Wednesday, November 30, 2022

That Which I Desire


Not sure if y'all have noticed, but I haven't been buying a ton of cards this year.

There's a few reasons for that, if I can be candid:

1. Cards are still hella scarce at retail stores, and I've only gotten lucky a couple of times at Target or so. But then again,
2. I'm not really hitting Target or any other retail stores much often at all lately. Kinda staying in unless I really need to, working remotely does that. On that note,
3. Work. Lots of little jobs rather than one big one, and I haven't had as much of a card budget as I used to. So I just...haven't splurged as much. Which is at least good for my stability. 
4. I'm also trying to figure out how to sell cards on eBay. I am...still incredibly scared of this because I've never done it before, and I don't want to do it 'incorrectly'. So there's stuff I have graded that I'm sitting on because I don't wanna put it out at the 'wrong time'. This shit is so difficult sometimes if you're like me and don't know the nuances and unwrittens of the hobby.

So I haven't gotten many cards at all in the last few months. Haven't reorganized my binders in longer. Been focusing mostly on making customs for the next two months. And then after that...I dunno.

But I had some gift card money burning a hole today, so I stopped at Target and figured that at this point they must have something. And they did. My choices were:

-Allen & Ginter, newly released. 
-2022 Chronicles, relatively newly released.
-Topps Fire, which came out in, like...August?

No Archives or Update, two of the sets I hadn't found any of and was still looking for. Which kinda blue. But they did have baseball cards. And...a ton of hockey cards. But baseball cards.

So I went with the Fire because it'd at least be interesting. I'm gonna ask you at the end of this if I made the right choice.

7 packs here. 6 cards per pack, but some come with 7 cards because consistency apparently doesn't mean anything anymore.

Pack 1- Seeing this guy right at the top made me feel somewhat alright with my choice. 

So, like usual, Fire's base set is separated into 3 subsets, denoted by difference in design.This is the most striking of the three, using those reds and yellows to catch the eye. It's never not gonna be odd seeing legends like Hank Aaron on these designs.

The other two. Like Judge's. Lewis's is similar to previous Fire designs. 
Also, hey, what if this is the last time I pull a Judge card in a Yankee uniform while he's still a Yankee?

Pack 2- The good thing about this set is that it went to print as a little bit of the season had elapsed, meaning they could have updated uniforms like Jesse Winker's and Matt Olson's. 

The other good thing about this printing in May or whatever is they knew Spencer Strider would be a thing this year, so they could make him one of the prominent rookies of the set. Alongside yet another Wander Franco rookie, which...if they're in every set, are they really that special, Topps?

The big thing to look for in Fire blasters are these yellow, 'minted in gold' or whichever parallels. Unnumbered, but they look hella cool. Similar to the blue fire ones the set began with. Tatis's Flippin Out insert is seeded 1:20 packs, so those are pretty rare.

Pack 3- Here you find one of the downsides of this printing in May. When Fire went to print, Kevin Smith was still looking like a promising replacement for Matt Chapman. He petered off.

And while I see why Topps needed some Torkelson rookies ready, his season didn't amount to the exclamation points his promotion promised. Aaron Ashby's is a red base card parallel, unnumbered. Bichette's Fired Up insert just looks cool. This set does inserts really well.

Pack 4- Meadows and Stroman look great in new uniforms. Bellinger's already looking for a new one himself.

This frigging incredible, and it's the kind of wild idea I wish Topps did more. Reminds me of 90s Stadium Club inserts. I'll forgive the Cardinal, it's Arenado so I get it. Frigging awesome.

Pack 5- Fairly standard base selections, though Bryson Stott's rookie feels a bit more earned after the postseason. 

Story's is proof that the gold minting just lifts this set so much. And Yelich's die-cut To the Moon is, yes, another incredible insert from this set. I love it so much and want more.

Pack 6- More standard base card selections. 

Two I was excited to find- Rizzo is becoming a Yankee favorite, and Marsh, though in the wrong uniform, is gonna be a fan favorite in Philly.

and then...

I...I mean...

That is an autographed card of the guy who placed 2nd in NL Rookie of the Year voting this year, and who got a 200 strikeout year for the Braves alongside Charlie Morton. This is...I'm dumbfounded. Spencer Strider is an insanely good auto pull in 2022, even if it is a sticker auto. It's both Topps picking correctly and me picking the correct blaster. I'm honestly impressed.

This is a green parallel auto, numbered to 75, and seeded 1 in 604 packs. I don't know if I've just had better retail luck in the last few years, but I never used to pull this many great hits out of retail product. This is definitely worth the [ballooned] blaster price. And now I have to figure out how to properly sell this on eBay. Lovely.

Pack 7- I forgot how early this year Alek Thomas debuted.

We end on two base parallels we've already seen in this blaster.

So you think I made the right decision here? Cause I sure did. Yes, Fire is a crazy set with odd logic, but the inserts are beautiful, I got great stars and rookies, and I pulled an autograph of one of the best young pitchers in the league. If I'm only gonna get cards every so often, this is an insanely good outcome to have.

Maybe things will increase eventually. Maybe I'll figure things out. But this definitely whetted my appetite for new product, and I'm alright with that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Cy Youngs in Motion

Overall, pretty predictable Cy Young winners this year. Alcantara I saw coming since, like, June, and JV I figured would be a lock considering that other candidates, like Alex Manoah and Nestor Cortes, lacked a strong enough case. Once again, I would have gone with a completely different Astro, that being Framber Valdez, who had a 28-game-long quality starts streak that apparently means nothing to most sportswriters. But hey, JV will be going into the Hall with 3 Cy Young awards, 2 World Series rings and an MVP, and that is more than a lot of all-timer pitchers can say. Nolan Ryan didn't even win a Cy Young. 

However, these awards have made these two pitchers very hot commodities in the now-accelerating offseason market. Verlander is using this win to justify himself as a talent worthy of a Scherzer-in-New-York sized contract. There are a few problems with that. Chiefly, teams are already looking to give a contract of that magnitude to someone like Jacob deGrom. Also, Scherzer is a little younger than Verlander, and had enough to justify a multi-year deal. Verlander is 40. That he squeaked out one last peak season at that age is miraculous enough. Asking for multiple at this rate, especially considering that Verlander isn't juicing, could be asking for quite a bit. 

I think Verlander just wants the payday, because he's gotten very small deals in the last few years because he hasn't been a sure long-term bet. But...this isn't the age he should be asking for a sure bet contract. A lot of pitchers in his corner, like Wainwright, Kershaw and Greinke, are just asking for 1-year deals. Yes, Verlander is a monster talent, but he's also at the point where he's resting on his own mythology and doesn't NEED anymore big seasons to prove himself. 

Besides, he's got a beautiful wife at home and enough career achievements, so there's no reason that Brady should really want to go out there for anything else.

I mean...I mean Verlander. Didn't I say Verlander? What'd I say? Oh. Well can you blame me?

Look, don't be surprised if JV suits up for a few more years, and in the midst of the contract Kate Upton starts dating somebody else. Verlander can leave the table now, or he could re-up for one more year in Houston and leave with dignity, or he could do something crazy and gamble on an arm that was lucky enough to give him one last great season at 39. 

Then you have Alcantara. On one hand, he is locked up for another few years in Miami, and the fans there love him and don't want him to leave. On the other hand, that didn't stop Miami from dealing Stanton or any of their other contracted stars. Yes, this is a post-Jeter Marlins, and Kim Ng is a bit more calculated than her predecessors, but there is still the idea that Alcantara could get dealt to a competitor at any second, especially considering that he just won a Cy Young. Somebody like LA or Houston or New York could take on that contract and boost their playoff cases in seconds. Will it happen? Who knows. But a win like this has allowed it to be more possible.

Now, if Alcantara didn't just sign this contract before this season, I'd be less skeptical that something could happen. But I also know how the MLB works, and I know that the Marlins don't plan on being a major contender again for a few years. So Alcantara could go somewhere, even if it's just as likely that he stays in Miami and breaks loose somewhere thereafter.

Tomorrow night we see the MVPs. I have an idea of how this is going to go. Two guys who have very famously been within inches of an MVP before might be getting theirs tomorrow night. If not, we riot.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Rookies of Circumstance

For the first time in a few years, I called both Rookies of the Year. Now, I do think the AL race should have had more room for Jeremy Pena, but an Astro not winning that award was a very good outcome. J-Rod seemed like the favorite, and Harris had the better season compared to Strider. So I can say, with certainty, that these were the two best rookies of the year, and that they did their jobs well.

But...I am thinking about roster longevity with these picks. I am thinking about the idea of someone being a good Rookie of the Year but a less-than-good career player. And I'm thinking about Kyle Lewis.

You remember Kyle Lewis, right? Lewis burst onto the scene in Seattle with 6 home runs in his first 18 games, then won a Rookie of the Year the following season with 11 homers in the strike-shortened 2020 season. Okay, great, the Mariners have a centerfielder with staying power that wins Rookie of the Year, fantastic. Lewis has played 54 games since winning that award, and has only hit 8 home runs in that period.

And now, all of the sudden, the Mariners have a centerfielder with staying power that wins Rookie of the Year. And this one looks even better than Lewis, and people are already proclaiming J-Rod king of Seattle. years past, when teams have had multiple Rookies of the Year in the span of a few years, they've actually gotten to, you know, play alongside each other. Bellinger and Seager. DeGrom and Alonso. Correa and Alvarez. Now Acuna and Harris played on the same outfield. But the Mariners have Kyle Lewis and Julio Rodriguez win ROY within two years of each other, and instead of priming the two of them to play alongside each other, the Mariners see Rodriguez as their starting centerfielder for the next ten years, and...I don't know what they think is gonna happen with Lewis.

Now, you are seeing the Mariners begin to play Lewis in right [when they're not DHing him], and he's been pretty efficient there so far. But...Kyle Lewis has yet to show many sparks of his 2020 glory, and the worry is that 2020 was really all there was to him. And compared to Julio, who already feels like a career hero for the Mariners, that's not a good sign at all. If anything, it speaks to the troubles of the Mariners organization, even if they've built themselves into competitors again. Even if they've constructed this team, they've still overseeded themselves. The dream, I assume, is a J-Rod/Lewis/Kelenic outfield, but the three haven't all been on at the same time, and the Ms are getting worried about the other two.

The Braves having Harris now is a lot easier since Adam Duvall probably isn't coming back, so they can just start Harris, Acuna and Rosario without any real overflow. So I don't see them having the problem the Mariners are having. And if the Ms play their cards right, it may not even be much of a problem. But it's...definitely an interesting statement 2 years after Lewis's win to feel as though he's already been replaced.

I imagine similarly intriguing conversations will come about on Wednesday when someone wins the Cy Young alongside Sandy Alcantara. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022



I noticed something interesting in Game 6 of the 2022 World Series.

After the blistering sixth inning, when Alvarez hit his homer and the Astros secured a 4-1 lead and it became clear that this team was going to win a World Series, the FOX broadcast team turned it over to Ken Rosenthal. Normally, when Rosenthal has been given the mic this postseason, it's been to interview a home-run hitting ballplayer, or talk to someone, or provide some extra context. But this was different. 

Rosenthal came on, and said, though not verbatim, the following: The Houston Astros did, in fact, cheat in 2017 and 2018, and stole-signs, and were fined 5 million dollars as well as giving up draft picks in 2020 and 2021. However, this team has a different manager, a different GM, only 5 key players from the 2017 team, and the heroes of this series, like Yordan Alvarez, Jeremy Pena and Framber Valdez, came up after the 'cheating years'. In addition, this is a different MLB, with different rules, and anti-cheating measures have been put into place in order to ensure that the Astros never win that way again. 

Let's...analyze this.

I'm not gonna say that any of these statements are fabricated. The Astros cheated, got caught, paid the consequences, and then reformed themselves accordingly. This is technically a different Astros team than the one that cheated. So they're not just making things up. But why are they bringing this up as the Astros are about 9 outs from winning a World Series? Because they are trying to influence the nationwide opinion on the Astros by making sure the public will be okay with the final outcome of the season. The last thing the MLB wants is for more people to stop watching, because they're disillusioned by how the 'bad guys' keep winning. And so they are doing anything they can to reframe that narrative and try to influence, subliminally or no, the viewing audience that it's okay to like these Astros, even saying that flagrantly. 

Now...there's a few things Rosenthal didn't mention, like the fact that Manfred's sanctions against the Astros didn't break up the already booming farm system that would keep them a competitor for years to come, or how Jose Altuve was never officially reprimanded personally for using a device to time pitches against the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS, or even the fact that while the inndividual members of the 2017 cheating effort were reprimanded or fired, all three of A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran are still employed by the MLB, with even the latter being rehabilitated as a broadcaster in time for his Hall of Fame eligibility next year. But, you know, if he mentioned any of those things, Rob Manfred might lose his job. I mean, who would want that, right?

The bottom line is that if the 2017 Astros were properly reprimanded for cheating, the 2022 Astros never would have won the World Series. And I don't know if any of you noticed, but even if this was a 'kinder, gentler' Astros team, they still weren't saints. We heard about Martin Maldonado 'not knowing' that his Albert Pujols bats weren't legal, but last night Maldonado leaned suspiciously far into a Wheeler pitch [compared to a previous at-bat], got on base and started a rally that led to the Alvarez home run. If Machete doesn't do that little lean that causes the HBP, the Astros don't have that sixth inning. Maldonado meant to get hit, therefore Maldonado, uh, what's the word here, CHEATED, yes, and because it's not one of the types of cheating that Manfred outlawed when the Astros did them before, the umpires just shrug and let him.

The Astros still cheat, folks. They've just found new, more subtle ways of doing so. And either directly or indirectly, they have won a World Series, with the MLB, the media and, I assume, Rob Manfred, cheering them on. 

This may seem like the ravings of a cranky Phillies fan. They're not. I would have been this analytical even if the Cardinals were in their spot. The Astros did what they always did, and the MLB let them, and they will probably do more of the same going forward because all of the cheating they've been doing hasn't been detected yet. 

I am proud of these Phillies. They made it here when no one, even me, thought they would, and they got 2 wins against the toughest team in the AL. Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Brandon Marsh, Ranger Suarez and Nick Castellanos will never have to buy a beer in this city again. The shitty part is that I don't even know if the Phillies can even get close to this point again with their current business model. They were always going to be this underdog type team, and I don't know if the stars are gonna align like they did this year again. I could be wrong, and I'd like to be, but even if they were to try it again, they could be without Aaron Nola or Jean Segura, and the team may look completely different and lack the qualities that made them a contender this year. 

Hell of a thrilling World Series to watch. Wish it had a different outcome, and wish the MLB wasn't so intent on making me like these cheating bastards the Astros, but...the best team won, and that's fair, I guess. 

Now...who's gonna stop 'em in 2023? 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Game 5: Check


Given the circumstances, this could have been a ton worse, but, ultimately, not what we wanted.

At the very least, Game 5 proved that the Phillies can chase this team, intimidate this team, load bases, and FINALLY do something against the bullpen. We are still stranding way too many players in scoring position, and at times the Astros' defense was just too much for us to really contend with [both Mancini and McCormick made incredible plays tonight]. It was nice to see Schwarber deck one off of Verlander, and Segura have the hero moment he'd been waiting for this Series, but the small-ball the Astros have been playing lately got the better of us, and despite the close game all throughout, it couldn't get done tonight.

And now...the Phillies go back to have to try to beat Framber Valdez in order to stay alive.

Folks...this was nice while it lasted.

This entire series, I've kept my expectations low, and I've reaped the benefits. The one moment my expectations raised, which was after that Game 3 masterclass, that was when things went south for this team. The moment I actually believed in these Phillies was the moment they let me down. And tonight, I still expected them to do something big and they couldn't, at least not entirely. order for the Phillies to prevent an embarrassing, 2004 Super Bowl-esque loss to Houston...I have to keep my expectations low again. And I have to expect that Valdez is gonna make quick work of this team.

But maybe they'll figure him out. Maybe Wheeler will be on. Maybe somebody'll have a big night out of nowhere. Maybe something inexplicable will happen to keep the Phillies alive. I just...can't count on it.

It's been wonderful seeing this team in the World Series. I never thought it'd happen again, or this soon, and it may not happen for years considering the revolving door that is this playoff format. It's been fun, and it's been worth it just to have postseason baseball in my area again. No matter what happens next, I've enjoyed it.

For now, though...I'll just expect disappointment. Cause who knows what'll happen once I do?

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Game 4: The Other Shoe Drops


There's a terrible SNL sketch where Kenan Thompson plays a high school student who keeps getting injured every time his classmates convince him he can walk without crutches or a wheelchair or something, and every time this happens, he falls, and then he does a minute-long angry monologue through tears, mostly consisting of 'GO AWAY', 'LEAVE ME BE' and 'GEDDAWAYFROMEARHE' and things of this nature. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I feel very similar to Kenan Thompson in this sketch right now. I had the will to believe, the exact same thing that has happened already this year happened again on a larger stage, and now I just want everyone to go away. 

Folks....honestly, I've got nothing. I figured the Astros would get to Nola, I figured the Phillies wouldn't be able to hit Javier, I figured the Astros' bullpen would be stronger than ours. I just...I dunno, I kinda thought last night meant we wouldn't get no-hit, or even shut out, anymore. It's the same as it's been all year, the Phillies will have a tremendous game where everyone shows, and then they'll get absolutely embarrassed right when everyone believes in them.

It just goes to show that, even if the Astros rank Cristian Javier lower in the rotation, he's still absolutely filthy, and can have nights like this anytime he wants. This is his second no-hitter of the year, and people are still gonna underrate him. I think he's gonna play a much larger role in this rotation next year, especially with Verlander potentially not being in the picture next year. 

As for the Phils...mother of god I hope this isn't the turning point. Getting no-hit has gotta be the low point of this Series, right? We've gotta use that to never give them the opportunity to embarrass us again, right? This seemed like such a possibility, and now it's evaporated before our eyes and now here we are...really feeling as small as the sportswriters have made us feel this entire postseason. That'd be a shitty way to go, right? 

I hope that tonight's game is a ton better. We deserve one last chance to give the Philly crowd a show, and in the baby blue throwbacks as well. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Game 3: Seriously, What Is Going On Here?


I have seen the 2022 Phillies on three occasions this season at Citizens Bank Park.

One of them, they were held scoreless by the Texas Rangers. Every ball one of them tried to hit out was either foiled by Adolis Garcia being exactly where they were going or the umpires deciding that a ball which was called a home run last night was a ground rule double in May. The only run the Phillies scored last night was thanks to a passed ball stolen base courtesy of Roman Quinn, who, fun fact, isn't even with the team anymore.

Another one, they had the Braves against the ropes, but Matt Olson kept hitting home runs, and it was evident that at this point in the season, despite a huge bomb from Kyle Schwarber, the Braves were better than us. 

I did actually get to see a Phils win this year, but it was in April, and it was a Phillies team that barely even resembles this one anymore. The big RBIs came from Odubel Herrera and Didi Gregorius, Jeurys Familia came in for an inning, and the key runs were scored not by homers but with triples and small-ball. It feels like a century ago.

So if in April, or in May, or even in June, you were to tell me that the Philadelphia Phillies, THESE Philadelphia Phillies, would hold the Houston Astros without a run in a World Series game in Philadelphia...I would have shot you.

I am still in absolute disbelief that this team can go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in baseball. I don't care if Lance McCullers was tipping his pitches, this shouldn't have happened. 

John Smoltz, during the broadcast, said that if the Phillies somehow win the next 2 games, this will be one of the most inexplicable World Series wins of all time. This I do not exactly agree with. The Wild Card era has brought on some extremely unlikely, flash-in-the-pan teams that somehow win the whole thing. The 1997 Marlins came out of practically nowhere and took down the monolithic Cleveland Indians. The 2005 Chicago White Sox had no big stars, no healthy Frank Thomas, and just some Ozzieball mentality, and they were able to stop the price-tag-heavy Astros from winning. The 2010 Giants essentially got good in July, when I was in California, and rode that to the end to take down a Rangers team that had built itself immaculately.

Lately, you've had even more inexplicable World Series contenders, people who were listless til halfway through the season only to catch fire, like the 2019 Nationals and the 2021 Braves. Funny how this always happens in the NL East, and against the Astros. And now, the Phillies were practically dead midway through the year, without Harper and with the managerial switch, and now they're shutting out the Astros in the World Series. 

I'm still not sure if Smoltz is 100% spot on in saying the Phils are THE most inexplicable, if they win. But man, if they pull this off I sure will be bamboozled, because...HOW? HOW ON EARTH? 

Watching last night's game was the single most dumbfounded I've ever been watching a team I enjoy succeed. I am a Philly sports fan, but I don't drink as much of the Kool-Aid as a lot of people in this area. Every single series thus far I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. With Houston, it still could, and I'm prepared for that outcome. But every game the Phillies win against these guys is gonna shock me, because the Astros built themselves so immaculately over a long period of time, and the Phillies just threw some things together and the majority of them have worked.

THE BULLPEN, people. People have been shitting on the Phillies'  bullpen since like 2015. This bullpen has routinely snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I've seen Andrew Bellatti screw up a relief appearance. Yet somehow he stopped the Astros from doing ANYTHING in the ninth. I...cannot believe that.

The offense I can believe. Harper, Schwarber, Bohm, Marsh and Hoskins all hitting homers I can believe. I just...I can't believe that we actually stopped them from matching us. Ranger Suarez pitched a gem and the bullpen held it down. This team...did not always look this good. And yet here we are.

Tonight is Aaron Nola, who they hit before but can at least shut 'em down, vs. Cristian Javier, who has been dominant before but is lower on the totem pole in this rotation. In Philly, with this crowd louder than ever. I wonder what's gonna go down this time.