Saturday, October 31, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2005 Hideo Nomo

 For Halloween, a truly horrifying sight- Hideo Nomo in Tampa? AHHHHHH!

Before I get into the...odd sight of a pre-2008 custom in this project that I initially expected to only go back to 2008 for, a bit of backstory on why Hideo Nomo's 2005 stint for the Devil Rays was so horrifying.

First of all, pre-2008 Rays. That is scary enough, imo. This was a team that repeatedly finished last in the AL East, and didn't really find itself until Joe Maddon and Evan Longoria joined the team. 

But this was an era of Rays baseball, not unlike now, where the name of the game was cheap free agents and homegrown unassuming players. Back then, a cheap team of sharp players you didn't think about wasn't as surefire as it is now for the Rays.

Hideo Nomo was at least an amusing risk for the 2005 team. Nomo was coming off a season where he had an 8.25 ERA, and a 4-11 record in 18 games as a Dodger. It was the third year of Nomo's deal to return to the Dodgers, and after that performance, the reunion tour was over. 

So, in January 2005, the Rays decided to give the veteran hurler a shot. Coincidentally, this was the same offseason where the Rays would take a chance on Roberto Alomar, to see if he had any stuff left. Alomar decided to retire voluntarily well into Spring Training, while Nomo made the team. The intriguing detail is that Hideo Nomo does not have a Topps card with the Rays, while Roberto Alomar, playing exactly 0 games with the Rays, does. On one hand, it makes an amusing zero-year card for Alomar, on the other hand, it robs Nomo of a sunset card. 

Nomo's 2005 season in Tampa was actually an improvement over his 2004 season...but not by much. In 19 games with the Rays, Nomo posted a 5-8 record and a 7.24 ERA. Yes, he did garner 59 strikeouts that season, 5 more than he did in 2004, but it was still a weak showing from a once-great pitcher who was powering down. 

Nomo would attempt to make the White Sox in 2006, and play a final season in relief with Kansas City [I already documented this] in 2008. Not that Topps would care.

Now, as for the appearance of a 2005 Topps custom on this blog...I may have found a photo source that goes slightly deeper into the 2000s than my other one does. This one can get me at least to 2003. Which gives me a lot more ground to cover, and a lot more research to do. In the midst of my current run of 2009 customs, I might pepper in some earlier 2000s ones, though 2004 Topps customs will be tricky unless you guys don't mind the player copycat in the corner of the design not matching the player photo. 

It's a promising sign for this series. Which is all I needed, considering how empty this blog usually becomes during the offseason. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2009 Hall of Famers

The 2009 waiver deal was merciless. Especially if you were a Topps employee.

2009 Update's checklist is finalized, the set's being prepped for production, and a ton more deals start happening that they're just gonna miss out on until 2010 Topps. You kind of just have to shrug your shoulders at that point and head to the next set. 

So even though Ivan Rodriguez got a card in 2009 Topps Update, it was as a member of the Houston Astros, a team that traded him in mid-August to his old team, the Texas Rangers, in exchange for two minor leaguers. It was similar to Jim Thome's return to Cleveland in 2011- good that he's here, see him while you can, cause he might not be here for long.

Pudge did manage to hit .245 with 13 RBIs in 28 games with the Rangers. Nothing huge, but more of a steady catching performance that gave the fans something cool to see if they weren't getting to see a postseason run that year. Rodriguez would sign with Washington for two years to help progress Jesus Flores and Wilson Ramos before calling it a career.

 John Smoltz, meanwhile, got to pitch into the postseason in 2009.

Smoltz began the season, his first MLB season away from Atlanta, as a member of the Boston Red Sox. It didn't go well. Smoltz had an 8.33 ERA in 8 starts, and the magic seemed to be gone. After the Sox released him, the Cardinals picked him up [also in mid-August], and Smoltz began to return to his former glory. In 7 starts, he posted a 4.26 ERA with 40 strikeouts, which isn't too bad, despite only getting 1 win. He'd pitch 2 innings in the postseason, and allow 5 strikeouts in between a few hits. 

If Topps had printed a little later, we would have seen these two cards in 2009 Update rather than 2010 Topps.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2009 Dodgers

The 2009 Topps Cards That Should Have Been are in full swing, and since all four of the 09 Dodgers I had ideas for are done, I'll post them now in commemoration of the 2020 Dodgers' World Series win. As you'll see, 2009 was a very different year for Dodgers baseball.

After starting the season with the Diamondbacks, former White Sox rotation standout Jon Garland found himself traded to the postseason-ready Dodgers at the end of August, in exchange for Tony Abreu. Garland was solid in 6 starts in LA, with a 2.72 ERA and 26 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he was not included on the team's postseason roster for some reason.

Perhaps it's because there was already a recently-traded starter on the Dodgers for the postseason, and that was former Phillies flamethrower Vicente Padilla. Padilla's Dodgers stint begins the period of his career where he winds up in numerous places as a sort of jack-of-all-trades type in pitching rotations, eventually becoming a reliever in Boston.

Padilla's also a midseason pickup for the Dodgers, coming to the team after the Rangers release him in mid-July. Padilla, after signing with LA, completely turns his season around, starting 7 games for LA and posting 4 wins, a 3.20 era and 38 strikeouts. Padilla was the rotation piece this team needed. He'd help out in the postseason as well [his only career postseason games], blanking the Cardinals in 7 innings during the NLDS, and getting considerably battered in two starts against his old team from Philly. Padilla would spend two more years in LA, though neither would be as productive. 

We return to the somehow unproduced days of Hong-Chih Kuo's career. The Taiwanese relief specialist had a diminished role compared to his long-man role from 2008, and made 35 appearances in 30 innings in 2009. Kuo only had 32 strikeouts that season, but still had a 3.00 ERA. He'd also notch 8 strikeouts in 5 postseason innings, only allowing 1 run. 

 The biggest Topps omission for the Dodgers in 2009 was gold-glove-accumulator Brad Ausmus, one of the most consistent defensive catchers of his era, and a good low-cost pick to back-up Russell Martin in his peak. In 36 games, he hit .295 with 28 hits, and was still a brick wall behind the plate. His lack of playing time made it difficult for Topps to include him in Update, I reckon, but I still think he deserved something, especially in the wake of his contemporary managerial success. 

Those are the 4 Dodgers 2009 Topps customs I had ready. Topps really should have included any of the 4. 

32 Years Later...

 I was looking at this matchup earlier, just trying to outthink it. Thinking 'Tony Gonsolin is gonna be the hero, he's gonna pitch the Rays into oblivion'. 

Well, no. Julio Urias was the hero. Tony Gonsolin gave up the sole Rays run of the night [obviously, to Randy Arozarena]. Urias, Alex Wood, Victor Gonzalez and Dylan Floro completely shut down the Rays' lineup, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Austin Barnes were responsible for the run support, and Urias, like it was easy, struck out Willy Adames and Mike Brosseau to end the game and FINALLY, FINALLY deliver a title to LA for the first time in 32 years.

This was an extraordinarily welcome World Series win. This was the best team in the league, they had an amazing season, an amazing postseason, and even though the Rays made it close, the Dodgers were always going to win. Performances like Seager's, Clayton Kershaw's and Enrique Hernandez's don't go unrewarded. 

I'm happy for Dodgers fans all over, especially the, uh...obvious ones in this blogosphere. I'm happy that Kershaw finally got a ring. I'm happy for the whole team, including some guys like Jake McGee and Justin Turner who've been at it for a while and finally won one of these. And I'm happy for baseball that we didn't get a repeat winner from the last 10 or so years.

Very satisfying finale. Can't wait to see what the 2021 season has in store to rival it. Hopefully next season goes off without a hitch, and hopefully I can go to a few games as well.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Charlie Morton Chronicles

Topps took a while to figure out that Charlie Morton was something special. As did we all.

Morton didn't have his first Topps card til 2011, yet started in the majors in 2008, as a starter for the Braves. Despite starting 15 games in 2008, Morton was kept down for the first half of 2009, eventually being traded along with Jeff Locke to the Pirates for Nate McLouth. Good deal for Pittsburgh, because Morton and Locke WERE their rotation for the first half of the decade. 

Morton did eventually have some 2009 starting numbers, with a 4.55 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 18 games for Pittsburgh. It was a modest start that didn't allow itself for a Topps card in 2009 OR 2010, though he got a 'When They Were Young' insert in 2010T, as well as an UD base card in 2010.

Morton continued as a lower-tier starting option in 2010 for the Pirates, posting a paltry 2-12 record and a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts. Something wasn't clicking. Morton hadn't found himself in the majors yet. 

Thankfully, from there he turns things around, and in 2011 he has a much better season, with a 3.83 ERA and 110 Ks in 29 starts, and he's a trusted starter for the Bucs until 2015. And here Topps gets wind of his talents and starts actually making cards of him, from 2011-2015. 

After the 2015 season, Morton is traded to the burgeoning Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for a minor leaguer. The prospect of a surging, veteran Charlie Morton helping out the post-Hamels Philly rotation was a good one. 

 Unfortunately, it was a short-lived season for Morton, as he'd only pitch 4 games for the Phillies, all in April, with a 4.15 ERA and 19 strikeouts. Then, Morton tears his hamstring, is out for the rest of the season, and never plays another game for the Phillies.

The rest, as they say, is history- Houston picks him up on a cheap deal, he becomes the #3 starter for a World Series team, makes an All Star team in 2018 and becomes the strikeout artist that Tampa has grown to love this postseason. It just kills me that his 2016 season in Philly was his final human moment before becoming truly great. 

Still, I'm glad Morton's gotten his stuff together and become one of the better hurlers in the majors. I don't know if his Rays are gonna make it 7 tonight, but either way, he's given them some amazing performances.

Also, this last custom means I finally know how to do 2016 Topps customs. It's tricky, especially the nameplate gradient, but I'm getting the hang of it. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

World Series Update: One For the Ages Edition

 Just like that, the Dodgers have a leg up when they need it most.

Kershaw is finally delivering some amazing postseason performances, Muncy, Seager, Pederson and Bellinger all had RBIs, the Rays lineup stayed mostly subdued, Manny Margot's attempt at stealing home failed, and by the grace of Blake Treinen, we're headed for a potential elimination game in Game 6. The Dodgers could seal the deal Tuesday night, take home a ring for the first time in 32 years, and quiet all the people on Twitter shit-talking Dave Roberts.

Personally, I'd be all for a Dodgers win. This is a fun team, with tons of heroes and unlikely characters [Edwin Rios, Brusdar Graterol count here], and some definite standouts like Corey Seager and Julio Urias leading the charge.

...and yet...

...I can't exactly trust that the Rays are going to make it easy for the Dodgers to win in 6.

This is the same team that pinched Brett Phillips last night against Jansen and singled their way to a win thanks to errors from the Dodgers. This is a team that can pull a random player out of nowhere and have them be a hero, while also relying on a few standards [Arozarena, Snell, Kiermaier] to keep them afloat.

Of all teams that could force a Game 7 and flip the tables one more time, the Rays are one of the more likely ones. Especially this season. There's a reason the Yankees and Astros couldn't get past them. Most dangerous team out there, and wickedly clutch when they need to be, with a very secure bullpen in moments where you're looking for flaws. 

Tuesday's game is looking like Blake Snell will start, which is already bad news for LA, because...who do they have to go against him. Tony Gonsolin? So keeping the lineup ahead of Snell will be the challenge, and I hope they can meet it. If not...7-Game World Series, and that's not bad either. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

World Series Update: This Is Going to be Long Edition

 You wanted the two best teams in the World Series? It's gonna be a bloodbath. Just what the doctor ordered.

These were two very different games. Game 1 was propelled by a solid pitching performance and a bullpen that could supplant it, thanks to Clayton Kershaw finally pitching well in October. Game 2 had a solid pitching performance, but even Snell let some runs go by afterwards. And when the Dodgers' bullpen had to supplant itself, it crumbled under the weight of Wendle, Lowe and Choi. 

You see the trends forming. The Dodgers win on good, trusted started pitching, but they only have so much of it. The Rays win on outhitting their opponents, but their bullpen can only hold for so long. Corey Seager making it 6-4 tonight may have been the closest thing to a crack in the Rays' plan tonight, because even if they're ahead and thriving, the Dodgers are still THE DODGERS, and can chip away at you like that, especially with guys like Seager.

So, two games in we're even, both teams have played exceptionally well even in losses, and we're just getting started. Either team can win, and it's really all about who's prepared for who. Tomorrow is Walker Buehler vs. Charlie Morton. Let's see which team's prepared for which pitcher. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Rest of 2008


The last few 2008 Topps customs I have here don't have an interconnected theme except for the fact that they were left.

Tony Clark is now the MLBPA president, head of the players' union, one of the reasons we had a season this year. In 2008, he was still rounding out his playing career for teams that were not the Detroit Tigers for some reason. He started the 2008 season as a member of the San Diego Padres and did...alright. He had a .1 WAR and a .231 average in 70 games, mostly used as a bench bat but still getting starts at 1st while Adrian Gonzalez slowly began to find his footing. He was traded pre-deadline to the Diamondbacks, which WAS documented by Topps, so at least he got that.

Also, speaking of the 2008 Padres:

Yes, Topps would give Wade LeBlanc a rookie card in 2009, but since LeBlanc did start a few games further down the 2008 stretch, I had to make him one for this season. Granted, it wasn't an especially BIG splash, as he had an 8.02 ERA in 5 games, including 3 losses, but he was plugged in a starting option for 2009, and would bop around until he'd become what he is now, an auxiliary starting option with relief mileage. 

Speaking of guys used in relief AND as starters, Jason Hammel was primarily a relief option for the 2008 Rays, with a 4.60 ERA over 40 appearances, 35 of them in relief. He was left off the postseason roster for that season, and thankfully other teams would find better use for him as a starter, especially the 2015 Cubs. He'd finish his career in Kansas City, primarily being used as a reliever. Kind of a full-circle ending.

If Topps was in a better mood in 2008, they would have jumped on this- former rookie and all-star pitcher Chan Ho Park returning to his former team in LA for a return to form season in relief. That's the kind of stuff Topps loves, and yet they seemed to completely miss it. Park pitched 95 innings for the Dodgers in 2008, with a 3.40 ERA and 79 strikeouts. I don't see why Topps wouldn't honor that. After this season, Park would be used as a steady relief option for the World-Series-caliber 2009 Phillies.

After missing the entire 2007 season, former Rangers utility man and member of the 2004 World Series Red Sox Gabe Kapler decided to give the bigs another shot, getting a spot on the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers. He responded to the Brewers' generosity by giving, get this, HIS SINGLE BEST SEASON OF HIS CAREER. Forget that he was mostly used as a bench/utlity piece. Forget that he was platooned in centerfield with Mike Cameron. Kapler's 1.9 WAR was not only his highest-ever season total, but the eighth highest on the team. The seven guys who finished higher read like a murderer's row of great baseball figures- CC Sabathia, Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, Ben Sheets, Mike Cameron, Jason Kendall and Rickie Weeks. 

This means he had a higher WAR than Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Jeff Suppan and closer Salomon Torres, all pieces of the team that the Brewers couldn't have made it to October without. And yet next-to-nobody remembers Kapler's 2008 year.

It's actually a pretty cool bench year, too. .301 average, 38 RBIs, 8 homers, 69 hits. His .498 SLG was the third-highest on the team, behind Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, of course. One of those great years that gets overlooked by statisticians because of who the numbers belonged to. A lot like the 2008 Brewers, too.

Kapler would spend the next 2 years in a similar bench role in Tampa before retiring, ruining the Phillies for two years and nearly getting the Giants to the playoffs in 2020. 

That's all I have for the 2008 set for right now. Expect some 2009 and beyond entries on the way.

Championship Series' Day 8: Not Perfect, But I'll Take It Edition

Alright, well I clearly came on too strong by predicting a Rays-Braves series, but a Rays-Dodgers series ain't bad either.

True, it is a battle of first seeds, and two teams who would have been here anyway if this were a normal year, but...both these teams have great storylines. The Dodgers have an even better one just from getting past the Braves on the strength of Enrique Hernandez and Cody Bellinger, the latter of which had the winning homer against Chris Martin, and finishing off the Braves thanks to Julio Urias. They nearly lost their footing, but regained, and became a stronger team for it.

Now comes the hard part. The Dodgers have gotten to this point twice in the last four years, but they have never sealed the deal. Now, where they are clearly the better of the two teams despite having the rockier of the two pitching staffs, they NEED to win in order to make every winning season without a ring in the last 10 or so years worth it. The Dodgers have been more consistent and more bloodthirsty than any other team since 2008, and anything other than a World Series win will be anticlimactic for this team, this fanbase, and this city. The Lakers could do it. Why not the Dodgers. 

I will be rooting for LA this season. As the grandson of an Ebbets Field lifer who left us earlier this year, I owe it to her to see a Dodger championship through. Not to get all sappy. I don't like that shit at all. But...a Dodger World Series win would be a source of light in this dark, depressing year we've been through.

Dodgers-Rays World Series. I can dig it. I doubt it'll be short. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Championship Series' Day 7: ABOUT DAMN TIME Edition

I don't see why the Rays couldn't have just done that 4 games ago, but...I'm happy nonetheless.

Charlie Morton pitched a gem, Arozarena and Zunino continued their reign of terror at the plate, and Pete Fairbanks finished off the Astros lineup to finally, FINALLY bring the Rays to their first World Series in 12 years. And let me just say, it is a well-deserved World Series entry. The Rays have been one of the best teams in the AL this year, they've made a great team out of small-ball and little homegrown guys, and they have a real baseball mentalist like Kevin Cash behind the team. 

it's gonna be fun to see this team go up against either of the NL options. The Braves would be a more fun Series, but the Dodgers might be more of a match. 

As for the Astros..........

Anyway, Dodgers-Braves Game 7 tomorrow. Hope it's a good one.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Championship Series' Day 5: Please Don't Do This to Me Edition, I can't do this this year, man.

I've already been through enough in 2020. Death, career change, plans going on hold, not seeing my friends, political disarray, general anxiety and depression. This year already...absolutely blows.

But if the Astros get to the World Series after losing the first 3 games of the ALCS, it might get even worse. I am really, REALLY not a fan of this horseshit. If a team decides halfway through a 7-game series that they're gonna actually compete, then they don't deserve a damned reset in Game 4. 

Carlos Correa, George Springer and Michael Brantley were responsible for the runs as usual, and Correa walked off. I'm not saying that having only 3 guys score all your runs is a bad strategy, as...look at Randy Arozarena, Mike Zunino and Brandon Lowe, but when you have a team with a lack of lineup depth or pitching getting by on the strength of three guys who've been there for years...and you're doing all this with every game being an elimination your GOAL to piss off every baseball fan out there?

Cause, like, I don't think anybody wants the Astros to win again. That's not an exaggeration, it's not like the year where I thought the Orioles were in first by default because I didn't understand how to read stats. I can read the room, and the room says 'knock this shit off, Houston', and...they won't. Tomorrow night is Framber Valdez vs. Blake Snell. That SHOULD, in theory, do it...but the Rays' bullpen is now beginning to make mistakes, and so help me...whoever, if they make more in Game 6 and force a Game 7 when there shouldn't have even been a Game 5, I'm gonna be livid. Like, 2009, obviously-unmedicated-teenager levels of livid. 

In a slightly less depressed game, one game after Corey Seager went a triple short of a cycle against the Braves pitching, Marcell Ozuna went a triple short of a cycle against the Dodgers pitching.

This was one of Clayton Kershaw's classic playoff rough starts, and we'll never know if it was his back or his nerves that led to him giving up 4 runs in 5 innings, but at least he joins Dylan Floro and Brusdar Graterol in sharing the blame for letting the Braves hit 10 runs off them and go into finishing position for tomorrow's Game 5. 

Again, the Braves' offense is absolutely alive right now, with Ozuna, Freeman, d'Arnaud, Swanson, Riley, Acuna, and now rookie Christian Pache all aiding the charge. Hell, Tonight's winning pitcher was Bryse Wilson, a rookie who'd only had a few 2020 starts and held his own for 6 innings, only giving up a run, and looking like a pro against one of the best pitchers in baseball. The fact that guys like Bryse Wilson, Ian Anderson and Max Fried are looking unstoppable against a pitching staff consistently thought of as one of the best, and a lineup that looked unbeatable in June...that says a lot about this Braves team, and where they might be headed.

Tomorrow, we have a chance of both playing matches being decided. I would really, really like, at the very least, the ALCS to be decided tomorrow. Just so the long, national nightmare can be over. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Champion Series' Day Four: So Much For That Edition much for yesterday's post.

Against a 2-0 Atlanta lead, and Kyle Wright, the Los Angeles Dodgers did one of the greatest 'holy shit' turns in MLB history, going from completely defenseless to whacking Kyle Wright and Grant Dayton until they bled. 15 runs later, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Will Smith and Edwin Rios all hit RBIs and had to be calmed down by the remainder of the Braves' bullpen, beginning with Huascar Ynoa. Julio Urias pitched a gem, and Adam Kolarek needed help keeping runs down in the ninth.

Yes, the Braves still lead, but it's not exactly going to be a full sweep, as we were led to believe, and the Dodgers still have some fight left in them. Tomorrow's game will hopefully produce a healthy Clayton Kershaw performance against Bryce Wilson and likely a bullpen game. Hopefully that fire will remain.

Meanwhile, back in the Land of Prolonging the Inevitable, the Houston Astros took a start from Tyler Glasnow and scored 4 runs off him, all from lifers like Altuve and Springer. Zack Greinke, despite giving up runs to Randy Arozarena and Willy Adames, held the lineup down, and Ryan Pressly and Cristian Javier did good relief work.

I'm slightly worried that this means the Astros are once again gaining traction and could overcome the 3-loss deficit like we're all fearing, but...the Rays are still the better team here, and I'm still hoping they'll seal the deal tomorrow and...end my misery for a brief moment.

One series could end tomorrow, and I'm really, really hoping it does.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Champion Series Update: Southeastern Domination Edition

 So. Braves have won 2 games. Rays have won 3. It's unfair to jump to conclusions after less than half of the proposed series', but...what if this is our World Series?

I'd...honestly be down.

First of all, the inevitable matchup from January, Yankees-Dodgers, won't be there. Yes, the Dodgers could still find it and win, so this could be null, but...if they do, it'll have been something we'd all seen coming for months, and...I kind of like seasons where two teams you couldn't have really guessed end up in the World Series. The Braves may have been in the top 5 or so NL teams, but I wouldn't have been smart enough to guess them. And with the Yankees and Twins looking insane in March, I definitely wouldn't have pegged Tampa. 

Secondly, neither team has won in either YEARS or ever. Even if the Dodgers make it, that stat will be fulfilled, because I honestly don't see the Astros coming back from a 3-game deficit like this, especially against a pitching staff they cannot outsmart. So...either one of these teams adding a trophy to the case would be pretty cool. 

Thirdly...these two teams have the power to make a really cool World Series. Acuna, Ozuna and D'Arnaud against Snell, Glasnow and Morton? Aw, man. And the battle of the rookies with Ian Anderson and Randy Arozarena? Granted, it'll be a Series without EXTREME star power, save for like Acuna and Freeman,'ll be an evenly matched series where either team could win big and start the 2020s on a huge note.

This could all change if the losing teams gain momentum, which isn't unheard of, but...the way these two teams are playing right now, it's screaming WS-matchup. I could be wrong, I might be wrong, but in this moment...this is where the heat's coming from.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Division Series' Day Five: The Inevitable, Two Days Late

 I'm not surprised that the Rays beat the Yankees in the ALDS. I'm surprised it took them 5 games.

I mean, we all knew the Rays were the better team, it wasn't hard to see. The depth of this team, and the number of awesome players lying in wait, on the bench and in the bullpen, is insane. Even with Gerrit Cole going 6 strong, they couldn't be stopped. And I'm proud of my Yankees for giving their all, but once again, they weren't the best team in the matchup, and they went down knowing it.

It was nice that we got a full 5 game series, but...the Rays are that good, and they're a World Series caliber team this year. 

Mike Brosseau, Pete Fairbanks, Austin Meadows and Diego Castillo were the heroes, and they didn't need to do much to overpower us. Only Aaron Judge showed up for us, really. The rest of the lineup couldn't be moved. And that's the power of the Rays' pitching, really.

Hopefully, for my sake, the Rays is the one team that the Astros haven't figured out. Because if they can get to Snell, Glasnow and Anderson...this playoff season is going to be unbearable.

So Yankees are done. I'll probably root for whoever wins in the NL, cause I'm fine with either of those teams. And hopefully they win the whole thing so I don't have to groan as a team I don't love gets a parade. 

Division Series' Day Four: World's Most Boring Playoff Year Taking Shape

Dansby Swanson has every right to be overjoyed right now. Not just because his Braves battered Sixto Sanchez and the Marlins to claim a spot in the NLCS for the first time since 2001. But because the Atlanta Braves may soon be the only interesting team left in the playoff arrangement. 

Folks. The fun, oddball teams are all dying out. The Marlins are done. The Padres are done. The A's are done. And even if the Yankees were to somehow make it, that wouldn't be fun for most of you. This is looking like an Astros-Rays ALCS and a Braves-Dodgers NLCS. Woop-de-doo. You honestly could have guessed that in February, before any of this horseshit year even happened. "Uhhh, I dunno...the Braves and Dodgers are gonna be good this year. So are the Astros and Rays". If it's obvious at the beginning AND the end, the same outcome, that's not exactly a gripping race.

The Braves have the most character and spontaneity to them. Their rotation is incredibly young, the bullpen is strong, the lineup has a sort of piecemeal, anyone-can-hit-here sort of quality [Pablo Sandoval is still on the roster!], and everyone's playing well. They're also the least predictable of the four teams [likely to] make the next round, and therefore I have to root for them. 

The odd part is that any other year, a team finishing below .500 and still making the playoffs, and the ALCS, would be a feel-good, underdog story.

But because it's the friggin Astros, it's the worst thing ever. 

The A's and Twins were supposed to keep this team down, using their status as division leaders and above-500 teams, as well as using their non-disappointing averages following seasons where they didn't cheat. Somehow, the Astros got to the A's pitching ONCE AGAIN, overpowered Oakland 11-6, and now are sitting comfortably in the ALCS for the umpteenth damned year. It pisses me off to no avail, and of all the teams in this next playoff rung, I want them to win the least.

Mostly because they've won most recently, as opposed to everyone else, who've been waiting 20, 30 years. But also because, you know, of the cheating thing. 

The Yankees also won, which I was not expecting whatsoever. Especially considering the start by Jordan Montgomery, which gave up a run in a silly way. Somehow, the Yankees bats prevailed, and home runs from Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres kept us alive against a bullpen day from the Rays.

And yet...this gives me a strange, conflicted feeling. If the Rays win, they have a better chance of beating the Astros. Yet, if the Yankees could potentially mean a SECOND consecutive drubbing by Houston in the ALCS for us, and we do not want the Astros to get to the World Series again. Houston is very good at illuminating lackluster pitching, and we certainly have that. I fear if the Yankees win tomorrow, it won't be any different from how we usually fare against the Astros in October. There's a chance, but...I know our luck.

It does mean we have to get past the Rays first, which is difficult enough. I have no idea who Tampa's starting tomorrow. I have no idea who NEW YORK is starting tomorrow. Are we on enough rest that Gerrit Cole can start for us again? Does that also mean Blake Snell is good for that start? Is it a bullpen day for both of us? Either way, I'm predicting a bloody fight to the finish, a lot like the Yankees' series with Cleveland. 

And thanks to a 12-point drubbing of the Padres' bullpen, the Dodgers, the team that has been fantastic all decade yet somehow has yet to get a ring since 88, seem to be heading back to glory with a return trip to the NLCS against Atlanta. Will Smith, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and AJ Pollock led the charge, and Julio Urias went five innings without allowing a run, more proof that the once-forgotten prospect has officially made it, and is kicking ass this postseason.

As sad as it is that the Padres' ascent had to end here, the Dodgers are still looking like the most powerful team in baseball, and their clash against the Braves is gonna be epic. 

Tonight...Yanks-Rays for all the marbles. Either outcome means something different. I'm still rooting for my Yankees, but I'm also rooting for the Astros to not figure out the Yankee rotation.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Division Series' Day 3: Four Leads

 I'm going to warn Braves fans now. Ian Anderson, the way he is throwing, is gonna wreck his arm within a year or so and will eventually need Tommy John surgery. You guys are going to lose a year of Ian Anderson baseball very soon, considering the arc of his arm in his rotation.

That being said, Ian Anderson had another very dominant postseason start, going 5.2 innings with 8 strikeouts and no earned runs. Dude's got a future if he takes care of that arm. Anderson, Soroka and Fried all healthy next year could be dangerous. And just Fried and Anderson in good form now is chasing the Marlins, and pitting them into win-or-die scenarios for today. They will most likely turn to Sixto Sanchez, as the Braves turn to Kyle Wright, so hopefully they have some run support to spare to aid their young pitcher. 

As bad as it looked as a back-and-forth match for a few innings, the Athletics broke through late thanks to some work from Chad Pinder and Sean Murphy on the Houston bullpen, and some subsequent mastery from Liam Hendriks and Jake Diekman. Marcus Semien, Tommy La Stella, Mark Canha and Matt Olson all had solo long-balls early, and kept enough in the tank so that the eventual lead-taking from the Astros would be possible in the first place. Jesus Luzardo got beat up, but so did Framber Valdez, and from there it was a question of who had the better bullpen, which...Oakland did.

I loved this win, and I really hope there's two more just like it coming soon. 

Look, I've resigned myself to my fate already. The Rays are the better team, they're probably gonna win tonight. 

The Yankees, as much as they can slug, and as much as they can put up runs and stay in it, have always been very close with each of their postseason rivals, and if they had a more comprehensive pitching staff, it wouldn't be as close. Tonight, they're starting Jordan Montgomery. Yes, the Rays are doing a bullpen/opener game, but...the Yanks have to start Jordan Montgomery against one of the best offenses in baseball, one that worked Randy Arozarena, Kevin Kiermaier and Michael Perez against Tanaka last night. 

Again, stranger things have happened, but...considering what might also happen in LA today, the Rays might NEED to win. Cause someone's gonna need to stop the Astros if the A's can't. 

Also, hey, what do you know, last year's MVP is still elite. Cody Bellinger took longer than usual to get to peak levels, but he's been stellar this postseason, with a home run as well as the game winning catch against these surprisingly tough-to-beat Padres. Like Yanks-Rays, it's gonna come down to the team that has the better pitching, and today will probably be either Dustin May or Julio Urias, both good options, vs. Adrian Morejon. Yes, folks, the Padres are going with Adrian Morejon to start. Which says a lot about how depleted their rotation is without Lamet and Clevinger. 

Look, man...the Dodgers are the best team in baseball, and the #1 seed in the game. So the Padres coming in with a lesser rotation should have figured this would happen. But, regardless, hopefully their lineup will keep them alive tonight. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Division Series' Day 2: Conveniently Placed Longballs

 After limiting the Cubs to 1 run through 2 games, the Marlins gave up 9 to the Atlanta Braves yesterday, setting the tone for a very explosive NLDS grouping. From an opening Ronald Acuna homer off of Sandy Alcantara to a 4-RBI-day from Travis d'Arnaud, the catcher who, until last year, was thought of as a liability due to his injury-prone nature. Max Fried had a solid start, despite giving up some runs. It was a solid look for the statistical leader of the two, and a big start for this series.

Monday was Carlos Correa's day to hit 2 home runs. Tuesday was George Springer's. One off Sean Manaea, one off Yusmeiro Petit. Yes, Reddick and Correa also helped, as did a fine start by Framber Valdez, but the A's were once again afraid to elaborate on an early home run by Khris Davis. The A's seriously need to figure out how to get past this team, because...they had such a head start over Houston, and now they're once again falling victim to Houston's October momentum. And I seriously thought they were better than this.

Game 3 is today. The A's haven't decided who they're putting up against Jose Urquidy. If he didn't put in 2 scoreless innings yesterday, I'd suggest Mike Minor, but hopefully either Jesus Luzardo or Mike Fiers has a good start left in them. 

I was never expecting my Yankees to sweep the Rays.

Especially considering how good this Rays team is. I mean, talk about getting a nice assortment of useful players rather than big names. Mike Zunino, Randy Arozarena and Manny Margot all hit home runs for them last night. Tyler Glasnow had the nice start. All these anonymous relievers are keeping the STAR-STUDDED YANKEES at bay. So a win like this, where even if the Yanks put up 5 runs, 4 of which coming from hot-as-hell Giancarlo Stanton, they still lose to Tampa...I imagined we'd get one of those.

I honestly wish Boone had let Deivi Garcia run out the start. I think he's ready. 

Because these days, if the starter doesn't run out the start, there's something seriously wrong. And Mike Clevinger's arm tensing up after an inning and change is the sort of thing that warrants getting pulled. So instead of getting prime Clevinger material, the Dodgers went against middling Garrett Richards material, and scored a ton of runs off of him and Matt Strahm. Not to say the bullpen strategy didn't otherwise work out for San Diego, as they still have an awesome 'pen, but...that pen against peak Walker Buehler seemed a bit lopsided last night.

Buehler went only 4 innings, but struck out 8, and only let through the game's sole Padres run. I'd say that's the kind of pitching performance the Dodgers were looking for from him. Hopefully Kershaw continues his reliable streak today against...whoever the Padres put up. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Division Series Update: Good News for People Who Like Bad News

 [loud sigh]

This is why a sub-500 team shouldn't be allowed into the playoffs. Because that team might be the Astros, who could thrive in the postseason, despite absolutely no one wanting another Astros postseason run. 

Carlos Correa hit 2 homers today against the superior Oakland A's. The usual suspects, like Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, George Springer and Jose Altuve were responsible for the RBI. Even a good pitcher like Chris Bassitt got lit up by these guys. The momentum us there, and if the A's don't spring into action themselves, they could let the Astros slip right back into another ALCS. 

I talk about this with a horrified tone because...

The Yankees had a big win tonight over Tampa. Solo homers from Clint Frazier, Kyle Higashioka and Aaron Judge laid the ground work, but a stellar ninth from Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton broke the Rays' bullpen wide open and the Yanks' 'pen shut down Tampa. So...a Yankee team that seemed stymied by the Rays all year is finally figuring out how to get to them, and beginning to look like their old selves.

And yet...the Astros are also gaining ground. Which means this postseason could be leading to YET ANOTHER Yankees-Astros meeting in the playoffs. Only one Yankee postseason run HASN'T been cut short by the Astros since 2016. So even if this Astros team isn't as good as prior ones, even an inkling that they could somehow beat the Yankees in ANOTHER ALCS is scary as hell to me. We've lost enough playoff games to the Astros, at least give us the higher ground this time.

But again, this only happens if the Yankees pull out over the Rays, and if the A's don't snap to life in the next few games, which I'm hoping they do. Yanks-A's could be an interesting series, but...part of me thinks we can take the A's more than we can take Houston. 

Watch me be way off, like usual. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2008 Midyear Deals

 The 2008 Trade Deadline was relatively well-documented in 2008 Updates and Highlights. The big guns received cards, like Manny Ramirez in LA, Ivan Rodriguez in New York, Ken Griffey Jr. in Chicago and, of course, Bartolo Colon in Boston. Also, some smaller deals were made into Topps cards, even questionable ones like Chris Snelling and Tadahito Iguchi landing in Philly, or Yamid Haad getting called up right before the print deadline before being called back down again. It would be the last time the Update set would be so needlessly comprehensive while also leaving out obvious choices. 

Some were just oversights because of deals made right after the print deadline, like Felipe Lopez being released by Washington only to sign with the Cardinals a week later. The veteran utility infielder would hit .335 in 43 games with the Cards, with 21 RBIs and 60 hits, becoming a trusted asset for a team that would fail to make a playoff run that year. 

Similarly, after a down year in Philadelphia, former Mariners All-Star fireballer Freddy Garcia was a midyear sign for the Detroit Tigers, a team the sportswriters expected to win the World Series but wound up in last. The signing happened, again, after the print date. And to be honest, it's not a TON to write home about. Garcia started 3 games, posted a 1-1 record, a 4.20 ERA and 12 strikeouts. Topps has given cards to Philippe Aumont in 2015 before, but I can see why they thought that wasn't worth it. 

2008 also counts as a crossroads for Garcia, sort of like Colon's 2009. After this year, the White Sox pick him back up, and Garcia becomes a trusted low-velocity trickster for the White Sox, Yankees and Orioles for the next 4 years. The 2008 season is Garcia looking at his poor 2007 and moving on, which is the best thing to do.

For me, this is the biggest omission.

Topps does give Matt Stairs a Phillies card in 2009, a commemoration of sorts, but...come on. Matt Stairs' career year with Philly is 2008, and he deserves a card for it.

Stairs began 2008 as a DH in Toronto, close to his home, and in August he's packed in a waiver deal to Philly to be used as a bench bat [you try starting a 40-year-old in the outfield]. In 16 regular season games, Stairs hits .294, with 5 RBIs and 2 home runs. Not bad at all. But then he makes the postseason roster, has that magical game-winning home run in the NLCS against the Dodgers, and is proclaimed the hero, even if he doesn't make much of an impact in the actual World Series. It's still a fantastic moment, which Stairs is still riding high on even 12 years later. 

And I wish Topps could have known it was coming in August.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2009 Topps Bartolo Colon

 In another universe, this would have been Bartolo Colon's sunset card.

After a strong career, a Cy Young, and a few injury plagued seasons, Colon returned to Chicago as a starter in 2009, pitched 12 games, and came up with a 4.19 ERA, a 3-6 record, and 38 strikeouts. Not bad, but for a team with great performances from Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy and John Danks that year, it wasn't enough.

While Topps does make a card of Colon as a White Sock in its Heritage High Number series, which should benefit from being released later in the year this year, it doesn't make a flagship release of him. The 2008 Update card of Colon in Boston evidently was enough for them.

As Colon spent his 2010 season in independent leagues, trying to make it back...there was an indication that Colon's 2009 season may have been his final one. So Topps not cooking something up for 2010 Topps is also suspect. Colon's eventual return with New York in 2011 must have felt very unlikely, and if he doesn't come back for a minor league deal with the Yanks, Colon never achieves his late-career appreciation with the Mets. 

This Sox card could have marked the end of Colon's initial run in the majors. And I wish it existed.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Wild Card Series' Day 4: Deciding Outcomes

 This is the underdog shit we've needed from this postseason. The Miami Marlins, whom everybody sort of counted out this year, just took down the 1st place Chicago Cubs, nullifying the third of four NL Central playoff campaigns. Garrett Cooper and Magneuris Sierra had the winning RBIs against Yu Darvish and Jeremy Jeffress, two brick walls for Chicago this year. Sixto Sanchez had the winning start, and made a statement as a rookie no one wants to screw with. I have no idea how they'll do against Atlanta, as they're pretty tough, but...the Marlins' playoff streak has, in fact, continued, and...take that for what you will.

As for the Cubs...I'd hoped they would do better than this, but they were a team based on momentum, and they'd stayed strong the entire time but...the Marlins were the one detail that did them in. Even the big parts of this team, like the rotation and bullpen, petered off once the postseason began, and...I'm sad to see it, but the team wasn't ready for this. Maybe they will be next year,'s just a sad sight. 

I'll give the Padres this...never would have predicted they'd make it to the next round on a bullpen day. Sure enough, the entire bullpen switched off blanking the Cardinals while Eric Hosmer and Jake Cronenworth teed off late after Flaherty slowed down. It was exciting to watch as someone who's despised the Cardinals for the last 10 years, as well as someone who just enjoys fun teams that haven't won in a while, like the Padres. Seeing Cronenworth become the first Padres rookie to hit a home run in the playoffs was insanely cool, and I hope for similar milestones up ahead in a...admittedly doomed series against LA. 

As for the Cardinals...first of all, we're gonna have the first ever NLDS week with absolutely zero teams from the central divisions, which is weird, cause we came in with 7 of them and now we've got none left, so the playoffs are now gonna be essentially East v. West, which is cool. But, the Cardinals snuck in late, they lost momentum in September, and while having a nice team they just...didn't have enough to really sink their teeth into this playoff season. A shame, because Tommy Edman and Yadier Molina were just heating up. 

Excited for the Division Series. Only one team I actively despise is in the race [two if you count the Rays, who I go back and forth on], and we could have a very fun combination of outcomes. Of the teams left, one has won a World Series in the last few years, five haven't won in over 10 years, and two have never won a World Series. Sure to be exciting, especially if the Astros lose.