Thursday, October 1, 2015

It's a Wrap! The 2015 Baltimore Orioles

In a 162-game season it’s easy to pick 4 or 5 games that a team “should” have won.  For the 2015 Baltimore Orioles, who are on pace to lose more than they won for the first time since 2011, there are quite a few moments where it’s obviously that the bus went over the cliff.  However, there is definitely a moment to point to where the bus hit the ground and burst into flames.

On August 19th the O’s beat the Mets 5-4 to move games over .500. They were 5 games behind Yankees in the AL East and only 1 game behind the Angels for the second wild card spot.  They were heading on the road to face a Twins team that was struggling, a Royals team that they had motivation to beat and a Rangers team that was already looking to 2016.  It was an excellent time to make up some ground.

They did not.  On the 20th they got shellacked by the Twins 15-2. They would lose the next five and then stagger home with a 1-10 road trip. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs they were all but finished.

So what went wrong?  Pretty much everything.  Even in the off-season, when the pundits were picking them to win the AL East again, there was trouble. Pending free agents left, potential free agents never signed and General Manager Dan Duquette seemed to be doing his job with one foot out the door. For most of the brutal Maryland winter reports and rumors hounded the organization that Toronto was pursuing Duquette, who is under contract with Baltimore until 2018, with the intention of making him their club president.

A deal never materialized, mainly due to a high asking price from the Orioles, but you would have to wonder how it affected Duquette’s ability to negotiate with potential free agents.  Hoping that a full season of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters would offset the loss of Nelson Cruz Duquette merely tinkered with the roster as he traded for Travis Snider. Cruz has signed a one-year deal with O’s in hoping to boost his worth.  He did that.  Seattle signed him to a 4 year $57 million deal.  That isn’t an astronomical sum, especially for a Baltimore club that does actually have money to spend. His 44 homeruns would have looked nice next to Chris Davis’ 40+, wouldn’t they?

Duquette was probably a little more chuffed watching the Blue Jays celebrate their AL East title on Camden Yards’ grass on Wednesday. Not only did it keep the O’s from having a winning season it also closed a door for him.  With the success Toronto has had this season it‘s highly unlikely that they‘ll be courting him this winter.

As actual baseball got underway things didn’t get much better.  Players bounced around the disabled list and the team could never get a serious winning streak together. The off-season pickups didn’t work out (quick name one positive thing Everth Cabrera or Wesley Wright did for the team). One week Adam Jones would be hot and the next it would be Chris Davis.  Unfortunately the whole line up could never get on the same page and the team hovered around .500 for most of the year.

Photo proof that Cabrera played for the Orioles.

There was the debacle that was Bud Norris as a starting pitcher. The right-hander has won 15 games for the 2014 team and provided a steady innings eater from the back part of the rotation.  In 2015 he was a dumpster fire, posting a 1-9 record before being cut from the roster at the end of July.

Roughly 326 players played left-field. Even Brady Anderson got a start in left (he went 1-4 with a bunt single).  Actually, it was 10 different players occupied the spot through the season. Unfortunately no one was able to duplicate the offensive or even the defensive accomplishments of the departed Nelson Cruz.

Caught between being buyers and sellers at the trade deadline the team only made a couple of minor transactions adding Gerardo Parra (-1.1 WAR since the trade!). They also sent Big Game Tommy Hunter to the Cubs for Junior Lake (a younger, less angry Delmon Young!), Expect Hunter to win 20 games next season.

Speaking of O’s/ Cubs trades, another popular past time this summer has been bitching about Jake Arrieta. Look, I watched Jake Arrieta with the O’s and I know watch him in Chicago.  He is not the same pitcher.  I don’t know if it’s the coaching or if the trade was a wake up call, but Chicago Arrieta is a strike-throwing, WHIP-lowering, out machine. If he had stayed in Baltimore I don’t know if he would be putting up the numbers he is in the Windy City. Besides Steve Clevenger hit .303!

There was other good news despite the lost season.  Chris Davis regained his focus on hitting and hit 45 homeruns (and counting) while driving in 112 runs.  Manny Machado stayed healthy, hitting .284 with 30 homeruns and 30 doubles while playing his typical solid defense at 3rd (with a couple of guest spots at shortstop).

Chris Davis realizing how much dip he can buy with the contract he's going to sign.

Caleb Joseph filled in for the once again oft-injured Matt Wieters and played respectably. Joseph’s play opened up the possibility that re-signing Wieters might not be as high priority as it has been in the past.  For as much talent as Wieters possess, if he can’t stay on the field he isn’t worth a long-term, high money deal. Two years ago it would have been unfathomable that the O’s would let him walk, but now, as reality looms closer maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

How much would you pay for an oft-injured, .250 hitting catcher? 

Wieters, Davis, Wei-Yin Chen (Taiwanese for Solid Six Inning Start), Darren O’Day and Parra are the big pending free agents this off-season.  It will be interesting to see how many of them are back with the club next season.  Hopefully, a dedicated Duquette can focus on keeping the team together.  Should a majority leave, it will be a tough sell for 2016.

While the year will go down as a disappointment due to the pre-season hype, it’s still a year where the O’s were competitive (barely, but still) for most of the season.  They go into the last week of the season fighting for a .500 record and not to avoid 100 losses. So that’s a step up from the pre-2012 years.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Preview - Mayweather vs. Berto

Does Andre Berto have a chance to beat Floyd Mayweather tonight?


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tampa Bay's Mount Forgetmore (Repost from Raw Charge)

This post originally appeared on Raw Charge. I'm reposting it here because I'm battling with another post that I can't quite finish (also a rogue keyboard) and want to keep the site somewhat active. Hey at least I added pictures!

It’s no questions that August is the slowest of months in the hockey world. With weeks left until training camps open there isn’t much news being generated of interest other than the occasional veteran signing a tryout contract with a team (Hi Sergei Gonchar!). So hockey websites have time to put lists together. It’s the time of year where Best Left Wingers in Franchise History is a popular subject.

Every few years some sites like to throw a "Mount Rushmore" type of list together. The four players or people that are the best for each organization. Raw Charge has yet to succumb to the temptations, mainly because we love all of the players equally. That hasn’t stopped some outsiders and insiders to compose their own.

John Buccigross posted the most recent example with an article a few weeks ago on ESPN updating his original 2009 "Mount Rushmore" of each team. His criteria for picking the best four players to represent each franchise: " a combination of impact, love and production, determined by both sides the brain, some research and some feel. It’s not all about the numbers." In 2009 his players were: Dave Andreychuck, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. The recent update replaced Andreychuck with Steven Stamkos.

A year after Buccigross’ original column, Puck Daddy spent the summer having team bloggers create a "Mount Puckmore" for each team. Jon Jordon listed Lecavalier, St. Louis, Andreychuck and Phil Esposito. Puck Daddy allowed for the spots to be taken up by, "players, coached and executives" thus allowing the Esposito inclusion.

There’s not much to argue with either list. Despite the way he left, St. Louis deserves a spot on the mountain. Lecavalier was the first "superstar" and is at the top or near on most statistical categories. Richards Stanley Cup run in 2004 was one for the ages and Andreychuck brought a Cup and respect to the team. Without Esposito there is no hockey in Tampa.

So I’m not going to even try to compete with them, plus remember I love all players equally. Instead I’m going to present the Tampa Bay Lightning Mount Rushmore of Guys You Forgot Played for the Lightning.

Yes, it’s a bit of an awkward title and for that I apologize. My criteria was pretty basic. Scrolling through the all-time roster of players I chose the four names that made me think, "Oh yeah! He did play for the Lightning!". For the most part I didn’t include players that were part of the original expansion draft or players that were paper transactions only (sorry Niklas Sundstrum). They had to be recognizable names, but, and this is the catch, when most hockey fans thought of them they pictured them in another team’s jersey.

Wendel Clark

Without a doubt he is the George Washington of the mountain. A most-beloved former number one pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Clark played 65 games with the 1998-99 Tampa Bay Lightning. He was one of the few bright sports (another being a young rookie from Ile Bizard named Vincent Lecavalier) on a dismal team that only won 19 games. Before being traded to Detroit at the deadline, Clark notched 28 goals and 14 assists. His 42 points ended up being good for second best on the team behind Darcy Tucker’s 43.
Behold the greatest Lightning card of the Late 90s. The hair, the uniform, the mustache.

Notable memories include: never seeing him smile, the receding hairline/Fu Manchu look and being the lone Lightning representative in the 1999 All-Star game in Tampa (he had one assist).

Stephane Richer

Totally forgot he was an assistant captain till I scanned this card.
Richer was a prolific scorer in the late 80s and early 90s. As a Montreal Canadien he twice scored 50 goals in a season. He ended his career with an impressive 421 goals overall. For the Lightning he played parts of three seasons from 1998 to 2000 and scored 28 goals in in 110 games (which ties him for 38th all time with…..Wendel Clark). He was also the second Stephane Richer to play for the team.

Notable memories include: He was absolutely brutal on breakaways; he fancies expensive suits, loafers and no socks and he was The UNDERTAKER in an existentially hilarious Lightning ad campaign because he "buries goals".

Kolzig was my favorite goalie during the early years of my hockey fandom. Heck, he might still be my favorite goalie of all time. Awesome name, awesome nickname (Godzilla) and he was pretty damn good. So I was excited to see him come to Tampa as a free agent in the summer of 2008. Sure, Mike Smith was the starter, but in my heart I thought that Olie the Goalie has a shot of rekindling some of the old magic and taking the team to the playoffs. It didn’t happen. Kolzig appeared in 8 games and posted a 2-4-1 record before a ruptured bicep ended his season.

Notable Memories for me: The visceral shock of seeing him in a Lightning uniform and without a beard. Being involved in the most blatant salary dump trade of all time. On March 4th, 2009 he was, while still injured, traded to Toronto along with severely concussed Jamie Heward, prospect Andy Rogers who was dealing with an injured back and a 4th round pick for middling prospect Richard Petiot. So, if you think salary cap circumventing deals like Marc Savard to the Panthers is something new - it’s not.

The summer of 2008 was really weird for Lightning fans. The team, with Those Who Shall Not Be Named running the team, were wheeling and dealing throughout the summer. Gone were Marc Denis, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich. The team also traded picks for pending free agents Ryan Malone, Brian Rolstron and Gary Roberts.

Malone got the big money, signing a 7-year deal worth over $31 million. Rolston ended up signing with Devils. Roberts fell somewhere in the middle. He signed a one-year deal with the Lightning. I honestly have no recollection of Gary Roberts playing for the Lightning. The stats say he suited up for 30 games and recorded 4 goals and 3 assists for that debacle of a team before being placed on waivers. There are pictures of him in a Lightning uniform as well so it must be true.

Notable memories - none.
See. He was a member of the Lightning. Unless Upper Deck photoshopped this card.

One good thing did come out of his brief time with the Lightning. After his rookie season, Steven Stamkos decided to train with Roberts in the off-season. The next season young Stamkos would score 51 goals. Fans would also be treated to you tube videos of Stamkos doing things like this:

Overall a pretty impressive group of individuals with numerous all-star appearances, Stanley Cup rings and memorable moments in the NHL. Sadly, not too many of them with the Lightning.

Honorable Mentions: Bill Ranford, Benoit Hogue, Craig Janney, Brian Holzinger, Mark Fitzpatrick, Evgeni Nabokov.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

2015-16 Upper Deck MVP - The First Product of the New Season

So...remember a couple of days ago where I wrote something along the lines of, “won't be buying any cards because I'm moving, blah, blah, blah”? Well that lasted all of three days. How was I to know that the first hockey product of the year was going to be released? Not only released, but at a pretty decent price point.

It's really John at Elite Sports Cards fault. If he hadn't sent out his weekly email about new products. If he didn't list it at a reasonable price ($55), I probably wouldn't have bought a box (or two).I am a man of little self-control. Since I broke that promise I figure I owe you all a box break review. Here we go – my first box of the hockey year:

2015-16 Upper Deck MVP

The Base Cards:

The design is a bit busy for my tastes. I would have liked to see them trim down the borders a bit and make the photo a little bigger. A total lack of foil makes the name easy to read, at least. The backs are standard MVP backs with four or five lines of statistics and basic biographical information (Wayne Simmonds was born in Scarborough! A good Ontario boy!).

Let's face it. We don't buy MVP because of the photography. We buy it because it's first and normally it's a pretty easy set to put together. That holds true for the first 100 cards of the set. Unfortunately the next 100 are all short printed. I'm not a big fan of sets where a large portion of the cards are short printed. It makes it a little too hard to complete the entire set. On the other hand, with 24 packs of 6 cards each – plenty of base to trade!

The inserts:

Colors and Contours:

Seeded at about one every four packs most boxes will yield six of these die-cut inserts. (Boo to Upper Deck by not going with “Colours and Contours”). Overall I like the inserts. Fancy die-cut and shiny are normally a plus in my book. My issue with this one – there are three “levels” and three different colors of each card. Oh and each level/color combo is seeded differently. For instance the Curtis Lazar is Teal – Level 3 which falls one every eight packs. God help you if you are a player collector trying to complete the rainbow.

In years past the Patrick Kane purple level 2 would be in running for card of the box. This year, well let us move on to a more recognizable insert for fans of MVP.

Silver Script:

Sam card as the base except everything is silver and there is a facsimile signature on the front. These fall about one every three packs and I don't think the higher numbers are short printed. I pulled four cards numbered over 100 and four numbered under 100. If you were going to try and put together a complete set it's almost obtainable.


Serial numbered to 25, the amped-up cousin of the Silver Script cards replaces the gold borders with a nice red and keeps the signature in gold. It's a pretty nice combination in my book. Good luck to those that collect these. I pulled this card pretty early in the box and was happy with it (expecting to get a relic card at some point) and would have considered it a pretty good box. Unfortunately I did not get a relic. Instead, hidden in the middle of the next to last pack, was this little gem:

An Alex Ovechkin 1-of-1 black printing plate!

Not a bad little card to pull, eh? What's even better – I have absolutely no allegiance to Alex Ovechkin and I'm lukewarm at best on printing plates. So that means it's heading straight to eBay (sorry Caps fans, I got to recoup a little of my investment).

With the exception of the printing plate it was indicative of what breaking a box of MVP is like. Lots of base, some ok inserts and the joy of knowing that hockey (and the release of Series One) is right around the corner. For $55 I don't feel like I got ripped off (which also goes for the second box that I busted that didn't have a printing plate in it).

It'll be interesting to see how the pricing on this set goes. With a lot of people chasing the first licensed Connor McDavid card (done as a NHL First Round Pick redemption to get around rookie card issues) and busting a lot of packs it might drive down the price of inserts and short prints while driving up the cost of a box. I imagine dozens upon dozens of dime boxes being filled with inserts from this set soon appearing at card shows around the country.

I'll put a lackluster effort into completing the entire set. By lackluster I mean I will add them to my wantlist on Zistle and occasionally throw one in the shopping cart when I'm binging on CheckOutMycards. In case you were wondering – all of the inserts except for the Ovechkin printing plate, the Witkowski Colors and Contours and the Kane C&C are available for trade.

I give it a random 3.5 stars out of 5. Anyone else out there rip some packs yet?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ramblings! Cause I got Nothing.

Hey it’s still summer!  I should be at a beach or something. Why sit inside a stuffy apartment filled with boxesand hack away at a computer when there are sunny, summery things that can be done? I could be walking along the lakefront, kayaking down a river or enjoying a beer on a patio.  How about a compromise?  I’ll sit outside and hack away at a computer.  After all it’s a warm, August evening. One of those summer evenings that we in Chicago think about in the middle of the darkest, coldest February nights.  You know. The ones we say we won’t waste when we’re drinking a beer watching the sun set at 3.15 in the afternoon.

Of course, things like work and laziness get in the way. So I’m not kayaking down the Chicago river or having wine and cheese on the harbor (oh, maybe we’ll do that on Saturday). Instead I’m sitting outside the Argo Tea (the official tea cafĂ© of The Hopeful Chase) trying to figure out what I want to write about as I watch the 9-5ers walk home.

I could write about the Orioles. After all the pennant races are heating up and the O’s are in the thick of things. Only 2.5 games back in the Wild Card, baby!  Who cares if they don’t have a true ace on the staff - Chris Davis is mashing again! And Manny Machado’s knees haven’t broken yet.  Oh wait, they just got no-hit by the Mariners?  That’s not good.  Neither is going 4-6 on this west coast swing. Nor is the fact that the Blue Jays finally realized that having a dominant starter to go along with the 1927 Yankees offense is a good idea.

What about cards?  Hey the last two posts have been card-related! I’m finally getting back to earning my spot on the Sports Card Blogroll.  Well, due to the impending move all of my cards are currently boxed up and I’ve banned myself from ordering anymore. No sense in adding more stuff to move at this point. Although with a bigger place I can finally rescue the bulk of my collection from my in-laws house. Yes that would require driving from Tampa to Chicago with a Chevy Malibu-sized card collection.  (That’s an actual measurement. When I moved them out of my condo they filled every square inch of a Malibu).

I was going to write a nice review about Stadium Club, but my main point was going to be about how god-damn happy everyone is in the set, but another blogger kind of beat me to that point. I wish I could remember who it was so that I could link it, but  I can’t and frankly and waaaaay to lazy to keep looking.  Point is that it’s been done and I would hate to seem like I was borrowing someone else’s idea (please disregard any post I’ve written in the past based on The Raw Charge’s Question of the Week).

Look how happy Larry is. And this isn't even the happiest card in the set!

Liverpool!  Remember them?  My favorite EPL team.  They won.  Phillippe Coutinho’s wonderstrike with four minutes to go! I actually watched most of the game (although I was listening on my phone for the actual goal. Yup I was the idiot cheering on the bus).  This is the year I get back into the Premier League.  I’m 1-for-1 watching games. I’m going to watch all the games! (Checks their schedule.  Checks his work schedule) Or for goodness sake!  I’ll never get into a good soccer watching groove.  Well at least they may finally get rid of Lucas.  Never cared for him.

Wonderstrike? Lightningstrike? Lucky Strike?

English football is out, what about American football?  Boxing Training camps have started. The Ravens are practicing at The Castle and the first pre-season game is right around the corner!  I’m not going to lie,   I’m having trouble getting pysched for the NFL this year.  I just need it to not be in my life for a little bit. The 24-hour-365-day coverage is too much.   I need it to go away for a little bit so I can actually miss it.

Hockey, there is always hockey to write about!  The Lightning! Two wins from the Stanley Cup last year and they’re bringing back the whole team. How can they not be the favorite?  How can I not write about them?  Well, because there really isn’t much going on down on Channelside Drive.  Sorry, but I can’t punch out a 1000 words on Brian Engblom getting hired to replace Bobby Taylor on the TV broadcast crew.

Sure Eric Condra was a nice pickup, but not exactly a Big Sexy Free Agent Move. Maybe there is a post to be written about how he’s going to affect Jonathan Drouin’s playing time, but can we wait until training camp starts before figuring out position battles and if Mr. Yzerman needs to trade Drouin.  Speaking of trading I am officially proclaiming this a Stammergeddon-free zone until he either signs a new deal or the trade deadline rolls around.  Go to Bleacher Sports or TSN for all of your “Stamkos Wore a Blue Shirt and White Shorts And Put MAPLE Syrup On His Pancakes So He Must Be Going to the Leafs” headlines.  (That would be a very bad headline).

He's not getting traded folks. Nor is his career "ruined".

So please bear with me for a little longer (I just spent five minutes trying to figure out if it’s “bare with me” or “bear with me” before remembering that I have the internet available to look these kind of things up. Also I was caught up in the old people next to me arguing that the presidential race is going to be between Trump and Bernie Sanders And they really, really don‘t like Trump. Oh and one of the guys just dropped a legit “Back in my day!” Oh sh*t he just compared Trump to Hitler.  This is getting uncomfortable!). Just trying to muck through the next few weeks until things pick back up.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Quick Post on my Haul From the National *UPDATED*

On a hot, humid Saturday I found myself with some free time before work. So I took the train up to Rosemont and popped into the National. Rule number 1 of the National – don't go if you only have 2 hours. You will be upset. Rule number 2 of the National – be prepared. I managed to break both rules, yet I still walked away with some new treats. In less than two hours I managed to pick up.

The boxes:

Stadium Club was one box I knew I was going to get. The Bowman was an impulse buy. I don't know why I buy Bowman, I'm not a speculator and I barely know players that have been in the league for five years yet alone prospects. My plans with that box – sort it and then forget about it for three years and then look and see if anyone panned out.

Ringside Boxing. Boxing cards from 1996. Soooo many doubles. But it was a fun break for $9.00.

The free card:

 A Kris Bryant/Jordan Speith Beckett Covers card. The guy said it was going for $25.00. That's nice.

The want list cards:

There was one guy that had a bunch of $.25 cards of sets that I was looking to close out. I managed to score 3 Topps Heritage cards and 1 1983 Topps before my self-imposed time limit was up. If I had all day to sort through the cards I would have probably cleaned up both sets, after all there was an open chair and no one crowding around.

From Scott:

My buddy Scott met me at the convention center for his first National. I feel kind of bad because I think I got him hooked on starting a Teddy Bridgewater card collection. Sorry about that. While I was sorting through the want list boxes he wandered off and came back with a Stamkos McFarlane I needed as well as a Ben Bishop figure (intact groin muscle variation).

From Sal:

Sal from Puck Junk was there and had a couple of Lightning cards for me. I believe the Lecavalier is the first The Cup card that I've ever gotten my hands on. No collection is complete without a Sal Berry Rookie. Sadly, since I was in a bit of a hurray I wasn't able to sit and chat with him for too long.

Random Purchases that I will probably sell on eBay

People love Cubs cards. I figure I can make a buck or two back flipping them even with all of the crazy costs involved. The Junior Lake was more for sentimental versions as he went to Baltimore in the annual Cubs/Orioles deadline trade. Chris Sale, because he's fun to watch.


I can't believe I forgot the greatest pick up of the whole trip!  For just $2.00 I am know the proud owner of.....

Yeah...he just hit a home run.

A signed postcard of Smokin' Joe O!  While Cal Ripken or Eddie Murray might have been the best player of my childhood, Orsulak was probably my favorite despite his relatively brief tenure with the club.  The guy I bought it from had about 15 in his binder...and yes I contemplated buying them all.

So it was a quick trip to the National. I doubt I'll go to Atlantic City for next years, but I'll definitely head back up to Rosemont the next time a show rolls in. Heck I might even ask for the entire day off.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Quick Box Break - 2015 Stadium Club

Not sure if you kids have heard, but the National is in town! No not the band you dirty little hipsters, but The National Sports Collectors Convention has made its return to Chicago. I missed the National the last time it was in Chicago because I was floating over killer whales in Vancouver, but I do plan on showing up for a couple of hours this year.

Not sure what I'm going to go after or what my budget will be (nothing like having a plan!) but I'm leaning towards more baseball than hockey and maybe even some memorabilia as well. After all, we're finally moving to a one-bedroom apartment and might actually be able to find a spot to display some stuff.

As a bit of a warmup I bought something that I'm pretty sure I haven't purchased since I lived in Florida (about 5 years) and is probably the least efficient way to build a set. That's right I forked over $19.99 for a blaster box. A box of what – 2015 Stadium Club!

I've liked what I've seen so far – Topps seems to be bringing it back to the mid/high-level set with great photographs. In all likelihood I'll pick up a box of this at the National, but let's see what my two Andrew Jackson's got me.

Pack One -

First Card of the Year - Luis Aparicio  – Lots of former players in the set this year including some that you normally don't see in other releases. He also gets the nod for best looking card in the pack. It was kind of a blah pack to start off with.

Other cards – Jorge Soler (RC!),Garrett Richards, Brett Gardner, Anthony Rizzo

Pack Two -

Best Looking Card – Sonny Gray. Nice use of the horizontal framing. That was one thing I loved about the original run of Stadium Club – full bleed horizontal cards.

Other cards – Jay Bruce, Buster Posey, Wily Peralta, Dusty Baker

Pack Three -

Best Looking Card – C.J. Wilson. Another horizontal card, Wilson rocks the gas mask and swim goggles look as he exchanges a high-five with a random fan.

Other cards – Andrelton Simmons, Phil Hughes, Alex Cobb, Andrew McCutchen

Pack Four -

Best Looking Card – Yasiel Puig. Nice use of the dusky sky in the background as Puig walks back out to the field between innings. Love that we know the exact time that the photo was taken. Does it count as a night card?

First Orioles Card – Manny Machado. Most relaxed photo of the set I think. Also love the blades of the grass under the ball. Sharp.

Other cards – Masahiro Tanaka, Henderson Alvarez, Stephen Strasburg (Gold Parallel)

Pack Five -

Best Looking Card – Elvis Andrus. Action shot! Result of this play – Andrus either sprains his thumb or dislocates his shoulder. Still a good-looking shot.

Other cards – Anthony Rendon, Nelson Cruz, Corey Kluber, Hisashi Iwakuma

Pack Six - 

Best Looking Card – Albert Pujols. Another Angels celebration card. They sure celebrated a lot for not winning the World Series.

Other cards – Jjonny Peralta, Josh Harrison, Pablo Sandoval, Brock Holt

Pack Seven -

Best Looking Card – Tim Hudson. Great photo of the long-time veteran kissing the championship trophy. It's not quite like kissing the Stanley Cup, but still a great photo.

First Insert – Starling Marte Luminous Triumvirate. A 1:32 hit. I done beat the odds! And it's shiny!

Other cards – David Price, Josh Donaldson, Sean Doolittle

Pack Eight (The Bonus Pack!)

Best Looking Card – Dale Murphy. Favorite card of the box, honestly. I love the composition of the photo and the old-school Braves uniform.

Bonus Best Looking Card – Ivan Rodriguez. Proportion is everything in the photo. The glove looks huge, the body looks small and his head makes him look like a living bobblehead. Yet, for some reason it all comes together.

Other cards – John Olerud, Starling Marte, Chris Sale (Gold Parallel)

So did I get my money's worth? I think so. Forty cards in the box, two parallels and one insert. It's a nice start to completing the 300-card base set and I prefer packs that have more base and less inserts (number one complaint about the flagship product.

That's all for now, maybe a post-National wrap up post in a couple of days.