Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Lions enter postseason for first time in three years

 


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First of all I'd like to apologize for the lack of activity in writing due to September and October being very heavy months in trips that were scheduled awhile back. It's been easy to track them, but to sit down and write? A little to difficult.  I'll mention everything in notes and by timeline.

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Lions overcome awful losing streak to make postseason

It wasn't a pretty month of September and some could argue the Lions were backed in. They lost their pennant aspiration very quickly after being swept in Fukuoka by the SoftBank Hawks. They even lost three games at home to the Rakuten Eagles but salvaged a fourth game, snapping a season-high seven-gamd losing streak. 

Despite the Eagles having games in hand, they weren't able to win them and it setup a very important makeup game in Sendai with the Lions nursing a 0.5 game lead. A win all but assured an A-class finish. 

Tatsuya Imai played the best game of his career with eight shutout innings and even with a high pitch count holding the Eagles to four hits. The only Lions score of the game was a solo HR from Shota Hiranuma, who last hit one in 2019. 

The Lions clinched when the SoftBank Hawks defeated the Eagles one more time. To put icing on the cake, Hotaka Yamakawa hit a sayonara HR against the Hawks to prevent any clinching pennant part for the opposition. 

Later in the week, the Orix Buffaloes ended up snatching the Pacific League pennant with a win vs Rakuten combined with a Hawks loss in China, setting up a Lions Climax Series in Fukuoka.

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Veterans retire

While it was already documented Tetsuya Utsumi would retire and had his ceremony in the middle of the month, two more NPB veterans announced they would retire. 

Ken Togame finished his three year contract and saw minimal action since signing it after 2019. He was a former first round pick in 2011 and mostly spent time as a mid rotation starter unable to have consistent seasons Togame ended his career with a strikeout against the Fighters. 

Shota Takekuma also announced retirement. A long time reliever, Takekuma spent most of his career as a lefty specialist and even saw time as a setup man. Later in his career, he was a spot starter. After seeing plenty of action in 2021, he didn't play a game in 2022. 

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Lions announce player departures 

With the regular season concluded, it is time for all teams to announce players who won't be returning or offered a contract for the next year. The Lions first wave of cuts had five ikusei players and C Shoya Makino.

Makino, 21, made his ichi-gun debut this season an appeared in 11 games, recording four hits and a triple. He had surgery in June. 

The five ikusei players who will be let go include P Hiromasa Saito, P Kaito Awatsu, P Toshihiro Idei, P Sho Ito and P Towa Uema. With the exception of Idei, everyone else was once a draft pick of the Lions and played at the ichi-gun for a brief time.

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Looking ahead to the Climax Series

The Lions have to go to Fukuoka, everyone's least favorite venue where they have a bad history.  In 2022, their head to head record is 10-14-1.

In Climax Series history, they've lost a postseason series to the Hawks in 2011, 2012, 2018 and 2019. 

Before the Climax Series existed, they won a postseason series in Fukuoka back in 2004. 

The Hawks pitching has more flexibility in starting after Kodai Senga while it's likely the Lions will use Kona Takahashi, Tatsuya Imai and Wataru Matsumoto.  

Odds favor the Hawks based on history and both teams, however, the Lions have shown they can pitch with the rest of the league. 

Question is, can they score? The offense has mostly been a one man show with Hotaka Yamakawa while some expected more from Brian O'Grady. They've depended on random contributions from role players and even part time players like Hiranuma, Shohei Suzuki and Aito in the past. 

Games are played for a reason and even though the odds aren't in their favor, there is a chance if they can score and not play with any nerves. Pressure is on the Hawks with the outside expectations. 

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Sunday, August 28, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: 5,000 wins


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The Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-3 against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Orix Buffaloes in a road trip week.

They lost their first place positioning and sit 0.5 games behind the Softbank Hawks for the Pacific League pennant league.

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Chiba Lotte Marines

The Lions barely held onto one game where Burch Smith was pulled early in middle relief. The use of starting pitching became stretched with Wataru Matsumoto and more. 

Takumi Kuriyama did all the could hitting home runs and several RBIs, but the Lions only took one game in Chiba where the third game was a backbreaker. 

With a 4-0 lead, the Lions couldn't do more damage and Yoshinobu Mizukami struggled as the game was tied in the 8th inning. Tatsushi Masuda gave up the walkoff run with one out.

Lions 5 Marines 4

Marines 5 Lions 2

Marines 6 Lions 5

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Orix Buffaloes

The Lions held their ground against Yoshinobu Yamamoto and kept the game tied 2-2 into extra innings. Tatsuya Imai earned a tough win going nine frames with 144 pitches while Tatsushi Masuda had to close it in the 10th after Kuriyama hit a sacrifice fly.

Kaito Yoza struggled in the second game, leading to a shutout.

Dietrich Enns won his third game in a row through he gave up a three-run HR in the 6th. Hotaka Yamakawa went 4-5 with a HR and three RBIs to take the series.

With this win, the Lions won their 5,000th game in franchise history dating back to the 1950 Nishitetsu Clippers. They became the 6th team to reach this milestone and the first since the current NPB existed in 1950. 

Lions 3 Buffaloes 2

Buffaloes 6 Lions 0

Lions 10 Buffaloes 4

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Let's just say it could be worse.  The bullpen concern is real and with Imai being forced to go old school, there's a bumpy ride ahead. Offense is sporadic, but forgiving in the series against Orix. 

Who knows how this pitching holds up. 

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Friday, August 26, 2022

Jon Daniels was a pioneer for NPB, baseball abroad

 

Daniels (right) observes Shohei Ohtani from Kamagaya.

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The Texas Rangers cleaned house last week as both on-field manager Chris Woodward and General Manager Jon Daniels were let go two days apart on August 16 and 18, respectively. 

The Rangers haven't had a winning season since 2016 and the owner Ray Davis made it very clear they're not good. They recently had a new ballpark open in 2020 and the attendance has been dismal due to poor results. 

They signed three high-priced free agents in Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Jon Gray hoping it would give them a jolt at competing again.

Daniels used Woodward as his scapegoat and took majority of the questions in the press conference after letting go of his manager. They had a 6-24 record in one run games at the time of Woodward's dismissal.

Davis turned around two days later to let go of Daniels, saying he made this decision long before Woodward was dismissed. 

Despite the recent failures in Texas, Daniels should be commended for his efforts in going to Japan and NPB for players.

This isn't just the time he added You Darvish through the posting system, but even the foreigners who've returned including Colby Lewis, Tony Barnette, Joely Rodriguez, Chris Martin and Anthony Bass. 

Playing baseball in Japan has had a reputation for decades as a destination for either veterans looking for some last paychecks to players who couldn't stay around in MLB. While the latter has truth to it, going to Japan is no longer an insult like it once was.

For a pitcher in particular, it's an opportunity to find ways to improve their game. It's possible Japanese coaches bring another perspective to their game and find any flaws they initially came with to fix. 

Daniels was willing to take a flyer and trust his scouts abroad to sign these players who were initially rejected at the MLB level to bring them back.

Lewis was the biggest success story on being able to return and be a rotational starter for multiple years. After leaving the Hiroshima Carp in 2009, Lewis was a starting pitcher until 2016, when he retired. 

In an era with new information and better resources than before, other teams have picked up on players beyond the stars like Shohei Ohtani and Darvish. 13 years ago, Miles Mikolas would have been an easy free agent signing by Daniels, but due to the information available, the St. Louis Cardinals were able to sign him and he's been good in their rotation pitching in his fifth season away from the Yomiuri Giants.

While not everything pans out like Kohei Arihara, Daniels had an open mind to look across the Pacific for depth. 

Today, his philosophy and ideas still influence San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller, who worked until Daniels as an assistant GM from 2004-2014. 

Besides Darvish himself, the Padres roster in 2022 has Pierce Johnson and Robert Suarez among former NPB players. He also took a flyer on Kazuhisa Makita in 2018.

When the pursuit for Shohei Ohtani took place, he made a trip to Kamagaya, Chiba, the Fighters farm facility to scout him while he was rehabbing.

It was the most devoted trip to Japan by a Generalanagwr aside from when Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto was in Sapporo to see an Ohtani outing. Daniels tried to throw everything from saving international money and offering hitting freedom for Ohtani, but came up short as the reigning MVP is on the Angels.

There are plenty of what could have beens if Ohtani and Mikolas were on the Texas Rangers. Maybe they would've competed? However, the Rangers have failed to rebuild since their postseason exit on 2016.   

Daniels hit his expiration date with the Rangers, but the ideas and influence exists today as a bridge to NPB. Everyone should be thankful how much he respects the league for what it is when others saw little to no value aside from the obvious phenoms.

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Sunday, August 21, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Neutral results leads to small lead

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-3 against the Softbank Hawks and Orix Buffaloes in a top heavy homestand against two A-class teams.

They now cling to a 0.5 game lead on the Hawks as they retained first place, but the room for error is slim.  

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Utsumi announces retirement

Veteran Tetsuya Utsumi announced he would retire at the end of this season.  He initially came to the Lions as part of a free agent compensation return in 2019, but only saw a handful of spot starts since.

The Lions have let him mostly coach the young pitchers on the roster. He made an ichi-gun appearance for the first time since the announcement and got a round of applause in his scoreless relief inning.

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Softbank Hawks

Kona Takahashi earned his first win since June as the Lions shutout the Hawks in one game. Tomoya Mori's home run was just enough. 

They were out-pitched in game two by Colin Rea while Katsunori Hirai struggled. 

The Lions took the series in the rubber match scoring several runs off Nao Higashihama, including a three-run HR from Brian O'Grady. 

Lions 2 Hawks 0

Hawks 5 Lions 3

Lions 8 Hawks 5

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Orix Buffaloes

Yoshinobu Yamamoto was vulnerable, but the Lions couldn't cash in and break the game open with only three runs. Pitching couldn't stop Kenya Wakatsuki in the first game as he hit multiple HRs. 

Hiroya Miyagi shut the Lions down in Game 2, but the team responding in the final match of the week.

Dietrich Enns prevented a sweep with six strong innings and only one run allowed. They also scored early with walks and hits off Ren Mukunoki. 

Buffaloes 4 Lions 3

Buffaloes 6 Lions 0

Lions 3 Buffaloes 0

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This wasn't the best week, but it also wasn't the worst.  Offense has its problems, though the rest of the Pacific League doesn't hit either, which works to their advantage.

At least the bullpen was rested on this homestand. 

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Sunday, August 14, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Nakamura hits two milestones

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions went 2-3-1 against the Fighters and Eagles in a tight Pacific League race away from home. They currently sit 1.5 games ahead of the Softbank Hawks in first place. 

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Injuries and more

Kaima Taira was taken off the ichi-gun roster due to his finger being injured. The Lions also lost Seiji Kawagoe this week as Gakuto Wakabayashi took his roster spot. Notably, the Lions also called up veteran Tetsuya Utsumi.

With the catcher position being shorthanded, the Lions has to sign Hitoto Komazuki to an Ikusei contract in order to have someone catching ni-gun games. Masatoshi Okada is out for the season. 

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Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Lions failed to score for most of the series and even though they had a one-run lead in the first game, Tatsushi Masuda couldn't record an out and allowed Keisuke Kondo to hit a sayonara three-run HR.

They even tried to stretch Wataru Matsumoto to 10 innings, which also resulted in a sayonara loss. A draw in the second game was salvaged as the bullpen only allowed one run through seven innings. 

Fighters 5 Lions 3

Lions 2 Fighters 2 (12 innings)

Fighters 3 Lions 2

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Rakuten Eagles

Takeya Nakamura reached two milestones with one swing as a solo HR off former Lions pitcher Takayiki Kishi was both his 450th career HR and 1,000th run scored.

Tatsuya Imai and Kaito Yoza both provided decent starts. However, the third game is the black cloud as Dietrich Enns was left in too long after a weather delay.

With a 3-0 lead in the 7th, the Lions didn't use any reliever until it was too late as two HRs tied the game before Yoshinobu Mizukami gave up the losing run in the 8th.

It was a failed opportunity by the Lions bullpen decision to keep the starter in too long. 

Lions 5 Eagles 1

Lions 6 Eagles 4

Eagles 4 Lions 3

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For now, the mood isn't good for how the bullpen decisions could be in the final months of the season. This team could be trending down if they don't use the bullpen or feel uncomfortable with it. 

Brian O'Grady had a decent series in Sendai, but is he stat padding against a team who has questionable starting pitching? 

Offense looks below average and the bullpen could be gassed. 

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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Mizukami wins pitching Pacific League MVP award for July 2022

 


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The July 2022 MVP of the month awards came out from NPB and the Saitama Seibu Lions has a recipient.

Yoshinobu Mizukami won the pitching award for the Pacific League for the first time in his career. It was the first by a Lions pitcher since Zach Neal in 2019.

Mizukami, 24, had a 0.00 ERA in 11 games and 10.2 innings, striking out eight with a league-leading seven holds and one save for the month of July. He also recorded a 2-0 record. 

He was originally an ikusei draft pick of the Lions in 2020 and earned a promotion to the 70-man roster during the 2021 season. 

Mizukami's ichi-gun journey has mostly featured him as the 7th inning reliever, but due to closer injuries and problems with the bullpen, he's even seem time in the 8th inning.

The Lions bullpen has carried majority of the team as they currently sit in first place through Wednesday's games. 

Earlier this season, Hotaka Yamakawa won the only other Lions Pacific League monthly MVP award in May.

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Other award winners:

OF Masataka Yoshida: .322/.454/.529

IF Munetaka Murakami: .318/.471/.742, 8 HR

P Yuki Nishi: (3-0), 0.66 ERA, 27.1 IP

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Sunday, August 7, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sayonara build on lead

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions stayed in first place with a 5-1 week against the Orix Buffaloes and Chiba Lotte Marines. 

They now hold a three game lead on the Softbank Hawks. 

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Orix Buffaloes

The Lions struggled against Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but mounted a comeback in the 8th inning as they stayed close. 

Hitomi Honda was pitching in the 8th inning and the Lions had multiple hits, including a game-tying timely hit from Sosuke Genda. With an intentional walk to Hotaka Yamakawa which loaded the bases, Honda walked Takumi Kuriyama and the Lions took a lead they'd never give up for the first game. 

The Lions took the second game with solo HRs from Tomoya Mori off Hiroya Miyagi. Katsunori Hirai only gave up a solo HR and earned another win with six innings pitched. 

Takeya Nakamura turned back the clock in the third game with two home runs, saying "Okawari" on the second as he hit a walkoff for what was a tight game. It was his 5th career sayonara HR, tying him for the franchise record with Futoshi Nakanishi and Kazuhiro Kiyohara. At 38 years old, became the oldest in club history to have a sayonara HR 

Lions 4 Buffaloes 2

Lions 3 Buffaloes 1

Lions 3 Buffaloes 2

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Chiba Lotte Marines

The Lions came back from a 3-0 deficit in the first game and eventually walked off again from a HR by Seiji Kawagoe. 

Yoshinobu Mizukami couldn't hold a 1-0 lead as Brandon Laird hit a two-run HR.

Dietrich Enns recovered from giving up his own two-run HR in the third game and the Lions exploded for six runs in the fourth inning off Ryotaro Mori, who was playing in only his second game.

Hotaka Yamakawa had a HR in all three games and for Enns, it was his fourth straight win at home. 

Lions 4 Marines 3

Marines 2 Lions 1

Lions 10 Marines 4

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What couldn't go unnoticed was the decline of Brian O'Grady and Jantzen Witte, who sat out of Sunday's game and had a cold week. Time is ticking and the last chance gasp for any opportunity is here.

Tatsushi Masuda came back this week from COVID and pitched a scoreless frame, but the other reinforcement this week was Burch Smith, who had a shaky outing, but pitched three scoreless innings in the comeback win over the Marines.

With the bullpen concerns for Taira and Mizukami, Smith doesn't have the mileage this year and his role as a possible swingman could be huge for the last two months.  

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