Sunday, July 31, 2016
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 2-4 against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Orix Buffaloes. They're now 1/2 game ahead of being in the cellar, but close to last place in the Pacific League.
In Game 1 against the Fighters, Luis Mendoza would face Takayuki Kishi. The Fighters struck first in the second inning with a barrage of two out hits followed by a single from Shota Ono.
Hokkaido would score another run in the 4th inning where Sho Nakata doubled and Shohei Otani (as a hitter) would double down the right field immediately after. The Lions got a run back in the bottom of the 4th from a single from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura to make it 2-1.
The Lions squandered multiple opportunities which a runners on the corners with no outs situation in the second. Kyohei Nagae struck out and Ernesto Mejia would ground into a double play. In the fifth inning, Yuji Kaneko reached second base with one out. Ginjiro Sumitani would then hit a short flyball that could have looked like a bloop single. Kaneko would take off and be doubled up for an 8-6 double play, not tying the game.
Brandon Laird, a Lions killer like many on the team, would take Kazuhisa Makita deep to left field and it would be 3-1. After the Fighters added another run, Chris Martin closed it in the 9th and the Lions would lose their second straight.
Kishi wasn't bad through six innings, but he was being hit hard in the early innings and couldn't put a zero on the board. The bats were once again dead and couldn't muster up anything and the late inning runs didn't matter. Mendoza's control showed vulnerability, but the offense failed to take advantage.
Fighters 4, Lions 3
In Game 2, it would be Felipe Paulino looking for his first win in NPB against Mitsuo Yoshikawa. The Fighters struck first on a two-out timely RBI hit from Ono, like the previous night. Sumitani answered back with a two-out RBI single of his own to tie the game.
The Lions would later take the lead from an RBI single with the bases loaded from Naoto Watanabe. However, 3B coach Hiroshi Narahara sent Ernesto Mejia home and had no business doing it with right fielder Hiromi Oka playing in. After a review, Mejia was confirmed to be out at the plate.
The top of the 4th proved to be the difference maker, where Paulino coughed up solo home runs to Sho Nakata and Oka in the frame. Oka would hit only his second home run of the season.
To put salt in the wounds, Haruki Nishikawa would get an RBI single off Hirotaka Koishi in the top of the 9th inning to double the lead. Koishi continued to allow a barrage of hits and eventually it would be 8-2, including an infield single where Otani hustled to first base and beat the throw. RBI doubles from Brandon Laird and Nakata would put the game out of reach.
The Lions picked up two runs in the 9th, but it was too little, too late. Bats were cold once again and they didn't wake up until it was garbage time.
Fighters 8, Lions 4
-Ginjiro Sumitani left the game with a bruised thumb. He took a wild pitch off the wrist in the 6th inning as Masatoshi Okada took over.
In the final game, Shinsaburo Tawata would face the handkerchief prince known as Yuki Saito in a battle of former first round draft picks. The Fighters struck quickly after Nishikawa reached base and stole second. Kensuke Tanaka would hit a double for the first run, but Tawata escaped the rest of the inning without further damage after a scare.
The Lions answered back in the bottom of the 1st when Tomoya Mori would double off the left field wall to plate Akiyama. Two more hits from Hideto Asamura and Okawari-kun made it a 3-1 game. The bottom of the 2nd would feature a two-run home run from Akiyama after Kaneko did the dirty work in forcing a walk on full count followed up by a stolen base. Akiyama would add another home run in the 7th inning to make it 6-1.
Tatsushi Masuda came in for the 9th and created a scare. A few bounces didn't go his way and a throwing error extended the game. After a base hit from Nishikawa to bring in a run, Masuda struck out Tanaka to have two outs. Daikan Yoh would then whiff on a pitch and Okada picked off Nishikawa at first base to end it.
Lions 6, Fighters 2
-To make room for Tawata, the Lions deactivated C.C. Lee and Nien Ting Wu. They also added Toshihiro Iwao to the ichi-gun roster for the first time this season.
-Takumi Kuriyama was given the day off. Okawari-kun played third base for the first time since June. Ernesto Mejia was the DH batting 7th and Hideto Asamura was batting cleanup.
In Game 1 against Orix, Takahiro Matsuba faced Kona Takahashi. Like the previous night, ORix's first run came quickly in the first inning from an RBI double from Yoshio Itoi. Tatsuyuki Uemoto hit a solo home run to tie the game at 1-1, but the Lions blew a chance.
Okawari-kun would groundout with the bases loaded and fail to bring in a run with the bases loaded. Matsuba was otherwise on cruise control for the rest of the night.
The wheels fell off for Takahashi in the 2nd, where he allowed an RBI double by Ryoichi Adachi followed by a single from Brent Morel. Orix then took advantage of Tomoya Mori starting at catcher for the first time since 2014, where he was a liability. Takahashi's control was off with multiple walks and a single by Masahiro Nishino made it 4-1.
Mori would then throw a ball into centerfield on Nishino's steal attempt to score another run for Orix. Takahashi's day would be done before the 4th inning ended and the rest was history. Bats were completely dead, combined with Kona having no control for the night.
Toshihiro Iwao made his 2016 ichi-gun debut and didn't help the cause. He would allow two more runs to make the game completely out of reach. Matsuba would go the distance with only three strikeouts and allowing four hits.
Buffaloes 7, Lions 1
-Okawari-kun would be deactivated after the game in place of Hotaka Yamakawa.
-Tatsuyuki Uemoto started at first base while Ernesto Mejia was benched.
For Game 2, Ken Togame took on Brandon Dickson, who has been a nemesis for the Lions bats. After the Lions ruined multiple chances in the first two innings with less than two outs, Orix struck first in the bottom of the 4th with a single from Kenya Wakatsuki to open the scoring.
The Lions struck back with a two out single from Akiyama followed by a double from Mori off the left field wall to tie the game in the 5th. Takahiro Okada would take Togame deep with a home run in the bottom of the 6th to give Orix the lead once again.
Despite the offense looking dead for majority of the game, life came in the 8th inning. Hotaka Yamakawa hit a two-out opposite field home run off Yomoyuki Kaida to tie the game. Shortly after, Uemoto would hit a double with Shogo Saito pinch running for him. A wild pitch advanced him to third and Naoto Watanabe walked, giving Kuriyama a chance as he was pinch hitting earlier in the game off the bench. Kuriyama made no mistake on a single and gave the Lions a 3-2 lead.
Shogo Noda would pitch a quick 8th inning, but more struggles happened in the 9th. The Lions would strand the bases loaded with two outs as Saito had to bat in the designated hitter position. Saito grounded out with Sachiya Yamasaki pitching and the game was close.
Masuda came in the 9th and allowed a leadoff single to our old friend Hiroyuki Nakajima. After a bunt moved a pinch runner to second, Morel would groundout put the tying run 90 feet away. Wakatsuki was up again, but a diving stop by Watanabe saved the game and the Lions would hang on.
The bats were cold, but just enough hits would come to preserve a win. Togame went seven innings and earned his first win as a starter since April 29. It was a respectable outing despite giving up a home run.
Lions 3, Buffaloes 2
-Uemoto started as the designated hitter and Mejia was once again benched, but had a pinch hit appearance in the top of the 8th striking out.
For Game 3's rubber match, Ryoma Nogami would face Daiki Tomei. The Buffaloes struck first after Nogami lost control and a wild pitch with the bases loaded brought in a run.
The Lions answered back with a two-run blast from Yamakawa. Akiyama would get a timely base hit in the third inning to make it 3-1. Mejia, moving to the bottom of the lineup would get a bloop single to fall in the fourth to give the Lions a 3-run lead.
Orix got a run back in the bottom of the 4th, but they couldn't take advantage of a two on, one out situation. Shunta Goto would lineout while Masahiro Nishino popped out to end any threats.
Nogami was scary all day and Norio Tanabe yanked him after five innings. Kazuhisa Makita entered in the 6th and gave up one run, but stranded two runners getting Adachi to flyout to right field.
After a scoreless 7th inning, the 8th would be trouble for the Lions. Noda came in and allowed a leadoff double to Takayoshi Kawabata. Orix would sacrifice bunt him to third base, then Wakatsuki did damage again with a double to right field to tie the game.
The Lions would blow a chance in the top of the 9th with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out, but Watanabe grounded out and Uemoto struck out to end any threat. It was all downhill in the bottom of the 9th. Adachi and Itoi reached base on back to back singles Masuda and the Lions had to intentionally walk T. Okada with no outs.
After Morel grounded at home plate, Kawabata did it again with a single to left field and Orix would take the series. In one week, Masuda would get two saves and a blown game but shaky in every outing.
Buffaloes 5, Lions 4
-Tomoya Mori started at catcher again and allowed two stolen bases.
The Lions go 2-4 with another losing week, another lost series and a continued free fall. At this point, with the decision to play Mori at catcher, the team barely cares about winning in the short term.
Masuda was on fumes and had a terrible week, similar to how Tomomi Takahashi was in the second half of 2015. Where does this team go from here? Everything is going wrong and it looks like there's no direction in what is a lame duck year for Norio Tanabe.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:28 AM
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
The Saitama Seibu Lions announced that reliever Tomomi Takahashi had Tommy John surgery on Tuesday.
Takahashi, 27, was originally the team's closer for the last two years until the final month of the 2015 season. He racked up 51 saves in two seasons, but lost his closer job after being ineffective when the summer of 2015 began.
In 2016, the Lions had him as the team's setup man and he appeared in seven games. He had one win (on opening night) and one save for the season. Takakashi's last game was on April 19 and the team deactivated him on April 22 with a reported elbow problem.
When we heard Takahashi was injured with an elbow problem, we expected this to happen. The Lions presumably tried to wait it out and hope there would be recovery, but now it will be extremely late.
With this surgery happening in July rather than May, Takahashi presumably will miss nearly the whole 2017 season as it takes at least 12 months to recover and rehab from Tommy John. At this point, we will have to hope he returns by September of 2017 at the earliest.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 2:53 PM
This is the 10th episode of our podcast discussing the Saitama Seibu Lions. Discussion includes team failures entering historic territory, pitching, defense and offense. What is the problem?
Other topics include the NPB All-Star Series, Yokohama DeNA Baystars, Tokyo Yakult Swallows and more! We apologize in advance for any errors and mispronunciations recorded from this episode.
Please leave any feedback in the comments if possible. Click here if the embed doesn't work. Download.
Highlights of Michael Bowden's No-hitter.
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Sunday, July 24, 2016
The Saitama Seibu Lions would go 2-3 against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the first week returning from the All Star Series. This also begins an entire month with emerald uniforms.
In Game 1 against the Marines, it would be Takayuki Kishi vs. Jason Standridge in the first matchup since the all-star break. Kishi would allow a run from an RBI groundout after a lack of control in the first, but it could've been worse.
Standridge would only last one inning after feeling back pain warming up for the second inning. Yuta Omine would take over and the Lions tied the game with an RBI single by Yuji Kaneko.
In long relief, Omine would settle in and go three consecutive scoreless innings to keep the Marines in the game, dueling toe-to-toe with Kishi. Takahiro Fujioka would enter in the 6th inning and Shogo Akiyama took him deep to right field to make it 2-1. The Lions had a chance to pour it on with two on and nobody out, but Tomohisa Otani earned a Houdini with Hideto Asamura tagged out at the plate on a single by Naoto Watanabe.
Masaki Minami would enter the 7th inning and after Yamaico Navarro dropped a short fly by Kyohei Nagae, Takumi Kuriyama would walk and create a chance for Akiyama. For the second time of the day, Akiyama went yard with a three-run blast to give the Lions a 5-1 lead.
Ginjiro Sumitani added insurance with an RBI single in the bottom of the 8th, but this day belonged to Kishi. The team's best pitcher went the distance for a complete game, his second of the season and 33rd of his 10-year career with eight strikeouts on the day. He only allowed one walk in the very beginning, but was great with drawing weak contact and whiffs.
Lions 6, Marines 1
-Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura was benched.
In Game 2, it would be Kota Futaki against Felipe Paulino with the latter seeking his first win in NPB. The Lions struck first on an RBI single from Yuji Kaneko in the second inning. They would take advantage of an error from Daichi Suzuki in the 4th where a grounder by Ginjiro Sumitani couldn't be fielded to make it 2-0.
After initially cruising through five innings, Paulino's control was lacking in the 6th and the bases would be loaded for Tatsuya Oishi with one out. Oishi gave up his first earned run, which was a grand slam by Tadahito Iguchi to give the Marines a 4-2 lead. Suzuki would also make up for his error with a two run HR in the same inning to put the game away.
The Lions had a chance in the 7th with two on and one out, but Nien Ting Wu grounded into a 6-4-3 double play off Otani. With the game out of reach, Atsushi Okamoto and C.C. Lee would concede one and two runs, respectively to mop it all up.
There were plenty of chances for the Lions this game, but they couldn't punch in the runs off Futaki and Paulino's control late in the game hurt him. Oishi looked like he was on a path to redemption, but ended up serving a meat ball which led to the game losing runs.
Marines 9, Lions 2
In the first game against the Hawks, Tsuyoshi Wada would face Kona Takahashi. The Lions blew an early chance with runners on the corners and one out. Okawari-kun flew out to short centerfield and Shogo Akiyama tried to bluff on third base, but was thrown out trying to return.
Sumitani would get a two-out RBI single in the 2nd to give the Lions a 1-0 lead. The Hawks answered back in the bottom of the third, where Yuichi Honda hit a two-out single. Control for Takahashi would show throughout the game, but with the bases loaded, he would get a ground ball for a 6-4-3 double play in the 4th.
Kenta Imamiya would take one to the left field porch in the 5th inning for a solo home run and gave the Hawks the lead at 2-1. Shota Takekuma came in and didn't help the cause. Nobuhiro Matsuda would then single and double the lead in the 6th. After Atsushi Okamoto came in with an inherited runner, Shinya Tsuruoka would hit a gapper and put the game out of reach at 5-1.
Okawari-kun would get a solo HR late, but it wasn't enough. Wada would settle in retiring consecutive batters in the 5th and 6th inning to prevent any threats. The Lions had two on with Roberto Suarez pitching, but did nothing with it.
It was just a game where Kona was fortunate to not concede more runs, but the Lions bats were all but forgotten. The base running blunder on Akiyama ruined early momentum and the lack of attention to detail continues to hurt.
Hawks 5, Lions 2
For Game 2, Ken Togame got his first start in two months against Kodai Senga. Togame struggled out of the gate, but stranded the bases loaded in the third. He would allow one run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly to Akira Nakamura. There were initially multiple runners on base, but a 6-4-3 double play to limited the damage.
Senga retired the first 13 batters he faced and the perfect game wasn't ended until Asamura had a single in the 5th inning. The inning would be short lived after a hit and run backfired, as Naoto Watanabe lined out and Asamura would be doubled up.
There was no base runner to get past second base with Senga on the mound, as he faced the minimum 18 batters through six innings. Kimiyasu Kudo elected to go to his bullpen with Masahiro Morifuku. After allowing a one-out single to Akiyama, Yuito Mori was in to see the right handed batters. Mejia struck out, but Akiyama stole second to create the first chance for Okawari-kun. On a 2-1 pitch, Okawari-kun hit one over Imamiya for a single and the game was tied.
Kazuhisa Makita would get a shutdown 7th inning and give a chance for the 8th. Yuji Kaneko would hit a single with one out and steal second. Tomoya Mori would pinch hit for the catcher's spot and come through with a single, scoring Kaneko as he was sent with his speed and break the tie.
There was a scare in the bottom of the 8th, where Yuichi Honda reached base, but was gunned down by Sumitani. Yuki Yanagita would then walk and steal second, but Seiichi Uchikawa flew out and Makita escaped. Watanabe would make contact for a sacrifice fly in the top of the 9th to give the Lions insurance.
Tatsushi Masuda would earn the save after a great diving play from Nagae to end it. Despite not getting a hit until the 5th, the Lions outhit the Hawks and only allowed three on the night.
Lions 3, Hawks 1
-Makita earned his 7th win of the season.
For Game 3, Ryoma Nogami would face Sho Iwasaki for the rubber match. The Lions struck first on an RBI single from Kaneko and doubled the lead with a HR by Asamura.
However, the bottom of the 4th would have some disaster with runners on the corners and one out for Yuya Hasegawa. On what looked like an RBI groundout, Mejia misfielded the ball and the Hawks would score one. Matsuda then took Nogami took for a three-run HR into the Lions Oendan making it 4-2.
Akiyama pulled the Lions within one with a solo home run to right field off Ryota Igarashi. The top of the 8th had the best chance late in the game with an error from Imamiya to put runners on the corners. With Tatsuyuki Uemoto batting, Roberto Suarez would strike him out and end the threat.
Nagae had multiple chances to put in a run, but couldn't take advantage of Iwasaki's lack of control in the beginning. Hirotaka Koishi and Tatsuya Oishi were able to eat up two innings each. Dennis Sarfate would create little drama in the 9th inning, striking out Mejia with two fastballs to end it.
Nogami just hurt himself on one obvious pitch, but it was a competitive game with not enough hits. Unfortunately, it was one run short.
Hawks 4, Lions 3
-To make room for Nogami, the Lions deactivated Atsushi Okamoto as the corresponding move.
It's good to see Makita back, but it's too little too late. Unfortunately, the bats haven't been good enough as they've lived and died by the home run to score. It's another losing week, but there was some competitiveness.
The Hawks are the Hawks and no reason to be angry over losing a series to them. We can only hope we see some integrity and will to win despite how the standings look.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 1:28 AM
Thursday, July 21, 2016
|Photo credit: Kyodo News|
Wolfe, 35, has spent six seasons in Japan already familiar with NPB. He was mostly remembered as a starter for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and has a career record of 39-32 with a 3.22 earned run average.
In 2014 and 2015, he was buried in the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks ni-gun due to stronger pitchers in front of him. Wolfe is coming off elbow surgery and said in his press conference that he needed time off.
Overall, this is a signing that shows the Lions are pro-active in trying to find a solution to a woeful pitching staff. Van Hekken proved to be a disaster and the Lions are hoping Wolfe can eat some innings. Similar to Felipe Paulino, Wolfe will be expected to start in the rotation immediately and be a bridge to the bullpen.
This becomes a half-year audition for Wolfe to prove if he is on par to be a rotation pitcher or not. If he has a decent year, he will earn a contract for 2017 and be part of the Lions most likely.
As a result, the Lions have two pitchers with an audition type of contract being signed mid season. Paulino and Wolfe are immediate stop gaps and the team hopes to find possible contributors for next year by getting a head start.
An introductory video of Wolfe can be seen here:
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:20 AM
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Through my experience watching NPB, I've shown plenty of angst when it comes to the lack of quality defensive metrics beyond the limited RF/G and the outdated fielding percentage. Through Jim Allen's reports, we do know that NPB teams receive individual UZRs (Ultimate Zone Rating) which are currently the best way to evaluate the defensive performance of a given player, but these ratings are not released to the public, so we're only given a few crumbs beyond our eye test of a given player's defensive ability.
We can, however, find ways to analyze each team thanks to a metric known as Defensive Efficiency (DER) which measures the percentage of balls in play which end up being converted into outs by a team's fielders. It's a simple measurement that gives a basic understanding of a team's overall defensive performance over a given season.
I urge you to check out Baseball Prospectus' breakdown of Defensive Efficiency and what's usually a good DER rating, as well as an explanation on the DER equation. The only negative caveat involving Defensive Efficiency is that it doesn't exactly separate the effectiveness of pitching from fielding.
Here are the rankings. Please note that with the exception of the Marines, these numbers for all games through July 11th.
1. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks .740
2. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters .732
3. Chunichi Dragons .726
4. Hiroshima Carp .720
5. Yokohama DeNA BayStars .716
6. Saitama Seibu Lions .715
7. Chiba Lotte Marines .714 (Through July 18th)
7. Hanshin Tigers .714
9. Yomiuri Giants .713
10. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles .711
11. Orix Buffaloes .709
12. Tokyo Yakult Swallows .704
Note: While this information may be public for the Japanese media and others, we calculated this data by hand.
I'll start with the top of the rankings, and it's clear that the Hawks have earned their reputation as a tremendous defensive ball club and when putting them up against the current defensive efficiency standings of MLB, only the Chicago Cubs can best that mark with a current rating of .744.
There are many reasons why the Hawks have such a high rating. First of all, the Hawks pitchers lead the Pacific League in strikeouts so that limits the amount of balls that end up being in play, as opposed to a team like Chiba who's pitchers only strike out 5.8 per 9 innings. It seems like the only way to score against the Hawks is through the longball which is the only negative category that the Hawks lead the Pacific League in, mostly due to their ballpark bringing in their fences.
This rating reflects greatly on the Hawks' defense up the middle with Kenta Imamiya and Yuichi Honda, who are below average at the plate, but more than make up for it with their gloves. It must be great to be a Hawks pitcher, when you have such a defensive juggernaut playing behind you and will swallow up every batter that the pitching doesn't already manage to put away at the plate, and it's no shocker that the Hawks lead all of NPB in run prevention, as they only give up 3.16 runs per game.
Their main competing rivals in the Pacific League are second on this list and their overall run prevention is also on the tail of the Hawks at 3.29 runs per game. It's the overall run prevention that makes the difference for the Fighters who have so far improved upon their mark from last year which ended the year at 4.06 runs per game which was second to last in the PL last season. This, combined with the improved hitting of the Fighters has seen the gap between them and Hawks decrease dramatically and might actually give the Fighters an outside shot of catching Fukuoka.
There's a large logjam in the middle of the rankings, but what's interesting is that the Lions are considered average in terms of defensive efficiency. So much has been pointed out by other pundits that the Lions are an awful defensive team, and that's usually brought up because the Lions lead the Pacific League in errors. The errors are quite deceiving because the Lions allow the least amount of home runs in the Pacific League due to their spacious pitcher's park, while also posting the second worst team strikeout rate in the Pacific League.
To sum up this all up, the Lions defense sees the most amount of balls in play and therefore, a higher error count is expected. The blame for the Lions heightened runs allowed should instead be charged at the Lions pitching staff which give up the second-worst walk rate in the Pacific League with 3.7, with a tally like that, there's little room for error if the pitching staff struggles to strike batters out. The Lions are by no means, a good defensive team, but the errors are not the reason why the Lions have struggled to keep pace in the Pacific League race.
One last observation involves the team at the very bottom of the rankings and that's the Swallows. One year after the Swallows completed an amazing year that ended with a Central League title and a loss in the Japan Series to the Hawks, the Swallows have seen everything blow up in their collective faces. The Swallows have seen their impressive run prevention rate of 3.62 runs per game, jump to a current rate of 4.98, almost a run and a half jump from their magical season.
The Swallows haven't changed all that much on the mound, their strikeout rate is once again the worst in the Central League and their walk rate has hovered around the middle of the CL. These two things have been constants in these last two years and they are on pace to blow out of the water the amount of home runs given up in 2015 (112), as they are already at 88.
Ironically, the Swallows have actually seen their runs per game on the hitting side of things, actually go up from 2015, thanks to the efforts of a healthy Wladimir "Coco" Balentien. Instead, it has been the defense that has let them down with their pitching only giving up more home runs from the year before, it's just that this time, their defense behind them has failed to pick them up. And unfortunately for the Swallows, the teams that they are competing against for the third spot, are all average or better (with the exception of the Tigers) when it comes to defensive efficiency. Maybe next year, Tetsuto Yamada.
Let me know in the comments about what your reactions are to these rankings, we will be updating them at the end of season and I'll be talking about them more during our next podcast recording this week.
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Saturday, July 16, 2016
The 2016 NPB Trade deadline comes at the end of July like in MLB. July 31st is also the deadline for any foreign signings if anyone wants to make a late addition.
For those who don't know, trades in Japan are very minor for the most part. While trades aren't rare, they don't happen often and usually occur for a few reasons as follows:
1. The player is expendable
As with a lot of trades in sports, there's no room on the roster to play someone and there's most likely other players in front of him on a depth chart. Some guys just end up remaining buried.
2. Teams have no idea what to do with a player
Like the aforementioned reason above, there are times we see a logjam and there's occasional panic if someone has a player they don't want or need. Sometimes they try to find a taker. Of course this is the reason for one blockbuster trade that sent Yoshio Itoi from the Fighters to the Orix Buffaloes because he entered the final year of control and they weren't sure what to do with him in a panic minset.
3. Teams attempt to get cheap depth
There's the ever classic low risk in trades mostly in Japan, as teams will trade an expendable player for someone else's expendable player. Typically trades in Japan are lateral with no major significance. Occasionally some players will be sold for cash with no room with their former club.
From a Lions standpoint in 2016, the team cleared a roster spot as they released Andy Van Hekken this past weekend. There are currently 69 players on the 70-man roster as a result. Recently, they signed Felipe Paulino to be part of the team's rotation.
With several other teams signing players, it's uncertain on who has a roster spot available for a possible trade. The Lions could purchase a player (sometimes known as trading for cash) with one roster spot open.
First is looking at who the Lions would even target. Most likely they would want a pitcher who could get a look in the bullpen or rotation, but as mentioned before, they would have to do some digging on who would be available.
Here is a list that we've compiled on Lions who have appeared expendable for 2016. This is all a speculation list based on ichi-gun roster activity and playing time. A young player like Hotaka Yamakawa obviously doesn't count.
OF Yutaro Osaki: Osaki has been with the Lions since 2007. He last played a significant number of games from 2012-2013. This season, he has only played in four ichi-gun games and is mostly seen as a pinch hitter. With the outfield revolving door being reduced in 2016 compared to 2015, there is possibly no room for him in the RF by committee role.
C Takanori Hoshi: Hoshi was a player purchase from the Yomiuri Giants in 2011. He mostly serves as a farm catcher and has not appeared in an ichi-gun game since 2014. However, the Lions most likely prefer him as a developmental catcher to work with the younger pitchers in ni-gun.
P Yosuke Okamoto: Okamoto has been a spot starter and middle reliever for the Lions since 2010. After playing a significant number of innings and earning meaningful games in the second half of 2015, he hasn't found a role this season. He had a six-run outing in Sendai only recording one out ine early April. He hasn't appeared in an ichi-gun game since April 24, where he gave up there runs in 1/3rd of an inning.
P Takuya Toyoda: Toyoda was a draft pick in 2013 and spent time as a middle reliever in 2014. He has yet to play in an ichi-gun game for 2016 and has been buried in ni-gun. Toyoda helped preserve a tie in Nagoya against the Chunichi Dragons in 2015, where he pitched the ever-dreaded bottom of the 12th inning.
P Takayuki Yamaguchi: Like Toyoda, Yamaguchi was drafted in 2013 out of an industrial league. He has yet to play an ichi-gun game and didn't play for the ni-gun so far in 2016. Most likely he is battling an injury, but not finding playing time can always put someone on the trading block.
In short, it's very doubtful the Lions trade anyone as the deadline is near. They are more likely to sign another foreign free agent before July 31 if they want to get a head start on finding someone for 2017.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 9:16 PM
Friday, July 15, 2016
After what looked like something to be optimistic for the 2016 season, the Saitama Seibu Lions announced a change. Shortly before the first 2016 NPB All Star game, they announced they released Andy Van Hekken and placed him on waivers, terminating his one-year deal.
Van Hekken, who will turn 37 at the end of this month, was nothing short of a disaster for the Lions for his time in Japan. The Lions purchased his contract from the Nexen Heroes of KBO last winter hoping to solve a rotation spot, but in the end, it was just another hole.
In 10 starts, Van Hekken would have only one outing last longer than five innings which was a start on April 3. In 45.2 innings, Van Hekken would have an ERA of 6.31, 35 strikouts, 26 walks and allowed 3 home runs.
His success of four years being in the KBO just couldn't transition in Japan, as he drew some early whiffs, but the lack of velocity ended up biting them and he wouldn't get outs unless the ball was in play. He was the second highest paid pitcher on the team at an estimated ¥144 million yen, only behind ace Takayuki Kishi.
With this release, the Lions now have 69 players on the roster and there would be room for a possible pickup by trade, cash purchase or foreign free agent signing.
The Lions track record has shown they haven't had a decent foreign starting pitcher since Taigen (Kaku) Kuo. They signed Felipe Paulino in the middle of the season with the hopes of him being a stopgap.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 2:55 AM
Thursday, July 14, 2016
The Heart of America Japan-America Society held a presentation from their Vice President Matt Dobbins on June 28 speaking about Japanese baseball.
As someone who resides in Kansas as a California transplant, I made the trip to Kansas City and heard the presentation wearing my Saitama Seibu Lions gear. In total, there were 29 people who showed up including several club members.
This presentation put a large emphasis of Horace Wilson introducing the sport of baseball to Japan as an American teacher who was in the country. He eventually would talk about how MLB players like Babe Ruth went on a goodwill tour to Koshien Stadium (where a statue/commemorative plaque still exists today).
In many ways, baseball was a way to recover from WWII as it strengthened the relationship between both countries. Multiple delegations and developments started from the first amateur team and professional team where eventually NPB would originate.
Dobbins spent many years in Japan and eventually was able to visit all 12 primary NPB stadiums in the league. He told me that his favorite is Koshien for their history and prestige. While his photo might be from Koshien, he said he became a fan of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks due to living in Kagoshima prefecture. (Southern Kyushu, same island where Fukuoka).
A good portion of this discussion talks about baseball, prior to NPB itself being formed. There is also talk about a few differences with MLB and NPB (Lucky 7, more domed stadiums, brand names on teams etc.).
You can also hear my voice in the recording saying a few things. A few other points talked about included the Koshien tournament information and how much emphasis there has been on the amateur game at University and high school levels.
In the audio, I've edited out the part where a video on the Koshien tournament was displayed as well as a Lucky 7 balloons video shown. The full documentary recommended can be found here.
Enjoy the audio to the presentation below, which brings up the Curse of the Colonel, pre-NPB history and more. My voice can be heard saying a few things if you've listened to our Lions OenDEN podcasts in the past.
There are a few errors (i.e. 4 playoff teams in each league which is really three.), but it is helpful plug and introduction to the brand of baseball in Japan. For those who've been experts on NPB, it is a helpful refresher on history prior to professional baseball.
Heart of America Japan-America Society is a non-profit organization based in Kansas City. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall
Heart of America Japan-America Society is a non-profit organization based in Kansas City. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall
Posted by Christian Gin at 10:07 AM
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The Saitama Seibu Lions had a short week with one series against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles right before the All-Star Series. How did this shape up?
In Game 1, it would be Kenny Ray taking a spot start for the Eagles against Takayuki Kishi. The Lions initially struggled out of the gate, having runners on base, but not punching in a run.
The scoreless tie would break in third inning, with an unconventional double play with runners on the corners for Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura. Ernesto Mejia hit his 27th home run in the 4th inning, matching his HR total from the 2015 season.
Okawari-kun would add a third run with a two-out RBI single to plate Hideto Asamura, snapping a long, dubious distinction. The Lions had 30 consecutive innings without scoring a run by an in-play base hit. They either scored from home runs, errors or sacrifice outs which led to runs.
Kishi would give up multiple extra base hits, but didn't allow a run until the 7th inning, where pinch hitter Shintaro Masuda singled with two outs and a runner on second to make it 3-1. After an initial scare, he would finish the day going 7 innings with four strikeouts and three doubles allowed, two of them being to "Ginji" Akaminai.
The top of the 8th inning featured an unlikely pair of pitchers in Shogo Noda and Tatsuya Oishi. Noda allowed a leadoff single, but a decent ground ball didn't advance anyone. Oishi came in and got a 5-4-3 double play from pinch hitter Akihisa Makida to end the frame.
Tatsushi Masuda shut the door in the 9th after giving up an awkward infield single and the Lions snapped a two game losing streak. The bats were still rather cold for the Lions given their chances, but they finally broke free and had a decent outing from Kishi in order to get a win.
Lions 3, Eagles 1
-The Lions made multiple transactions with the all star break near. Shinsaburo Tawata was deactivated as a result of no games on the back end of the week. They also deactivated Daichi Mizuguchi, Esmerling Vasquez and Fumikazu Kimura.
-As corresponding moves, the Lions activated Atsushi Okamoto, Shuta Tonosaki and Shogo Saito.
-Shogo Akiyama and Takumi Kuriyama switched places with the former batting second and latter batting first. Asamura moved up to third and Mori was dropped down to fifth. Akiyama recorded a run saving catch in the 6th inning.
In Game 2, it would be Takahiro Shiomi against Felipe Paulino. Making his NPB debut, new foreign import Felix Perez would hit a two-run HR on his first at-bat to begin the scoring in the first.
Asamura answered back with a solo home run in the bottom of the frame to make it a one run game. The Lions squandered a chance in the 5th inning with the bases loaded and one out. Asamura would foul out and Okawari-kun grounded into a fielder's choice to end the threat.
Rakuten broke the game open in the top of the 7th where it all started with a leadoff walk to Hiroaki Shimauchi. After an ill-advised throw to first from Paulino, he would advance to 2nd and later 3rd on a single. Shortly after, the bases were loaded with only one out after walking pinch hitter S. Masuda. Paulino would get a ground ball from Takero Okajima, but Kazuya Fujita did the damage by clearing the bases on a two-out gapper to make it 5-1.
The bats once again showed no life and it was an easy game to close for the Eagles to even up the series. What makes this game sad is how Shota Takekuma was warming up in the bullpen and would have been ready to go, but Norio Tanabe elected to keep Paulino in to close the inning with several left handed batters up. Takekuma could've been an option with one or two runners on, but instead, it felt like Tanabe wanted Paulino to get a win.
Eagles 5, Lions 1
For Game 3 in the rubber match, Kona Takahashi faced Yoshinao Kamata to settle the series. Takahashi initially struggled with control and in the fourth, he struck out Perez, but the pitch was wild to put him on first base. After moving him to second, a single from Ginji had the third base coach send Perez home, but he was out at the plate by a mile.
The Lions broke the tie with an RBI single from Akiyama. After a two-out single from Mejia, Mori would plate Akiyama to make it 2-0. Everything went wrong in the top of the 6th. Takahashi couldn't get an out with a walk and single to begin the frame. A single from Perez would score Okajima, but a bad throw from Mori to third base also scored Fujita to tie it with one hit. Toshiaki Imae then singled to break the tie at 3-2 with Shota Takekuma pitching.
After a shutdown 6th inning, the Eagles would strike again as Perez hit a solo home run off Shogo Noda in the 7th. The Lions got a run back from an RBI single by Mori, but Wu grounded into a 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded to kill the rally.
The 9th inning created a chance with Asamura getting a one-out double off Yuki Matsui. However, Mejia grounded out to put Asamura on third. Mori would then flyout on a 3-1 count and the game was over.
The big criticism goes for not pinch hitting Wu in the 7th, but keeping Takahashi in for the 6th wasn't a problem. Understandably, he had a low pitch count and while he was facing the lineup for the third time, you can't expect his control to fade that quickly. It got the best of him while some errors advanced the runners. It's possible that Perez is a new threat for NPB.
Eagles 4, Lions 3
The Lions ended up losing another series, falling to 5-19 in their last 24 games dating back to the June 14 Sayonara loss in Hiroshima. Obviously we declared the season over two weeks ago, but this just adds more insult to injury.
Bullpen depth is questionable, but the decisions of trying to save that unit have hurt the starting pitcher trying to stretch another inning. There was progress from Paulino and a solid outing from Kishi, but there wasn't much help to build on with the lack of runs on what's supposed to be a team that can hit.
The rough patch continued when questionable pitchers are still owning the Lions bats. With the All-Star break here, we can only hope there's just progress and improvement on the field as the season goes along. We're not thinking about A-class or even B-class, just get better on the field please.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 5:13 AM
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
On Sunday, the Saitama Seibu Lions called up Nien Ting Wu for the second time. But this time around, they let him make his ichi-gun debut against the Orix Buffaloes.
Wu was named to the "fresh" (Farm) All-star game and has had a terrific season in ni-gun. He was drafted in the 7th round out of Daiichi Kogyo University last fall and was the only infielder in the 10-man class. Originally born in Taiwan, Wu moved to Japan as a child and went to high school in the Kanto region.
In his debut, he had his first career base hit with a single up the middle on his second career at-bat. He also had an early put-out in the first inning.
Pacific League TV put up a video of his interview:
Here is a translation of what he said:
First of all, congratulations on your first ichi-gun game and first start.
What are your thoughts and feelings after the first game?
"I was shocked when I first found that I was starting. It was quite nerve wrecking initially, but then I slowly got into the rhythm of the game." *Laughing bloopers* "The feeling is quite fulfilling."
When did you find out you were going to [make your ichi-gun debut]?
"I found out from [batting coach Shigenobu Shima] after the game [on Saturday]."
Still remember the feeling the moment you found out about the first start?
"I was very nervous and a bit frantic."
Along with that... did you toss and turn last night when sleeping?
"Indeed it was hard to sleep well."
Now let's look back at when you were first at bat. What were your feelings during the bottom of the 2nd inning when you were at the plate?
"At the time, I wanted to get my first hit, but the ball trend was a bit different than what I had in mind so I struck out. I felt normal."
What was the mood (environment) like when you were at bat?
"I can hear fans chanting my name from left field, it was like they were cheering for and encouraging me by my side."
Now in the bottom of the 6th inning, you succeeded in hitting Brandon Dickson's famous curve ball to the outfield. What was [going through] your mind?
"Although I struck out the first time, on the third at-bat I was able to aim at the ball and beautifully hit the ball out."
Is the first hit ball with you?
"Yes, it's right here." *shows ball*
What do you plan to do with the ball?
"Mail it home and display it at home."
Today you were able to complete your first game with the ichi-gun and get your first hit, what would be your next goal?
"I would like to get 1 base hit and 1 walk from 4 balls at each game."
Lastly, what would you like to say to the Lions fans at Seibu Prince Dome?
"[After] receiving the enormous cheering support from the fans, I will continue to work hard starting tomorrow, please cheer me on!"
Special Thanks to Vivien Wong for translation help.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 3:33 PM
Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 1-5 against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Orix Buffaloes combined for the week. They dropped to 5th place in the Pacific League standings behind the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles and are only three games in front of Orix.
In Game 1 against the Marines at QVC Marine Field, it would be Takayuki Kishi facing our old friend Hideaki Wakui in a classic matchup of ace starters. Kishi would blink first on a two out single from Tatsuhiro in the 2nd inning.
The Lions answered back in the fourth after an initial rally. With runners on the corners, Shogo Akiyama grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and the Marines conceded the run to tie it. It would remain a deadlock as both pitchers went at least eight innings. Kishi had two houdini moments, including two runners on and one out, getting two pinch hitters to follow in the 7th as well as a double play in the bottom of the 8th from Ikuhiro Kiyota with the bases loaded.
Seibu's best chance against Wakui was in the top of the 9th with two on and one out for Akiyama, batting third for the fourth consecutive game. He would strike out where the same result would come from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura shortly after.
Esmerling Vasquez had a clean bottom of the 9th inning to force extra innings. After the Lions failed to score in the 10th off Naoya Masuda, it would be Tatsushi Masuda taking the bottom frame. He ended up walking Tadahito Iguchi to start the frame and couldn't recover. After a groundout to move a pinch runner to second, the Lions chose to pitch around Alfredo Despaigne to face Yamaico Navarro. It would backfire as Navarro had a clean gapper with the outfield playing in and the Lions would have their third sayonara loss of the season.
With this being a pitcher's duel, it was an unfortunate outcome for the Lions, but it wasn't a brutal loss just because it was in walkoff fashion. Kishi looked fine despite showing some signs of fatigue late, but his performance gave the Lions a chance.
The call that still is puzzling for some is how Akiyama is batting third with Yuji Kaneko as the leadoff hitter. Lots of "what could've been", but it is what it is.
Marines 2, Lions 1 (10 innings)
-Tomoya Mori came in to pinch hit for Ginjiro Sumitani in the top of the 10th inning. He lined out in where the ball was hit on the button, but right at Navarro.
In Game 2, it would be a Ryota Sekiya facing Felipe Paulino in the battle of first year pitchers in NPB. First blood went to the Lions in the top of the 2nd inning, where they had two on and no one out. Ernesto Mejia would hit a deep line drive to right field that could've been caught, but the ball was dropped by Kiyota and Okawari-kun scored from second.
Chiba equalized in the bottom of the 3rd, where after Shogo Nakamura reached base on a slow roller, Paulino took an ill-advised throw to second base on the bunt attempt which created runners on the corners and no outs. Takuya Takahama would hit into a 4-6-3 double play and like the previous game, the Lions conceded the run to tie it at 1-1.
The 4th inning would have some scoring both ways as Mejia hit a sacrifice fly to score Okawari-kun from third base giving the Lions a lead again. They added another run with back to back singles from Naoto Watanabe and Ginjiro Sumitani to double the lead. In the bottom frame,
Paulino's control would struggle in the 4th after walking Despaigne and Navarro reaching base on a single with no outs. A sacrifice fly from Daichi Suzuki would bring the Marines within one run and there would be two on for Kiyota. In the end a failed hit and run resulted in strikeout and pickoff from Sumitani as the Lions retained the lead.
The Lions stranded the bases when they were loaded in the top of the 5th, where Asamura struck out and Mejia grounded out. After cruising through the 5th and 6th, Norio Tanabe chose to leave Paulino in for the 7th.
Coming in as a defensive sub, Takashi Ogino would get a one out double to create a chance. Shohei Kato would tie the game on a two-out single. Kei Hosoya would then triple off the LF wall and the Marines went ahead 4-3 off Shota Takekuma. Katsuya Kakunaka then singled home Hosoya making it 5-3.
The Lions wouldn't score and lose their second straight game after Naoya Masuda and Yuji Nishino nearly blew it in the 9th. Takumi Kuriyama would hit a gapper with bring the Lions within 1. But with a runner on third, Okawari-kun hit an infield fly and Asamura grounded out to put the full on tease.
This game was all on Tanabe for leaving in Paulino when he shouldn't have. With the Lions playing 9 straight games, the coaching staff most likely wanted to save the bullpen if possible, but Paulino was already struggling with control later and was fortunate to get out of the 6th inning. Like in the past, he was one out away from nearly being vindicated.
Marines 5, Lions 4
For Game 3, Kona Takahashi faced Yuki Karakawa in a battle of pitchers remembered for their high school careers. Despite the recent struggles of both starters, this was mostly a pitcher's duel. Kona Takahashi would give up two solo home runs to Shogo Nakamura in the third and Takashi Ogino in the sixth making it 2-0.
Karakawa gave the Lions minimal chances through seven innings, where their only notable one was two on with two and Shogo Akiyama would groundout in the 5th.
Even in the 6th, Asamura had a single with a runner on 1st, but tried advancing to 2nd on a throw which led to an inning ending play. The bottom of the 7th would have S. Nakamura hit a gapper for another run and Chiba's lead of 3-0 looked impossible.
The top of the 8th showed some life with the leadoff runners reaching base. Okawari-kun put the Lions on the board after the Marines took out Karakawa and it took 7.1 innings to finally score a run off him. After a throwing error led to runners on second and third, an RBI groundout from Asamura put the Lions within one.
With Ken Togame pitching in the bottom of the 8th, he failed to get a shutdown inning after Yamaico Navarro hit a grounder past the infield and the Marines took a 4-2 lead into the 9th.
There was plenty of room for drama with runners on the corners and no one out against Nishino. Watanabe singled to bring the Lions within one again with the tying run on third. However, pinch runner Daichi Mizuguchi was foolish enough to try scoring on a ground ball and was the first out to ruin momentum. After Kuriyama advanced two runners to second and third, Akiyama was up as the 3-spot hitter for the 6th straight game.
To the disappointment of Lions fans, Akiyama hit a comebacker and the game would result in another one run loss, let alone a sweep in QVC.
The one blame we can obviously make is the shift of Akiyama batting third, a position he shouldn't be at. Togame's poor run continues and it's hurt the team that another winnable games is in the loss column. It's also disappointing the Lions didn't score more off Karakawa, waiting until the 8th inning to finally break the shutout.
Marines 4, Lions 3
In Game 1 against Orix, it was Andy Van Hekken taking on Nobuyoshi Yamada. Both pitchers wouldn't last longer than four innings, allowing at least four runs a piece.
Masahiro Nishino would hit a solo HR to begin the game in the first, but the Lions answered back with an RBI double from Mori in the bottom half of the frame. Kohei Suzuki would break the tie in the top of the 3rd with a two-out RBI single.
After recording the first out in the top of the fourth, Van Hekken's day would be done as he would load the bases with three consecutive hits. Ken Togame would enter and get a groundout to start, but with two outs, an RBI single on the first pitch to Kenya Wakatsuki made it 4-1.
Ernesto Mejia would hit his 25th HR of the year in the bottom of the 4th. A sacrifice fly from Akiyama made it a one run game. Mori would hit a two-run HR in the bottom of the 5th to give the Lions the lead for good. Okawari-kun padded the lead with a solo HR for his 12th of the year.
The top of the 6th wouldn't come without a scare from Togame. Wakatsuki couldn't replicate his success with the bases loaded with an infield fly. Nishino would then groundout and end the threat.
Asamura would also send one deep for the fourth Lions HR of the game in the bottom of the 7th. Vasquez would walk two batters in the top of the 8th, but Takekuma cleaned up the mess recording two outs. In the bottom of the 8th, Kaneko would sacrifice bunt, but it would lead to a throwing error by pitcher Ken Akama, having Kyohei Nagae score from second base.
After an initial scare to begin the top of the 9th, Masuda would shut the door with two strikeouts and a flyout, ending a three game skid.
Lions 8, Buffaloes 4
-The Lions started Tomoya Mori for the first time in 7 games in RF. He batted third while Kaneko was 9th and Akiyama was the leadoff hitter.
-Kyohei Nagae once again started at SS.
-Shogo Noda came in for the 7th inning and recorded a double play, facing only three batters with eight pitches.
-Van Hekken was deactivated after the game for infielder Nien Ting Wu. This was Wu's second callup to the ichi-gun team.
In Game 2 against Orix, Ryoma Nogami faced Takahiro Matsuba seeking his first win in nearly three months. With Nishino getting a leadoff double, Yoshio Itoi would bring him home on a single in the first inning.
The Lions immediately squandered an early two on, nobody out chance in the bottom of the frame where Mori struck out, Okawari-kun flew out and Asamura grounded out. Itoi would hit a solo HR in the top of the third to make it 2-0.
Both pitchers were on cruise control until the 7th, where Nogami reached trouble having runners on the corners and one out. Ryoichi Adachi would try a safety squeeze, but the ball bounced to Nogami and he prevented a run coming home leading to a groundout. Noda came in to pitch to Itoi as lefty one out specialist. Norio Tanabe's faith was rewarded with a strikeout as Itoi was caught looking and keeping the game withing striking distance.
Offense just wasn't there for the Lions as they couldn't hit off Matsuba the entire game. Outside of the first inning, they had no one past first base as Matsuba went 7.2 innings. Nogami did his job again, but ended up with the loss in a decent effort going 6.2 innings.
The 8th and 9th innings were all too familiar with a single in each frame, but nothing more and the Lions would be shutout for the 5th time this season. There were hittable pitches on the day, but the Lions either hit it to the warning track or just short of the walls. One ball was caught when Itoi leaped at the wall and Mejia got under it for what could have been extra bases.
Buffaloes 2, Lions 0
-Ryoma Nogami was taken off the roster due to the All-Star break coming up. He won't be eligible until July 20. C.C. Lee was brought up in his place.
For Game 3, Brandon Dickson took on Shinsaburo Tawata for the rubber match of the series. Mejia kicked off the scoring shortly after a leadoff walk to Asamura. He took a home run deep to left-centerfield and gave the Lions an early 2-0 lead.
Orix would get a run back off a two-out RBI double from Itoi, who had a superb series. Tawata's control would later suffer in the top of the 4th, where he hit a batter and had a wild pitch for runners on the corners. A safety squeeze would tie it as Brian Bogusevic would be safe at the plate on a play that wasn't close.
The bottom of the 4th was one of the ultimate backbreakers. After Asamura was on 3rd and Mejia walked to go to 1st, Nien Ting Wu, making his ichi-gun debut was up. He hit a grounder to 1st, but Asamura was out trying to advance going home and Mejia was tagged out trying to go to third while hoping the infielders were distracted at Asamura.
This double play ruined all momentum even after Sumitani singled and Kaneko walked to load the bases. Akiyama struck out looking to give Orix the epic Houdini.
Tawata would then struggle in the fifth inning where he allowed two hits and Sumitani's throwout saved a run. Takahiro Okada would then hit a two-out double and score on consecutive wild pitches from Tawata to break the tie at 3-2.
The Lions would strand the tying run in scoring position for three consecutive innings in the 5th, 6th and 7th. It would only bite for the top of the 8th with Esmerling Vasquez in. He gave up a leadoff double followed by a single. A run would score off a comebacker and the play at the plate was not in time. He would later load the bases and hit Wakatsuki for another run.
Hirotaka Koishi couldn't clean up the mess as he allowed all inherited runners to score with a sacrifice fly and multiple base hits. Eventually, it would be 8-2 in the 8th inning to put it all away.
Buffaloes 8, Lions 2
-Nien Ting Wu had one error and one single for his first career ichi-gun game.
The games this week reflected a last place team. No clutch hitting, questionable base running, poor defense and every little mistake adding up. There's no life right now without Kazuhisa Makita nor Yusei Kikuchi. We can't even fall back on both of those players being out as the reason they're not winning.
This is becoming a large train wreck and it feels like there's no end in sight. They're averaging one win a week and still haven't recovered from the walkoff loss in Hiroshima. So many losses have made them 4-17 in their last 21 games, let alone not winning a series in four weeks.
There is one series left before the All-Star break, in a battle for 4th place, but it's possible this team has mailed it in without care. We can only hope to see progress as the season goes along, but it's not looking good.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:34 AM
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
The Saitama Seibu Lions suffered a 1-5 week which included being swept by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from June 27-29. After the week, they fell to 10.5 games behind the Fighters and third place in the Pacific League.
Even worse, in a series against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, they fell to fifth place for a day before reclaiming fourth place in July 3rd's 4-3 victory. Including the sayonara loss in Hiroshima on June 14th, the Lions have had their worst run dating back to last year's 13-game losing streak of going 3-12 from June 14 - July 3.
There are several factors as to why this happened and how they are where they are. We can no longer talk about playoffs, in the words of Jim Mora Sr. Before we discuss the goals, here is why the Lions are stuck to being a bottom pack team:
Rotation has not been stable and remains raw
The Lions were hoping that Andy Van Hekken would contribute as a middle rotation starter. In the end, he's been a sixth starter only up for emergency and while he's improved since April, he is nowhere near worth what the team has been paying him. Ken Togame went from mediocre at the end of 2015 to a trainwreck and is now stuck in the bullpen.
Chun-Lin Kuo has remained in ni-gun since April and injuries to Takayuki Kishi and Yusei Kikuchi haven't helped. Shinsaburo Tawata remains "green" as a rookie while Kona Takahashi is still young and growing.
Last season had a strong first half from a rotation that was missing Kishi, but this year we've seen nothing but below average pitching as a whole minus what Kikuchi did when healthy.
Bullpen collapses without Kazuhisa Makita
Makita in long relief was able to cover up the bad starts from Togame and other pitchers, even winning some games by taking multiple innings. The Lions staff made an excellent call to switch him to the bullpen as the swingman, but a leg injury has kept him out since that series in Hiroshima and he hasn't been playing since.
The longer he's out, the more the middle relief becomes a mess and while there are individuals like Tatsushi Masuda and Shota Takekuma, the middle innings become difficult for Norio Tanabe to manage. Another problem for a separate story is C.C. Lee becoming a ni-gun pitcher, after being expected to help fix the bullpen.
Bats remain inconsistent
The Lions offense has been half empty and half full. A feast or famine group that can look good one day, but terrible on another. They've done a better job at working the starting pitching and a resurgence from Takumi Kuriyama has helped, but they don't score enough runs when guys are on base consistently.
There have been games where the pitcher hasn't been bad, but a lack of run support until it's too late has been the theme of the offense. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura being out didn't help, but there were plenty of opportunities of the Lions being on base without him. The offense has the makings of a .500 team.
With all the gloom and terrible play recently, there are things to watch and still look forward to. They're not a boring group, but just frustrating due to the results not going in their favor.
Here are some things to look at for the second half as it began last week:
This season becomes about the development of Takahashi and Tawata hoping they are the future pieces of the Lions rotation for years to come. From Takahashi, we've seen flashes of why he was a first round pick after being a Koshien hero for Maebashi in 2013. On the otherhand, Tawata has become difficult to watch, but no player can be called a bust in their first year no matter what. We need to see progress from both guys which would be the short term goal.
Isamu Sato or another draft pick could get starts later in the season and we can only hope they find their way to earn ichi-gun time. Sato had multiple starts before he was deactivated.
Felipe Paulino as a long term answer?
Paulino was signed midseason after the Lions have had an open spot on their 70-man roster. It has the makings of a desperate signing in response to the struggles of Van Hekken, Kuo and Lee. However, his time in the rotation becomes an audition for next year.
In the States, Paulino was last seen in AAA and most likely would be on pace to spend his playing career bouncing up and down between the major and minor leagues. This is an opportunity for him to showcase himself to the Lions and possible earn a job for 2017. From a Lions standpoint, it's a flyer signing, but it never hurts to evaluate a player ahead of time by bringing him in now.
Can Yusei Kikuchi establish himself as an ace?
A lot of people view Kikuchi as a disappointment after being touted as a once in a generation talent out of high school with MLB potential. Some might say he's a bust because he isn't an ace. However, after having a promising 2015 and Shinji Mori coming in as pitching coach, Kikuchi has brought in six quality starts with more efficiency.
When he returns from his injury, Kikuchi is expected to be the guy for the short term as Kishi will eventually age and pass the torch. Can he have a second half to build on for the long run?
There is no denying that the Lions are rebuilding on the fly with their rotation pieces already in action. If they can get their lumps out now with reps and games played, we can hope the experience becomes more valuable for the long term.
With the manager situation unstable and Tanabe viewed as a lame duck (caretaker in soccer terms), the reins will most likely be passed to Tetsuya Shiozaki or someone else.
This team may not be there and is far from competent, but there are worse situations in NPB than the Lions. There's a plan with youth combined with a core for the present and future. Unfortunately these things just don't turn around overnight.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 1:00 PM
Sunday, July 3, 2016
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 1-5 for the week against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. They even fell to 5th place in the Pacific League for a day with this skid.
Game 1 against the Fighters saw Takayuki Kishi start against Luis Mendoza. The Lions jumped out of the gate with a four-run 1st inning with a three-run HR from Ernesto Mejia. They'd continue to get on base and Kyohei Nagae hit a sacrifice fly.
The bottom of the frame was controversial, as Haruki Nishikawa reached base when the replay showed he was out. He would steal second and score on a bunt single + throwing error from Yuji Kaneko to make it 4-1. A base hit from Yoh cut the lead to 4-2. It wasn't until the bottom of the third where Yoh hit a no-doubt solo HR to make it a one-run ballgame.
Mendoza would leave in the 6th inning, after walking Hotaka Yamakawa and an infield single to Nagae. With the final batter on first pitch, pinch hitter Yuji Onizaki would get a single and give the Lions some insurance to make it 5-3. With two outs, Yuji Kaneko (wearing bullpen catcher Yuta Arakawa's jersey) would hit a huge gapper two score two more and make it 7-3.
The Fighters created drama in the bottom of the 7th. After allowing back to back leadoff hits, a deep sacrifice fly would make it 7-4. Then after Nishikawa grounded out, Takuya Nakashima hit a weak comebacker, but Kishi threw the ball away to right field and another run would score.
Kishi intentionally walked Daikan Yoh, who was already 3-3 on the day chasing a cycle and later pinch hitter Kenji Yano walked on five pitches. With the bases loaded and a full count after being ahead, Kishi allowed an RBI single to Kensuke Tanaka with two outs and the Fighters would tie the game with the crooked inning at 7-7. Brandon Laird would rope a single shortly after to make it 8-7.
The Lions bats were all but dead in the 8th and 9th innings as Chris Martin finished off the team. The tying run was on second base in the 8th, but Shogo Akiyama couldn't bring it home.
Kishi was already at 100+ pitches by the 7th, but Tanabe made the irrational decision of trusting the ace, hoping he could get one more out, similar to how Kona Takahashi failed on Friday's game in Gunma.
Overall, this game was beyond unwatachable once the 7th came due to the error by Kishi combined with the long frame. His velocity was obviously down late and the Fighters were able to foul off everything until the big pitch came.
Fighters 8, Lions 7
-Hideto Asamura was examined in Tokyo for his ankle injury and got a pinch hit appearance in the 8th inning.
-The Lions deactivated Daichi Mizuguchi and started him at 2B with Asamura's injury. They also called up third-round draft pick Shogo Noda, deactivating Ryo Sakata and Yasuo Sano as the corresponding moves. Mizuguchi had his first career start and plate appearances, going 0-2 before being pinch hit for in the 6th.
In Game 2 against the Fighters, Felipe Paulino would make the start against Mitsuo Yoshikawa. And right away, the Fighters would strike with first blood, thanks to a frozen rope into left field from Daikan Yoh.
The Fighters would scratch another run off the Lions in the third, after the Lions would bring the infield in with Shohei Otani on third and Daikan Yoh on base thanks to consecutive singles. Norio Tanabe would play the infield in, but Kensuke Tanaka would hit it to just enough away from Asamura to allow Otani to beat the throw and give the Fighters a 2-0 lead. The damage probably should've been more, but Yuji Kaneko made a sensational catch that forced him to crash into the outfield wall and prevent Takumi Oshima from extra bases.
The Lions would have a big opportunity to answer in the fourth with runners at the corners and nobody out for Gin-chan. Gin-chan would ground to Brandon Laird at third and that would start a 5-4-3 double play, and shockingly, Hotaka Yamakawa did not race home after Laird threw to second, costing the Lions a run they so desperately needed.
The bottom of the order would take advantage of Paulino in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to a one out rally that included some questionable hanging breaking balls and poor fastball command that led to a one out walk and a one out single to Nakashima and Hiromi Oka, respectively. This would allow Nishikawa to cash in with a sacrifice fly and complete the scoring for the night.
From this point forward, the story would go to the Fighters bullpen who would combine for four innings of relief and earn Yoshikawa the win after his poor command didn't allow to get an out beyond the 5th inning. Anthony Bass would provide two innings, Keisuke Tanimoto would provide one, and Chris Martin would nail down the save.
A poor game from the bats and a workman like start from Paulino would be the key talking points from this game. Paulino did enough to keep his team in the game, but it didn't matter, because this is a game where the Lions would've had trouble scoring a run in 18 innings, let alone 9.
Fighter 3, Lions 0
In Game 3, an interesting pitching matchup would surface as the Lions looked to avoid the sweep in Sapporo. Andy Van Hekken would make the start for the Lions looking to prove that his success in the KBO can translate to NPB. For the Fighters, the handkerchief prince, Yuki Saito would get his first start of the 2016 season.
Both pitchers would not go deep enough to qualify for the win and the bullpens would decide the game, and both pitchers would leave the game with nearly identical pitching lines.
After Takumi Kuriyama's chopping, 2-run single in the fourth off Saito, the game would stay in a 2-2 stalemate until the 7th.
Before that, the bottom of the 6th would be notable for the simple reason that the Lions were not the victim of an overturned review as a result of the home plate obstruction rule. The call came in question after Kenshi Sugiya hit one into the right-centerfield gap, the Fighters would wave Tanaka around third and the relay throw from Asamura would take Okada a little offline, but he was able to make the tag without obstructing runner and therefore making sure that Tanaka was a dead duck.
With the Lions looking to use Ken Togame in the same role that Kazuhisa Makita has held up until his recent injury. Togame would pitch relatively well until the aforementioned bottom of the 7th, and with the bases loaded, Kenuske Tanaka would provide more problems for the Lions and hit a bases clearing triple that would crush the Lions hearts and give the Fighters a commanding 5-2 lead after 7.
The Lions would again struggle to string any hits together against Fighters bullpen, but this time they would get something going against the closer, Chris Martin. Naoto Watanabe would start the top of the 9th with a leadoff single, then Uemoto would reach on a Brandon Laird error, giving the Lions runners on first and second with nobody out. Martin would get Kyohei Nagae to strike out and get the first out of the 9th, but Shogo Akiyama would hit a sharp single to center that would load the bases for Yuji Kaneko.
With Akiyama representing the tying run, Kaneko would ground out and the Fighters would take the out and allow Watanabe to score and make it a 5-3 game. That would be all the Lions would get, and with the tying run on second base, Tomoya Mori would ground out to Brandon Laird who made up for his bad error with a great play deep up the third base line to end the game and complete the sweep for the Fighters.
Another difficult loss, the Lions continued their struggles at the plate and the loss of Makita continues to haunt the team. Hideki Kuriyama's squad reestablished their recent dominance over the Lions with this sweep and the Lions continue to scratch their collective heads.
Fighters 5, Lions 3
In Game 1 against the Eagles, it would be Takahiro Norimoto against Kona Takahashi. After 6 up and 6 down, Norimoto's defense would hurt him in the third. He would fail to touch first base and Kyohei Nagae was safe with runners on the corners and one out.
Norimoto would then take an ill-advised pickoff attempt to first, which would score Naoto Watanabe from third for the first run of the game. Takumi Kuriyama would then single with two outs to plate Nagae making it 2-0.
Takahashi would struggle out of the gate with a lack of control, but the defense would bail him out through five innings. This included 6-3 lineout, 8-5 flyout and 6-4-3 groundout double plays. The bottom of the 1st was also shaky, where it took a base running blunder from Takero Okajima running him from third on a routine grounder.
The mistakes would catch up as Kona Takahashi wouldn't escape the 6th inning. He allowed consecutive base hits and Zelous Wheeler would be hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count to load the bases with no outs. Ginji Akaminai would make him pay, with a bases clearing double and instantly, the Eagles would take a 3-2 lead with one swing.
In the top of the 7th, the Lions had a chance with runners on the corners and no outs, but Nagae would strike out and Tomoya Mori, coming in as a pinch hitter, grounded into a fielder's choice. With Norimoto having a high pitch count and Kuriyama being struck on the foot to load the bases, Shogo Akiyama would strikeout on a pitch in the dirt and end the threat.
The tying run would be on second base again in the 8th against Kam Mickolio. But Watanabe struck out and Tatsuyuki Uemoto would flyout to squander the chance again.
Yuki Matsui shut the door after walking Mori. Akiyama looked like he could have pulled a deep gapper, but it stayed in the park and on the warning track to end it.
Takahashi's poor game didn't show until the 6th when it comes to runs. It was an ugly game where he could have allowed more, but the Lions bats also couldn't get consecutive hits when they needed to.
Eagles 3, Lions 2
-Naoto Watanabe had a Modasho, earning three singles on the night.
-Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura returned for the first time in nearly two weeks.
In Game 2, it would be Ryoma Nogami facing Minabu Mima. The Lions would get off to a hot start with three runs in the second inning, thanks to a gapper from Watanabe and a single from Masatoshi Okada.
The bottom of the third is where everything unraveled. Asamura would be responsible for an error to create runners on the corners with one out. After nearly escaping the inning, and allowing a run, Nogami would give up a three run home run to Zelous Wheeler for a 4-3 lead.
The Lions would squander multiple chances in the game including two on with one out, but Akiyama struck out and Okawari-kun flew out to end the threat. Hirotaka Koishi would only make it worse. Kazuya Fujita would hit a gapper of his own and plate two more runs and Hiroaki Shimauchi added another making it 7-3.
Takumi Kuriyama would get an RBI single in the top of the 9th off Yuki Matsui, but it was too late. The Lions would lose their sixth straight and continue to go on a downward spiral.
Eagles, 7 Lions 5
In Game 3, it would be Kenji Tomura facing Shinsaburo Tawata in Sendai. It would be a brutal start for Tawata in the first, allowing three runs to begin the game including hits from Wheeler and Toshiaki Imae. Rakuten also pulled off a double steal to get the third run.
The Lions squandered early chances including a double play from Nagae with the bases loaded, but the fifth inning would bring some life. Akiyama and Okawari-kun would plate a run each and with the bases loaded, Watanabe would hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
Tawata would last only four innings which wasn't bad, but he still struggled with his control and was fortunate to not allow more.
Shogo Noda would get two outs, but with a runner on third, the Lions sent Ken Togame into the game, where he struck out Wheeler to end the threat.
Togame had a scoreless 6th inning, but allowed a leadoff single to Toshihito Abe in the 7th. However, Shota Takekuma cleaned up the scare by striking out Okajima and Fujita flying out to left field.
Things would remain scoreless as the Lions failed to get runs off the poor Rakuten bullpen. The ninth inning became interesting as Akiyama hit a one out single and immediately stole second. Okawari-kun then sliced a ball into left field for a single and it scored Akiyama from 2nd to break the tie.
Playing his first game in eight days, Tatsushi Masuda shut the door in the 9th and earned his first save in two weeks. The Lions would snap a six game losing streak in the process and prevent being swept for two straight series.
Lions 4, Eagles 3
The Lions are currently 3-12 in their last 15 games dating back to the painful obstruction loss in Hiroshima. With another poor week in the books, the team is very close to shutting the door on the season and the Lions are currently too far behind for any spot of thinking about playoffs.
The Fighters have won 10 in a row and it doesn't look like they'll stop. The Lions rotation just isn't there, but the bats are even worse in this stretch where runs aren't coming. They can still get on base, but the recent development of Shogo Akiyama batting third is just too unusual, let alone benching Tomoya Mori for the whole series in Sendai.
At this point, we hope to see development of Tawata and Takahashi as the season goes along.
Wes Mills also contributed to this report.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 2:29 AM