Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lions Weekly Digest: Asamura hits the first Sayonara of the season



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For the first game in Omiya, It would be Wataru Karashima against Kona Takahashi. The Eagles struck first on a base hit by Takero Okajima as the team was able to hang on to that lead the rest of the way from the second inning.

Takahashi would go seven innings with only two runs allows, including another on a fielder's choice. However, he scattered eight hits and only had three strikeouts on the night. The Lions bats would remain dead with a handful of chances having a runners on second base in three different innings.

Karashima went six innings with eight strikeouts and three hits allowed. Frank Herrmann allowed an early hit, but the Lions bats couldn't come through. Yuki Matsui then shut the door in the 9th inning with an easy frame. It would be the third time in 2017 that the Lions have been shutout and second in the last three games.

Eagles 2, Lions 0

Game notes:

-Shogo Noda was called up and Hirotaka Koishi was deactivated as a corresponding move. Noda would pitch the ninth inning striking out one and allowing one hit.

-Hotaka Yamkawa would be used as a pinch hitter as Naoto Watanabe was the DH. He would ground into a double play.

-Sosuke Genda recorded his first error of the season.

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Game 2 from Metlife Dome would featured a matchup from the previous week with Shinsaburo Tawata against Takahiro Norimoto. Tawata would concede the first run on leadoff HR to Eigoro Mogi. It looked like another bad outing for Tawata to come, but he only gave up two runs in the first two innings. Carlos Peguero would smash another home run in the second inning for a 3-0 Eagles lead in the 5th.

The Lions answered back in the bottom of the 6th with a sacrifice fly by Asamura. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would then hit a no-doubt HR to bring the game within one.

Tawata would go six innings with three earned runs and three strikeouts. Zelous Wheeler would give the Eagles a run back in the top of the 7th with an RBI double off Tatsuya Oishi as Noda gave him inherited runners.

It would take the bottom of the 8th to create a chance. Shotaro Tashiro reached base on an infield single that bounced off the mound and Norimoto's foot. Asamura would get a bloop single to fall just out of Mogi's reach to bring the game within one run again. Mejia would hit one on the button right to Wheeler at 3B, but a short bobble gave him just enough time to beat out a throw and tie the game, scoring Shogo Akiyama from third. The Eagles arguably left Norimoto in too long as he stayed through the 8th inning.

The Lions blew two chances in both the bottom of the 9th and 10th with a runner in scoring position. Kazuhisa Makita would have two scoreless innings in extras while Shota Takekuma took the 12th inning with no fanfare. Needing only one run, the Lions would face Kohei Morihara in the bottom of the 12th knowing they couldn't lose.

Akiyama would get a leadoff single before Sosuke Genda struck out. As a result, he wouldn't ground into a double play after initially showing bunt. Asamura would battle Morihara for multiple pitches until it was full count and he would hit a gapper to plate Akiyama from 1B for the first sayonara win of the 2017 season.

Lions 5, Eagles 4 (12 innings)

Game notes:

-Akiyama and Asamura would have modashos with their third hits coming in the 12th inning.

-Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda would take the 8th and 9th innings, respectively to keep the game within reach.

-Naoto Watanabe would DH with Hotaka Yamakawa coming in to PH in the 10th inning. Yamkawa would line out with a runner on second.

-Shuta Tonosaki would play LF with Kuriyama still missing. He went 2-5.

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In Game 1 against the Fighters, Yusei Kikuchi would face Naoyuki Uwasawa. The Lions bats were on fire from the start as Akiyama smashed an opposite field leadoff home run to begin the game. A sacrifice fly from Okawari-kun would double the lead at 2-0.

Okawari-kun doubled the lead again with a two-run home run in the bottom of the third and put this game away early. Sosuke Genda would also hit an RBI triple in the fifth inning. Asamura would plate him to make it 6-0.

Akiyama hit a second home run in the 6th inning to put icing on the cake and the Lions took advantage of a Fighters error in the outfield for two more runs in the 8th, making the lead insurmountable.

Kikuchi was as productive as the Lions bats were. He would give up a leadoff single to Haruki Nishikawa, but that was the only hit he gave up on the night. Kikuchi took 144 pitches to earn the shutout with only two walks and 12 strikeouts. It would be his first shutout since 2013 and the fourth in his career.

Lions 9, Fighters 0

Game notes:

-Akiyama picked up another modasho in the 8th inning with a single.

-Ernesto Mejia went down after a foul tip hit his knee. He would stay in the game, but leave early.

-Asamura took a pitch to the ribs from Uwasawa, but remained in the game.

-Tonosaki once again started in LF.

===

Game 2 would feature Ryoma Nogami against Kohei Arihara. The Lions would once again jump out to an early 1-0 lead as Akiyama dropped a bloop single in the third inning.

The fifth inning is where things were broken wide open. Tonosaki would start it with a four pitch walk to get the party started. Ginjiro Sumitani would then plate him on a gapper after Tonosaki advanced on a groundout by Shotaro Tashiro.

Genda plated Sumitani on a single and things would only get worse. A wild pitch on a ball four to Asamura added another. Okawari-kun ripped an RBI single and that ended Arihara's day after 4.1 innings. Mejia would single off Yuya Ishii and then Hotaka Yamakawa erased any doubt once again. This time he would hit a three-run home run to cap off an 8-run 5th inning.

Nogami had all the run support in the world, but he himself had a brilliant outing of seven scoreless innings and five strikeouts, limited the Fighters to only one walk and three hits. Kentaro Fukukura would pitch the final two innings allowing one run, but it was a strong outing by everyone once again for the third straight game.

Lions 9, Fighters 1

Game notes:

-Sosuke Genda had two errors again.

-Yamakawa started at 1B with Mejia as the DH. Kuriyama sat out once again as Tonosaki played LF.

===

In Game 3, it would be a battle of foreign pitchers with Luis Mendoza against Brian Wolfe. It would once again be the Lions to get an early lead thanks to a leadoff HR by Shogo Akiyama.  Okawari-kun grounded into a double play to pickup a second run.

After scoring a run in the second, the Fighters tied the game in the third with an RBI double from Kensuke Kondo. The game would remain tied until the top of the 5th inning. Akiyama couldn't catch a ball from Haruki Nishikawa and the ball would skid past him. Fumikazu Kimura didn't get to the ball fast enough and it would allow Nishikawa to go to third base. The Fighters would take the lead as Go Matsumoto sneaked a single past Genda as the infield was playing in.

Wolfe would limit the damage with an important double play on Sho Nakata, who returned in his first game from injury. It wasn't his greatest outing, but Wolfe was able to go five innings and give the Lions a chance.

In the bottom of the 6th with Mendoza facing the order for the third time, the Lions responded as Genda picked up a leadoff single by a bunt. Asamura reached base and Mejia plated them both with a double down the left field line. Tonosaki added another with a bloop single making it 5-3.

In the bottom of the 7th, it nearly looked like the Lions would squander a chance with runners on second and no outs. However, with Okawari-kun up against Keisuke Tanimoto, the outcome would be perfect. Okawari-kun hit one off the wall in the gap scoring both runners to make it 7-3. After a walk to Mejia, Shotaro Tashiro would come in to pinch hit and hit his first career home run for three runs into the Fighters Oendan putting the game away.

As a bonus, Shogo Akiyama hit a two-run home run to secure a modasho and a second HR of the game in the 9th.

Lions 12, Fighters 3

Game notes:

-Tonosaki started in LF once again with Yamakawa at 1B and Mejia at DH.

-Noda and Kentaro Fukukura took the late innings in a mop up role.

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The Lions are red hot ending the week with a four game win streak. Like anything, it's nice to beat the Fighters after all the struggling they've had against them in the past. The bats were on fire, the pitching was mostly good and there's some life in these guys.

Each week ahead will be tough, but so far, so good. The errors were strange as the one negative, but it nicely gets covered up when the team wins.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sixth Man: Who is the Lions sixth starter?


The Saitama Seibu Lions have gotten away with having no six-game week until the end of April. for the first four weeks of the season (counting Opening Day Weekend), the Lions were able to roll with five starters with Yusei Kikuchi, Ryoma Nogami, Brian Wolfe, Shinsaburo Tawata and Kona Takahashi.

The final week of April is finally here, meaning a decision has to be made. Who takes the sixth spot? Here is a logical look at who could be there as the best candidates possible. For the record, there is one foreign spot available with only Wolfe, Ernesto Mejia and Brian Schlitter taking the roster spaces.

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Frank Garces: Garces has been used as both a reliever and starter when in MiLB and MLB. The Lions had him start a handful of games in the preseason, However, it's likely that the Lions like him as a reliever for this season.

Alexis Candelario: Candelario was a low-risk signing by the Lions, but things do not look encouraging at the ni-gun level where he has struggled. At best, Candelario will probably be a spot starter for one or two opportunities he needs to make the most of in 2017.

Keisuke Honda: Honda received a spot start at the end of the 2016 season and had a strong offseason with both the U23 Samurai Japan team and the Melbourne Aces in ABL. He is likely to come up at some time this season, but he might not be ready yet for the ichi-gun level. So far, he has been productive down in ni-gun as a starter.

Chun-Lin Kuo: A forgotten import from Taiwan, Kuo spent the entire spring training session with the national team in preparation for the WBC. Unfortunately, Kuo didn't impress in his outing against Israel and it's likely the negative momentum carries over to the Lions management. Like Garces, Kuo could be seen as a reliever or spot starter, but not likely to be in the rotation full-time.

Yasuo Sano: A second-round pick from 2014, Sano has been a spot starter in the past, but is more likely to be a reliever.

Isamu Sato: Sato started a handful of games in 2016 after a strong ni-gun. However, he is likely serving a suspension by the team after getting into an auto accident in the offseason. He has not appeared in a single ni-gun game for 2017.

Ken Togame: The Lions have seen ups and downs with Togame in the rotation. He had an awful 2016 season, but has a chance to rebound after a strong start in ni-gun for 2017. He is the most experienced NPB starter among the group of Lions.

Ichiro Tamura: The Lions' 6th round pick from 2016 has starting experience, but is likely seen as a reliever with the team and is too raw for an immediate ichi-gun start.

Tatsuya Imai: This would be extreme to play a first round pick drafted out of high school this early. Imai will likely get his feet wet sometime in 2017, but he is still recovering from an injury he suffered in spring training and has taken it slow in ni-gun with only one inning pitched at the time of this writing.

Start the Tuesday starter on short rest and play him on Sunday: This is the extreme option which happened last year with Takayuki Kishi. A controversial choice, Kishi would end up tearing his adductor muscle and miss a significant amount of time before it was too late. If the trend continued based on starts, Kona Takahashi would be the pitcher for this option.

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Outlook:

It's likely that Ken Togame probably starts the sixth game in the week starting on Tuesday, April 25. Togame is the most experienced and has the endurance to last for a whole season. The question is, which Togame shows up? He has not had two consistent seasons in his NPB career, good or bad. By trends, he would have a productive season in 2017 as it is an "odd-numbered year".

An announcement will come sooner or later, but right now, the Lions rotation has shown there's ups and downs with this unit. There's plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially with the bullpen depth and offensive flare, but this season is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lions Weekly Digest: Mejia's HR steals series in winning road week


In their first road week of the season, the Saitama Seibu Lions would have to play exclusively on the road against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and the Chiba Lotte Marines.  How did they do?

= = =

After the first game of the series that was scheduled to be played in Koriyama, Fukushima was washed out, the two teams would start their series in Sendai on Wednesday with Shinsaburo Tawata making his second start of the series against Rakuten's ace, Takahiro Norimoto.

It would be the Eagles who would tee off early on Tawata with Carlos Peguero crushing a 2-2 breaking ball from Tawata that caught too much of the plate as it would be his fourth home run of the season to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead two batters in. After retiring the struggling Zelous Wheeler and Japhet Amador, Tawata would then give up three straight singles with Takero Okajima getting an RBI-single to make it 3-0. Then Hideto Asamura would make a fielding error on a ball up the middle which would load the bases for Motohiro Shima, and Tawata would get him to fly out and end the disastrous inning with only three runs given up.

With three early runs, the Eagles probably felt pretty good about the prospects of this game with Norimoto on the mound for them. However, as early as the third inning, it was clear that Norimoto didn't have his best stuff in this game, as he'd give two runs right back to the Lions. Fumikazu Kimura out of the 9-spot in the order would leadoff the inning with a single up the middle. He'd hustle his way to third after Norimoto bounced a pitch to the next batter and the ball bounced far enough away from Rakuten catcher, Motohiro Shima to allow him to go to third. From there, Shogo Akiyama would grind a walk, one of four on the day. Norimoto would strikeout Sosuke Genda, but Hideto Asamura would line a single the other way to bring home Kimura and make it 3-1. Norimoto would then walk Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura to load the bases, and Takumi Kuriyama would bring home Akiyama with a sac fly to cut the score to 3-2.

In the top of the fourth, the Lions would take the lead for good with Naoto Watanabe grinding Norimoto for a nine-pitch at-bat that would result in a double after Rakuten's outfield misplayed the sure hit and allowed Watanabe to race to second. Masatoshi Okada would bunt Watanabe over to third, and then Kimura would drop one in for an RBI-single to tie the game at 3-3. Both of the early rallies for the Lions were created out of the bottom of the order. Shogo Akiyama would then walk, and Sosuke Genda would single to load the bases for Hideto Asamura. Asamura would single home Kimura and that would give the Lions a 4-3 lead.

With the Lions in front, Shinsaburo Tawata would go into the fourth but would fail to record any more outs. Shima would start the bottom of the fourth off with a single and Eigoro Mogi would walk and with Carlos Peguero coming to the plate Tawata would be pulled in favor of Tatsuya Oishi. Oishi would get Peguero to ground into a 4-6-3 double play and that would give the Lions a huge lifeline out of the inning as the Eagles would fail to score.

The Lions would tag two more runs on the board in Norimoto's final inning with Watanabe getting on thanks to a throwing error from Zelous Wheeler. Norimoto would walk Fumikazu Kimura to make it two on and two outs and set up the big hit from Shogo Akiyama. Akiyama would hit a swerving ball into the corner that would direct off the wall and score both baserunners to give the Lions a 6-3 lead off Akiyama's 2-run double.

This would effectively KO Norimoto as he was pulled after the completion of the fifth. From there, Oishi would pitch one more inning of relief for the Lions and from then on, it would be Okawari-kun who would own the latter part of the game with two home runs to turn the game into a rout. Okawari-kun would hit a solo shot in the sixth to make it 7-3, and then in the 9th, he'd sneak one just over the right field wall for a 3-run homer in the 9th to make the score 10-3. Japhet Amador would hit his first home run of the season for Rakuten in the bottom of the 9th to complete the final score of 10-5 Lions.

Shuta Takekuma, Kazuhisa Makita, Brian Schlitter, and Hirotaka Koishi would each toss an inning of relief with Koishi the only pitcher to surrender any runs.

Lions 10, Eagles 5

Game Notes:

-Okawari-kun hit career home runs number 331, and 332 which stands as the franchise record for home runs in a Lions jersey with Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Koji Akiyama behind him at 329 and 328 respectively

-Takahiro Norimoto threw 71 of his 116 pitches for strikes but the Lions still grinded four walks off him thanks to long at-bats from Naoto Watanabe and Shogo Akiyama. In total, the Lions drew seven walks in this game.

-Naoto Watanabe started at DH for his first game of 2017 and went 3-5.

-The makeup game from the rain out in Fukushima prefecture will unfortunately be in Sendai on September 14.

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The week would then shift to the new name Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba to face the Marines. It would be Kota Futaki vs Yusei Kikuchi in the series opener.

It would be a slow start, but Kikuchi showed off some impressive fielding with an early 1-3 double play. The game would remain scoreless as the Lions squandered a leadoff triple by Sosuke Genda in the top of the 4th. Asamura would flyout, Okawari-kun struck out and Kuriyama would flyout to ruin the chance.

Kikuchi got a Houdini of his own by allowing the first two batters on base on the bottom of the inning. He would then strike out Kei Hosoya and Matt Duffy while getting Tatsuhiro Tamura to groundout and end the threat.

There wouldn't be any scoring until the 6th inning, where Hosoya picked up an RBI fielder's choice beating a double play attempt by the Lions. Futaki would finally budge as Okawari-kun took one deep for a solo HR in the top of the 7th.

It would be another jam for Kikuchi for the bottom of the 7th as Tamura would earn a leadoff single and they Marines would bunt him over to second base. Shota Ishimine would get a bloop single to fall and Chiba retook the lead at 2-1.

Kikuchi would end the day with eight strikeouts and four walks while giving up six hits over the course of seven innings. Futaki would also go seven innings as he scattered four hits and had nine strikeouts.

They Lions would have their best chance of the night in the 8th inning as Akiyama got an infield-single and stole second base with two outs. However, Genda would hit a weak flyball to end any chance to score against Tatsuya Uchi.

There would be one final gasp for something to happen in the top of the 9th with Naoya Masuda pitching for the Marines. Asamura hit a leadoff single, but Okawari-kun and Shogo Saito (who came in as a sub for Kuriyama) would strikeout. With a full count, Mejia would hit an improbable two-run home run to deep left-center field as the Lions were one strike away from losing the game to give the team a 3-2 lead.

Despite the home run, the game was far from over as Tatsushi Masuda took the bottom of the 9th. Duffy created some early trouble with a leadoff double and Taiga Hirasawa would be pinch running for him. Even with Tamura showing bunt, Masuda would walk him on 5 pitches. Ikuhiro Kiyota would move both runners by 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt of his own to put the winning run in scoring position.

T. Masuda and the Lions would choose to intentionally walk substitute Ryo Miki and load the bases with one out. On a full count Masuda would get the ground ball needed from Kazuya Fukuura to force a 4-3 double play and create the ultimate Houdini and end the game. The Lions would win their fourth consecutive game.

Lions 3, Marines 2

Game note:

-Hotaka Yamakawa would start at DH. He went 1-4.

-Oishi would pitch a clean 8th inning and earn a win as a result. His second consecutive victory.

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Game 2 would feature our old friend Hideaki Wakui facing Ryoma Nogami. Both sides would bring a classic pitcher's duel as Nogami had only one blemish. He would give up a double Seiya Inoue and a single from Hosoya in the bottom of the 4th inning.

Wakui would scatter four hits through seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts on the day. Nogami went eight innings with only three hits allowed and five strikeouts.

The best chance came for the Lions in the top of the 7th with two runners on. However, Hotaka Yamkawa would ground into a fielder's choice and end the threat. Like the previous night, there was one final chance in the top of the 9th against N. Masuda and Asamura on first base, but Okawari-kun would also ground into a fielder's choice and the Marines snapped the Lions four-game winning streak.

Marines 1, Lions 0

Game note:

-Shogo Saito started in LF in place of Kuriyama, who was resting from exiting on Friday with inflammation in the right calf.

-Nogami would earn a complete game in a losing effort.

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The rubber match would have Yuki Karakawa against Brian Wolfe. This one would be a laugher from the beginning as the Lions jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to back-to-back RBI singles from Asamura and Okawari-kun. With two outs in the 2nd, Genda would score from first on a gaffe read by Shota Ishimine for the third run.

Hotaka Yamakawa put the exclamation point on this game from a two-run blast in the third inning, where it ended Karakawa's day. Karakawa would give up eight hits and five walks in 2.2 innings pitched.

Wolfe would go on to win his 7th straight start dating back to last season. He pitched six scoreless innings and scattered four hits with an early Houdini in the first.

Asamura would be the player of the game with four hits and five RBIs and the Lions took the series with a big win.

Lions 10, Marines 2

Game notes:

-Kuriyama sat out again resting the calf muscle. Shuta Tonosaki would start in LF in his place.

-Mejia, Genda and Sumitani had modashos and the Lions had 16 hits total. It would be Genda's first career three-hit game.

-Besides the home run, Yamkawa would walk three times.

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While this is officially the first time through the order for the Pacific League, the Lions have only seen the Eagles once. That will change as they face them next on the schedule, but the bats did just enough to steal one from the Marines on Friday.

Like anything, this team is competing despite Tawata's struggles. It's early, but the bats continue to be alive for the most part and Genda is living up to the hype as a defensive whiz.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

You again? Seibu Lions who were teammates prior to NPB

The Lions took three players from Fuji University for three consecutive years. Tawata, Yamakawa and Tonosaki were all teammates at one point at the University level.  Photo credit: Hotaka Yamakawa's Instagram
Sports can bring fun connections. Sometimes its through work, education or even the journalist level. At other times, it's where the players spent time prior to making it to where they are today.

Several Saitama Seibu Lions can say they were teammates with another player at some point before making it to NPB. It's common to be an opponent, but teammates? That's hard to come by at any level in North America with a handful of stories.

Here are the Lions who knew each other as teammates prior to being in NPB:

Note: We're only counting high school, university and industrial league level baseball.  We have no data/evidence on where players grew up prior to high school minus a handful of players. 

This list was constructed with timelines knowing how long time is at Japanese Universities, High schools and potentially Industrial League teams. The Japanese NPB roster site shows every team a player was with prior to NPB from HS, University and Industrial or an Independent Leagues. 

Osaka Toin High School (Osaka): 2B Hideto Asamura and C Mastoshi Okada: Most people know the Lions and their connection to Osaka Toin, but the four players were drafted at different points minus 2013, when Tomoya Mori and Okada were taken in the same class. Okada was teammates with Asamura from 2006-2007 and he would later go on to an industrial league team in Osaka Gas. Asamura would be a Koshien champion in 2008 before the Lions drafted him in the third round that fall.

Fun fact: Okada and Asamura can say they were teammates with Sho Nakata of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Nakata was a pitcher in high school and Okada was his battery partner. 

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Tashiro and Akiyama were teammates at University. Photo from Tashiro's Instagram
Hachinohe University (Aomori): OF Shogo Akiyama and OF Shotaro Tashiro

Akiyama and Tashiro are not from Aomori prefecture, but they went to the same school in Hachinohe University. Tashiro is a Hokkaido native and the Lions drafted him in the 5th round of 2011. Akiyama was a third round draft pick in 2010.

Fun fact: Takahiro Shiomi of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles was the ace pitcher during the time Akiyama and Tashiro were at Hachinohe. Akiyama was the team's cleanup hitter.  

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Yokohama Sogakukan High School (Kanagawa): OF Shogo Akiyama and OF Ryo Sakata

Akiyama and Sakata are two years apart, but they were teammates for one year in 2004. Sakata would go to a university in Hokkaido and was drafted in the fourth round of 2008.

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Daichi Kogyo Gakuin University (Kagoshima): P Kentaro Fukukura, IF Nien Ting Wu and P Tsubasa Kokuba

The Lions took Fukukura in 2013 while Wu and Kokuba were drafted in 2015. Osaka Toin and Daichi Kogyo are the two most common schools among the Lions roster with four players each having a connection.

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Fuji University has a display of alumni who made it to NPB. The Lions had three straight players taken. Photo via Yamakawa's Instagram. 

Fuji University (Iwate): IF Hotaka Yamakawa, IF Shuta Tonosaki and P Shinsaburo Tawata

The Lions took a player from Fuji University for three consecutive years from 2013-2015. It would be Yamakawa (2013), Tonosaki (2014) and Tawata (2015) going back-to-back-to-back. The Lions nearly had a fourth player added had they taken Taiki Ono, who was drafted by the Hanshin Tigers in the second round of 2016.

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Nissan Motors (Kanagawa): P Ryoma Nogami and OF Masato Kumashiro

Kumashiro has a rather unique career with how he played for two different industrial league teams. His first was with Nissan Motors and he saw Nogami for one season in 2008. Nogami was the team's ace before he was drafted later that fall while Kumashiro was also a pitcher. Kumashiro converted to outfielder with his second Oji Paper Industries, his second industrial league team and was drafted by the Lions in 2010.

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Chubo Shogyo High School (Okinawa): IF Hotaka Yamakawa and P Shinsaburo Tawata

Not only were Tawata and Yamakawa teammates at University, but also in high school as they are Okinawa natives. It was only in 2009 when they were together in high school. They're the only duo on the Lions who can say they were teammates at the HS, University and professional level.

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Seino Unyu (Gifu): P Tomomi Takahashi and P Shogo Noda

Seino Unyu, known as Seino Transportation in English, held Noda and Takahashi together in 2012. Takahashi would be drafted by the Lions in 2012 when Noda spent his first year with the company. Noda, a Kagoshima native, spent several years with Seino Unyu until being drafted in 2015 by the Lions in the third round.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Lions Weekly Digest: Imports, pitching take series against the Hawks


The Saitama Seibu Lions opened MetLife Dome with a five-game home stand to start the 2017 home season. They would see the Orix Buffaloes and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

= = =

Once again, the Lions would be playing their home opener against the Orix Buffaloes as second year starter, Shinsaburo Tawata took the hill for the Lions against the Buffaloes' veteran foreign pitcher, Brandon Dickson.

In the early going, the Lions would strike fast against Brandon Dickson with two runs in the bottom of the 1st. This was all thanks to Dickson's control issues as he gave up a single to Shogo Akiyama followed by walks to Shotaro Tashiro and Hideto Asamura to load the bases for Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura. Okawari-kun would hit a long drive to center field that was easily deep enough to score Akiyama on a sacrifice fly. The Lions would get their second run after a fielding error by Dickson off a chopper hit by Takumi Kuriyama to the right of the pitcher's mound with Tashiro scoring.

The Buffaloes would answer back in the top of the 3rd with two runs of their own as Tawata had trouble missing bats and his overall control.  Shunta Goto would start the inning off with a double and then Kenya Watasuki would bunt him over to third. Tawata would then hit Ryoichi Adachi to put runners at the corners with one out. Masahiro Nashino would then double home Orix's first run of the game and then Eiichi Koyano would trade an out for a run with an RBI-groundout.

Both starters would then dance around trouble before the fifth inning where both starters would see the end of their days. Things were much worse for Tawata as he gave up a backbreaking 3-run home run to Stefen Romero and that would end his day with a total of 6 earned runs in his season debut. In the bottom of the 5th, Asamura would bring one back with a solo home run for his second of the year but that would be the last tally and after the 5th inning, Seibu would not see another hit as Orix's bullpen in relief of Dickson pitched four perfect innings. Hiroyuki Nakajima would punish his old team with a solo home run in the 8th to complete the final score off of Kentaro Fukukura and Shogo Noda pitched one inning of mop up duty for the Lions.

Buffaloes 7, Lions 3

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In Game 2 against Orix, Takahiro Matsuba would take on Kona Takahashi. The game would be scoreless until the 4th inning, when Romero would hit a solo home run to the left field oendan. Goto would add another with a sacrifice fly.

The Lions had several runners on base and their best chance came in the bottom of the 5th with runners on the corners. However, Masatoshi Okada would ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the frame.

Matsuba would scatter a total of 7 hits over 8 scoreless innings to earn the victory as he only recorded one strikeout on the day. It would be the second straight Lions loss.

Buffaloes 2, Lions 0

Game notes:

-Shogo Noda was the corresponding deactivation move to make room for Kona Takahashi on the 28-man roster.

-This was the first new lineup for Tsuji, as Genda would bat second, Kuriyama was in LF and Hotaka Yamakawa became the DH. Okada would also start at catcher for the day.

===

For Game 1 against the Hawks, Yusei Kikuchi would take on Tsuyoshi Wada. Softbank would score three times in the top of the 2nd with a solo home run by Seiichi Uchikawa. After it looked like the Lions could get out of a jam, Mejia would misfield a chopper that would roll into right field with two more runs eventually scoring.

The Lions got a run back after Sosuke Genda stole second base and Okawari-kun plated him with a single in the bottom of the 4th. Shotaro Tashiro would hit an RBI triple in the fifth inning to make it a one run game.

Kikuchi would mostly limit the damage on the night, but allowed a second solo home run to Uchikawa in the top of the 6th to double the Hawks lead. Uchikawa would have a modasho on the evening.

This game didn't come without a chance as the Lions loaded the bases in the bottom of the 8th against Sho Iwasaki. However, Asamura would strikeout and Okawari-kun would flyout to end any threat. The Lions would go quietly in the 9th as Dennis Sarfate shut the door and the team lost their third straight game.

Hawks 4, Lions 2

Game notes:

-Takumi Kuriyama played his 1,500th career game and he was honored briefly for reaching this milestone.

===

In Game 2 against the Hawks, it would be Ryoma Nogami pitted up against Kenichi Nakata. The Lions jumped out to a 3-0 lead early on with Asamura having an RBI single to opening the scoring. Kuriyama would add on with a two run home run to give Nogami a comfortable cushion.

After Nogami escaped the top of the 2nd with a strikeout, the Lions added two more runs with a two-out RBI double from Mejia and a single from Fumikazu Kimura to make it 5-0. With the run support, Nogami would have a solid day, having only one mistake pitch as the only blemish. He would hang a pitch in the 5th inning and Seiji Uebayashi took it deep for a solo home run. Nogami went six innings with five strikeouts on the day.

Kazuhisa Makita took the 7th while Brian Schlitter allowed two hits, but had a scoreless 8th. Mejia would make sure the Lions were in good shape with his first home run of the season off Shuta Ishikawa and the three game skid would end.

Lions 6, Hawks 1

===

In the rubber match, Brian Wolfe continued his tour of facing the NPB teams he played for in the past. It would be Nao Higashihama, a player the Lions tried to draft in 2012 taking the mound for the Hawks.

The Lions got an early lead with a sacrifice fly from Okawari-kun in the first. They would then double the lead from a solo HR by Mejia in the second.

It would then become a game of stranding runners for both sides, as there wouldn't be much clutch hitting. Wolfe had multiple Houdini innings by inducnig a double play from Uchikawa while runners were on the corners in the 4th. In the 6th, a runner would be in scoring position, but the Hawks couldn't bring him home as Yuichi Honda would hit a comebacker.

The bottom of the 6th is where the opportunity finally came for the Lions. Asamura and Okawari-kun would reach base on back-to-back hits and Kuriyama plated the former with a sacrifice fly. Mejia would then single off Ryota Igarashi to bring Okawari-kun home, making it 4-0.

Wolfe would concede a run for the first time in the 7th, as Yuki Yanagita reached base and scored on a single from Alfredo Despaigne. He would go seven innings with only two strikeouts on the day.

Schlitter would take the 8th inning and make it easy. Masuda would have some drama as he gave up three consecutive hits to Uchikawa, Despaigne and Akira Nakamura to make it 4-2. With the go-ahead run at the plate, Nobuhiro Matsuda would flyout and end the game, giving the Lions the series as the team is back at .500.

Lions 4, Hawks 2

Game notes:

-Mejia homered in his second consecutive game.

-Shotaro Tashiro was picked off after he was initially hit by a pitch.

===

The Lions are safely back at .500 with plenty of room to get better. The offense had some life, but it was the defense that was the story minus Mejia's error. Sosuke Genda continues to live up to the hype on the defensive side of things. Tsuji has the standard Japanese lineup of a second hitter being designed to bunt.

If Schlitter can continue to be a useful arm out of the bullpen, there's hope. His velocity proved to be valuable and with Makita already an asset, the back end is in good shape. Can Tawata and Takahashi develop throughout the year? That question remains to be seen.

===

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lions Weekly Digest: Tsuji wins opening series against defending champion Fighters



The Saitama Seibu Lions were victorious in the Opening series of the 2017 season by taking two out of three from the defending champion Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

===

For Opening Day, Yusei Kikuchi would take on Kohei Arihara in Sapporo Dome facing the defending champions. The Lions struck first in the second inning off two balls that failed to leave the infield. With runners on second and third, Fumikazu Kimura grounded into a fielder's choice and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would beat the throw towards home plate by sliding underneath Tomoya Ichikawa's glove. Ginjiro Sumitani would ground out, forcing Takumi Kuriyama to score from third, making it 2-0.

Kikuchi was strong through the first five innings, but it was one play that saved the team. With Haruki Nishikawa on first, Shohei Otani would double to right field, but a relay from Kimura to Hideto Asamura and a perfect tag by Sumitani would result in an out.

The Fighters got on the board with a solo home run from Ichikawa in the fifth inning, but that was minimal damage for the Lions overall.

In the top of the 6th, the heart of the order would finally go after Arihara as Asamura and Okawari-kun had back-to-back doubles to make it 3-1 and get the run back. Some poor defense from the Fighters put this game out of reach. Brandon Laird couldn't field a simple grounder which should have been a double play, scoring one run. Two errors by Kensuke Tanaka and Laird on the same play would move the runners and have another run plated in an uncharacteristic fashion. With runners on second and third, Sosuke Genda would get his first NPB RBI with a deep sacrifice fly ball.

Asamura made sure the lead wasn't in doubt after smashing a solo home run in the top of the 9th inning. Kikuchi would go seven innings with only four strikeouts and two walks. Shota Takekuma and Tatsuya Oishi took the 8th and 9th innings, respectively to end the game.

This had the feelings of a role reversal in last year, where the Lions defense was why they won and the Fighters ended up losing because of it. Kikuchi wasn't overpowering, but he didn't need to be with all the run support he had.

Lions 8, Fighters 1

Other notes:

-Kuriyama and Asamura both had Modashos (3+ hits in one game) on the night with the former playing as DH and the latter having four hits in total.

-Shotaro Tashiro, a Hokkaido native, started in LF.

-Genda was the starting SS and batted 9th in the lineup. He was called to sacrifice bunt, but also got a sacrifice fly later in the game. His defense was solid.

===

Game 2 would have Ryoma Nogami face Luis Mendoza. There wouldn't be any scoring until Haruki Nishikawa would hit a home run in the third inning. Shohei Otani would later double in that inning and score from a single by Kensuke Kondo.

The Lions would get a run back in the top of the 4th when they loaded the bases. They would only score once as Genda beat out a double play attempt. With runners on the corners, Shogo Akiyama would flyout to end the inning. They loaded the bases again in the 5th, but Kimura would flyout with two outs.

Nogami failed to get an out in the fifth inning as Kondo would add another run through an RBI single. Mendoza would go five innings with the only run allowed being unearned through an error by Brandon Laird. The Fighters bullpen would take the last four innings with minimal drama.

There were two on base for the Lions in the 9th, but Chris Martin would strikeout Okawari-kun to end the game. Seibu had their chances, but only converted one run among all of them.

Fighters 3, Lions 1

===

The rubber match would feature Brian Wolfe returning to Sapporo Dome for the first time since 2013 playing against his first NPB team. He would face new foreign pitcher Edwin Escobar, making his debut.

While the Lions had early threats, the game would be scoreless until the 4th inning, where Okawari-kun and Mejia would hit back-to-back doubles for the first blood. Otani would tie the game in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run.

The top of the 5th was where the party started as Kensuke Tanaka botched a simple throw from Escobar on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Genda. Escobar would end up with runners on the corners and Tashiro hit a simple comebacker, but the pitcher would throw one off target and Sumitani scored from third to give the Lions a lead again.

Tashiro would then steal second, giving Asamura a chance to do some more damage. He would get an RBI single to make it 3-1. Toru Murata would enter the game in relief, but an early balk gave the Lions an extra run. Mejia would earn a modasho on his third hit of the game with an RBI single making it 5-1.

Wolfe allowed a run in the bottom of the 5th with a wild pitch, but limited the damage. The third time through the order looked like it would strike on Wolfe, but he allowed only one more run from an RBI single from Kondo.

Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 7th inning and Schlitter took the 8th with only one hit given up. Kimura would get a sacrifice fly late in the game to add insurance, but Tatsushi had no trouble closing the game with a 1-2-3 9th inning.

Lions 6, Fighters 3

===

It was no doubt a successful series win in Sapporo, a place the team hasn't done well in the past. The Lions would only win a series once in Sapporo Dome for both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, already matching that total three games into 2017.

The bats look good in terms of getting on base, but can still be feast or famine. It was a fun role reversal seeing the Fighters struggle with defense compared to what the Lions did in 2016. It's possible the Fighters are hungover from their Japan Series title, but we'll take it.

===

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Seibu Lions 2017 Opening Day roster announced


The Saitama Seibu Lions and the rest of NPB announced their 28-man opening day rosters for the 2017 season. Like anything, this will only be the guaranteed rosters for March 31.

Here is our reaction to each unit:

Pitchers:

#14: Tatsushi Masuda
#15: Tatsuya Oishi
#16: Yusei Kikuchi
#18: Shinsaburo Tawata
#20: Ryoma Nogami
#23: Shogo Noda
#29: Hirotaka Koishi
#35: Kazuhisa Makita
#47: Brian Schlitter
#48: Shota Takekuma
#50: Kentaro Fukukura
#54: Brian Wolfe

The biggest surprise of this bunch is Kentaro Fukukura making the cut as he was mostly a reserve in ni-gun. He is likely the final arm in the Lions bullpen for mop up duty. Kikuchi is the opening day starter while Tawata, Wolfe and Nogami are expected to be starters. Schlitter could be a setup man while Masuda is the closer. Makita can take all bullpen roles while Koishi will eat up some innings.

Oishi should be a righty specialist and Takekuma can face lefties, but expect both of them to have an expanded role building off last season. Noda, who worked in Australia last winter, can be another lefty specialist.

Frank Garces or Ken Togame could be activated when they are scheduled to start on a six-game week. The next six-game week won't be until April 25 at the earliest. With only two pitching import spots used, a third spot is open for either Garces or Alexis Candelario, but both of them can't be on the roster with Wolfe and Schlitter already there. Kona Takahashi will likely come up as well.

===

Catchers:

#27: Ginjiro Sumitani
#37: Masatoshi Okada
#49: Tatsuyuki Uemoto

Tomoya Mori will be out for a month as he recovers from a fractured elbow. Sumitani should be the starting catcher, but Uemoto will be a solid pinch-hit option. Okada can bunt and serve as the backup as he got significant reps in the preseason due to Sumitani being with Samurai Japan at the WBC.

===

Infielders

#3: Hideto Asamura
#6: Sosuke Genda
#8: Naoto Watanabe
#32: Kyohei Nagae
#33: Hotaka Yamakawa
#44: Shuta Tonosaki
#60: Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura
#99: Ernesto Mejia

Asamura begins his captaincy with a new double play partner on the infield. Genda, a third round draft pick from last October, becomes the team's starting shortstop. He will be the first rookie starting SS on opening day since Hiromichi Ishige (1981). Yamakawa and Mejia will likely trade spaces between 1B and DH while Okawari-kun moves back to 3B.

Nagae is a solid defensive substitute while Watanabe can be plugged anywhere as a utility infielder. Tonosaki will likely be a pinch runner until a pitcher becomes activated.

===

Outfielders

#1: Takumi Kuriyama
#51: Fumikazu Kimura
#55: Shogo Akiyama
#61: Shotaro Tashiro
#65: Shogo Saito

Kuriyama and Akiyama will start in LF and CF, respectively. Kimura will likely be the opening day starting right fielder as Yuji Kaneko recovers from shin splits. Saito can be a late defensive sub while Tashiro is a pinch runner.

===

Overall:

Genda is the man the Lions are hoping for to be an instant impact in 2017. He won the job after a solid preseason and camp. There's plenty of fielders down in ni-gun who could get a look. If anyone is struggling, don't be surprised to see someone like Keisuke Honda or Katsunori Hirai get a look.

At some point in 2017, we should see first round draft pick Tatsuya Imai make his debut as long as he's healthy. It will only be a matter of when. Like anything, enjoy the ride. This season coming ahead should be interesting.

===

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tsuji's Lions will be judged by their defense for 2017


The Saitama Seibu Lions will begin their new era and 2017 regular season on Friday, March 31. Our expectations for the season are rather moderate, as we stated on our latest Podcast Episode.

Last season, the Lions were already dead by the time it was the All-star break. Their season was arguably over at the end of June, where the Lions would go on a downward spiral and a stretch that had a record of 10-31. It was the walkoff in Hiroshima where Tatsuyuki Uemoto blocked the plate which was the beginning of the end.

Defense was the largest issue of the season as a whole, where the Lions led the league in errors having 101. That number was likely beaten to death among both the media and the Lions' front office.

Enter Hatsuhiki Tsuji, once a Lion from the Golden Era, remembered as a player for his defense as the team's second baseman. He spent nearly a decade as a coach where most of it was with the Chunichi Dragons. Tsuji's managing experience is minimal, where he managed the farm team in 2007 and won the Western League.

Most recently, Tsuji was the strategy coach of the Dragons before his hire with Seibu. This Friday will be his first official game in a Lions uniform since 1995.



Tsuji's plan has been straight to the point. With "Catch The All" being the motto, つかみ獲れ (Tsukami Tore) is written below, encouraging to "grab" it. Not only can this be interpreted for everyone to play defense and catch the ball, but it should be a chance given for the young players to seize the opportunities they're given. 

While there are set players who still start, Tsuji has no loyalty to anyone considering this is a roster he inherited. 

In-game decisions will have ups and downs, given that this is Tsuji's first time as an ichi-gun manager. However, he has put full focus on the defense, which was something he was asked about in his introductory presser. 

We're expecting that errors number to go down, as the Lions have the talent to fix this. Third round draft pick Sosuke Genda will be the first opening day starting SS since Hiromichi Ishige, something that hasn't happened in 36 years. Genda will be expected to carry the load as he won himself the job through preseason and camp. 

The rotation is the largest concern, given the loss of Takayuki Kishi. Yusei Kikuchi needs to be the No. 1 pitcher or even ace that he has been viewed as since being drafted out of HS. Shinsaburo Tawata has to avoid a sophomore slump, while 20-year old Kona Takahashi is still raw.  

Ryoma Nogami and Ken Togame can eat up some innings, but Brian Wolfe can take the middle of the rotation as long as he is healthy. What do Frank Garces and Brian Schlitter bring to the table? Both players need to stay at the ichi-gun level in order to compete for A-class.  

The Lions bullpen will be a strength behind Tatsushi Masuda and Shota Takekuma. If Schlitter can fix the location troubles he had in the States, he could be a setup man. Tatsuya Oishi and Hirotaka Koishi are also expected to carry a load.  

Offense will be its usual self, having plenty of power. However, it isn't slump proof and they can't afford to have a full month with no offense. The team as a whole must recover from a back-breaking play that has lost a game in the past. 

In all of this, Tsuji must turn around the defense and the spectators should look at this first and foremost. He will learn on the fly like most managers in NPB and its likely he will be bunting more than what Norio Tanabe did. 

We here at Graveyard Baseball expect a competitive team. The goal should be to get to A-class, but we'd be happy if they compete throughout the entire 2017 season without faltering out of the race. Their defense needs to Catch The All, but it will be up to the rotation if they want to get to the next level. 

Regardless of this team's record, they won't be boring. With Tawata, Takahashi and Tatsuya Imai playing, watching young pitchers develop will remain interesting. If anything, the long term goal for this year will be to see them grow as the season goes on.  

Ganbare Raionzu! / 頑張れ ライオンズ!

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Putting The USA's WBC Run Into Context



No matter what the USA does on Tuesday in their semifinal matchup against Samurai Japan and whether they go on to win the tournament or not, I think it's fair to say that this United States team deserves a lot of credit.

If they lose to Japan, the national media will likely fail to give them any credit and I myself don't like their chances after Jim Leyland has told Chris Archer to stay home but nonetheless, this team has done a lot. What they have done is raise the level of USA national teams in major international tournaments. As I said before the tournament started, the USA never really had much success in international competition and there's no doubt that merely a semifinal appearance has already raised the average just a little bit.

Yes, the United States has progressed to this place in the World Baseball Classic before, but that run was much different than this version. In 2009, the US benefited from a softer road to the Championship Round after the Dominican Republic was eliminated by the Netherlands in the first round.

The 2009 squad was also mercy rule'd by Puerto Rico but then they recovered by later eliminating that same Puerto Rico team with one of the more memorable moments in WBC history with David Wright's walk-off that cemented his status as "Captain America." It was also hard to take that team seriously when manager, Davey Johnson was a slave to his players' MLB executives, which indicated that the US considered winning a secondary goal.

This team has done all the opposite, they've put together a much stronger squad, Jim Leyland has played the best players for the most part which has upset Nationals Manager Dusty Baker, they survived a brutal Pool E to get to Los Angeles, and most importantly: the USA stars have done some memorable things whether that's Giancarlo Stanton's rocket against the Dominican Republic or Adam Jones robbing Manny Machado in the same game.

It's one thing to compile a group of stars, it's another to see them perform and for the most part, they've done that. We can't predict what will happen in the next WBC, but maybe in four years time, players like Mike Trout will decide to join the USA and maybe MLB executives will finally start to relax their collective stance on the tournament.

Now let's talk about their victory on Saturday night that eliminated the Dominican Republic. I don't think anyone would argue that it was USA Baseball's biggest win since David Wright's walk-off in 2009, but let's also remember that David Wright's walk-off took place in a half empty, Pro Player Stadium (now a football stadium with a roof). Not to mention the fact that the only people watching that game were the ones who had MLB Network and not many people had that channel in their cable bundle in 2009 as opposed to 2017.

Saturday night's victory took place in front of a sold out, partisan USA crowd at Petco Park. Plus, this Dominican squad was arguably the tournament's most talented team and were the favorites to repeat as champions. So with all that in mind, I think it's fair to say that the victory went even further. I'd say that the victory against the Dominican Republic was the biggest one for an American national team since the 2000 Olympics Gold Medal game where Tommy Lasorda's squad took the gold medal against a heavily favored Cuban team. It was in that game where Ben Sheets pitched a complete game, 3-hit shutout to win gold for the United States. If the US go onto win the tournament, that victory will probably surpass the gold medal victory since it will probably be more memorable and improve the popularity of the WBC in the USA.

On the other hand, this team is in a tough spot because if the US win the tournament, you'll have people who'll say, "Well, of course they won." but let's not let that ignorant school of thought dictate the talking points about this American team. Either way, I'm happy to say that I was wrong about the United States in this tournament and I'm looking forward to an epic matchup between the USA and Japan on Tuesday night where I'll be in attendance and struggling with divided loyalties between my country of birth and pride in NPB as a whole.

===

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring Koshien 2017: Schools with Seibu Lions connections


6 different schools represent a total of 10 Saitama Seibu Lions players
The 2017 Spring Koshien tournament will begin soon. As a result, it's the first meaningful baseball event within Japan, not counting the World Baseball Classic.

Call it Japan's March Madness, but Spring (Haru) Koshien is more of an invitational without the value being as low as the NIT. It's not the worst competition to be part of, but most schools are selected by a committee with few automatic bids unlike how the Summer Koshien has every school earn their way.

Spring Koshien was where Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami dueled each other in the first round, where the media has attempted to make it a rivalry every since. It's also where ESPN made Rakuten Eagles pitcher Tomohiro Anraku famous while he was in high school.

A total of 32 teams are selected for this event as it starts before the NPB season. Here is the list of schools included that have a Saitama Seibu Lions connection.

Note: I've only included players, no coaches.  

===

Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi): P Tatsuya Imai

Imai was the 2016 Summer Koshien champion and his team will participate in this year's Spring edition. Sakushin Gakuin has become a recent powerhouse since 2006, dominating Tochigi prefecture. It's likely that Imai knows majority of this team. He was the Lions 1st round draft pick last fall. Sakushin Gakuin is playing in their first Haru Koshien in five years.

===

Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma): P Kona Takahashi

Kona Takahashi became a legend when winning as a Junior in the 2013 Summer Koshien tournament. He was drafted in 2014 by the Lions in the first round and has already had two shutouts in his young career. Takahashi turned 20 earlier this month and like Imai, is expected to be a future ace of the team where the the long term will hinge on both pitchers.

Maebashi is making their second appearance at Haru Koshien and its their first in six years.

===

Shizuoka (Shizuoka): OF Shohei Suzuki

Suzuki was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NPB Draft straight out of Shizuoka High School. The Lions think he can be a future leadoff hitter in the long term. In the rookie introduction, Suzuki said he hopes to hit .300 and have 35 stolen bases at the ichi-gun level in the future. Like Imai, Suzuki presumably knows majority of this team since he just graduated.

===

Osaka Toin (Osaka): 2B Hideto Asamura, C Tomoya Mori, 3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, C Masatoshi Okada

The Lions main trio of Okawari-kun, Mori and Asamura are well-documented for their time at Osaka Toin. Asamura and Mori both won Summer Koshien titles in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Osaka Toin is a main powerhouse in Japan and they will usually get into this tournament by name recognition.

Of this group, Okada was the only one of the four to not be drafted straight out of high school. Okada was teammates with Asamura at one point, but went to an Industrial League team before being drafted in 2013 by the Lions in the same class as Mori.

===

Fukuokadai Ohori (Fukuoka): P Tatsuya Oishi

Oishi is more remembered for his baseball career at the University level in the Tokyo Big6 League at Waseda University, but he attended this school in Fukuoka while in high school. With the Lions, he was drafted in the first round of 2010 and was considered the most sought out player in his class.

At the NPB level, he battled an injury and hasn't lived up to the hype, but in 2016, he had a more expanded role as a right specialist out of the bullpen. He will have exceptions for the Lions in 2017 as a reliever. Fukuokadai Ohori is appearing in this tournament for the first time in 26 years.

===

Hotoku Gakuen (Hyogo): P Ichiro Tamura

Tamura was drafted by the Lions in the 6th round of the 2016 NPB Draft. Like Oishi, he went to a University in the Tokyo Big6, but went to high school elsewhere. Hotoku Gakuen is located directly in Nishinomiya, Hyogo, which is the city that Koshien stadium is in. Logically, this school can't be that far away compared to say, a school in Sapporo. Hotoku Gakuen is making their first Haru Koshien appearance in three years.

===

The first game will begin on Sunday, March 19 (Saturday evening on March 18 in Pacific Time).
Here is the full field as written by our friend Edwin Dizon. First round analysis can be read here. You can follow him here @Eigokokoyakyu for more information on each school.

If anything, have fun, this tournament is still in the historic Koshien Stadium, meaning the Hanshin Tigers have to play a handful of games away from their traditional home for this event.

===

Follow us on Twitter @Graveyardball

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Japan facing the Netherlands was an Instant Classic

Photo credit: The Associated Press
If you didn't watch Sunday's Japan/Netherlands game, you owe it to yourself to find five hours of your time to watch it. The game best demonstrated why the World Baseball Classic is a great event that's loaded with passion and different styles of baseball.

From the second inning, we knew that the Tokyo Dome would be a theater for a masterpiece that all spectators will never forget. Just when we all thought that Samurai Japan would blowout the Oranje after they exploded to a 5-1 lead thanks to a 3-run home run from Sho Nakata in the top of the 3rd, the Dutch exploded for a four run inning of their own capped off by a 2-run home run by Coco Balentien that clanged off the left field foul pole. Balentien included an elaborate celebration and the Dutch poured out of the dugout to celebrate with him. These celebrations are a welcomed sight to the new generation of baseball fans and thankfully, so far there hasn't been any retaliation regarding the celebrations that have been a regular occurence in this year's WBC.

The outburst from the Dutch indicated to everyone that the sleepy offense the Dutch put together in round one had finally awakened and pitchers across the tournament should be put on high alert. With the offensive outburst from both squads, Rick van den Hurk and Ayumu Ishikawa were pulled each after 3 innings. Both managers knew the importance of this game so emergency action was needed.

Then there was the show that Kodai Senga put on in his two innings of relief. The Netherlands' first six batters had been no match for the pitch-to-contact style of Ayumu Ishikawa and Japan's manager, Hiroki Kokubo could get through the 4th with Yoshihisa Hirano pitching to the bottom of the Dutch order. In the 5th, the top of the Dutch order was impending with Andrelton Simmons and Kokubo responded by bringing in Kodai Senga who was unhittable in his only relief appearance against Australia in round one. Senga, nursing a 6-5 lead, surrendered back to back hits by Simmons and Jurickson Profar with the dangerous Xander Bogaerts due up and Coco Balentien on deck. Senga showcased his pitching repertoire by ringing up Bogaerts and then making Balentien whiff at a nasty slider thrown to the outside for out No. 2. Senga would complete the Houdini by getting Didi Gregorious to groundout. Senga would then get another scoreless inning of relief in the 6th.

Ishikawa's struggles coupled with Senga's dominance begs one looming question: Should Japan start Kodai Senga in either the semifinal or the final? One of the concerns that Christian and I had for Samurai Japan was whether or not they had enough elite pitching talent without Shohei Otani to compete with the stacked lineups of teams like the Dominican Republic. The Netherlands was probably the best test to see if Japan's pitching could survive a solid lineup and what happened with Ishikawa is probably a concerning sign. Sure, Ishikawa is probably not Japan's best pitcher but there are probably only a handful of guys on Samurai Japan's roster that consistently miss bats against the elite teams in this tournament. Senga is one of those guys and though I like the idea of using him as a relief ace, he might be better served as a starter in the Championship Round in LA.

From then on, Japanese pitchers allowed baserunners in the 7th and 8th innings an thanks to plays like this from Ryosuke Kikuchi, they staved off the threats. With the lack of clean innings, the nature of the game was always full of tension and it all felt like the important game it was supposed to be.

Then came the bottom of the 9th, and the answer about who was going to close for Samurai Japan in such a close game was answered with Takahiro Norimoto stepping up to the rubber. Norimoto seemed like a good choice to close out the Dutch, especially given that he has electric stuff and is among NPB's best strikeout guys.

Norimoto would get Jurickson Profar to strikeout to start the bottom of the 9th but then he would lose a full count battle to Xander Bogaerts by surrendering a walk. Coco Balentien would then single and Bogaerts would race over third with only one out. Then Didi Gregorious lined out to Norichika Aoki in left for the second out. Just when you thought Norimoto was going to get out of it, Jonathan Schoop grounded one off the glove of Ryosuke Kikuchi and into centerfield to tie the game. It was time for extra innings and there would be more drama in the top of the 10th.

With the Dutch's lack of pitching depth becoming apparent, Japan would get have runners on second and third with one out thanks to a single from Seiji Kobayashi and a double from the pinch-hitting Seiichi Uchikawa. Dutch manager Hensley Meulens would bring in Tom Stuifbergen who had been pitching in the Dutch League for the past 3 years. Stuifbergen would intentionally walk Kikuchi to load the bases with Norichika Aoki due up. Aoki would ground into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play and Curt Smith, the Dutch first baseman, might've pulled his foot off the bag, but nonetheless the drama of the game continued.

Kokubo brought in Kazuhisa Makita to pitch the 10th and he had an easy 1-2-3 inning which was the first one from the Dutch since the 4th inning. With the end of the 10th inning, the international tiebreak rules made their debut at the World Baseball Classic. I didn't know what I would think of the wacky scenario, but as it all played out, it just seemed like a necessary catalyst to secure an outcome of the game. I wouldn't like it if it decided the championship game, but I'm fine with it in the early rounds. With the Japanese starting the top of the 11th, Kokubo made Seiya Suzuki bunt over the two baserunners in the traditional Japanese tactical sense. I'm not sure if I would've done it, considering Japan was the away team but it seemed to have done its job. Sho Nakata would continue his big night by singling home both runners to make it 8-6. Hayato Sakamoto would follow it up with another single and just when we all thought Japan would tee off with the tiebreak rules, Tetsuto Yamada grounded into an inning-ending double play.

I felt that Japan might regret not scoring more than just two, especially with the Dutch middle of the order up once again but Makita's submarine style baffled Dutch hitters and they were unable to put any runs across. Japan was victorious.

Words cannot do this game the justice that it deserves. There were so many great moments from two of the best teams in the entire tournament and everyone needs to see the game in full color to really grasp how spectacular it was.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 16


This is the 16th episode of our Lions ŌenDEN podcast. Christian and Wes return with a full discussion on the Pacific League and the Saitama Seibu Lions.

In detail, they break down the team, each Pacific League team and dip into a little bit about the Central League. Once again, we apologize for any errors or mispronunciations that might have taken place.

Intro @ 00:00

All-Things Seibu Lions (position players and pitchers) @ 1:40

Lions 2017 Schedule Quirks @ 26:20

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles talk @ 28:55

Chiba Lotte Marines talk @ 33:00

Hokkiado Nippon-Ham Fighters talk @ 37:40

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks talk @ 43:15

Orix Buffaloes talk @ 49:30

Pacific League Predictions (Where do the Lions finish?) @ 54:42

Central League Talk @ 58:12

Award and Japan Series winner predictions @ 1:05:07

Shoutouts and Closing @ 1:07:30




Click here if the embed doesn't work. Click here to download.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

English NPB experts predict the Seibu Lions for 2017

The English speaking NPB experts believe Hotaka Yamakawa will be important for the 2017 season. 

Japan Baseball Weekly released their Podcast episode previewing the Pacific League for the 2017 season on Sunday (in USA time). You can listen to the full episode here by clicking on the link. The episode is also available on iTunes. 

In the second half of the episode, John E. Gibson of the Japan News and Yomiuri Shimbun, Jim Allen of Kyodo News, Claudio Rodriguez of Béisbol Japonés and Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times discussed everything regarding the Pacific League with projections in the standings.

Where did they have the Lions?  We'll show you where they have them finishing in the Pacific League with a few notes of what they said. 

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John E. Gibson (@JBWPodcast): 2nd

"The Lions are more like a family that goes to the neighborhood diner. The mom is smoking, the kids are running around the restaurant and the father is trying pick up on the waitress. They don't seem organized."

-Believes Yusei Kikuchi is a No. 3 pitcher at best.

-Likes rookie SS Sosuke Genda believing he can play defense.

-Expects a lot out of Hotaka Yamakawa.

-Is very high on Tatsuya Imai and Shinsaburo Tawata in the long term.
"Somehow, some way, the Lions (who have averaged 68+ wins in the last five seasons) figure out a way to get to 70 wins and sneak into a playoff spot. I have them finishing 2nd because I'm crazy."
-Thinks the Lions will be a surprise team with pitchers emerging, whether its from an import like Brian Schlitter or Frank Garces, or someone drafted within the last three years.

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Jim Allen (@JballAllen): 4th

"The Lions are an 'old school' Japanese team where the new manager comes in and has a goal/plan and they stick to it."
-Expects defensive improvements from manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji as he has emphasized it since coming in.

-Sees Tsuji as a well-organized coach and manager from his time with the Chunichi Dragons. He was a farm manager for one season, but spent most of his coaching career in Nagoya with the Ichi-gun.

-Thinks the Lions can score plenty of runs because of Yamakawa and Asamura.

-Brought up how the last three rookie managers to take over the Lions would win the Pacific League Pennant in 2002, 2004 and 2008 with Haruki Ihara, Tsutomu Ito and Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe, respectively.

-Believes the Lions can be a credible No. 2 team, but has another surprise team for 2017.
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Jason Coskrey (@JCoskrey): 4th
"The offense is a one trick pony and it's hard to hit every day of the season. How many teams can score that many runs and overcome this pitching staff that's had problems? Tawata can get better. After Kikuchi and an improved Tawata, who's really good on this team? Kona Takahashi has the potential, but I don't see the pitching there."
-Likes Yamakawa, echoing the rest of the group.

-Doesn't like the idea of Tsuji coming in and advocating more bunting. Thinks the Lions aren't built for that.

-Is very high on Yusei Kikuchi.

-Thinks the defense will be a work in progress and believes Genda will help out.

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Claudio Rodriguez (@BeisbolJapones): 5th
"They have the potential to be a really good team. They have guys who can hit the ball well (Ernesto Mejia, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura). My thing for them is always the pitching. They have guys who can put some innings, [but they] lack pitching consistency."
-Not convinced with the team's rotation, as it can only last for 2-3 months at best.  


-Thinks the loss of Takayuki Kishi will hurt them most. 

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Talking Points After WBC Match-Day Two



After two days of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, we've seen a lot of great baseball and there are plenty of conclusions and overreactions to take from the action in Tokyo and Seoul. Here's just a few of them.

1. Israel Appear to be this Year's Underdog Story

Much like Italy in 2013 and Holland in 2009, this Israeli team has a ragtag group that has grinded their way to victories and at this point, are almost certainly moving on to the second round in Tokyo. A collection of career minor leaguers, quad-A players, and even a major leaguer coming out of retirement (Jason Marquis) have played with a terrier-like spirit with great defense and a grinding at-bat approach that has served them well in a tournament where pitch counts involve so much of the in-game strategy.

Let's not sugarcoat Israel too much though, this team does have some major league talent on the roster, especially Sam Fuld who's probably one of the best defensive outfielders in MLB when healthy. I was big fan of  Fuld when he played in Oakland and after a serious shoulder injury, he's now looking to use this tournament as a springboard into a new job. There's no reason to think that he won't be some MLB club's fourth outfielder by the time this tournament is over, especially after this catch against Korea. Fuld represents a group of players who have used the WBC as a way to showcase their talents along with Chien-Ming Wang who did it in 2013 to reignite his MLB career and to a lesser extent, Roger Clemens in 2006.

How far can Israel go? We'll know more when they go up against Holland in their final round one game. Pitching depth will likely be their downfall when they head to the Tokyo Dome, but on any day, this Israeli squad is up for an upset.

2. Korea Leaves The WBC Toothless

Whenever there's a nice underdog story, there's a favorite's letdown on the other side of it. At least their 2013 WBC exit was an elimination based on run differential. In two games, the Koreans have scored a grand total of one run in their first two games against Israel and Holland.

Sure, this team could've used Jung-ho Kang in their lineup, but scoring one run against Israel is just pitiful, especially when a watered down Taiwan team scored seven the next day against them. As my partner Christian Gin pointed out, Korea was a team that would've brought in massive crowds if they had made a run to the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium. There's no doubt that it's a disappointment especially because we all would've liked to see Japan and Korea renew their baseball rivalry, but I guess we're going to have to wait until the 2019 Premier 12 and the 2020 Olympic Games.

3. Cuba Seems To Lack Elite Talent

I chose not to believe the reports that MLB has sucked the life out of the Cuban national team and they've only played one game, but I think there's a lot to take from Cuba's 11-6 loss to Samurai Japan. Japanese hitters seemed ahead in the count all night to Cuban pitchers as they induced 7 walks and spanked 5 extra base hits which led the way to 11 runs. Watching the radar gun, the Cuban pitchers seemed more reliant on finesse than brute strength with nobody hitting the mid-90s.

Overall, there were a couple position players that stood out for Cuba, mostly their centerfielder Roel Santos who made two spectacular plays in centerfield that kept Samurai Japan from making the score even more lopsided but for the most part, the team does not have anyone who screams "Future Major League Ballplayer." It's unfair to make conclusions after one game, but I don't see Cuba advancing to the championship round.

4. Japan's Raw Talent Makes Up For Their Manager's Miscues

We'll see how long Japan's talent can make up for their manager Hiroki Kokubo's shortcomings, but so far so good for Samurai Japan. Before the tournament, there were reports that Kokubo was going to leave Hiroshima Carp star defensive second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi on the bench in favor of putting Tetsuto Yamada in the field, but last night Kokubo put Yamada at DH and Kikuchi at second base with the latter responding by bailing out starting pitcher Ayumu Ishikawa with a first-inning double play. That was probably the only good move that Kokubo made on the night, he made a head scratcher in batting Norichika Aoki third in the order while also playing him in centerfield and he seemed way too concerned with Nobuhiro Matsuda's exhibition struggles by placing him 8th in the order. Luckily for Kokubo, there were runners on base aplenty and Matsuda delivered in his opportunities with runners on base going 4-5 with a home run and four RBIs and Aoki made two spectacular plays in centerfield to bail out Japan's pitchers.

For all we know, if Shogo Akiyama was playing in centerfield, maybe those plays wouldn't have looked so spectacular but for the most part, Aoki rewarded Kokubo's faith. One big concern for Japan will be their bullpen that looked rather leaky, but Kokubo has plenty of options, it's just a matter of him finding the right ones with the toss of a dart.

5. Holland's Golden Generation Puts On A Show In Their Opener

I coined the Oranje's Golden Generation earlier, and they made me look good with a comfortable 5-0 win over host Korea. It started early from Jurickson Profar who launched a missile that makes me wish there was Statcast at Gocheok Sky Dome. A home run like that just reminds us all why Jurickson Profar was the number one prospect in all of MLB heading into the 2013 season and it's unfortunate that injuries and positional obstruction have derailed his promising career up to this point.

 Defensively, Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Schoop turned three double plays and they made all of them look easy. Andrelton Simmons is probably the best defensive shortstop in all of MLB and it's fantastic that he's committed to this tournament. Even one of their lesser known players contributed to the victory as Randolph Oduber hit a two-run home run to put the exclamation point on their victory. Oduber spent several years in the Washington Nationals organization where he only reached the level of AA, he now plays his ball in the Dutch league and if these contributions continue from players like Oduber, the sky is the limit for the Honkbal Oranje. I'm skeptical about their pitching depth and that will be tested as the tournament goes on but so far, so good for Holland.

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