Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Wolfe finishes the season undefeated

In what would be the final road trip, the Saitama Seibu Lions were aiming to secure being out of the Pacific League cellar with three games against the Orix Buffaloes. They also faced a Fukuoka Softbank Hawks team coming off a bad front end of the week.


The first game against the Orix Buffaloes saw a small crowd due to a typhoon hitting the Kansai area. It was the only NPB game of the night featuring Ryoma Nogami against Daiki Aoyama, making his ichi-gun debut. Aoyama was a fourth round draft pick of the Buffaloes in October.

Aoyama looked like he would get out of a first inning jam with two outs and a full count to Ernesto Mejia. However, Mejia took one to left field for a three-run home run to open the scoring.

The Lions got another run through sacrifice fly by Hideto Asamura as Shogo Akiyama was on second. Shuhei Kojima made a great catch in centerfield, but fell which helped advance Akiyama to third. Yoshio Itoi would drop the ball on the exchange and Akiyama would turn up the jets to score.

Orix would get a run back off a wild pitch in the fourth inning by Nogami. However, the Lions responded with consecutive hits from Akiyama, Asamura and Mejia to deliver a timely hit and it was a four run lead again.

Nogami would put in a quality start, going six innings with four strikeouts, two walks and one earned run for the game. It was his first start in nearly two months.

After Shota Takekuma cruised through the 7th inning, the Lions broke it open in the 8th. Hotaka Yamakawa would take an opposite field home run for his 13th of the year to add one run. With two outs, Hideto Asamura crushed his 21st HR of the season for a three-run HR.

To put the exclamation point on the game, Yamakawa hit his second home run to the upper deck for his 14th of the season. He would earn the hero interview after Tatsuya Oishi and Hirotaka Koishi had scoreless frames.

Lions 11, Buffaloes 1

Game note:

-Naoaki Matsumoto was the corresponding move to make room for Nogami.


Game 2 would feature Takayuki Kishi vs. Takahiro Matsuba, a nemesis who had the Lions number in 2016. Kishi struggled out of the gate through the first three innings, giving up multiple base runners. Masataka Yoshida plated the first run with a double down the right field line. Orix got a second run with two consecutive sacrifice fly balls to score Yoshio Itoi from second.

The Lions got a run back with two 2-out hits. Tomoya Mori doubled and Yamakawa plated him with a roped single. It wouldn't be until the top of the 7th where the game would be tied. Yamakawa and Nien Ting Wu mustered up two singles and Tatsuyuki Uemoto would get a pinch hit single to make it 2-2.

Unfortunately he was caught stealing second base on what could have been a failed hit and run. Yuji Kaneko struck out and the game remained tied. Kishi was left in for the 7th inning after being shaky the entire night. He would get a 1-2-3 frame and earn a no decision despite allowing several base runners.

Matsuba was nearly dominant through seven innings, but the final frame prevent him from getting a win.  After Kazumasa Yoshida pitched a clean inning, things would fall in the 8th.

Kazuhisa Makita hit both Takahiro Okada and Hiroyuki Nakajima, which started a confrontation. He then allowed a single to load the bases. After striking out Kojima, Shunta Goto made a pinch hit appearance and he would make no mistake on a full count. After battling from 1-2, he took a single to right field and two runs would score. Wu would be unable to field a grounder and a third run scored in the frame.

Yoshihisa Hirano would close out the game and the Lions bats would remain cold once Uemoto was caught stealing. One final game would settle the head to head record.

Buffaloes 5, Lions 2


For the final game in Osaka, Brian Wolfe would take on Chihiro Kaneko. Naoto Watanabe opened the scoring by beating out a double play with runners on the corners in the top of the second for a 1-0 lead.

Orix got the run back with a solo home run by Hikaru Ito in the bottom of the 3rd. The Lions responded in the top of the fourth with consecutive hits off C. Kaneko. A single from Mori, double by Kuriyama and single from Watanabe plated two runs in. C. Kaneko would then throw a wild pitch to advance Watanabe and Wu would hit a sac fly to score him.

Wolfe would last 6.1 innings with minimal strikeouts. Once again, he remained deceptive to get his house and even escaped some jams. In the top of the 7th, he allowed a two-run home run to Hiroyuki Nakajima making it 5-3 and it ended his night.

Shota Takekuma closed the 7th with two quick outs while Makita and Masuda would have clean 8th and 9th innings to secure the win and series.

Lions 5, Buffaloes 3

Game note:

-Nogami was deactivated to make room for Wolfe, ending his 2016 ichi-gun season.

-The Lions finished with a 13-12 record against Orix head to head. They were 15-10 against them in 2015.

-Wolfe finished the season with a 4-0 record and had three quality starts in his short time with the Lions. Most likely, he will be on pace to return in 2017.


The first game against the Hawks featured Yusei Kikuchi facing Nao Higashihama. It would be Kikuchi's only matchup against the Hawks for 2016. Kenta Imamiya drew first blood with a two-run home run in the top of the 3rd inning.

The top of the 4th was more pain for Kikuchi, as he struggled with control walking multiple batters. Softbank made him pay with a single from Toru Hosokawa and a double from Imamiya making it 5-0. Softbank scored three more runs in the top of the 7th which included a gapper from Yuya Hasegawa to put the icing on the cake.

There were chances for the Lions early on, including a bases loaded situation in the first, but they couldn't punch in any runs on the board. Higashihama would pitch six scoreless frames with the Hawks bullpen taking the final three innings.

Hawks 8, Lions 0

Game note:

-Yuji Kaneko would steal second base, making him tied with Yoshio Itoi at 53 stolen bases for the 2016 season at the time of this game.


Game 2 would feature "Makoto" Aiuchi vs Kenichi Nakata. It would be the second spot start of the season for Makoto. He would get into some early jams, but limited the damage in the second as the Lions conceded a run to get a 5-4-3 double play for the game's opening run.

Seibu squandered multiple opportunities including two runners on base in the first inning. Ernesto Mejia would ground into a double play to end the threat.

The Hawks threatened constantly on Makoto, but wouldn't score more until the 5th inning. Makoto would walk the first two batters and his day would be over. Koishi would come in to try and clean it up, but fail in the process. After both runners were bunted over, a sacrifice fly from Akira Nakamura would bring home one run. Seiichi Uchikawa then blasted a single with two outs to score the other, making it a tough 3-0 lead.

Softbank added a fourth run in the top of the 7th off Shota Takekuma. Imamiya would continue to be a pest, with a one out triple and A. Nakamura would bring him home with a base hit. The Lions had some life in the bottom of the 7th, where two runs would score on ground balls, including an error by Nobuhiro Matsuda. Tatsuyuki Uemoto would pinch hit and get another one past the infield for a second run.  Unfortunately, Shogo Akiyama was the go-ahead run at the plate and he would strikeout.

The Lions knocked on the door again in the 8th as Asamura hit his 23rd home run of the season off Roberto Suarez to bring the team within one run. Mejia then got an infield single, but Takeya "Okawari-kun Nakamura would ground into the backbreaking 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

For the bottom of the 9th, Dennis Sarfate came in to make it a near impossible task to tie the game. Yamakawa would get a bloop single to keep the team alive with two outs. Fumikazu Kimura would then pinch run and steal second base, giving pinch hitter Naoto Watanabe a chance. Unfortunately, Watanabe flew out to left field and ended the game

Hawks 4, Lions 3

Game note:

-Yuji Kaneko sat out of the game for some reason. It was thought that he could be utilized as a pinch runner.


For Game 3. Shinsaburo Tawata would look to prevent a sweep in the final game against the Hawks by facing Rick van den Hurk. Shuta Tonosaki, being called up for the first time in months, would hit a three-run home run in the second inning for his first of the season and the second of his career.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Lions would get two runners on for the bottom of the order. Ryo Sakata hit a double to the right field gap, plating both runs and giving the Lions a 5-0 lead.

Tawata looked good through four innings, but struggled in the 5th with multiple walks. He walked in two runs and another scored on an infield single. Ryohei Fujiwara would enter the game and get a groundout to keep the lead. Asamura hit a solo home run in the bottom of the frame to get a run back.

The Hawks just wouldn't go away as Shuhei Fukuda had a two-out single in the top of the 6th off Fujiwara. Neither team knew what a shutdown inning was, as Sakata added an RBI double to make it a three-run lead again. Tomoaki Egawa made it a two-run game with a solo home run off Shota Takekuma in the top of the 8th.

Tatsushi Masuda closed it out after giving up a leadoff single to Imamiya and the Lions won the final game vs the Hawks. It was ugly, but the bullpen carried them in the second half of it all.

Lions 7, Hawks 5

Game notes:

-Tonosaki and Fujiwara were activated in place of Makto Aiuchi and Daichi Mizuguchi.

-The Lions finished with a 9-15-1 record against the Hawks head-to-head. They were 6-5-1 on the road, but only 3-10 at home. It was the first and only non-sayonara home win against the Hawks in 2016.


The season will be over shortly, but the Lions have given up some hope even with this share of .500 weeks, there is promise ahead. Pitching might have ended on a sour note for guys like Tawata and Kikuchi, but the hitting at least has been fun to watch.

Most importantly, this Lions team will not be compared to 1979, the last time they finished in 6th (dead last) of the Pacific League. We're thankful they had some respectable baseball to end the year.

The Fighters are most likely to celebrate a pennant title in Seibu Dome, but like anything, the schedule just doesn't work in their favor.


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