Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Report: Kazuo Matsui announces retirement from playing career


Saitama Seibu Lions OF and technical coach Kazuo Matsui announced his intention to retire as a player on Wednesday afternoon. Matsui, who will turn 43 at the end of October, will finish 2018 with his 24th and final year playing baseball.

Matsui signed with the Lions as a player/coach last winter which reunited with the team he started with, his first time in 15 years. He only appeared in 23 games hitting .129 with only four base hits and none of them being extra base hits. He also appeared as a pinch runner before being deactivated on September 15.

His career began with the Lions straight out of high school as a third round draft pick out of PL Gakuen in 1994. Matsui saw three pennants , but missed out on a Japan Series championship as he joined the New York Mets in 2004.

Matsui hit a home run in his first career at bat and had some glory in New York before he was traded to the Colorado Rockies. In 2007, he was part of a team that clinched the postseason by winning a Game 163 against the San Diego Padres. Matsui hit a decisive grand slam against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS of that year as the Rockies went on to lose to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Injuries derailed his major league career and he saw a decline in playing time in his final three stateside years with the Houston Astros.

Matsui returned to Japan in 2011 with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. He was part of the 2013 Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles who won the Japan Series with Masahiro Tanaka, Casey McGehee and Andruw Jones. He even made the all star game in 2015 and amassed 2,703 combined hits between NPB and MLB while reaching the 2,000 hit mark in Japan in 2015.

While it's easy to think he may return as a coach, Jim Allen of Kyodo News mentioned how it was a tough position.

Matsui will likely get one last ride after being a longtime Lion from the 90s and early 00s, the best position player to come from this franchise in the Major Leagues. A retirement ceremony and at-bat will occur against the Softbank Hawks on the final homestand.


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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Former Nishitetsu Lion Takiuchi dead at 82

Former Nishitetsu Lion Yasuo Takiuchi died on Sunday of chronic heart failure, as announced by Seibu. He was 82 years old.

Takiuchi, was a member of the 1950s Nishitetsu Lions which held a golden age three-peat from 1956-1958. He was a versatile defensive substitute from 1954 to 1963 and averaged about 80 games off the bench, Takiuchi's best statistical season was in 1960, where he hit .249/.303/.419 in 81 games. 

In high school, he participated in the Summer Koshien tournament and after his playing days, he was a coach for several different positions. At both the ni-gun and ichi-gun level for the Nishitetsu, Taiheyo Club, Crown Lighter and Seibu Lions, he mostly coached the defense from 1964-1973 and 1975-1981.

Takiuchi just missed the Golden Era Lions prior to their first championship in the Seibu era in 1982. He spent a decade of his life after the Lions as a coach for the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1982-1992, serving as a ni-gun defensive coach. His highest position was being teh ni-gun manager from 1989-1992.

Earlier this year, Teruyuki Takakura, who was also part of the 1950s Nishitetsu Lions, passed away at age 83. Shinsaku Katahira also passed away last winter. R.I.P. Takiuchi, you will be missed.


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Saturday, September 22, 2018

2018 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Enokida reaches 10 wins, Yamakawa steals one


The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-0 this week against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Chiba Lotte Marines. They currently have a 6.5 game lead on the Softbank Hawks and reduced their magic number to seven.

Here is how it all went down:


The first game against the Fighters had Shinsaburo Tawata facing Takayuki Kato. This one was settled early when Shogo Akiyama hit a Rickey Henderson HR and Hideto Asamura added a two-run HR in the second which led to a 4-0 lead.

It wasn't easy for Tawata, as he allowed a base runner in every inning he pitched, but only allowed one run through 6.1 innings of work. The modasho from Akiyama and late hits also made this one a laugher even though Shogo Noda gave up a two-run HR later in the game.

Lions 7, Fighters 4


Game two had Daiki Enokida against Mizuki Hori. Enokida's beginning was slow, where he walked in a run without allowing a base hit. Three walks and a HBP led to the first blood in the first inning.

The Lions responded in the third inning, when Sosuke Genda hit a three-run HR with two outs and Asamura followed with a solo HR of his own. Enokida settled in nicely and even flirted with a no-hitter through five innings. Making his first career ichi-gun start, Haruka Yamada hit a two-run HR in the 4th to put it all away for his first NPB hit and HR.

Enokida had seven strong innings and successfully earned his 10th win of the season. He was the first to get 10 wins after having zero the previous year since Shinichi Yamauchi in 1973.

Lions 12, Fighters 4


The week shifted across Kanto where Tanner Scheppers was scheduled to face Yusei Kikuchi in Chiba. However, this game was rained out, snapping the initially booked stretch of nine consecutive games.


The Marines chose to pitch Ayumu Ishikawa for Friday while Kikuchi stayed on the mound for the Lions. Both teams scored three runs in the first inning with some rainy weather. Yamakawa had a timely while Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a timely double.

It wasn't until the second when Genda hit a timely double off the wall and added two more runs, which one came off a throwing error by Shogo Nakamura to make it 5-3. Asamura added a timely hit in the fourth while Shogo Akiyama hit his 21st HR of the year.

Yusei Kikuchi's rough start was aided by the rain, but he settled in after a weather delay in the second inning. He went seven frames with four runs allowed and reached the milestone of 1,000 career innings pitched, which was recognized after the fifth inning. Katsunori Hirai and Deunte Heath had scoreless innings to end this one.

Lions 7, Marines 4

Game note:

-Brian Wolfe was deactivated for Sho Ito.


The last game had Tatsuya Imai facing Kota Futaki. This game had an early 1-1 draw with an RBI groundout by Chiba and a timely from Fumikazu Kimura, but the Lions took the lead in the 6th off a timely hit from Okawari-kun. Unfortunately, they stranded the bases and it came back to haunt them later. Imai conceded a run with two outs as Shohei Kato came up with a timely hit to tie it 2-2.

After using three pitchers in the 7th inning to go unscathed, Ryuya Ogawa struggled in the 8th, giving up the 2,000th career hit by Kazuya Fukuura for a leadoff double. A throwing error from Ogawa gave the Marines the lead at 3-2. The Lions had a chance in the 9th with two runners on, but Genda struck out and Tatsuya Uchi retired Hideto Asamura and Yamakawa was the last hope. On a 2-1 pitch, Yamakawa didn't pull the foul ball from earlier and roped a HR into the Lions Oendan for a 5-3 lead.

Deunte Heath closed it out with minimal trouble and ended up earning the save as the Lions win streak reached eight games.

Lions 5, Marines 3


The finish in Chiba was incredible and a hostile atmosphere given it was all about Fukuura. Every win was important too since the Hawks did not lose this week. Either way, the pennant is so close that we can smell it. Just gotta finish strong.


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Friday, September 21, 2018

NPB's Central League remains comical

The Central League Standings at the conclusion of games on September 21 show 1.5 games separate last place from third place.
NPB is a league that is limited to 12 teams, unlike how MLB can have over-saturation with 30. Divide it in half and you get the Central League, where things have become interesting or hard to watch, depending on how you see it.

The Hiroshima Carp have all but clinched this league as early as July, when they pulled away having a lead by double digits in games. Many including yours truly thought there would be competition, but instead, we've seen underachieving and a dose of mediocrity. 

Here's the team-by-team situation I've seen as an outsider who tracks the Pacific League a little closer:

Hiroshima Carp:

The Carp were supposed to win the pennant to many spectators, but the gap was thought to be closer than before. Daichi Osera has lived up to his billing as a first round pick from years ago and has taken the reins as an ace. Kris Johnson had a rebound year while Seiya Suzuki and Yoshihiro Maru are MVP candidates. They're also getting bonus production out of Tsubasa Aizawa, which is pretty crazy for a catcher. Even the role players like Ryoma Nishikawa are solid behind the stars.


Yakult Swallows: 

The Swallows were expected to be in a rebuild phase with Junji Ogawa returning as the manager and being there to bite the bullet while grooming Shinya Miyamoto, the long term project. This team has a group of veterans playing while there isn't much youth at the ichi-gun. Wladimir Balentien is healthy and Tetsuto Yamada is back in Triple-3 territory after a horrendous 2017.

Surprisingly it was Interleague Play which sparked this team facing new competition and they rose up to the occasion. They faltered after facing Pacific League teams with an eight-game losing streak at one point, but they've stayed on course to be in A-class and have a good chance to finish there for the first time since 2015.

In 2017, everything went wrong for them with injuries and more, but they're on the side of good luck in 2018 with others faltering. Pitching is by no means dominant, but competent enough to compete. It's promising how Juri Hara has been after being a backup option in the draft./I'm also sure Nori Aoki's veteran presence has been an asset to the Swallows lineup.


Yomiuri Giants

The Giants are streaky, where the bats can magically look good one day and bad the next. They have gotten contributions from some unexpected players like C.C. Mercedes and Kazuma Okamoto, but others like free agent signing Ryoma Nogami and Kazuto Taguchi have underachieved. This team has not put it together for 2018 and should be in B-class.


Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Yokohama came off a Japan Series appearance and were expected to build off of it. Instead, we have a team that should be in last place, but they're still in the hunt. The Baystars are too home run dependent offensively while on the pitching side, things have gotten worse. Katsuki Azuma has carried the rotation as a first year rookie while other starters have suffered injuries and not being one hundred percent.

Injuries have piled up and missing Jose Lopez for some time hurt, but it can't be an excuse for why the rest of the offense struggles as a whole hitting for average. It isn't a good look for manager Alex Ramirez, who currently has a reputation of having a mediocre team just happen to get hot in October.


Chunichi Dragons

The Dragons are in Year 2 of a true rebuild under Shigekazu Mori. They're hitting on their foreign signings in Onelki Garcia and Zoilo Almontee while Dayan Viciedo has been solid, but other parts are lacking. Specifically, the bullpen has been dependent on an aging legend Hitoki Iwase in middle relief while the closer position had its shuffles, including throwing a raw Hiroshi Suzuki out there.

They've also gotten good mileage out of veterans Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kazuki Yoshimi, but that won't last in the long term. They're waiting for the younger players to step it up and so far, it's a large question mark. Plenty of "learning moments" with the starter being left in too long or some position players like Shuhei Takahashi getting reps. Can't depend on just imports and veterans as poor drafting/developing in the last several years has put them in this position.

However, it has to be nice there's meaningful baseball in Nagoya for the first time since 2012, their last A-class season. They aren't deserving of it with this team, even though they own the Carp.


Hanshin Tigers

Where to begin? Starting pitching kept them competitive and prevented any further downfall. Hitting is not there and a lot of this can fall on manager Tomoaki Kanemoto. The bullpen of 2017 was due for some regression and some shuffles were made, but it isn't poor. For majority of the year, Yusuke Oyama had his struggles which have hurt the team, even though he has picked it up in September.

Biggest financial thing to note is import Willin Rosario goes in the books as a disappointment, where the transition from KBO to NPB hasn't worked out. Randy Messenger being hurt doesn't help either.


At one point, last place was a tie for fourth place as the Tigers, Dragons and Baystars were 1.5 games behind the Giants for A-class and only percentage points separated them. With the third place team likely to finish with a losing record and nowhere close to .500, it is a joke.

However, there is a positive in all of this: Ticket sales should soar with meaningful baseball. September and October are usually the months of makeup games and several teams giving retired players one last go-around for everyone to see. Races can be decided early, but with everyone in the Central still alive, it's crazy.

Flashback to 2004, the Pacific League began a "playoff" system where the top three teams made it in. It wasn't even called the Climax Series and the Central League scoffed at it. However, a decent pennant race involving three teams had people watching around the country and the tickets were being sold.

The Central League had some jealousy and eventually adopted the Climax Series which has been universal since 2007 for both leagues. Not only has the Pacific League been winning on the field since the turn of the 21st Century for majority of the time, but they've helped with progressive ideas.

Everything in the Central League is already tough to watch outside of Japan, while the Pacific League makes it easy. In this case, the Central can thank the Pacific for the Climax Series and its existence as we head down the home stretch of the 2018 NPB Season.


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Monday, September 17, 2018

2018 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tawata earns second shutout, sweeping the Hawks


The Saitama Seibu Lions went 5-1 this week against the Orix Buffaloes, Rakuten Eagles and Softbank Hawks combined and are in the midst of a stretch with nine consecutive games. They extended their lead on the Hawks to 6.5 games and mathematically clinched A-class with a combination of these wins and losses by the Marines.

With this week, the Lions magic number to clinch the pennant is now 11. Here is what happened:


The first game from Kobe had Shinsaburo Tawata against Takahiro Matsuba. Shogo Akiyama hit a two-run HR in the third inning and was all the Lions needed as Tawata recorded a shutout. Some timely hits in the later innings from Akiyama, Nien Ting Wu and Sosuke Genda put icing on the cake for an easy win.

Lions 7, Buffaloes 0


Game two had Daiki Enokida against Daiki Tomei. Both sides had runners on base through the beginning, but only Orix capitalized on a two-out double from Kenya Wakatsuki in the 4th.

Enokida was lucky to allow only one run through four innings, but was destroyed in the 5th when Stefen Romero and Hiroyuki Nakajima hit back-to-back solo HRs to end it early. Hiromasa Saito continued to allow runs in a later frame and the Lions bats were all but dead as they stranded runners off Tomei.

Buffaloes 7, Lions 0


The week shifted back home as the Eagles came in for a stand alone game with Yuri Fukukawa against Yusei Kikuchi. This game was over early when the Lions scored three runs in the first inning, including a two-run HR from Hotaka Yamakawa. Tomoya Mori hit a solo HR in the second and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a three-run HR in the third to put it away.

Kikuchi went eight innings with only one run given up in the 7th inning while only having six strikeouts and two hits allowed.

Lions 10, Eagles 5


The defending champion Softbank Hawks came in for a three game series with Kodai Senga while the Lions used Chun-Lin Kuo for the second time against the same team. A wild pitch with the bases loaded and a timely hit from Takumi Kuriyama gave the Lions an early 3-0 lead in the first. Kuo gave up a solo HR to Yurisbel Gracial, but was able to get the the fifth inning with minimal damage.

A timely base hit in the 5th appeared to have tied the game, but Yuji Kaneko gunned down a runner at home plate and the Lions kept their lead. Hideto Asamura responded in the 5th with a three-run HR off Senga to truly break it open. Both sides ended up trading runs for the rest of the day with Yamakawa belting two more home runs, making him have 40 on the season. It was also Kuo's first win in three years.

Lions 11, Hawks 5

Game note:

-Kazuo Matsui was taken off the ichi-gun to make room for Kuo.


Game two had Kotaro Otake facing Tatsuya Imai. The Lions jumped out to an early lead thanks to some timely hits from the first four batters, including a home run from Yamakawa where it was 4-1 after the first. The Lions made it 8-0 after two innings via timely hits from Genda, Yamakawa and Okawari-kun after Seiji Uebayashi failed to cut off the ball in centerfield.

Imai was able to get 5.2 innings with three runs allowed and had a jam in the 6th. With runners on base, Hatsuhiko Tsuji went with Ryuya Ogawa against pinch hitter Shuhei Fukuda. Kimiyasu Kudo countered with another pinch hitter in Keizo Kawashima, who struck out.

Kyle Martin gave up several hits for one run in the 8th, while Deunte Heath had a scare in the 9th. With the bases loaded and no outs, he struck out two batters and had to fend off a timely hit, which brought the tying run on base. Heath forced a groundout to end the game as the Lions took the series and Imai earned his fifth win.

Lions 8, Hawks 5

Game note:

-Haruka Yamada was called off as Kuo was taken off the ichi-gun.


The final matchup in the series on Monday had Brian Wolfe against Angel Miranda. This time, there wasn't a no-hitter alert as Akiyama had the first hit for the Lions. Kuriyama scored first with a grand slam in the bottom of the first inning. Uebayashi responded in the secnod with a solo HR of his own.

Wolfe was injured after a ball hit him on the hamstring and left the game in the third inning. With Shota Takekuma taking over, he escaped with a double play. He created another jam in the 4th, where Tatsushi Masuda had to come in and get a double play of his own as the bullpen was forced to take over the rest of the day.

Ogawa pitched two perfect frames in the 6th and 7th. Okawari-kun rewarded the bullpen with a three-run HR off Roberto Suarez, giving the Lions a 7-1 lead. The Lions bullpen combined for seven shutout innings after Wolfe left the game and there was no doubt to this one after the second HR.

Game note:

-Shogo Saito was the corresponding move to make room for Wolfe.

-The last two games did not have Yuki Yanagita after he was hurt in batting practice. Kenta Imamiya also got injured in this game when a bad throw towards second base left his leg out of position when stepping on second for a force out.


Safe to say this was a fine week even though it's unfortunate the Hawks had some key injuries for the series. Regardless, winning games with Kuo and Imai starting felt impossible, but it happened. A bullpen win after Wolfe goes down early? No problem.

This team has shown character through it all, whether it's the bats or the pitching and this is a remarkable group. Now that the Magic Number is being made public, let's hope they can catch the flag and finish the rest of this season strong.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gurazeni anime provides realism to NPB, professional basball


Sports anime often have a similar premise of a player or team having a goal. To quote the Pokémon English opening song: Wanting "to be the very best, like no one ever was."

Gurazeni (which started as a manga of the same name) goes away from this notion where it's about the survival and struggles of being a professional baseball player. Its title translates into "Money Pitch" and it covers the story about a mediocre pitcher named Natsunosuke Bonda who is a lefty-one-out guy (LOOGY) trying to make a living.

Bonda is 26-years old and has been in the league since being drafted out of high school, but he only makes a paltry ¥18 million (less than $180,000) for the season. An Easter egg is how the fictional name Bonda (凡田) has the kanji 凡 in it, referring to something "average" or "ordinary" as a hint to the reader.

Gurazeni has an NPB setting without saying the NPB names, as shown with Jingu Stadium and even Umbrellas referring to the Yakult Swallows
Bonda goes through plenty of adventures along the way knowing about opponents through reading magazines while waiting to pitch in the bullpen. This includes stats and salaries, where he is fixated on the latter. From recognizing who makes double his  ¥18 million salary to those who make less, Bonda is able to note every player and narrate this to the audience.

While money seems a little greedy given this is part of the show, Gurazeni shows the cruel side of baseball. It's not always about winning pennants, games or championships, but to survive in a competitive environment. Bonda knows his playing career will eventually end and he hopes to accumulate as much money as possible before it's over. He hasn't even spent his signing bonus.

Gurazeni provides accurate maps and information on the Swallows, as their farm team plays in Toda, Saitama. 
This concept alone is a refreshing take on baseball, which brings a slice of life to anyone in the work force. As Shakaijin, we all want to get better or move up in the world through promotions and finding even better jobs. Bonda is doing the same, but playing for a better contract. While he loves the game of baseball, he also knows it's his job and has the theory that money is under the ground with every pitch, becoming important for his salary the following year.

Bonda goes through several twists and turns of adventure showing a fictional behind the scenes. From former players to teammates at the farm, to even opponents and knowing their backstory, Bonda has plenty of inspiration and a memo of who to not be while playing professional baseball.

There is even a plot that has to do with foreigners playing in NPB, explaining the gaijin rule and how it works. Being a ballplayer has more responsibilities than just staying in shape and producing on the field. It's a life of ups and downs, which Bonda continues to go through as a lefty specialist wanting to stay at the ichi-gun.

The best focus to this anime is how it isn't always about what happens on the field, let alone there is not as much in-game analysis and more perspective on careers, which brings a slice of life to the viewer.

When it comes to criticism, an argument can be made that the pilot should not have been a double header episode with two different stories in each half. The introduction to Bonda was good, but the second story introducing a broadcaster who was a former player felt like too much and should have been saved for later.

The artwork for this anime isn't flashy, but it is tailored to look exactly like NPB without using the team names. Mazda Zoom-Zoom, Tokyo Dome, Yokohama Stadium, Koshien Stadium and Jingu Stadium have all been seen. If anything, don't compare the animation to something along the lines of Studio Ghibli or what Makoto Shinkai has directed.

If you're into baseball behind the scenes, this show is easily for you. It's a greater understanding of life as a ball player and the concept of staying up at the ichi-gun level.

Best yet, it was popular enough in the Spring to be picked up for a second season, which begins in October.


Other external facts:


Gurazeni has all elements of NPB are there minus the team names being replaced with obvious fictional ones. Besides the stadiums, the colors are still the same to indirectly represent the following teams:

Bunkyo Mops = Yomiuri Giants
Jingu Spiders = Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Bonda's team)
Nagoya Wild Ones = Chunichi Dragons
Yokohama Blue Comets = Yokohama DeNA Baystars
Hiroshima Carnabeats = Hiroshima Carp
Osaka Tempters = Hanshin Tigers

The manga has Pacific League teams as well. For the Saitama Seibu Lions, they become the Tokorozawa Jaguars.


The opening song is "Merigo" by Robert Yoshino, featuring SKY-HI. Its lyrics capture the show's purpose on the ups and downs in life as it's a "Merigo", short for Merry-go round as shown in the music video.

The closing song in the credits is "Shadow Monster"by Toki Asako. Not a bad tune given how relaxing it is, talking about being bold and not shy.


Fukushi Ochiai is a well-known voice actor who plays Bonda, but he also happens to be the son of the famous Hiromitsu Ochiai, who was famous as a manager and front office executive for the Chunichi Dragons. Former Swallows manager Mitsuru Manaka and Dragons pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto also provide cameo appearances on select episodes doing the color commentator role.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Nakamura wins August 2018 MVP Award

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura was named the Pacific League hitting MVP for August on Tuesday afternoon. This is the second time he has won a monthly MVP award and his first since July of 2015.

Nakamura, who turned 35 last month, had a .319 batting average which had 29 hits while hitting 12 home runs and 26 RBIs in the month of August. He also tied a Pacific League record for six consecutive games with a HR, one shy of the NPB record where Sadaharu Oh hit seven.

This is only the third Lions monthly MVP Award in the 2018 season. Previously, Shinsaburo Tawata and Hotaka Yamakawa were named the Pacific League pitcher and hitter MVPs respectively for the month of April. 


Other August MVP Winners:

P Kodai Senga (Softbank Hawks): 4-0, 31.1 IP, 37K, 0.86 ERA

1B Dayan Viciedo (Chunichi Dragons): .465, 7 HR, 24 RBI,

P Geronimo Franzua (Hiroshima Carp): 17.2 IP, 0-1, 1 Save, 0.51 ERA, 19 K. 


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