Monday, June 1, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Kataoka strikes; Lions strikeout but recover

Miles Mikolas earned his first win against the Lions
Interleague play kicked off this week, but it wasn't fun initially for the Seibu Lions, who continued the downward spiral to the season. They lost two out of three from the Yomiuri Giants (Kyojin), which included a lack of fire power throughout the week.

Game 1 in Kōriyama was batting practice for the Kyojin, as Ken Togame was roughed up for three home runs and seven total earned runs through five innings. On the offensive side, Tomoya Mori looked silly when striking out to Tomoyuki Sugano, who went the distance with nine strikeouts. This game was summed up by a tape measure home run from Hayato Sakamoto, as he went 4-4 and obliterated the Lions pitchers. 

After Toshihiro Iwao was deactivated for the week, Game 2 saw a different Lions team in the Seibu Dome. Shogo Akiyama continued his strong form with two solo home runs and a crucial third inning made the difference. 

With the bases loaded, Tomoya Mori walked and Anthony Seratelli had two-RBI single for his first RBIs in Japan. Every run counted as Ryoma Nogami allowed a home run by Yoshinobu Takahashi and Tomomi Takahashi allowed one run in the 9th. However, T. Takahashi finished the game by getting the ground out in the ninth. 

Game 3 saw more of a nightmare outing by the Lions bats against Miles Mikolas. Fumiya Nishiguchi was given the spot start in place of Wade LeBlanc and he allowed a solo HR from Leslie Anderson to start. A two-out rally in the 4th inning put away the game in doubt.  

After one run given up to Y. Takahashi, former Lion Yasuyuki Kataoka got a big two-RBI single to put the Kyojin up 4-0. Mikolas struck out 10 batters through eight innings while their closer Hirokazu Sawamura struck out the side. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura had a solo HR in the ninth, but it was too little too late.

Negative momentum carried into the series with the Hanshin Tigers, who had won three straight against Rakuten heading into Friday. Randy Messenger, who was activated for the first time since his demotion on May 10 made the start. He ended up fanning 11 Lions through seven innings and his bullpen held on. 

Kazuhita Makita went eight innings, but continued to walk and allow runners on base. With runners on second and third with no outs, he allowed an RBI groundout to Matt Murton for the only run of the game. The Lions had a chance in the eighth inning with a leadoff hit from Akiyama, but a failed bunt attempt by Takumi Kuriyama resulted in a 2-6-3 double play. Like Sawamura, the Tigers' closer Seung-Hwan Oh struck out the side to end Game 1.  

The controversial decision to bunt after a leadoff double in the first inning ended up backfiring as Hideto Asamura popped up to shallow center. Then Okawari-kun struck out on a pitch that was well outside. Bunting with Kuriyama has been understandable after he has been double play prone, but a decent hitter with a runner on second should not draw a sacrifice bunt. 

Game 2 saw a resurgence in power hitting as Ernesto Mejia had a solo HR and Okawari-kun had his 30th career multi-HR game. His second HR was a grand slam where a two-out rally loaded the bases. Hustle from Akiyama on an onfield single started it all, followed by a single from Kuriyama and Asamura being hit by a pitch. Okwari-kun had "Okawari" home run with the golf swing, sending the Seibu Dome in a frenzy. 

Caught up in the offensive outing was Yusei Kikuchi, who earned his first win of the season after having multiple quality starts resulting in losses or no decisions. He had 11 strikeouts and Tanabe squeezed a seventh inning out of him despite having 120 pitches coming into it. Kikuchi finished with 153 pitches and escaped a few jams along the way. The Lions won 9-2, scoring more runs on Saturday than their previous four games combined. 

For Game 3, it looked like another long outing for Taiwanese pitcher Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo.  He battled with control issues all night, but good defense prevented him from allowing more runs. In the sixth, an error led to three unearned runs and gave the Tigers what looked like a commanding 4-0 lead.

However, Mejia sparked the Lions with an RBI single from Mejia in the bottom of the 6th and they would erupt for five runs in the bottom of the 7th after a shutdown inning from Kazuki Miyata.

Okawari-kun hit the game-winning three-run HR which put them ahead for good. Everybody who had an at-bat got a hit from pinch hitter Ryota Wakiya to Ginjiro Sumitani. The Lions would win their first series since May 14, where they took two out of three from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Miyata would earn his first career win in NPB, after seven seasons of playing baseball in the Lions organization.

The Pacific league race has tightened up with the Chiba Lotte Marines being only two games behind. The Lions are now 3-3 in interleague play and will face a competitive Chunichi Dragons team and a Central league-leading Yokohama DeNA Baystars.  A .500 week of 3-3 should be the minimal goal as every game is on the road.

This week the Lions were close to sweeping Hanshin with the 1-0 loss being a hit away from another result. If the Lions middle of the order can keep hitting like they did from Saturday and Sunday, they should be in good shape.

The best news for Lions fans is that Takayuki Kishi is expected to make his 2015 season debut on Thursday against the Dragons. He has been out for two months with an inflamed abdomen.

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