The 2015 Major League Baseball season has been interesting and adventurous for most teams. However, as an Oakland A's fan, it hasn't been fun. However, following Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has been a lifesaver on many fronts for myself and Wes.
Last July, Wes wrote this piece on why we're thankful to be following the Lions. I echo this sentiment with how the Oakland A's season has gone. To sum it up for those who don't know, the Oakland A's made some moves in the middle of 2014 which essentially built up an "All-in" situation for they year. They made multiple blockbuster moves with no plan B thinking about 2015 and beyond. With all the expectations, they failed miserably in the postseason and were forced to retool.
The A's tried to change up their roster significantly with some partial buying moves combined with selling others. Some experts thought they could be a .500 team or an interesting one going forward, but it all was for naught and now they're paying the price for going "All-in" from 2014.
The A's bullpen reminds us of a similar to the Lions, except without a closer and a setup man. There is no identity and while they had Tyler Clippard as the closer prior to the trade deadline, no lead was safe. The offense would find ways to hit or give us a tease at the end, but some errors or bad bullpen would cost them several games.
Oakland is well-out of a playoff spot and will enjoy this offseason from the couch. The only thing interesting was the trade deadline which passed on July 31st. Now that it has come and gone and the A's sold who isn't returning in 2016, the rest of this year is a wash and it's all meaningless.
Following the Saitama Seibu Lions and NPB have given Wes and myself new life. Like Wes, I too like the Dodgers partially, but they don't count as an official team and are more of a side thing to watch. If they won it all in my lifetime, I'd be happy, but not to the extent I would for the A's or any of my other non-baseball teams.
NPB has given us a culture lesson when seeing how tactics are on the field. We see honor, honesty and a different spin than what most Americans would see in MLB. From the fun traditions of player songs to Lucky 7 songs as well as chance songs, to the concept of a player getting a stuffed animal after a home run, these traditions in Japan make it more interesting and provide a fresh view of baseball for us.
Even if this Lions team was as bad as the Chunichi Dragons, the whole league has garnered our interest for how different it is. We can easily make comparisons of how things are run which will be material for a future article in regards to MLB and NPB.
We're enjoying how humble players who were longtime minor leaguers are as they enjoy their time in Japan. Like Anthony Seratelli and Tony Barnette, we too are given another view on baseball.
Before the season, the Lions were expected to have no pitching but all offense. From the power hitting of Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura and Ernesto Mejia to the new face of Tomoya Mori to the slapstick hitting from Shogo Akiyama, they've been an intriguing team to watch with the lineup the Lions have.
We thought the season would be over before it started when Takayuki Kishi was out for two months with a strained abdomen, but the rest of the rotation and defense picked up the slack to put them in a good position. Despite losing a franchise record 13 in a row, we're still enjoying this season for how much personality and identity this Lions team has.
This team could very well not make the postseason with the rough second half they've had, but we're going embrace the ride in good and bad times. As bad as the Lions bullpen has been this year, it is nowhere near how the Oakland A's are in terms of depth. The Lions can pull some Houdini escapes while Oakland can't.
The spirit of fans from the Oendan makes the game fun despite the scoreboard. From singing "Happy Birthday" to a player to hearing a few unique chance themes gets us pumped, even though it has little to no effect on the game outcome.
As bleacher fans, we love noise and the passion from fans. While the Lions Oendan isn't the loudest in decibels, there's plenty of good coordination we see from their songs which includes some lateral movement.
Japanese culture and logic has its own unique perspective and you can tell it reflects on the field. We see some very old school fundamentals still kept with practice and it shows. They take a mathematical approach when they bunt, figuring the odds of consecutive hits are slimmer.
From a Lions standpoint, we saw how they would take a matchup they liked and put in a few random players at the most awkward moments. Sometimes those decisions would work because they liked something they saw on film or in sabremetrics.
With all the twists and turns in this Lions season, we're thankful for the interacting on social media through Twitter with fans. Doesn't even have to be Lions fans, but just anyone who follows Japanese baseball.
More than a decade ago, it would feel impossible to study about NPB without knowing Japanese, but the magic of Twitter, social media and finding outlets (as well as a translator!) has given us plenty of access that we would never have unless we had direct roots in Japan.
We're thankful for all the games, coverage, accessibility and interaction where we hope to continue writing about the Lions and NPB. For whatever curveballs are thrown at us, we'll take it in stride with our thoughts, even if we're not completely used to the traditions of Japan.
Ganbarre Raionzu / 頑張れ ライオンズ!
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