Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Dozens of problems

The nightmare continues for Saitama as the Lions were winless for the second straight week. They were swept by the Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Game 1 against Chiba saw a pitchers duel between Takayuki Kishi and Ayumu Ishikawa. After both gave up a run in the first, each pitcher settled in with several strikeouts and groundouts.

The seventh inning is where the game was decided as the Lions had the bases loaded. Takumi Kuriyama pulled a ball that had great contact, but it was foul. He would strike out and Hideto Asamura would flyout ending the Lions' chance.

In the bottom frame, Chiba would take the lead with some heads up base running by pinch runner Yoshifumi Okada. After Shoitsu Omatsu got the hit and Okada pinch ran for him, a double from Daichi Suzuki created a chance. Kazuya Fukuura would pinch hit a ground ball to Ryota Wakiya. Unfortunately, he tried throwing home and Okada beat out the throw at home plate, giving Chiba the lead for good.

Kishi would have his third consecutive complete game of the season going eight innings in a losing record. In those three losses, he would only allow five earned runs. The nightmare would continue for the Lions with minimal clutch hitting outside of a two-out RBI single from Tomoya Mori.

The second game vs. Chiba was another low scoring affair at first. Yusei Kikuchi would allow first blood to Alfred Despaigne on a solo home run in the fourth. Another RBI would come later on a gapper for a 2-0 lead.

Ernesto Mejia struck back with a solo home run and the Lions appeared to be in business with runners on base. Unfortunately Seibu would not get a clutch hit throughout night, stranding runners whenever an opportunity came. Takuya Fukuya looked vulnerable late, but his bullpen cleaned up the mess and the eighth inning would become a nightmare for the Lions.

Tatsushi would give up a run while trailing 2-1 and later a dagger to end it. Tatsuhiro Tamura hit a grand slam to center field, destroying any chances of a Lions comeback. The streak would continue to eight games.

In Game 3, Chun-Lin Kuo made his first start since July 2 and had a decent outing with the exception of one inning. In the fourth, he had runners on the corners with no outs. Despaigne would ground into a fielder's choice conceding a run. He limited the damage in that frame after loading the bases, but the Lions couldn't score.

Dae-Eun Rhee would go seven scoreless innings and the Lions had a runner on second three times on the night. The bats couldn't string together hits and Esmerling Vasquez would walk in a run for the seventh.

They scored two runs for the entire three game series while the starting pitching combined to go 20 innings for five earned runs. Even when Kuo didn't have a meltdown inning, the bats were dead and continued the drought of nine consecutive losses. It was the first time the Lions were below the .500 mark for the season.

Game 1 against the Hawks had a good start with an RBI double from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura in the bottom of the first off Rick van den Hurk. However, Ken Togame couldn't get a shutdown inning and coughed up two runs in the next frame. Kenta Imamiya would get a sacrifice fly while Hiroaki Takaya would get an RBI single.

The score would remain 2-1 until the fifth inning, where a timely hit from Yuichi Honda would add another run. Shogo Akiyama would hit a solo home run to answer back, but that was it for the Lions offense. A chance followed after the HR, but Okawari-kun and Asamura struck out on consecutive at bats.

The Hawks could have ended the game earlier with the bases loaded where Togame left Shota Takekuma in a jam. But Takaya lined out and the infield tagged up for a double play to keep it a one run game.

What's worse is how the ninth inning was. Trailing by a run, Tomomi Takahashi gave up a solo HR to Imamiya and double the Hawks lead. Dennis Sarfate would close it out an the Lions' losing streak would continue to 10 games.

In Game 2, Ryoma Nogami had one mistake in the first inning after allowing Yuki Yanagita to get on base and steal second. Seiichi Uchikawa would hit a two-run homer and that would be the difference maker in an impressive pitcher's duel.

Nogami went seven strong innings despite the beginning and even stranded the bases later. Shota Takeda shut down the Lions bats after they loaded the bases in the bottom of the first. Asamura would strikeout on a full count pitch ended their best threat of the game.

The Lions had runners in scoring position in four of the innings, but couldn't muster an RBI until the seventh inning, where Masatoshi Okada would get an RBI single. Seibu had a chance in the ninth off closer Dennis Sarfate, but a failed hit and run led to Shogo Saito being thrown out at second base. Overall, the Lions struck out 11 times on the night and haven't scored more than two runs in five consecutive games.

In Game 3, first-round draft pick Kona Takahashi made his ichi-gun debut in a desperate move by the Lions' management. Unfortunately the results couldn't change as the rookie had control issues.

In the second inning, he would load the bases and walk in a run when he hit Taisei Makihara with a pitch. He couldn't get an out in the fourth inning against the top of the lineup and allow four runs total, including a two-run single by Shinya Tsuruoka with the bases loaded.

The Lions had their chances, including two different occasions with the base loaded. Kuriyama would flyout in the first against Hayato Terahara while Okada had a hard hit ball that resulted in a lineout. Okawari-kun would hit a three-run HR in the seventh inning, but it was all academic and too late.  The Lions would lose 4-3 as Kazuki Miyata allowed a run with an inherited runner in the fourth.

This was a desperate move by the team's management to put an 18-year-old rookie into the fire against NPB's top team. He looked overwhelmed when facing the Hawks lineup and while the Lions have a significant losing streak, we hope his development isn't ruined through this game.

They have currently matched the longest losing streak in franchise history at 12 games. It also ties the Yokohama DeNA Baystars for the most consecutive losses in the 2015 season. The last time the Lions lost 12 in a row, it was 1979 and was the team's first year at the Seibu Dome in Tokorozawa and there was no roof, as it was known as "Seibu Lions Stadium".

Pitching has been respectable this week, but the hitting has been below average in a high leverage situation. Too many stranded runners even though guys are getting on base and the entire team is to blame for this.

With Kazuhisa Makita moving to the bullpen, it becomes a time to get nervous with how the team has performed. Tomomi Takahashi has been demoted and is responsible for two of the losses in this drought, while also having the Lions out of striking distance in another.

The team isn't dead yet, but it's close. Right now, they need to refocus and just worry about the task at hand, not look at the scoreboard or standings. Personally, I hit the panic button once the team dropped to .500 earlier this week.

We end this recap on this video, where no one should be thinking about playoffs right now. This comes from Jim Mora Sr, former Indianapolis Colts head coach in the NFL.


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