Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Race for 3rd place remains tight

In a shortened week, the Lions salvaged one game from the Fighters and split with Rakuten as a makeup game is scheduled for Monday. They're now 7-4 in the last two weeks combined.  

Game 1 against the Fighters lived up to another pitcher's duel with Takayuki Kishi and Luis Mendoza. Kishi would struggle in the fourth inning where Shingo Ishikawa would get a 2-run single with two outs.  He was rather fortunate to not allow more runs.

The Lions had their chances with Shuta Tonosaki batting, but he flied out. They had a runner on third base three different times on the night, but Mendoza would shut the door and go six innings without a run allowed. The eighth inning had runners on the corners for Seibu, but Akihiro Hakamura would hold on and escape.

It was a night where Mendoza would get his fifth win against the Lions this season and fourth consecutive victory in as many starts vs. Seibu. The Fighter bumped Shohei Otani for the next day, as they spent the previous week using different pitchers against Orix making Mendoza pitch on 13 days of rest.

In Game 2, Shohei Otani continued to dominate the Lions like he does with the rest of NPB. He went eight strong innings with only two times having a runner on third base. In the fourth inning, there were runners on the corners for the Lions, but Hideto Asamura grounded into a double play. In the first, there was one specific pitch where Otani hit 100 mph (160 KM/H) on the radar gun and struck out Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura.

Yusei Kikuchi went six innings, but had a rough first, where he was tagged for three runs. This included a two-run double from Sho Nakata and a double from Kensuke Kondo. The Lions had five hits overall, which was two more than the previous game against Mendoza. Otani did not get the complete game shutout, as Hirotoshi Masui would close the door again.

In Game 3, the offense was revived after two games of being shutout. Shogo Akiyama started the scoring with a 2-run home run and Okawari-kun added a solo HR in the third inning. Okawari-kun matched his 2014 total and is still the home run king of both leagues.

Hayato Arakaki would only last 2.1 innings after giving up the home runs to the Lions. Kazuhisa Makita made his first start since July 26 as he was moved to the closer role. He had six shutout innings which including a houdini in his last. After having runners on first and second with no outs, he forced flyouts from Nakata, Kondo and Brandon Laird consecutively to get out of the jam.

Asamura ended his slump with an RBI single off new import Mitch Lively and Masato Kumashiro benefited from an error by Laird. With runners on second and third and two outs, he threw the ball away and both of them scored as a result to put the game to bed.

Yosuke Okamoto, Tomomi Takahashi and Tatsushi Masuda had minimal drama in the last three innings to stop the bleeding and the Lions were in good shape midweek.

In Game 1 against the Eagles, the Lions bats had a hard time against Kenny Ray. The Eagles drew first blood off a leadoff-triple by Hiroaki Shimauchi. He would score on a sacrifice fly from Rintaro Kitagawa i the third inning.

It wasn't until the fifth inning where the Lions would have a big chance. With runners on the corners, Ryota Wakiya was up as Takumi Kuriyama and Akiyama were on base. Wakiya would single to tie the game, but a throwing error on Kitagawa would advance Akiyama to home plate, putting the Lions up 2-1.

Ken Togame would go seven innings with only two runs allowed. It would take a triple from Motohiro Shima and a sacrifice fly from Shimauchi to tie the game again in the Bottom of the 7th. He escaped an early jam and the Lions defense would take care of itself to give them a chance later.

Koji Aoyama was on the mound Rakuten and he struggled with Wakiya on third and Asamura getting a double with less than two outs. Tomoya Mori would bring a run home where Zelous Wheeler had no choice but to take the sure play at first base as Seibu took the lead.

Masuda worked the eighth and Takahashi had a scary ninth inning again. The tying run was on second base with the help of an error by Wakiya and a walk. However, he struck out Kitagawa to end the game and earned his first save since July 7th. It was the Lions' 4,500th win in franchise history.

In the second game against Rakuten, Ryoma Nogami couldn't recover from a slow start. He allowed a three-run home run to Shima in the second inning. In the third, Nogami would give up a grand slam to Kazuya Fujita which made the game out of reach.

Yohshinao Kamata would appear in his first start in two seasons and shutdown the Lions through four. The Lions would score four runs in the fifth inning including the 20th home run from Ernesto Mejia on the season, but it wasn't enough.

Game 3 against Rakuten was cancelled due to rain, but a makeup game is scheduled on 8/31 in Sendai.

With this being a 2-3 week, it is hard to remain optimistic with the Hawks coming to the Seibu Dome along with a head to head series with Chiba in QVC. The starting pitching will need to remain strong, but the odds feel slim at the moment. They're still within 1/2 game of the Marines and more importantly they are playing meaningful baseball in the month of September.


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