Monday, September 30, 2019

Evaluating My 2019 Predictions

And just like that, the 2019 MLB regular season has drawn to a close after 6 months of surprises, breakout performances, playoff pushes, and a lot of home runs.

I'll get into more of an in-depth recap of this year in Baseball later this week with a post that I'm still thinking about how to structure. For the time being, however, I'll be discussing and evaluating my division predictions for the 2019 season.

I've written my predictions for each MLB season as long as I can remember with 2018 being the first year that I showcased them on the blog. I don't remember how I fared last year, but I don't recall it going all that well.

This year, more so than the past couple of MLB seasons, there were a ton of surprises in regards to individual and team performances. These unexpected results were well pronounced in the final standings, for you'll see how close and far off I was in certain division races.

I also wrote award winner predictions for the 2019 season, but I won't be analyzing those until November when the BBWAA names their picks.

Beginning with the American League East, let's see how I fared.

AL East
Original predictions                           

1st Place; Boston Red Sox
2nd Place; New York Yankees
3rd Place; Tampa Bay Rays
4th Place; Toronto Blue Jays
5th Place; Baltimore Orioles
Actual results

1st Place; New York Yankees
2nd Place; Tampa Bay Rays
3rd Place; Boston Red Sox
4th Place; Toronto Blue Jays
5th Place; Baltimore Orioles

Aside from my overly-optimistic attitude surrounding the Boston Red Sox, I was fairly accurate in my AL East predictions. I knew that the Yankees, whether as division champions or wild card winners, would clinch a playoff berth, but I don't think anyone expected them to thrive almost as a result of all their injuries.

The Rays, in spite of designating C.J. Cron for assignment, a move that baffles me to this day, beat Boston out by 12 games for 2nd place. Now, they'll have to turn their attention to tomorrow's 1-game playoff in Oakland.

As for the placement of the last 2 teams, I don't think anyone is shocked.

AL Central
Original predictions

1st Place; Cleveland Indians
2nd Place; Minnesota Twins
3rd Place; Chicago White Sox
4th Place; Kansas City Royals
5th Place; Detroit Tigers
Actual results

1st Place; Minnesota Twins
2nd Place; Cleveland Indians
3rd Place; Chicago White Sox
4th Place; Kansas City Royals
5th Place; Detroit Tigers

At the beginning of the season, it seemed like a no-brainer that the Indians would capture the NL Central title for the 4th consecutive seasons. The Minnesota Twins, however, under rookie manager and former MLB player Rocco Baldelli, took MLB by storm.

I couldn't name the Twins' starting 9 if I tried, yet this club set the all-time record for most home runs in a season by a single team. Ultimately, they finished with 307 with the 2019 Yankees finishing right behind them at 306.

The White Sox were okay (.447 winning percentage), but the Royals and Tigers highlighted just how mediocre this division is aside from the top 2 teams. The 4th and 5th place finishers each had 100+ losses while the Tigers owned the worst record in baseball this season (47-114).

AL West
Original predictions

1st Place; Houston Astros
2nd Place; Los Angeles Angels
3rd Place; Oakland Athletics
4th Place; Seattle Mariners
5th Place; Texas Rangers
Actual results

1st Place; Houston Astros
2nd Place; Oakland Athletics
3rd Place; Texas Rangers
4th Place; Los Angeles Angels
5th Place; Seattle Mariners

It took 3 divisions, finally predicted a 1st place team correctly at the expense of the rest of the placements. It's to no one's shock that the Astros finished 1st in the AL West once again, but I, for one, did not expect the A's to win 97 games for the 2nd consecutive season as well as the home-field advantage for tomorrow's game vs Tampa Bay.

The Angels find new ways to disappoint me each and every year. Despite signing Mike Trout to a historic extension, they have failed to surround the potential 2019 AL MVP with players that will help the team win.

The Rangers were a bit of a surprise as well, finishing in 3rd place, just above the Angels, while I predicted them to be dead last. Looking back on it, Seattle would've been a smarter decision considering they entered full-on rebuild in 2019.

NL East
Original predictions

1st Place; Philadelphia Phillies
2nd Place; Atlanta Braves
3rd Place; New York Mets
4th Place; Washington Nationals
5th Place; Miami Marlins
Actual results

1st Place; Atlanta Braves
2nd Place; Washington Nationals
3rd Place; New York Mets
4th Place; Philadelphia Phillies
5th Place; Miami Marlins

Someone needs to explain to me how a Phillies team with such profound offensive talent finished 81-81, good enough for 4th place in the National League East. Out of all the surprises this MLB season, this one shocks me the most.

Who knows how much better the Mets would've fared if not for Edwin Diaz's disastrous 5.59 ERA. Even though the Braves captured the NL East crown last season, I figured that the young and inexperienced team wouldn't have what it takes to repeat.

Needless to say, I was wrong, just like how I predicted that the Nationals would need a few years to get back into the playoff picture following the departure of Bryce Harper.

NL Central

Original predictions

1st Place; Milwaukee Brewers
2nd Place; Chicago Cubs
3rd Place; St. Louis Cardinals
4th Place; Cincinnati Reds
5th Place; Pittsburgh Pirates
Actual results

1st Place; St. Louis Cardinals
2nd Place; Milwaukee Brewers
3rd Place; Chicago Cubs
4th Place; Cincinnati Reds
5th Place; Pittsburgh Pirates

It took them all 162 of their games, but the St. Louis Cardinals captured the NL Central title yesterday with a win over the Cubs, ending a 3-year absence from postseason play. Just like my #1 favorite team, the Cubs fell to 3rd place this year despite having a winning record. It just goes to show that the Red Sox, Indians, and Cubs aren't the top dogs in baseball anymore.

I didn't expect the Cardinals to beat out the Brewers for the division title, but it'll be interesting to watch this team play in October. As for Milwaukee, I foresee them falling to the Nationals in Wednesday's NL wild-card game.

NL West
Original predictions

1st Place; Los Angeles Dodgers
2nd Place; Colorado Rockies
3rd Place; San Diego Padres
4th Place; San Francisco Giants
5th Place; Arizona Diamondbacks

Actual results

1st Place; Los Angeles Dodgers
2nd Place; Arizona Diamondbacks
3rd Place; San Francisco Giants
4th Place; Colorado Rockies
5th Place; San Diego Padres

Aside from predicting the Dodgers' 7th straight NL West title correctly, this division was an absolute disaster for me. Though I had my reasons for placing the Rockies 2nd and the Diamondbacks last, baseball, more than any other sport, is full of unexpected outcomes.

Arizona, despite losing Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, and A.J. Pollock finished well above .500 and made a respectable run for the NL wild card. On the other hand, the Rockies suffered some major setbacks this season, due in large part to their starting pitching.

I've never been one to be overly accurate with my division predictions, and 2019 was no different from any other year. I did, however, make some pretty accurate choices, so I guess it wasn't all bad.

The award winner predictions, on the other hand, are an entirely different story.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

PC Overview; Johnny Bench

Back in the early months of 2019, I vowed to add the PC overview posts to my list of reoccurring series here on the blog, the others being frankenset pages and top 5 cards. Despite this wish, it has been over 3 months since I wrote one of these posts with the most recent being Cal Ripken Jr at the end of June.

In case you're unfamiliar with this type of post, PC overviews are a chance for me to discuss one of the many players I collect by going more in-depth.

Usually, I only get the opportunity to showcase my 5 favorite cards, but when it comes to PC overviews, I can show off cards and memorabilia that relate to the player at hand.

In the past, I've written about Ripken, Roberto Clemente, and Reggie Jackson. I find it easier to talk about retired players, since there's usually more material for me to work with, hence why I selected Johnny Bench for today's post.

Following last Sunday's trip to the Baseball card show, my Johnny Bench player collection rose to 159 cards. This includes the oldest card in the PC, a 1969 Topps All-Star rookie card that I purchased at the Mansfield show a few months back.

Bench only has 2 Topps cards from the 60s, his iconic 1968 Topps rookie and the 2nd year card above. Ideally, I'd love to acquire his actual rookie card once of these days, but I'm pretty happy with this card for the time being, especially because of what I paid for it.

The 159 cards that I have of Bench is good for 20th on my list of largest player collections, though the order is constantly subject to change. The modern products make up a significant portion of the inventory, meaning I appreciate the vintage cards from the 1970s even more.

Aside from the rookie cup card, I'd have to rank Bench's 1973 Topps Flagship card above as my favorite as far as vintage is concerned. I don't have all that many Bench cards from this decade, something I'm willing to change if I come across 70s cards for a reasonable price.

The majority of my Johnny Bench player collection is made up of "modern" cards (after the 1970s), most of which are from the 21st century. Thanks to the '69 Topps card, I have something of Bench from every single decade since his major league debut.

Back when Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck were around, Bench was featured in Baseball card sets left and right as one of the game's legends. Though Topps does the same thing, to a lesser degree, nowadays, it was completely different when there were 4 companies making sets.

The one area where my Johnny Bench PC is lacking is when it comes to serial numbered cards. Unlike active players, there aren't many numbered cards out there of the 13-time All-Star, so I have to do some closer looking if I'm to find any.

The one numbered card of Bench in my collection is a base card from 2010 Topps Triple Threads (#/1350). It appears that if I want to add to this part of the Bench PC, high-end products are the way to go.

In addition to cards, there are a few pieces of Johnny Bench memorabilia in my collection, the first of which is an oddball oversized print from the 1990s. I also have one of these featuring 5 members of the 1975 Boston Red Sox team, so I assume there's some reasoning behind the Cincinnati Reds' version.

Bench, Morgan, Perez, and Foster are expected choices, but the inclusion of Don Gullett intrigues me. He was respectable for a few years, but most of the others were Hall of Famers, and Foster was an MVP award winner.

There's no MLB license on this oversized photo, so there's nothing preventing Spectrum from choosing Pete Rose, though there's something cool about Gullet being featured instead.

Back when I first attended the Mansfield show, I picked up a set of 9 McDonald's glasses, paying tribute to some of MLB's legends. Out of the 9 spots in the checklist (I still haven't found the regional Carl Yastrzemski version), there were 2 players from the Big Red Machine, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

The promotional pieces came in a set for a very reasonable price, and I've kept them together ever since. I can't say I've been actively looking for the Yaz glass, but the last time I checked eBay, it was fairly expensive.

Honestly, even though I'd love to add some new 70s and numbered cards to my Bench PC, I don't really have to, because nothing can compare to this breathtaking piece of memorabilia. 

What you see above is a framed 1970s program from Wrigley Field, signed by Johnny Bench in the top left corner of the front side. It's not authenticated by any company, but my Aunt got this at a Cubs game back when Bench and the Big Red Machine were dominating the National League, so I have no reason to question its legitimacy.

There is a reasonable number of awesome autographs and memorabilia pieces in my collection, but I don't think any of them can compare to a signed program of the greatest catcher to ever live.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Frankenset Page #65

Hopefully, I'll be able to get back into the habit of posting regularly over the weekend, since I've missed a few more posts than I would've liked so far this month. Thankfully, I have the reoccurring frankenset series that I can always count on when I need ideas.

This page, #65 in the binder of 74, showcases cards #577-585 and covers 3 decades of MLB history (the 1980s, 2000s, and 2010s). 

#577 1989 Fleer David Palmer
In addition to the mediocrity of the Boston Red Sox, one of the biggest shocks of the 2019 MLB season was how disappointing the Philadelphia Phillies were.

Despite having Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen (though he got injured), and J.T. Realmuto, they were eliminated from playoff contention by the Nationals, who clinched a Wild Card spot earlier this week.

If nothing else, at least Harper has 12 more chances to make the playoffs in Philadelphia.

#578 2015 Topps Ender Inciarte
One of the more underrated players on a formidable Braves team, Ender Inciarte arrived in Atlanta via the Arizona Diamondbacks as a part of the Dansby Swanson trade back in December of 2015. 

A career .286 hitter with 113 stolen bases, Inciarte has won a Gold Glove award in each of his seasons so far with the Braves (2016-2018). He's been limited to just 200 at-bats this year, so I don't believe he'll continue this streak.

#579 1988 Donruss Gary Lucas
After 1985, the quality of the Donruss base sets deteriorated as the "junk wax era" commenced. Though the '86 and '87 designs were average, 1988 Donruss is one of the most uninspired and bland sets of that era.

I suppose I chose this card because of the California Angels uniform because I don't know how else '88 Donruss would make it to my frankenset.

#580 2007 Topps Garret Anderson
Given how today's game has become centered around the home run, it seems like we're seeing fewer and fewer highlight reels of catches like the one on Garret Anderson's 2007 Topps card. There's less of an emphasis on defense, contact hitting, and almost every other stat category in favor of homers.

With that being said, I'm buying into this craze a little, and I'll be keeping an eye on Pete Alonso this weekend to see if he breaks Judge's single-season rookie home run record.

#581 2009 Upper Deck Alexei Ramirez
Speaking of highlight reels, I always remember, for some reason, seeing White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez make the SportsCenter top 10 plays list on a semi-regular basis. 

A career .270 hitter, Ramirez enjoyed success during his time in Chicago, including a 2008 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up campaign when he was beaten out by Evan Longoria.

#582 1983 Topps Marshall Edwards
There have been plenty of 1983 Topps cards across my 65 frankenset pages thus far to the extent that anything I say about the set will likely be repetitive. So, I'll just reiterate how much I love these cards and move on.

#583 2016 Topps Didi Gregorius
As impressive as the Houston Astros are and as consistent as the Minnesota Twins have been, the New York Yankees should be the most feared team going into the postseason. 

After all, they're 102-56, and that's with Gio Urshela and Brian Tauchman starting far more frequently than superstars Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Didi Gregorius. 

I could dedicate a whole post to how many challenges this team has overcome, but, for now, I'll just wish the best of luck to whoever crosses their path in October.

#584 1983 Fleer Johnny Bench
I'm not sure how this Johnny Bench card ended up in the frankenset instead of the Bench PC, but I'm even more surprised to see 3rd base listed as his position on this 1983 Fleer card. 

I knew that Bench played other positions throughout his 17-year career, but I always assumed that catcher would be listed above all others.

#585 1984 Topps Dan Driessen
By the mid-1980s, few members of the Big Red Machine that won 2 World Championships in the 1970s remained in Cincinnati. Bench and Dan Driessen were among the players who stuck with the Reds, even after Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez all moved on.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

First Dime Box Haul in a While; Card Show Recap #23 Part 2

Despite how much I prioritize my ~250 player collections as the center point of my card collecting habits, it's been many months since I've come back from the card show with a dime box haul.

Though they used to be a common feature on the blog, my card collecting habits over the last several months simply haven't allowed for a proper all-dime card purchase. I took many weeks off leading up to and following the National, and I didn't make the dime bins a priority while I was in Chicago.

I know I have access to terrific dime boxes at my local shows, so I wanted to branch out at the NSCC. Even upon returning, however, I found it challenging to return to my old ways. Thankfully, a trip to my weekly card show, much smaller than the one in Mansfield, allowed for just that.

After all, it's hard to beat coming home with a bag full of dime cards following a card show, just waiting to be sorted, categorized, and properly stored.

Within a few minutes of scanning through the dime boxes, I always get a reasonable idea of what player, on this particular day, is going to appear frequently. Almost right off the bat, while searching through the bins on Sunday, I concluded that one of those players was Ken Griffey Jr.

The 13-time All-Star currently trails Greg Maddux by 8 cards for the #2 spot on my list of largest player collections, and these cards will definitely help to close that gap. I did, however, pick up a few Maddux cards, so we'll have to see where the chips fall, though I doubt anyone will ever catch Nolan Ryan (474).

I don't know when or if I'll ever bite the bullet and add the iconic 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr card to my collection. I know that I either want the card to be graded or in good enough condition to come back at an 8.5 or above.

With that being said, my collection, per usual, is all over the place, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to commit myself to add this prized piece to my collection.

Following my complete reorganization of the Red Sox and Cubs PCs over the summer, I'm now able to actively collect cards of my 2 favorite teams besides my player collections.

I don't have a PC for Heyward, nor Ty Buttrey, but these refractors were only a dime each, and I figured they'd be perfect for the PCs. The way I organized the various binders allows me to find any card I want fairly quickly. The next step? Categorize them all online.

Another of my projects from over the summer was the creation of new player collections to add to my already extensive list. Most of the newcomers are rookies from 2018, like Ozzie Albies and Rhys Hoskins, though it also includes superstars like Alex Bregman, Freddie Freeman, and Javier Baez.

Though I haven't made these new player collections official yet, I'm working to accumulate as many cards as I can just like any other PC. For a dime each, these 2 rookies are a heck of a deal.

Though I try to sample almost every available retail product as it's released, I still miss out on the majority of player collection cards. As a result, I frequently depend on the dime bins so I can hunt these cards down, whether it's a set that I buy a fair amount of (Archives) or a product that I've never opened a pack from (Diamond Kings).

Even though I purchased and opened a fair share of 2019 Topps Stadium Club upon its release, I still missed out on a few key cards for my player collections. Before the show, I wasn't familiar with Rivera nor Bank's card from this beautiful set.

I can sufficiently say that if I had known of the Banks card back when I first opened 2019 Stadium Club in June, it would've been strongly considered for the top 10.

As I mentioned, some players are simply more common than others when it comes to a given dime box haul, and this trip to the show was no different. In addition to Ken Griffey Jr, Padres legend Tony Gwynn showed up several times.

I haven't been collecting cards of the 15-time All-Star for all that long, but Gwynn seems to show up in dime boxes no matter where I go. I've only been collecting his cards for a few months, but he's already surpassed 30, not bad considering my hiatus from dime cards.

There's something so drastically different about each of these Roberto Clemente cards that makes me like them all the more. On one end, you have a classic black and white photo paired with a simple design, reminiscent of a fairly high-end product.

On the other hand, you have a retro-style card all about the 1970s. The design, uniform, and even the set name emulate the era incredibly well.

Oddly enough, these 2 cards were produced by the same company, Upper Deck, in the same year, 2001.

After not making much progress for a little while, I'm back on track to reach 500 cards of Nolan Ryan, my largest player collection, by the end of this year. Taking Sunday's purchase into account, I should be hovering around 480 cards, leaving 20 for the next 3 months.

I hope, obviously, to reach this goal and reach the 500-card mark for the first time, but I hope to get there with something besides Texas Rangers cards. Though the best years of his HOF career were spent in California, Topps loves to depict the all-time strikeout leader with the Rangers at every chance they get.

Even with the surplus of Nolan Ryan cards on the Texas Rangers, it felt great to pay the dime bins a visit again. After all, I don't know if I can go this long without them ever again.

Monday, September 23, 2019

He Can Only Go Up From Here; Card Show Recap #23

During a brief yet productive trip to my weekly sports card show on Sunday, I, with full knowledge of his disastrous performance against the Cardinals on Saturday, purchased my very first autograph of Craig Kimbrel.

Truth be told, this card has been a long time coming. I've been avidly collecting cards of the 7-time All-Star for well over a year and a half. In spite of his struggles, to put it kindly, since joining the Chicago Cubs, I can't give up on the most talented closer of this generation so easily.

From a positive standpoint, there's an incredibly low likelihood of Kimbrel further regressing in 2020 to the point where his ERA is worse than what he has with the Cubs this season (6.53). One can hope that Kimbrel will only improve from here, making this the perfect time to land my first autograph of his.

For less than the price of a blaster box, I landed this gorgeous on-card autograph from 2018 Topps Museum, serial numbered 16/25 copies. Throughout his extended free agency period, I was skeptical to purchase a Kimbrel auto due to his unknown fate.

Now that he's officially a member of the Cubs, however, I felt this was the perfect time to make this major addition to The Kimbrel Collection. Plus, the price point wasn't too shabby either.

More so than a position player and even a starter, a relief pitcher is going to experience his fair share of struggles if he doesn't pitch in an MLB game for 8 months. This partially explains the 31-year old's poor performance with the Cubs.

With Kimbrel under contract through 2021 and a vesting option in-place for 2022, Cubs fans want nothing more than for the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year to return to his prime.

His years with Atlanta and final 2 seasons in Boston proved that Kimbrel could be at the same level as legends like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

Though he basically lost the entire 2018 season, I have faith in Craig Kimbrel. I mean, if I'm going to collect him avidly and purchase an auto of his after that performance, it's pretty clear that I believe in his abilities.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Top 5 Cards; Dave Winfield

Throughout their 50 year history, the San Diego Padres have developed 2 of the game's greatest 5-tool players and guided these superstars to Cooperstown. First, we have the face of the franchise, Tony Gwynn, who spent all 20 years of his career in San Diego (1982-2001).

Then, there's Dave Winfield who spent the first 8 years of his 22-year career with the Padres before signing with the New York Yankees following the 1980 season. It's truly a shame that these 2 MLB legends and Padres icons never played a game together.

Nonetheless, Winfield accomplished terrific things in San Diego and beyond. He made the All-Star team for 12 consecutive seasons from 1977 to 1988. Though the league MVP award evaded Winfield throughout his career, his .283/.353/.475 slash line speaks volume to the kind of player he was.

After leaving New York, Winfield became a journeyman of sorts during his final years, ending up with the Angels, Blue Jays, Twins, and Indians before retiring in 1995. By that point, he'd eclipsed 450 home runs and 3,000 hits.

My Dave Winfield player collection currently sits at 85 total cards, most of which are from his days with the Yankees and Padres. As you'll see, those clubs are the only ones represented on this list.

#5 1984 Topps
After this '84 Topps All-Star card, featuring Winfield on the New York Yankees, the rest of this list will feature San Diego Padres cards only.

Aside from the fact that all 1984 Topps Yankees cards remind me of the Mattingly rookie, this card made the top 5 because it's on the same level as the fabulous Padres cards that I have of Winfield.

I almost always prefer to see Yankee pinstripes over their road uniforms, but there's something about all the elements of this card, from the picture to the All-Star banner (which I wish they'd use nowadays) that makes a terrific final product.

#4 2017 Topps Allen & Ginter
Retro-style products like Allen & Ginter and Archives are notorious for showcasing throwback uniforms, and with cards like this, it's easy to see why. Not only does the blue color splotch complement the jersey, but A&G is showing us a uniform that we rarely see on Baseball cards.

There are other San Diego jerseys that I've seen on cards, some of which you'll see later in this post, but I'm not familiar with the one above being printed on cardboard. Kudos to Topps for not taking the easy way out when it comes to this 2017 Allen & Ginter card.

#3 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen
There's something about cards from the first few years of Gypsy Queen (2011-2014) that never fail to impress me, but there's an added element of uniqueness to Winfield's 2011 GQ card.

As if the typical retro uniform and filter wasn't enough, we have an awesome and underused angle that pairs beautifully with the rest of the card. There's nothing too flashy or crazy about this card. It's simple, as far as the modern era is concerned, and it's gorgeous.

#2 1978 Topps
Technically, this card is from '78 O-Pee-Chee, but you can't tell the difference unless you look at the slightly lighter card back. Whether the card is O-Pee-Chee or Topps Flagship, this card from 1978 is outstanding. For virtually any other player, it would earn the #1 spot on a top 5 cards list.

The few times where I'm able to overlook the blandness of the '78 set is when the image is at a whole nother level than anything I could've imagined, and that's kind of how I feel about the card above. The black and yellow jersey may be one of the greatest things I've ever seen on a Baseball card in my life.

#1 1975 Topps
At the last moment, I swapped #2 and #1 on this list so that Winfield's jaw-dropping 1975 Topps card would narrowly edge out the '78 Flagship/O-Pee-Chee and end up #1 on the countdown. This copy of the card is slightly off-centered (the better copy is with my complete set), but that's not to take away from this spectacular and beautiful card.

The purple and pink color combination is perfectly representative of the '75 set, and the image is, dare I say perfection. The card doesn't need a flashy and vibrant jersey because we already get those colors from the base design. Topps, being smart, opted for something a little more subtle, and it couldn't have worked out better.