Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Pitching dominates; Bats awoken in Yokohama

Tomoya Mori hits a home run in Nagoya
The Lions had a productive week, where they took a series in Yokohama versus the Baystars and split three games in Nagoya against the Dragons.

Game 1 vs. the Dragons saw some dead bats, where the Lions stranded the bases loaded twice and struck out a combined 14 times. Chunichi starter Shunta Wakamatsu struck out eight through six innings and Seibu was unable to score.

Ken Togame put in a quality start, where his only earned run came off a sacrifice fly from Of Atsushi Fujii. In the bottom of the 8th, Tomoya Mori provided an error for the ages in right field, where a hard hit single fell under his glove. The ball went to the wall and it scored a runner from first. Seibu had plenty of men on base, but couldn't punch in a run.

One disliked move we saw from both teams, was when the leadoff man was on base and the following guy was ordered to bunt him over the second while the pitcher was on deck to bat third in the inning. Not only did the pitcher get out for both teams, but they conceded an out beforehand in the process. The last batter would also get out, stranded the runner at second base.

Game 2 saw the Lions use the long ball against longtime veteran Daisuke Yamai. In the first inning, the Lions went aggressive stealing a base with Shogo Akiyama and it paid off. He would advance to third base on a ground out from Takumi Kuriyama and score on a sharply hit single from Hideto Asamura. If he was on second base, the Lions would have held him back and not scored the opening run.

Tomoya Mori had two home runs and Kuriyama had one of his own which put the Lions up for good. There was also a brilliant pitching performance from the Lions. 

Ryoma Nogami allowed only one run in the bottom of the first inning, where the Dragons went with the double steal when runners were on the corners. Ginjiro Sumitani threw out the runner at second after a strikeout, but Chunichi scored the runner at third as a result.

He settled in for the most part with multiple clean innings after the first inning. In the sixth inning, he would allow some contact and the Dragons had runners on the corners. Slugger Hector Luna was up and Nogami was initially down in a 3-0 count. He rebounded and struck out Luna on a shuuto pitch, ending any threats.

Nogami would go seven innings with only one earned run for his sixth win of the season. Tatsushi Masuda and Tomomi Takahashi would finish the game with clean innings, giving the Lions their fourth interleague win.

Game 3 was the long awaited return of Lions ace, Takayuki Kishi and it lived up to the billing of a pitcher's duel. Yudai Ono struck out seven batters and nearly went the distance for all nine innings.

Kishi had one mistake pitch, where he had a fastball upstairs against Luna, where he took it deep to left field for a home run. He went seven innings with eight strikeouts and five hits allowed total.

The Dragons elected to keep Ono in for the ninth and it backfired. Kuriyama singled with one out and Norio Tanabe pinch ran him for Fumikazu Kimura. With Asamura batting, they pulled a successful hit and run as a gapper occurred and Kimura scored from first base to tie the game. Unfortunately the Lions couldn't get a lead, as they intentionally walked Okawari-kun and Ernesto Mejia grounded into an inning-ending double play shortly after.

The Lions' bats were mostly gone thanks to some late defensive substitutions in the extra innings. They had a few threats on base, but nothing more. However, there was drama from a pitcher's standpoint as Takahashi had the go-ahead run on base. He got out of his jam for the bottom of the 9th, but the 11th became interesting.

Tatsushi Masuda was called for a second inning after a clean 10th and he loaded the bases on his own throwing error with two outs. He later forced a 4-6 groundout from Masahiro Araki to force a 12th inning.

The 12th inning was also full of pressure, with Takuya Toyoda making his 2015 debut for the Lions after being called up in place of Tatsuya Oishi. The leadoff man was on base and advanced to second on a groundout from Luna. After an intentional walk to Kei Nomoto, Anderson Hernandez popped out to left field.

Atsushi Fujii walked to load the bases with two outs and it all came down to catcher Masato Matsui to end the game one way or another. Toyoda forced a 4-3 ground out to make it a stalemate and the third tie of the season for the Lions.

This game featured several base running errors (TOOTBLAN, an abbreviation for Thrown out on the base path like a nincompoop) from both sides. Mori thought he could advance to second on a bad throw but tripped and was tagged out.

The Dragons failed to safety squeeze in one inning as Sumitani blocked the plate after a brilliant flip from Mejia. There was also a wild pitch on a ball 4 which involved a full-count with two outs to Akiyama in the 10th. Naoto Watanabe tried to score from second base due to the leadoff run, but was tagged out by the pitcher easily. 

While it felt like the Lions could have won this game in nine innings, they almost lost it in extras multiple times. The bases were loaded and stranded for the 8th, 11th and 12th innings by the Lions bullpen and they survived without a loss.

Knowing the Lions were two outs or a base hit away from losing, it is better to take the tie on the road. With the tie game happening against the Chunichi Dragons, we bring to you this vintage clip from the movie Mr. Baseball.

Game 1 vs. the DeNA Baystars was marred by rain in Yokohama. Okawari-kun opened the scoring with a three-run HR in the first inning, but that is all the Lions would get. They had chances in the third and fifth inning, but failed to score with runners in scoring position.

Kazuita Makita would take the mound after a lengthy delay in the bottom of the first and concede a run. Naoto Watanabe had a tough play in no-man's land while in left field and couldn't catch the ball. The bottom of the third is where DeNA would do their damage, as with two outs, Jose Lopez pulled a two-run HR to left field and tied the game at 3-3.

After they delayed for the fourth inning, both teams batted in the fifth. Akiyama had a single and Asamura forced a walk with two outs, but Okawari-kun popped out on first pitch ending the threat after Shun Yamaguchi appeared to be on the ropes.

Makita worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth and the tarp came on for the third time of the night. The officials shortly called the game minutes later and the Lions would have their second consecutive tie.

Game 2 against the Baystars saw the longball, where Okawari-kun and Mejia had back-to-back home runs in the second inning for an early 2-0 lead. Mori would join the action with his own solo home run to make it 4-0 in the 7th.

Yusei Kikuchi had a brilliant performance in what is one of the best hitter's parks in NPB. He had a no-hitter through 5.1 innings, where the first base hit came from Masayuki Kawahara off a broken bat single. He later hit Takehiro Ishikawa to bring up what would have been the tying run to the plate in the 6th inning. He eventually got a 3-6 groundout and a weak pop out to end the threat.

Kikuchi's only mistake on the game was a solo home run allowed in the bottom of the 7th. Asamura would get that run back with a solo HR in the 8th. Masuda was brought in for the bottom half and had a scare, where he loaded the bases all with two outs. In the end, he was able to get a weak pop up to shallow centerfield and that put the game away.

The Lions had several opportunities with runners in scoring position, but failed to get a hit and lived off the home run.

It all changed in Game 3, where the hits kept coming. Seibu took advantage of pitches from Kazuki Mishima, where he walked batters and left opportunities knocking.

They only scored one run in the 2nd off a single by Watanabe and Mori had an RBI single in the third inning, but most of the damage was done by the fourth.

After Chun-Lin Kuo bunted leadoff hitter Sumitani over to second, Akiyama delivered with an RBI double. he would score on a single from Asamura with two outs. Okawari-kun immediately broke the game open with a two-run home run on the ensuing at bat to give the Lions a 6-1 lead.

The bats padded the stats a little more after Tanabe pinch hit Kuo in the seventh. Yutaro Osaki hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and Akiyama made another clutch hit with an opposite field single to score two more making it 9-1, giving the Lions an exclamation mark scoring without a home run needed.

Kuo had one of his best outings of the season, where his only flaw was a solo home run to Lopez in the second. However, he calmly settled in with a few rallies cut short while having two outs. He did a good job at forcing the ground ball or fly ball in crunch time and the team was in cruise control for a 9-3 win.

It was Kuo's first win in two months, where he last beat the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks on April 5. He had eight shutout innings on that day.  

A 3-1-2 week is successful despite having the feeling they could have won more. We'll take it knowing they haven't had a winning week in nearly a whole month, where they were 3-3 prior to this.

What gives reason for optimism is that the Lions starting pitchers of Togame, Nogami, Kishi, Makita, Kikuchi and Kuo combined for 37.2 innings and only eight earned runs, which is a 1.91 ERA for the six games. Yokohama stadium has been known to be a hitter's ballpark, but only the Lions were hitting on this past weekend.

The Lions probably wishes they could play all their remaining games in Yokohama stadium, as Akiyama and Okawari-kun were mashing all weekend long. Seibu might have ran into the Dragons and Baystars at a good time, where the bats have been cold for both teams, but they woke up against DeNA exploding with runs.

We no longer have to see Mori in right field as the designated hitter will be back for the last two series in interleague play against the Hiroshima Carp and Yakult Swallows. Both teams are vulnerable but are coming off series wins against Rakuten and Chiba respectively.

If the pitching can continue to carry this team with a strong back end of the bullpen, there is reason for hope moving forward. We will see Kenta Maeda this week, which could be a tough outing, but the goal should always aim for a winning week.  Ganbarre Raionzu!


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

No comments:

Post a Comment