Sunday, August 20, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Mori boosts bats in return



The Saitama Seibu Lions secured another winning week in the books. They would go 4-2 combined against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Here's what happened:

===

The first game of the series had a spot start form Josh Corrales making his ichi-gun debut against Brian Wolfe. It was an awful debut from Corrales, where a string of three consecutive walks led to a run. Takeya "Okawari-kun" also beat out a double play to extend the inning and double the Lions lead in the first inning. Tomoya Mori would make his first AB of the 2017 season rememberable with an RBI single. Ginjiro Sumitani would also be hit by a pitch to make it a four-run inning.

Shintaro Masuda would give the Eagles a run back with an RBI double, but the Lions responded with Sosuke Genda doubling and Shogo Akiyama plating him immediately with a single in the second.

Wolfe looked like he would be cruising to an easy win, but gave up a string of consecutive hits with a walk for one run. Louis Okoye would then clear the bases on a double to tie the game, as the Lions blew a 5-1 lead in the process.

Yasunori Kikuchi took over in the 4th inning for the Eagles and the base runners came again. Mori hit one off the wall to plate two more runs. Wolfe would fail to get a shutdown inning as Zelous Wheeler took one deep to make it a one run game in the 5th. With Shota Takekuma pitching, Masuda would strike again with a solo HR and tie the game once more.

Takekuma had a shutdown inning thanks to a strikeout, throw out double play from Sumitani. With Kohei Morihara pitching, he would give up home runs to Hotaka Yamakawa and Kyohei Nagae where the latter was called up to the ichi-gun for the first time since May. Shuta Tonosaki would later hit a two-run HR to put the game away for good.

Hatsuhiko Tsuji didn't waste anything, as Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 7th inning with a four run lead. Yamakawa dropped a bloop RBI single for another run. Katsunori took the 8th with no problem minus one error from Genda.

The bottom of the 8th is where the Lions piled it on with five runs. Timely hits from Sumitani, Akiyama, Nagae and a walk from Genda made it easy.  Hirotaka Koishi gave up a late run, but it was all over after two comebacks.

Lions 17, Eagles 8

Game notes:

-Every starting Lions player had at least one hit.

-Akiyama secured a modasho.

-To make room for Nagae and Mori, the Lions deactivated Tatsuyuki Uemoto and Naoto Watanabe.

-17 runs is the highest amount of runs scored by the Lions in the 2017 season.

===

The second game featured Minabu Mima against Yosuke Okamoto. It would be the Lions to score first as Kyohei Nagae reached base on an error by Mima, where the pitcher dropped the ball on an exchange.

After Okamoto fought through a chance in the top of the 4th, he would be rewarded in the bottom of the frame. The Lions looked like they would squander a chance with two on and nobody out, but Nagae came through with a gapper plating both runners. Genda plated Nagae shortly after to make it 4-0.

Mori would hit his first HR of the season and the game would be on cruise control from the 5th inning. Okamoto would get a sixth inning and have a clean affair with no runs allowed, three strikeouts and one walk while scattering three hits.

Brian Schlitter took the 7th without trouble while Makita pitched the 8th. Hirai pitched the 9th inning and the Lions secured their 11th shutout of the season, taking the series.

Lions 5, Eagles 0

Game notes:

-Okawari-kun would sit this game out with Nagae starting at 3B, batting 9th.

-The Lions are 7-0 when Okamoto starts a game, he has been the winner in six of them.

-Mori secured a modasho, his first of the season.

===

The final game of the series had Tomohiro Anraku against Yusei Kikuchi. This one would be a classic pitcher's duel with minimal threats. The Lions had a runner on third, but nothing would happen in the first. Kikuchi loaded the bases with a two walks and a hit-by-pitch, but a 2-3 double play from Kazuo Matsui would have no runs in the 4th.

Anraku allowed a base runner almost every inning and the best chance came in the bottom of the 7th. With two runners on and two outs, Ernesto Mejia came in for a pinch hit with the ichi-gun, but popped out to centerfield. Anraku went seven innings without a run, scattering seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts.

Both sides would pitch a scoreless 8th inning and it was onto the 9th, where Kikuchi would not allow a run the entire time. He had two hits, seven strikeouts and two walks up to that point. Frank Hermann came in for the 9th inning and retired the first two batters easily, but it wasn't over yet.

Shuta Tonosaki hit a double off the LF wall to create a chance. Sumitani would then be hit by a pitch on what would've been a ball four. With the 9-spot up, which Mejia already pinch hit for, Fumikazu Kimura was due to hit. Tsuji took the right call and had Takumi Kuriyama take a shot. On a 2-1 pitch, Kuriyama went opposite field for a walkoff three-run HR to send MetLife Dome into a frenzy. It was his second sayonara HR o the season and third overall by the team to complete the sweep.

Lions 3, Eagles 0

Game notes:

-This would be the 12th shutout win by the Lions in 2017.

-The Lions won six straight games against the Eagles and were on a five game winning streak.

-Okawari-kun was taken off the roster with back pain. He is expected to return in the minimum 10 days as Mejia took his spot.

===

The week would shift to Sapporo as Luis Mendoza would take on Ryoma Nogami. It would be the Fighters to score first when Shohei Otani slapped an RBI single in the bottom of the 1st. Sho Nakata would then hit a two-run HR in the bottom of the 6th as the Lions bats were no threat.

Mendoza would go 7.1 innings giving up only four hits and one walk while striking out six batters. Nogami went six innings with only three runs given up, but it wasn't enough. Nakata added another run in the bottom of the 8th to seal it as the Fighters shut out the Lions.

Fighters 4, Lions 0

Game note:

-This would be the 7th time the Lions were shut out this year, their first time with no runs since June 30.

===

The second game had Naoyuki Uwasawa facing Shinsaburo Tawata. After Uwasawa showed vulnerability with bad control, Hotaka Yamakawa put the Lions on the board first with a two-run HR in the bottom of the 4th. Tehre wouldn't be anymore scoring until the 9th inning, where Hideto Asamura hit into an RBI groundout after some manufactured bunts.

This game was all about Tawata, where he earned his second shutout in as many weeks. The early trouble he had was in the 7th when Otani hit a double. However, Nakata struck out and Brandon Laird grounded out to make it simple.

There was one last gasp for the Fighters as Takuya Nakashima and Otani reached base with two outs. However, Nakata would hit an infield fly and Tawata earned the shutout.

Lions 3, Fighters 0

Game note:

-This was Tawata's third career shutout, where last year he accomplished this against the Fighters.

===

The rubber match would have Stephen Fife facing Kenta Uehara. It would be a rough start for Fife in the first and third innings with timely hits and several base runners, but damage would be limited both times with a double play and one run given up in both frames.

Otani added a third run through an RBI single and Fife's outing would end in the bottom of the 5th inning, where he failed to get an out. Katsunori Hirai would allow an RBI single with inherited runners to make it 5-0.

Uehara struggled with control and allowed a base runner each inning, but found a way to not allow a run. Ernesto Mejia made his first start and failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position. Uehara would last five innings before the reigns were handed to the Fighters bullpen.

With Hirotaka Koishi entering in the 6th, it was a white flag on this game as he allowed two more runs to score. Ichiro Tamura would also give up a two run HR to Brandon Laird. The Lions prevented a shutout with Genda dropping an RBI single and Kuriyama hitting a home run, but that was it as the Lions lost the series.
 
Fighters 9, Lions 3

Game note:

-Mori was benched before entering the game as a catcher. Kuriyama would start in LF.

===

This was still a decent week with the Lions pulling off the sweep of Rakuten. However, with Fife's loss, we've unfortunately learned what he is, which is a back end starter who could take a light start on occasion. It's clear when Ken Togame is healthy again, Fife would be the first one farmed.

We'll see what lies ahead, but the big series in Fukuoka will determine the next level of this team.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tawata earns shutout in final series from Chiba


The Saitama Seibu Lions would go .500 for the week against the Orix Buffaloes and Chiba Lotte Marines in a road trip. They maintain a healthy 14 game lead on the Buffaloes and are only 5.5 games behind the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for second place. Here is how we got there:

===

The first game from Osaka had Chihiro Kaneko up against Ken Togame. Takahiro Okada hit a leadoff "Rickey Henderson" style home run to begin the bottom of the 1st for a 1-0 lead. Hiroyuki Nakajima added two more in the second with an RBI single.

The Lions were on the board in the top of the third thanks to a fielding error by Nakajima. Togame would only go two innings and couldn't get an out in the third. When Frank Garces entered, it was all but a disaster as Orix continued to feast on his pitching. Eiichi Koyano broke the game open in the bottom of the 4th with a bases clearing double.

Ichiro Tamura also got some mop up time and allowed two solo HRs to Masataka Yoshida as the game was on cruise control. This would be the first road loss in red uniforms.

Buffaloes 12, Lions 6

Game notes:

-Tamura and Garces were called up, replacing Shogo Noda and Keisuke Honda.

-Togame was deactivated after the game and Hirotaka Koishi was called up in his place. It was reported that Togame had tightness in his lower back.

===

Game 2 featured Yosuke Okamoto against Nobuyoshi Yamada. Our old friend Nakajima would score first again with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd. The Lions responded with a timely single in the top of the 3rd by Shuta Tonosaki with two outs and the bases loaded, giving the team a 2-1 lead.

The bases were loaded again for the Lions in the top of the 4th, but Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura appeared to have grounded into a double play ball. However, Chris Marrero couldn't field the relay cleanly and two runs would score as the ball went past 1B.

Okamoto loaded the bases in the bottom of the 4th and Nakajima hit a single to score one run. The game was tied on a two-run double from Shuhei Kojima. After a grounder saved a run, Okamoto's night ended as the bases were loaded again with two outs. Shota Takekuma struck out T. Okada to end the threat and the game remained tied.

Taking over from the 4th inning Sachiya Yamazaki stayed in for the 5th. With two outs, Koyano would botch a throw to 1B and Yuji Kaneko was safe as Marrero was forced off the bag. Shogo Akiyama made them pay with a gapper as Kaneko scored from first. Sosuke Genda slapped the first pitch and double down the LF line to plate Akiyama. Asamura then hit one off the LF wall to score Genda and make it a 3-run inning.

Takekuma pitched a quick 5th inning thanks to a double play and the pitching was on automatic transmission. Hotaka Yamakawa added an RBI double in the 7th to extend a hit streak. Kazuhisa Makita pitched the 6th and 7th, Brian Schlitter took the 8th and Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th inning in what was a comfortable win.

Lions 8, Buffaloes 4

Game notes:

-Genda had a modasho with two doubles included.

-Yamakawa's batting average went above .300 for the first time going 1-2 with two walks.

-Naoto Watanabe took the DH while Takumi Kuriyama was on the bench.

===

The rubber match had Takahiro Matsuba against Yusei Kikuchi. Orix scored first in the bottom of the 1st inning from a solo HR by Chris Marrero. This lead didn't last long, as Takumi Kuriyama tied the game with an RBI single in the second.

Ryoichi Adachi would then take one deep off Kikuchi in the 3rd inning. Matsuba held the Lions in check, allowing only one run through six innings, but had five walks. The score remained the same, until Asamura took a deep HR off Taisuke Kondo in the 8th inning to tie the game.

Kikuchi stayed in the game and it would bite the team. With two runners on, Okada struck out, but Masataka Yoshida would slice a gapper with the outfield playing in, plating both runners and giving Orix the lead once again. Yoshihisa Hirano allowed the tying run to be at the plate, but Daichi Mizuguchi lined out and the Lions lost the series.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 2

Game notes:

-Yamakawa's hitting streak was snapped, but he still drew two walks.

===

The week would go to Kanto with the Chiba Lotte Marines using Tomohito Sakai against Ryoma Nogami. Asamura opened the scoring with a two-run HR in the top of the first. Chiba got a run back on an unusual fielder's choice which resulted in a throwing error by Okawari-kun.

Asamura hit a second HR of the game with a solo shot in the third. The Marines then tied the game in the bottom of the 5th, where Katsuya Kakunaka pulled a HR into the Marines Oendan. Both pitchers would only go five innings, leaving it into the hands of the bullpen.

Shota Takekuma helped bail out Katsunori Hirai in the 6th inning, but ran into trouble for the 7th. Two RBI gappers from Willy Mo Pena and Daichi Suzuki led to two runs, giving the Marines their first lead of the night. There was one last gasp for the Lions with the tying runners in scoring position, but Asamura and Okawari-kun both struck out to end the game.

Marines 5, Lions 3

===

Game notes:

-Watanabe and Kuriyama appeared in the game as pinch hitters, though only Watanabe would get an AB.

-Daichi Mizuguchi was the starting DH.

===

The second game would have Shinsaburo Tawata facing our old friend Hideaki Wakui. After Tawata had an early battle with runners on the corners, this one wouldn't have scoring for some time until the top of the third, where Yuji Kaneko took a HR into the Marines entrance gate for a solo "ski ball" HR.
Tawata had runners on base throughout the game, but wouldn't allow a run or anything significant through six innings. He struck out the side for his first three Ks of the game in the bottom of 6th. Bats were also non-existent against Wakui as it was a 1-0 game in the 7th.

The biggest chance for the Marines came in the bottom of the 7th where a leadoff single was bunted over to second base. Tawata would walk Shogo Nakamura, but Kazuya Fukuura would hit into a 4-6-3 double play and end the threat.

Wakui looked like he'd get through the 8th inning unscathed, but with two outs and two strikes, Shogo Akiyama took one into the Marines Oendan for a two-run HR. Tawata would cruise to his second career shutout win, with a clean 8th and only giving up one base runner in the 9th to end the two game skid.

Lions 3, Marines 0

Game note:

-Sosuke Genda picked up a stolen base with his 29th of the season.

===

The final game of the series had Stephen Fife making a start against Kota Futaki. It would be the Lions on the board first after Fife escaped a early jam. Tonosaki hit a triple to the right field gap while Ginjiro Sumitani plated him with a double.

A good defensive play from Akiyama throwing a runner out at home plate would save a run in the second. Asamura added a run in the 5th with a sacrifice fly, but trouble came for Fife in the bottom of the 6th. Shogo Nakamura hit one to the gap to tie the game and Suzuki pulled one down the RF line to give the Marines a 3-2 lead. Fife cruised through five innings, but it would be the 6th wehre he couldn't get an out.

This looked like another game where the Lions would lose by a run as Futaki pitched seven innings. However, Naoya Masuda took the 9th and gave life. Asamura worked a long at-bat and got an infield single with a head slide. A successful hit and run put Asamura at third with Yamakawa getting a single and no outs.

Kuriyama tied the game with a sacrifice fly and Shuta Tonosaki secured a modasho with an infield single of his own. Sumitani picked up his second RBI as 3B coach Toshifumi Baba made an aggressive send to the plate, but pinch runner Fumikazu Kimura was safe at the plate with his foot on the bag in time.

What happened next was a confusing play. Mizuguchi failed to get a bunt down on  a suicide squeeze attempt and Tonosaki was in a pickle. The catcher would miss the tag and Kuan-Yu Chen couldn't tag him out as Tonosaki's foot was on home plate first. This could have been ruled as being outside the base paths, but it wasn't. Kaneko added an RBI single to make it 6-3.

T. Masuda closed this one out with a strikeout. Interestingly enough, the game ended with a caught stealing as Ginjiro Sumitani would nab Shohei Kato at second to finish it.

Lions 6, Marines 3

Game notes:

-The Lions finished 10-2 at Zozotown Marine Field. It was the final game in 2017 for the Lions at this stadium.

-Kaneko would bat leadoff while Akiyama would hit third.

-To make room for Fife on the ichi-gu roster, Frank Garces would be deactivated.

-By pitching in the 8th, Schlitter earned his first career win.

===

It wasn't the greatest week, but it wasn't the worst by finishing .500. As long as this team doesn't collapse or go South by a lot, the Lions are in good shape. Fife's start in particular was encouraging since we don't know the health of Ken Togame besides him being out for an estimated two weeks. The Lions would be happy if he goes five frames with minimal damage.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shogo Akiyama named July 2017 Pacific League hitting MVP


Shogo Akiyama was named the Pacific League hitting MVP for the month of July on Tuesday afternoon. In the previous month, he would hit .351, leading the league in hits.

"I surprised myself because I didn't expected this award," Akiyama said in an interview.

While the Lions spent June scrambling with Yuji Kaneko and Akiyama trading time in the leadoff spot, the latter would bat first for the entire month of July. Akiyama briefly spent time batting third in the lineup during interleague play.

In July, Akiyama had five modashos, 19 RBIs, two stolen bases and three home runs. At one point, he had an 11 game hitting streak from July 18-30.

When asked about one of his favorite games, Akiyama pointed to the modasho he had in Tokyo Dome against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters on July 4, where he went 0-6 on the previous game.

There were plenty of candidates on the Lions who scored runs in July, including Hideto Asamura, Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki, but Akiyama's high average was viewed the best of the bunch.

This is the first time Akiyama has won this award since June of 2015. It's the third time overall, where he also won this award for March/April of 2015.  This award became the 72nd time a Lions player became a monthly hitting MVP, the most among all of NPB.

Previously, Ken Togame was named Pacific League pitching MVP for June of this season.

===

Other Monthly MVPs:

P Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants): 4th time, 4-0, 29.0 IP, 0.31 ERA, 30 K

OF Masayuki Kuwahara (Baystars): 1st time, .389, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 2 SB

P Nao Higashihama (Hawks): 1st time, 3-0, 20.1 IP, 1.33 ERA, 13 K

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer Koshien 2017: Schools connected to the Lions


===

Summer Koshien begins very soon. It's officially (August) Madness coming up, with plenty of intriguing games to take place, all in Koshien Stadium.

This also means it's the road trip of death for the Hanshin Tigers, as they will occupy Kyocera Dome for their home games during the tournament. There are a total of 49 schools representing 47 prefectures of Japan for the event. Hokkaido has two teams, divided by the north and south while Tokyo is separated by east and west.

Here are the schools that have a Saitama Seibu Lions player connection in them fro 2017:

===

Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi): P Tatsuya Imai

Sakushin Gakuin has been a powerhouse in the last decade thanks to a recent manager. Last year, they won the entire Summer Koshien tournament with Imai being the team's ace, pitching the whole way. The defending champions are back and looking for more. Interestingly enough, the Lions are rumored to be interested in their current OF Maeto Suzuki, who is drafted eligible for next fall.  

Imai was the Lions first round pick this past fall thanks to a strong effort in the Koshien tournament. He bucked a rare trend, being the first selected out of their high school in a very long time. Typically, Sakushin Gakuin players will go to university or an industrial league team before going to NPB. 

===

Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima): P Ryoma Nogami

Kamimura Gakuen is making its 4th appearance and first in five years. Nogami has been a mainstay in the Lions rotation as he was a second round draft pick in 2008 out of the industrial league's Nissan Motors. This year, he would be on pace to have his best season since 2012.  

===

Hokkai (Southern Hokkaido): OF Daisuke Togawa, P Seiji Kawagoe

Hokkai is a powerhouse among the schools in Hokkaido and will be making their 38th appearance in the tournament. Last year, they were not considered the best in the field, but went on an incredible run to the finals, only to lose to Sakushin Gakuin. It took some crazy comebacks, but it was entertaining to watch. 

Togawa was an ikusei draft pick of the Lions in 2014 straight out of the high school. He has remained in ni-gun since. Kawagoe would be drafted out of an elevator University of the same name in 2015 as a second round pick. He was formerly an outfielder converting to pitcher. Like Togawa, he has yet to see an ichi-gun game. 

===

Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama): OF Aito Takeda 

Hanasaki Tokuharu has recently dominated Saitama prefecture as they're making their third straight appearance in the tournament. Takeda, formerly known as Aito Otaki, was part of the 2015 team who made a decent run to the Elite 8 round. He was drafted by the team in the fourth round of the 2015 draft and saw some ichi-gun time this year after tearing up ni-gun. Most recently he was a pinch hitter/pinch runner before being sent down.  


===

Naruto Uzushio (Tokushima): C Shota Nakata

Nakata originally went to the school prior to Naruto Uzushio, which was known as Naruto Kogyo. This school would merge with another and form Naruto Uzushio. This is the first time the merged school makes a Koshien tournament appearance. Nakata is mostly a reserve farm catcher who works with the young pitchers down in ni-gun.  

===

Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma): P Kona Takahashi

Kona Takahashi took Maebashi Ikuei to their first Summer Koshien title as the team's ace in 2013 as a Junior. It was also their first appearance of the tournament in school history. This is the second straight year Maebashi Ikuei qualifies for Natsu Koshien as they were bounced in the first round of the 2016 edition. 

While Takahashi was a Lions first round draft pick, he has seen minimal time at the ichi-gun level.  ===

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

Okawari-kun, Asamura and Mori are a pretty famous trio in the bunch as they were drafted straight out of HS by the Lions. Okada would go to an industrial league before being taken by the Lions in 2013, the same year as Mori. 

Recently, Osaka Toin reclaimed the throne of Osaka after Riseisha proved to be a threat. Spring Koshien's final of 2017 would have both schools playing each other for the title, with Osaka Toin winning. As a result Osaka Toin is aiming for a Haru-Natsu Koshien of winning both Spring and Summer in the same calendar year, trying to be the 8th team to do so. The last time this happened, it was also Osaka Toin who would pull this off in 2012 with Mori and Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami as the battery. 

===

Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi): Coach Takanori Hoshi

Hoshi spent his playing career mostly as a backup to Shinnosuke Abe with the Yomiuri Giants. He would be sent to the Lions for cash in 2011 and saw a limited amount of playing time as a backup catcher. He worked mostly with ni-gun pitchers from 2015-2016 and retired as a player after the 2016 season. Hoshi is currently a developmental coach at the ni-gun level.  

===

Enjoy the tournament for what it is everyone, regardless of who is playing. Follow @Eigokokoyakyu for all the information.  

===

Editors note: We deeply apologize for incorrectly marking Fukuoka prefecture when writing about the 2017 Spring Koshien Lions article. A correction and deletion was made. 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, August 6, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Streak ends at 13, Yamakawa sparks offense


The Saitama Seibu Lions had another strong week, going 5-1 against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. They currently hold a 14 game lead against the Orix Buffaloes and are four games behind the Eagles for second place. Here is how we got there:

===

The first game against Rakuten would have Ken Togame up against Wataru Karashima. An error from Takeya "Okawari-kun" put Togame in an early jam for the third inning, but a strikeout and lineup gave him a houdini.

After a double from Shogo Akiyama, Sosuke Genda drew first blood in the third inning with an RBI triple on an ball that could've been caught by Ryo Hijirisawa. Genda scored immediately as Hideto Asamura hit a sacrifice fly. Shuta Tonosaki added another run in the bottom of the 4th with a single to make it 3-0.

The best chance came in the 6th inning, where the bases were loaded with no outs for the Lions. A bunt attempt by Takumi Kuriyama was a disaster for Rakuten as Karashima tried throwing to 3B, but Asamura was safe at the bag. Shu Sugahara would walk in a run with Tonosaki at the plate for one score.

Masatoshi Okada hit a comebacker which looked like an inning-ending double play, but Sugahara throw the ball off target, forcing Motohiro Shima off the bag and Okawari-kun scoring. Yuji Kaneko doubled down the LF line to plate two more runs and the rout was on. Akiyama added a sacrifice fly to pad the deficit.

Togame would pitch seven shutout innings with three strikeouts and two walks, scattering three hits. Two important double plays would prevent any runs up to that point. Shogo Noda had a clean 8th inning while Keisuke Honda took the 9th. After walking a batter, he would strikeout two others and the Lions secured their first 10 game win streak since the 1990s.

Lions 8, Eagles 0

Game notes:

-Mejia would once again sit out with Hotaka Yamakawa at 1B.

-This was the 8th shutout win of the season for the Lions.

===

The second matchup had Yosuke Okamoto facing Takahiro Norimoto. Okamoto had an early jam, but only gave up a sacrifice fly when loading the bases twice in the first inning.

There would be a response by the Lions in the third inning, where it all came with two outs. Genda had a timely RBI single to send Tonosaki home. After Asamura was hit by a pitch, Okawari-kun was up with the bases loaded. Two unconventional runs would score with a wild pitch by Norimoto as Genda scored from second base to give the Lions a 3-1 lead.

Okamoto would get a shutdown inning with two strikeouts, something he usually lacks. Hotaka Yamakawa would hit a solo HR in the bottom of the 4th, but the Eagles would get that run back from a solo HR by Shima in the 5th. Okamoto's day would end with five innings and only two runs given up with four strikeouts and a walk.

After a scoreless inning from Shota Takekuma, Norimoto would stay in the 6th inning and give up a base hit to Takumi Kuriyama. Yamakawa would haunt him again with a two-run HR into the batter's eye for a 6-2 lead. Brian Schlitter had a four pitch 7th inning with no runs allowed.

Kazuhisa Makita had a rough 8th inning, giving up solo HRs to Zelous Wheeler and Hiroaki Shimauchi, but nothing more. The bottom of the 8th would also have a home run. Once again, it was Yamakawa pulling off the hat trick of HRs with the third coming off Yuya Kubo.

Tatsushi Masuda allowed a leadoff double, but nothing more to secure an 11th straight win. It was their first 11 game win streak since 1994.

Lions 7, Eagles 4

Game notes:

-Daichi Mizuguchi would be a pinch runner for Kuriyama in the 6th inning.

-Besides Yamakawa's modasho with 3 HRs, Tonosaki would also have a modasho, bring his average up to .243 after the game.

-Yosuke Okamoto currently holds a five game win streak when starting a game.

===

Going for another sweep, Yusei Kikuchi took the mound against Tomohiro Anraku. Shogo Akiyama pulled off another Rickey Henderson style home run to begin the bottom of the first for the opening run. Sosuke Genda stole a base and was eventually on third after walking. He scored on a passed ball by Toru Hosokawa to double the lead. Yamakawa added a third run with a single to make it 3-0.

Kikuchi retired the first 14 batters faced, but allowed his first base hit to Hijirisawa in the top of the 5th inning. He gave up a home run to Hosokawa in the top of the 6th as his only run allowed. Anraku was left in for the 6th inning and a two out rally turned into a run. Yamakawa hit a double and Tonosaki followed it up with a deep gapper as the outfield played in.

Yasunori Kikuchi would pitch in the bottom of the 7th and it was nothing but a disaster for Rakuten. With two runners in scoring position and no outs, Genda would hit a deep triple to RF to plate two more runs and put the game away for good. Yamakawa added two more runs with a single to add the icing on the cake, securing a modasho for himself once again.

This day belonged to Yusei Kikuchi, where he went eight innings with 12 strikeouts and only one walk while scattering three hits. Shogo Noda took the final inning and completed the sweep.

Lions 8, Eagles 1

Game notes:

-Genda tied the franchise rookie record for triples with seven, matching Nishitetsu Lion Futoshi Nakanishi. He also reached 100 hits on the season, becoming the first Lions rookie since Kazuhiro Kiyohara (1986) to accomplish this milestone.

-Kikuchi threw a 158 km/H (98 mph) pitch to Zelous Wheeler in the 5th inning, tying the record for fastest pitch by a left handed pitcher.

-Mejia sat out once again, with Yamakawa taking over at 1B and Kuriyama at DH.

-On the final play of the game, Ginjiro Sumitani had a bat strike him on the neck for the last strike. It's unclear

===

The first place Softbank Hawks came to town with Hayato Terahara to face Ryoma Nogami. Okawari-kun drew first blood with a two out double as Asamura scored from first base.

Nogami was cruising through three innings with several strikeouts, but ran into trouble in the top of the 4th. Nobuhiro Matsuda tied the game with an RBI double then Alfredo Despaigne plated the go-ahead run with a single, but the damage was limited for the rest of the frame.

In what was a scheduled bullpen game for the Hawks, Kimiyasu Kudo went with Livan Moinelo in the 5th inning. Asamura tied the game with an RBI single after Akiyama reached base early. With two outs and two on, Yamakawa hit a deep double off the wall to plate two more and give the Lions the lead again.

The Hawks threatened again in the top of the 6th inning and Nogami would be pulled with two outs. He would finish the day with nine strikeouts and three earned runs as well as no walks. Katsunori Hirai walked a batter and left, then Shota Takekuma gave up a hit to Akira Nakamura for an inherited runner to score. However, the damage was limited as pinch hitter Yusuke Masago would strikeout.

In the top of the 7th, the tying run was on base with Tomoki Takata up, but a strikeout on full count ended the threat into the Lucky 7 break. With Ken Okamoto taking over, Okawari-kun took one deep into the Lions Oendan for a solo HR for his 24th of the season.

Yamakawa hit another double to create another chance in the inning. With two outs, it would be Masatoshi Okada ripping the timely single for a 6-3 lead. The bases were loaded for Genda and he would slap the first pitch for a single, adding two more runs as Kaneko scored from second for an 8-3 lead.

Keisuke Honda allowed a run while taking the final two innings in mop up duty, but he finished the game and the Lions won their 13th in a row. It was the first true 13 game winning streak in franchise history since 1958.

Lions 8, Hawks 4

Game notes:

-Okawari-kun had a modasho which included the Home run and timely hit.

-By having two hits, Yamakawa's batting average spiked up to .278.

-This was Nogami's first win in three weeks.

===

The second game would have Kodai Senga facing Shinsaburo Tawata. It would be a scoreless game until the top of the 4th, where Akira Nakamura hit a timely with the bases loaded. Seiji Uebayashi added another run with a base hit while Kenta Imamiya reached first on an error by Asamura, scoring two more runs.

Tawata would leave the game with the bases loaded in the top of the 5th. Shogo Noda walked in a run, making it 5-0. The Lions were finally on the board with a solo HR by Akiyama in the bottom of the 6th. However, the Hawks responded in the top of hte 7th when pinch hitter Kenta Kawashima hit a two-run HR off Noda for a 7-1 lead.

Senga was dominant with seven strong innings allowing only the HR to Akiyama with seven strikeouts and two walks. Asamura got those runs back in the 8th inning with a two run HR. With Dennis Sarfate taking the 9th, but not starting the frame, the bases were loaded. Asamura and Yamakawa would tie the game in improbable fashion with two different two-RBI singles, making it 7-7.

With the top of the 10th, Masuda took the mound, but it would be Nobuhiro Matsuda to lay the dagger with a double in the RF corner. Moinelo closed the game out and the win streak was over.

Hawks 8, Lions 7 (10 innings)

Game notes:

-Daichi Mizuguchi would pinch hit late in the game for Okada.

-Sumitani came in as a defensive sub when Okada was pinch hit, he appears to be fine after taking a hit earlier in the week.

-Mejia was taken off the roster for Shotaro Tashiro.  He will be ineligible to return until August 15.

===

In the final game as a rubber match, Brian Wolfe took on nemesis Shota Takeda. After Takeda hit Tonosaki, Sumitani initially showed bunt, but slapped a single past the infield to get runners on the corners with no outs. Akiyama started the scoring with a sacrifice fly.

Wolfe pitched efficiently to start, but ran into some trouble in the 4th inning with two outs before getting Despaigne to ground into a fielder's choice. Uebayashi would drop a bloop single to tie the game in the 5th, but no further damage took place.

With runners on the corners, Asamura would head slide into first base in the bottom of the 5th and beat out a double play to give the Lions a lead again. Yamakawa would then hit a three-run HR, which ended Takeda's night before the 5th inning was over. It was his 8th HR of the season.

The 5-1 lead proved to be enough as the rest of this game was on cruise control. Wolfe would go seven innings with four strikeouts, three walks and only three hits given up. Schlitter pitched a clean 8th inning and Tonosaki would hit a solo HR in the bottom of the frame for his 9th of the year.

Shota Takekuma took the 9th inning and finished the game as the Lions took the series.

Lions 6, Hawks 1

Game ntoes:

-Asamura was hurt when head sliding to first base. He was taken out of the game as Tonosaki moved to 2B and Fumikazu Kimura took RF to close it out.

-Naoto Watanabe started at DH and went 1-4.

-Frank Garces and Ichiro Tamura were called up to the ichi-gun. Keisuke Honda and Shogo Noda were taken off to make room.

===

No complaints this week. Sure it could've been another 6-0 week with a one run loss, but Senga was the one who dominated and the Lions really had no business winning that one. Any winning week is solid, but going 5-1? We'll take that and they even beat my expectations with taking a series against the Hawks.

We can really start to focus on the Eagles, possibly catching them with the team only being four games behind. They're also injured, which is leading to a little bit of losing for them this week. The offense is something everyone knew about, but the pitching has continued to be amazing given the personnel.

This road trip to Osaka and Chiba continue the grind. Amazingly, it's the last time the Lions will be in Zozotown Marine field for 2017, this season has flown by quickly.

===

Here is our latest podcast episode for those who missed it. 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Friday, August 4, 2017

Translation: Mejia not happy with own 2017 season, taken off roster


Ernesto Mejia has been the longest tenured foreign player on the 2017 Saitama Seibu Lions. However, things have been in the midst of a standstill with recent struggles leading to others playing instead.

Claudio Rodriguez of Béisbol Japonés had an exclusive interview with Mejia last month. Understandably, English is Mejia's second language having come from Venezuela prior to being in the Atlanta Braves organization.

In this interview, which is in Spanish, Mejia provided more details on some goals in Japan as well as the outlook of how the Lions are doing. In short, he said he isn't happy with his performance thus far in 2017. He also spoke about the All-Star Series and his past experiences from 2016.

With permission granted from Rodriguez, we have translated this interview for it to be available for the English speaking audience. Here is what he said, as translated in English with the questions included:

Note: This interview took place sometime on July 2 or July 3 as the Lions were in the midst of a five game losing streak. 

===

Let's first talk about that new contract you signed in September, which is for three years and it makes you one of the best paid in NPB, if not the highest. How did you feel about that [contract]? 

"Obviously, very happy. I am very happy to have an opportunity to continue doing what I like, which is the most important thing. This is a very good salary as well as three years of contract, so I'm focused on giving my best every day to not disappoint the team. They put a lot of confidence in me, so I am working hard to help the team and take them far."

===

What was the difference from previous years? It has been good since you came to Japan, but the team was only renewing your contact by only one year in the past. Why did they decide for three years on this occasion? 

"I don't know. As you said, they have been renewing me for one year at a time, but this time they approached me and said they wanted to renew me for a longer time. In our first instance, the contract was set to be two years with an option for a third. However, the third year option was not the best choice, so I talked to my agent and proposed that it was better to sign for three years, which is what we ended up doing."

===

Let's talk about your offensive production. Your numbers are good, but obviously not as good as what you recorded last year. How do you evaluate yourself in that aspect? 

"Well, I'm not happy with the season I've had so far. As you said, I have decent numbers, but they do not reflect what I know or demonstrate what I can do.  This is baseball, especially in a league like this that is so competitive, where every day [the team staff] shows us videos of the opposing pitchers and in turn, [opponent's will] watch our videos, looking for weaknesses."

"The strike zone is also bigger here. Yet, believe it or not, I am in a period of adaptation. Every day I have to adapt to different situations of play, because although the ball is round and the bat is the same as everywhere here, everything is quite different. Those who have played here know what I mean. All I have left now is to go ahead and work hard. What has already happened in the past [has passed] and I can not do anything to fix it. The only thing that is in my hands is the present and to give the best of my abilities and have a promising end of the season and with good numbers."

===

Let's talk about your defensive performance now. A few weeks ago you made four to five spectacular defensive plays at 1B where your videos are seen everywhere. Have you also had this [ability] or is it something new? 

"Well, I don't know what to say to you. The plays just came and bats/balls followed in the same game. Fortunately, I've had the joy of being able to make plays well. I always try to give my best on both the offense and defense and there are times when things go well and other times when they don't. I've been working hard on defense."

"At this point, I think I have only four or five errors, but hey, there should be less at first base because most hits go to the other sides of the field, not where 1B is. Nevertheless, I think my defense has improved a lot. After all, I've been working hard on it."

===

Something that has changed over the last year is the team playing much better. You're winning more games, in third place (A-class) and on your way to the postseason. What has been the difference in regards to 2016?

"Well, we've lost the last five games we played, but yes, overall we're having a good season. I'm sure it is due to the pitching, which has been better. When we have the [lead] in a game, we already have three pitchers who are in charge of the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. All three have been solid and most importantly, they can do the work."

"We have Kazuhisa Makita in the 7th, Brian Schlitter in the 8th and Tatsushi Masuda in the 9th. Thanks to them, when we are winning in the 7th, the game is practically ours. The starting pitchers have also been pretty consistent. We have had some bad luck recently because of some injuries and have lost some games, but hey, you can't always win."

===

Is there anything in particular that you haven't achieved in your NPB career that you'd like to accomplish? 

"Of course! I believe every goal I want to reach has not been met. I want to more than 40 home runs [in one season], grab more than 100 walks, strike out less than 100 times, hit .300, drive in 120 RBIs and become a [Japan Series] champion, among other things. This is to see that things are not as easy as they seem. Anyways, I will keep working hard everyday to try and reach these goals."

===

Last year, you won the Home Run Derby during the second All-Star Game [in Yokohama]. How was that experience? 

"Very good, especially because I was competing against several stars here and in the end I was able to win. I had luck that others didn't hit many home runs, so I took advantage of that. It was a wonderful experience. Yokohama stadium was full and I had an opportunity to be [part of the Pacific League All-star team] with players from other teams which I normally don't get a chance to see, so it was very special."

===

What do you think about the great performance that other Latino hitters are having this year? Let's talk about Alfredo Despaigne [Softbank Hawks], Alex Guerrero [Chunichi Dragons], Carlos Peguero [Rakuten Eagles], and José Celestino López [Yokohama DeNA Baystars].

"It's great to see what they are doing. I have a very good friendship with all of them. [José] Cestino [López] is having a fairly solid season, but incredibly won't be playing in the All-Star Series. Things here in Japan are not as you think. Apparently for teams, it is not as important if you make the All-Star Series or not."

"In the end, those who decide are the fans. There are players who have hardly played this season, but nevertheless end up being voted in by fans. Here in Japan, everything is very different. People think that if you don't have good numbers, you cannot go, but it's not like this. Despaigne and Guerrero are having great seasons, as well as Peguero, as it has surprised the fans and team who are happy with him. I'm really happy for all of them. We all came here with a dream and for that, we keep fighting, to get ahead and help our families which is the most important thing."

===

Your new three-year contract guarantees that you will at least spend six years in the league and that will place you among the Venezuelans who have played the longest here in NPB. How do you feel about that? 

"Well, very happy. I'm scheduled to retire in this league. I'm currently 31, and maybe I could play until I'm 40, I don't know. I have to work as hard as Alex Cabrera to have the terms to achieve this. We already have the experience of Alex Ramírez and Alex Cabrera, who each played here 13 years, so to become a Venezuelan player and stay here for a long time putting up the name for our country is an honor and I hope to achieve it."

===

Finally, what do you think of Japan as a country, its food, its culture [and] its people? 

Well, for me Japan is a unique country in the world, I believe in whatever area you want to talk about. The Japanese are very disciplined, organized and respectful people whose main quality is work. They only care about giving their best every day and always respect themselves no matter what happens. It is a country that has what it has thanks to its people."

===

From a 2016 interview with Mejia, Béisbol Japonés asked a similar question at the very end. 

Leaving baseball aside, what does Japan generally look like? How was the country, its food and its culture?

"For me Japan has to be the best country in the world. This is something else. The respect that people have, the way things are handled here and the discipline they have are incredible. The Japanese are what they are for their discipline. The food here is very good. There are things that someone does not like because they are not part of their culture and have a very different flavor, but most of the food is very good and always fresh, here you are never going to eat something stale or old. Overall, I love Japan."

===

In recent news, Mejia has been deactivated from the ichi-gun before the game on August 5. In his last 11 plate appearances, he failed to register a hit. Since July 1, he was 10-69 (.144) and had 28 strikeouts.

Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji said that the team will need him to perform at ni-gun in order to return to the ichi-gun again. Shotaro Tashiro was called up in his place.

Special thanks to Claudio Rodriguez of Béisbol Japonés for making this interview possible. 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 20


This is the 20th episode of our Lions ŌenDEN podcast.  Christian and Wes return to talk about the Satiama Seibu Lions perspective being better than last year. Other topics include the Pacific League, Yu Darvish being traded and the All-Star Series.

Note: This episode was recorded mostly on July 22nd. Due to the recent trade of Yu Darvish, we eliminated our Central League talk to talk about this trade and the Dodgers perspective.

We apologize for any errors or mispronunciations that unintentionally might've occurred.

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


===

Special thanks to @MistaMaxG for providing a new graphic for this podcast. 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, July 30, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Kikuchi reaches 10th victory in longest winning streak since 2011


===

The Saitama Seibu Lions had a perfect 6-0 week in Kanto against the Orix Buffaloes and Chiba Lotte Marines. They gained four games on Orix and currently hold a 12.5 game lead over them as they stay in third place of the Pacific League. Quietly, the Lions are seven games behind both the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.  Here is how we got there:

===

The first game against Orix would have Brandon Dickson up against Ken Togame. Orix struck first with an early jam thanks to a leadoff double by Masataka Yoshida. Masatoshi Okada would limit the damage by throwing out Yuji Nishino advancing to 2nd and end the threat.

It would take the bottom of the 4th inning for the Lions to do any damage on Dickson. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a solo HR to tie the game at 1-1. After Togame earned a quick shutdown inning with a double play, the Lions would get him some run support in the bottom of the 5th.

With two runners on, Shogo Akiyama would hit a double off the RF wall which was just short of a HR and plated Okada, who was HBP. Sosuke Genda plated a two-RBI single shortly after and made it 4-1.

Orix got a run back through a solo HR by Yoshida, but that was all the damage from Togame. For the night, Togame would go six innings with two earned runs, no walks and two strikeouts. He was really effective at getting the ground ball to make Genda and Hideto Asamura have simple plays.

The game would be broken open through the bottom of the 7th inning off the Orix bullpen. An RBI double from both Akiyama and Asamura added two more runs while a wild pitch added a third with Genda scoring.

Kazuhisa Makita, Shota Takekuma and Katsunori Hirai allowed two base runners each, but no runs were allowed as the Lions secured a fourth straight win.

Lions 7, Buffaloes 2

Game notes:

-Mejia was taken out in the 5th inning for Hotaka Yamakawa. He was 0-3 on the night.

-This was the first time the Lions beat Orix from MetLife Dome in six attempts for 2017.

-Akiyama had a modasho with two doubles and four hits overall.

===

Game two would have Yosuke Okamoto against Takahiro Matsuba. A slow start in the top of the first would have Eiichi Koyano hit a two-run HR to begin the scoring.

This lead wouldn't last long, as Okawari-kun hit a two-run HR of his own in the bottom of the frame. Okamoto earned a shutdown inning the hard way to keep it tied, forcing a 5-3 double play with two runners on base. The top of both third and 4th innings also saw drama with runners on base. In the fourth, the bases would be loaded after the Lions chose to intentionally walk Yoshida. The plan worked as Koji Oshiro grounded into a fielder's choice.

The bottom of the 4th would reward Okamoto for the Houdinis as Hotaka Yamakawa came through with two-run gapper. Masatoshi added another with an RBI double of his own, giving the Lions a 5-2 lead. Okamoto would complete a fifth inning in what was a scary outing. With only two runs given up in the first, he would have two HBP, four hits, four walks and one lone strikeout to Stefen Romero with runners on base.

Okawari-kun would add an RBI single in the bottom of the 5th to make it a 6-2 lead. The rest of the game would have the bullpen take over with Shota Takekuma in the 6th, Brian Schlitter in the 7th and Makita in the 8th. Takekuma and Schlitter had clean innings while Makita allowed two base runners before getting Shuhei Kojima out to prevent any scoring.

Masuda's clean 9th inning would give the Lions a five game winning streak, while also handing Orix a seven game losing streak.

Lions 6, Buffaloes 2

Game notes:

-Mejia would sit this game out in favor of Yamakawa at 1B.

-Genda set a new franchise rookie record for most stolen bases in first season. He would have two on the night and reach base through a fielder's choice.

===

Going for the sweep, the third game would have Yusei Kikuchi bumped up by a day against Sachiya Yamasaki. An early jam would occur in the 2nd inning as Genda committed a rare throwing error. However, Kikuchi got out of it with a strikeout and fielder's choice requiring a decent play from Hideto Asamura to escape.

The Lions rewarded Kikuchi with an unorthodox run in the bottom of the third. With the bases loaded and two outs, Asamura would hit a grounder towards SS Oshiro. It would be a tough play, but Sosuke Genda would beat out the throw to 2B, resulting in everyone being safe and scoring a run.

Kikuchi's biggest jam would be in the top of the 5th, where a sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a failed double play by Ginjiro Sumitani, having runners on second and first with no outs. He would also hit Chris Marrero by a pitch, loading the bases. Masahiro Nishino would hit a chopper and Asamura threw home on time, which forced an out. The dangerous Yoshida would then hit a comebacker, where Kikuchi went home for a 1-2-3 double play.

The 6th inning was similar with two runners on base and one out, but an infield fly to Kengo Takeda and strikeout of Oshiro ended the threat as Kikuchi showed off his stamina. Kikuchi completed a 7th inning to go scoreless on the night wit 12 strikeouts, one walk and five hits scattered.

There would be bullpen drama with Brian Schlitter in the 8th while nursing a one-run lead. Two straight hits had runners on with one out. Hiroyuki Nakajima would hit a deep fly, but Yuji Kaneko was able to get there without trouble. Takahiro Okada would make a pinch hit appearance with two outs, but Genda fielded a routine grounder to keep it a 1-0 game.

Okawari-kun added insurance with a solo HR off Taisuke Kondo to double the lead. Tatsushi Masuda made the 9th inning simple with two strikeouts and a sliding catch from Shogo Akiyama made the series a sweep.

Lions 2, Buffaloes 0

Game notes:

-Mejia would sit this game out again in favor of Yamakawa.

-With his 10th win of the season, Kikuchi reached a new career high in wins with his previous being nine.

===

The week would shift to the other side of Kanto as the headed to Chiba to see Hideaki Wakui in the first game of the series with Ryoma Nogami. It would be a strong start as Asamura hit a two run HR.

Nogami looked like he was cruising until the third inning, where one run scored on a wild pitch. Shohei Kato would then get a timely base hit to tie the game. The Marines would score two more in the 5th inning as Kato did the damage again with an RBI triple having two strikes. This inning would end Nogami's night as he mustered only two strikeouts and had four walks.

Wakui appeared to be cruising and would have likely gone the distance, but he felt an injury in the top of the 7th and left. Takumi Kuriyama then blasted a solo HR off Masaki Minami to make it a one-run game.

The Lions squandered a chance with the tying run on second in the 8th and two runners on base. Takumi Kuriyama grounded out and it looked like a one run loss would come again.

Tomohisa Otani would try and close it out for the Marines instead of Tatsuya Uchi in the top of the 9th. Hotaka Yamakawa was aboard with a leadoff walk and Daichi Mizuguchi would be a pinch runner. Shuta Tonosaki ripped a single to create a chance with no outs. With Masatoshi Okada up, he would bunt and Otani went for third base. Mizuguchi would be safe at 3B due to Shogo Nakamura's foot being off the bag.

With the bases loaded and no outs, Yuji Kaneko would hit a sacrifice fly to CF to tie the game. The Marines intentionally walked Akiyama in order to face Sosuke Genda. The Lions rookie made no mistake with another sacrifice fly to CF and Tonosaki scored from third. Okada was caught trying to advance after a bad throw by Roel Santos to provide no more insurance.

The game would still be far from over as Masuda took the mound in the bottom of the frame. Tadahito Iguchi hit a leadoff double in the gap to put the tying run in scoring position. Two high heat pitches would strikeout Daichi Suzuki and S. Nakamura on back-to-back at-bats. It would be up to Kazuya Fukuura similar to another outing earlier this year. He would foul out shortly and the Lions escaped with their seventh straight win.

Lions 5, Marines 4

Game notes:

-Mejia was once again benched for Yamakawa.

-Asamura's HR was only his 11th of the season.

===

The second game from Chiba would have Shinsaburo Tawata up against Kota Futaki, a battle of young pitchers. There would be no scoring until the third inning, where Yuji Kaneko stole second base and advanced to third on a bad throw by Tatsuhiro Tamura. After a walk by Akiyama, Genda delivered the timely hit to draw the first run.

Tawata's biggest jam came in the 5th inning with runners on first and second where there were no outs. The Marines would chose to bunt both runners over and then Tamura grounded into a fielder's choice, attacking the lead runner. Roel Santos then grounded out to end the chance.

Okada would save a play in the 6th where a sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a 2-6-3 double play. This would be important because two runners reached base shortly after and S. Nakamura struck out to end the frame.

For Futaki, the third time through the order penalty struck on him and a rally began in the 7th. Three Lions would walk with a sacrifice bunt in-between to load the bases for Akiyama, which ended Futaki's night. Akiyama ripped a short single off a Marines reliever for the second run of the game. Genda would get a sacrifice fly to plate Okada for a 3-0 lead.

Tawata would go seven scoreless innings and end the 7th with a punchout frame. He had nine strikeouts, one walk and scattered five hits on the night.

Schlitter had a clean 8th inning without a strikeout and the Lions pulled away for good in the 9th inning with a rally off Taiki Tojo. Akiyama hit an RBI double after Kaneko advanced to second awhile Asamura hit a timely single to plate two runs. Takumi Kuriyama also added a run by hitting a single off the pitcher's glove as the ball sneaked past the infield.

The shutout was denied as Shogo Noda allowed a run with two outs, but the game was all but over as the top of the frame had the Lions make it a boring rout. It would be the team's eighth straight win which was a season high.

Lions 6, Marines 1

Game notes:

-Mejia did not play for the 4th straight game. Yamakawa had one walk to start a rally.

-Tawata earned his third win of the season, all of which have come in the month of July.

===

Going for another sweep, the Lions would have Brian Wolfe face Ayumu Ishikawa. Akiyama lead off the game with an infield single, but advanced to second on a throwing error. After Genda would bunt him over and Asamura walked, Okawari-kun beat out a double play for the first run.

Santos tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd inning. The top of the third is where things would unravel for Ishikawa. Two walks and a base hit would load the bases for Yamakawa. With a full count and a long at bat, Yamakawa hit a double down the LF line to plate two runs and give the Lions the lead. A flurry of timely hits from Tonosaki, Sumitani and Kaneko would follow and add four more runs for an insurmountable 7-1 lead.

Having plenty of run support, Wolfe would go only five innings where he had an ugly jam in the third, giving up three straight hits with no outs. However, that run would be his second and last run allowed for the night. Wolfe had two more innings with at least two runners on base, but no runs allowed. He would scatter seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts.

The rest of this game went on cruise control where Hirai had a scoreless 6th, Shota Takekuma allowed a run in the 7th while Makita and Masuda finished it with scoreless frames. As a result, the Lions would win their ninth straight game, the longest by the franchise since 2011.

Lions 7, Marines 3

Game notes:

-Mejia started for the first time in five games at DH. He would go 0-4 as Kuriyama would be on the bench.

-Wolfe earned his 8th win of the season, which matched his total from 2014-2016 combined.

===

This has been an awesome week to be a Lions fan and tracking a team that's red hot. They're undefeated when wearing the red uniforms, but of course it's unlikely they maintain that. The question now is, are they a contender? There's a huge homestand to begin August against both the Hawks and Eagles where the results will be telling on how they are as a team.

It's hard to not be optimistic after building a cushion on Orix and the bats were decent in most of the games. The real surprise has been the pitching, which has been solid and has kept the team in games with Ryoma Nogami, Yosuke Okamoto, Ken Togame and Shinsaburo Tawata. Is it possible that Tawata is back after having a slow start to the year?  We'll see.

===

Our podcast episode was recently recorded and we hope to have it up some time this week. Stay tuned!  

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

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.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

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