Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Okawari-kun sets a new record

The Lions would take the series against the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but ultimately lose to the Orix Buffaloes in Osaka. They are now 7-1 when they play in Sendai. 

Game 1 against Rakuten had a slow start from Takayuki Kishi. He allowed two runs to begin the game and would later get ripped with another two-run double in the fifth inning. Three of the four runs he allowed were unearned. 

The Lions had a chance early, but Ernesto Mejia struck out and was caught looking. Takahiro Norimoto would have a clean outing until the seventh inning. He would strand the bases one more time before the Lions got their first run on the board. Ryota Wakiya had an RBI single and Hideto Asamura tied the game on a bases clearing double off Norimoto, resulting in a no decision.

Rhiner Cruz was vulnerable in the eighth inning as the bases were loaded, but the Lions ended up stranded them again for the second time of the night. Tatsushi Masuda would take the eighth inning and had trouble with runners on the corners. He would allow the game winning RBI to Shintaro Masuda and the Lions would lose their 13th in a row.

Yuki Matsui cruised through the ninth and Seibu set a franchise record for most consecutive losses. They previously had 12 losses in 1979.

Game 2 had a better start with an RBI single from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura off Wataru Karashima. They would add two more runs off infield hits, including some speed from Shota Tonosaki at home plate. Takumi Kuriyama would also beat out a double play.

Yusei Kikuchi got the Lions back on track with 6.2 innings of shutout baseball. He earned one shutdown inning by striking out Gaby Sanchez with runners on the corners. There was another threat where Kazuo Matsui got a bloop single, but Kazuya Fujita over-ran second base and Akiyama threw him out to end the fouth.

The seventh inning is where it got dramatic when Kikuchi left with two runners on and two outs. Masuda would take the mound and get a ground ball, but it had an awkward bounce and the bases were loaded. Rakuten attempted a suicidal surprise bunt with Koji Yamasaki, but Masuda threw home and got the force out.

The Lions broke the game open in the ninth with a solo home run from Shogo Akiyama and Mejia gave the dagger with a two out single having runners on second and third. Tomomi Takahashi would have a clean eighth. The streak was finally broken and the Lions would be on a winning track.

Asamura would leave the game early with a shoulder injury and wouldn't participate in Game 3. In the third outing against Rakuten, Chun-Lin Kuo would start off well with two clean innings. However, he would allow some hits in the third, fourth and fifth which would add up to four runs, including a solo HR to Mitsutaka Goto.

In the third inning, Ryota Wakiya was too aggressive throwing to home when he should have taken the sure out at first base. Kuo would later walk in a run but reduce the damage to two in that inning. 

However, the bats would stay alive with Okawari-kun getting another RBI single to begin the game. Mejia would score on a wild pitch in the next inning and Kuriyama would find the gap for an RBI double in the third. Akiyama would hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Tonosaki from third base.

The game would remain tied and the Lions bullpen took over with inherited runners in the fifth inning. Shota Takekuma would clean up the mess and the sixth inning is where the runs would come.

Mejia would get a leadoff single while Masatoshi Okada would fake a bunt and swing a soft line draft past an up close 3B. Kenji Tomura's night was done and the bullpen would come in. With two outs and the bases loaded, it was up to Wakiya and he delivered with a line drive single to center field, scoring two runs.

Masuda and Takahashi would get through the sixth, seventh and eighth unscathed despite allowing base runners. Kazuhisa Makita would get a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his first save since his rookie season of 2011 and the Lions left Sendai with a two game win streak and a series win.

Game 1 against Orix saw an old friend dominate. Ken Togame had no answer for Hiroyuki Nakajima, who had three RBIs and went 3-4 against his former team.

The Lions would score runs with base hits, including RBI singles from Tonosaki and Mejia. Masato Kumashiro would also beat out a double play chance, scoring another run.

The go-ahead run from Orix would come in the sixth, where Shuhei Kojima would get an infield single and later steal second. Shunta Goto would get the RBI off a single and the Lions wouldn't recover.  

In the ninth inning, the Lions had a chance after the defense failed to catch a foul ball from Akiyama. He would later hit a double, bringing the tying run in scoring position. However, Tomoya Mori struck out and the game was over.

In Game 2, the Lions got off to a strong start including a 2-RBI double from Tomoya Mori on his 20th birthday. Okada would also get an RBI and the Lions were up 3-0 after two innings, but he would injure himself.

Orix chipped away at the lead as Ryoma Nogami walked in a run. He would get a houdini in the fifth after the bases were loaded and Yoshio Itoi had an RBI single to cut the lead to one, but he got Francisco Caraballo to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame.

Yosuke Okamoto and Takahashi would pitch well in the 6th and 7th and things were looking good. However, the Lions would strand several base runners including a two on, nobody out situation in the eighth. Asamura was called to bunt and would foul out as a result. They stranded another chance in the 9th and even though Masuda escaped the eighth, the horror would come at the end.

Kazuhisa Makita would allow an infield single to start and the Buffaloes bunted Yuya Oda to second base. They would intentionally walk Itoi, but Makita couldn't throw a strike on Nakajima to load the bases. Kojima, the same hero from last night would get a Sayonara win for Orix double off the Lions and they would lose 4-3. It was the fourth one-run loss of the week.

In Game 3 against Orix, the Lions offense would show up late. Kona Takahashi had to nurse a 1-0 lead thanks to a Wakiya base hit in the third inning, but he didn't allow a run. He would benefit from a great defensive play by Asamura to double up a runner on second base.

He would last 5.1 innings, where Okamoto would come in and take the 6th. He got the ground ball the Lions needed and a 5-4-3 double play ended the frame. 

The eighth inning started the scoring from a bases loaded walk by Mori. Then Okawari-kun hit a record breaking grand slam, the 16th of his career which passed Sadaharu Oh's previous career high of 15. He also passed the 100 RBI mark as a result of the hit.

Home runs from Shogo Saito and Akiyama followed to put the game away. The Lions would go 3-3 on the week, which is progress from a 13 game losing streak, but could have easily been 4-2 or even 5-1.

Right now, the bats have become feast or famine, living and dying by the home run. The forecast doesn't look good with a tough series coming up, but it's not over yet.

Pitching has shown it can give the Lions a chance, but the bats need to come alive if they want to make a serious run. My optimism isn't very high right now, but having a .500 week is an upgrade over consecutive losses and a nasty losing streak.


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