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
-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
-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
-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
-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
-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
-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