Thursday, March 24, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions need to BEAST in order to make the postseason

The 2016 season begins today. Expectations for the Saitama Seibu Lions become an interesting thing for the year ahead.

There's plenty of subplots and question marks to look at. Can the Lions bullpen hold up? Can the rotation last a full season? Will Hideto Asamura and Tomoya Mori play well for a full season? What happens to Shinsaburo Tawata? How does Kona Takahashi do in his second year?

Questions will be answered as time goes on, but how much can we expect out of this team? There's expectations from us here at Graveyard Baseball.

The English speaking NPB media doesn't see a whole lot out of the Lions, which causes doubt due to their inside information. There's reason for hope and also for feeling down.

This Lions team is expected anywhere between 3rd and 5th in the Pacific League. The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are the undisputed favorites to win it all again while the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters should be a solid second place.

We think the Fighters have vulnerability at pitching, but their hitting couldn't be stopped by the Lions arms. The Lions own the best front-end talent among the rest of the Pacific League teams, but the depth is a problem. The Chiba Lotte Marines owns the depth chart in comparison, but the Lions have what it takes to be the answer to Softbank.

The Orix Buffaloes have the starting pitching to compete, but there's question marks on their hitting as well as bullpen. They're also in a "lame duck" situation with Junichi Fukura as a short term manager. The Rakuten Eagles will have improvements offensively, but their pitching won't last to contend for a playoff spot.

Starting pitching and bullpen will determine how the third playoff spot will be among the Lions, Marines and Buffaloes. Each team has their share of decent starters, but all of them have bullpen uncertainty.

There's a lot of intriguing things in this Lions team due to their top-end talent, but the rotation and bullpen could be a problem if it's not respectable down the stretch. The strikeouts need to improve for the pitchers while the defense has carried the team in games.

In the first half of 2015, the Lions gave everyone a tease with a decent amount of wins. Then it took a historic losing streak of 13 consecutive losses which brought the Marines back in the race. They rode a mediocre rotation and bullpen towards the end of the year while the offense was also inconsistent.

We cannot expect another record season from Shogo Akiyama, but he should still be an effective leadoff hitter by getting on base. Takumi Kuriyama needs to rebound while Ryo Sakata has a chance to win the everyday right field job.

It will take a team effort, with better stability at right field, possibly more offense at shortstop and the hope for an upgraded rotation/bullpen with the additions of Andy Van Hekken and C.C. Lee, respectively. While no one is high on the Lions, this could bode well for them, as there weren't expectations in 2015 either.

If the Lions can get contributions from their imports, combined with growth in the rotation and bullpen among young pitchers like Chun-Lin Kuo and rookie Tawata, they would be in good shape for a playoff spot.

Politics within Seibu could also play an issue, as we view this as a lame duck season for manager Norio Tanabe. Tetsuya Shiozaki was promoted from farm manager to being the head coach (bench coach) this season waiting in the wings for next year. This could mean Tanabe takes more risks knowing his back is against the wall no matter how this team does in 2016.

Regardless, we'll be with you all through this journey and our first full season of writing and covering the Lions. We've been watching this team for a very short time at the start of 2015, but didn't begin writing until the middle of the year. Here, we hope to provide the best coverage with all things Seibu Lions exclusively in English. From podcast episodes to recapping the team each week to even some general thoughts on other things around NPB, we will be paying attention.

Enjoy your baseball everyone and Ganbarre Raionzu.


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