Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Weathering the storm

 The Seibu Lions had an okay week, going 3-3 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Game 1 against the Hawks ended up being a pitcher's duel where Kazuhisa Makita had a rough jam to begin the game. He allowed an opening run from Yuki Yanagita and later a home run from him. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit his 21st home run of the season with a solo jack and the Lions would later tie the game with a wild pitch.

Unfortunately the Lions would concede in the seventh inning when Makita was giving up a barrage of hits. With a runner on third, he would throw a wild pitch of his own and it would be the game-losing run. The game was called in the eighth inning due to the rain in Omiya, where Esmerling Vasquez was in trouble having inherited runners on first and second with no outs.

The Lions had plenty of opportunities with runners in scoring position, but couldn't deliver a clutch hit and waited until a wild pitch happened to score their only in-play run of the game. Anthony Seratelli had two chances and Takumi Kuriyama had another, but nothing would happen and the Hawk would win a shortened game.

Game 2 was a pitcher's duel as well as Jason Standridge went six innings and Ryoma Nogami completed seven. It was tied 2-2 after seven innings but the runs broke through for the eighth. Tatsushi Masuda conceded a run after a load of hits to put the Hawks up 3-2 again.

The bottom of the frame had a different ending though. Tomoya Mori got a leadoff hit and Ryota Wakiya singled as a pinch hitter for Yuji Onizaki. Seratelli came in to pinch hit for Gijiro Sumitani and delivered with a single to tie the game at 3-3. After Shogo Akiyama singled to load the bases, Fumikazu Kimura was up after he was a pinch runner for Kuriyama in the previous inning.

Edison Barrios has usually been a reliable setup man for the Hawks, but he left the bases loaded for Masahiko Morifuku. Kimura blasted a grand slam for his third HR of the season to left field, sending the Seibu dome into pandemonium. Tomomi Takahashi allowed a solo home run to Nobuhiro Matsuda, but that was it and the Lions get an improbable win after another quality start by Nogami. 

Game 3 against the Lions appeared to be a home run derby to start. Chun-Lin Kuo allowed a quick HR to Yanagita and later Matsuda in the first two innings. The Lions would answer back with home runs from Kimura and Kuriyama, but the third inning was where the meltdown would happen. Kuo would give up hit after hit which resulted in a three-run third.

Seibu would tie the game from a gapper by Kimura and it would be 5-5 after six innings, but Norio Tanabe took a risk that hurt. Ryohei Fujiwara had pitched 3.1 innings prior to the seventh, but the Hawks hitters had him figured out a second time around the lineup and mashed on him. He would cough up the lead from a hit by Matsuda and Shota Takekuma couldn't help with inherited runners. Backup catcher Toru Hosokawa would clear the bases giving the Hawks an insurmountable 4-run lead late in the game and the Lions would lose the series.

It was a competitive one through all the games, but unfortunately the Hawks lineup is more loaded than the Lions. Yanagita, Lee Dae-Ho, Matsuda and Seiichi Uchikawa are just on another planet right now and they further solidified themselves as the top team in the Pacific League.

Things changed in Game 1 against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters as the bats awoken versus Kohei Arihara. The Fighters' pitcher lacked control, where Akiyama was able to pounce on him early with a triple and a home run. Ernesto Mejia would later hit a tape measuring home run out of the park to make it 6-1 and put the game away early.

Takayuki Kishi went six innings with only two earned runs, both of which proved to be minimal damage. It was a strong outing until he took a lot of pitches in the sixth inning, but a good step in the right direction for the Lions' ace.

Hokkaido threw in the towel when Yuki Saito came in for the sixth inning. He would allow home runs to Hideto Asamura and Mori in humiliating fashion. The Lions would score 12 runs on the night and Akiyama was only a single away from hitting the cycle.

Game 2 saw the Lions show more power against Mitsuo Yoshikawa. He wouldn't last through four innings after two early runs, he allowed a three-run home run to Asamura to put the Lions up 5-0. They would score three more runs off Michael Crotta to go up 8-0 and break the game open for good with an RBI single from Okawari-kun.

Ken Togame wouldn't have a dominant outing, but effective by asking his defense to help him out and not have the ball leave the park. Shota Takekuma would also put in a solid seventh inning with two strikeouts. This game was such a laugher that Saito even made a cameo in the bottom of the 8th and gave up a solo HR to Kimura.

Game 3 against the Fighters saw a squandered opportunity by the Lions' bats. They had a chance to begin the game against Luis Mendoza, who didn't have a sharp first inning. With Akiyama and Kuriyama on as leadoff runners, Asamura and Okawari-kun struck out with Mejia grounded out to end any threat.

The sixth inning was the most head-scratching, where Ginjiro Sumitani had a leadoff double but Tanabe called for Akiyama to bunt shortly after. His bunt attempt failed as the Fighters attacked third base, tagging out Sumitani while Kuriyama and Asamura failed to get a hit.

Hokkaido made them pay as Yusei Kikuchi had one mistake pitch in the seventh. Ryo Ishikawa took advantage of a breaking ball that was hung up and took it opposite field to the Fighters' Oendan to break a scoreless tie. The Fighters would add another run in the ninth and the Lions couldn't sweep them.

In perspective, it's easy to get greedy against the Fighters but they aren't a pushover team. A 3-3 week can sound disappointing, but avoiding a sweep against the Hawks isn't the end of the world. The Lions got over the hump at being 10 game over .500 briefly when they won Game 2 against Hokkaido.

With five quality starts between Makita, Nogami, Kishi, Togame and Kikuchi, the Lions are in good shape to remain competitive from here on out. The hitting will have its ups and downs and unfortunately Sunday's loss to the Fighters was just a rough outing.

The road doesn't get any easier as they will face the Hawks again this week and the Chiba Lotte Marines, who have been a thorn in the Lions' side. I personally want a winning week coming ahead for the month of July, but a 3-3 week would suffice given who they're playing.

On another positive note, Shogo Akiyama reached the 40-hit plateau again for the second straight month. This also makes it more confusing as to why Tanabe elected to sacrifice bunt with him knowing he's the current leading NPB hitter.

Lots of "what could've been", but it is what it is. Can't win them all and just have to move on to the next week, which won't be a cake walk.


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