day. This is...considerably cheaper to produce, and a lot less reliant on foil. More on Topps, but...this is Stadium Club. Maybe step it up a bit more next year in this category?

Three more base to finish us off. Acuna's is the coolest one here, but I dig the grace of Sevvy's.

 Pack 2-
Relatively standard horizontals for this set, though I appreciate the new uniforms on Donaldson and Realmuto. Albies' shot is probably the coolest one here.

 Now for some parallels. Ender's is a black parallel, seeded 1:8 packs. George Springer's is a Chrome parallel, seeded 1:16 packs.
Plus, rest assured, this product still has fantastic legends base cards. I can't decide which of these I like better, though...those clouds in Kaline's are pretty awesome.

 Pack 3-
A return appearance from George Springer, a cool throwback from Carlos Rodon, and a gracious salute from Jonathan Schoop.

 Two definite base/star highlights in Cody Bellinger's triumphant run, and Blackmon's super-cool batter's box shot. I wonder if the Topps guys know what kind of season Bellinger's having in order to give him a super-cool hero card here.

 And while we're here, let's do a second Emperors of the Zone card, this one of Walker Buehler. The mix of colors on these are pretty damn cool.

...Sometimes Topps is so good at this set that it makes me mad. This Spahn card is too damned beautiful. I mean...COME ON.

 Pack 4- Let's start with these two...comparatively simple base cards of guys on the ASG primary ballots. Marte has the best chance of making the final lineup as I write this, though.

 Beautiful stuff. The wide angle on the Jansen, the zoom on Gleyber, and...the entire landscape dynamic of that Chris Sale card. Absolutely masterful.

And here are some super-fun legends. Like...lord almighty these are some fun cards. Look at that goofy Rod Carew smile. Look at Bagwell's red-sleeved jacket AND his super-90s goatee. Where the hell do they find these photos???

 Pack 5- Lorenzo Cain's is very similar to Keon Broxton's from...last year I think, but I'll let it slide. I also love Urias'.

 Strasburg between two legends. Brett's is a pretty cool one.

We have hit our first hit. At best, I've gotten a Julio Teheran or a Darryl Strawberry out of this product. At worse, I've gotten a Philip Evans or a Tim Cooney. Let's see where this first one falls...

Uh...actually I can get behind this one.

For those unaware, Beeks was a crucial piece of the trade that brought Nate Eovaldi to Boston. Somehow, Tampa ended up winning that trade though, as Beeks has become a reliable, at times scary, relief pitcher. So far this season, Beeks has been used as the long man to relief opener Ryne Stanek, and is doing Ryan Yarbrough's job from 2018 better than Yarbrough did it. I see some promise with this guy, so...yes, this sort of counts as a good hit.

I mean, it's better than either of my hits from last year's hobby box.

 Pack 6-
Lots to love here. Suarez's expression, Braun's throwback, and the entirety of Murphy's. I feel like contemporary SC has picked from this photo shoot before, but not this shot. That's a nice one.

 Always nice to see Rogers Hornsby in a set like this. Diaz' and Arenado's shots are hella dramatic.

This is what Beam Team looks like this year. Again...d'you think they cut back on the dufex a bit? This is...just a bit too bland in places, too grey.

 Pack 7-
That Jake Lamb card would be awesome if he was able to stay healthy.
And...glad to see Topps is embracing multiple-exposure shots again with that Richards card.

 Lindor stands out the most of these, but good on Topps to really highlight the blue on Pollock's. Also, nice dramatic base card for the new Houston hero in Bregman.

 Two cards I'd been waiting to pull. One is Andrew McCutchen's first SC issue as a Phillie. Injury aside, great to see him in Phils colors. The other is the sell-sheet preview of Mookie Betts, a really dynamic, dramatic card that I'd been looking forward to pulling.

And we get to hit #2:

Sean Reid-Foley. Beeks may have been the slightly better hit here.

Reid-Foley had an alright come-up last year as a starter in Toronto, but so far has been used to fill holes. He started a game, and that didn't go to well, so now he's a bullpen piece? Unlike Beeks, I can't really see where Reid-Foley fits into this pitching staff. So, definitely not as good as the Beeks auto, but...I mean, he could get better?

 Pack 8-
Infielders in action. Jeter's is probably the best, but Bogaerts' is a cool one too.

 Interesting cases here. Felix's is a throwback uniform, but not the Turn Ahead the clock one. Matt Kemp's has a red background, and is a credited Reds card, but...Kemp was a Dodger when the photo was taken. Did they not have a Reds photo of him? I know he was only there for a month, but they had photos of him on the Reds. And Mize's card is a Cardinals issue, which begs the question: are we ever gonna see another New York Giants issue of Mize? Yanks and Cards ones pop up all the time.
Let's end with dignity. Here's a Power Zone insert of Chipper Jones. Yes, once again there's less foil,'s Chipper, and I kind of like some of the design elements here.

So that's half the box of Stadium Club. Tomorrow is the other half. We've gotten through both our hits, so all that remains is just...base and inserts. And with SC, sometimes that's enough.