Sunday, March 24, 2019

English NPB experts predict the 2019 Seibu Lions


Japan Baseball Weekly released their Podcast episode previewing the Pacific League for the 2019 season on Sunday. You can listen to the full episode here by clicking on the link. The episode is also available on iTunes

After a portion of the episode discusses some milestones and answers a question, John E. Gibson of the Japan News and Yomiuri Shimbun, Jim Allen of Kyodo News, Claudio Rodriguez of Béisbol Japonés and Zac Ikuma of Sankei broadcasting discussed everything regarding the Pacific League with projections in the standings.

Where did they have the Lions?  We'll show you where they have them finishing in the Pacific League with a few notes of what they said: 

John E. Gibson (@JBWPodcast): 4th

"I'm calling this the 'Wish-casting' team. An example is how I don't think they have a good rotation, but fans think they can get the first four guys out there and hopefully get good performances from [the other two guys] in a week."
-Expects the loss of Hideto Asamura to hurt offensively, but believes he came off a peak season that won't be matched in Sendai with the Rakuten Eagles. 

-Thinks Shuta Tonosaki will be fine at second base. 

-Sees no positives in the bullpen outside of Deunte Heath.

-Finds too many holes in the rotation while they already lost Yusei Kikuchi. Thinks Tetsuya Utsumi will be shredded by Pacific League hitters.

-Offense can come close to their production last season despite losing Asamura.

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Jim Allen (@JballAllen): 3rd
"If Hotaka Yamakawa makes good on his quest to make better contact, then he'll have MVP numbers for the second straight year."
-Says infield defense will improve with Asamura gone from second base.

-Announced Shogo Akiyama will be in his last NPB season (he has international free agent rights for 2020). Said Akiyama is one of the best players in Japan.  

-Believes the young pitching staff could take a step forward from last year. 

-Made it a point to add that first round pick Wataru Matsumoto has less mileage on his arm by only beginning to pitch in high school. Makes him a good long term candidate for ace. 

-Thinks Utsumi could be a plus to the rotation. 

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Zac Ikuma (@ikumaisaac): 3rd
"I just don't think they have enough pitching. There are good prospects and developmental guys. I'm sure they'll win a lot of games, but I just don't think they can get it done when they need to. " 
-Sees Tawata as the only front line pitcher, finds Utsumi to be injury prone and a liability. Utsumi's presence alone is a hint that the Lions pitching staff is in trouble. 

-Thinks the Lions can out-slug opponents, but at some point, there will be struggles. 

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Claudio Rodriguez (@BeisbolJapones): 2nd
"I agree mostly with what Jim said. I still think they're going to have a solid season even though they lost some key players." 
-While there is expected regression, Claudio thinks the Lions can take second by default comparing the competition below them. (He has the Softbank Hawks in first)

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Consensus Pacific League thoughts:

-Softbank Hawks are once again the unanimous favorites to win the Pacific League and even Japan Series championship.

-Buffaloes could be a sleeper given Norifumi Nishimura is the manager. Only doubt is the fact they're Orix. 

-Fighters are the hardest team to predict. Can have a good season one year followed by a bad year. Lots of raw talent, but some believe they can play up.

-Marines have a mixed bag. Some think they'll be ready in a few years, but not in 2019. Offense will be a work in progress. 

-Eagles are a consensus B-class team with a lack of bullpen and questions on who steps it up as Takahiro Norimoto is out for half the year. They all found Kazuhisa Ishii being named the GM as a puzzling decision. 

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Spring Koshien 2019: Schools with a Lions connection


Meaningful baseball already started with Tokyo Dome hosting a two-game series involving the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners. The first event in Japan excluding University and other leagues is Spring Koshien, where 32 schools are invited to play.

Spring Koshien is where Shohei Ohtani's career in high school was short lived as he lost to a loaded Osaka Toin team in the first round. There is also the twist of 21st Century schools given an opportunity to play as three of them are part of the field. 

Here are the schools with a Lions connection on the current roster:

Toin Gakuen (Kanagawa): Hiromasa Saito and Kakeru Yamanobe

Saito was taken by the Lions out of college in the first round of 2017. In high school, he opposed Yuki Matsui of the Rakuten Eagles in the prefecture tournaments. Last season, he got a glimpsed of ichi-gun baseball in the second half as a reliever while making one spot start. He is expected to big a key contributor for the future, whether it's starting or pitching out of the bullpen. 

Yamanobe was the Lions third round draft pick in 2018 and was a shakaijin. He also attended Oberlin University, where Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Chihaya Sasaki was his teammate. Both Saito and Yamanobe were teammates in high school too, though they took different paths after University.

For 2019, Yamanobe is expected to help the Lions infield at second base and hopes to earn regular starting time.

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This is a year where Osaka Toin was not invited, but other legendary high schools like Yokohama HS and Riseisha are part of the field. The first games will begin on 3/23, or the evening of 3/22 in stateside time.  Enjoy!

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

2019 Seibu Lions: How the roster was built



The Saitama Seibu Lions roster is already available in English. When you look at the Japanese website, it shows more profile on the player if he was drafted by the team and even shows his previous high school or other teams from college or the shakaijin leagues.

We accumulated as much data as we could when it comes to salary. where he was drafted, where he previously played baseball and more. While not all salaries are listed, here is what we have from jersey number to other acquisition origins:

Starting Pitchers:

Ken Togame (21) [1st round draft pick, 2011] I; {JR East} ¥51 million
Chun-Lin Kuo (69) [Free agent, 2014]* {Taiwanese National Team U23} ¥12 million
Kona Takahashi (13) [1st round draft pick, 2014] HS; {Maebashi Ikuei} ¥18.5 million
Shinsaburo Tawata (18) [1st round draft pick, 2015] U; {Fuji} ¥80 million
Keisuke Honda (45) [6th round draft pick, 2015] U; {Tohoku Gakuin} ¥6.5 million
Makoto Aiuchi (41) [2nd round draft pick, 2012] HS; {Chiba Kokusai} ¥6.4 million
Fabio Castillo (47) [Free agent, 2017]* {Los Angeles Dodgers} ¥33 million
Hayato Takagi (20) [Compensation for loss of Ryoma Nogami]& {Yomiuri Giants} ¥30.3 million
Yasuo Sano (34) [2nd round draft pick, 2014] U; {Heisei} ¥13 million
Tatsuya Imai (11) [1st round draft pick, 2016] HS; {Sakushin Gakuin} ¥18 million
Daiki Enokida (30) [Acquired in trade for Yosuke Okamoto]# ¥55 million
Kaima Taira (61) [4th round draft pick, 2017] HS; {Yaeyama Shoko} ¥6 million
Zach Neal (54) [Free Agent]* {Los Angeles Dodgers} ¥71.5 million


Relief Pitchers:

Tatsushi Masuda (14) [1st round draft pick, 2012] I; {NTT West} ¥100 million
Shota Takekuma (48) [4th round high school draft pick, 2007] ^; {Asahikawa Kogyo} ¥63.5 million
Tatsuya Oishi (15) [1st round draft pick, 2010] U; {Waseda} ¥11.7 million
Hirotaka Koishi (29) [2nd round draft pick, 2011] I; {NTT East} ¥13.3 million
Shogo Noda (23) [3rd round draft pick ,2015] I; {Seino Unyu} ¥30 million
Tadasuke Minamikawa (59) [5th round draft pick, 2015] I; {JR Shikoku} ¥7.7 million
Tsubasa Kokuba (57) [8th round draft pick, 2015] U; {Daichi Kogyo} ¥5.4 million
Koki Fujita (67) [9th round draft pick, 2015] HS; {Hirosaki Kogyo} ¥5 million
Naoaki Matsumoto (66) [10th round draft pick, 2015] In; {Kagawa Olive Guyners} ¥8 million
Shunta Nakatsuka (22) [2nd round draft pick, 2016] U; {Hakuoh} ¥9.3 million
Katsunori Hirai (25) [5th round draft pick, 2016] I; {Honda Suzuka} ¥35 million
Ichiro Tamura (40) [6th round draft pick, 2016] U; {Rikkyo} ¥7 million
Deunte Heath (68) [Free agent]* {Toyama Thunderbirds} ¥77 million
Kyle Martin (42) [Free agent]* {Boston Red Sox} ¥93.5 million
Hiromasa Saito (19) [1st round draft pick, 2017] U; {Meiji} ¥16 million
Sho Ito (36) [3rd round draft pick, 2017] In; {Tokushima Indigo Socks} ¥8.2 million
Jen-Lei Liao (50) [Free agent]% {Yomiuri Giants} ¥6 million
Ryuya Ogawa (44) [Trade for cash considerations]# {Chunichi Dragons} ¥17 million
Tetsuya Utsumi (27) [Compensation for the loss of Ginjiro Sumitani]& {Yomiuri Giants} ¥100 million

Rookie Pitchers:

Wataru Matsumoto (17) [1st round draft pick, 2018]U; {Nihon Taiiku} ¥15 million
Yutaro Watanabe (12) [2nd round draft pick, 2018]HS; {Urawa Gakuin} ¥6.5 million
Kaito Awatsu (26) [4th round draft pick, 2018]U; {Higashi Nihon Kokusai} ¥10 million
Ryosuke Moriwaki (28) [6th round draft pick, 2018]I; {Sega Sammy} ¥10 million

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Catchers:

Tomoya Mori (10) [1st round draft pick, 2013] HS; {Osaka Toin} ¥80 million
Masatoshi Okada (37) [6th round draft pick, 2013] I; {Osaka Gas} ¥28.7 million
Shota Nakata (64) [6th round high school draft pick, 2007] ^; {Naruto} ¥5.7 million
Hitoto Komazuki (62) [3rd round draft pick, 2011] HS; {Kyoto Shiritsu Tonan} ¥5.1 million

Rookie Catcher:

Shoya Makino (38) [5th round draft pick, 2018]HS; {Yugakkankoto} ¥6 million

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Infielders:

Ernesto Mejia (99) [Free agent, May 2014]* {Atlanta Braves AAA} ¥500 million
Takeya "Okawari-Kun" Nakamura (60) [2nd round draft pick, 2001] HS; {Osaka Toin} ¥280 million
Sosuke Genda (6) [3rd round draft pick, 2016] I; {Toyota Motors} ¥80 million
Hotaka Yamakawa (33) [2nd round draft pick, 2013] U; {Fuji} ¥110 million
Shuta Tonosaki (5) [3rd round draft pick, 2014] U {Fuji} ¥70 million
Kyohei Nagae (32) [4th round draft pick, 2011] HS {Nagasaki Kaisei} ¥10.4 million
Nien Ting Wu (39) [7th round draft pick, 2015] U; {Daichi Kogyo} ¥6.5 million
Haruka Yamada (52) [5th round draft pick, 2014] HS; {Saga Kogyo} ¥6.5 million
Kazuki Kaneko (56) [4th round draft pick, 2013] HS; {Fujisawa} ¥6.5 million
Daichi Mizuguchi (0) [Ikusei draft pick, 2012] iIn; {Kagawa Olive Guyners} ¥7.7 million
Ryusei Tsunashima (63) [6th round draft pick, 2017] HS; {Itoigawa Hakurei} ¥5 million
Manaya Nishikawa (51) [2nd round pick, 2017] HS {Hanasaki Tokuharu} ¥7 million

Rookie Infielders:

Kakeru Yamanobe (4) [3rd round draft pick, 2018]I; {Mitsubishi Motors Okazaki} ¥12 million
Ryusei Sato (31) [7th round draft pick, 2018]U; {Fuji} ¥6 million


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Outfielders:

Shogo Akiyama (55) [3rd round draft pick, 2010] U; {Hachinohe} ¥234.9 million
Takumi Kuriyama (1) [4th round draft pick, 2001] HS; {Ikuei} ¥137 million
Shogo Saito (65) [7th round high school draft pick, 2007] ^; {Kasukabe Kyoei} ¥15 million
Fumikazu Kimura (9) [1st round high school draft pick, 2006]^; {Saitama Sakae} ¥23.6 million
Masato Kumashiro (58) [6th round draft pick, 2010] I; {Oji Paper} ¥10 million
Aito Takeda (53) [4th round draft pick, 2015] HS; {Hanasaki Tokuharu} ¥6.2 million
Daisuke Togawa (71) [Ikusei pick, 2014] iHS; {Hokkai} ¥5 milllion
Yuji Kaneko (8) [3rd round draft pick, 2012] U; {Ritsumeikan} ¥57 million
Shohei Suzuki (46) [4th round draft pick, 2016] HS {Shizuoka} ¥6 million
Seiji Kawagoe (72) [2nd round draft pick, 2015] U; {Hokkai Gakuen} ¥7.6 million
Wataru Takagi (73) [1st round ikusei pick, 2017] iHS {Shiritsu Shinsokan} ¥5 million

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Ikusei:

C Masato Saito (122) [2nd round ikusei pick, 2017] U {Hokkaido Kyoiku Iwamizawa} ¥3 million
P Tomomi Takahashi (123) [4th round draft pick, 2012] I; {Seino Unyu} ¥20 million
P Kaito Yoza (124) [5th round draft pick, 2017]U; {Gifu Keizai} ¥7 million
P Jiyu Okubo (126) [2nd round ikusei pick, 2018]iHS; {Hokkai} ¥2.8 million
P Aoi Tono (125) [1st round ikusei pick, 2018]iU; {Nihonkezai} ¥4 million
C Daichi Nakaguma (127) [3rd round ikusei pick, 2018]iU; {Tokuyama} ¥4 million


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Legend:

U - Drafted out of University/College

I - Drafted out of Industrial League (Shakaijin)

In - Drafted out of Independent League

HS - Drafted out of High School

^ - Drafted in a year where High School and University drafts were separate. From 2005-2007, those taken in high school were separated from those taken out Universities or Industrial/Independent League teams.

* - Foreign import signing 

% - Domestic Free Agent

& - Free Agent compensation selection

# - Acquired by trade

i - Ikusei draft pick. It's similar to how an NFL practice squad works, except they're drafted in an ikusei round after the initial NPB Draft. For more information, you can click here.

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Lastly, here is the coaching staff of the Lions both at the ichi-gun and ni-gun level. This is listed on the Lions website.

Head Manager (Supervisor)
85 Hatsuhiko Tsuji (田辺 徳雄)

Ichi-gun Coaches
83 Toshifumi Baba (馬場 敏史) – Strategy, Infield defense, base-running 
88 Kazuyoshi Ono (小野 和義) - Pitching*
74 Fumiya Nishiguchi (西口 文也) –  Pitching
84 Kosaku Akimoto (秋元 宏作) – Battery
76 Masahiro Abe (阿部 真宏) - Hitting
86 Shogo Akada (赤田 将吾) – Hitting^
87 Satoshi Kuroda (黒田 哲史) – Infield defense and Base-running^
70 Tomoaki Sato (佐藤 友亮) – Outfield defense and Base-running (1B coach)

Ni-gun Coaches
77 Kazuo Matsui (松井 稼頭央) - Manager 
75 Hiroyuki Takagi (高木 浩之) – Farm position player and Head Coach (NP)
90 Kento Sugiyama (杉山 賢人) – Farm Pitching
91 Ming-Chieh Hsu (许铭杰) – Farm Pitching
82 Kosuke Noda (野田 浩輔) – Farm Battery
89 Hiroshi Hirao (平尾 博司) – Hitting, Infield and Base-Running*
80 Shigenobu Shima (嶋 重宣) – Batting (NP)
81 Takanori Hoshi (星 孝典) – Ikusei and development
92 Eiji Kiyokawa (清川 栄治) – Roving/Patrol pitching coach*

* New coach
^ Promoted to ichi-gun
NP - New Position

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

NPB Preview 2019: Pacific League


The Pacific League has controlled the Japan Series since the 21st Century began, having won 13 of the 19 that have taken place.

In the minds of some spectators, the Japan Series championship goes through the Pacific League. Here is a look at each Pacific League team with predictions on the bottom:

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Chiba Lotte Marines

The Marines looked to compete as they were right in the hunt halfway through the season. However, everything fell apart with the worst record after the All-Star break. They'll need to put together a full season if they want to be in A-class for the first time since 2016.

Notable and import additions: IF Brandon Laird, IF Kennys Vargas, P Josh Ravin, P Brandon Mann

Notable departures: None

Core-Four: P Mike Bolsinger, P Ayumu Ishikawa, IF Shogo Nakamura, P Kota Futaki

Strengths: Front end rotation, Speed

Bolsinger and Futaki make a great 1-2 punch with the former being one of the most vital pitchers to the team last year. The Marines dynamic changed once Bolsinger was hurt and a putrid end to 2018 left a sour note on the season. If Ayumu Ishikawa can rebound for a full year and stay healthy, that's a Big 3 while Hideaki Wakui can continue to eat innings for rotation stability.

Shogo Nakamura and Takashi Ogino are solid as base runners while there are other depth players who can run. Ogino is likely to be injured at some point in the season, but there are plenty of options.

Question Marks: Bullpen, Offense

The bullpen collapsed throughout the second half of the year and was a big reason for their 19-44-1 record. Brandon Mann, who already has experience in NPB, rejoins the league in hopes to fix that hole.

Offensively, power hitting will improve with more terrace seats being added, bringing the home run fences a little closer. While they are top heavy when it comes to sluggers, they're going to need more balance from all parts of their lineup. Taiga Hirasawa, Kyota Fujiwara and Hisanori Yasuda are the future of this team.

Expectations: What team is this? The competitive group led by Bolsinger in the first half or the one that faltered in the second half? It's uncertain how the pitching holds up through a full season while the hitting for average needs to improve. They're going to need to pitch their way to make A-class, but it's possible. Power numbers are guaranteed to go up with Laird and possibly Vargas being big contributors.

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Rakuten Eagles

The Eagles looked like they were contenders after winning a playoff series in 2017. Things went south in 2018 with a poor start offensively and a unit that was adjusted to.

Notable and import additions: Manager Yosuke Hiraishi (no longer interim), OF Jabari Blash, P Alan Busenitz, 2B Hideto Asamura

Notable departures: OF Carlos Peguero, Manager Masataka Nashida

Core-Four: P Takayuki Kishi, P Takahiro Norimoto, 2B Hideto Asamura, SS Eigoro Mogi

Strengths: Starting pitching, star power

Kishi and Norimoto are already ace-caliber pitchers while Minabu Mima is solid in the rotation. With Asamura added, the team has legit offensive power to complement others like Toshiaki Imae, "Ginji" Akaminai and Zelous Wheeler.

Question marks: Hiraishi, bullpen, offensive uncertainty

Hiraishi was the interim manager in the middle of 2018 after Nashida stepped down. While the Eagles showed some fight after he took over, reality sunk in and the team was no where close to A-class. Yuki Matsui struggled as a closer while the rest of the bullpen remained vulnerable, an issue they had dating back to 2017.

Prospects for the Eagles haven't emerged as quickly, but Kazuki Tanaka was the player that stood out in a bad 2018 season. The outfield could be even better if Louis Okoye has a breakout year or 2018 first round pick Ryosuke Tatsumi makes an impact.

Expectations: On paper, the Eagles should compete, but how much? One signing could change the offensive dynamic, but can it cancel out their relief pitching weaknesses? This group is not a slam dunk for A-class and needs to earn it like anyone else. The real challenge will be how they handle Norimoto being out indefinitely.

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Orix Buffaloes

Orix has a new skipper in charge after several mediocre years of a previous manager and regime. While being a few years removed from their well-documented war upstairs, this team has not been going in the right direction since.

Notable and import additions: P Daichi Takeyasu, Manager Norifumi Nishimura, IF Joey Meneses, P Tyler Eppler

Notable departures: P Chihiro Kaneko, Manager Junichi Fukura, P Yuki Nishi, IF Hiroyuki Nakajima

Notable retirement: IF Eiichi Koyano

Core-Four: OF Masataka Yoshida, OF Takahiro Okada, P Andrew Albers, P Taisuke Yamaoka

Strengths: Bullpen, pitching depth

Orix may have lost their ace and former ace in Nishi and Kaneko, but they have been ready for it with others who can step in which includes 2017 first round pick Daiki Tajima. Their bullpen was rock solid with Hirotoshi Masui closing it out and the middle relief had plenty of options from Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Keisuke Sawada and Motoki Higa. There is also a chance that Yuta Kuroki can have a rebound season while others can play up.

Question marks: Manager, Clutch hitting, Starting pitching, Focus

Nishimura returns to managing for the first time since 2012 and while he won the Japan Series with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2010, that was his only career A-class season. Previously he was the Head coach for Orix as this was a promotion from within.

Offensively, the Buffaloes are dependent on Okada and Yoshida leading the way while others have been average to mediocre as a whole. They're going to need Stefen Romero to rebound from a rough sophomore season if they want to have a potent offense.

The losses of Nishi and Kaneko prove to be harsh with no proven ace as they only have guys like Brandon Dickson who can eat innings. There are options to improve the rotation, but with no front end starter, it's uncertain.

Lastly, Orix has been known to come up short due to a lack of coaching and focus on the game. Mental mistakes have plagued them going back to the days of Hiroshi Moriwaki as there was no attention to detail. Basic fundamentals need to be practiced on defense and elsewhere if they want to compete, but it's classic Orix to play into their identity of finding ways to lose.

Expectations: While Orix doesn't have Nishi anymore, they have enough talent to compete for A-class. Their problems have been from within as some of the raw player have not been developed or coached properly over the last few years. If they can fix their attention to detail and the rotation shows some life from pitchers like Daiki Tomei and Takahiro Matsuba, A-class is not impossible.

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Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Fighters came off a surprise season where they came in A-class despite losing Shohei Ohtani to MLB. They're looking to build off a decent year where they competed and nearly won a playoff series.

Notable and import additions: P Chihiro Kaneko, P Justin Hancock, OF Po-Jung Wang, P Johnny Barbato

Notable departures: IF Brandon Laird

Core-Four: P Kohei Arihara, IF Sho Nakata, OF Haruki Nishikawa, OF Kensuke Kondo

Note: This Core-Four has Arihara because of the team's emphasis on wanting him to be the ace. They've had the goal for him to be the first starting pitcher in a given playoff series. 

Strengths: Youth, defense and speed

The Fighters will never had a group of aging veterans on their last legs given their financial situation. Manager Hideki Kuriyama does a great job at making sure the team has good defense in the field and it shows with their staff. Takuya Nakashima and Nishikawa do a great job at covering the range needed in the infield and outfield.

Question marks: Bullpen, lack of power hitting

The Fighters struggled to have a solidified closer as the season progressed. A revolving door took place and everything became questionable outside of Katsuhiko Kumon. Starters are adequate, but they can't pitch all nine innings every game.

With Laird gone, only Sho Nakata had more than 20 home runs for the team in 2018. Right now, they'll need to get three hits or a stolen base to get a run in and there could be a lot of manufactured scoring.

Expectations: Naoyuki Uwasawa needs to show last year was no fluke to be a solidified Core-Four member while Nick Martinez proved to be a decent import pickup to take innings. Their rotation is underrated and could be even better in 2019 with the help of their defense in the field.

Last year saw a strong first half before the team fell to third place by default. They weren't great, but good enough for A-class because of their early overachieving. Hitting and bullpen will determine if this team can make the postseason again or not.

In the long term, watching the development of IF Kotaro Kiyomiya and P Kosei Yoshida should be fun. The Fighters will be waiting for their new stadium to open in Kitahiroshima with all the logistics still being worked out on the construction.

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Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Softbank Hawks are coming off their fourth Japan Series championship in the last five years. This team currently looks like no opposition will stop them anytime soon as we're in the midst of their dynasty.

Notable additions: None

Notable departures: None

Notable retirement: 2B Yuichi Honda

Core-Four: OF Yuki Yanagita, P Kodai Senga, 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda, OF Seiji Uebayashi

Strengths: Depth, pitching

The Softbank Hawks can put a pitcher on every other NPB team and still be competitive. Former ikusei pick Kotaro Otake looks to be a real sleeper while midseason import Ariel Miranda was solid. They have an embarrassment of riches in their pitching staff and can reload at any time if someone struggles.

Question marks: Championship hangover, Manager

The Hawks were offensively below average to start 2018, but they picked it up in the final two months of the year. Like any championship team, a hangover is possible with 2019 being the new season ahead. Kimiyasu Kudo is still an average manager despite winning three of the last four Japan Series Championships as he has a loaded roster to play with.

Expectations: Based on roster talent, the Hawks are expected to contend for another Pacific League pennant and Japan Series. While they have repeated as Japan Series champions twice, they have never three-peated. Their last Three-peat for a Pacific League Pennant was from 1964-1966 as Nankai Hawks.

The core is another year older, but there are plenty of younger options if the team needs to reload. Expect another former ikusei to come out of nowhere.

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Saitama Seibu Lions

The Lions won their first Pacific League pennant in 10 years, but failed to make the Japan Series after losing in the Climax Series. There were quite a few changes to the roster and staff for 2019.

Key and import additions: P Tetsuya Utsumi, P Zach Neal, P Ryuya Ogawa (2018 in-season pickup)

Notable losses: 2B Hideto Asamura, C Ginjiro Sumitani, P Yusei Kikuchi

Notable retirement: Kazuo Matsui (now a farm manager)

Core-Four: P Shinsaburo Tawata, OF Shogo Akiyama, SS Sosuke Genda, 1B Hotaka Yamakawa

Strengths: Speed, hitting for average

Despite losing Asamura, the Lions could be a faster team with who takes 3B or 2B. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura will likely have less time in the field and the team, who already led the league in stolen bases, could have even more. Last year was also a strong season from Shuta Tonosaki and Yamakawa put a full season together, winning the Pacific League MVP Award.

Question Marks: Rotation, bullpen

Health has become a short term issue with Utsumi and Daiki Enokida hurt. Tawata hasn't proven to be ace-caliber as a pitcher, but he is the best option entering the 2019 season. The best case scenario happened last season where the offense hid most of the issues in the bullpen, as they were lit up in mop up duty. However, it's uncertain what happens to both the rotation and bullpen outside of Deunte Heath, who proved to be a solid closer after being picked up midseason.

It would help if first round draft pick Wataru Matsumoto can contribute right away in the rotation while shakaijin draft pick Ryosuke Moriwaki can be in the bullpen.

Expectations: The Lions are expected to take a step backwards based on who they lost in Kikuchi with the Seattle Mariners and Asamura to the Eagles. There is plenty of rebuilding on the fly with their pitching as well as a few positions in the field. This season is more of an opportunity to play the youth while also compete at the same time.

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Predictions: 

1. Softbank Hawks: Hawks have some hangover, but the team still plays its best baseball as a whole to reclaim the pennant.

2. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters: Youth takes another step forward and puts a full season together to solidify themselves in A-class.

3. Saitama Seibu Lions: Growing pains take place for some, but the offense can take them into A-class with a feared lineup and more speed.

4. Rakuten Eagles: Eagles bullpen takes a larger toll than thought and holds them back another year.

5. Chiba Lotte Marines: Pitching only takes them so far, offense has progress, but not enough to make it to the postseason. Tadahito Iguchi's future uncertain.

6. Orix Buffaloes: No longer in peril, but Orix finds a way to be Orix despite the talent on the roster. Pitching collapses.

===

Overall: 

The Softbank Hawks are expected to be at the top, but the rest of the Pacific League will be competitive from top to bottom. Last year after interleague play, everyone was within five games of the pennant outside of the Eagles. No team can be written off and any results from 2-6 wouldn't be shocking, except maybe Orix in second place.

Talent is there on every roster to do damage, but someone has to emerge through 143 games. Only question is who?

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Friday, March 1, 2019

NPB Preview 2019: Central League


The 2019 NPB season will begin at the end of this month. It's currently Open-sen (Exhibition baseball) happening now, but the games will count on March 29.

This is one of the best ways to get the baseball itch off the skin with some ideas and previews of each league. In this piece, we'll be looking at the Central League with the new information needed on each team. Predictions will be at the very bottom.

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Hiroshima Carp 

The Carp won the Central League Pennant for the third consecutive year and lost the Japan Series for the second time in three seasons. They currently have the longest drought without a Japan Series championship with their last one being in 1984.

Import additions: P Kyle Regnault, P Casey Lawrence

Notable departures: OF Yoshihiro Maru, P Jay Jackson, OF Brad Eldred

Core-Four: 2B Ryosuke Kikuchi, OF Seiya Suzuki, P Kris Johnson, P Daichi Osera

Strength: Speed, Offense

The Hiroshima Carp have led the league in Stolen Bases in the last two years and it appears that won't be changing anytime soon. While they lost Maru, the offense should be still be near the top of the league while the power numbers will likely go down. There is plenty of depth to keep the offense competitive with more opportunities for others to step in.

Question Marks: Bullpen, rotation depth

The Carp were able to get away with their offense covering their mistakes in the Central League, but the Japan Series was all but a no contest with the depth was exposed from the pitchers. For now, they're dependent on Johnson and Osera leading the way, but it's possible for others to have rebound years. Akitake Okada and Kazuki Yabuta are good candidates for that. In the bullpen, Geronimo Franzua was a solid option in middle relief, but they still need an established bridge to closer Shota Nakazaki.

Expectations: The Carp should contend for a Pennant once again, but it will be interesting to see how the offense looks without Maru. They're likely to regress, but the depth is there to still be competitive on offense. As a whole, this organization is capable of reloading with plenty of young players ready to take the next step.

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Tokyo Yakult Swallows: 

The Swallows turned around a last place season into a second place finish for 2018. With Junji Ogawa returning, their emergence began in Interleague Play and it kept them in A-class for majority of the second half. With others underachieving and the team staying healthy, everything went right for a franchise that has historically had everything go wrong.

Notable and Import additions: P Hayato Terahara, P Albert Suarez, P Scott McGough

Notable Departures: None

Core-Four: P David Buchanan, P Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa, 2B Tetsuto Yamada, OF Tomotaka Sakaguchi

Strength: Veteran presence, balance

When Nori Aoki returned to the Swallows, everything went right for himself and the team. He was a huge help to their lineup for what some called a rebuilding team. The roster has plenty of aging players that know how to get it done.

Both the offense and pitching are right in the middle of the road to be competitive. With Yamada and Ogawa, they have elite talent to stay near the top. If anything, they won't fold easily.

Question mark: Injuries, repeating last year's success

The Swallows were injured in 2017 and had no chance to do anything minus Sakaguchi being their only constant. Yamada should be fine, but the rest of the team needs to stay healthy if they want an A-class year.

Expectations: The Swallows have fluctuated and never stayed constant historically besides being in the basement. Their last seasons of consecutive A-class years were from 2011-2012. Prior to that, you would have to go prior to the Climax Series era while they had their share of relevance in the 1990s.

Track record isn't in favor of this team, but they overachieved last year. They can't be completely written off based on the roster they have.

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Yomiuri Giants

The Giants had a losing season for the second consecutive year and should have finished in B-class if it weren't for their competition being just as poor. Despite all of this, they won a playoff series with their manager already being in lame duck status during the postseason. With the return of a legendary Hall of Famer in charge, people expect a rise to come again.

Notable and import additions: Manager Tatsunori Hara, P Hisashi Iwakuma, IF Hiroyuki Nakajima, C Ginjiro Sumitani, OF Yoshihiro Maru, IF Christian Villanueva, P Ryan Cook

Notable Departures: Manager Yoshinobu Takahashi, P Tetsuya Utsumi, OF Hisayoshi Chono

Core-Four: P Tomoyuki Sugano, IF Hayato Sakamoto, IF Kazuma Okamoto, OF Yoshihiro Maru

Strengths: Veteran presence, front end talent

With Sugano coming off back-to-back Sawamura awards and an emerging start in Okamoto, the Giants have plenty players who can be elite and at the top of the league. The addition of Maru is expected to complement an already solid lineup. As Hara will manage the Giants for the first time in four years, many believe he should be able to work some magic into this team given his track record.

Question marks: Uncertainty, lack of speed

The Giants signed the planet in free agency and it's unclear what kind of role each player will have. Several signings in the past like Alex Guerrero have been buried. There are plenty of past names which Japanese fans will recognize, but they all have positions that are likely filled, especially at catcher. There is no idea how everything will play out until we see ichi-gun games being played.

Expectations: With Hara back and Maru supposed to bolster the offense, many have the Giants contending for a pennant again and should be the answer for the Carp's reign. In the past, the Giants are picked off their reputation and previous history, but this time, there is a case for them to finish in first place.

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Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars finished in B-class for the first time in the Alex Ramirez era after coming off a Japan Series trip in 2017. They took a step backwards with inconsistency throughout the year and injuries to the pitching staff. Offensively, they couldn't string a run until it was too late.

Notable Additions: None

Notable losses: Joe Wieland

Core-Four: OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, P Shota Imanaga, OF Neftali Soto, 1B Jose Lopez

Strengths: Power, Young pitchers

The Baystars can hit the ball deep, even though the home runs numbers inflated thanks to their home ballpark. Soto had 41 last season while Tsutsugo had 38. There is always potential to change a game with a home run.

Recent track record has shown the Baystars pitching has been thanks to their first round draft picks. Imanaga, Haruhiro Hamaguchi and Katsuki Azuma look to be solid left handed starters for years to come while the latter carried them in rookie his rookie season. Look for Imanaga and/or Hamaguchi to rebound after a rough 2018.

Question marks: Offense

While Toshiro Miyazaki has been huge for the team, the rest have no been so timely with their hits. The Baystars offense was dead last in the league while leading the Central in home runs. It didn't help when Lopez was hurt, but Takayuki Kajitani also needs to be healthy. The only constant with this team is home runs, but a one-dimensional offense won't take anyone very far.

Expectations: Ramirez is on the hot seat after a rough 2018. To his credit, he didn't throw anyone under the bus through all of this and generalized it as a team problem including himself. A-class is capable if the pitching improves and the offense can put things together on a consistent basis, but any repeat of last year will see a new manager change for 2020.

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Chunichi Dragons

The Dragons came off a 5th place finish and avoided the cellar in the final weeks of the regular season. Crazy enough, they had meaningful baseball with two weeks to go, but a few glaring and obvious weaknesses held them back as they came up short of A-class for the sixth year in a row.

Notable and import additions: Manager Tsuyoshi Yoda, P Enny Romero, Head coach Tsutomu Ito

Notable departures: P Onelki Garcia, Manager

Notable retirements: Masahiro Araki, Hitoki Iwase, Takuya Asao

Core-Four: OF Ryosuke Hirata, P Shinnosuke Ogasawara, IF Shuhei Takahashi, IF Dayan Viciedo

Strengths: Hitting

The Dragons had a top offense in the Central League with imports Viciedo and Zoilo Almonte helping the cause. Hirata had a rebound season while Yohei Oshima is a constant at the top of the lineup. The power numbers aren't high, but the offense looking solid in Nagoya Dome's park makes this lineup very overlooked and underrated. In the long term, high school first round draft pick Akira Neo will be the future of this team.

Question Marks: Pitching, Manager

Yoda has very minimal coaching experience having last been with the Rakuten Eagles at the ni-gun level. The Dragons management hired "their guy" and aren't associated with Hiromitsu Ochiai, who left the team as GM a few years ago. Yoda knows the situation, but has a lot to learn.

The biggest issue is in both the Dragons bullpen and rotation, which lacks an ace and even a closer. They've been able to get good mileage for veteran Kazuki Yoshimi, but it can only take them so far. Yuya Yanagi or Ogasawara will need to step it up. It's also possible for recent draft picks Kodai Umetsu and Akiyoshi Katsuno to play immediately. This is also a year where Hiroshi Suzuki needs to take the next step.

Expectations: While A-class is a possibility, the pitching staff has too many issues coming into Opening Day. The loss of Garcia hurts, but there are options from within. The only problem is that everyone is unproven with no ace while the offense can only carry them so far. Projections show B-class is more likely once again, but anything can happen.

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Hanshin Tigers

The Hanshin Tigers came off their first last-place finish since 2001, the year prior to the late Senichi Hoshino joining them. It's a new era in Tigers history with a new manager while a few signings could turn things around sooner than later.

Notable and import additions: P Onelki Garcia, P Yuki Nishi, P Pierce Johnson, IF Jefry Marte, Manager Akihiro Yano

Departures: Manager Tomoaki Kanemoto, P Daichi Takeyasu, IF Wilin Rosario, P Marcos Mateo

Core-Four: P Randy Messenger, OF Yoshio Itoi, P Yuki Nishi, OF Kosuke Fukudome

Strengths: Front end rotation

Messenger isn't getting any younger, but he is their ace without question. With Nishi and import Garcia added to the fold, this should be a solid Big-3 as long as the latter can match what he did in 2018. Starting pitching could be even better as long as Taiki Ono continues to develop and Yuta Iwasada stays healthy.

Question marks: Manager, hitting, old core

While Yano won the farm championship for the Tigers ni-gun squad, being at the ichi-gun is another level. The Tigers can run, but will they steal as many bases as ni-gun did? Doubtful. It's unsure what his tactics are, but they're likely to be an upgrade over what Kanemoto did in holding back the team's offense.

The Tigers are going to need some younger help besides Itohara among position players. Messenger, Fukudome and Itoi are all older than 37 among the core players. Time is going to end on them eventually. Given that first round draft pick Koji Chikamoto was a shakaijin, he should be able to help right away.

Expectations: The Kansai market always has high expectations no matter what. Realistically, A-class is a huge possibility because of the Central League being mediocre and uncertain. If the hitting takes steps forward while the rotation establishes itself as one of the best, they can easily get there and turn it around from a last place season.

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Overall Predictions:

1. Yomiuri Giants: Hara's return will bring back some glory while the defending Central League champions take a step backwards with their pitching being exposed.

2. Hiroshima Carp: There is still talent on offense, but a hangover and the pitching could weigh them down.

3. Hanshin Tigers: This is my surprise team with Yano taking the Tigers in an upward direction. The rotation has a shot to do some damage while the mental mistakes should go down from last season.

4. Yokohama DeNA Baystars: The Baystars remain in mediocrity and find a way to come up short once again. This could be the end of Ramirez as well as Tsutsugo's last season in Japan.

5. Yakult Swallows: Things go wrong for the Swallows to even out what went right in 2018. Injuries pile up, pitching gets lit up while the offense is reliant on a few individuals.

6. Chunichi Dragons: Pitching staff isn't where it needs to be for A-class. It could develop as the season goes on, but they're a step behind everyone else.

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Final thoughts:

Given how close the Central League was in September, anything can happen. No team should be 100% written off despite having doubts. It's likely the Giants and Carp will be at the top, but the other four teams will be more than just jobbers and have a case for A-class. This should be a fun ride of mediocrity from beginning to end.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

NPB 2019 Hot Seat: Who needs to win now?


The 2019 NPB Season is about a month away from beginning. While training camp is nearly done and preseason starts soon, there are plenty of questions regarding every team.

For any sport, there is always the thought of which authoritative figure could be gone after the year if there is a poor performance ahead, or as stateside fans say, the hot seat. Some sports like hockey and soccer will go by current results and fire someone if losing is extreme in the middle of the season.

Manager in NPB aren't necessarily "fired", but could have a forced resignation if things go south. Last year, we thought up to four managerial changes would happen, but five took place instead with our #11 ranked manager resigning midseason.

Here are the factors we'll look at and analyze on each team's manager which determines our rankings, with the warmest seat listed first:

What have you done for me lately?: Firings usually happen due to a lack of winning more times than not. Looking at a manger's track record is good, but the window within the last few years is where it matters most when making a bold decision.

Situation: Not all managers are there to win now. How does he do with the talent around him? Is the team supposed to contend or rebuild? Does the manager serve his purpose for a period of time before he's expendable?

Surroundings/Scenery: Is there Wa/和 among the manager and the players? Does he make the right moves at the right time? Which market are they managing in?

As we rank these managers from 1-2, we'll also throw in an imaginary temperature for the hot seat where anything hotter than boiling water (212 °F, 100 °C) has a better chance of change if there is failure in 2019.


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1. Alex "Rami-chan" Ramirez (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

For a team that went to the Japan Series in 2017, the Baystars took a plunge and resembled a B-class group in 2018. While there were spurts of wins, they couldn't string consistency together and regression took place as a whole. Pitching had injuries, offense was dependent on a few individuals and they couldn't beat the last-place Hanshin Tigers.

To his credit, Rami-chan did not throw any players under the bus and generalized why this team was coming short. However, the pressure is on for 2019 and he can't afford to repeat a similar season to last year. The Baystars have had a losing record in two of the last three years and were only close last season due to some poor competition in the Central League. For now, this is only a group that has shown they can play well in October, but not before it. Temperature: 500 (°C), 932 (°F) 

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2. Tadahito Iguchi (Chiba Lotte Marines)


The Marines looked to be competitive through the first half of 2018, but a poor second half which had the worst record from the All-Star Break at 19-44-1. Injuries hurt them, but Ayumu Ishikawa's regression in the second half had a trickle down effect on the bullpen collapsing with the rest of the team. It didn't help to have Takashi Ogino hurt through an accident, but last year's record was unacceptable regardless.

More terrace seats to move the fences in should help the team's power numbers as both Brandon Laird and Kennys Vargas look to bolster the lineup. Offense needs to improve, but the bullpen is the largest concern of the bunch. Chiba was only good for one half until reality sunk in and the team arguably quit when they lost 14 in a row at home to end the season. Temperature: 200 (°C), 392 (°F) 

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3. Yosuke Hiraishi (Rakuten Eagles)


Hiraishi was the interim manager after Masataka Nashida resigned when the Eagles were 20 games under .500 in June of 2018. The Eagles removed the interim tag and named him the full time manager for 2019, but there are still concerns over what could happen ahead. There was an early response and competitive baseball in the summer, but it all faded in August and September. Question marks continue with this team if 2017 was a fluke or if 2018 is what the team really is. As long as the team competes, he's likely safe, but some failure could lead to a change. Temperature: 80 (°C), 158 (°F)

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4. Akihiro Yano (Hanshin Tigers)

Yano lead the Tigers to a farm championship last year as the ni-gun manager and was promoted to the ichi-gun position following the dismissal of Tomoaki Kanemoto. By default of being in the Kansai market and ruthless media/fans alike, Yano's head is automatically turned on no matter what in Year 1. 

Expectations remain high for a market starving for a championship. That being said, one and done is very unlikely unless there is a major disruption from within. There is pressure, but his job should be safe after 2019 no matter what. Temperature: 45 (°C), 113 (°F)

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5. Hideki Kuriyama (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

Kuriyama lead his team to A-class without Shohei Ohtani while the team showed they can reload. While they could fall to B-class given a tough competition ahead, it's unlikely he'd be forced out by management. Kuriyama is in a position where he can retire when he wants to without question. Temperature: 30 (°C), 86 (°F)

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6. Tsuyoshi Yoda (Chunichi Dragons)

The Dragons underwent a minor shift as Shigekazu Mori is now in the front office. Their collective front office management got their man in Yoda, who was once a rookie of the year for the Dragons in 1990. Yoda's previous title in 2018 was farm pitching coach for the Rakuten Eagles. 

Despite the lack of coaching experience, Yoda is a fresh face for a team that has needed a face lift from the previous regime. The only pressure is how the Dragons have the longest A-class drought, being stuck on 2012. At six years, this is the longest B-class stretch in franchise history. It's doubtful he goes one and done. Temperature: 23 (°C), 74.3 (°F)

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7. Norifumi Nishimura (Orix Buffaloes)

The Buffaloes promoted Nishimura from within after Junichi Fukura stepped down under his own will. Nishimura's last managing gig was with the Chiba Lotte Marines and he led them to a Japan Series title in 2010. However, his success remained minimal after 2010 with consecutive B-class finishes afterwards. 

Nishimura can manage anonymously given this is the Orix Buffaloes unlike their Kansai Central League counterparts. As said before, one and done is highly unlikely for any manager. Temperature: 20 (°C), 68 (°F)

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8. Hatsuhiko Tsuji (Saitama Seibu Lions)

Tsuji is coming off a pennant season and hasn't had a losing record as manager. However, the team is expected to regress in 2018 after a historic offensive year. The Lions already gave him a vote of confidence with his contract running through 2020, as opposed to year by year. 

A few out there think the Lions won last year in spite of Tsuji, not because of him. This year should be an interesting test one way or another. Temperature: 17 (°C), 62.6 (°F)

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9. Koichi Ogata (Hiroshima Carp)

Ogata won the pennant for the third consecutive year and made the Japan Series in two of the last three seasons. Unfortunately, he hasn't won the big championship yet as it eludes him, like the Central League for most of the 21st Century. 

While the team had its share of losses, the Carp are still expecting to be a strong force with their current core. A step backwards could happen, but a downward plummet? Doubtful. Temperature: 15 (°C), 59 (°F)

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10. Tatsunori Hara (Yomiuri Giants)

Hara returns to managing the Giants for the third time and first seasons since 2015. Lots of things have changed in the game since he left, but the Giants will be expecting Hara to lead them back to relevance after the last two mediocre seasons under Yoshinobu Takahashi. 

in 2018, he was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager while barely coming up short as a player. Given his past seniority accomplishments, the Giants won't do anything unless a scandal happens. Underachieving will have backlash from fans, but nothing from management should force the hand here. Temperature: 10 (°C), 50 (°F)

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11. Junji Ogawa (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

Ogawa returned as manager from the front office as a caretaker for the Swallows and led them to a second place finish in 2018. This is likely to be the transitional year where Shinya Miyamoto or someone else from within takes the reins after the season and Ogawa moves back to the front office. 

With the team competing while rebuilding, there shouldn't be heat for Ogawa as he is there to take the bullet. Even if the Swallows fall to B-class, he will have served his purpose and won't have a forced resignation. Ogawa will just move back to the front office when his time is done. Temperature: 2 (°C), 35.6 (°F)

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12. Kimiyasu Kudo (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

Kudo has won a Japan Series in three of his four years managing the team and they're currently back-to-back defending champions. He is chasing to be the all-time leader in Japan Series rings, currently at 14 as the record is held by Masaaki Mori at 17. Mori was Kudo's manager during the Golden Era with the Lions. With all this success, hangovers will happen, but it's unlikely he'll be going anywhere anytime soon. Temperature: -273 (°C), -460 (°F). This is also known as Sub zero or (°0) Kelvin.  

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Overall:

We could see as many as three managerial changes if the worst case scenario plays out for the top three listed squads. Everyone else is unlikely to leave unless health or another issue arises. Of course extreme losing could poke the bear for any forced change in staff. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but it's clear cut who has the most pressure in 2019.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Seibu Lions 2019 Spring Training Outlook: Manager


The Saitama Seibu Lions have their share of expectations since Hatsuhiko Tsuji took the reigns as manager. After spending three straight years in B-class, the Lions finished in second and first place in the Pacific League under Tsuji's leadership.

There are counter arguments that the Lions won in spite of Tsuji and not because of him. It's easy to give him all the credit in the world when he is the manager, but to fault him and say he's only there because of his roster is misleading. 

Tsuji's defensive mindset helped solve one of the larger issues with the 2016 Lions, where fielding was abysmal. While the Chunichi Dragons had other problems, defensive efficiency was not one of them with Tsuji as one of the coaches. He was an opposite to what Norio Tanabe brought with a hitting-only mindset.

This year's expectations will be lower than the past, but the Lions already gave Tsuji a vote of confidence when his contract extension runs through 2020. There are some staff changes, with Toshifumi Baba being the new head (bench) coach while Kazuyoshi Ono returns as a pitching coach.

At the farm level, Kazuo Matsui will get his first chance managing as he is the new ni-gun manager. Tsuji doesn't have a major hot seat after two strong years, but he could be a victim of his own success like many who have a winning track record.

This season won't necessarily be about winning a pennant as selfish as fans and spectators want, but if the team shows a pulse and continues to compete, that's all we can ask for. There will be challenges with new personnel on the infield and the pitching staff, but the collective coaching staff will be making all the key decisions moving forward.

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