Sunday, April 2, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lions 8, Fighters 1

Other notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighters 3, Lions 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lions 6, Fighters 3

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

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

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