Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Translation: Seibu Lions players react to being All-Stars and Tetsuto Yamada

The Saitama Seibu Lions had four players selected to the 2016 NPB All Star series by fan vote. As a result, the team uploaded a video with their reaction and thoughts on making the team. They were also asked about reigning Central League MVP, Tetsuto Yamada.

Here is a reaction from Shogo Akiyama, Ginjiro Sumitani and Kazuhisa Makita:

Kazuhisa Makita [voted in as middle reliever/setup pitcher]: 

"I'm happy and honored to be selected All-Star team. This is the first time selected as a [long reliever]. Formerly selected as a [closer and starter]. I'll do my best and will recover [from my injury]."

(On Tetsuto Yamada): "I'd like to face Tetsuto Yamada and strike him out. I'll show my submarine pitching and do my best."


Ginjiro Sumitani [voted in as catcher]: 

"I'm frankly happy.  I don't have a pleasant memory [from] my past All- Star game history, So this year I'll really make an effort to give a good impression to my fans. I would do my best and show a play to a professional."

(On Tetsuto Yamada): "At the moment I'd like to face him as a catcher. We can win an easy victory over him."


Shogo Akiyama [OF]: 

"I'm very proud that I was selected an outfielder of Pacific league All- Star team."

(On Tetsuto Yamada): "If we [strike him out], may I sit down in the outfield?"

"Yokohama is my hometown and [I] have a special feeling [about it]. So I'd like to show them my [playing abilities]."

(Shogo Akiyama played high school baseball at Yokohama Sogaku Hall before going to Hachinohe University in Aomori prefecture. He was teammates with Shotaro Tashiro at the University)


Note: All three players are expected to play in Game 2 of the All-Star Series on July 16 in Yokohama.


Special Thanks to our friend "Maple Ash" for providing translation.  


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Monday, June 27, 2016

Four Lions earn fan vote to 2016 NPB All Star Series

NPB announced the fan vote all stars for the 2016 NPB Series on Monday evening. Four Saitama Seibu Lions became all stars as a result.

For those unfamiliar, fans get to vote each position for the NPB All-Star series. This includes closer, relief pitchers and starting pitcher, something that MLB doesn't offer. (Though they have the right to vote for all position players).

OF Shogo Akiyama, C Ginjiro Sumitani, RP Kazuhisa Makita and 2B Hideto Asamura were fan votes among the Lions players at their respective positions. In a strange scenario, both Asamura and Makita are injured at the time of receiving their all star status.

Sumitani continues to have solid defense behind the plate, but is still a hole offensively. Asamura had a strong month of May, but there are questions about him being consistent or not.

Akiyama and Makita were shoo-ins the moment the All-star ballot came out. The Lions bullpen wouldn't be good without Makita while Akiyama has remained a solid leadoff hitter with an on-base percentage well above .400.

Interestingly enough, Ernesto Mejia couldn't earn the fan vote as Sho Nakata of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters got in through name recognition. Brandon Laird also came up short as Nobuhiro Matsuda (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks) was the 3B representative.  Game 1 is on July 15 in Fukuoka and Game 2 is on July 16 in Yokohama.

The full all-star rosters will be announced later and we'll have a full reaction to this when it comes.

Here is the complete list of All-Stars who are in through the fan vote:

Pacific League

SP: Shohei Otani (Fighters)

RP: Kazuhisa Makita (Lions)

CL: Dennis Sarfate (Hawks)

C: Ginjiro Sumitani (Lions)

1B: Sho Nakata (Fighters)

2B: Hideto Asamura (Lions)

3B: Nobuhiro Matsuda (Hawks)

SS: Kenta Imamiya (Hawks)

OF: Yuki Yanagita (Hawks), Shogo Akiyama (Lions), Yoshio Itoi (Orix Buffaloes)

DH: Yuya Hasegawa (Hawks)


Central League

SP: Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants)

RP: Shinji Tajima (Chunichi Dragons)

CL: Yasuaki Yamasaki (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

C: Yuhei Nakamura (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

1B: Takahiro Arai (Hiroshima Toyo Carp)

2B: Tetsuto Yamada (Swallows)

3B: Shingo Kawabata (Swallows)

SS: Hayato Sakamoto (Giants)

OF: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Baystars), Yoshihiro Maru (Carp), Shun Takayama (Hanshin Tigers)


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Sunday, June 26, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sayonara from Sakata prevents a sweep

The Saitama Seibu Lions would lose the series coming off interleague play to the Chiba Lotte Marines. They're now six games behind the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and are still in fourth place.


In Game 1 against the Marines, Kona Takahashi would play in the city of his high school career in Maebashi (Gunma prefecture) against big time nemesis Ayumu Ishikawa. Tomoya Mori opened the scoring with a two-run home run, but Daichi Suzuki answered back with a solo HR making it 2-1 in the 2nd.

Ernesto Mejia hit his 23rd HR of the season in the bottom of the 3rd to make it 3-1. The bottom of the 5th saw Mori hit another HR for a no-doubter and Hideto Asamura added on with a solo HR of his own to make it 5-1 after five.

However, the top of the 6th would be a disaster. Takahashi wasn't looking good all game, but only gave up the solo HR despite a lack of control and giving up hits. He only had two strikeouts entering the 6th, but a two-out rally would come out of nowhere. Tatsuhiro Tamura would double and the hits or walks would keep coming, all with two outs.

The Marines would bat around the order and score six runs through htis and walks, leaving Takahashi in the dust unable to retire the final batter. Shota Takekuma entered with the bases loaded as it was 5-4. However, Yamaico Navarro would single and the Marines took the lead for good at 6-5.  Suzuki added another to make it 7-5.

Mejia got the Lions a run back in the 7th inning, but the Marines bullpen shut the door and Ishikawa would earn a win despite four home runs given up. Norio Tanabe tried to save his bullpen and Takahashi only needed one out, but he was not good the entire game and it backfired.

I (クリスチャン) can understand where Tanabe was thinking on this move as only one out was left, but the worst case scenario happened. Takahashi had to put the ball in play and get lucky more times than not and ultimately paid the price. His pitch count wasn't a problem, but the control was and he was sweating bullets in the rain as the nerves most likely got to him.

Marines 7, Lions 6

Game note:

-Yusei Kikuchi and Shogo Kimura were taken off the roster. Recently, Kikuchi was feeling stiffness in his non-throwing side and the team deactivated him as a precaution. Kimura tore his ACL in practice and will most likely miss the entire season.

-Ken Togame and Naoto Watanabe became the corresponding moves with the open roster spaces. Togame appeared in one inning as a middle reliever.

-Hotaka Yamakawa would get his first base hit of the 2016 season.  He was initially 0-13 after making the opening day roster.


In Game 2, Kota Futaki would face Ryoma Nogami in a crazy contest.  The Marines jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to some errors from Mori and Kaneko. The first run came from a rundown where Kaneko dropped the ball and the throw to Nogami at home plate was not in time after a review.

The Lions answered back with a solo HR from Asamura and a three-run HR from Yamakawa to make it 4-3. Alfredo Despaigne would hit a solo HR off Nogami in the next frame to even the score.

The Marines would get four hits in the top of the 5th but not score a run thanks to some poor decisions to send a runner home on sharply hit singles. Katsuya Kakunaka was tagged at the plate and Despaigne was sent on a flyball out, resulting in a 7-6-2 double play.

Seibu took advantage of the bottom frame as Mori hit a two-RBI single with the bases loaded to give them a 6-4 lead. Mejia's presence would make the Chiba outfield play back and normal lineout to CF resulted in a single, bringing in a third run for the inning.

Togame would appear for his second relief inning after a scoreless sixth and the disaster struck in the 7th. An error from Yuji Onizaki would bite and the damage would start. A barrage of base hits and poor defense would give the Marines an 8-7 lead. On what could have been routine outs, Yamakawa chose to attack home plate and not concede a run, getting no outs. Asamura would also throw to the plate and the Marines would keep the lineup moving.

Tamura looked like he would hit the dagger to end it with a two-out single up the middle making it 8-7. Esmerling Vasquez would then give up a solo HR in the 8th to Despaigne for his 2nd of the game.

All would not be lost yet, as the Lions would get the first two batters on base in the bottom of the 8th. After Naoto Watanabe bunted both runners over, Tatsuyuki Uemoto slapped a single up the middle and tied the game a 9-9 for an improbable score. Tatsushi Masuda worked a scoreless 9th inning and the Lions would go to extras in an affair that was already at four hours and counting.

In the top of the 10th, Shota Takekuma would load the bases with a leadoff double to Kakunaka, pitching around Despaigne and a walk to Navarro as there were no outs. Suzuki would hit an infield fly, followed by a strikeout of Shota Omine. Tamura would then lineout to shortstop and an epic Houdini kept the game tied.

Watanabe would get a one out single and Ginjiro Sumitani would bunt him over to second base. After Chiba pitcher Masaki Minami intentionally walked Shogo Akiyama, Kaneko would reach base in an unusual fashion. On what looked like a routine grounder, Kaneko would beat Minami to 1B and keep the game alive to load the bases.  Pinch hitting for a defensive substitute in Kyohei Nagae, Ryo Sakata, the last position player off the bench took the first pitch to RF and the Lions walked off for the 4th time this season.

This was an improbable miracle with both teams playing sloppy baseball from errors and poor base running decisions. It's not the best game to be proud of, but it wasn't a loss and they were able to hang tough with chances.

Lions 10, Marines 9 (10 innings)

Game note:

-The Lions waited nearly three months for their first Sayonara in 2015. They had three sayonara wins last year and have already reached four for this season.

-Nogami's defense let him down, as he only allowed one earned run through the HR by Despaigne. He continued to have another decent outing of at least 5 IP and three earned runs or less.


Game 3 saw Shinsaburo Tawata face Jason Standridge in the rubber match.  Chiba jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead that could've been worse as Tawata loaded the bases early on. Both runs would score on outs, with a flyout and a groundout.

A throwing error from Kaneko in the second inning made it 3-0 Marines. Nagae would get a start and had a two-out RBI to give the Lions their first run, but the next frame would be a killer. Tawata allowed a two-out, two-run HR to Tamura and it became a 5-1 ballgame. The Lions answered with another run thanks to a throwing error by Standridge, but Mejia grounded into a 6-4-3 double play which cleared the bases.

Tawata would last five innings and was fortunate to dodge some bullets to not allow more runs in the 4th and 5th innings. Akiyama had to rob Despaigne of some extra base hits with a leaping grab at the wall.

The Lions chipped at the lead in the 6th, with an RBI groundout from Yamakawa and a two-out RBI single from Uemoto to make it a one-run game.  Hirotaka Koishi failed to get a shutdown inning with a two-out RBI single from Shohei Kato. Yasuo Sano would give up more runs in the top of the 9th and the game was out of reach.  After walking and allowing multiple hits, it would be a nightmare 9th inning with four earned runs.

Tawata had a rough start, bats weren't bad against Standridge, but it wasn't enough to win. Pitching and control wasn't there for the rookie.

Marines 10, Lions 4

Game note:

-Nagae would get a modasho (three hits in one game).

-Asamura would leave the game after injuring himself running to 1B. His status is unclear.


The Lions pitching was just terrible from top to bottom without Kikuchi. We can only hope he will be back for the following week, because the team is nowhere near contention for a playoff spot with who is missing.

Is Asamura out for a long time?  Will Kazuhisa Makita return? When does Okawari-kun come back? There's too much uncertainty and the word "playoffs" needs to be out of our vocabulary for now as it's not looking good.


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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Translation: Shinsaburo Tawata speaks about his first victory

Multiple signs from the Lions Oendan congratulated Tawata on his first win. The white sign on the right encourages him to believe in himself.
Shinsaburo Tawata earned his first career victory in NPB on June 19th in Jingu Stadium against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

He went five innings allowing five earned runs, six hits, one walk, two HBP and two strikeouts. The Lions were able to take the lead in the top of the 6th to give him his first ichi-gun victory.

The Saitama Seibu Lions uploaded a video of an interview with him during the week. With interleague play over, the makeup period ended up being a week of mostly no games.

Here is a translated transcript of what Tawata said:

On his first win: 

"[Even] though I [allowed] some runs, I was glad to gain my first victory.
In my university days [at Fuji University], I pitched a [no hitter] game at Jingu Stadium, so [in] this stadium, I [may] have a [destiny]."

"On my 6th game as a starter, at last I got a victory and I felt that it had taken a little long."


On his best career game up to this point:

"The most impressive game was vs. the Chunichi [Dragons] because I [pitched] 8 innings with no earned runs. My fastball was very nice."


On conditioning and exercise:

"Everyday I have a game or exercise more and more. My [conditioning] is becoming [hard], so I [need to] take care of myself."


On which pitch is a primary focus:

"[The] sinker ball is my assignment."


On what his immediate goal is:

"My [goal] is to get win at Seibu Dome as soon as possible."


Closing statement to fans and viewers:

"I will concentrate my attention on every game and do my best game by game. Please root for me!"


Special Thanks to our friend "Maple Ash" for translation help.  


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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

2016 NPB All Star Series: Which Lions should qualify?

Kazuhisa Makita has been an asset for the Lions
The 2016 NPB All Star Series will take place with two games. The first will be in Fukuoka on July 15 while the second is in Yokohama for July 16.

Rosters for the NPB All Star game will be announced soon and the fan vote was recently completed. Fans had the right to vote for all positions including starting, relief and closing pitchers and whoever leads the vote for each position is an automatic all star no matter the numbers.

Managers who won the pennant (regular season title) for both leagues decide the remaining roster spots. For the Pacific League, it's Fukuoka Softbank Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo who will decide this.

The question for is, who becomes the Lions all stars? We'll decipher who could make the All Star game.

Stats are reflective of games completed after 6/19.  
For pitchers, we'll list (Win-Loss) / ERA / WHIP
For Position players, the slashline will be AVG/OBP/SLG


People listed here go in the 50-50 range. For the most part, we will write off all the long shots.

SP Kona Takahashi: (3-2) / 2.38 / 1.340

The problem for Kona Takahashi keeping him back, is how he only has eight games under his belt. It's possible that he could be a late addition if an injury piles up. He has impressive strikeout numbers in a small sample size, but he didn't start games until the middle of April with an injury to begin the season.

C Ginjiro Sumitani: .218/.243/.251

"Gin-chan" was leading the fan vote among who was left. He has no hitting in him, but is well-known for his defense. Motohiro Shima would've won the fan vote, but an injury reduced his number of games played and he has missed nearly half the season.

CL Tatsushi Masuda: (3-3) / 1.75 / 1.364 (12 saves)

Masuda was named the team's closer since opening day and after an early struggle, he has established himself as the best reliever on the Lions staff. Last year, we liked his FIP metrics due to a high strikeout total and reduced walk number. He hasn't been dominant, but solid compared to other closer situations.


Should be in (but not guaranteed)

This is where we consider who else can take a roster spot for the Pacific League. Sometimes the odds and comparisons to others around the league are why a player is here instead of "maybe."

2B Hideto Asamura: .277/.328/.424

Asamura has been a streaky 2B, showing signs of greatness for one month (May) but being cold in other months (April and June). He hits home runs and doubles, but isn't consistent enough overall. However, among the 2B available, he could be the most talented and Kudo should consider him.

SP Yusei Kikuchi: (6-5) / 2.47 / 1.255

After a slow start to the season, Kikuchi has been nothing but impressive since Shinji Mori became the pitching coach in May. He has put in six consecutive quality starts and the strikeout numbers have been solid. Kikuchi isn't an ace pitcher yet, but he's on a great run and has been the team's best starting pitcher due to Kishi being out with an injury for two months.


Locks (Shoo-ins)

These are players who are all but guaranteed to make the Pacific League All Star team. There's no doubt for those listed here.

RP Kazuhisa Makita: (6-0) / 1.50 / 0.958

Makita has been revived since being named the team's long reliever/swingman in the bullpen. This is a call both of us here at Graveyard Baseball have advocated for and clearly the Lions listened to us! (Okay, they most likely saw the national team use him in middle relief and wanted to match it). Makita's submarine arm is a perfect change of pace out of the bullpen against hitters. The only way he won't make it is if his leg injury keeps him out.

OF Shogo Akiyama: .315/.421 /.440

Akiyama continues to have a strong season even if it isn't up to the standards of 2015. He continues to get on base and does everything you would want in a leadoff hitter. If anything, last year was not a complete fluke as he hasn't fallen off this year.

1B Ernesto Mejia: .265/.342/.564

Mejia is tied for the Pacific League lead in home runs with 22. This should be his first all star series in Japan, after being an all star at the AAA level within the Atlanta Braves organization for many years. In 2014, he came too late as a midseason signing and last year, he had a rough season. This time, we're seeing better adjustments and even though his average has dipped recently, his pitch recognition is much stronger than in the past.

OF Takumi Kuriyama: .311/.429/.430

Kuriyama was demoted from the lineup last season, but the Lions captain has been nothing but amazing for 2016. He continuously gets on base like Akiyama and is tied for the team lead in walks. The Lions bat him second in the lineup and with this revival, he should be guaranteed to make the team.  


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Monday, June 20, 2016

2016 NPB All Star Series: Pacific League Ballot

The 2016 All Star Series voting had ended and it's the time to decide who deserves the recognition in my opinion. For the Central League opinions, click here.

Stats are reflective of games that concluded after 6/19.  

For pitchers, I'll show (W-L) / ERA / WHIP

For hitters, the slashline will be BA / OBP / SLG

Starting Pitcher:

Ayumu Ishikawa (Chiba Lotte Marines): (7-2) / 1.30 / 1.072

He doens't have the strikeout numbers that Shohei Otani has, but I'll take his consistency throughout the whole season up to this point as my vote. Hideaki Wakui is the most accomplished pitcher in the Chiba rotation, but this season from Ishikawa proves why he's an ace. Weak contact and a strong WHIP will make me want to vote for this starter, who also leads the league in ERA.


Relief Pitcher: 

Kazuhisa Makita (Saitama Seibu Lions): (6-0) / 1.50 / 0.958 / 11 holds 

Like Ishikawa, Makita doesn't have the strikeout numbers of his competitors among relievers. However, his sample size is much larger with 48 inings pitched, the most among those that qualify. He's made multiple long relief appearances and is a large reason why the Lions are not in the cellar. The change of pace by having him as a reliever has done wonders and it brings a new element of "bullpen ace" to the team.



Dennis Sarfate (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks): (0-4) / 1.54 / 0.629 / 24 saves / 6 holds

Sarfate still averages more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Usually WHIP under 1.00 is good, but having it under .700?  Insane. He's continued his strong form since being the closer in Fukuoka and there shouldn't be any doubt in this pick with other closers either struggling or having their share of inconsistency.



Ginjiro Sumitani (Lions): .218/.243/.251

Among the catchers right now, "Gin-chan" has been reliable defensively even with some il-advised throws. Motohiro Shima would be a lock with better hitting, but his injury means it's a smaller sample size and less body of work. Tatsuhiro Tamura of the Chiba Lotte Marines also deserves some votes for his quick release.


First Baseman: 

Ernesto Mejia (Lions): .265/.342/.564

Mejia's production has dipped a little since his hot April, but his power still exists. He currently leads the Pacific League with 22 home runs and has been a large part of the Lions offense. Players with decent pop should always be considered or the all star game. His OPS is still above .900, which should make him a lock.


Second Baseman: 

Masahiro Nishino (Orix Buffaloes): .278/.350/.341

This isn't the most attractive name, but I find Nishino more consistent than how Hideo Asamura has been hitting for the Lions. He's a smarter slap stick hitter while Asamura is streaky. However, it's possible that voters prefer Asamura for his strong month of May.


Third Baseman: 

Brandon Laird (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters): .280/.339/.588

Laird is tied with Mejia for home runs in the Pacific League with 22. Better yet, his average is respectable and he's finding the gaps. For a second-year player, he's had an impressive sophomore year in Japan avoiding any potential slump.



Takuya Nakashima (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters): .280/.375/.297

Nakashima isn't the best SS in NPB, but his speed and hitting is better among who is eligible. He has 30-stolen base potential if he was given more opportunities to hit and get on base. Kenta Imamiya of the Softbank Hawks will most likely win the fan vote for his popularity, but he has had a decent run himself with a 20 game hit streak to bump his average above .250, which is solid for a guy that is known primarily for his defense.



Yuki Yanagita (Hawks): .293/.452/.526

Shogo Akiyama (Lions): .315/.421/.440

Katsuya Kakunaka (Marines): .344/.428/.496

Yanagita is the reigning Pacific League MVP and this year, teams are pitching around him as he leads the league in walks. The first 18 games of the year had Yanagita walk at least once. Despite all of this, he still has racked up 10 HRs and 10 stolen bases, putting him in range to be part of th 20-20 club.

Akiyama has regressed (Surprise!) from last year. However, he continues to get on base and not worry about a possible hits record despite his historic season of 2015. OPS is still above .800 and he does everything right for a leadoff hitter.

Kakunaka is one of the best hitting outfielders in the game even though his defense is a question mark. He can find the gap and slap one away to put some runs on the board.

Designated Hitter:

Alfredo Despaigne (Marines): .290/.353/.469

Despaigne is eligible for the first time in his NPB career (he has served international duty in the past, joining the team late) and has no troubles earning my vote among the designate hitters available. Tomoya Mori obviously has no sample size as he spent majority of the first half in ni-gun. Yuya Hasegawa of the Softbank Hawks has decent hitting numbers as well, but I'll take the guy with power numbers if they're close in average.


So in summary, here's my ballot.


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Sunday, June 19, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Kuriyama reaches milestone in brutal week

The Saitama Seibu Lions went a combined 1-5 against the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and Tokyo Yakult Swallows on the six game road trip. Interleague play has officially ended with no makeup games coming this week.


In Game 1 against the Carp, Yusei Kikuchi faced Takaya Toda. The first run of the game would come on a two-out single from Seiya Suzuki in the fourth inning. Brad Eldred would double the lead in the 6th with a solo home run.

The Lions blew multiple chances in the first three innings with double plays in each inning happening from strikeout/throw out and a failed bunt attempt. They also loaded the bases in the fourth inning, but Yuji Onizaki's hard grounder was fielded by Takahiro Arai to save two runs.

Ernesto Mejia would bring the Lions within one with a solo home run off Toda. Yuji Kaneko would be on second base with Tatsuyuki Uemoto pinch hitting, but he struck out on full count and ended the threat.

Toda and Kikuchi would go seven innings each. Kikuchi didn't have a bad outing, but his control was lacking by the time it was the fifth inning, fortunate to last as long as he did.

In the 9th, Mejia grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and Tomoya Mori would be the last chance with two outs. He would take a solo home run into right field off Shota Nakazaki and tie the game at 2-2.

Tatsushi Masuda came in the bottom of the 9th looking to extend the game to extra innings. After retiring the first two batters, Ryosuke Kikuchi would get a single and steal second base. Uemoto intentionally walked Yoshihiro Maru with two strikes to face Masato Akamatsu, who was a pinch runner for Arai earlier in the game. He would single up the middle and R. Kikuchi was initially ruled out at the plate.

However, after further video review, Uemoto blocked the path to the runner and potentially missed the tag on R. Kikuchi which ended in a Sayonara win for the Carp. A video can be seen of this play here.

The call decided the final game, but the Lions bats had too many double plays throughout the night and blew their chances earlier. Unfortunately the call is controversial with the obstruction of the base path rule being enforced, which in this case, the throw from Shogo Akiyama lead the catcher to standing there. However, it's possible there was no tag altogether. Still, that's inconclusive to overturn the tag part in my eyes, but the rule of blocking the base path was evident.

Carp 3, Lions 2

Game note:

-Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura remained only available to pinch hit with no designated hitter. He was on deck in the 7th to bat for the pitcher's spot had Uemoto reached base.


In Game 2 against the Carp, Kona Takahashi faced Kris Johnson in a battle of a foreigner vs. first round draft pick. The Carp struck first with a two out single from Suzuki. Kaneko would tie the game on a single in the top of the third.

After an improbable double off the second base bag from Maru, Brad Eldred would plate him on a ground ball that resulted in an E5 on Okawari-kun, but there was also no chance to throw home. Kikuchi would show he's human with an E4 to put Akiyama on base. Kaneko would plate him and tie the game after he stole 2nd, making it 2-2.

Takahashi would have a shaky outing despite seven strikeouts and one walk. He would give up eight hits and the Carp would get on base. This continued in the bottom of the fifth where there were runners on second and third with one out. Ryuhey Matsuyama would ground one to Onizaki and an improbable 6-2-3-5 double play would happen with some base running blunders by Kikuchi and Maru.

Okawari-kun would end the inning out-running Maru when trying to score. This would prove to be costly as he wouldn't last the entire game. After squandering a chance in the top of the 7th, the Carp would nail the Lions in the bottom frame

Shota Takekuma nearly got a houdini, but it would turn into a two out disaster with runners on second and third. Arai would send one to right field and the Carp regained the lead at 3-2. Matsuyama would redeem himself with a two strike pitch, taking one deep to right field over Kaneko's head and score two more runs. Suzuki added a fourth run and it put the game away for good.

The Lions held their ground against Johnson to make it competitive, but Takahashi should have allowed more runs. Takekuma allowed them in his place against a talented lineup.

Carp 4, Lions 2

Game note:

-Kazuhisa Makita and Okawari-kun were deactivated after the game.  Hotaka Yamakawa was called up.

-Shogo Kimura got applause from the Hiroshima Crowd after a pinch hit appearance.


In Game 3, the Lions started Andy Van Hekken to take on Yusuke Nomura. The bases would be loaded for the Carp in the third and Van Hekken walked Maru to give Hiroshima their first run. Suzuki would get a bunt single in the fourth and Masatoshi Okada took an ill-advised throw leading to a one-base error.

Ko Shimozuru would double the Carp lead at 2-0. The Lions had plenty of chances against Nomura, but continued to strand runners on the night. They had a base runner in scoring position for the first five innings, but they would all end with strikeouts, groundouts or flyouts.

Maru would pad the lead in the 5th with a double and Hector Luna, coming in for an injured Eldred singled making it 4-0. The Lions bats would continue to falter and Kikuchi made sure the game was not in doubt with a two-run home run off Yuta Nakazaki.

The Lions would be swept for the first time in a three-game series for 2016. Bats were dead, combined with late game pitching being an issue.

Carp 6, Lions 0

Game note:

-The Lions deactivated Van Hekken after the game to make room for someone else. Ryo Sakata was also activated to the main roster.


In Game 1 against the Swallows from Jingu, Takayuki Kishi made his return and first in nearly two months against Hirofumi Yamanaka. An early jam for Kishi would result in a 1-0 lead from the Swallows on fielder's choice from Wladimir Balentien. Despite the run, Balentien would shortly leave the game after the inning.

The Lions tied it with a two out double from Sakata, making his first start since early May to make it 1-1 in the fourth. Unfortunately the bottom of the frame would hurt, as substitute left fielder Naomichi Nishida would hit a home run off Kishi to LF as the Swallows reclaimed the lead.

Catcher Yuhei Nakamura, celebrating his 26th birthday would get an RBI double to right field in the 6th as Sakata couldn't run it down to make it 3-1.  The Lions squandered multiple chances throughout the night and none came bigger than when the bases were loaded in the top of the 7th. Kaneko would flyout to RF against Josh Lueke.

Reigning Central League MVP Tetsuto Yamada showed why he was the best, hitting a two-run home run off Yasuo Sano to put the game away. He now has a HR off all 11 other NPB teams as a result.

The Lions would lose their fourth straight game and fail to have an RBI with RISP for the second consecutive night. Kishi wasn't bad through six innings, but still required a load of pitches to get out of jams. There were some definite signs of rust through it all.

Swallows 5, Lions 1


In Game 2, Felipe Paulino made his NPB debut against foreigner Kyle Davies. The Swallows opened the scoring in the bottom of the 2nd from a single by Nishida and a squeeze bunt from Y. Nakamura to make it 2-0.

The Lions answered back in the fourth with a two-out triple from Ginjiro Sumitani. A two out rally in the top of the 5th is what made it interesting. Sakata appeared to have hit an inning ending pop fly, but Yasushi Iihara would lose it in the sun, resulting in a double and the Lions tied the game at 2-2. Onizaki ripped a triple down the right field line and the team picked up their first lead of the week. Kaneko joined in on the fun with an RBI single making ti 4-2.

Paulino would get a shutdown inning in the bottom of the 5th and his day was done with only two runs allowed, drawing weak contact.  Ryoma Nogami would enter in the 6th inning with struggles.

After allowing hits to Yamada and Shingo Kawabata, the Swallows would bunt them over to 2nd and 3rd. Nogami would strike Nishida, but Y. Nakamura did the damage with a two-out single to tie the game at 4-4.  The negative momentum only continued in the bottom of the 7th, as he allowed a leadoff opposite field home run to Keiji Obiki to break the tie.

The Swallows bullpen, which had been struggling coming into the series, would shut down the Lions and win the second game. Seibu's bats were once again cold and it was a gift hit from Iihara for losing the ball in the sun as the inning should have ended.

Swallows 5, Lions 4


In Game 3 against the Swallows, Shinsaburo Tawata would face Toshihiro Sugiura. The Lions struck first on a single from Mejia. Yamada would overpower Tawata on a two out, two-run home run for the Swallows first runs of the game making it 2-1.

The Lions answered back in the top of the 2nd as Tomoya Mori would get a gift hit. Like Iihara losing it in the sun in Game 2, Jun Matsui mistimed his jump as the bases were loaded, scoring two runs for the Lions making it 3-2. Mejia hit a sacrifice fly to double the lead at 4-2.

After the Swallows countered on an RBI groundout, Takumi Kuriyama would hit a double after Akiyama hit one to make it 5-3. Obiki would give the Swallows a run with an RBI triple in right field as Mori couldn't catch it. Yamada tied the game with a sacrifice fly and it would be 5-5 after the fifth inning.

The top of the 6th gave the Lions some life. With the bases loaded and no outs, Kuriyama would get a sacrifice fly to give the Lions a lead. Mori followed up with a blooper as the Swallows infield was playing in to make it 7-5.

Nogami entered the game again for the 6th inning and gave up two hits to start. However, Y. Nakamura would ground into a 3-5-4 double play where Mejia attacked third base. It was controversial as Y. Nakamura appeared to be safe at first. However, Iihara would groundout on the next at-bat in what would have been a double play ball.

The Lions bullpen looked reliable after Nogami's scare, as Takekuma fought off a two out scare and Esmerling Vasquez had a clean 8th inning. Masuda would have a jam with two runners on base and Yamada batting as the last hope. However, he would pitch two strikes and forced a groundout to stop the bleeding.

Tawata would earn his first carer win in NPB going five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits and getting two strikeouts. It wasn't his best career outing, but the Lions bats were able to score in the 6th for him to earn a win which he should've had last week.

Lions 7, Swallows 5

Game notes:

-Tomoya Mori would bat third and start in right field.  He would get three important hits on the day.

-Kuriayama reached a milestone of getting his 1,500th hit in NPB. He went 2-2 with two walks to reach that number.

-Mejia failed to hit a home run against all other NPB teams as he couldn't hit one vs. the Swallows. The Lions didn't hit a home run the entire season in Jingu, which is known as a bandbox ballpark.


Interleague play ends with a 9-9 record after a strong start. The disappointing 1-5 finish can leave a sour taste, but we can only hope that Okawari-kun can use the makeup week as a time to recover from his injury. Makita should return, who has been a vital piece of the bullpen.

The bats were cold for most of the week until the final game and if it weren't for some gifts, the run production would be even less. Can the bats wake up against Pacific League teams?  We'll find out.


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Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 NPB All Star Series: Central League Ballot

If you can read Japanese, you can just read this and react 
The NPB All Star game voting is about to conclude and I successfully put in my ballot shortly before the deadline as the best way to judge players knowing stats can change on an instant.

I tend to vote based on who I believe is the best, regardless of team. My opinion of players is usually based on some flashy stat that tries to go beyond hitting for average. There's plenty of passive votes included, but like anything, didn't want any team loyalty or factor to decide who is in.

For Pacific League votes, click here.

Here is my ballot for the 2016 All Star Series in the Central League:

Stats are reflective of games that concluded after 6/12.  

For pitchers, I'll show (W-L) / ERA / WHIP

For hitters, the slashline will be BA / OBP / SLG

Starting Pitcher:

Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants): (5-2) / 0.75 / 0.812

Sugano is an ace and there's no doubt he's been the best starter among the Central League. What really stands out is not only his ERA being under 1.00, but the WHIP being below 0.90.  His strikeout/walk ratio is also 6.85, which is ridiculous in its own right.


Relief Pitcher:

Shinji Tajima (Yomiuri Giants): (2-1) / 0.56 / 1.082 / 14 Holds, 3 Saves

Tajima went 31 innings without allowing a run to start the 2016 NPB Season. That's a Central League record from Opening Day and he also tied a club record as a result. I personally liked him the moment he was their closer in the second half of last year, but he had such an amazing run that the team made Tajima their closer over Koji Fukutani. He also has a decent strikeout clip of 8.4 K per nine innings.



Yasuaki Yamasaki (Yokohama DeNA Baystars): (1-2) / 1.48 / 1.192 / 16 Saves, 4 Holds

Closers have been an issue around the league and everyone has had their moments, including Yamsaki. However, after a slow start in what looked like a sophomore slump, Yamasaki has picked it up since May. He also has a better strikeout clip of 8.1 K/9 than Hirokazu Sawamura, which will draw my vote. Fun side fact is he also uses Kernkraft 400 as his walkup song and the crowd will even sing it in Acapella when on the road chanting his name.



Yasutaka Tobashira (Yokohama DeNA Baystars): .236/.277/.281

For a rookie coming straight out of an industrial league, I'm rather impressed that manager Alex Ramirez has started him immediately and he has done a decent job behind the plate. I will confess that I don't watch central league catchers a whole lot and won't know their defense from film study, but I think it's intriguing that a rookie has become an everyday starter for the Baystars.

Fumihito Harguchi of the Hanshin Tigers is the other name that stands out, but I was unable to write his name in on the ballot. His sample size is a little too small after having a hot month of May, but he has been solid at hitting after being a recently promoted ikusei player.


First Baseman:

Dayan Viciedo (Chunichi Dragons): .284/.371/.538

Viciedo has cooled off after a strong April, but I still like the pop he has at first base. With Brad Eldred moving to the outfield, pop is a higher priority for me at that position. He still 16 home runs at the time of this writing and has given a pulse to what has been viewed as a "last place" Dragons team. Takahiro Arai of the Hiroshima Carp has also stood out, but home runs are better than hitting for average in my opinion at this area.


Second Baseman: 

Tetsuto Yamada (Tokyo Yakult Swallows): .324/.433/.656

With Yamada having an OPS well over 1.000, that's an easy qualification to get my vote. Last year, I had him over Ryosuke Kikuchi, but of course Kikuchi won the fan vote due to one of the games being in Hiroshima.

This time, Yamada's historic season from last year is still carrying over to 2016. He's on pace for a "Triple-3" season of batting .300 with 30 HRs and 30 stolen bases. It's possible that stealing bases is the hardest department, but with him able to do all three, there's no doubt he's the best player in the Central League. He also leads the league in home runs with 20.


Third Baseman: 

Shuichi Murata (Yomiuri Giants): .308/.357/.448

Murata is having a revival season after coming off some down seasons in the past. He doesn't have the home run totals that he used to have, but I like the doubles he has (16) with an OPS still above .800.  Shingo Kawabata is the easier pick as he is known to hit for average, but I think Murata is having a better season among the two.



Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri Giants): .332/.422/.607

Sakamoto is having a strong season and there's no denying he's already good defensively. For a shortstop to having 13 home runs and even more doubles is a bonus. Like Yamada, he has an OPS over 1.000, making it the easiest vote of all infielders.



Toshitomo Tsutsugo (Baystars): .311/.429/.595
Brad Eldred (Hiroshima Carp): .323/.384/.574
Yohei Oshima (Dragons): .300/.374/.416

Eldred was leading the league at one point in batting average. He still has an impressive amount of pop (15 home runs) to go with 11 doubles. Tsutsugo will easily win the fan vote with one of the games behind in Yokohama and he still has the home runs thanks to an inflated park. He's still hitting .300 as well which is a bonus.

Oshima is the more outside the box pick. Personally, I like speed and he has done everything right for a leadoff hitter. He only has nine stolen bases, but he gets on base more than his teammate Ricardo Nanita, who was also a candidate with his high average.  Yoshihiro Maru of the Carp is also a close candidate with better pop, but I think Oshima gets overlooked and is worth my vote.


For those of you who couldn't read the top page, here's how my ballot looks in English with romanized names. Feel free to disagree or suggest who might've been missed.


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Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Third Sayonara propels team to fourth straight series win

The Saitama Seibu Lions would go 4-2 against the Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons. They're now 30-30 and in the hunt only 1.5 games behind the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

In Game 1 against the Kyojin, it would be Yusei Kikuchi taking on Kazuto Taguchi. The Lions opened the scoring in the second with an RBI single by Shogo Akiyama after Yuji Kaneko stole second base.

Yomiuri answered back in the top of the 4th after Kikuchi walked two batters. Luis Cruz would hit a double off Takumi Kuriyama's glove and result in a 2-1 Giants lead. That lead wouldn't last long, as Yuji Onizaki would benefit from an error by Luis Cruz and setup a runners on the corners and out one out situation. Kaneko singled on the next at bat to tie the game.

Akiyama would then hit a gapper of his own to left field and score two more runs, giving the Lions a 4-2 lead. The bottom of the 5th would see Onizaki add one with an RBI single and Kuriyama walking with the bases loaded, making it 6-2.

Taguchi wouldn't last in the fourth inning, after giving up multiple hits including Akiyama's double. Chiaki Tone was supposed to come in and help the Giants bullpen in the 5th, but Onizaki took the first pitch to centerfield to score the Lions 5th run.

Kikuchi would go seven innings with nine strikeouts, earning his fourth straight win. It wasn't a dominant outing, but he made the pitches when they counted, limiting the damage to only two runs. He had some control issues on the night, but settled in once it was the fifth inning, inducing weak contact.

Esmerling Vasquez and Yasuo Sano would clean up the 8th and 9th innings, respectively and the Lions would take the game.

Lions 6, Giants 2

Game note:

-Yusei Kikuchi's streak of consecutive scoreless innings would snap at 25.


In game two, it would be Kona Takahashi facing Tetsuya Utsumi. The scoring would begin in the second, where the Giants took advantage of some sloppy errors by Onizaki and Ginjiro Sumitani getting runners on base. Hayato Sakamoto would cap it off with a two-run single having the bases loaded making it 5-0.

The Lions answered back in the bottom of the frame with an RBI groundout from Onizaki and double by Kaneko. There were plenty of opportunities with runners on base following the 2nd inning, but nothing would come.

Sakamoto would add an RBI single in the 6th and it appeared this game would be out of reach at 6-2. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would get an RBI double and the tying run would come to the plate in the bottom of the 6th, but Hideto Asamura would flyout on the first pitch to end the threat.

Hirotaka Koishi would allow a solo home run to Shuichi Murata making it 7-4 in the top of the 8th. However, the bottom of the frame provided a chance for the Lions with runners on the corners and nobody out. Shogo Kimura hit a sacrifice fly to bring them within two, but that was as close as it would get.

Kyojin reliever Scott Mathieson would strikeout Akiyama and get Kuriyama to ground out to end the threat. Hirokazu Sawamura would shut the door in the 9th, striking out the side as the Kyojin took Game 2.

Takahashi would last seven innings, but in the five-run frame, despite multiple errors by the defense, his aggressive pitching would backfire. He attacked batters and the Giants hitters would smash him alive. There were plenty of chances squandered on the offensive side and the bats couldn't take advantage until it was too late.

Giants 7, Lions 5


For Game 3, Andy Van Hekken made his second start since returning to face Kan Otake. The Kyojin would score first from an RBI by Shinnosuke Abe to make it 1-0. They'd add a run in the third and fifth inning, but do no more damage off Van Hekken despite some jams. They had a chance in the top of the 6th to break the game open, but Van Hekken drew a 1-4-3 double play and gave the Lions a chance.

It wouldn't let them down as the Lions would get two quick doubles by Akiyama and Kuriyama off Otake in the bottom of the 6th making it 1-0. Mejia would reach on a fielder's choice, but stole a base which would loom large as Okawari-kun grounded out on what could've been a double play ground ball. Asamura would slap an RBI single to bring the Lions within one as the inning ended.

After Kazuhisa Makita worked a clean shutdown inning, the offense came alive in the bottom of the 7th after the Lucky 7 Hoero Lions. Kimura would reach base on a ball that could've been caught by Taishi Ota for a double. Then Kaneko tied the game on a triple to right-center field and the Lions were in business.

With the infield playing in, Akiyama would hit a double over Abe's head and the Lions kept the lead for good. Kuriyama would be hit by a pitch and he would leave the game. Mejia would make the team pay as the Kyojin brought in a new pitcher. He hit a deep three-run home run for his 20th of the year and it gave the Lions a 7-3 lead.

The top of the 8th had some drama with Vasquez pitching. He would get one out, but walk two batters and allow a hit. Kimura had an error which loaded the bases and it was 7-4 after a single from Yoshiyuki Kamei. Shota Takekuma would clean up the mess, striking out Ryoji Aikawa and Itaru Matsumoto on back to back at-bats to end the threat.

Tatsushi Masuda locked down his 10th save of the year and the Lions would win their third straight interleague series. This was a more encouraging start from Van Hekken compared to the past, but he could be seen as a spot starter.

Lions 7, Giants 4

Game note:

-Kuriyama would leave the game, but there would be no bone damage as he suffered minor bruises.

-Tomoya Mori would get a hit in six consecutive games dating back to his ichi-gun callup.


In Game 1 against the Dragons, it was Jordan Norberto against Shinsaburo Tawata. This was a classic pitcher's duel, where both starters would go at least seven innings without allowing a run. The Lions had a bases loaded threat in the second inning, but Kaneko would flyout and they wouldn't score.

Tawata would go eight innings, allowing only three hits and two walks to go with eight strikeouts.  He would only have one scary inning in the eighth, but forced a groundout with two runners on. Norberto would also have a solid outing, going seven scoreless innings with five walks and nine strikeouts spreading out three hits.

Daisuke Yamai and Toshiya Okada would work three scoreless innings for the Dragons while Tatsushi Masuda had a clean ninth inning for the Lions. Makita allowed one hit in the 10th, but no runs.

The top of the 11th inning is where the drama would start. Makita allowed a leadoff walk to Masahiro Araki and he would steal second shortly after. Yohei Oshima would bunt him to third with both Dragons foreigners up. There would be an impressive Houdini as Dayan Viciedo and Ricardo Nanita would both groundout 6-3 to end the threat.

Shinji Tajima took the 11th made it easy for Chunichi. The top of the 12th had Takekuma give up a one-out double to Kyohei Kamezawa. However, there would be another houdini as Naomichi Donoue would groundout on a comebacker and Iori Katsura would do the same, making sure the Lions couldn't lose.

Tatsuyuki Uemoto would pinch hit and get a leadoff single on first pitch off Tajima. After Sumitani would bunt him to second, Uemoto would advance to third on a groundout by Kimura. Kaneko would be hit in the ankle by a pitch, giving a great chance for Akiyama with runners on the corners. Motonobu Tanishige would not intentionally walk Akiyama despite Shogo Saito on deck, due to being a defensive sub. This would backfire as Akiyama singled up the middle and the Lions won their second straight, with their third Sayonara victory of the season.

Lions 1, Dragons 0 (12 innings)

Game note:

-This would be the second straight year the Lions would go 12 innings against the Dragons. The last result was a tie.

-Kuriyama sat out recovering from the hit by pitch the previous night.

-Fumikazu Kimura was called up while Masato Kumashiro was deactivated.


In Game 2, it would be Dragons ace Yudai Ono facing Yasuo Sano in a spot start for the Lions. The Lions opened the scoring in the third inning with a sacrifice fly from Asamura. Chunichi answered back in the top of the 4th with a sacrifice fly of their own from Nanita. Katsura would hit a sacrifice fly in the 5th to give the Dragons a 2-1 lead.

In the bottom frame, the Lions would load the bases and Mejia would walk to tie it. Unfortunately, Mori would flyout to centerfield and the team wouldn't score again. Ryosuke Hirata, coming off an injury and sitting out on Friday, would take a pitch from Koishi to deep left field into the Lions Oendan and the Dragons wouldn't need to look back with a 4-2 lead.

Sano would last five innings with two earned runs, two walks and one strikeout. He allowed hard contact, but the Lions defense was good on this day to keep them alive.  Ono would end up pitching the entire game and the Lions couldn't take advantage of their chances when they came. They were on base, but couldn't punch in the runs.

Dragons 4, Lions 2


In Game 3, Ryoma Nogami would take on Kazuki Yoshimi for the rubber match. Mejia began the game with a solo home run for his 21st of the season, but the Dragons answered back in the second with a timely hit from Shota Sugiyama.

A two out rally would come out of nowhere after Nanita would single and Donoue would hit a gapper to right field. Mori's range would be too short as he couldn't catch it, making it 2-1 in the 6th.

The Lions blew a chance in the 6th inning, where two were on with two outs. Kaneko would hit a grounder that would result in an infield single, but pinch runner Shogo Saito over-ran third base and was tagged out.

For the bottom of the 7th, drama would begin. Akiyama lead the inning off with a double. After Kuriyama struck out, Mejia would reach base on a fielding error from Dayan Viciedo and Akiyama would score from first base. Asamura would then hit a deep single off the LF wall giving the Lions a 3-2 lead.

Makita would have a clean 8th inning and Masuda would close it out after allowing a single. The Lions took the series in what was a gritty pitching series that required good defense.

Lions 3, Dragons 2

Game note:

-Tomoya Mori would snap his 8 game hitting streak going 0-2 with a walk. Saito came in to pinch run for him in the 6th inning.

-Okawari-kun and Kuriyama both returned to the starting lineup.


The Lions continue to rack up series wins as it continued against the Kyojin and Dragons. Pitching looks much improved while the defense and offense remain inconsistent. Still, in perspective, it was a great series win against Chunichi when they saw their front end starters in Seibu Dome. They've been relentless getting on base. Chances are there, but the Lions need to continue punching in runs.

Overall, the team weathered the storm with injuries and still won despite Kuriyama and Okawari-kun out. The best news is that Takayuki Kishi will return to the ichi-gun this week. It should provide a boost.


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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Transcript: Wade LeBlanc reflects on his career in Japan

Wade LeBlanc was one of five foreign imports that were new for 2015
Wade LeBlanc was recently interviewed on SportsNet in Canada after receiving a special honor at the AAA level. He signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays and is a starting pitcher for the Buffalo Bison in AAA.

Recently, he won the International League (AAA) pitcher of the month with an 0.70 ERA. At the time of this writing, he is 6-1 with a 1.57 ERA at the AAA (ni-gun) level of the Blue Jays. While he is seen as roster filler for the organization, an opportunity can always arise if an injury comes and they need a spot start.

In the interview, he was asked about his time in Japan and with the Seibu Lions. Here is the transcript of what he said:

On preparation being different when pitching is on a roll:

"I don't think stuff looks different, I think you feel like everything is repeatable mechanically, from what you pitch and where it's going to go.  A lot of it has to do with luck in the pitching streak. You could throw a fastball down the middle and someone pops it up [or] hits a home run. A lot of it has to do with luck and timing."


On being on the fringe between MLB and MiLB:

"I spent last year in Japan. Coming back over here, I wasn't sure if teams remembered who I was. The fact I got a job here and something to play baseball here in America was something my family and I were excited about."

"We have two little boys and we still get to see the games. When you keep it in perspective, it brings it back to a game, not a job or life or death, where you go to and where you're at."


On time with the Lions: 

"It was crazy, it's hard to explain.  When people ask me, the best way to explain it, I think, it would be exactly what you think Japan would be like. Which the people were great, they have so much respect for other lives and they keep the town clean and all of that stuff."

"And the baseball, people are nuts about baseball. You go over there they sell out the game, they have instruments in the crowd, they have a chant for every player out there and it doesn't matter if it's a 50-run game or a tie game. They're going to be singing and staying the whole game. It's a crazy experience [and] I loved it."


On other Americans being teammates:

"I had one other American (Anthony Seratelli), a guy from the Dominican Republic (Esmerling Vasquez), a Puerto Rican (Miguel Mejia) and a guy from Venezuela (Ernesto Mejia)."

"That's an interesting thing to be thrown into. I was fortunate enough to have nothing but great guys on the team. We got along right off the gates. Everybody, sometimes it's hard for Latins, they're all great guys, maybe they don't speak English as well, but all these guys spoke English well [and] they were happy to be there. Everybody was just enjoying it and hanging out. Luckily we were all able to get along and kind of bond over it. "


On being different in approach/mechanics since Japan:

"Stuff and mechanics is the same. Approach, I can say I became a little bit different. I became a little more aware of how simple baseball needs to be. When you go over there and watch the pitchers over there and the way they go after getting outs, it's pretty eye opening."

"You grow up in America and you're taught 'two balls no strikes, command a fastball, command a fastball.' Then you go over there and you see bases are loaded, a 3-1 count and they're throwing a curveball like it's no balls, no strikes with nobody on base."

"They're throwing anything in any count, whatever it takes to get an out and their whole goal is to keep the ball off the barrel at the end of the bat, the sweet spot of the bat."

"So when you think about that, it's really the whole premise of pitching is to keep the ball off the barrel. To keep guys from hitting the ball hard. It's not necessarily strike everybody out. For a lack of better words, it's to keep guys from hitting the ball hard."

"You go over there, you see guys with an inch of movement here and an inch of movement there, or a pitch they're now looking for, it's really all you need."

"When I came back, I really thought about times that I've been actually able to do that in my career and those are the times I've been the most successful. So I figured if it worked here and it works for them over there, why not try to utilize that every time I step on the mound?"

"So far it's worked, I don't think it will work every time, but we're seeing some pretty good results so far. So I guess I'll stick to it."


In eight starts with the Lions, LeBlanc had three quality starts with a 2-5 record and a 4.23 ERA. He had a lack of zip in his pitches, forcing some great defense in order to get outs. His highlight of the 2015 season was pitching a complete game against the Rakuten Golden Eagles as well as a competitive loss to future MLB prospect, Shohei Otani.

The Lions released LeBlanc before the 2015 season ended as he wouldn't play a game after June due to injury.


LeBlanc's words on the approach to baseball as a pitcher in Japan shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's watched the game for awhile. But we here at Graveyard Baseball watched NPB for the first time in 2015 and were able to observe the same thing on no fastball counts.

Japan has its own identity and while the talent level will obviously never match what's in MLB, it's a fresh perspective for a sport that's our pastime. We're thankful LeBlanc embraced his short time there, even if it didn't work out on the field. We wish him the best of luck going forward.


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Sunday, June 5, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Koishi an unsung hero for first week of interleague play

The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-2 this week against the Yokohama DeNA Baystars and Hanshin Tigers. They're now 2.5 games behind the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for a playoff spot and three behind the Chiba Lotte Marines.


In Game 1 against the Baystars, it was Isamu Sato taking on Guillermo Moscoso. The Baystars struck first with an RBI single from Toshiro Miyazaki.

Despite the opening score, Moscoso would allow multiple base runners, but the team couldn't get consecutive hits. Yuji Onizaki and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would strike out in different innings with a chance.

In the fourth inning, the damage would be done as Sato allowed hits to Miyazaki and hit Yoshitomo Tsutsugo with a pitch. Jose Lopez hit a no-doubt home run to make it 4-0 and all but end the game. Tsutsugo would add another run to make it 5-1 in the 5th.

The only silver lining was Ernesto Mejia hitting his 17th home run in the bottom of the 6th, but otherwise this was a dominant game from Moscoso.

Moscoso, a former Oakland Athletics pitcher, had one of his best outings of the season with 7 IP and eight strikeouts, only giving up the solo HR to Mejia.

The Lions had a chance in the bottom of the 8th inning with the bases loaded. Tomoya Mori, in his first game back with the ichi-gun, would patiently take ball 4 and a run would be walked in. Unfortunately, Naotaka Takehara would strikeout and Masatoshi Okada would flyout with minimal hope at the bottom of the order and it would be 5-2 after eight innings.

Yasuaki Yamsaki shut the door with a 1-2-3 9th inning and the Lions lost to the Baystars for the first time since 2014.  A hindsight card of pinch hitting Tatsuyuki Uemoto for Okada seems like a better percentage call, but it is what it is.

Baystars 5, Lions 2

Game note:

-Tatsuya Oishi was the corresponding move to make room for Mori. In his early at bats, Mori was looking too anxious swinging early and not getting results.


In Game 2, it was Kenta Ishida vs. Yusei Kikuchi. The game lived up to the hype as both pitchers would not allow a run through five innings. Kikuchi didn't even allow a base hit until the fifth.

In the bottom of the sixth, the third time through the order penalty would strike on Ishida. He would walk Shogo Akiyama and Takumi Kuriyama to leadoff. Mejia would single for the first run. After Okawari-kun singled to load the bases, Hideto Asamura had a huge chance. He would hit an opposite field grand slam and make it 5-0.

Akiyama added a two-run home run in the bottom of the 7th to erase any late doubts. Kikuchi would have a great outing going seven innings with 11 strikeouts. Yasuo Sano worked two scoreless innings in low leverage to preserve the team's 6th shutout of the season.

Ishida looked like he would cruise with an efficient pitch count, but his control faded by the 6th and it led to a crooked inning for the Lions. Kikuchi's outing was promising again with a strong quality start, the 5th straight since Shinji Mori became the pitching coach.

Lions 7, Baystars 0

Game note:

-Isamu Sato was deactivated in place of Nien Ting Wu, a rookie who was drafted from the 2015 class.


For Game 3, Kona Takahashi would face Shoichi Ino in another pitcher's duel. Like Kikuchi the night before, Takahashi wouldn't give up a base hit until the fifth inning. Asamura would open the scoring in the first with a two-out single.

In the fourth inning, a two-out rally came out of nowhere after Onizaki had an infield single to get on base. Ginjiro Sumitani would slice an opposite field triple and score Onizaki from first to make it 2-0. Okawari-kun added on with a two-out single in the 5th inning making it 3-0.

Takahashi would cruise for most of the game and allowed only one walk and one hit through seven innings. After the Lions had a huge chance with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th, Kyohei Nagae would pinch hit for a struggling Mori. The move paid off as he would work an 0-2 count and force a walk, making it 4-0.

After allowing a base runner in the 8th, Takahashi recorded his 10th strikeout of the game and would pitch in the ninth as well. A late double from Tatsuya Shimozono would deny the shutout opportunity of two consecutive games, but Takahashi still recorded the complete game with his 11th strikeout to finish it.

This game was dominant from Takahashi as he attacked hitters more on this particular night. It was somewhat irrational to leave him in for the 9th to force the achievement of a complete game, but it was still a win. He was getting hit hard in the 8th, but Norio Tanabe didn't care.  It's still quite an accomplishment to have three complete games in less than year of time with the ichi-gun.

Lions 4, Baystars 1

Game note:

-With Takahashi earning a complete game, the medical staff had to spend time icing his arm and putting the pitcher's coat on him. OF Masato Kumashiro took the hero interview in his place "pretending" to be Kona Takahashi.  He also signed the camera with "Kona" in Hiragana as seen here.


In Game 1 against the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien, it was Andy Van Hekken making his first start since April 23 against the young Yuta Iwasada. There was little fanfare until the top of the third inning, where the Lions would load the bases thanks to two walks and a single. Mejia hit a no-doubt grand slam to make it 4-0.

Van Hekken would cruise through the first three innings, but danger came in the fourth. He would allow five consecutive base hits which would make it 4-2 and it was only the second time through the lineup. After getting Fumihito Haraguchi to strikeout and Shun Takayama singled another run, he would limit the damage to three runs. Van Hekken struck out Yamato Maeda and Iwasada to end the frame.

The top of the fifth featured another rally as Kuriyama would get a two-out triple to plate Akiyama making it 5-3. Van Hekken's day would end in the fifth, where he failed to record an out after facing two batters. Onizaki would misfield a double play ball and Hirotaka Koishi came in with inherited runners. He would get Matt Hague on a comebacker to force a 1-6-3 double play and strikeout Keisuke Kano to earn a Houdini.

The top of the 6th would be rewarding as the Lions pulled off a hit and run with Asamura running and Mori hitting. Onizaki would get an infield single, which functioned like a bunt to make it 6-3. After Sumitani would bunt both runners over and Naotaka Takehara flied out, Tigers manager Tomoaki Kanemoto made his first large mistake. He left Iwasada in with the fourth time through the order and Akiyama batting with first base empty. Akiyama made him pay with a double down the RF line to make it 8-3. Kaneko added an RBI single and it was 9-3 in the 6th.

In the top of the 8th, the Lions padded the lead which included a two-run home run from Mejia, his 2nd of the game and 19th of the season. In the end, Sano would be credited with the win after pitching three innings in long relief.

This was a game where the Lions played "Lawyerball" by taking close pitches and forcing the umpire to make a decision. More times than not, the umpire wouldn't call a strike on some that were in the zone. Patience paid off and Iwasada had no chance by the 6th inning.

Lions 12, Tigers 3

Game note:

-Wu was deactivated as the corresponding move to make room for Van Hekken.


In Game 2, Tigers ace Randy Messenger would take on rookie Shinsaburo Tawata. It would be a slow start immediately as Tawata gave up three consecutive singles for the first run of the game. Mauro Gomez would plate another run with a single.

The Tigers would bite again in the third inning, where a crucial throwing error from Kaneko led to two more runs with base hits from Takayama and Ryota Imanari making it 4-0. It wasn't an impossible game, but the Lions bats squandered their chances when there were three instances with two runners on base. Okawari-kun came in with runners on the corners, but also struck out with two outs.

Messenger would go seven innings with 10 strikeouts and limited the damage in the top of the 7th. Akiyama would get a gift single with runners on the corners to prevent a shutout as the consolation run. Esmerling Vasquez coughed up a run to Gomez, his fellow countryman and it would be 5-1.

The Lions just couldn't overcome a slow start from Tawata which included a barrage of hits in the first and third innings. He was attacking hitters, but his control was inconsistent and it was rather lucky to only be down 4-0 after four innings.

Tigers 5, Lions 1


In Game 3, it was Suguru Iwazaki vs. Ryoma Nogami for the rubber match.  The Lions started the scoring with a two-out double from Mejia. The lead wouldn't last long as Nogami would give up multiple two-out hits including an RBI single from Takayama to tie it.

Both pitchers appeared to have settled in after a scoreless second, but the third inning provided some thrills. Akiyama would hit a regular single, but the ball would get past Takayama and result in a single and error.  With Akiyama on third base, Kaneko made important contact to draw a sacrifice fly and give the Lions a 2-1 lead.

Nogami looked like he was cruising not allowing a run after the first. However, a 6th inning rally would come out of nowhere after he walked Takayama on a full count and rookie Fumihito Haraguchi smacked a gapper to left field to tie the game at 2-2.

The Lions ruined a chance with two walks in the 8th off Rafael Dolis.  Mejia would strike out while Asamura and Mori grounded out to end any threat.

In the bottom of the 8th with Kazuhisa Makita on the mound, Kyohei Nagae would misfield a ball on the infield and Gomez would single to give the Tigers their own chance of two on and nobody out.  Takayama was ordered to bunt and Sumitani, coming in as a defensive sub threw out the lead runner at third. After Nagae fielded a groundout, the Lions chose to pitch around and walk Ryota Imanari to face pinch hitter Keisuke Kano. The call proved to be the right one as they forced a flyout to escape.

Both teams would fail to sacrifice bunt in the 11th, making the game go to its maximum length of the 12th inning.  In the top of the frame, Tatsuyuki Uemoto would get a leadoff single. After Sumitani would bunt him to second, Akiyama struck out. An injured Okawari-kun would pinch hit and the Tigers would intentionally walk him to face the hot hitting Kuriyama. This move would backfire for the Tigers as Kuriyama would single home a pinch running Kumashiro to give the Lions a 3-2 lead.

Koishi would take the bottom of the 12th in an unfamiliar closing situation. He would go 1-2-3 against the top of the Tigers order and the Lions would take the series in Koshien.  It was a dramatic game with all position players used and errors on both sides, but in the end, the Lions prevailed.

Lions 3, Tigers 2 (12 innings)

Game note:
-This was the first career ichi-gun save for Hirotaka Koishi since first appearing with the Lions in 2012.


This was the Lions third consecutive winning week, something we're not even used to with how this season has gone. Errors need to stop, as the syndrome came back in the series against the Tigers.

With Okawari-kun nursing an injury, we can only hope that he recovers soon, but the best part is that the next week is all at home so he can be the designated hitter.


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