Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: First three-game sweep of the season

The Lions would go 4-1 against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Orix Buffaloes.


In game one of the week, the rookie Isamu Sato would be on the mound for the Lions looking for his first ichi-gun win. For the Eagles, their ace, Takahiro Norimoto, would look to continue his success against the Lions.

The Lions would strike quickly against Norimoto, thanks to some sloppy defense from the Eagles. With runners on first and third, and one out with Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura at the plate, Okawari-kun hit a chopper to the third baseman, Toshiaki Imae who would have to rush his throw to second and the second baseman, Kazuya Fujita couldn't make the play. Shogo Akiyama would walk home, while Mejia would scamper over to third and even Okawari-kun would get on his horse and head to second. Hideto Asamura would then tack on another run with a sacrifice fly that would bring in Mejia, giving the Lions an early 2-0 lead after 1.

Sato would struggle with his control early on his start, with two of his three walks coming in the first two innings. And with the bases loaded and nobody out, Sato would show great poise with two strikeouts to finish a Houdini.

Sato would also face another jam in third with a runner on second and one out, but he'd strikeout Zelous Wheeler and get Imae to fly out to diffuse that jam.

Sato's only inning without a jam would come in the fourth, where he'd get three quick batted outs. In the 5th, he'd give up two singles, which brought up, Kazuo Matsui with runners on first and second and one out. Sato would get Matsui to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning and finish his outing.

Norimoto would settle in for the Eagles after his rocky first inning, it wasn't until the 6th inning where the Lions would start to get things going against him. At that point, Norimoto was well into his third time through the Lions order, and he'd give up hits to Mejia and Asamura, and a one out walk to Gin-chan to set up the bases loaded one out for the pinch hitting, Tatsuyuki Uemoto who'd pop out for the second out. Onizaki would follow, and he'd ground out to give Norimoto the Houdini.

The Eagles would finally get on the board in the top of the 7th, and it would come against the usually reliable, Kazuhisa Makita who'd be into his second inning of relief. He'd give up two quick singles, before the Eagles would lay down a sac bunt and then Takero Okajima would hit one up the middle to make it a 2-1 game. Makita would limit the damage with a strikeout and a foul out to end the inning.

The Lions would get run back thanks to an opposite field, solo home run from Takumi Kuriyama to push the lead back to 3-1. The home run looked to be a consequence of the Eagles trying to stretch Norimoto an inning too far, with their ace seeing Kuriyama for the fourth time and getting burned. It was Kuriyama's 3rd of the year.

Esmerling Vasquez would take over the 8th, and pitch a scoreless frame with a walk and a strikeout. In the 8th, the Lions would tack on one more insurance run thanks to  Asamura. He would tag a pitch from Eagles' reliever, Koji Aoyama into the Lions Ōendan and provide what would be the final score in the game at 4-1.

In the 9th, Tatsushi Masuda would lock down his 8th save of the season, working around one hit and providing a clean frame.

The win would give Isamu Sato his first career win, and provide Norimoto with a loss, which has been something that's been quite tough for the Lions in recent meetings.

Lions 4, Eagles 1


In game two, the Lions would send out Yusei Kikuchi to grab another victory against the struggling Eagles. The Eagles would counter with the long time veteran lefty, Takashi Kawai.

The Lions would strike quickly off Kawai in the first inning, with Akiyama and Nakamura on first and second, Hideto Asamura would provide the big hit with a 2-run double that would give the Lions an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st.

Kikuchi would have to fight out of a jam in the top of the 2nd after Japhet Amador hit a long fly ball to deep center that Akiyama never saw and likely lost in the ceiling. The result was a one out triple for Amador. Ginji Akaminai would ground out to first for the second out of the inning. And Toshiaki Imae would fly out to Onizaki to complete the Houdini for Kikuchi.

For the next few innings, Kikuchi would face little resistance from the Eagles and the Lions would provide more insurance in the 3rd with a single by Akiyama, followed by an error by Tetsuro Nishida that allowed Kuriyama to reach base would provide a great chance for the Lions to break it open.

Mejia would strikeout for the first out of the inning, then Okawari-kun would pop out to the first baseman, and Asamura would walk to load the bases. From there, it would be an unlikely hero as the light hitting, Ginjiro Sumitani hit one deep into the gap away from the on stretching, Kazuo Matsui and clear the bases for a 3-run, double and make it 5-0 Lions.

Kikuchi would face a test with runners on second and third with one out with the middle of the order coming up for the Eagles. He would get Kazuo Matsui to strikeout and he'd get Zelous Wheeler to ground out and provide Kikuchi with another Houdini.

Kikuchi would throw one more inning in the 7th, and was taken out after 88 pitches, which was another outstanding outing from the young, lefthander.

The final highlight would come after the Lucky 7, thanks to Okawari-kun. The large, middle of the order threat hit his 9th home run of the season off Eagles reliever, Takahiro Irino. It was a no doubter to straight away center and it extended the Lions lead to a commanding 7-0 lead.

Tatsuya Oishi and Hirotaka Koishi would throw scoreless innings in the 8th and 9th respectively to secure the shutout and give the Lions a series victory over the Eagles.

Lions 7, Eagles 0


For Game 3, it was Kona Takahashi facing Minabu Mima from Omiya. The Lions would score their first three runs in unconventional ways. With the bases loaded, a wild pitch would plate one in the first and two sacrifice fly balls would follow in the second and third innings.

The Lions did a decent job at getting on base, but they also had help from Eigoro Mogi, who had multiple errors from the night. Takahashi would have a few scary innings, but mostly drew double plays when necessary and had an efficient outing as a whole.

The unsung hero would be Yuji Onizaki, who had three hits and picked up his first Modasho (3+ hit game) in seven years. This included the only Lions run coming off a base hit in the 5th.

Takahashi was left in for the 8th and 9th innings with a low pitch count. He would finish the night with three hits and three walks to go with nine strikeouts in what would be his second career shutout. This was also the second straight game the team would shutout its opponent.

The bats were somewhat disappointing with a load of stranded runners, but the Lions were able to give Takahashi enough run support to take the first victory in Omiya for 2016. The Lions will play in Omiya for the final time of the season in August.

Lions 4, Eagles 0


In the first game against Orix at Kobe, rookie Shinsaburo Tawata took on a struggling Daiki Tomei. Okawari-kun began the scoring with a two-run home run. Akiyama and Asamura would add on and it would 4-1 in the third inning.

However, Tawata would give up multiple base hits and a two-run home run to Yoshio Itoi and the game was tied 4-4. The Lions answered in the top of the fourth with a 2-out rally ending with an RBI single from Ernesto Mejia. Kuriyama added another with some poor outfield defense of Orix helping. Tawata picked up two shutdown innings and would finish the day with four earned runs through five innings pitched.

Unfortunately that wasn't enough, as Shota Takekuma had a meltdown inning allowing four batters to turn into four runs. Itoi would get his second two-run HR of the day and Takahiro Okada hit a no-doubt HR to make it 8-6.  The Lions had chances with two on in the 7th, but Kaneko would groundout and the Orix's bullpen shut them down to bring their first loss since Sunday.

Takekuma is supposed to be the lefty specialist, so it made sense for Tanabe to choose him over Kazuhisa Makita for that frame as he saw Itoi and Okada. The worst case scenario obviously happened and it would cost them the game.

Buffaloes 8, Lions 6

Game note:

-Our old friend Hiroyuki Nakajima reached 1,500 career hits in NPB. The game was momentarily paused to celebrate this achievement.


In the second game against Orix, it was Ryoma Nogami vs. Brandon Dickson.  The Lions struck first blood in the 2nd off an RBI groundout by Sumitani and Onizaki added on with an RBI single. Orix had some poor defense and range which led to both runs.

It looked like a pitcher's duel until Nogami allowed runs in the bottom of the fourth. Brent Morel will hit a gapper and with two outs, Tony Blanco would get an RBI double to tie the game at 2-2.

The Lions had their chance getting to Dickson in the 5th with two on and 1 out for Sumitani, but he would ground into a 6-4-3 to end the threat. Okada would do damage again in the bottom of the 6th, with a solo home run off Kazuhisa Makita and Orix took a 3-2 lead.

A window of opportunity came in the top of the 8th with Tatsuya Sato pitching. He would walk Kuriyama and Mejia giving a big chance for Okawari-kun. The big man would make no mistake about it and hit his 11th HR of the year with a no-doubter to deep left field making it 5-3.

Esmerling Vasquez wouldn't make it easy in the 8th. He would load the bases with a double and two walks, but Shunta Goto would flyout to LF and the Lions would escape.  Tatsushi Masuda shut the door in the ninth with a 1-2-3 inning and the Lions would split in Kobe.

This game was ugly for the most part, but the bats finally woke up on one big blast by Okawari-kun. Orix gifted another win with some questionable defense.

Lions 5, Buffaloes 3


The Lions have their second straight winning week, which we'll take. The team is still questionable and nowhere near a playoff contender, but now they're not a last place team. Interleague play begins this week and it should be a good test coming ahead.

Bullpen needs to get better and the bats will need to show up against the tough pitchers ahead.  If anything, Rakuten had the Lions' number coming into the week, but the monkey is finally off their back.


Christian Gin also contributed to this report.


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