Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Hitting gets cold, middle relief fails

Rakuten celebrates a series win against the Lions.
The Lions lost two out of three in the first series against Chiba, where there were some nightmare outings by the pitching.

Game 1 saw a pitcher's duel between Ken Togame and Hideaki Wakui.  Offense started to come alive in the 5th inning, where neither side was able to get a shutdown inning until then Top of the 8th. In the bottom of the 7th, Shogo Akiyama got a leadoff double and advanced to third base on a sacrifice fly from Takumi Kuriyama.

Hideto Asamura, who's had a decent track record against Wakui, found the gap and the go-ahead run came to the plate. Chiba might have left Wakui in an inning too long.

Tatsushi Masuda didn't make it easy on himself in the 8th inning. He had runners on 1st and 2nd with only one out, but was able to get the ground ball for a 6-4-3 double play and end the threat. Closer Tomomi Takahashi shut the door with a 1-2-3 ninth inning and secured the win.

Game 2 wasn't as fortunate for the Lions, as Ryoma Nogami gave up multiple homers in his first start returning from injury. Even though Seibu tied the game in the bottom of the 6th, manager Norio Tanabe made a controversial move.

The bases were loaded with one out and Ginjiro Sumitani was at the plate. Ernesto Mejia was on third base and Tanabe chose to pinch run him, substituting Ryota Wakiya in his place. Wakiya should be in for defense when the Lions are winning, but Tanabe felt Sumitani could get a sac fly and the upgrade of speed would make the difference.

Sumitani would ground out into a 6-4-3 double play, ending any threat. The top of the 7th had an ugly meltdown all with two outs, as Nogami couldn't get a third. Esmerling Vasquez came in as relief, but he also coughed up multiple hits and went back up by three runs.

Even though the Lions answered back with a run in the bottom of the 8th, Yosuke Okamoto gave it right back in the top of the 9th, which was the game losing run. The Lions scored two in the bottom of the ninth on a single by Asamura, as he represented the game-winning run. However, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura grounded into a double play to end it.

Game 3 was a dumpster fire for pitchers, where Wade LeBlanc was tattooed with two home runs, leading to an early 5-0 lead after three innings. He wasn't able to finish the third, where Okamoto came in as the long reliever. In total, the Lions gave up five home runs as Alfredo Despaigne and Shogo Nakamura had two each.

After the first series of the week, the Lions made a swap with their foreigners on the roster. They sent down Esmerling Vasquez and activated Miguel Mejia after Game 2, where he played in the ninth inning of Game 3. They also sent down Wade LeBlanc and Y. Okamoto. As a corresponding move, they activated IF Anthony Seratelli and P Tatsuya Oishi.

In the first outing against Rakuten, it was a pitcher's duel between Kazuhisa Makita and Wataru Karashima with the latter making his 2015 debut.

Makita had several runners on base and was due to allow some runs, both of which happened with two outs. The first run came off a clutch two-out single from Motohiro Shima. After Okawari-kun hit a solo home run, Makita would give up a run in the 5th inning.

With runners on first and second and no outs, a failed bunt attempt by Kazuya Fujita being caught by Sumitani, it led to a 2-6 double play with the runner being doubled up at second base. Immediately after, Ginji Akaminai found the gap on a double and it would be the game winning run.

The Lions had a chance in the eighth inning after Naoto Watanabe reached first base on an error. However, Tanabe called for Sumitani to bunt with one out, giving only one chance to equalize. He called for Seratelli to make his debut with a pinch hit at-bat. Seratelli would line out on a full-count, ending any threat.

While it's common in NPB to concede a second out knowing a tie game can happen on a hit by the next batter, this is a move we disagree with knowing the probability is reduced to one batter. Sure, there is a risk that Sumitani could have grounded into a double play, but the Lions need to score two runs in order to win anyways.

M. Mejia would give up a grand slam in the top of the 9th, ending any chance of a late comeback. It was the second time this week where the 9th inning pitcher would give up runs and putting the game out of reach.

Game 2 vs. Rakuten involved back to back blasts by Kuriyama and Asamura against Kenny Ray. Yusei Kikuchi had some up and down innings, but he allowed only two runs and pulled off a few Houdinis in the process through six.

It took the bottom of the 7th for the 2-2 tie to finally break. After Yuji Kaneko got on base as the leadoff hitter, they called for Akiyama to bunt. We here at Graveyard baseball disagreed with this move knowing that Akiyama is a leadoff hitter, but this move worked out.

Kuriyama would single and then Asamura would be the hero with a two-run double in the gap to take the lead. Masuda and Takahashi made simple work out of the pen and the Lions won only their second game of the week. Seventh-inning reliever Shota Takekuma was credited with his fourth win of the season.

For game three Takahiro Norimoto escaped multiple chances with runners on base. Chun-Lin Kuo had a poor start, allowing 3 runs in three innings and Toshihiro Iwao couldn't help in relief, where the Lions were in an early 5-1 hole.

The Lions had a rally in the fifth inning after Okawari-kun had an RBI double to cut the lead to 5-3. Seratelli had another chance with the bases loaded as Mejia was hit by a pitch and Mori struck out, but he too also K'd and ended the threat.

Seibu couldn't add more, where there was also a rally in the seventh inning as Kuriyama and Asamura were on base with no outs. Okawari-kun grounded into a 5-3 double play and Mejia struck out. After only one runner on base for the eighth, Yuki Matsui closed the door in the ninth, handing the Lions their fourth loss of the week to finish 2-4 heading into Interleague play.

The Lions aren't the worst team, but the hitting was not executing this week with only eight runs combined against Rakuten. They also buried themselves until it was too late against Chiba, where majority of their runs came late in the game when they were down by a huge margin.

We've learned the middle relief is vulnerable and that the Lions wrongfully swapped Vasquez for M. Mejia this week, leading to a poor effort in the pen. Mejia was deactivated quickly after three games for Iwao.

The Pacific League tightened up a tad, with Chiba and Rakuten both on the tail. Interleague play begins this week, starting on Tuesday against the Giants where it will be a tough outing. The good news is, Takayuki Kishi made his first rehab start this week and he could return within the next three weeks.

In the meantime, it was a positive in their last game where Kazuki Miyata, Oishi and Atsushi Okamoto combined for 5.1 scoreless innings, giving the Lions's bats a chance to come back.

It would be good to have a 4-2 week, but realistically, I think 3-3 is the most doable where they will see the Giants and Tigers.

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