Saturday, July 18, 2015

Seibu Lions midseason report: Expectations vs. Reality

The Lions did not have Takayuki Kishi for more than two months
As the 2015 NPB season was approaching, fans and writers alike had their opinions on every team with the itch for baseball just around the corner. The Lions had their own expectations from prognosticators.

Here we will look at what others said about the Lions and will compare them to what they are with that statement in reality.

Expectation: The Lions have no starting pitching outside of Takayuki Kishi
Reality: The pitching from the rotation has been decent statistically, but most of it comes from a great defense. 

The Lions were thought to have poor pitching from the rotation having Ryoma Nogami, Kazuhisa Makita and and a questionable Wade LeBlanc. Majority of the Lions pitchers had a down year in 2014 under Haruki Ihara, but this season they have done a good job at keeping the ball in play. Makita, Nogami and Ken Togame aren't the most effective pitchers, but they don't lose the game for the team. Only Togame allows home runs mostly in the rotation. 

Defense in particular has improved from Hideto Asamura while the range is perfect from Shogo Akiyama and Takumi Kuriyama. Yuji Onizaki and Yuji Kaneko would play fine defense at SS while Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura has covered 3B well.  Lastly, Ginjiro Sumitani has thrown out several runners behind the plate as one of the best catchers in Japan when it comes to defense. 

The best scenario for Lions pitchers has been forcing ground or fly balls and let the fielders do the rest of the work. 


Expectation: Asamura and Akiyama would rebound from having a down 2014 season
Reality: Not only have both been solid hitters, but arguably the best at their positions

Asamura had an RBI-leading season in 2013 which he won't match this year, but he's hitting .300 and showing occasional pop. The biggest thing for him is that he isn't forced to play multiple positions on the infield like last season at SS, 1B and 2B. He was able to stay at 2B while the shortstop position becomes a flex option for the Lions.  

For Akiyama, he's been arguably the best hitter in NPB while in competition with Yuki Yanagita for the hitting title. The Lions' centerfielder has remained consistent all season and even had a 31-game hitting streak. There's a different kind of discipline from him in 2015 that has set him apart from previous years. He knows when to take a pitch and swing, but also has a good ability to be a slapstick hitter. On occasion he even shows some pop.  


Expectation: The Lions have power and can be the best offense in NPB
Reality: The Lions as a team are inconsistent and have feast or famine results

The Lions have flexed their muscles at times as Okawari-kun is the home run leader with 26, but they've been inconsistent this year. Ernesto Mejia has not been close to his form last year as the league adjusted to him, but he has shown occasional pop.  

Overall, there have been a share of ups and downs with this offense where the bottom of the order in Sumitani, the shortstop and right field positions have weighed the team down. This has been a top heavy lineup, but they aren't a juggernaut offensively as one might think. They score in bunches but can be hungover on multiple nights.  


Expectation: Tomoya Mori can mash and being in the Eastern League is a "waste of time" for his career
Reality: Mori has lived up to hype and still has tremendous upside at age 19.  

Tomoya Mori was a first round pick of the Lions in 2013 and has impressed all year long. There were some questions as to how the Lions would play him as he is usually a catcher. Even though Sumitani is behind the plate, they made him the designated hitter and even placed him in right field during interleague games on the road. 

While he has been aggressive with his swing, Mori can make contact and the ball can fly off his bat. He could be the face of the Lions for years to come and still has room to grow.  


Overall: The Lions were picked to finish in fourth place by some, but a few were bold enough to say third place for their potential on offense. Doubters will say the Lions are benefiting from the Orix Buffaloes being in the cellar, but those who have a half-full glass can claim they're competing. 

Pitching and defense is why the Lions are where they are. The back end of the bullpen has been reliable as a whole, the middle relief is poor while the hitting has been streaky. We will gladly take third place knowing they aren't a significant amount of games down. They've dodged some bullets but they're at a good spot for where they were expected to be. 

The goal for this second half should obviously be to win games, but they shouldn't be obsessed with scoreboard watching elsewhere. Just improve and get in the postseason as the third team and anything can happen. Realistically, I don't see a Pacific League Pennant because the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are too loaded to catch, but a playoff berth is doable and a head-to-head series against the Fighters would be acceptable.   


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