Thursday, April 12, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 5

Orioles victory number 5: 5-3 over the Toronto Blue Jays

2007 Upper Deck Chris Britton

The Orioles picked up their first win at home since Opening Day and didn't need extra innings to do so. That was nice. Kevin Gausman was the winning pitcher as he went 6 innings allowing 3 runs and striking out 7. It was his longest start of the season and lowered his ERA to 6.60 That might not be an impressive number, but considering it was at 13.50 after his first start, it's a good sign.

Honestly, the pitching really hasn't been the problem this season. While I'm not ready to throw this rotation out against the 1971 Baltimore rotation, they haven't been horrible. Dylan Bundy is on his way to becoming the first Cy Young finalist to not win a game in a season, Andrew Cashner has turned in a couple of decent starts and Gausman has improved. Now Chris Tillman and Mike Wright, Jr have been gas cans in their first couple of starts, but one of them should be booted to the bullpen once Alex Cobb makes his debut on Saturday.

If only they could get the offense rolling on a consistent basis. The team is near the bottom in average and on-base percentage and middle of the road when it comes to runs (but a top-5 team in home runs). They've been held to 2 or fewer runs in 6 of their 12 games, including just one run in each of he previous two games against Toronto.

Their bullpen, normally a strength of the team, hasn't exactly been lights out either having blown four save opportunities out of seven and walking a ton of hitters. Hopefully, with Cobb in the rotation the starters can begin pitching deeper into the games and lighten the workload for the bullpen.  Of course, that's something we hope for every year and have yet to see it happen.  But it's still April so we can still dream.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 4

Orioles Victory Number 4: 8-7 over the New York Yankees in 12 innings

2007 Topps Turkey Red Nick Markakis

When I left for work today I didn't think I'd have to write one of these after the game. As I turned off the T.V. and grabbed my heavy coat (serious snow flakes on April 9th? It's getting a bit out of hand) the Birds were down 5-1 and digging into a bullpen that had seen a lot of work over the last week.

Yet they chipped away and won, taking three out of four from the Yankees and showing signs of hope for the season. While not yet at the level of the 1989 Why Not? team, at least they've risen above the 1988 0-21 team.  It's nice to see the offense finding their footing a little bit, even if a lot of the offense was produced by Anthony Santander and Craig Gentry, not exactly the key cogs to the line-up.

Still, good teams have everyone chip in and while I'm not quite ready to label the Orioles as a good team, they at least are showing some heart.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 3

Orioles Victory Number 3: 7-3 over the New York Yankees in 14 innings

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Kevin Gausman

Yeah, yeah I know. It's only three wins into the season and I already failed to post a victory card before the next game. What can I say, a 14-inning game coupled with a 5:30 a.m. alarm conspired to make this post a little late.  It didn't help that the O's followed their late night victory with a 1:00pm start on Saturday (checking that score to see if I have to do a double post.  Nope. we're good.)

While all due credit goes to Pedro Alvarez for the dramatic extra-inning grand slam, how about another decent start from the rotation. The above pictured Gausman pitched 5 innings, struck out 3 and only gave up 2 runs to lower his ERA to 8.00 on the season. The fact that Gausman kept the new Murder's Row in the ballpark was impressive after the home run fest he had during his last start.
 That's the third decent start turned in by the rotation and gives some hope that they aren't going to repeat the tire fire that they were last year.

More offense from Manny Machado has he hit two home runs (quiet down with the talk of him taking a shine to his soon-to-be-future-home-stadium) and the beleaguered Chris Davis mashed his first tater of the season.

Three wins on the season now for the Birds, including two over the rival Yankees. They did drop Saturday's game, but have the chance to take the series on Sunday as Mike Wright, Jr. is scheduled to make his second start of the season.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 2

Victory Number 2 - 5-2 over the New York Yankees 

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Chance Cisco

When you start a project like this there are two things you worry about. First, that you won't be able to keep up and will drift behind and eventually give up. Luckily, that hasn't happened yet. My goal of posting a card following every Orioles victory before they start the next game is still intact after two wins.

The second thing you fear is that you have some sort of cosmic control over the outcome of ballgames happening a few hundred miles away. That, in some way, by celebrating every win with a cardboard image you are jinxing the team despite the fact that you are 40-some-odd years old and know better than to believe in things like jinxes or curses.

Yet here we are, or more precisely, he we were a few days ago with the Orioles suffering their fourth straight loss and honestly not being remotely competitive in any of the losses. At that point I wondered if this exercise in cardboard creativity was having some adverse affect on their play. We all knew the pitching would be suspect at best, but at least they'd be able to hit, right? Not so much as first the Twins pitching and then the Astros pitching shut their bats off.

With the Yankees and their line-up looming for the next four games, the likelihood of a 1-9 start to the season was not out of the realm of possibility. I also began to ponder if a 21 game losing streak following an Opening Day victory was just as bad as a 21 game losing streak to start the season (hello team of my youth the 1988 Orioles). The answer I came up with was no, but not by much.

Luckily one of the three late Spring Training signings and first man to rock a beard in a Baltimore uniform under the Showalter administration, Andrew Cashner, pitched six strong innings and the bats woke up enough to propel the team to a 5-2 win over Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees.  So good for them. Cashner picks up the first win for an Orioles starting pitcher on the season (despite Dylan Bundy's best efforts) and Chris Davis is hitting a respectable (for him) .250 when he's not leading off.

So, good job Orioles.  Let's see if you can make it two in a row and send Yankee fans into an early season meltdown.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Os Victory Card Number 1

After every Baltimore Orioles victory this season, I will be posting a photo of a card from my collection.  Yes, this is a blatant attempt to boost the number of posts I make this spring/summer. Yes, I will most likely not make it past 10 wins before I miss one or two.  Still, it's worth an attempt.  The cards will not have anything to do with the game itself (much like Upper Deck's Documentary series from 2008!). Some posts will be longer than others. 

Victory Number 1 - 3-2 over the Twins.

2018 Topps Opening Day Chris Davis.

The newest lead-off hitter for the Os didn't get any hits and walked once, but he only struck out once as well and saw a lot of pitches. So that's good.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Busting a pack on Opening Day!

Happy Opening Day! For the first time in history, or a really long time (I’m not going to look it up), almost all of the teams in the league are playing. There are no overseas openers that start at four in the morning four days before the rest of the league. It’s just wall-to-wall baseball starting at 12 eastern time and running late into the night.

To celebrate the return of our national past-time, I took the bus up to the local Target to get some new cardboard (and toothpaste. We were almost out of toothpaste). Not only did the store have some 2018 Topps fat packs (which I bought) they also had some Gypsy Queen. I think I’m going to like this Target a bit more than the one in Chicago.

Did I mention that I’m not in Chicago any longer? No?  Whoops, sorry about that. About a month ago The Duchess and I relocated to Pittsburgh. Why? Because we can. She works from home and I’m in the hotel business. So we’ve settled in to a much larger place for a lot less rent money and I’m looking forward to spending a lot of money at Pirates games this season.

And, based on what I’ve seen in one visit to Target I’ll be spending some money are cards there. To celebrate Opening Day, let’s take a look at one of the packs of Gypsy Queen. Target was selling them in packs of three with three exclusive green-bordered cards. It also came with a coupon for a free pack of Topps Opening Day which seems appropriate for today.

Card #1 - Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates

Well now. This a bit awkward. The former ace of the Pirates is still pictured in his Pittsburgh uniform despite his January trade to the Houston Astros for four unheralded players.  The Pirates rotation is currently listed as Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl and Joe Musgrove (one of the unheralded players that came back from Houston). Is that good enough to compete with the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals? Most likely no.

Card #2 - Melky Cabrera Kansas City Royals

Cabrera has now been in the league for 13 seasons. It seems like just yesterday he was a young prospect playing for the Yankees. Did he ever live up to his potential? Maybe not, but he was consistent throughout his career. He’s currently a free agent despite a 2017 season where he hit .285 with 17 home runs. Will he find an organization in 2018?

Card #3 - Sean Newcomb Atlanta Braves

Newcomb is part of the youth movement taking over in Atlanta. He had a bit of a wild start last season as he walked 57 batters in 100 innings. He also struck out 108 so there is a lot of potential in his left arm. So, the one design issue that is driving me crazy with Gypsy Queen - the position lettering in the top right corner. Every single pitcher card I’ve got I’ve thought has had the Pirates logo on it. I’d rather have the team logo there with the position in script below it, but that’s just a personal taste

Card #4 - Logan Forsythe Los Angeles Dodgers

Former Tampa Bay Ray alert! He was traded to the Dodgers last off-season for Jose De Leon and found himself in the World Series. Not a bad deal for the second baseman.

Card #5 - Corey Knebel Milwaukee Brewers

Knebel is apparently the Brewers’ closer. I did not know that. He saved 39 (3rd best in NL) games last season and made $538,900. Once again I don’t understand why teams pay closers more than $6 million a year. No I’m not bitter that the Orioles are paying Zach Britton $12 million to rehab his blown Achilles just because he can be a dominating closer. Knebel did get a nice raise to $3.65 million and then promptly tweaked his knee in spring training.

Card #6 - Andrew McCutchen - Pittsburgh Pirates

Oh wow. Topps is apparently seeking to actively hurt Pirates fans. Am I glad I got this pack instead of some 10-year-old Pirates fan who would have been crushed to see two popular players that were traded away for a pile of magic beans. That would have been like me busting a pack of 1991 Topps and seeing Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch in it. Let me tell you, Pirates fans are not exactly please with the roster moves that Neal Huntington made this offseason.

The Cole trade is understandable, at 26-years-old he is entering the prime earning years of his career. He was signed to a $6.75 million contract this season and that number was only going up next season and then he would be a free agent in 2020. Might as well deal him for something because they weren’t going to be able to afford to keep him.

Dealing McCutchen is different. Much like Evan Longoria in Tampa, “Cutch” was a fixture in this town. He had one more season left at $14 million and had earned the right to finish the contract out in a Pirates uniform. If he wants to stay, then work out a new deal. Trading him away for two prospects and international money is almost an insult.

And that's the end of the pack. The Os won in extra innings so all is good in the world for at least one day.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Signs of spring - A look at 2018 Series 1 Topps.

Normally, the first sign that it's almost time for spring training is the annual picking of the free agency carcass by Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette. In a normal year, most of the big names are gone leaving the Os GM to sign the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez or Yovani Gallardo. This year is a bit different as it seems no one is signing any free agents so there are no bones to pick over.  That means it's time to move on to sign number two that baseball is almost here - the release of Topps Series 1.

Looking through a few hundred cards of summer baseball action makes the foot of snow on the ground here in Chicago a little easier to bear. Buying a box of cards a few weeks before moving, probably isn't the smartest thing to do, but in the over all scheme of things, a hobby box worth of cards isn't adding that much to the grand scheme of things. So I wandered over to Elite Sportscards and picked up a box.

Let's get down to the cards....

The first card of the season was....

For the second year in a row, it's a Philadelphia Phillies position player. That doesn't bode well for the Phillies who finished 66-96 after I pulled Freddy Galvis  as my first card last year.  I will say that I like the Herrera card a lot. The layout is perfect for a horizontal card fits nicely with the placement of the logo and the nameplate.

I don't have any problem with the design itself. It's another full-bleed photo, which is nice. The logo may be a bit big, but not obnoxiously so. It's nice to be able to read the name and there is no unnecessary hard-to-read glittery typeface.

The back of the card...

I know people care more about the photos on the front than the stats on the back. I just wish that there would be more stats. My old man rant is they've gotten away from the full career stats on the back. I grew up with the ability to see an entire career on the back of a player's baseball card. It was impressive to see the numbers of someone who had been in the league for 10-15 years. I suppose it's nice to see what a player's Twitter handle is, but honestly, I'd rather have the stats, both new and old

The photography continues to be top notch. Honestly, the photos used for the base set rival what used to be used for Stadium Club. There are a lot of action shots, a good mix of horizontal and vertical cards. There is the usual mix of team cards, future stars, and checklists. The checklists feature odd pairings of players such as:

My least favorite card....

There are several reasons why I'm not a huge fan of this card. One, as a resident of Chicago, I've heard the "Bryce Harper is signing with the Cubs as soon as he's a free agent" story 1,001 times since since they've been in the majors. Yes, they are both from Las Vegas and are friends.   (Thank you to Scott for pointing out I'm an idiot. It's Kris Bryant that is from Vegas, not Rizzo. Still, that makes the card even dumber. Put Harper and Bryant on the card.) That's great.

The "Rizzarper" portmanteau makes my brain hurt. It just doesn't look right. Doesn't "Harpizzo" sound so much better? Hopefully Topps trademarked that term, because if Harper does join the Cubs, it's going to be plastered across a million bootleg t-shirts.

My favorite card...

A nice close-up of Travis D'Arnaud reaching fruitlessly for a foul ball in the stands. The impromptu nature of the card, the fact that it's one of the few day cards and the fan pictured under his glove recoiling from the action really appeal to me.

As usual, due to the early release of the set, there are some cards picturing players in their old uniforms. Which leads to:

Card that makes me sad....

I'm glad that Longo got one more card in a Rays uniform. It would have been a shame to see him airbrushed into a San Francisco Giants uniform. The trade really signified the end of an era for the Tampa Bay franchise. He was the last member of the 2008 team that marked the beginning of the Rays being a relevant team. He will be missed.

Card that makes me happy:

How can you not be happy seeing the best player in the game with a bid ol' smile on his face. This is not his base card. For the first time in a few years I managed to pull a short-print out of a hobby box. Apparently, one of the themes for the short-prints is showing the players in batting practice jerseys or sweatshirts.  As for the use of alternate photos in the set...I'm kind of over it. I liked it when the alternate cards were retired veterans, heck one of my cards of the year was a vintage alternative. Now, much like outdoor hockey games, there just seems to be too many of them.  Dial it down a notch, Topps.

Card that signals a new trend:

Last year, for the first time in two decades, Topps didn't leave out card #7 in honor of Mickey Mantle. Gary Sanchez got the honor of being the first non-Mantle player to feature on the #7 card since the Yankee legend passed away in 1995.

This year the card belongs to Clint Frazier, another young Yankee prospect. I liked Topps either leaving the card out of the set or printing a Mantle-memorial card. It was an interesting quirk that made sense, even if it did occasionally leave a blank slot in a card binder. However, it evolves into another quirk if Topps continues to use that spot for a younger Yankee player.  Could Justus Sheffield or Justus Sheffield take that place of honor in the future? It would be a nice way to continue to honor the history of the Yankees without going over the top.

Other hits and inserts from the box:

The relic or autograph promised by the front of the box is a simple white jersey of Michael Conforto. That's alright I guess. No need to get super-excited or super-depressed about it.

I knew I was going to like this insert as soon as it was announced. After all the 1983 set was one of my favorites, so seeing current players and veterans mixed in was great. Will I try and complete it? I don't know. We'll see how the year goes.

The parallels. A couple of golds (numbered to 2018) and a few foils.  Another insert that I can take or leave. I really don't see the appeal of the foil versions, they just seem a bit pointless.

The "advertisement disguised as an insert" card. Topps is promoting their daily, print-on-demand Topps Now product by showing their top selling cards from last year. I will do what I usually do and purchase any Orioles-related cards that come along.

The insert that looks really familiar. Superstar Sensations.  When I pulled the first one of these inserts I instantly associated them with last year's Five Tool inserts. Again, I'm neither over or underwhelmed by them.

Honestly I haven't even taken the time to look up what these two inserts are.  I'll get around to it at some point.

When I saw the sell-sheet for 2018 Topps and they mentioned this promotion I knew it was going to piss me off. Not because of anything Topps has done. In fact, I love it. The premise is simple: Get a card of a player and then pick the day he will hit a home run and then win a prize.  It's fantastic and I love everything about it except for one thing - I know that I will pick the wrong day.

Aaron Judge will most likely hit between 35-45 home runs this year.  He will not hit one on the day I pick him to.  I will put way too much research into figuring out a good day to pick and it will be pointless. If anything happens, he will most likely suffer a season-ending injury on the day I pick instead of hitting a home run. So, Yankees' fans, I apologize upfront for ending his season. Good thing you have 75 other players in your line-up that can hit 40 home runs.

Overall, I'm happy with the 2018 Topps Baseball set. I'm a few cards short of completion and will buy a couple of packs or hanger packs along the way before trying to trade my way to a complete set.

What do you all think about this year's release?