Tuesday, July 25, 2017

2017 NPB Trade deadline: Seibu Lions candidates to send away or release


The 2017 NPB Trade deadline is on July 31, but it is mostly an afterthought. While trades can happen in Japan, it usually occurs when it involves an expendable player.

In MLB, we see teams make trades to get better, or sell for the long term. Blockbuster trades are rare in Japan, with the last significant deal being in 2013 involving Yoshio Itoi. If there is a trade, it happens in the offseason majority of the time.

For the Saitama Seibu Lions, there is always a possibility of a trade, but it very doubtful overall. The roster is currently full with 70 players being the maximum. They can sell a player for cash if another team has fewer than 70 players on its roster, but they would likely have to do a one-for-one swap if they wanted to make a deal in 2017.

The Lions can always use pitching depth, but if there was an outfielder who can be useful in pinch, it wouldn't hurt. As said, a trade in NPB is usually done to get rid of the player sent off due to having no room or clue on what to do with him.

Unless you're the Fighters (just kidding,) trades are rare, but here are some players the Lions can get rid of to other teams. This list can also function as a way of seeing who looks expendable as they could be cut after the 2017 season ends. From seeing the 2015 and 2016 editions, two players would be gone by season's end, so we project at least two of these names won't exist with the Lions in 2018.

P Takuya Toyoda  - Toyoda has been with the Lions since 2013 while taken out of an Industrial League, being a Shakaijin. He saw limited time in 2015 and 2016 with no ichi-gun games up to this point in 2017. It's possible that other relievers have made him expendable.

P Toshihiro Iwao - Iwao had some interesting numbers in FIP with his ability to strikeout others, but he also had no control and would give up some juicy pitches for opposing hitters to smash. He was drafted in 2009 and has also not seen an ichi-gun game in 2017. Iwao only played in two games for 2016, his lowest total since 2010 while never appearing from 2011-2012.

P Ryohei Fujiwara - Fujiwara is at best a middle reliever at best, but is only seen as organizational depth. At 31 years old, there is minimal upside for the side arm pitcher to do much. Typically, he'll see less than 10 games at the ichi-gun level with the horrendous 2014 season being an exception.

P Chun-Lin Kuo - Kuo becomes one of the more sad stories among Lions foreigners. After showing promise as a rookie in 2015, things only went downhill. He tried being a reliever in 2016 and his control was not there. He would also be lit up by opposing hitters as a starter last season.

For 2017. Kuo put his stock into the World Baseball Classic with the Taiwanese National Team and didn't train with the Lions in spring camp down in Miyazaki. The worst case scenario would happen in Seoul, as Team Israel would light up the boxscore and Kuo failed to record three outs. With a Lions executive most likely at the game, it's presumed that the team doesn't think highly of him in comparison to everyone else. NPB does not look like the future home of Kuo's career and he will need to look elsewhere to continue playing.

P Alexis Candelario - Candelario was a cheap signing in the offseason and has only seen one spot start in Fukuoka, where he was lit up. He is seeing time in ni-gun as a starter, but has no upside at age 35.

P Frank Garces - Garces was given a few soft starts as well as a role in the bullpen in middle relief. He was either really good, or really bad in his outings leading to inconsistency and became deactivated to make room for Stephen Fife. He can still be a reliever as a lefty specialist, but his lack of velocity was not intimidating as he would often hang a few pitches to send deep.

C Komei Fujisawa - Fujisawa was a former ikusei pick who would eventually be promoted to the 70-man roster. He primarily serves as a farm catcher with others blocking him from playing at the ichi-gun level.

C Shota Nakata - Like Fujisawa, Nakata is also a farm catcher who is part of the rotation. It's possible he could serve as a coach like his predecessor, Takanori Hoshi.

C Tatsuyuki Uemoto - Uemoto was the top pinch hitting option for the Lions in 2016 under Norio Tanabe. Fast forward to 2017 and he has only seen a handful of games while being on the ichi-gun roster the entire time. Hatsuhiko Tsuji favors Naoto Watanabe among options off the bench while Uemoto is just a witness. At age 36, is it possible that he will be forced to retire?

IF Yuji Onizaki - Onizaki was acquired in a trade with the Yakult Swallows where the Lions gave up pitcher Chikara Onodera in the process. He saw several games at the ichi-gun level, but has not played one in 2017 thanks to Sosuke Genda. Onizaki is 34 and there is currently no room for him to play on the infield with the Lions.

OF Yutaro Osaki - Osaki was a regular outfielder for the Lions in 2009 and 2012, but has mostly been a part time player since. The Lions would bring him up if they liked a matchup. Under Tsuji, he has yet to play an ichi-gun game with the team preferring the younger Shuta Tonosaki in the outfield. Like most of this list, Osaki will be 33 in October and it's more of an uphill battle to get playing time with the team.

OF Masato Kumashiro - Kumashiro saw playing time in 2012 and 2013, but his time would be limited to being a spell outfielder since 2014. His defense is decent, but the Lions prefer better range under Tsuji, where Yuji Kaneko and Tonosaki roam the outfield. Kumashiro looks to be an odd man out unless injuries pile up.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sweeping Fighters secures split week


===

The Saitama Seibu Lions had a mixed bag of results for the week. They would go 3-3 against the Softbank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Figters while gaining ground on the Orix Buffaloes for an 8.5 game lead in the race for A-class. Here's how we got there:

===

The first game from the Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome had Ken Togame up against Nao Higashihama. The Lions squandered an early chance in the third inning by only scoring unconventionally. Ernesto Mejia would be tagged out trying to advance home on a ground ball prior to Shogo Akiyama scoring Shuta Tonosaki on an RBI groundout.

Alfredo Despaigne tied the game in the bottom of the 4th inning with a solo HR. The bases were loaded against Togame in the 5th inning and Seiichi Uchikawa delivered with an RBI single to give the Hawks the lead. Some good defense prevented another run from coming in as a runner was tagged out at the plate.

Higashihama dominated through 7.2 innings with six strikeouts and only five hits allowed. The tying run was on second base in the top of the 8th as Shogo Akiyama was batting. Manager Kimiyasu Kudo went with a lefty specialist Shinya Kayama and he struck out Akiyama. Tatsuya Oishi loaded the bases in the bottom of the 8th and allowed a run off a wild pitch. Dennis Sarfate made it easy in the 9th as the Lions came back from the All-Star break with a loss.

Hawks 3, Lions 1

Game notes:

-Masatoshi Okada would start at catcher, Hotaka Yamkawa was the 1B while Mejia was the DH.

===

The second game had Ryoma Nogami facing Rick van den Hurk. After some early jams by both sides, the Hawks scored first on a solo HR by Tomoki Takata. Akita Nakamura would slap an RBI double down the LF line for a second run in the bottom of the 4th.

Takata added another run off an RBI double in the bottom of the 5th, making it a tough 3-0 Hawks lead. Van den Hurk would cruising and didn't allow a hit through five innings, but Shogo Akiyama would break it up with a solo HR in the 6th.

The Hawks bullpen showed some vulnerability in the late innings as the Lions loaded the bases in the 8th. Unfortunately, Mejia would pop out and end the threat. With Sarfate pitching in the 9th, the Lions had a last gasp chance with two runners on and Takumi Kuriyama pinch hitting, but Daichi Mizuguchi was caught trying to advance as the Lions attempted a double steal. The former Lions captain would strike out, ending the game with an identical score from the previous night.

Hawks 3, Lions 1

Game note:

-Sosuke Genda picked up his 25th stolen base of the season, tying a franchise record for a rookie. Yasumitsu Toyoda (1953) and Hiromichi Ishige (1981) were the predecessors to reach 25 stolen bases as a rookie.

===

The final game would take place in Kitakyushu with Stephen Fife against Yuki Matsumoto. The Lions struck first on a two-run gapper by Mejia in the top of the 1st inning. Fife would get an early shutdown inning, but allowed a solo HR to Takuya Kai in the bottom of the third. The Lions picked up a run in the top of the 4th, but had multiple base running errors which led to outs, making it a disappointing frame.

Fife's day would end in the 4th inning as Kai would hit a second HR of the night, good for three runs and giving the Hawks a lead again. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura responded with a two-run HR in the 5th, but Uchikawa tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the frame off Yosuke Okamoto.

Kai would do damage again in the 6th inning with a triple. He would score shortly after with a sacrifice fly. Despite the Lions trailing, Yuji Kaneko hit an improbable HR off Sho Iwasaki to tie the game in the top of the 8th.

Unfortunately, Kazuhisa Makita had a disaster 8th inning, where Seiji Uebayashi broke the tie with an RBI hit. Makita continued to give up timely hits, leading to a four run inning and all but ending the game, causing the Lions to be swept in Kyushu again.

Hawks 10, Lions 6

Game note:

-Fife was taken off the roster after the game to make room for Yusei Kikuchi.

-Okawari-kun's HR was the 350th of his career and 20th of the season.

===

The Lions returned home as Yusei Kikuchi would take on Luis Mendoza. Asamura put the Lions on the board first with his 10th HR of the year for a 1-0 lead. The Fighters answered back as Kazunari Ishii tied the game with a two-out double. Sosuke Genda would commit his 13th error of the season, allowing the runner on base.

Mendoza struggled with control in the 4th inning, walking three consecutive batters to load the bases. Shuta Tonosaki would get the timely hit and plate two runners home as the Lions retook the lead. The 5th inning would be similar with Mendoza walking multiple batters and Mejia getting the timely hit this time to end his night. Okawari-kun added a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1.

Kikuchi started to struggle in the 6th with several runners on base. The Lions nearly turned a 5-4-3 triple play, but Asamura couldn't hold onto the ball and the Fighters would score two runs back.

Katsuhiko Kumon took the 6th inning and gave up a leadoff runner before a bunt moved him over. With two outs, Shogo Akiyama found a timely single to get one run back. A clean double from Asamura put the game away for good to plate two more runs.

Kikuchi's night ended in the 7th inning with multiple runners on base, but he recorded eight strikeouts with only one walk. Kazuhisa Makita came in and got two weak infield flys to earn the shutdown inning.

Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda allowed a run in the 8th and 9th innings each, but it was all academic as the Lions ended the losing streak.

Lions 8, Fighters 5

Game notes:

-Kikuchi matched a career-high 9th victory.

===

The second game from MetLife Dome featured Shinsaburo Tawata facing spot starter Akihiro Hakumura. After a slow start from Tawata escaping an early jam, Ernesto Mejia would take a ball deep with a two-out, two-run HR. Asamura forced a walk prior to the home run.

Shogo Akiyama would hit a gapper over Ishii's head in the third and it would result in a triple. With two strikes, Sosuke Genda battled and fought for a hard earned sacrifice fly for a 3-0 Lions lead.

Hakumura would last four innings, but it would be all about Tawata taking the show. He would settle in after two shaky innings to start with nine strikeouts, one walk and four hits through seven innings.

Genda added another run with a timely hit in the 7th inning while Shota Takekuma and Masuda closed this game easily to take the series.

Lions 4, Fighters 0

Game note:

-Tawata had to be added to the roster. Tatsuya Oishi was taken off due to a shoulder blade injury and Keisuke Honda was called up for the first time in 2017.

-This was the Lions 6th shutout of the season, the third time it's happened against the Fighters.

-Masatoshi Okada threw out the speedy Haruki Nishikawa in the 1st inning to slow momentum down.

===

The final game of the series had Kenta Uehara against veteran Brian Wolfe. Tonosaki started the scoring with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd inning for his 8th of the year. Yuji Kaneko leadoff the 3rd with a single and a stolen base, only to be immediately plated by Shogo Akiyama for an early 2-0 lead.

Hokkaido would get both runs back in the 4th with two runners on and nobody out. An RBI groundout scored one, while an infield single from Kengo Ota would tie the game.

Uehara's day would end with two runners on base in the 5th inning, where an infield single would go off his foot. With Yohei Kagiya pitching, Shogo Akiyama took a no doubt HR to RF for a three-run blast. Takuya Nakashima would commit a rare error to keep the inning going and Takumi Kuriyama hit an opposite field HR into the Lions Oendan for another three-run HR in the frame.

Wolfe would escape an ugly jam in the 6th inning for a shutdown frame. He would have a season-high eight strikeouts on the afternoon before the game went to the bullpen. Katsunori Hirai had a scoreless 7th while Shogo Noda had the 8th inning. Sosuke Genda added an RBI single to make it a seven-run lead.

Keisuke Honda got to make his 2017 ichi-gun debut in the 9th and had a clean frame to complete the sweep.

Lions 9, Fighters 2

Game notes:

-To make room for Wolfe on the roster, the Lions deactivated Aito Takeda. This was Wolfe's first win since early June.

-Kaneko would have a modasho with three singles. Akiyama also picked up a modasho with the home run and four RBIs combined.

-The Lions are now a combined 10-0 when facing the Fighters in the Kanto region. This includes MetLife Dome, Gunma prefecture, Tokyo Dome and Omiya. They currently have an eight game head-to-head winning streak. The season series in 2017 is currently 14-2 in favor of the Lions.

===

Playing the Fighters is arguably the best remedy for the Lions with this week starting awful in Fukuoka. The good news? Orix has lost a tad and looks like things are going downhill for the Osaka based team.

The 6th starter spot could be a revolving door with Fife ineligible to play the front end of the week. Will it be Keisuke Honda or Yosuke Okamoto going? The decision ahead will be interesting. Overall, it was encouraging that the pitching held its ground throughout the whole week minus the game in Kitakyushu.

===

We have recorded our next podcast episode for the month of July. Stay tuned everyone! 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lions survive the first half, hoping to build off strong start


The Saitama Seibu Lions currently sit in A-class, six games in front of the Orix Buffaloes in third place. Obviously, we want to stay there for the remainder of the regular season.

On the flip side, we've seen this story before of having a good start. Two years ago, the Lions looked like an A-class team before a historic 13-game losing streak would have the Chiba Lotte Marines take advantage and leapfrog ahead.

In 2015, it was the pitching that overachieved before things fell apart. Tomomi Takahashi, Ken Togame and Ryoma Nogami would have natural regression. With no closer, the Lions tried to have Kazuhisa Makita close games, which also came back to bite as he failed. The turmoil continued and in what was a meaningful game, they had to play Fumiya Nishiguchi for a retirement ceremony which led to a walk, having this as a priority over the playoff race.

Being nine games over .500 is something we'll take any day, but this team can still get better. Tomoya Mori will hopefully come back from being hit by a pitch. Takahashi could return from Tommy John surgery as early as August.

The hitting can be very up and down, which is expected. Slumps have been minimal, when it could've been worse. The Lions would have a 5-game losing streak which carried over from the end of June to the start of July as Tatsushi Masuda allowed a walkoff two-run HR with two outs. Usually a backbreaking loss is what has snake-bitten this team in the past. This year, it only lasted a week and the best remedy was to play the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, who are going through a rough season.

Here are some of the many questions that will be answered as the second half begins:

Will the rotation hold up? 

Togame has been playing better than his numbers since the month of June. Nogami has stayed in the rotation and earned his spot there. Even spot starter Yosuke Okamoto has been respectable in his time on the mound. There's been plenty of spot starting with Yasuo Sano (out for the season) included, but now the attention turns to Stephen Fife.

The Lions management felt they could get a pitcher who's good at getting the ground ball. Two starts isn't enough to judge him, but if he stays in the rotation, Fife would make the Lions a lock for A-class.

Yusei Kikuchi has finally shown the ability to be an ace pitcher this year. However, his past has shown that he has been injury prone, so it will be a question if he can be healthy. Same goes for Brian Wolfe, who is good when healthy, but has had his share of injuries over the years. So far, the Lions have dodged a bullet when he left a game early and only missed one start.

Shinsaburo Tawata and Kona Takahashi haven't even contributed much to the rotation, yet I viewed both of them as being vital pieces for success in 2017. Tawata has recently been with the ichi-gun, but hasn't shown any signs of how he played in the second half of 2016.

Can the defense continue to "Catch The All"? 

Several pitchers are benefiting from good defense behind them. They lack strikeouts and have been weak contact pitchers. Sosuke Genda has been a revolutionary change at SS from a year ago, which Hideto Asamura continue to be good at complementing the middle of the infield. Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki combine for having the best range in the outfield while Fumikazu Kimura's arm has contributed as a late substitution.

Brian Schlitter in particular has to ask the defense to carry him. Will it be sustainable?

What can Hotaka Yamakawa do? 

Yamakawa has started the season on the opening day roster in both 2016 and 2017, yet also gone down to ni-gun for a poor April. After tearing up the farm games, the Lions brought him back up and the home runs have started. This year, the Lions are playing meaningful baseball and the mentality will be different compared to how last year's storm was.

Bullpen controversy? 

The Lions have plenty of options in the bullpen if Tatsushi Masuda struggles. He isn't bad, but he hasn't been the dominant reliever he was in 2015. T. Takahashi returns from Tommy John, Schlitter can close while Tatsuya Oishi is another option out of the bullpen. If they're really feeling desperate, Kazuhisa Makita can also take a closer role like he did for Samurai Japan during the WBC.

===

There are plenty of other things to point at. While the hitting has had its moments, the pitching has done well up to this point and will need to play well if the Lions want to be in A-class. We'll find out as the second half begins this week ahead. Fasten your seatbelts everyone, it shall be a bumpy ride.

===

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tawata, Fife earn first wins to sweep Marines


It was the final week of games before the 2017 NPB All-Star break and the Saitama Seibu Lions were successful with a sweep of the Chiba Lotte Marines. They would not gain any ground on the Orix Buffaloes due to them sweeping the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, but they retained a six game lead in the race for A-class. Here's how we got there:

===

The first game against the Marines had Shinsaburo Tawata against veteran Jason Standridge. Chiba would strike first in the top of the 2nd on a two out rally where Katsuya Kakunaka reached base on a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Shogo Nakamura would plate him home with an RBI single for a 1-0 lead.

Tawata ran into another jam with two runners on and nobody out in the third. After a bunt moved the runners over, Daichi Suzuki struck out. However, Jimmy Paredes would deliver with a gapper and both runners scored making it 3-0.

The Lions answered back as Masatoshi Okada took one for the team, being hit by a pitch in the back to start the bottom of the third. Okada would advance to third on a wild pitch and later a groundout before Sosuke Genda reached base on a walk. Genda stole second, creating momentum as Hideto Asamura dropped a broken bat blooper to give the Lions two runs.

Tawata delivered a clean shutdown inning and was rewarded as Shuta Tonosaki tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the 4th. After what was a rough start, Tawata settled in with three scoreless innings, retiring 9 of the 10 batters faced from innings 4-6. Takeya "Okawari-kun" gave him some help, with a go-ahead solo HR in the bottom of the 6th inning. It would be the 350th HR in his career and 19th of the season.

Kazuhisa Makita would hit a batter in the 7th, but strikeout Roel Santos to have a shutdown inning. Hotaka Yamakawa would pinch hit and get an RBI single in the bottom of the frame, before he was tagged out trying to advance to second. Brian Schlitter also allowed a base runner, but no damage.

Tatsushi Masuda allowed a two out walk with Willy Mo Pena being the tying run at the plate. However, Masuda struck out Pena to end the game take the first game of the series for Tawata's first win.

Lions 5, Marines 3

Game note:

-To make room for Tawata on the roster, Brian Wolfe was taken off with the All-star break coming up.

===

For the second game, Ryoma Nogami would go against Kota Futaki. After a houdini in the first inning by Nogami, Asamura would hit a solo HR in the bottom of the frame to make it 1-0. Shogo Nakamura would hit a solo HR to even up the score in the second inning.

This game wouldn't be close after that, as the Lions erupted for six runs in the bottom of the 2nd. This included timely hits from Yamakawa, Ginjiro Sumitani and Sosuke Genda added three runs, but it would be Asamura who would hit a three-run blast to make it 7-1 and the rout was on, ending Futaki's night.

Keisuke Takano would take over for the Marines and the Lions piled it on with four runs in the third and 4th innings each. The fourth inning was extended as Tonosaki struck out, but the ball could not be caught and he reached first base with two outs. After Sumitani had an RBI single, Shogo Akiyama put the game away for good with a three-run HR into the Marines Oendan.

Nogami would fail to go the distance by being tagged for three runs in the top of the 6th with the third time through the order penalty striking. He would have only one strikeout and allow eight hits.

Yosuke Okamoto also gave up two runs in the final three innings, as he wouldn't start this week. Despite the high scoring affair, the lead was never in doubt as the Lions took the series.

Lions 16, Marines 6

Game notes:

-Sumitani, Akiyama and Tonosaki each had modashos. Sumitani was able to get his batting average to .280 after this game.

-By pitching the final three innings, Okamoto earned his first career save.

-Ernesto Mejia would sit out of this game as Yamakawa started at 1B. He would PH and take over late in the game, but went 0-2.

-Daichi Mizuguchi would PH and take over in LF as Tonosaki would move to 3B as a defensive replacement.

-16 runs scored by the Lions were the most by any NPB team up to this point.

-Tawata was taken off the roster after the game, making him ineligible to return to the ichi-gun until July 22 as the All-star break has begun.

===

In order to go for the sweep, Stephen Fife would be the starter against Ryota Sekiya. The Lions struck first with a timely double from Ginjiro Sumitani in the bottom of the 2nd inning. Yuji Kaneko added on with a two-RBI single, where Sumitani was initially called out at the plate. The play would go to review as the tape showed Sumitani's foot touched the plate before Yuta Yoshida got the tag down.

Fife would earn a shutdown inning the hard way in the third, escaping the frame with two runners on. He would get the ground ball and show good awareness to get Willy Mo Pena going to second base.

Daichi Suzuki and the Marines would get a run back in the 4th with a sacrifice fly. Fife avoided disaster with runners on the corners, getting Pena to strikeout and Yoshida to groundout to limit the damage.

Kaneko would answer with a solo HR for his second of the season. The top of the 5th looked like Fife was cruising, but with two outs, Shohei Kato would reach base on a hit. After a walk to Katsuya Kakunaka, Jimmy Paredes would plate a run with a double. With the tying run on second base, Fife would get Suzuki to flyout and end the threat, finishing his night with five innings, two strikeouts and two walks.

Tatsuya Oishi would have a two base runner jam in the 6th, but retained the lead allowing only a sacrifice fly to Ryo Miki. It would be his first earned run of the season. Makita had a scare with two outs, but got Shogo Nakamura to ground into a fielder's choice.

Yamakawa would blast a solo HR into the batter's eye for insurance, making it a two run lead. Schlitter also had a base runner, but two line drives to Genda and Asamura prevented any hits. Asamura would add another insurance run with an RBI single, which Akiyama reached base through a triple.

Tatsushi Masuda gave up a two out hit to Paredes, but that was it and the Lions would sweep the Marines for the second time this year.

Lions 6, Marines 3

Game notes:

-Mejia would start this game on the bench once again, taking a pinch hit appearance in the 8th inning.

-The Lions are now 9-3-1 against the Marines in 2017.

===

It was a successful week, no doubt. At the same time, this is also the Chiba Lotte Marines, who are going through a historically bad season. They're on pace for the worst season in franchise history. Fife's back was against the wall with this game, had there been more struggles or runs on the board, patience with the team could have worn thin. Instead, there's still a reason for optimism as he did just enough to win.

There's still plenty of concerns with this pitching staff, but it's good to know the bats were alive in this month of July. Last year, we suffered a run of 10-31 after a backbreaking loss. This time, the drought only lasted a week and the sweep of the Fighters proved to be a remedy. Right now, it's great to be in A-class, but there is still plenty of baseball to be played and nothing is guaranteed.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Translation: Seibu Lions players react to being voted into 2017 All Star Series

Shogo Akiyama, Hideto Asamura and Kazuhisa Makita were interviewed after being selected for the 2017 All-Star Series
With Shogo Akiyama, Hideto Asamura and Kazuhisa Makita being selected for the 2017 All-Star
series by the fan vote, the Saitama Seibu Lions uploaded a video of an interview reacting to this.

Here is what they said on making the Series:

Kazuhisa Makita: "Thank you for choosing me for the second consecutive year. Since I am one of very few [submarine] pitchers, I would like to show what I can do [well] in front of all fans."

Hideto Asamura: "Frankly I am very happy. This is the fifth time that I've made it and I am really excited because it is the dream stage for me. I want to show my 'full swing' in front of all fans!"

Shogo Akiyama: "I am very honored that I was picked among all of the great players [from] both leagues. Lots of fans there will cheer for us and I would like to play while having fun, [but I'm also] feeling a little bit nervous."

===

All three players were also asked on which Central League player they want to face in the All-Star series.

Makita: "[Yoshitomo] Tsutsugo [of the DeNA Baystars]. I thought he was a great player when I played against him during the interleague series." 

Asamura: "[Tomoyuki] Sugano [of the Yomiuri Giants]. I think he is one of the best pitchers in NPB. I would like to play against him again." 

Akiyama: "I don't know who will play. I would like to play against whoever lets me hit!"

===

Lastly, Makita, Asamura and Akiyama were asked about a goal to have during the All-Star series:

Makita: "Three consecutive strikeouts [in one inning]." 

Asamura: "I would like to hit a home run." (He hit one in Yokohama last year)

Akiyama: "[I would like to have a] 'diving catch'." *Laughter* "I can't make it alone, so I need some help from other players." 

===

The first All-star game will be on July 14 from Nagoya Dome while the second one will be at Zozotown Marine Field on July 15. Yusei Kikuchi was also added to the Pacific League roster by Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama. Sosuke Genda also became an addition replacing Eigoro Mogi of the Rakuten Eagles. 

Special Thanks goes to @Pino_Martinez for translation help. 

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Fighters swept in two different places


===

The Saitama Seibu Lions swept the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and lost a series to the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles for the week. With the winning, they would increase their lead against the Orix Buffaloes to six games as they remain in A-class. Here's how we got there:

===

Game 1 from Tokyo Dome against the Fighters would have Yosuke Okamoto return to face reigning rookie of the year Hirotoshi Takanashi. The Fighters struck first on a two-run opposite field HR by Sho Nakata in the bottom of the 1st. There would be a quick response from the Lions in the top of 2nd as Ginjiro Sumitani plated Shuta Tonosaki on a two-out RBI double.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would hit a three-run blast in the top of the 3rd to give the Lions a lead. The Fighters would make it a one-run game in the bottom of the 4th with a solo HR from Brandon Laird.

In the top of the 6th, Shuta Tonosaki would walk and steal second. As a result of stealing, he would advance to third on an off throw. Yuji Kaneko slapped an RBI single past the shortstop and made it 5-3.

Despite Okamoto giving up two HRs, he would go 5.2 innings with five strikeouts and two walks. After giving up a base runner in the 6th, Tatsuya Oishi struck out Taishi Ota to end any chance. Okawari-kun lived up to his name by hitting a second HR in the top of the 7th.

Kazuhisa Makita ran into a jam with two on and nobody out, but would only allow one run off an infield single by Haruki Nishikawa. Nakata was up again representing the go-ahead run, but he would groundout. Brian Schlitter had a two out scare in the 8th, but he would get Kenshi Sugiya to groundout.

Kenta Uehara, the Fighters first round draft pick of 2015, would take the 9th inning and be a disaster for the Fighters. The bases would be loaded with the Lions fighting off several pitches and stealing bases. Takumi Kuriyama plated one run with a single while Fumikazu Kimura, coming in as a defensive sub, would get an RBI double. Tonosaki and Sumitani cleared the bases with sacrifice flies, but the game was already put away.

Hirotaka Koishi would take the last inning to end the losing streak.

Lions 11, Fighters 4

Game notes:

-Asamura would have a modasho and Sosuke Genda had two stolen bases.

-To make room for Okamoto on the roster, Haruka Yamada was taken off, having never played an ichi-gun game.

===

The second game from Tokyo Dome would have Ryoma Nogami up against Takayuki Kato. It would be Okawari-kun with the first blood hitting a two-run HR in the top of the 1st for an early lead. Ernesto Mejia would strike with a solo HR in the top of the 2nd for his 14th of the year.

Hideto Asamura added a fourth run through a timely base hit in the top of the 3rd inning. The Fighters answered in the bottom of the 4th with a double steal attempt, but that would be it for the scoring.

Nogami would go six innings with one walk, two hits and five strikeouts on the night. Kazuhisa Makita gave up two hits, but no runs in the 7th while Schlitter and Masuda had clean innings to take the two games from the Kanto region.

Lions 4, Fighters 1

Game note:

-Shogo Akiyama would have a modasho including a double. He would also make a leaping catch at the wall to rob Shohei Otani of an extra base hit.

-Fumikazu Kimura started in RF and went 0-4.

===

The last portion of the series would go to Sapporo as Stephen Fife made his debut against another gaijin in Luis Mendoza. Fighters scored first on an RBI single from Shota Ono in the bottom of the 2nd. However, the Lions responded with an RBI double from Shogo Akiyama and a two-run HR from Sosuke Genda to take a 4-1 lead.

It wouldn't be a big cushion as the Fighters came back in the bottom of the frame. With two outs, they mustered a rally as Yadir Drake hit an RBI single. Taishi Ota would score limping, but Ginjiro Sumitani couldn't field the throw from Tonosaki cleanly, adding another run. Katsunori Hirai came in for Fife and was able to keep the game tied in the 4th, but a two out backbreaker in the 5th gave the Fighters a lead again. Kazunari Ishii would get a two-out RBI triple off the RF wall

Once again, there would be no shutdown inning as the Lions created a chance in the top of the 6th. Daichi Mizuguchi got a leadoff single and he would be bunted over to second, ending Mendoza's day. After Yuji Kaneko reached on a bunt single and stole second, Shogo Akiyama came through with a single off Naoki Miyanishi for a 6-5 lead. He would later score on an error from Brandon Laird.

Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 7th inning, but Brian Schlitter ran into trouble for the 8th. He would walk Takuya Nakashima and a bad throw would lead to him being on third base. Haruki Nishikawa would plate him while Go Matsumoto added a base hit to put the go-ahead run on base. Sho Nakata was up with two outs, but a soft line drive to LF ended the threat.

Tatsushi Masuda had a clean inning for the 9th, giving the Lions their third straight win.

Lions 7, Fighters 6

Game notes:

-To make room for Fife on the ichi-gun roster, Hirotaka Koishi was sent down.

-Katsunori Hirai earned his first win and got the hero interview as the result.

-Akiyama and Kaneko had modashos with the former having a combined four RBI.

===

The first game in Sendai would have Wataru Karashima up against Tohoku native Yusei Kikuchi. It was an early struggle for Kikuchi in the bottom of the 1st with two on and nobody out, but he would force two flyouts and a groundout to allow no runs.

The Lions struck first in the top of the third as Sosuke Genda stole second base and forced a bad throw by Toru Hosokawa, having Ginjiro Sumitani score from third. Asamura would drop a double in the gap to double the lead at 2-0. Kikuchi would earn a shutdown inning the hard way, getting Zelous Wheeler and Japhet Amador out with two runners on base.

A crooked inning for the Lions would come in the top of the 6th as it would be the third time through the order. The Lions loaded the bases and Shuta Tonosaki hit a soft single for one run. Sumitani added another with a sacrifice fly. Naoto Watanabe, pinch hitting for rookie Aito Takeda, would slap an RBI single to make it 5-0.

Kikuchi dealt with one more threat in the bottom of the 8th inning with two runners on base and no outs. He would get Wheeler to flyout, Japhet Amador to line out and "Ginji" Akaminai to strikeout looking for the third Houdini of the night. He would complete the shutout for his second of the season and 5th in his career. It took a total of 140 pitches as he had 14 strikeouts.

Lions 5, Eagles 0

Game note:

-Yuji Kaneko would sit this game out with Aito Takeda making his first career start. Takeda went 0-2 before being pinch hit for in the 6th inning.

-Kikuchi was taken off the roster after the game due to the All Star break ahead. Hotaka Yamakawa would be called up.

===

The second game of the series would have Ken Togame up against Minabu Mima. Togame had one struggling inning in the bottom of the 2nd where he would walk in a run with the bases loaded. He would also allow a timely base hit to Carlos Peguero for a 2-0 Eagles lead. Togame would go five innings before Shogo Noda took over in the 6th.

Mima dominated the Lions with six scoreless innings with only two hits given up, five strikeouts and a walk. He would leave the game early due to an injury. Frank Hermann would open the door for the Lions in the 8th as Takumi Miyoshi's error would have Kuriyama on base. With the catcher's position coming up, Tsuji would pinch hit with Yamakawa and he would send on to the stands and tie the game.

The bottom of the 8th proved to tough as Schlitter was pitching. Rakuten chose to bunt twice and the Lions could not communicate in the infield, leading to an error on the pitcher and the bases were loaded. Japhet Amador would pinch hit an deliver a timely double to plate two runs. Yuki Matsui shut the door quickly and the winning streak would end.

Eagles 4, Lions 2

Game note:

-Takeda would be a pinch runner for Kuriyama and score on the home run by Yamakawa.

-Naoto Watanabe started at 3B while Okawari-kun was the DH.  Watanabe went 0-3.

===

The rubber match would have Takahiro Shiomi facing Brian Wolfe in a matinee. It would be a strong start for the Lions with a four-run first inning that started with an RBI hit by Kuriyama. Mejia would hit a three-run home run to make it 4-0.

The Eagles responded with a two-run double by Zelous Wheeler in the bottom of the frame. He would later hit a two-run HR in the bottom of the third to tie it up. This would be a no decision for Wolfe as he went five innings with seven hits given up and four strikeouts.

Shiomi appeared to have settled in after the first, but allowed several base runners with six hits and two walks. He would get two key double plays to escape any damage. The best chance for the Lions came in the top of the 7th against Hiroyuki Fukuyama, who hasn't allowed a run this season. The bases were loaded, but a double play from Okawari-kun ended the chance.

Ginji would make the Lions pay with an RBI hit off Shota Takekuma in the bottom of the frame. The Lions had the tying run on second base in the 8th, but Yamakawa couldn't get a hit as a pinch hitter. Matsui shut the door once again by striking out the side and the Lions lost the series.

Eagles 5, Lions 4

Game note:

-Genda would have a modasho.

-Watanabe would start at DH and go 1-2 before Daichi Mizuguchi would pinch run.

===

The Lions had a great start to the week before a thud finish in Sendai. While it was unfortunate to lose, any winning week is what we'll take. Fife's first career ichi-gun start was rough to watch, but we have to give him time before we make any true judgments.

Offensively, this team can be great, but it's often frustrating when they're not facing the Fighters. Unfortunately, we can't see the Lions bats get fat off them each game. There's one final series against the Chiba Lotte Marines before the All-star break and hopefully they can finish strong.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Ken Togame named Pacific League pitching MVP for June 2017


NPB announced its monthly awards for June of 2017 on Friday. Ken Togame would receive the Pacific League pitching MVP for the month of June, after going a stellar 3-0 with a 3.08 ERA.

"I was surprised, but I'm happy," Togame said in an interview.

Togame, 29, racked up 23.1 innings in June with three of his four games being quality starts. He would not allow more than two earned runs in each outing. Togame was credited with wins over the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants.

In a statement, Togame cited the win over Softbank on June 24 as his top victory. It was the only win in a stretch where the Lions went 1-8. Togame recorded his first three-win month as a result of the run support he received.

When Togame defeated the Giants on June 8, it would set a new franchise record for Yomiuri with 13 consecutive losses, matching what the Saitama Seibu Lions did in 2015. This is the first monthly MVP award the Lions have won for the 2017 season.

Other June 2017 MVPs:

-OF Yoshihiro Maru (Carp)
-P Hitoki Iwase (Dragons)
-OF Yuki Yanagita (Hawks)

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions OenDEN Episode 19


Christian and Wes return with another podcast episode covering majority of interleague play being over, filling in on the team, progress and Stephen Fife's addition. Other topics include Central League thoughts, interleague observations and the recent passings of Tamotsu Nagai and Shinji Mori.

We apologize for any mispronunciations or errors that might have come up unintentionally. Majority of this episode was recorded on 6/23. Due to technical issues and later news, a few updates and changes had to be made.

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



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Sunday, July 2, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Mori remembered as bats go cold


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The Saitama Seibu Lions would fail to win a game this week with a loss in Okinawa against the Chiba Lotte Marines and being swept by the Orix Buffaloes. Their lead is down to 3.5 games as they remain in A-class. Here is how it all happened:

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Game 1 from Okinawa had Kota Futaki and Ryoma Nogami scheduled to start. However, this would have a long delay due to the rain. The Marines would have a 3-0 lead after a timely hit from Shogo Nakamura and two sacrifice fly balls from Ryo Miki and Jimmy Paredes.

This game would be called in the top of the third as the rain became too excessive and no stats would count in the books. There will be a makeup game scheduled at MetLife Dome later in the year. The Lions were also without a hit through two innings against Futaki.

Daichi Mizuguchi ran around the bases in the rain. Tadahito Iguchi, who will be retiring at season's end, also ran around as well as tripping at first base. 

===

Shinsaburo Tawata returned for the next game to face rookie Chihaya Sasaki. The Marines struck first on an RBI single by Shohei Kato in the top of the third. Sasaki looked like he was cruising, but control was fading in the 5th inning with two walks. Yuji Kaneko took advantage of this and tied the game with an RBI single of his own, ending Sasaki's night.

Tawata settled in for the most part, but couldn't get a shutdown inning in the top of the 6th as Katsuya Kakunaka and Willy Mo Peña gave the Marines the lead again with two RBI hits. He would leave in the middle of the frame.

The Lions answered back in the bottom of the 7th as Shogo Akiyama hit his 15th HR of the season, which is a new career high. Hideto Asamura tied the game with an RBI double to make it 3-3.

Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda took the 8th and 9th innings with no damage, but the Lions missed a chance to end the game in the bottom of the 10th off Tatsuya Uchi. With two runners on base, Ernesto Mejia and Shuta Tonosaki struck out.

In the top of the 11th, Jimmy Paredes would reach base on a fielding error by Mejia. It would be Miki who would drive in the winning run on a single and give the Lions their second straight one-run loss.

Marines 4, Lions 3 (11 innings)

Game notes:

-To make room for Tawata, the Lions deactivated Shogo Kimura as the corresponding move.

===

The Lions would return to MetLife Dome for hte first time in three weeks as the Orix Buffaloes came to town. Rookie Taisuke Yamaoka was up against Yusei Kikuchi. The Buffaloes struck first on a solo HR by Chris Marrero in the top of the third.

Seibu had a chance to answer, but a double play with the bases loaded by Ernesto Mejia ended the threat. There were other times throughout the game where the bats were cold, including another ground ball leading into a simple out.

Marrero would hit a second HR out of the park which would put the Buffaloes up 3-0 in the 5th inning. Kikuchi would go seven innings with eight strikeouts, but also gave up 11 hits. Yamaoka would silence the bats with the ground ball throughout the night and only allowed two hits and three walks through eight shutout innings.

The Lions had one final gasp in the 9th inning with the bases loaded and Yoshihisa Hirano pitching, but Takumi Kuriyama would strikeout and Shuta Tonosaki gruonded into a fielder's choice to end the game.

Buffaloes 3, Lions 0

Game notes:

-Shinsaburo Tawata was deactivated on the off day as IF Haruka Yamada was called up.

-A ceremony and moment of silence took place for the late Shinji Mori before the game.

-Katsunori Hira\i pitched a scoreless 8th inning, but allowed two base runners.


===

Game 2 against Orix had Takahiro Matsuba facing Ken Togame. It would be another slow start for the Lions as Orix tagged them early on. Consecutive hits, a HBP and more would ruin Togame's 2nd inning. Koji Oshiro would get a flare to fall with the bases loaded and two runs would score. Shunta Goto added on with a two-RBI double to make it 4-0.

Togame would go five innings, allowing a total of nine hits and only three strikeouts. His command was shaky and missed location when Masatoshi Okada called for something else. The Lions got on the board with an RBI single by Daichi Mizuguchi. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would hit a solo HR in the 7th to make it closer.

That would be it as the Lions reached base in both the 8th and 9th inning, but couldn't do anything else. Hirano shut the door again as the team lost their fourth straight.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 2

Game note:

-Sosuke Genda was the leadoff hitter for the first time. He would go 0-4.

-Fumikazu Kimura started in RF and went 0-2.

===

The final game of the series had Brian Wolfe against Brandon Dickson in a battle of gaijin pitchers. This time, the Lions scored first with an RBI double from Okawari-kun in the bottom of the 1st. Asamura would be caught trying to advance to third, costing the team a run. Takumi Kuriyama plated Okawari-kun making it 2-0.

Orix responded quickly with a solo HR from Stefan Romero in the top of the second. It would be Marrero again to cause trouble and tie the game with an RBI single in the top of the 4th. The Lions created a chance in the bottom of the 4th off a double by Takumi Kuriyama, which would be his 300th double in his career. Ginjiro Sumitani would plate him and give the Lions a lead again.

Wolfe was unable to get a shutdown inning and couldn't escape the 5th as an error from Okawari-kun started a rally. Romero tied the game with an RBI single and Marrero would plate two more with the bases loaded, making it 5-3.

The best chance for the Lions came in the bottom of the 6th with two runners on and no outs. Mejia fouled out, Tonosaki struck out while Sumitani popped out to end the threat. Shuhei Kojima added an insurance run off Shota Takekuma to put the game away for good as the Lions lost their 5th straight.

Buffaloes 6, Lions 3

Game notes:

-Kuriyama had a modasho while Brandon Dickson only went five innings.

-Hirai had to clean up the 5th inning and pitched the 6th inning to keep the game within reach.

===

With this being the first winless week of the season, it's easy to be down. The hitting is unclutch, though the players are still getting on base. Pitching is uncertain and there has been a cloud of grieving with the recent loss of Shinji Mori.

The show must go on, but has that blown save by Tatsushi Masuda in Fukuoka become the negative turning point of the season? They'll have a game in Tokyo Dome very shortly with an irregular week coming up.

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While our podcast for June was recorded, the recent news of Shinji Mori and Tamotsu Nagai has forced a delay.  We apologize for the inconvenience.  

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Translation: Former teammates, coaches reflect on loss of Shinji Mori

A table display in remembrance of Shinji Mori was put up at MetLife Dome
Saitama Seibu Lions pitching coach Shinji Mori died on Wednesday due to multiple organ failures. The Lions were down in Okinawa and didn't receive the news until after playing a game against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The Japanese media spoke to several people who were teammates or coaches of Mori. Here is what they had to say:

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Chiba Lotte Marines manager Tsutomu Ito: "I was so worried about him, but I never thought it would come to this. We won lots of games together as players. I had many memories with him. [He was gone] too soon and I am in total shock. May his soul rest in peace."

Ito was a battery partner with Mori from 1997-2003 as a player. He would also become the manager overseeing Mori from 2004-2005.  

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Chunichi Dragons manager Shigekazu Mori: "He was just 42. He was my pitcher and I gave him my number (11) as a player. The last time we met here [in Nagoya] during the interleague play, he said 'he will do his best'. I still can't believe it is real. I hope Lions will enter the Climax Series (let alone the Japan Series) and Tsuji will manage the team well for his sake."

Shigekazu Mori was a Lions coach and saw Shinji Mori from 1997-1999.

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Chunichi Dragons hitting coach Masahiro Doi: "He was kind and a very nice person. He looked good when I met him during the interleague series [against the Lions]."

Doi coached the Lions for two stints and saw Mori from 1997-1999 and 2004-2005. 

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Chunichi Dragons infield defense coach Hiroshi Narahara: "He was sincerely committed and he devoted himself to baseball. We lost such a valuable asset. It is painful [to know he is gone]."

Narahara was teammates with Mori as a player in 1997. He was also with the Lions staff alongside Mori from 2015-2016. 

===

Daisuke Matsuzaka: "I still can't believe it. It doesn't feel like t's real. He was so nice and took care of me just like a brother. It is so hard for me to accept the fact [that he is dead]. It is too painful for me."

Matsuzaka was teammates with Mori on the Lions pitching staff from 1999-2005. He is currently with the Softbank Hawks.  

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Special thanks to @Pino_Martinez for translation help and Nikkan / Other media outlets for speaking to others. 

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Seibu Lions pitching coach Shinji Mori dead at 42


Saitama Seibu Lions pitching coach Shinji Mori passed away with multiple organ failures on Wednesday, June 28. He was 42 years old. Mori left the team on June 27 and stayed in Fukuoka feeling sickness.

Mori became the Lions' ichi-gun pitching coach in May of 2016. He previously served as a ni-gun pitching coach from 2014-2016.

As a player, Mori was a second-round draft pick of the Lions in 1996 out of an industrial league. He would be a middle reliever and closer from 1997-2005 for the Lions. His best season in NPB came from 2000, where he had a 1.83 ERA and 0.903 WHIP as well as 23 saves. Mori was also a member of the 1997, 1998 and 2002 Lions teams that won the Pacific League pennant. He also won the 2004 Japan Series for his only championship as a player.

Mori was posted to the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays after 2005 and was supposed to compete for a reliever role. He was one of the first pickups of then-General Manager Andrew Friedman, now working with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His career would never be the same, as he suffered a torn labrum and would eventually be released.

The last playing years had Mori being a player-manager with the Ishikawa Million Stars of the BC Challenge Independent League from 2010-2014.

With the recent loss of Tamotsu Nagai, we've lost two of our Lions family members to end the month of June.

Mori's legacy can hopefully be reflective of how Yusei Kikuchi has been transformed. When Mori was promoted to the ichi-gun staff, Kikuchi became more efficient and strong with his location, looking like an ace.  If Kikuchi can be the next great Lion for years to come, credit it to Mori.

Thoughts and prayers go to the team, as well as Mori's family and friends. May he R.I.P.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Three Lions voted into 2017 All Star Series


The fan vote for the 2017 NPB All-Star Series concluded and it resulted in three Saitama Seibu Lions voted in.

Shogo Akiyama, Hideto Asamura and Kazuhisa Makita were voted in by the fans as the OF, 2B and setup man positions, respectively. Without question, all three players have earned their spots.

Akiyama, 29, has already been known for his 2015 record-breaking season, but has quietly shown more pop in 2017. Through 66 games, he has already tied a career high 14 HRs at the ichi-gun level. He is currently hitting with a slashline of .333/.436/.562 and has spent most of the season as the Lions' leadoff hitter.

Asamura has 17 doubles with 49 RBIs, hitting a slashline of .301/.346/.449. Most of these numbers reflect a red hot April and May, where hovered near the .400 mark. This is his first season being the team's captain and wearing the premier No. 3.

Makita has become a 7th inning reliever for the Lions after being a swingman for any role last season. He currently has an 0.55 ERA in 33 innings pitched. What has made him effective is having minimal pitch count through one inning and forcing weak contact.

Here is our reaction to the rest of the Pacific and Central League players voted in:

Pacific League:

Catcher: Motohiro Shima (Eagles) .223/.379/.306

This is more of a name recognition vote than anything else. Shima has spent a portion of the season injured, but when looking at the rest of the Pacific League, there weren't many options with other teams going with multiple catchers. Ginjiro Sumitani hits in bunches as he got his average up, but everyone knows he's only known for his defense and isn't as well-rounded like Shima.

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First Baseman: Sho Nakata (Fighters) .238/.347/.433

Like Shima, this is a name recognition type of vote. The objective one should go to Seiichi Uchikawa of the Softbank Hawks who actually has more home runs (11) than Nakata (10). Uchikawa's slashline is currently .330/.416/.557 and has been an important part of the Hawks' offense.

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Third Baseman: Nobuhiro Matsuda (Hawks) .258/.322/.422

Matsuda is pretty popular given his past, but there is a better case for Brandon Laird, who has recovered well from a slow start and has more home runs (16) than Matsuda (11). Zelous Wheeler is quietly playing well after an awful April, as his slashline is .281/.351/.504. Wheeler also has 14 HRs.
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Shortstop: Kenta Imamiya (Hawks) .267/.330/.370

Imamiya is the ultimate shortstop of Japan and his popularity won't die as his defense is legit. It is interesting how the defensive metrics currently favor Sosuke Genda, but the better SS right now is Eigoro Mogi of the Eagles. Mogi is hitting .319/.390/.558 with 12 HRs and usually bats leadoff for Rakuten.

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Outfield: 

Yuki Yanagita (Hawks) .307/.423/.593

Seiji Uebayashi (Hawks) .300/.326/.495

Yanagita could get another Triple-3 season with 18 HRs ans 12 stolen bases. Uebayashi has come from the Hawks farm, but has been the everyday starting outfielder to earn a spot on the team. An argument can be made for Kensuke Kondo, but it appears he could be out for the entire season with a herniated disc injury.

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Starting pitcher: Kodai Senga (Hawks) (6-2), 2.93 ERA, 0.960 WHIP,  (10.0 SO/9)

There's no question Senga deserves to be an All-star when he dominates on the field. Unfortunately, he's been injured recently, but it looks like he'll be healthy in time for the game itself. Yusei Kikuchi barely missed this spot, but with plenty of pitchers on the roster, someone had to be snubbed in votes.

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Closer: Yuki Matsui (Eagles) (3-1), 0.28 ERA, 1.031 WHIP, 21 SV, (9.8 SO/9)

Matsui has been dominant when the ball is handed to him to close the games. This vote was a no brainer even though Dennis Sarfate has a case given his strikeout numbers.

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Designated Hitter: Shohei Otani (Fighters) .407/.469/.807

Talk about bias. Otani has only appeared in eight games (seven when the voting ended) and fans voted him in anyways. He's been battling and injury and hasn't appeared on the mound in 2017 yet, but this wouldn't be worthy enough for our vote with a small sample size. Alfredo Despaigne should have the vote here with 18 HRs and he's even picked up his average to .281 since being with the Hawks.

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Central League

Catcher: Ryutaro Umeno (Tigers) .195/.277/.268

The catcher position in the Central is one we don't have a lot of expertise on and won't pretend to know. At the time of the voting, many catchers weren't hitting, but it would have been tempting to take Yuhei Nakamura of the Swallows had he been healthy.

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First Baseman: Takahiro Arai (Carp) .273/.387/.446

This is a name recognition vote given Arai's history. What's amazing is how Jose Lopez finished in dead last as he's hitting .321/.343/.571 with 15 HRs, leading his team in that category. Lopez's back is against the wall as he's in a contract year.

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Second Baseman: Ryosuke Kikuchi (Carp) .277/.315/.395

This one is a no-doubter thanks to Tetsuto Yamada having an ugly season. Kikuchi doesn't have the highest batting average among 2Bs, but everyone knows his defense is important for the middle of the infield.

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Third Baseman: Takashi Toritani (Tigers) .304/.401/.374

After being benched a year ago and no longer being the team's SS, Toritani has put in a respectable season at the plate. The high on-base percentage puts him over the top, though Casey McGehee has been a decent surprise for the Yomiuri Giants when we expected him to flop.

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Shortstop: Hayato Sakamoto (Giants) .327/.398/.490

Sakamoto is popular nationwide when playing for Japan's national team. However, he backs up his reputation this year continue to be effective and the only Giant to truly carry his team on offense. Sakamoto has some of the best defense for a shortstop as well in NPB.

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Outfielders: 

Seiya Suzuki (Carp) .305/.371/.554

Yoshio Itoi (Tigers) .275/.388/.399

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Baystars) .275/.394/.450

Suzuki is showing last year was no fluke as he already has 15 home runs and could easily hit 30 by the time 2017 is over. Itoi is not the greatest option, but is the most accomplished of the bunch based on the past. Yoshihiro Maru would've served as the better choice among OFs. Tsutsugo is remembered for his pop, but teams have pitched around him, which explains his high walk rate. He is still a threat as everyone saw from the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

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Starting pitcher: Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants) (7-3), 2.38 ERA, 1.004 WHIP, (7.7 SO/9)

Sugano had three consecutive games which resulted in a shutout and remains the ace of the Giants. Raul Valdes and Randy Messenger both have an argument, but Sugano deserves to be at the top.

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Middle Relief pitcher: Marcos Mateo (Tigers) (5-2), 1.80 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, (9.6 SO/9), 20 H

Mateo has been part of an amazing Hanshin Tigers bullpen. You can even make an argument that his fellow teammate Kentaro Kuwahara should get the nod, but if anything, the Tigers as a team have been solid when giving the ball to their relievers. Scott Mathieson of the Giants should also get recognition.

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Closer: Yasuaki Yamasaki (Baystars) (1-1), 1.20 ERA, 0.933 WHIP, (11.3 SO.9), 8 SV

Yamasaki has been decent as a middle reliever. However, I don't agree with this vote since he doesn't close all the time as he has split with Spencer Patton through the first half. Rafael Dolis of the Hanshin Tigers has more saves and strikeouts to get the nod in my book.

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At the end of the day, the All-star Series will always be the fan's game and nothing more. It's a fun party atmosphere of everyone enjoying Oendan songs no matter which league you prefer. The first All-star game will be on July 14 from Nagoya Dome while the second one will be at Zozotown Marine Field on July 15.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sayonara loss results in lost series down in Fukuoka


The Saitama Seibu Lions ended up losing two out of three games in Fukuoka against the Softbank Hawks over the weekend. They're currently 6.5 games ahead of the Orix Buffaloes in their quest for A-class. Here is how they got there.

===

Game 1 from Fukuoka had Yusei Kikuchi up against Nao Higashihama. Nobuhiro Masuda scored first from a timely hit in the bottom of the 1st inning. The Lions bats had their tone set with two double plays in the first two innings.

Kikuchi would get tattooed in the 2nd inning with the a bases loaded single by Kenta Imamiya. Yuki Yanagita would clear the bases with a home run into the porch to give an insurmountable lead. Kikuchi would only last two innings.

The rest of this game would have Higashihama on cruise control as he went the distance with six strikeouts and only seven hits allowed, earning a shutout. Softbank's bats would score of Katsunori Hirai and Frank Garces when the game was already decided as the Lions lost their third straight.

Hawks 10, Lions 0

Game note:

-Tadasuke Minamikawa was deactivated shortly after interleague play ended. Tatsuya Oishi returned to the ichi-gun and pitched a clean 9th inning.

===

Game 2 had Ken Togame facing rookie and former first round pick Yuki Matsumoto. Softbank once again drew first blood on an RBI single from Tomoki Takata in the bottom of the 2nd. Togame also had to pull a Houdini in the bottom of the third with the bases loaded by getting Seiji Uebayashi to strikeout.

The Lions responded with a two-run HR going to the back screen by Ernesto Mejia in the top of the 4th. Shuta Tonosaki followed up with an opposite field solo HR into the porch for a 3-1 lead.

Togame pitched two clean innings, but ran into trouble in the bottom of the 6th with runners on the corners. The damage was limited as Uebayashi grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, conceding a run to make it 3-2. Togame's day would end with six innings and five strikeouts with only two walks and six hits allowed.

Shota Takekuma took the 7th inning and the tying run was on 2nd after a bunt. However, Kenji Akashi would strikeout and Imamiya grounded out as the Lions kept the lead. The Lions had several chances to add insurance, but wouldn't come through for the day.

Brian Schlitter allowed Yanagita to get on as the leadoff hitter in the 8th, but Masatoshi Okada caught the runner stealing. He would strikeout Alfredo Despaigne and force a groundout to end the frame. Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th and allowed a leadoff walk to Akira Nakamura to create drama. After a bunt moved the runner over 90 feet, Masuda struck out Munenori Kawasaki and got Akashi to ground out and end the losing streak.

Lions 3, Hawks 2

Game notes:

-Hirotaka Koishi was added to the roster while Frank Garces was sent down.

-Togame would earn his 4th win of the season, matching his total from 2016.

===

For the rubber match, it would be a gaijin pitcher matchup with Rick Van Den Hurk up against Brian Wolfe. Softbank scored first in the bottom of the 1st inning with a timely single from Yuya Hasegawa. Sosuke Genda tied it up in the top of the third with a two-out timely single making it 1-1.

The Lions would erupt with three consecutive timely hits from the bottom of the lineup having Tonosaki, Ginjiro Sumitani and Yuji Kaneko all coming through for a 5-1 lead. The last two runs would come off a gapper from Shogo Akiyama at the top of the order.

It wouldn't be over as Hasegawa would hit a two-run HR off Wolfe to bring the Hawks within two. Wolfe would go six innings and allow only three runs with one walk and three strikeouts. Kazuhisa Makita ran into a jam and allowed an RBI single to Takata to make it a one run game. The Lions would get the run back on a timely hit from Tonosaki, but the Hawks responded with another run off Schlitter in the 8th.

Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th inning and would allow Yuki Yanagita to get on base. Shuhei Fukuda would pinch hit for Akira Nakamura with two outs and he took advantage of a breaking ball that sent the home crowd happy with a two-run sayonara HR. The Lions failed to win a series in Fukuoka once again.

Hawks 7, Lions 6

Game notes:

-Sumitani had a modasho with three singles.

===

This loss from Fukuoka is arguably the worst of the season. With one out away, it turns from a win into a loss and the one-run games continue to be a problem for the team. There are too many question marks on Masuda, but also the bats have been rather cold.

Sure, the team is still in A-class, but a loss like this in the past has demoralized the team. In 2015, it was Tomomi Takahashi's regression. Last year, it was the walkoff loss in Hiroshima where Masuda gave up a game-losing base hit to a pinch runner. How does this team respond? We'll find out.

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Our podcast was recorded this past week and it will hopefully be up soon. Stay tuned! 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Transcript: Stephen Fife introduced by the Lions

Stephen Fife introduced with Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe 
Stephen Fife was introduced by the Saitama Seibu Lions on Tuesday, June 20. He played catch with the NPB sized baseball with the ni-gun team on Monday and is expected to be contributing to the team immediately, according to reports.

The Lions put up a condensed interview video of his press conference on both their Facebook and YouTube pages. Here is a transcript of what he said:

Introduction:

"My name is Stephen Fife, I'm 30 years old from Arizona in the USA. I'm very happy to be here and contribute to this club and their efforts to win the Nippon Series."

On what kind of pitcher he is: 

"I pitch to contact for the most part. I throw a four-seam fastball that has a little cut. I throw a two-seam (fastball) that runs the other way, a curve ball, slider and changeup and try to get as many ground balls as possible."

On being in Japan:

"There's a lot of excitement. A lot of fans, positivity in terms of the atmosphere with the fans. Other than that, I have't really seen a whole lot other than watching like Matt Murton's highlights and Josh Fields' highlights and their experience here so I think it's going to be fun. A lot to learn, but it should be exciting.

Note: Fife was teammates with former Hanshin Tiger Matt Murton in 2016 with the Chicago Cubs AAA affiliate, the Iowa Cubs. He was teammates with former Yomiuri Giant Josh Fields in 2012 with the Los Angeles Dodgers then-AAA affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes. 

On confidence and goals:

"I pitched pretty well in 2013 with the Dodgers and I was pretty consistent all year long. I hope to feel similar to that this year."

On the beard:

"*laughing* I try to groom it as much as possible and keep it in order, The wife doesn't like it when it gets too big."

On why signing with NPB:

"The opportunity was just better here. With the [Miami] Marlins I had a chance to continue to pitch in AAA and maybe get a chance to pitch in the big leagues, but for the opportunity to come here and pitch with the [ichi-gun] and experience a new culture and new style of game is more intriguing for me and I'm excited for it."

On what to look forward to with the Lions:

"I'm just looking forward to getting started, getting going here. Start in the [ni-gun] with the guys here over the next 5-10 days and hopefully get a chance to pitch with the [ichi-gun] and when I do, stay and win some games and enjoy the regular season, the playoffs and the Nippon Series."

===

Follow us on Twitter @GravyardBall

Sunday, June 18, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tsuji loses series in return to Nagoya


===

The Sataima Seibu Lions went 2-4 against the Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons to end interleague play with a road trip in the central part of the country. It was their first losing week since May 7. Despite all of this, they would keep a solid eight game cushion on the Orix Buffaloes and 9.5 on the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the race for A-class. Here is how they got there:

===

The opener from Koshien Stadium had Ryoma Nogami against Takumi Akiyama. "Shunsuke" Fujikawa opened the scoring from a two-run gapper off Nogami in the bottom of the 2nd. The Lions responded with solo HRs from Sosuke Genda and Ernesto Mejia in the 3rd and 4th innings, but the Tigers got the lead back with a solo HR from Shunsuke in the bottom of the 4th.

There was a chance on with a runner on third for the Lions against Akiyama, but there would be no damage with three consecutive outs from the top of the order. Nogami would only allow those three runs and go six innings, but couldn't earn a win. The best chance came in the 7th inning with the bases loaded as the Tigers used two relievers in the frame, but Kentaro Kuwahara would escape by getting Hideto Asamura to flyout.
Hanshin would pull away in bottom of the 7th with a two-run gapper by Kento Itohara off Shota Takekuma and added two more runs with a hit by Masahiro Nakatani in the 8th off Frank Garces to put the game away.

While the Lions had their chances, it would be T. Akiyama who would have his day with 6.1 innings and five strikeouts.

Tigers 7, Lions 2

Game notes:

-Takeya "Okawari-kun" returned to the lineup for hte first time since June 7. He would go 0-4.

-With the interleague makeup break coming up, the Lions took Nogami off the roster after the game, calling up P Shoga Noda in his place.

===

Game 2 had Yosuke Okamoto up against Atsushi Nomi.  The Lions scored first in the top of the 1st after two 2-out walks to Shogo Akiyama and Asamura. Okawari-kun made Nomi pay with a base hit to draw first blood.

In the top of the third, Akyama and Asamura reached base again with two-out singles. Okawari-kun did damage once again, this time with a three-run opposite field blast for his 14th HR of the year to make it 4-0.

An early chance came for the Tigers in the bottom of the 4th with two runners on, but Kosuke Fukudome grounded into a 3-6-3 double play. Okamoto ran into another jam for the 5th inning with second and third with nobody out, but both runners would score on an RBI groundout and sacrifice fly to clear the bases. The inning was still going as two more runners would reach base, but Yamato Maeda grounded out to end the threat.

Okamoto had to ask his defense to do the job, with only two strikeouts on the night. He left the game after getting one out in the 6th and Takekuma took over with inherited runners. Takashi Toritani would hit an infield fly while this time around, Shunsuke would groundout.

Kazuhisa Makita pitched a clean 7th, while Brian Schlitter gave up one hit in the 8th, but no runs allowed. Tatsushi Masuda, a Hyogo prefecture native, came in for the 9th and initially allowed a leadoff hit to Toritani, Shunsuke hit a loud flyout to RF caught by Fumikazu Kimura, Hiroki Uemoto would strikeout, pinch hitting for the catcher while Yoshio Itoi, an old Pacific League foe, came in to pinch hit the pitcher's spot. Itoi would be caught looking and Masuda earned the save as the Lions evened up the series.

Lions 4, Tigers 2

Game note:

-With Okawari-kun's HR, he officially hit a home run in all 12 main NPB stadiums for his career.

-Like Nogami, Okamoto was taken off the roster after the game. The Lions would call up Aito Takeda (formerly Otaki) to the ichi-gun.

===

The rubber match would have Randy Messenger facing Ken Togame. Hanshin struck first in the bottom of the 1st inning thanks to a timely single from Fukudome. Seibu responded with a two-run HR by Ernesto Mejia in the top of the 4th, but the game would be tied in the bottom of the 6th with an unlikely RBI single by pinch-hitter Hayata Ito.

Messenger's control wasn't the greatest on the night, but Togame would also Houdini his way through six innings. It would be a battle of bullpens starting in the 7th inning and both sides looked even until the 9th inning. Kazuhisa Makita pitched the 7th and 8th with no problem, but the Tigers pen shut the Lions bats down with plenty of strikeouts from Marcos Mateo and Rafael Dolis.

Brian Schlitter took the 9th inning and escaped with a runner on second, but the breaks wouldn't come in the 10th. Ginjiro Sumitani walked to leadoff the top of the frame, but the Lions couldn't get him home as Shogo Akiyama struck out as the runner was in scoring position. The Tigers loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th and Fumihito Haraguchi would get a sayonara hit, giving the Tigers the series.

Tigers 3, Lions 2 (10 innings)

Game notes:

-The Lions couldn't figure out Nakatani in this one, as he went 5-5 having all singles.

-Shuta Tonosaki started in LF in place of Takumi Kuriyama and went 0-4.

===

The week shifted West to Nagoya Dome as the Lions faced 2015 Koshien champions Shinnosuke Ogasawara with Yusei Kikuchi. Chunichi scored first with a solo HR by Naomichi Donoue in the bottom of the third.

The lead wouldn't last long as Okawari-kun would hit a deep sacrifice fly to score one run and Ernesto Mejia followed it up with a solo HR in the top of the 5th. Akiyama added on with a two-run opposite field HR in the top of the 5th. Mejia would golf a solo HR in the top of the 6th for a multiple home run game.

Kikuchi didn't need to be dominant, but he still went eight innings with the one HR given up and had 10 strikeouts with one walk. Akiyama put the icing on the cake with a three-run blast in the top of the 9th to make it 9-1. Katsunori Hirai pitched a scoreless 9th inning to put the Lions back in the win column.

Lions 9, Dragons 1

Game notes:

-Akiyama and Ginjiro Sumitani had modashos.

-Dayan Viciedo missed the entire series for the weekend as he went to the USA to file paperwork for U.S. Citizenship.

-Takeda would make his first career plate appearance as a pinch hitter in the top of the 9th. He would be hit by a pitch from Taisuke Maruyama and scored on Akiyama's HR.

-The Lions can say they've beaten every team in NPB with this win, something that couldn't happen last year after being swept in Hiroshima by the Carp.

===

Game 2 from Nagoya Dome had Yasuo Sano up against veteran Raul Valdes. Sano would leave the game in the bottom of the first after feeling pain in his left knee and Frank Garces had to step in as an emergency starter. The Dragons scored first in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice fly by Takuya Kinoshita. Garces looked like he would limit the damage by striking out Raul Valdes, but it was a wild pitch which would score a second runner.

Chunichi picked up another run in the bottom of the 4th as Kinoshita picked up a base hit through the ball striking first base for a strange bounce past the infield. The Lions best chance came in the top of the 5th with two runners in scoring position. Sumitani looked like he would have a gapper, but Yohei Oshima ran it down and it resulted in a sacrifice fly. Valdes would dominate the Lions with seven strong innings and only two hits allowed with two walks.

Shingo Takeyama would hit a bloop RBI single off Tadasuke Minamikawa in the bottom of the 8th for insurance, but the Lions bats would remain cold on the day and not create any threat. Shinji Tajima closed the game out with no problem and evened up the series.

Dragons 4, Lions 1

Game notes:

-Hirai, Minamikawa and Shogo Noda would all play in this game as low leverage relievers.

-Sano would be deactivated after the game as his condition is unknown.

===

The final game of interleague play would have Brian Wolfe against first round rookie Yuya Yanagi. Seibu scored first with an RBI double by Asamura in the top of the 1st inning. Chunichi took the lead in the bottom of the frame with an error by Sosuke Genda and Masahiko Morino hitting the wall for a double making it 2-1.

It would be 3-1 in the bottom of the third thanks to an RBI double from Atsushi Fujii. The Lions would fight back and tie the game in the top of the 6th as Okawari-kun hit an RBI double and scored on a wild pitch from Yanagi.

Yanagi would go seven innings with a walk and three strikeouts depending on weak contact as his best weapon. Wolfe would go only five innings, but keep the Lions in the hunt.

Shota Takekuma pitched a scoreless 6th while Kazuhisa Makita took the 7th giving up a leadoff hit to pinch hitter Takahito Kudo. The Dragons would bunt him over and it would be Kyohei Kamezawa who delievered with a timely hit to give Chunichi the lead for good. Offense for the Lions was minimal against the Dragons' bullpen and they would lose the series.

Dragons 4, Lions 3

===

With interleague play finally over, the Lions for the most part were successful going 10-7-1, unlike the disaster last season of finishing 1-5 and a 9-9 record overall. They were able to gain ground on the Fighters and Buffaloes without having a brutal stretch. Things can always be better though, with the hitting having its ups and downs and the rotation depth in question.

They'll be in Fukuoka for the weekend after what will be a fun test. Can Masuda shake off the recent woes? Will Kaneko's addition make a difference as Pacific League play resumes? How does the pitching depth hold up and what can Stephen Fife do? We'll find out. In the meantime, enjoy the break as the Lions regroup and continue their quest for A-class.

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Stay tuned for a June podcast episode coming soon by the end of the month!

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Report: Seibu Lions reach agreement with Stephen Fife

Fife pitching with the Miami Marlins AAA affiliate, the New Orleans Baby Cakes
With the end of interleague play in NPB about to come, The Saitama Seibu Lions made an unexpected move. The Lions announced on Saturday that they reached an agreement with P Stephen Fife. With this addition, Fife is the 6th foreign player and 6th foreign pitcher on the Lions' roster. Fife will be unveiled in a press conference on June 20.

Fife, 30, most recently signed the the Miami Marlins organization last winter. Frank Garces was also with the Marlins organization briefly before signing with the Lions. With the Marlins' AAA affiliate, the New Orleans Baby Cakes (Yes, that's their name),  Fife had a 3.97 ERA in 12 starts with a 4-3 record to go with 52 strikeouts.

"I am very excited to be a member of Saitama Seibu Lions, who aim to win the Japanese series," Fife said in a statement. "I am honored to have the opportunity to play in NPB. I am looking forward to learning [about] Japanese baseball, Japanese culture and making new discoveries."

Fife was also with the Chicago Cubs organization in 2016, but is most remembered for his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he played ichi-gun baseball from 2012-2014. Fife was a spot starter and later back-end starter for the Dodgers in 2013, where he posted his best ichi-gun year going 4-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 12 games. Fife would also undergo Tommy John surgery in 2014 to miss the entire 2015 season.

The Lions' 70-man roster is now full as Shogo Kimura was promoted from ikusei and Fife being signed in the same month. With the foreigner roster rule in effect, Fife will be part of a mix with three other pitchers on the outside.

Ernesto Mejia is already locked with his spot while Brian Wolfe and Brian Schlitter are both worthy to keep at the ichi-gun level. Garces is likely to be the odd man out as the Lions will probably start Fife when he is ready. Other foreign pitchers still on the roster include Chun-Lin Kuo and Alexis Candelario.

The back end of the rotation has been a large question mark by both the media and ourselves here at Graveyard Baseball. While Yusei Kikuchi, Wolfe and Ryoma Nogami have held their ground, there's plenty of uncertainty with Yosuke Okamoto and Ken Togame being there. Most recently, Yasuo Sano left Saturday's game with an injury and it's unsure if there is a timetable on him. By throwing a spot starter each week, it's a sign that the young draft picks still aren't ready.

Shinsaburo Tawata is working through a shoulder injury while Kona Takahashi has also been in ni-gun. It's possible that the Lions management wants a stop gap with Fife being added to the roster.

Fife's biggest strength is being a ground ball pitcher, which is something the Lions likely covet as they listened to their foreign scouts. His 7.13 K/9 ratio might not seem intimidating on paper, but let's also not forget that Brian Wolfe also has few strikeouts and remains productive for the team.

With Sosuke Genda at SS and Hideto Asamura at 2B, the Lions expect Fife to keep the ball in play and have the infield take care of the pitcher. We've seen how the team does with Wolfe on the mound and the Lions are hoping for the similar results.

For any Lions fans who use Twitter, Fife can be followed here

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sweeping of the Giants sets opposing franchise record


===

The Saitama Seibu Lions had another successful week, going 5-1 against the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama DeNA Baystars for a six-game homestand in MetLife Dome. June 11 was the last game for Lions fans to see their team in Tokorozawa until June 30th, as they go on a road trip, followed by the makeup week for interleague games and ending with more road games, with a home series in Okinawa.

As of June 11, the Lions have a 6.5 game lead on the Orix Buffaloes as they hope to remain in A-class. Quietly, the Lions are only three games behind the Softbank Hawks and 4.5 behind the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Here's how they got there:

===

In the opener against the Kyojin, Ryoma Nogami was on the bump against ace Tomoyuki Sugano. The Giants struck first with a two-RBI base hit from Daikan Yoh in the top of the 3rd, who was making his debut as a Yomiuri Giants player. Shinnosuke Abe would drop an RBI single in the top of the 4th to make it 3-0.

The Lions responded in the bottom of the frame with a two out rally. Ernesto Mejia and Shuta Tonosaki would get timely RBI singles to bring the team within one run. Yomiuri looked like they were going to break it open with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the 6th, but Nogami struck out Shingo Ishikawa and Luis Cruz would hit a sac fly to reduce the damage. Seiji Kobayashi added an RBI single to make it a 5-2 lead and Nogami's day was done. Nogami had seven strikeouts going 5.2 innings with only one walk, but the third time through the order penalty struck him late.

This lead wouldn't last for long as it would be the third time through the order for Sugano in the bottom of the 6th. Takumi Kuriyama hit a solo HR while Mejia doubled to begin the inning. Ginjiro Sumitani would get a two-out hit and it was followed up by an RBI groundout by Yuji Kaneko to tie the game at 5-5.

Kazuhisa Makita would have a jam with runners on first and second and it looked like the bases would be loaded as Abe got an infield single, but Itaru Hashimoto was tagged out at the plate trying to score from second.

Momentum would stay on the Lions side in the bottom of the 7th. With Toshiki Sakurai pitching, he would load the bases with three walks. Kentaro Nishimura would come in and walk Mejia to give the team a lead. Tonosaki would add a sacrifice fly to make it 7-5. After Schlitter had minimal issues in the 8th, Hideto Asamura sent one to the stands to give the Lions a 3-run lead, which would be insurmountable.

As a result of this Lions win, the Giants would tie a franchise record 11-straight losses.

Lions 8, Giants 5

Game notes:

-Ernesto Mejia had a modasho and reached base in all plate appearances with the walk. His son Alonso would make an appearance during the hero interview.

-The top of the order would go 0-12, but a key walk to Shogo Akiyama would help a rally.

===

Game 2 against the Giants would have Yosuke Okamoto making his first start for the ichi-gun since the final game of 2015 against an old foe, Mitsuo Yoshikawa, who was traded to the Kyojin from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Okamoto escaped an early jam in the top of the 4th with two runners on, but some good defense by Asamura kept the Giants off the board with two ground balls. Mejia would keep momentum on the Lions side with a two-run HR with two outs in the bottom of the frame. It would be his 8th HR of the year.

The top of the 5th had a clean shutdown inning for Okamoto, but he ran into trouble in the 6th. With Yoh on third, he got Hayato Sakamoto to groundout and no runner advancing, but walked Casey McGehee to end his night. Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji would bring in Shota Takekuma to face Shinnosuke Abe with two outs and runners on the corners and it worked to perfection. On the first pitch, Abe would flyout to LF.

Nishimura would pitch in the bottom of the 6th for the Kyojin and it would be Okawari-kun to do some damage. He hit a solo HR to left-center field on what looked like a line drive, giving the Lions a 3-0 lead. Takekuma would have Yoshiyuki Kamei flyout with a lefty vs lefty matchup, then Makita gave up two hits to Ishikawa and Cruz. However, Makita forced a ground ball on Hisayoshi Chono and the Lions picked up a double play to keep the Kyojin with a goose egg through seven.

Schlitter gave up a hit in the 8th, but allowed nothing else. Masuda would have a clean 9th inning to secure the series and a second straight Lions win.

Lions 3, Giants 0

Game notes:

-With this loss, the Giants secured a franchise record 12 consecutive losses, beating their previous record of 11 from 1975. It was also the longest recent losing streak in NPB since the Lions lost 13 in 2015.

-Okawari-kun once again became the team leader in HRs with 13.

-To make room for Okamoto on the ichi-gun, Ichiro Tamura would be deactivated as the corresponding move.

-Kuriyama would sit out for this one as Naoto Watanabe filled in at DH. Watanabe had a double with a sacrifice hit.

-This was Okamoto's first win since 2015, where he barely hung on against Rakuten in allowing multiple HRs last time around.

===

Game 3 between the Lions and the old enemy would feature Ken Togame making the start for the Lions and industrial league rookie, Shun Ikeda for the Giants.

The Lions would strike first early in the bottom of the 1st, thanks to three consecutive singles from Akiyama, Asamura and Kuriyama to give the Lions an early 1-0 lead.

In the third, the Lions would declare this game a blowout with a six-run inning capped off by some poor command from Ikeda, bad defense, and even a fortunate infield hit for the Lions. With that said, the bases were loaded and an likely source provided the big hit to break it open. Shuta Tonosaki hit a grand slam to make it 7-0 Lions which was his 4th on the year. Ikeda would be lifted from the game after giving up the grand slam.

The Lions would continue the theme of unlikely sources of power in the fourth with Sosuke Genda hitting his first career NPB home run into the Giants Ōendan for a two-run home run that extended the lead to 9-0. In the fifth, the theme would continue, with the Lions igniting a two-out rally behind singles from Masatoshi Okada and Shogo Kimura that would set up another unlikely power source in the form of Yuji Kaneko who hit a three-run home run that curled inside the right field foul pole and just like that the Lions were up 12-0 in the fifth after Kaneko's first home run of the season.

The Giants would pull two runs back off Togame in the top of the sixth thanks to the middle of the order bats of Hayato Sakamoto, Casey McGehee, and Shinnosuke Abe. Up to that point, Togame had been in cruise control against the Giants the first two times through the order. He'd finish with six innings of two runs given up with seven scattered hits and two strikeouts.

The Lions would get one of those runs right back and complete the scoring in the sixth, after singles from Akiyama and Asamura would set up a sacrifice fly from Ernesto Mejia thus making a 13-2 Lions lead.

Frank Garces would toss two innings of relief for the Lions with Tadasuke Minamikawa finishing the game and completing the Lions sweep of Kyojin.

Lions 13, Giants 2

Game notes:

-The victory for the Lions gives them a seven game unbeaten streak dating back to last Wednesday's victory over the Carp.

-The loss for the Giants extends their losing streak to 13 games and the 2015 Lions know all about losing 13 in a row. The Giants fell to 3.5 games back of the Baystars for A-Class and was in 5th place after this game.

-Shogo Kimura was added to the 70-man roster as well was being promoted to the ichi-gun as he started at third base with Okawari-kun's back injury that is apparently day to day. Shotaro Tashiro was taken off the roster to make room for Kimura.

===

The homestand would bring in the most southern team in Kanto with the Baystars bringing Shoichi Ino against Yusei Kikuchi. Yokohama struck first on a two-run HR by Hiroyasu Tanaka in the top of the second.

Ino looked like he was in control through six innings as he didn't allow a run. Things would change in the bottom of the 7th where Kaneko would hit one over Takayuki Kajitani's head and tied the game as pinch-hitter Daichi Miguguchi scored. Relief pitcher Yoshiki Sunada would be called for a balk when trying to pick off Kaneko, moving the runner to third base. Genda would plate Kaneko on an RBI groundout to give the Lions a lead.

Kikuchi settled in, going eight innings with eight strikeouts and a combined six hits. With the top of the 9th, Tatsushi Masuda would walk Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and face Toshiro Miyazaki. Miyazaki would pull one into the Lions Oendan and give the Baystars the lead again. Yasuaki Yamasaki would close the game with no drama and the Lions three-game win streak ended in ugly fashion.

Baystars 4, Lions 3

Game notes:

-Shogo Kimura started at 3B again in place of an injured Okawari-kun.

===

Game 2 would have Yasuo Sano up against Kentaro Taira, the pitcher the Baystars acquired as compensation for the loss of Shun Yamaguchi. Shogo Akiyama opened the scoring with a two-run HR in the bottom of the 1st. The Lions benefited from an error by Tanaka on what should have been a double play. The ball would go to left field and a run would score to make it 3-0. Kaneko would hit a sacrifice fly and Akiyama slapped a timely single to bring two more runs and end Taira's day after two innings.

Sano would cruise through two innings, but allowed timely hits to Tanaka and Jose Lopez which made it 5-2. He would run into a jam for the top of the 4th and reached the 80-pitch count. Hatsuhiko Tsuji would take Sano out and have Frank Garces enter getting Kajitani to flyout and end the frame.

Garces ran into another two out jam in the top of the 5th with two runners in scoring position, However, he would get Audy Ciraco to strikeout to end the threat. Garces had a much cleaner 6th inning and was in line for a victory after not allowing a run.

Makita and Schlitter both gave up a hit in the 7th and 8th, but no damage was done with the latter getting a double play. Tonosaki would hit a solo HR in the bottom of the 8th and Shota Takekuma closed it out with a four run lead to even up the series.

Lions 6, Baystars 2

Game notes:

-Naoto Watanabe would play at 3B and bat 8th in the lineup. He would pickup two walks.

-The Lions Oendan paid tribute to legendary Nishitetsu Lion P Kazuhisa Inao, as 6/10 would be his 80th birthday.

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The rubber match for Sunday had Brian Wolfe taking the mound against Shota Imanaga, who came off a solid 2016 rookie season. Both sides wouldn't have much chance as this game lived up to the hype as being a pitcher's duel.

Yuji Kaneko would leadoff the 4th inning with a double. Genda would bunt Kaneko over to third with Shogo Akiyama up having less than two outs. He would hit a chopper to 2B Elian Herrera, but the fielder attacked home plate and Kaneko beat out the throw to score. The play would go to review, but there was no dispute that Kaneko's hand touched home plate before any tag by Yasutaka Tobashira.

Imanaga would have a dominant outing, going eight innings with six strikeouts scattering five hits and two walks. The best chance for the Lions came with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th, but Imanaga struck out Akiyama as the latter was caught looking to end the threat.

Wolfe would dominate with the ground ball, allowing only two hits through seven innings and his pitch count was well-below 100. Tsuji would have Schlitter take the 8th where he allowed several base runners, but a double play prevented any damage.

Tsuji would stick to the plan in the 9th as Masuda would take over. He had two quick outs on Kajitani and Jose Lopez, but Tsutsugo forced a walk and like Friday's game, Miyazaki was up again. Tsuji ran out to the mound to discuss a plan for Masuda and it worked. Miyazaki would foul out and the Lions took the series.

Lions 1, Baystars 0

Game notes:

-Watanabe started at 3B and went 2 for 3.

-This would be the 5th consecutive winning week for the Lions dating back to their sweeping of Orix on May 14.

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The Lions successfully went 5-1, but it's easy to feel greedy with how Masuda blew a save in the 9th. Based on the last month of play, an argument can be made that Masuda is the worst closing option among the Pacific League closers. He was able to fight off the last game which is a good sign, but he still isn't striking anyone out.

An 8-3-1 interleague record is always good, but it's crazy to think they should be 10-2 if it weren't for Masuda blowing two 9th inning leads. The bats have been up and down depending on the opposing pitcher, which is understandable. Last year, the Lions were 8-4 through 12 interleague games. Hopefully there won't be any major letdown, but we're expected a winning record at minimum. It will be interesting to see what happens with Okawari-kun's injury and how the 3B position is utilized. It's likely with no DH, Okawari-kun is just a pinch hitter.

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