Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stadium Club is Okay, I Guess

An extremely myopic view of the latest Topps revival.

After reading a lot of rather negative things on the Twitter about this year's Topps Stadium Club release, I was expecting an envelope full of turds and razorblades when I won a couple of Listia auctions featuring these new cards. Instead, I think we're left with a set design that could have easily been 2004 Stadium Club or some other "lost" Stadium Club year.

I'm also basing my opinion on two cards won for peanuts on what's ostensibly a free/barter-style auction website and not something I sunk over $100 of real life money into. Stadium Club at its heart was always sort of a premium set, but not really a high end set exactly. At least, that's my overall impression of it. I quit collecting cards in 1993 and only resurfaced after the brand name had been retired. The zombie version that came out in 2008 wasn't bad looking, but was hilariously flawed as collectors spent either $20 a hobby pack or $2.99 a retail pack for mostly the same cards. (In some cases, $2.99 blasters were found, but this was like due to a Target pricing error and not a complete Topps screwup.)

This version, price points aside, at least looks like a credible sequel to what came before it a decade or two ago. We even get a distinct picture of the player on the back of the card. While I really don't like hobby exclusive sets because hobby stores are generally a painful and out-of-the-way experience around these parts, I don't mind these base cards. They do scan a little bit better than they look to the naked eye, though.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Good Luck Ducks, Week 8: A Decade of Dominance

After a rebound win, Oregon faces their bitter rivals to the north.

Admittedly, I was pretty down on the Ducks last week going into the UCLA game. Jake Fisher returned to the offensive line and made a huge difference, as Marcus Mariota was no longer sacked every other play and the Ducks grabbed a comfortable lead on unfriendly turf. I'm not entirely convinced all is right, as according to head coach Mark Helfrich, Oregon missed an alarming 24 tackles to the tune of 186 extra yards gained by the Bruins. Even uglier were the points put up in garbage time by UCLA, who was another recovered onside kick away from making things interesting in a game that was ridiculously out of control in the third quarter.

I'll tuck away my grumpiness for now, though, because it's Washington week. Back when I was still a teenaged college geek, I got to witness The Pick in person, which I can still say is the single greatest sports moment I've witnessed live. I'm not even sure what I've seen on TV that beats it, either. 20 years later, Oregon will be wearing throwbacks that resemble their 1994 jerseys on the field today, which fills me with even more warm-and-fuzzies. Not only that, but after 10 consecutive wins over the Huskies, things are lined up for a big time Ducks celebration night.

So nothing could horribly wrong, could it? Ah, but my lack of confidence still lingers. Oregon has shown an inability to tackle a scarecrow in the last couple of games, and the concerns about the offensive line probably aren't going away for the rest of the season. Marcus Mariota used to take off and run as an element of surprise, but now he's mostly doing it for survival. It's a good thing that he's incredibly fast for a quarterback, but I still have visions of Dennis Dixon's bones crumbling to dust whenever I see an Oregon QB run for his life.

Oh, but I haven't even mentioned the Huskies yet. Well, I'll let the above image speak for itself. The third column is the name of the team that was victorious, in case you couldn't figure it out. Steve Sarkisian bailed on the formerly elite Washington program to coach the formerly elite USC program this past offseason, and UW ended up luring Chris Petersen away from the sinking ship that is Boise State. Washington brings in a 5-1 record on the season, same as Oregon. The difference between these two programs right now couldn't be larger, however. With the amazing looking uniforms and a little extra bit of confidence, I think that this will be a solid win for the Ducks.

"Improbable!" The lesser seen TV broadcast of The Pick and the aftermath.

Game time is 5:00 PDT with national coverage on Fox Sports 1. Go Ducks!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Airbrushed Fridays: 2007 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH27

It's the first of four consecutive days without baseball. Thanks, Giants.

Who is he? Yusmeiro Petit is most currently known as the NL Pennant winning Giants safety valve. The Venezuelan came up as a starting pitcher, but has had little success at it in any of his three stops. The Giants moved him to a bullpen role for much of this season, but he's recently flourished in a long relief role.

How did he get here? Petit was an undrafted free agent and still very young at the time this card was printed. He came up with the Mets, but was involved in the Carlos Delgado trade which brought him to the Marlins. After a rocky debut (9.57 ERA), the Fish sent him to Arizona for Jorge Julio (yikes). Petit would spend a few years toiling with the Diamondbacks before dropping out of sight for a few more years. His claim to fame now is his 6 shutout innings in relief in an 18 inning NLDS game between the Giants and Nationals this month. He's found his way to the biggest stage with San Francisco now, and I don't think there's anyone who can't appreciate this kind of story -- even someone who wants to kill all things Giants with fire at the moment.

Repeat offender? No

Other versions of this card: None

Airbrushed Score: 8

Comments: Doesn't. Look. Real.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rooting for the (Previously) Unrootable

All eyes on you, Lackey.

I was pretty grumpy about the trade that brought John Lackey to the Cardinals as the non-waiver trade deadline approached. I was never a fan of the guy, and the trade sent away a popular cost-controlled young arm that had shown some promise in his time with the Cardinals. The Red Sox also received what's left of Allen Craig just to rub it in. And while I'm not going to argue that Joe Kelly could have or would have won a playoff game here in October, I know what I'm stuck with as I root for this team to battle their way through the playoffs.

While Lackey's results after joining the Cardinals were less than inspiring, the point has been made over and over again that St. Louis brought him over for his playoff voodoo. And yes, he has experience. And yes, he had a nice outing against the Dodgers and could well be one of the reasons I'm still watching National League baseball right now. At this time of year more than any, you just have to root for the uniform more than you root for the player. Lackey's the next man up tomorrow afternoon and I hope he leads the Cardinals to victory.

And it's not like John Lackey's kicked your puppy or anything, has he? I mean... look at that face. How could you hate that guy?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Good Luck Ducks, Week 7: Stagger or Swagger?

Following its first loss, cracks are starting to become crevasses.

Let's face it: Oregon is just not a very good team right now. Despite the fact that Oregon got completely hosed by officials against Arizona, the reasons the Ducks couldn't find a way to win against the Wildcats go far beyond some horrible (and rather vindictive feeling if you ask me) calls. The O-line can't protect anyone. They can't open any holes for their backs to get through. The Ducks simply can't play football the way they're accustomed to if this happens. Two straight games where Marcus Mariota has been repeatedly flattened and where the backs have had nowhere to run but straight into the backs of their own teammates (as well as the arms of their opponents) have proven that something is seriously wrong with the Green and Yellow (and Silver, Black, occasionally Pink... etc.)

The Ducks face a UCLA team with similarly lofty expectations, a highly touted quarterback (Brett Hundley) and heaps of protection problems of their own. It's almost like looking into a mirror, except that it's an ugly mirror of gold and powder blue and entitlement. I have no idea what to expect today, but I wouldn't be surprised if it somehow involves backup quarterbacks before the clock runs out.

With upsets happening en masse last week, the door is still wide open for both of these teams to climb back into playoff consideration. For that to happen, something big will need to change, and it will need to start today.

Oregon was dominant in last year's meeting. That seems like a long time ago.

Game time is 12:30 PDT with national coverage on FOX. Go Ducks!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Series Preview: NLCS (Giants vs. Cardinals)

The Giants/Cardinals NLCS series at a glance.

The playoffs resume this weekend, with the Cardinals having beaten Clayton Kershaw twice en route to a 4 game Divisional Series win. I'm not surprised at the Cardinals continued success against Kershaw, as they have proven over the years that they have his number in a way that no other team generally manages to do. Had it been Zack Greinke who got two starts instead of this year's (inevitable) Cy Young Award winner (and possible MVP), it could have been a very different series. And now, it's the series almost no one wanted -- the winners of three of the last four World Series crowns, facing off in the NLCS. It's hard for me to get much of a read on this series as it is a matchup I certainly did not expect, but I'll break it down anyway.

2014 Season Series: Giants won 4-3
The Giants actually won 3 of 4 at Busch this year before the Cardinals salvaged a series win in San Francisco at the beginning of July. These two teams also met in the 2012 NLCS, with the Giants rebounding from a 3-1 series deficit to claim the series and, eventually, the World Series as well.

Starting Pitching: Madison Bumgarner / Jake Peavy / Tim Hudson / Ryan Vogelsong vs. Adam Wainwright / Lance Lynn / John Lackey / Shelby Miller
Not much is known yet about the order of the Giants starters beyond tomorrow night's opening game (Bumgarner vs. Wainwright), but it's likely that all four of these pitchers will get a start at some point.  Like Kershaw, Bumgarner has struggled against St. Louis quite a bit. Wainwright, the Cardinals' ace, may actually be the weak link in the bunch right now as he struggled mightily against the Dodgers and the health of his arm has been called into question. Wainwright aside, both team's starters have fared very well in the playoffs so far. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Bullpen: Santiago Casilla vs. Trevor Rosenthal
Casilla took over the closer's role for a struggling Sergio Romo in the middle of the season, which is basically the opposite of what happened in 2012. Rosenthal has been walking on thin ice in steel toed boots all season as he's had virtually no outings that didn't involve baserunners, if not runs. The rest of the bullpen for each team has been fairly solid, but the Giants seemingly have no weak spots. Left handed relief has been somewhat of an adventure for St. Louis. If things get wild, the Giants have two serviceable longmen in Yusmeiro Petit (who pitched a good deal of their 18 inning win over the Nats) and Tim Lincecum. The Cardinals have Michael Wacha presumably in this role, though his health and status are a bit of a mystery. ADVANTAGE: GIANTS

Catcher: Buster Posey vs. Yadier Molina
Posey is the Giants' offensive linchpin, and he's at least serviceable behind the plate. Molina's offense has lagged a bit behind his usual output since he returned from a thumb injury that knocked out a significant portion of his season, but his defense and game management remain otherworldly. It's hard to quantify how much a bat helps a team versus defense, but if Yadi's bat is at peak form, there aren't any better catchers around. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

First Base: Brandon Belt vs. Matt Adams
Both of these players are powerful lefties whose careers still feel a bit underdeveloped. Both guys had dramatic home runs in the Divisional round that decided big games. With no lefty starters in either team's rotations, you can expect both players to see plenty of action. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Second Base: Joe Panik vs. Kolten Wong
Panik took over at second base midway through the season and has hit for average but little power. After being benched in favorite of small sample size hero Pete Kozma for Game 1 against Kershaw, Wong came through with some timely hitting to solidify his role as a starter. The Cardinals rookie continues to pull the occasional boneheaded maneuver, recalling his infamous World Series mistake, but his strengths outweigh his blunders at this point. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval vs. Matt Carpenter
The Panda is one of the Giants top run producers, but he's performed at a pretty pedestrian level for several seasons in a row now and can no longer be considered one of the premier players in the league. Carpenter, despite an MVP-caliber season last year, is still being confused with former pitcher Chris Carpenter at this point. Nevertheless, the third baseman is on fire right now, hitting home runs in 3 consecutive games against the Dodgers. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Shortstop: Brandon Crawford vs. Jhonny Peralta
Crawford is a defensive wizard (but not The Wizard, of course) who doesn't do a whole lot with his bat. He does have that grand slam that won the Wild Card going for him, however. Peralta was the Cardinals offensive rock this season, and he even acquitted himself nicely in the field by playing passable defense. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Right Field: Hunter Pence vs. Randal Grichuk
Pence is simply one of the most awkward players in the history of the game, but he's accumulated a pretty solid resume in his eight seasons in MLB. Whatever path he takes to the ball, in the field or with the bat in hand, he continues to get positive results, even if they're not pretty to look at. Grichuk got the start in right field in every game in the playoffs so far, but with right handed starters all around, someone else could take a turn. The rookie has looked good in the field so far and homered off Kershaw in Game 1 of their NLDS series. ADVANTAGE: GIANTS

Center Field: Gregor Blanco vs. Jon Jay
Blanco is a speedy, rangy outfielder but is a serious downgrade at the plate from what Angel Pagan would provide were he healthy. Jay doesn't have much pop in his bat, but he hits for high average and is good for a timely run or two. His arm can be a bit lacking, but he covers center field as well as most. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Left Field: Travis Ishikawa vs. Matt Holliday
Ishikawa is Plan C, with both Pagan and Michael Morse down. Morse may or may not be available in this series, but the expectation is that we'll see more of Ishikawa in left this series, which can't be a good thing when the guy can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. Holliday is one of the strongest men in baseball, and his bat is cooking right now. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Bench: Joaquin Arias vs. Daniel Descalso / Oscar Taveras / Peter Bourjos / A.J. Pierzynski
San Francisco's bench could be better represented by this image. If Morse is able to contribute, it helps the Giants greatly, as no one other than Arias had accumulated any meaningful at bats prior to these playoffs. Pierzynski was added to the playoff roster on the Cardinals side after sitting out the NLDS round. The Cards bench isn't really a strength, either, but the Giants situation makes them look otherworldly. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Manager: Bruce Bochy vs. Mike Matheny
This one is fairly straight forward. Bochy has been at the helm of two World Series winners in just the last four years. Matheny took over the Cardinals in 2012 and led them to an NLCS loss to the Giants and a World Series loss to the Red Sox. Futher time will tell what Matheny's legacy will be. ADVANTAGE: GIANTS

Prediction: CARDINALS in 6

The Secret Weapon roughed up Atlee Hammaker back in Game 7 of the 1987 NLCS. Will we see another amazing series like this one?

Game 1 game time is 7:00 CDT Saturday night at Busch Stadium with national coverage on FOX. Go Cards!

Airbrushed Fridays: 1976 Topps Traded #44T

Baseball is back tonight! It seems like it's been forever. And it has...

Who is he? Doug Rader, the Red Rooster, was a five-time Gold Glover at the hot corner. He also had several short stints as an MLB manager in the '80s, and his name sounds like a passable TV detective.

How did he get here? After his Gold Glove days with the Astros, Rader was dealt to San Diego for Larry Hardy and Joe McIntosh. His time in San Diego was fairly brief, and he would finish his career up in Toronto.

Repeat offender? Yes

Other versions of this card: Here's the non-Traded version.

Airbrushed Score: 7

Comments: I always appreciate an old Padres cap, but this was mangled a bit. The sky is pretty, though!