Friday, June 10, 2022

2022 Topps Heritage Blaster - One Pack a Day "Break" - Day IV

 Now we're in the groove. I'm currently writing this up at a Starbucks in the greater Tampa Bay area because I needed to get out of the house for a little bit. Visiting family is great, but there is only so long that you can stare at the walls. 

It's kind of funny that everyone around me seems to be working on some serious stuff. Lots of school books out on tables for the middle of June. Then you have me, sitting alone and taking crappy cell phone photos of baseball cards (yes I wiped the table down first). Gotta love being a low-paid blogger some days. Here we go with today's pack.

#362 D.J. Stewart

Back-to-back Orioles! Well, kind of. Mullins was the final card of the last pack and Stewart was the first of this one. The only problem, Stewart isn't currently on the 40-man roster. It was a bit of a surprise this spring when Baltimore DFA'd him, but unfortunately there is a glut of outfielders in the organization and the emergence of Anthony Santander kind of crowded him out. He is is still with organization and recently returned from the injured list in Norfolk.

#241 Tim Anderson

As they say, you don't walk out of Tuscaloosa and Andersen has seen very few pitches he doesn't think he can't hit. With a lifetime batting average of .290 and an on-base of .318 you can tell he doesn't take many free passes. His career walk rate is just 3.5% which is awesome. Go up their and hack, kid. 

#264 Jurikson Profar

Another player that you wonder what could have been if injuries hadn't slowed him down at various points in his career, Profar has settle into a defense-first, play anywhere in the field kind of guy. After debuting as a middle-infielder with Texas he's spent most of the last few years in the outfield playing more than 20 games in left, center, right, and first base in 2021. He even chipped in 10 games at second base last season. He had some pop at points in his career with back-to-back 20 HR seasons.

#343 Luis Torrens

Another member of the young group of players in Seattle, Torrens has just 563 at-bats over five seasons in the majors. He's still only 26-years-old and showed decently in 2021, the one year he saw somewhat regular action. In 378 plate appearances he slashed .243/.299/.431 with 15 home runs. He hasn't found the seats yet this season in 93 PA, so that's a bit concerning.

#394 Emmanuel Clase 

A Topps All-Star Rookie trophy card! Probably my favorite reoccurring subset in Topps sets. Clase throws 101 and has a 94-mph slider. Seriously, how does anyone hit major league pitching.

#68 Home Run Leaders

The nice thing about these leaders cards is that it's a cheap way to get a card with some legends on it. I can get a 1965 Topps Mantle for $40 raw or I can get a 1965 HR Leaders card that has his face along with Harmon Killerbrew and Boog Powell on it for just $12.50. As a cheap person I'm going $12.50 all day long. Plus, BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGG

#273 Hoy Park - RC

Pirates rookie card! Get your next Yankees star cheap. Okay, that may not be the case with Park as the 25-year-old doesn't crack the Pirates top prospects list. Also, he was already with the Yankees as he signed with them as a free agent in 2014 before heading to the Pittsburgh organization in a 2021 deal for Clay Holmes. Park was called up last week when Ben Gamel went on the IR, but sent down the next day later after the Pirates acquired Yu Chang from the Guardians.

#138 C.J. Cron

Hit bombs. That's pretty much Cron's approach to baseball. It's worked well for him as he's hit 160 HRs in 3054 at-bats for a 4.8% career HR%, well above the league average of 3.0%. He's done it without striking out that much. The University of Utah product strikes out in  22.7% of his at-bats, just above the league average of 21.8%. Not a bad way to earn an estimated $23 million in salary over a 9-year period.

#165 Rodolfo Castro - RC

A Pirates rookie hot pack. Sweet! Castro had 5 home runs last season. They also happened to be the first five hits of his major league career. In case you were wondering, yes that is a record. Here's how his career started:

SO - swinging

GO to first

GO to third


SO - swinging


PO to first

SO - swinging

SO - looking

GO to second

GO to short (double play)




GO to second

SO - swinging

GO to short

FO to center

FO to center

GO to second

FO to center



That's an interesting first nine games. At that point he had a .238/.269/.833 slash line with 5 HRs and 7 RBI. His first non-HR hit came a few days later and it was a ground-rule double. His first hit that actually stayed in the park came a few days after that and was a ground ball single up the middle. So far this season he has 14 hits and just one of those is a HR.

Running count through four packs

Inserts - 1 (Baseball Flashback)

Parallels - 1 (Chrome Refractor)

Short Prints - 1

Wander's - 0

Orioles - 2 (Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart)

Thursday, June 9, 2022

2022 Topps Heritage Blaster - One Pack a Day "Break" Day Three

We're back with the third pack of the break and we pick up an insert and an Oriole! Not a bad pack for a retail blaster.  

#142 Logan Gilbert

We ended the last pack with a Mariner and we start this one with one. Logan Gilbert with the sneaky double first name name. He's off to a nice start in his second season in Seattle with a 5-2 record, 3.09 FIP, and 167 ERA+. 

#26 Charlie Blackmon

Blackmon is a member of the three-time draft club having been picked by the Marlins in the 28th round of the 28th round of the 2004 draft, the Red Sox in the 20th round of the 2005 draft, and finally the Rockies in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft. He's now in the 12th season of his MLB career and is two hits shy of 1500 for his career. While he's definitely enjoyed a Coors Field bump, his road stats are still respectable at .262/.318/.426 with 85 of his 200 career home runs.

#199 Ryan Zimmerman

Another recently retired player, Zimmerman made his debut for the Nationals in 2005, their inaugural season in the nation's capital. He struck out as a pinch hitter against Atlanta's Jim Brower. A mere 1,799 games later he retired after the 2021 season as the franchise leader in games played, at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBI, strikeouts, runs created, extra base hits, and times on base. He may not be a hall of famer, but he'll definitely have his number 11 retired by the organization.

#332 Jason Heyward

The first round draft pick of the Braves burst onto the scene in 2010 with an all-star season where he hit 18 home runs, slashed .277/.393/.456 and posted a 6.4 WAR as a 20-year-old. Not too shabby. After five seasons with Atlanta he would be traded to St. Louis in the ill-fated Shelby Miller deal as they knew they wouldn't be able to afford his big free agent contract. Heyward signed that big deal with the Chicago Cubs - 8 years, $184 million. 

He never quite lived up to that big money, posting just 9.2 WAR during his 7 years with the Cubs and it's looking more and more like he won't make it to the end of the contract (which expires after next season). 

#364 Franmil Reyes

It looked like Reyes had his breakout season last year as the then 25-year-old belted 30 HRs, knocked in 85, his highest totals since 2019 when he racked up 37 home runs between San Diego and Cleveland. Injuries have slowed him a bit to start this season as he's struck out 57 times in 145 plate appearances with just 3 bombs. The 39.3%  SO% is well over his career 30.3% number. If he can come back healthy, the Guardians could make a run at the NL Central. They may be 25-26, but they are only 4 games back of Minnesota.

#13 Buster Posey

The recently retired parade continues with a possible Hall of Famer. Buster Posey (who I still think of a 24-year-old prospect and not a 34-year-old veteran) hung up the tools of ignorance after a 12-year career with the San Francisco Giants. With 1500 hits, a MVP, 3 World Series, rookie of the year, a batting title, and a five-time silver slugger award his numbers make for a borderline Hall of Fame career. 

#BF-5 Bench Hammers Three Homers off Carlton (1:18 packs)

This insert takes us back to May 9th, 1973 (I was -3 years old). The sideburns are long, the pants are tight and checkered. Watergate is in the news, Columbo is on the TV and Johnny Bench is socking dingers for the Cincinnati Reds. On this day he belted 3 home runs off of some lefty named Steve Carlton to give the Reds a 9-7 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. After homering in his last at-bat the night before, Bench was credited with 4 home runs in 4 at bats, which tied the National League record. With a chance to set the record in his final at-bat, he grounded out. 

When asked about it after the game, he told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "I couldn't help thinking about Roberto Clemente. He hit three homers and drove in eight runs against us and the Pirates still lost the game."

It wasn't the first time he'd gone deep three times in a game, either. On July 26th, 1970 he went yard a trio of times against the St. Louis Cardinals. The guy on the mound that day - some lefty names Steve Carlton. 

#143 Tommy Edman

The back of the card highlights an unusual play from last season. The Cardinals had runners on second and third against the Brewers when Edman drilled a 2-0 change-up to deep centerfield. Lorenzo Cain (hey, we got his card in yesterday's pack!) made a nice leaping play to catch the ball and quickly flipped it to Avisail Garcia. It wasn't fast enough to prevent Harrison Bader from tagging up at second and following Edmundo Sosa across the plate for the rare 2-run sacrifice fly

#232 Cedric Mullins

Our first Oriole! In a bleak season for the Birds, Mullins was a shining beacon as he became the first player in Orioles history to post a 30/30 season. He also showed that the COVID-shortened 2020 wasn't a fluke and that his decision to drop switch-hitting was the right one. He slashed .277/.337/.451 off of lefties after spending his entire professional career hitting from the right side against them. Also, this is an uncorrected error card as they have his name listed as Cedric Boyce Mullins on the back and according to Baseball Reference it should be Boyce Cedric Mullins. 

Inserts - 1 (Baseball Flashback)

Parallels - 1 (Chrome Refractor)

Short Prints - 1

Wander's - 0

Orioles - 1 (Cedric Mullins)

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

2022 Topps Heritage Blaster Box - One Pack a Day "Break" Day 2

 Wow, just the second day into this thing and I'm already a day behind. I'll blame the fact that I am on vacation and that time is just a construct instead of the actual reason - laziness. That being said I did have a nice little day  and enjoyed some of random things  I like to do when I'm back in the area - Cuban sandwich and spicy gumbo from Tampa Cuban, drive down Alt-19 and see the water, over to Tampa and stop at a museum (Florida Museum of Photography this time) and a nice stroll along the Riverwalk before heading to a hockey game.

The Lightning won and a good time was had by all (except all of the Rangers fans that came down here to get sunburned and watch their team lose back-to-back games). Enough about me, though. You're here for the cards. Let's get right to it.

Pack #2

#90 Vidal Brujan - RC

We kick things off with another Tampa Bay Ray! It's the other Ray Rookie folks were excited about last year. Currently the 4th ranked prospect in the organization according to, Brujan has scuffled a bit at the plate so far in his major league career with a .115/.163/.146 slash line in 34 career games.

#174 Lorenzo Cain

Here we have Cain pictured reflecting on his long (12 seasons) career. Now in the final season of his 5-year. $80 million deal it's likely that things are near the end for one of the best defensive outfielders of his generation. He's now in that unenviable position of seeing his playing time reduced as the Brewers look to the future in the outfield, still it sounds like he's willing to accept that role and see what the future holds.

#150 Shohei Ohtani

Hey, hey it's Shohei! The beauty of Heritage is that there are SEVEN different versions of this card. Alas, this is just the regular base as far as I can tell, but it's still cool to have the card of the reigning MVP.

#234 Mark Melancon

Are we sure Melancon isn't a left-handed reliever? He's put together a Jesse Orosco-esque career that has now spanned 14 years and and 9 teams. Coming off of a 2021 where he saved 39 games for the San Diego Padres, Melancon has scuffled a bit in his first season as the Diamondbacks closer but still has 11 saves (despite a 1.800 WHIP).

#66 2021 Saves Leaders

It's a Mark Melancon hot pack! Here he is smiling away in his Padres uniform with an equally happy Liam Hendricks. Gotta love those league leaders cards.

#367 Cal Raleigh - RC

It's a rookie card. Quick. Slab It and Flip It! Or, you know, just go ahead and throw it in a box and wait for a Mariners collector to trade/sell it to. Raliegh may not be hitting for average (.163), but he does have a little pop in his bat (6 HRs in 95 plate appearances this year) so he's your typical modern day baseball player, I guess. 

Ohhhhh.... the next card was backwards in the back!

Variation? Chrome? Auto?

#458 Johnny Cueto - SP

Nope, nothing uber-special. It was just the standard short print for cards numbered 401 and above. Cueto is with the White Sox this season for his 15th season in the big leagues.

#126 Taijuan Walker

It's been almost a decade since Walker was a can't-miss prospect with the Seattle Mariners. Injuries have sent his career on a different path, one that has led to the Mets and a decent (but healthy) start to this season. He's 3-2 with a 3.28 ERA in 9 games.

#281 Colton Welker - RC

Welker had his first taste of the major leagues in 2021 with 37 plate appearances. It might have been more if didn't have to serve an 80-game suspension for PED use as well. Injuries have also hampered the progress of the former 4th-round pick. Just last week it was announced that he would be undergoing shoulder surgery. 

Running count through two packs:

Inserts - 0
Parallels - 1 (Chrome Refractor)
Short Prints - 1
Wandar's - 0
Orioles - 0

Monday, June 6, 2022

2022 Topps Heritage Blaster Box - One Pack a Day "Break"

 I'm currently on vacation in Florida. Hanging out with some family and have a ticket to Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers. Other than the fact that I forgot how much fun it is to do anything in humidity, it's a nice relaxing break from my, well, not so stressful regular life.

While on some errands we stopped at a Wal-Greens and they happened to have some cards behind the counter. So, on a whim, I picked up a blaster of 2022 Topps Heritage. I have no plans of collecting this set. I wasn't even going to go out of my way to get the Orioles out of the set (already grabbed one of the Ryan Mountcastle relic cards from a dollar box). So consider all of these cards available for sale (unless of course I pull something that I really, really want). 

Let's see how we did with Pack Number 1

#363 Yandy Diaz

How appropriate. I'm in the Tampa area and the first card pulled is a Ray.  

#59 Matt Chapman

In the grand tradition of Heritage as an early season release, Chapman is pictured as an Oakland A. He was traded to the Blue Jays on March 16th, so there is an outside chance he is pictured in his Toronto uniform in the extended series release.

#111 Tucker Banhart

Barnhart joined the Tigers in a November 2021 trade and is scuffling along with a .226/.258/.252 slash line.

#233 Josh Harrison

Harrison had a brief stay in Oakland as he was part of a deadline deal between the Nationals and A's. He finished out the season there before signing with the Chicago White Sox in the off-season. 

#6 Liam Hendricks

Speaking of the Southsiders, Liam Hendricks is next up. Unlike some of the previous players in this pack, Hendricks is off to a strong start in 2022 with a league-leading 16 saves. 

#47 Yasmini Grandal

White Sox hot pack! We're back on the struggle bus. Grandal is slashing .163/.274/.213, but he does have 2 home runs!

#334 Bryan De La Cruz RC - Chrome Refractor #92/673

Hey now, a retail hit! According to the back of the wrapper these refractors come 1:176 per pack in the blasters. It ain't sexy, but I'll take it. Love me some shiny cards. In his second year with the Marlins, De La Cruz is playing part time, but has put up 8 stolen bases in 37 games. After working his way up through the Astros organization De La Cruz was traded to the Marlins in 2021 and had a pretty decent rookie campaign.

#374 Kyle Seager

We follow that card up with our first retired player card. Seager announced his retirement in December of 2021 after an 11-season career with the Seattle Mariners. In nine of those seasons he posted 20+ homeuns and finished with 242 in his career. A nice solid career.

#89 Whit Merrifield

I'm pretty sure Merrifield is the active leader in trade rumors per season in the league. It seems every summer the Royals infielder is involved in speculation that has him getting moved to a contender. As of now he hasn't moved and continues to be a steady performer in the middle of the field for Kansas City. Not sure if you know this, but he's led the American League in stolen bases three times in his career and is currently ranked 14th among active players with 166. 

That's pack number one. We'll be back tomorrow with the next one. If you see anything you like, hit me up in the comments. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The backs of cards and other things


While at work earlier this week I noticed that the flags at the convention center across the way were at half-mast. I found it a little odd since, despite the unending amount of terrible news flung at us on a daily basis, there didn't seem to be anything that warranted the President needing to order the flags lowered. I also dragged myself away from my desk long enough to peek up at our flags to see that they were ratcheted all the way to the top. So, that led to me to think this was a state ordered decision.

In fact, it was. The Governor had ordered the flags at half-mast for all state-run buildings, which apparently the convention center is, to honor Col. Gail S. Halvorson. It wasn't a name I recognized, nor would I expect anyone else to know who this Salt Lake-native was. Luckily, I had some free time and access to Wikipedia so that led to a quick run down a rabbit hole.

Col. Halvorson passed away on February 16th at the distinguished age of 101. While that alone is commendable, it's what he did as a relative young age of 28 that led to the honor dispatched to him by the man at the top of the chain in Utah. If you do the math, you can figure out that Col. Halvorson was part of the so-called greatest generation, one of those that was in his twenties during World War II and like so many others volunteered for military service. He ended up flying C-54's for the U.S. Air Force right after the war and was part of the Berlin Airlift.

If you're not familiar with the Berlin Airlift, imagine a fleet of airplanes supplying an entire city with it's daily needs of food and fuel. Your quick history lesson. After World War II, Berlin was divided among the conquerors. East Berlin, West Berlin, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, all that stuff. From June of 1948 to May of 1949 the Soviets blockaded all the land routes into the portion of Berlin controlled by the Western Allies.

In order to make sure the people living in those areas didn't starve to death, the U.S., England, and Australia flew in the supplies needed on a daily basis. It's estimated that over 2.3 million tons of supplies (mostly coal) were delivered by air during that time. Our friend, Col. Halvorson was one of the pilots flying the cargo planes dropping off those items.

While he on the ground in Berlin, the Utah-native would walk the city taking photographs and noticed some children watching the planes take off and land from the airport. He also noticed that those kids had next to nothing so he provided some gum to them. When he saw how they reacted to the small treat he was inspired to do more. So he told them that the next time he was flying over to make a cargo drop he would also drop some candy to them. They would recognize his plane because he would wiggle his wings as he flew over. 

So he did. With home-made parachutes made out of handkerchiefs, Col. Halvorson dropped candy and treats that he had pooled together with some of the other members of his squadron. Just like that "Operation Little Vittles" (a takeoff of the official "Operation Vittles" name for the Berlin Airlift) was born. As an unofficial operation at first, he made the drops about once a week. However, as word of it spread, it received official endorsement by the military and by the time it ended in May of 1949 over 23 tons of sweetness had floated from the skies, buoyed by over 250,000 tiny parachutes.

Col. Halvorson was dubbed Berlin Candy Bomber, among other nicknames, for his humanitarian efforts. When he returned to the States he married his college sweetheart, Alta Jolley, and continued his service in the Air Force while attending Brigham Young University. He had a long career working in the technical and research side of things helping to design, among other things, plans for manned reusable spacecraft.

The candy drops he inspired continued well after World War II as Col. Halvorson helped organize similar efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Guam, Japan, and Baghdad. Among other honors he was a centerpiece of the Congressional Gold Medal.

So what does all of this have to do with baseball cards, the subject this often neglected blog is supposed to be about? Col. Halvorson's story is one of those fascinating little facets of history, often neglected by traditional learning institutions, woven into larger tapestries of well-known events.  This is why I love history and majored in it in college (sorry for the waste of money, parents). It's also why I always loved the little factoids on the back of baseball cards.

Yes, the stats were always nice to see, especially when Topps would list out the entire career of a 20-year veteran in type so small even a 12-year-old would need seemingly need a magnifying glass to read. As much fun as it was to see how many hits Marty Barrett had in 1987 (164) it was the random factoids that interested me much more. Remember, as a child of the 1980s I didn't have the internet. Any baseball knowledge I accumulated came from magazines like Baseball Digest, Sports Illustrated, or Inside Sports (or if I had saved enough money for the game and didn't blow it on a flat coke, maybe a team media guide). 

There were also the tales our elders told us, but many of those, while making for good stories, probably weren't true or distorted to the point of legend instead of actual fact. What did we know, again we didn't have the internet to fact check the stories.

So, a lot of little pockets of knowledge, most of it mundane (from his 1991 Topps - Bob Walk led the Eastern League with 135 strikeouts in 1970), but every once in a while there would be something that sticks out. Kind of like on the back of Joc Pederson's card above.

Who doesn't like a story about waffles? A quick internet search of "Ian Happ waffles" generates plenty of results so it isn't like this fact is new, but back in the day, outside of a passing mention by a broadcaster on TV or radio, reading about the waffle maker on the back of a card would have added some character to the card and player.

Much like the story of The Berlin Candy Bomber adds a human dimension to the story of the Berlin Airlift, these little anonymous factoids on the backs of cards add a little something other than just numbers. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Orioles Victory Card Number 17: The Struggles of a Rookie

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #17: 10-6 over the New York Yankees

2021 Topps Heritage Ryan Mountcastle/ Bobby Dalbec Rookie Stars

The O's are currently riding a three-game losing streak thanks to a beating put on their pitching staff by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays, conjuring the ghosts of the '27 Yankees who got into shape just down the street from Tropicana Field, mashed out 32 runs in the three-game series against a Baltimore pitching staff that has careened directly into beleaguered status.

Overall they haven't won back-to-back games in almost three weeks and have just four wins in their last sixteen match-ups. I guess we should have been expecting this at some point. The pitching staff was patched together (to be kind) and the reliance on the bullpen early in the season has taken a toll on the bullpen. The chances of things improving are pretty remote, but hopefully they stabilize a bit over the next couple of weeks. 

The offense hasn't been able to cover for the mistakes of the pitchers, but it hasn't been a total train wreck. They are mired in the lower third of the league and the .231 batting average isn't pretty (neither is the .297 on-base percentage) but they aren't the worst in the league. They haven't been no-hit yet either, and with the way those have been handed out so far this year, it's kind of a surprise.

Part of the struggles can be tied to the heart of the order. While Trey Mancini has righted his season (currently slashing .274/.341/.518 with 39 RBI) his fellow "M" brother, Ryan Mountcasetle is still scuffling along. There were high hopes for the second-year rookie after his scorching debut last season.

So far, it's been a struggle for the youngster. He's riding a .214/.239/.325 slash line with 3 HRs, 16 RBI, and 3 stolen bases. The kid can run, which is nice. Mountcastle has played roughly the same amount of games this year than he had last year and the difference in numbers is quite drastic. The number that stands out to me is his 30.7% K-rate.  It's the highest number he's posted in his professional career by a pretty wide margin (except for a brief 10-game stint at Aberdeen) and well above the 21.4% he posted last year.

Watching his at-bats this season it looks like he's struggling with pitch recognition a bit. There are times when it seems he is guessing at a pitch and letting it rip. When he's right, he's making solid contact, but more often than not he's wrong and swinging through the pitch. It seems like the numbers are baring that out a bit as well. He's swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone (40.7% vs. 38.1%) and taking more called strikes (12.9% vs. 9.2%). 

The good news is that when he does make contact he is hitting the ball harder than he did last year as his line-drive percentage, average exit velocity, and barreled-up percentage are all up this year. He just has to find a way to make more contact. 

There has been some talk of possibly sending him down to the minors to get his confidence back a little, especially with the outfield getting a little crowded with Anthony Santander's return scheduled for this weekend. It might help him get in the right head space if he goes down and mashes some AAA pitching, but it doesn't fix the overall issue of recognizing and reacting to major league pitching.

Playing and seeing more pitches is the only way Mountcastle is going to get better at that. And that means playing him. This is a lost season. Having him getting at bats isn't going to keep this team from making a playoff run. It might be a good idea to keep him out of the outfield for a little as his defensive numbers haven't been great. Still, he can DH and mix in at first base a little with Mancini while he works on his hitting.

Perhaps we got a little too excited with his debut last year, but his early struggles shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm for his future. Repetition will help him recognize how pitchers are working him during his plate appearances. As that improves, so will his numbers and he'll get back to driving the ball all around the yard. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Orioles Victory Card Number 16: An early look at the Orioles MVP race

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 16: 4-1 over the Boston Red Sox

2019 Bowman Platinum Cedric Mullins

I can't help but feel the O's have been waiting for me to post before they win their next game. Their last victory was literally a week ago and I haven't updated the site since then. That's on me. Sorry about that O's fans. It hasn't helped that they've run into a couple of pretty good teams from New York. The Mets swept them in a short two-game series and now the Yankees are on the brink of a three-game weekend sweep of the Birds.

The O's have come close. In the first game against the Mets they led 2-1 heading into the ninth after another strong start by John Means. Unfortunately, the normally reliave Cesar Valdez couldn't lock it down and they lost on a walk-off fielder's choice by Patrick Mazeika who accomplished their rare feat of garnering two game-winning RBI before before picking up his first major league hit.

Just the other night, they once again led late in the game, this time the seventh inning at home. The victim was Travis Lakins who left a pitch out over the plate and pinch hitter Gio Urshela deposited a three-run homer in the stands to turn a 4-2 lead for the Orioles into a 5-4 defeat. Bummer.

They are still struggling to hit consistently, although Trey Mancini is rounding into 2019 shape. The starting pitching outside of Means is wildly unreliable and the bullpen is starting to show some wear after heavy usage through the first 39 games of the season. Still, there have been some bright spots in the line-up, and despite it being less than a third of the way through the season, I figured it's time to highlight some of the early contenders for MVP for the ballclub.

1. John Means: 4-0, 1.21 ERA, 53 K, 10 BB, 52 IP, 351 ERA+, 2.91 FIP, .712 WHIP

He has been the definition of an ace pitcher. What's an ace? It's the pitcher that goes out and gives the team a chance to win no matter what the circumstances are or who the opponent is. That's exactly what Means has done this year. He's made 8 starts this year and has surrendered more than two runs only once, three in five innings against the Mariners on April 13th, while giving up one or zero runs in six of his starts. 

He has gone at least six innings in six of his starts, including his last five in a row. Four times he's pitched seven innings or more and he's been fairly efficient with his pitches, topping out over 100 only twice, with one of those being the 113-pitch no-hitter against the Mariners.

Coach Brandon Hyde skipped him in the rotation this week in order to manage his innings a bit, why burn him out early or risk an injury this year? With a little more offensive support, the O's have scored three or fewer runs in five of his starts, he could be flirting with the idea of a 20-win season. That would be something.

The weird thing is, that his underlying numbers aren't that far off from his career averages, which indicates he could sustain this a bit longer. His strikeout rate (28%) is a little higher than his career average (21.6%) but as far as batted ball rate his line drives/flyballs/groundballs rates are all in line with what he'd done over parts of four seasons. He most likely won't maintain a .152 batting average against, but his career mark of .218 is still below major league average. 

2. Cedric Mullins: .316/.379/.520 6 HR, 12 RBI, 1.9 WAR

The most surprising part of of Mullins' bounceback season is the .352/.407/.537 he is slashing against left-handed pitching. Formerly a switch-hitter, Mullins abandoned hitting from the right due to a lack of success at the major league level (.147/.250/.189). It was a switch he had contemplated for some time due to the effort it took to work on his right-handed swings. After finally committing to it in the off-season, the payoff has been tremendous.

With a short compact swing, he's able to stay on the ball and drive it against southpaws and righties alike. Other teams have to wary about shifting on him too much due to his bunting ability and it's opened up some holes for him.  He's been making solid contact all season (with career highs in average exit velocity (87.6 MPH) and line drive percentage (40.7%). Mullins has also already set career highs in hits (48), doubles (11), home runs (6) and RBI (12). 

The fact that he is hitting left-handers so well allows Coach Hyde to keep him and his defense in centerfield every day and shift Austin Hayes over to left field. That puts two pretty good defensive outfielders in the game at the same time which should have a positive effect on the pitching staff. Mullins defense approaches the elite level, he is currently second in range factor as a center fielder (Oakland's Ramon Laureano is first) and first in defensive putouts.

3. Adam Plutko: 1-0, 1.27 ERA, 21.1 IP, 14 K, 9 BB, 339 ERA+, 2.68 FIP, 15 games

For a pick-up that came at the tailend of Spring Training, Plutko has been a savior for the Orioles bullpen. With non-Means starters routinely struggling to get through the fifth inning the O's have needed someone to step in and work the middle innings effectively. Plutko has been that reliever. His 15 appearances is third on the team, trailing only lefties Tanner Scott and Paul Fry, but his 21.1 innings pitched leads all relievers by a comfortable margin. 

He's allowed just one earned run over his last eleven appearances and just three runs total over the seasons. His inherited runners scored rate is a little lofty at 47%, but he's been put in some tight spots. In seven appearances he's come into the game with two or more runners on base. Three times he's wiggled out of those jams without allowing a run at all. 

A lot of his success can be pointed to the fact that he is getting opponents to hit the ball on the ground. Throughout his career roughly 30% of the balls put into play off of his pitches were grounders. This season his ground ball rate is 42.4%. Needless to say that plays well in Camden Yards. Less fly balls mean less home runs and his HR rate is 1.2% this year compared to 5.0% over his career. 

Could the O's move him into the starting rotation due to his success? Possibly. He does have a starter's pedigree where he worked out of the rotation for most of his time in Cleveland. Doing so, however, would remove a vital piece of the bullpen from Coach Hyde. It's more likely Plutko will get dealt to a contender sometime this summer if he keeps up his success.