Friday, April 3, 2020

Upon Closer Inspection

My last blog post, which was far too long ago if you ask me, was a 1-pack preview of 2020 Topps Gypsy Queen that provided a brief insight into this year's release.

As I mentioned then, the pack was the first out of a hobby box that I ordered as a type of comfort during these times of uncertainty. With everything that's going on in the world with coronavirus, sometimes a box of Baseball cards is exactly what you need to take your mind off things for a bit.

I spent the next couple of days opening packs and making my way through the box. New releases, no matter the product, always have a sense of excitement surrounding them; this feeling is intensified when the set is one of your personal favorites.

Gypsy Queen has undergone numerous and frequent changes since its debut back in 2011. Some collectors don't deem it necessary considering that we have Allen & Ginter which comes out in July.

Admittedly, even I prefer A&G to Gypsy Queen, but Topps' reinventing of the latter over the past few years allows me to fully appreciate both sets for what they each offer.

The base set features a grey/cream colored border similar to the 2016 and 2018 designs. In the past, I've criticized Gypsy Queen for utilizing the same shade over and over again. Take, for example, 2011, 2014, 2017, and 2019, all of which, more or less, features the exact same colored borders.

However, I will admit that this is one of Topps' better GQ base designs of all-time. Playing off last year's set, there's a banner with the player's name, a frame around the picture, and an overall similar set-up, only with a different color.

I chose to feature 4 particularly stellar base cards above. From a shot of Stephen Strasburg as a base runner to Mike Yastrzemski at the plate at Fenway Park, little details like these can propel a product to new heights.

Between Series 1, Heritage, and now Gypsy Queen, I've definitely become familiar with the big-name rookies from this year's class, all of whose base cards appeared in my hobby box break.

Bichette, Alvarez, and Aquino all saw playing time in 2019 while Luis Robert is set to make his MLB debut in 2020, whenever (if at all) the season begins.

I know Topps wants to use him to make as much money as possible, but it still baffles me that Yordan Alvarez, who won AL Rookie of the Year with 313 at-bats in 2019, is just now being recognized as a rookie by Topps in the 2020 season.

The Fortune Teller "minis" (in reality, they're tallboys) have been around since 2017 while the Tarot of the Diamond cards made their debut the following year in 2018.

While orange wouldn't have been my first choice for Fortune Teller (I would've gone with a crimson color instead), the tarot cards look better than I've ever seen them look before. I particularly like how they have a slight modern influence while staying true to the concept.

These are the only 2 inserts in the product, highlighting that Gypsy Queen is more reliant on variations and parallels. Truth be told, there's no real need for another insert set, as it would prove challenging to find another concept so applicable to the GQ brand.

A Cincinnati Reds fan would be pretty pleased with the results of this box given that I landed not 1, but 2 parallels featuring players from the up-and-coming team. First came a black and white parallel, #/50, of 2nd baseman Derek Dietrich.

Then, a blue (or indigo, I'm honestly not sure) parallel of 3rd baseman and slugger Eugenio Suarez. I find it interesting, though Topps has done this for a few years, that the b&w parallels encompass the whole card, including the image.

The main attraction of Gypsy Queen, as I mentioned before, are the variations and SPs, and it seems like you end up with a reasonable number of them per 24-pack hobby box.

First, the Sandy Koufax is a high-number SP (#301-320 in the base set), all of which are retired players. The Hunter Dozier, on the other hand, is a fairly rare player's weekend jersey variation. A subtle inclusion this year that can be hard to catch, they're not my favorite cards, but I don't mind them.

The Ketel Marte in the bottom lefthand corner is a variation I'm not too crazy about the missing nameplate variation, which has been around since the 2017 release. Last up, a GQ logo swap and my first card of Anthony Rendon as a member of the Los Angeles Angels.

The 2 cards of LA players are easily my favorites of all the variations and SPs that I pulled.

The chrome cards made their return to 2020 Gypsy Queen as a 3-card box-topper, and while I wish they'd be apart of the base set so that we could still have the oversized Glassworks toppers, I can't complain too much, especially because of the lineup of players I pulled.

Juan Soto has to be one of the hottest young players in the game at the moment while Fernando Tatis Jr is a guy I'm literally dying to watch once the 2020 MLB season gets underway. I started "super" collecting him last year, but it'll be a lot easier now that he's no longer a rookie.

My final card was one of the previously mentioned top tier rookies from this year's class, Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette. The 22-year old's card is another one of my favorites from the base set, complete with an action pose and sunglasses.

There's also a chance for autographs and numbered refractors in the chrome pack and while I didn't land any this year, I pulled a blue Miguel Cabrera in 2019.

Each hobby box promises 2 on-card autographs, and I don't think I could've done any better in terms of teams. Never before have I landed hits exclusively from the Red Sox and Cubs, my #1 and #2 favorite teams in Baseball.

First up, Michael Chavis, who actually has a nice signature, and a player I'm excited to watch for years to come. He proved his power as soon as he made his MLB debut, and I see no reason why he can't become their 2nd baseman for the future, especially if he improves his contact hitting a little bit.

The Nico Hoerner autograph is another black and white parallel, numbered 48/50, and while I don't know a whole lot about him, I've heard his name being tossed around for a few years. Like Chavis for the Red Sox at 2nd, Hoerner could very well be the Cubs' shortstop for the foreseeable future.

And even if he doesn't live up to the hype, the combination of the blue ink with the black and white parallel is something special in and of itself.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Queen's Comfort

In these troubling and uncertain times, the best form of comfort, for some people, might just be a box of Baseball cards with game 7 of the 2016 World Series playing on TV.

On what would've been 2020 opening day, MLB went all out to please its fans, airing 1 re-run of an iconic game for each team on various streaming platforms. They've also used the MLB network to broadcast iconic matchups which is how I recorded the previously mentioned World Series game.

Though non-essential businesses have been ordered to close in Massachusetts, deliveries can still be made. I don't want, by any means, to order a surplus of unnecessary goods and overwhelm workers during this time.

Because of that, the 2020 Topps Gypsy Queen box that I got from Blowout will likely be my final online purchase for quite some time.

Like I do with most products, I'll start off by overviewing a single pack of 2020 Topps Gypsy Queen before, ultimately, getting to a full recap of the hobby box. I don't envision writing that until the weekend since I'm only halfway through at the moment.

But even from the pack design alone, you can tell a lot of attention to detail was exercised in the creation of this product. Bryce Harper wouldn't have been my first choice for the cover, but the color combinations work beautifully together and with his off-white jersey as well.

Each pack contains 8 cards, and there are 24 packs in a hobby box. Gypsy Queen has always been one of my favorite products, and I especially enjoy the direction the set has gone in since last year. Now, let's take a look at the 2020 release together.

#96 Xander Bogaerts
The Boston Red Sox may have traded the face of the franchise as well as their #2 starting pitcher to Los Angeles over the offseason, but seeing Xander Bogaerts' card reminds me of the dynamic duo that he and Rafael Devers were last season. Thus, I'm provided with a little bit of hope that this season is going to turn out alright.

Onto the set design which uses the same color as both the 2016 and 2018 sets. With all that the cards had going on last year, it's refreshing to see something a little simpler.

We have the GQ logo in the top left and the team logo in the bottom right along with the typical information that you'd expect to see on a Baseball card.

The only unnecessary element, in my opinion, is the team name; the small text combined with the presence of the logo renders it relatively pointless.

#192 Ryan O'Hearn
Admittedly, Ryan O'Hearn was somebody I was hoping I wouldn't have to run into now that the 2019 rookie class is in their 2nd season. His base cards and autographs, along with a few other players (Cedric Mullins), flooded last year's releases.

Hopefully, if nothing else, there will be a new crop of players to perform this task in 2020, so I'll at least be tired of new players rather than the same ones as last season.

#131 Colin Moran
The card backs are incredibly similar to what we saw from Gypsy Queen a year ago but with one major improvement; the card numbers are actually legible, not like the small digits, that Topps forced us to read in 2019.

This time around, you can easily see, for example, that Colin Moran is #131 in a set of 320 cards, but last year, the text was unnecessarily small. Even though the backs don't differ that much from one another, I applaud Topps so much for the change they made that I'm willing to look past it.

#250 Justin Verlander
Nice player collection addition here, though I must say I'm not particularly stoked to acquire new Astros cards these days.

#FTM-20 Fortune Teller Mini Aaron Judge
Since a massive overhaul was done on the set in 2017, a lot has changed surrounding the Gypsy Queen product. One of the constants through all of the shifts, however, has been the Fortune Teller minis.

The back of each card predicts with the particular player will achieve in the subsequent year. In this case, the "fortune teller" envisions that Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge will bounce back from 2 injury-plagued seasons by winning the AL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

#247 Ronald Guzman
There's not a whole lot for me to say about Ronald Guzman as I'm not very familiar with him, though I do find it interesting that Topps chose to have his leg extend past the frame of the image.

#74 T.J. Zeuch

#260 Zack Collins
Not to be confused with Zach Collins of the Portland Trail Blazers, White Sox catcher Zack Collins is expected to be yet another key contributor to this resurging team in 2020.

Overall, though I certainly have to see more before comparing and contrasting the 2, there are a lot of similarities between 2019 and 2020 Gypsy Queen, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

After all, Topps finally established an identity for the set last year after years of uncertainty, so now that they've got it down pat, I wouldn't mind another year of playing it safe before taking another risk.

Monday, March 23, 2020

2020 Predictions By Division: AL Central

Not even a day after I finished my 2020 AL East division predictions, MLB announced that Chris Sale would miss the entirety of the season due to Tommy John surgery, despite an announcement a few weeks back that contradicted the more recent statement.

I'd like to say that this announcement was a surprise, but Sale's been injury-prone since arriving in Boston in 2017. Arm and elbow problems have consistently landed him on the injured-list, most notably in 2019 when he was limited to just 147 innings.

Hopefully, there won't be any news headline that'll prove detrimental to my AL Central predictions. After all, with the season already scheduled to be significantly limited, the last thing I want is for any player's season to be cut even shorter, let alone ended before it begins.

With all of that in mind, let's talk about the AL Central division race, one that has been one of the least competitive in Baseball over the last few seasons.

This year, however, could be more exciting following an offseason in which the Chicago White Sox made some substantial improvements.

The Minnesota Twins, last year's division champs, set the single-season home run record before being swiftly defeated by the Yankees in the ALDS. It'll be interesting to see whether they have what it takes to repeat, or if another team will rise to the occasion.

As for the bottom 2 teams, I expect the Royals and Tigers to fight to the death for 4th place. Without any further adieu, let's take an in-depth look at the American League Central division.

1st Place: Minnesota Twins
The true test for the Minnesota Twins in 2020 will be consistency, an attribute that they've struggled with in the past. Following a Wild Card game appearance in 2017, for example, the Twins finished the 2018 season with a disappointing record of 78-84.

Fortunately, they soared to new heights in 2019, capturing the AL Central Division title and breaking the 2018 Yankees record for home runs in a single season, a feat I don't think anyone saw coming. To my knowledge, most of the team, including the 39-year old Nelson Cruz, will be returning for another crack at a World Series championship.

This team has a very talented, young core, both at the plate and on the mound, and I don't foresee any AL Central team taking the crown away from the Twins anytime soon.

2nd Place: Chicago White Sox
Signing Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnacion to contracts along with extending Yoan Moncada's have positioned the Chicago White Sox to be in the 2020 AL Wild Card hunt and, possibly take home the division title as early as next season.

Don't forget, Tim Anderson captured the AL batting title last year as well, meaning this Chicago White Sox offense can do it all. Eloy Jimenez, in what will be his 2nd season, also seems destined for great things.

But the true test to the strength of the Chicago White Sox will be when and how well Luis Robert can contribute to the team's postseason hopes. If he gets some solid playing time, I expect the White Sox to be in the hunt 'till the very end.

3rd Place: Cleveland Indians
The Indians may have gone 93-69 in 2019, but in my opinion, their window for winning a World Series championship has closed, and the team's front office seems to share that belief. Why else would they trade 2-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber for Delino DeShields Jr?

It seems like the Indians are throwing in the towel before the season starts, and if things continue at this rate, I wouldn't be surprised to see them shopping face of the franchise Francisco Lindor at the trade deadline.

Up against any other NL team in 2016, the Indians likely would've walked away from the World Series as champions. But they had to face the historic Chicago Cubs team, and ever since that game 7 loss, Cleveland hasn't come close to being the team they once were.

4th Place: Kansas City Royals
Last year, the AL Central featured 2 100-loss teams, the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers.

Although neither team is poised to make a run for a playoff berth, the Royals roster gives me slightly more hope than the Tigers, which is why it stands to reason that they'll beat Detroit out for 4th place for the second year in a row.

Whit Merrifield is one of the most underrated players in the game, and his all-around talents shine brightly along with the surging, power-hitting Jorge Soler, who led the AL with 48 dingers last year.

I don't know much about the team aside from those 2 players, but if they perform at the levels they did in 2019, Kansas City, if nothing else, can take home 4th.

5th Place: Detroit Tigers
A few years ago, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera seemed like a shoo-in for the 500 home run club. Now, at the age of 36, he's coming off missing the vast majority of the 2019 season, and his Detroit Tigers are coming off a season in which they lost 114 games.

I probably couldn't name 5 players on this Tigers team, a testament to how much they've regressed over the past few seasons without many signs of hope.

Truth be told, nothing's going to change for this team until Casey Mize makes his way to the MLB. Hopefully, he'll be the reincarnation of Justin Verlander for Detroit, and they can find success once more.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

2020 Predictions By Division: AL East

No, nobody knows quite when the 2020 MLB season will get underway. The league has stated that a mid-May start, at the earliest, is possible, but the unpredictable nature of the Covid-19 virus puts this in jeopardy. Truth be told, we may not see the regular season start until June.

But I've always done my predictions by division in March since my first full year of blogging in 2018, and this tradition is one that I'd like to continue. I also don't envision much changing between now and Opening Day.

It's things like this, analyzing each team in Baseball, organizing cards, that's going to get sports fans through this time of uncertainty.

Of course, the MLB season being delayed is far from our biggest program, but for fans who look forward to the season starting around this time of year, we need to find something to take our mind off of things.

Hopefully, the predictions by division can get me into that type of mindset while also preparing for Opening Day, whenever that may be.

Moving onto the main content of the post, the AL East division has the most significance for me, yet I've never predicted the final results correctly.

Following a disappointing finish for the Red Sox, a resilient Yankees team, and an offseason of improvement for the Blue Jays, I'm fairly certain that anything can happen.

1st Place: New York Yankees
In 2018, following their offseason acquisition of reigning NL MVP Award winner Giancarlo Stanton, I chose the New York Yankees to win the AL East division. The rest, as we know, is history; the Red Sox surged to 108 regular-season wins and, eventually, a World Series championship.

This year, after the Yankees added Gerrit Cole to the tune of $324 million, it stands to reason that New York will capture the division title for the second consecutive season. However, I'd much rather have a different outcome occur than for me to be right.

Still, the delayed start will allow guys like Stanton and Judge to become fully healthy by Opening Day, though the loss of Luis Severino to Tommy John surgery will definitely hinder their rotation.

But as we saw last season, injuries can't really keep the Yankees down. It didn't happen in 2019, and it likely won't in 2020 either.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox finished third last year with David Price and Mookie Betts, so it seems a little ridiculous to elevate them to second following the most irritating offseason I've ever experienced as a fan (and that's saying something).

However, I'm trying to remain hopeful that the World Series hangover was the cause of Boston's lackluster 2019 season, and that everyone can come back and stay healthy in 2020 (I'm talking to you, Chris Sale).

Devers, Bogaerts, and Martinez are laying the foundation of both the Red Sox's lineup and future while Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec are a couple of young sluggers that I'm eager to watch.

If E-Rod is lights out like he was last year and Sale comes back strong, there may be, if nothing else, a Wild Card berth in Boston's near future.

3rd Place: Tampa Bay Rays
At this point, the Rays might've been able to win a World Series if not for the organization's many, many poor moves. It's impossible to get into all of them, but trading Tommy Pham for Hunter Renfroe and a prospect ranks as one of the worst.

The Rays won 96 games last season almost despite the front office, but my rationale is that, at some point, the terrible moves are going to catch up with Tampa Bay, and their luck will run out.

They do have one of the youngest teams as well as one of the lowest payrolls in all of Baseball, but for whatever reason, Tampa's always been a seller, not a buyer, at the trade deadline.

Simply put, the organization doesn't seem determined to find success, and if you're not actively doing everything possible to win, it's not going to happen, not with all the talented teams competing for that World Series trophy.

4th Place: Toronto Blue Jays
I don't think anyone's disputing the fact that the Blue Jays are going to become a genuine playoff contender at some point in the next few seasons, but I just don't see it happening in 2020.

Despite offseason acquisitions that include NL Cy Young runner-up Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Blue Jays are too young to make a real push this season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette have laid the foundation for a very successful future, but they don't have a very deep roster as of now.

In a year or so, the Blue Jays might be making new moves, or new prospects could make their way to the MLB, but the team is a little too inexperienced to surge to the top of the AL East quite yet.

5th Place: Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles have finished in fifth place from 2017-2019 with the latter 2 seasons being absolute disasters for a team that as recently as 4 years ago was contending for and actually made the playoffs.

While no team can stay terrible forever, it's going to take a while for the Orioles to rise from 5th place and make some strides toward moving up in the division. Adley Rutschman won't be making his MLB debut for a few seasons, but he's a reminder, if nothing else, of hope for Orioles fans.

Truth be told, I don't know a whole lot about this team or its players, but I do know that anything besides a 5th place finish is highly unlikely.