Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #9: Update on the Card Collection

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 9: 8-1 over the Oakland A's

2005 Topps Rookie Cup Red Davey Johnson # 389/499

Slipped a little behind in these posts. The O's really need to stop winning on Sunday's and Monday's when I'm working. John Means pitched the O's to victory on Sunday as they snapped Oakland's long winning streak. Good for Means who is pitching like a true ace this season. He's definitely found the right mix between his 93-94 MPH fastball and his change-up. He can still dial it up to 96 if he needs to, but is so much more effective at 93. 

On Monday, I had a couple of packages in the mail and one of them was from loyal reader Chris, aka hockeydude over at TCDB. He had reached out to help take some cards off of my hands in exchange for some O's and Lightning cards. One of them is the Davey Johnson card above, a nice parallel from a fun set Topps released back in 2005 highlighting all of their Rookie Cup winners. Those cards found their way into a lot of repack blasters back when I was buying those.

He also included a nice Steven Stamkos card

That may be the first memorabilia/relic card I've picked up through a TCDB trade. The serial number (8) also ties in nicely with my daily post over at Raw Charge today. Many thanks to Chris, check his blog out over at The Collector

Along with the padded envelope from Chris, there was another one chock full of Lightning and Orioles cards/stickers. It was a rather large trade that knocked out some cards on my Eddie Murray and Vincent Lecavalier collections so I figured it would be a good time to see how all of my so-called collecting goals are going.

According to TCDB (in which I have about 98% of my cards currently logged) it looks like I have 109,762 cards jammed into the bedroom closet. That's not too bad. I figure I've added about 1,315 cards this year so far so the collection isn't growing that fast, but is redistributing rather nicely. 

It looks like I am up to 6,044 unique Orioles cards with 366 Eddie Murray cards. That is roughly 7.4% of the Murray cards in the database and puts me 11th among collectors on the site among the Murray rankings. I'm only 7 cards away from cracking the top 10 at the moment and hopefully with a little focus I can hit it in the next month or so.

Despite being one of my top PC players, he's not the number one Oriole on my list. That belongs to Cal Ripken, Jr, currently sitting at 493 cards. Part of the reason is that Ripken has a few box sets out there that I've picked up over the past year. Also, he was part of the Project 2020 series from Topps last year and I acquired roughly half of those cards so far. 

Over all I am 16th in regards to O's cards with a shot at moving up a few spots once a couple of trades come through.

On the hockey side I have 2,675 Lightning cards (with the Crunch second on the list at 50 cards). That's good for 6th on TCDB's ranking page. While I might not overtake the lead this year I do want to get close to 3,000. I just moved the collecting to a 3,200 count box so it would be great to fill that up. 

Lecavalier is the leader in my collection with 339 unique cards (Steven Stamkos is second at 169). I'm at 8.7% of the cards listed for Vinny4 which means there is plenty of opportunity to find cards in trades. I am second on the website in regards to Lecavalier cards, currently trailing the leader by 35 cards. I really have to buckle down and find trades for him for the rest of the year.

So that's where I'm at right now. Thank you to Chris and everyone else who has sent me their unwanted Lightning and Oriole cards!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #8: I got nothing

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 8: 7-5 over the Miami Marlins

2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects Mychal Givens

Well, this post is two days (and one loss) late. Wish is was because I was crafting something excellent for you to read. Unfortunately, it's not. I do like this card, though. It's always fun to see prospect cards for a player listed at a position they ended up switching from. As you may recall Mychal Givens did not make it to the Orioles as a shortstop. Rather he sent 5 1/2 seasons as a reliever that was occasionally dominant and occasionally extremely hittable. 

Last year he was traded to the Rockies at the deadline for Tyler Nevin, Terrin Vavra, and Mishael Deson. That could be a sneaky good trade for the O's on the road to a rebuild. Nevin and Vavra are ranked in the Orioles Top 30 prospects by MLB with Vavra coming in at 13th and Nevin at 23rd. Deson is a bit more of a project as he is only 18-years-old and has yet to appear in a game in the U.S. as he spent 2019 playing in the Dominican Summer League.

After a rough (I originally typed "rocky" but didn't want to go the pun route so early in the season) start for Colorado last season, Givens is back to throwing strikes in the National League. He has worked 8 innings, walked two (one intentionally), and struck out eight. He has allowed two home runs already (both at home) which is interesting because his flyball rate (14%) is way below his career average of 23.9%. If he puts together a strong year, he'll probably be on the move again this summer as Colorado is struggling in the standings (last place in the NL West).

The Orioles are hanging around in the AL East and have run their record back to 8-10 as their starters have done...okay. Their rotation was a huge question mark heading into the season, but they've probably gotten more than they've expected so far. The one major drawback is that, outside of John Means, the other starters haven't worked deep into ballgames, taxing a bullpen that features two Rule V picks.

On the other hand, that does give the team an opportunity to showcase a few arms to other teams that might be willing to add Paul Fry, Scott Armstrong, or Tanner Scott at the deadline. If Mike Elias and his staff can orchestrate a deal similar to the Givens trade, that will give them a few more lottery tickets in the system.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #7: Slow start for Trey

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 7: 6-1 over the Texas Rangers

2019 Topps Gold Trey Mancini

For the second game in a row the Baltimore Orioles found a little bit of offense to support a decent, but short, start from their pitching staff. It took a little while, as Dane Dunning shut them out over the first five innings, but once the Rangers bullpen became involved, the runs started flowing for the O's.

One of the key hits was an eighth inning double by Trey Mancini that broke a 1-1 tie. With DJ Stewart on second and Maikel Franco on first, the veteran outfield ripped a shot into left field that plated Stewart and the O's didn't look back from there.

For Mancini it was only his 10th hit of the season and 3rd double of 2021. He finished the game with a slash line of .172/.234/.379 with 3 home runs and 11 runs batted in. Yes, those numbers are well off his usual numbers, but it's early in the season and a lot of players are scuffling through April. And not all of them missed an entire year due to a battle with colon cancer.

I'm pretty sure that even if his numbers don't improve (they will) he's a sure fire lock to win the American League Comeback Player of the Year, an award that no Oriole has won in it's brief, 17-year existence (now is the point where I'm a little sad that 2005 was sixteen years ago). 

As Andrea SK at Camden Chat pointed out in a larger piece on the overall struggles of the O's offense prior to the Texas series, some of Mancini's peripheral stats aren't that bad.

"If you’re secretly wondering if maybe Mancini isn’t quite “back” from Stage 3 colon cancer, his peripherals—especially hard-hit percentage, barrel percentage, and max exit velocity, all top two-thirds of the league—should put those worries to rest. A better explanation for his struggles might be that he’s seeing fewer pitches in the zone (41.3%, compared, say, to 49.5 in 2018), and chasing more. The good news is: there’s nothing wrong with Boom Boom’s strength."

At this point the best thing for Mancini is to get reps. It's hard enough as it is to hit major league pitching, now imagine trying to do it after missing a year. It'll take awhile for him to get back to recognizing pitches and locations. As Andrea pointed out, when he barrels it up, things are just fine. He's just not at the point where he's getting a lot of solid contact.

According to his Baseball Reference page, his batting average on balls in play (BAbip) is only .189. His career mark of .316 is well above the league average of .298. When Mancini is in the groove he is rocketing line drives, mostly to right-center. He's hitting way more ground balls than he has in his career (60% vs. 51.3% career) and pulling it way more (45% vs. 24% through his five years with the Orioles). With the increase in ground balls he's already hit into a league-leading 5 double plays. At least players are getting on base ahead of him.

I'm pretty confident that as he sees more pitches throughout the season those numbers will move back to normal for him. It's early in the season and with two or three multi-hit games like he had on Saturday his numbers will skyrocket back up. Mancini is never going to be a guy challenging for the batting average title, but I won't be shocked if he ends up around .275/.325/.850 with 20-25 home runs and a ton of doubles by the time September rolls around.

He's getting a day off on Sunday, which with the entire time being off on Monday, gives him a nice little break to clear his head and make sure he doesn't get into too many bad habits by pressing. At some point the entire Orioles offense will come around and I'm pretty sure Trey Mancini will be a key part of it.  

Orioles Victory Card # 6: Still in the trade game

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 6: 5-2 over the Texas Rangers

1991 O-Pee-Chee Ben McDonald

The O's managed to keep the losing streak to just two games (and only a day!) as they dropped a double-header to the Mariners. They had passable pitching in both games as Matt Harvey and Bruce Zimmerman pitched well enough to pick up some victories but the Baltimore offense couldn't come through against Seattle.

They did bounce back in the first game against the Texas Rangers as they managed to put up five runs (two more than they did in fourteen innings on Thursday). Cedric Mullins picked up two more hits and D.J. Stewart hit his first home run of the year. Good times!

As for me, I had a couple of trades come in through the mail. While everyone is jumping into the sports card market and dropping thousands of dollars on boxes they have no intention of ever opening, I've been plugging away picking up cheap Orioles cards through trades. 

I'm not going to lie, after getting furloughed at the beginning of the pandemic last spring, trading cards with strangers online was one of the few things that helped get me though the days (that and Porch Beers with The Wife). Putting together trades, pulling cards, and walking to the post office was a great way to kill a couple of hours every day. So that was nice. I'm not sure how many trades I made last year, but it was quite a bit. 

The Orioles collection has grown while the duplicates of other random players has dwindled. Yes, I have managed to sell a few cards along the way. Not enough to cover what I've spent already (I'm lucky to have a pretty good local card store) but, enough to fund a few decent single card purchases here and there. 

Oh yeah, that reminds me about my quest from last year where I wanted to give away 2,000 cards more than I took in over the year. Did that happen? Nope. I believe I ended up about even, but the dream of reducing the collection by one entire shoe box went by the way side. No, quests this year, but I am tracking the ins and outs to see how many I add. (So far the number is +1212).

One of the cards that came in a recent trade is pictured above. It's a 1991 (an underrated set) O-Pee-Chee Ben McDonald. But, wait you say, how do you know it's an OPC? It says "Topps" on the front. Well, I know because it came from a Canadian collector and he had labeled it as such. If I had seen this card in the wild, I wouldn't have noticed because the only way to tell is to look at the back of the card.

There is the tell-tale sign - French. Also, down in the bottom right corner is the OPC information. I'm slowly putting together the O's team set from these cards (along with all of the other Orioles cards in existence). It's a cool little variant (and another Eddie Murray to track down). 

Ben is filling in as the color commentator on some of the O's games this year as well as calling SEC baseball. One of the neat things is that he will, at some point, get to talk about his nephew, Mac Sceroler. The big right-hander was picked up by the Orioles via the Rule V draft from the Cincinnati Reds. He, along with Tyler Wells, are a couple of Rule V kids trying to stick with the ball club all year long.

Sceroler went to college in Louisiana like his uncle, not LSU but Southeastern Louisiana University (alma mater of former O, Wade Miley) before being drafted in the 5th round by the Reds. He made it all the way up to A ball in 2018 and 2019. It'll be tough for him to make the jump all the way up to the majors, but the O's are going to try and work him into low-leverage situations. With their starting rotation there will be plenty of chances for innings.

Here is Uncle Ben talking about Mac prior to the season (Ben's segment starts at about the 4:30 mark). McDonald is a pretty fun voice to have in the booth. With his easy going nature and Southern drawl it's just a treat to listen to him break down baseball (and say "Orioles"). 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #5: Checking in on an ex-O

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 5: 8-7 over the Seattle Mariners

2020 Topps Gypsy Queen Hanser Alberto

After a sweep by the Red Sox, the Orioles managed to right the ship with a walk-off win against the Seattle Mariners in the second game of a double header. They had battled back to send the first game into extra innings, but couldn't pull off the victory. In the second game they battled back from a four-run deficit, blew a two-run lead, and then won in the bottom of the 7th when Ramon Urias lined a single back up the middle that plated Rio Ruiz with the winning run.

Currently, Urias is the only reserve infielder on the roster. That's the joys of having a 14-player pitching staff along with 5 outfielders currently. It'll be interesting to see if that changes throughout the season, or when Austin Hayes returns. Ryan McKenna is most likely to go back to the alternate site once Hayes is healthy, but it's also possible that DJ Stewart may go back down as well.

One of the reasons that Urias is on the roster at all is because the organization opted to let Hanser Alberto walk in the off-season. The amiable infielder went through a waiver journey prior to the 2019 season where he was claimed four times, twice by the Orioles.

He rewarded them with a fantastic season slashing .305/.329/.422 in 139 games while playing second, third, left field, and right field. He also tossed an inning of relief. All together he posted a 3.6 WAR, not bad for a waiver-wire pick up making $578,000.

That was good enough to bump his salary in 2020 to $1.65 million, a figure he agreed to with the Orioles prior to going to arbitration. He justified the raise in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season as he slashed .283/.306/.393.  While the numbers weren't as gaudy as what he posted in 2019, he absolutely destroyed left-handed pitching with a .375/.396/.521 slash line. For much of the season he was hitting well over .400 against lefties. The numbers are slightly more impressive when you realize that he doesn't walk, like ever. He posted 2.9% and 2.2% walk rates in his two seasons with the Birds.

In a sense, he's the opposite of the modern day hitter, and a throwback player that was more prevalent in the 1970's and 80's. He doesn't hit the ball hard (82.3 MPH average exit velocity), but he doesn't strike out a lot either carrying a 12.3 K rate over his career. He sprays the ball all over the field, pulling the ball just 36.6% of the time over his career. 

Another good season on a bad team meant he was looking at another raise in the off-season, to the tune of over $2 million. The Orioles decided they didn't want to pay that and non-tendered him. At the end of January the Kansas City Royals signed him to a minor-league deal that would guarantee $1.65 million if he made the roster and another $350k in potential bonuses.

It was kind of odd that all he could garner was a minor-league deal, but teams might have been concerned about his low walk rate and tendency to swing at anything vaguely resembling a strike. Well, their loss is the Royals gain. With a strong spring training he earned a spot as a back-up infielder. While he's not going to unseat Whitt Merrifield as Kansas City's starting second baseman, he should find plenty of playing time backing up Merrifield, Nicky Lopez at short, and Hunter Dozier at third. 

So far in 2021 he's appeared in seven games and started four. Early on  his bat is taking time to warm up: .222/.222/.389. In the limited sample size, he's actually hitting better against righties (.235) than lefties (.200), but he's only had five plate appearances against southpaws so far. That number will go up as the season moves on.

Not only is he a useful ballplayer, he has fun on the field and his teammates really seem to enjoy playing with him. 

I can understand why the Orioles would let him go this season. He isn't going to be part of the next contending team and they wanted to do as much as possible to slash their payroll, but it really sucks that he's not playing in front of fans in Camden Yards. It's players like him that help make a long season tolerable. Hopefully they appreciate him in Kansas City and he gets a shot at the post season.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card #4: Streak Breaker

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #4: 4-3 over the New York Yankees

2021 Panini Donruss Anthony Santander

It took a couple of extra innings, but the O's finally beat the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. They had lost their previous twelve games in New York so it was nice to finally get one. It was Anthony Santander that played the hero as he homered and threw out the tying run at home plate in the 11th inning.

To celebrate I picked up a box of 2021 Panini Donruss. Did I pay too much for a product that doesn't have a MLB license? Probably, but it was still a fun rip. There are a ton of parallels, some numbered, some not, and each box has, on average, three autographs or memorabilia cards. I pulled two autos and a Kirby Puckett jersey card. The base cards are fairly nice with a simple design. 

They do take variations to a new level with nickname versions of the player (Jose Altuve is "Gigante") and the city (St. Louis is "The Lou").  I think there are mask variations as well. 

If this was priced below $100 it would be a perfect box to rip. Will I buy more? Depends on what else is available. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card #3: Sweeeeepppp

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 3: 11-3 over the Boston Red Sox

2006 Upper Deck SP Legendary Cuts Cal Ripken

I'm not going to lie. I wasn't sure I was going to resurrect this series this year, waiting until literally the last minute to start writing about the O's. So, it's not a surprise that I wasn't expecting them to win three games in a row. The good news is that I do have plenty of new Orioles cards to post, just not sure what to write about.

So, it'll be a short one today. The O's took the Red Sox to the woodshed on Sunday to complete the sweep while getting decent starting pitching from Bruce Zimmerman. Seeing the offense click was nice as well and gives me some hope that at least a portion of the wins will keep coming throughout the season. Austin Hayes getting hurt was a bummer, but Cedric Mullins raking through an entire weekend softens the blow a bit.

Now the Yankees loom large, and they aren't in a great mood having dropped two out of three to the Blue Jays. A couple of wins over the next few days will really get people talking about the Birds.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card Post #2: The New Guys help out

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #2: 4-2 over the Boston Red Sox

1991 Leaf Ernie Whitt

While the future of the organization is heavily reliant on home-grown talent, the present needs some help from outside of the organization. On Saturday, it was three guys brought in from other organizations that helped key the win. 

First it was reclamation project Matt Harvey getting the nod as the starting pitcher. "The Dark Knight" made it into the fifth inning while allowing only two runs. It wasn't a dominating start as he scattered six hits in his 4.2 innings of work, but he only walked one and touched 94 mph with his fastball a couple of times. It'll be interesting to see how he progresses throughout the season as the number two pitcher on the staff. The best case scenario for the Orioles is that he continues to make solid starts and some teams in contention come calling and the O's can move him for some more prospect depth.

Following Harvey in the game was Adam Plutko, a reliever that Baltimore picked up in a trade at the end of Spring Training. He worked out of the jam he inherited from Harvey and pitched 2.1 innings of shutout ball to pick up the win. Plutko is one of many bullpen arms that is expected to work multiple innings in games throughout the season as the young starters get used to the major leagues. There are going to be days when the starter doesn't get out of the third or fourth inning and the bullpen is going to have to stretch it out. 

On the offensive side it was Maikel Franco providing the big hit with a two-run single. Another late addition to the roster, Franco is in the same boat as Harvey. A solid start to the season with the O's could lead to a trade to a contender later this summer. In the meantime he fills a hole in the line-up at third base.

This season is going to be a nice mix of young prospects and veterans looking to rebuild their career. Is that a formula built for a successful playoff run? Not really, but based on just two games it looks like the O's are at least going to be a bit frisky early on and teams won't be able to take them lightly. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card Post #1: Not a bad way to kick off a season

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 1: 3-0 over the Boston Red Sox

2020 Topps John Means

The first win is out of the way, that means there will be no 0-21 start! It's the little things in life that matter when you root for a team that realistically has no shot at making the playoffs. So, it's always nice to start the season with a win. That goes doubly so when the win comes at the expense of the Boston Red Sox.

As for the game itself, John Means looked like the ace of the staff. Rookie Ryan Mountcastle had the big hit. The bullpen locked it down and Rio Ruiz is apparently the second coming of Roberto Alomar at second base. It was also nice to see the other team make a crucial fielding error that led to extra outs and runs for the Orioles.

Means was dealing in his first career opening day start and really seemed to have figured out the fine line between throwing heat and mixing in his most effective pitch, his change-up. Last season when he returned from injury throwing 94-95, he seemed to get away from using his change-up to get hitters out and tried to over power them which led to some not so pretty results. Against the Red Sox he backed it down a bit and took a little more off the offspeed, which kept the hitters way off balance.

As for Mountcastle, it looked like he was going to greet his first opening day with a grand slam but the Green Monster (and perhaps the slightly deadened 2021 baseballs) turned it into a double. Still, it was an excellent at-bat for the rookie as he turned on a pitch well inside and muscled it onto the wall. He probably won't sustain the crazy .398 BABIP he put up in his truncated season last year, but it looks like he's still driving the ball when he makes contact.

I don't have many expectations for the O's this season. Try not to lose 100 games, get some quality looks at young pitchers like Dean Kramer and Keegan Aikin. Hopefully Austin Hayes is healthy for the entire season and Cedric Mullins rakes as a pure left-handed hitter. The payoff for the rebuild is still two years away at least (although they could be a frisky young team next season). 

The best part is that baseball is back and on schedule to play a full 162 games. Settle in for a long, hopefully enjoyable, season.