Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Scapegoat: Moriwaki takes 'leave of absence'; Orix remains a disappointment

Hiroshi Moriwaki and the Buffaloes held a press conference in Tokyo prior to the loss against the Giants.
While we are primarily a blog devoted to writing about the Seibu Lions, there will be occasional talk about other NPB topics beyond them. With the recent headlines regarding one team, here is our first non-Lions commentary and thoughts on the news regarding the Orix Buffaloes. 

The Orix Buffaloes announced on Tuesday afternoon that manager Hiroshi Moriwaki will take a leave of absence after a poor start to the 2015 NPB season.

Moriwaki, 54, took over as an interim coach in 2012 and had a fifth place finish in 2013. The Orix Buffaloes nearly won the Pacific League in 2014 by less than half a game as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks only captured the title on percentage points.

He couldn't even coach a game in June, as the team was 19-34-1 this year, where his final series was being swept at home by the last place Central League Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Based on "what have you done for me lately", the Buffaloes just couldn't remain competitive and are currently 13.5 games behind the Fighters after last night's loss to the Yomiuri Giants.

The last series against Hiroshima was Orix's season in a nutshell. In their loss on May 29, a passed ball occurred after Francisco Caraballo tied the game with a massive home run. It was the game losing run in the top of the ninth, leading to a one run loss.

In Moriwaki's last game on May 31, Shunta Goto misfielded a hit by Nate Schierholtz, leading to a game-tying hit that scored from first. They would concede a go-ahead home run in the 8th and late miss an opportunity to tie the game when batting.

Orix put themselves in a "win-now" mode, by signing multiple free agents in the offseason coming off a second-place finish in the Pacific League. This includes former Saitama Seibu Lion Hiroyuki Nakajima returning from a two-year stint with the Oakland Athletics minor league system, IF Eiichi Koyano from the Nippon-Ham Fighters, starting pitcher Bryan Bullington from the Carp as well as IF Tony Blanco from the DeNA Baystars.

Majority of prognosticators from fans and media alike had the Buffaloes as a lock for the postseason. They and the Hawks were considered to have an interchangeable No. 1 and No.2 finish in the Pacific League with the Fighters, Lions, Rakuten Golden Eagles and Chiba Lotte Marines fighting it out for third place.

Nothing has gone right for this team, from an inability to get on base to a bullpen that is notorious for blowing leads. It didn't help when the team's ace Chihiro Kaneko was injured to begin the year, but management made a desperate move in May which would be the last straw for Moriwaki.

They chose to start Kaneko without rehab on May 23 and the Marines lit him up which included a grand slam by Ikuhiro Kiyota. He had an average outing on May 30, but they still have lost both games when he has started a game.

Blanco has been injured and not producing while Nakajima has done the same. Koyano and Bullington have also remained mediocre since becoming Buffaloes.

Team president Ryuzo Setoyama was in charge of the free agent signings and they'll let Moriwaki take the fall for these mistakes. Chemistry isn't there and nothing is clicking, but Orix is still talented enough to be a spoiler.

Moriwaki has shown to be a credible manager and while the standings are not good, majority of this season is not his fault. This is a classic situation of using the manager as a scapegoat for other faults.

With Orix in the cellar well-behind everyone else, it created a door for at least one surprise team to make the postseason from the Pacific League. The Fighters were supposed to return from where they left off, as they won a playoff series in 2014. They were the trendy third-place pick with good defense and a solid rotation.

So far, the Lions and Marines are beneficiaries of the Buffaloes' fall. Both teams were expected to be in the bottom, but they're competing this year in their own unique ways.

Chiba has a load of above average hitting and pitching. Not exactly the star power of talent, but enough to stay competitive.

For the Lions, they're pitching respectably given the circumstances without their ace, Takayuki Kishi through two months. Kazuhita Makita, Ryoma Nogami, Ken Togame and even Yusei Kikuchi have done a tremendous job of picking up the slack while the hitting has its ups and downs.

It wasn't long ago when Haruki Ihara stepped down for the Lions. In fact, Moriwaki's announcement came three days prior to the one-year anniversary of when Ihara resigned from his position at manager. Seibu was 20-33 and dead last in the Pacific League at the time of Ihara's resignation.

With Orix in a state of disarray and their front office putting blame on the manager, this disaster could only get worse as the season goes on. As they tried buying their way to wins with the free agent signings, it could be a larger setback in the long term for a talented group of players.

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