Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Lions don't have it in 2021, but it could be worse


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The Saitama Seibu Lions are all but eliminated from any chance at the postseason with a recent series loss to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters over the weekend.

This hasn't been a fun year from an offensive standpoint aside from Tomoya Mori. 

At this rate, it's a about Takumi Kuriyama reaching 2,000 career hits. 

It was great enjoying Kaima Taira's run of scoreless outings before it ended, but the bullpen before him just isn't there. Other problems include Zach Neal's regression to a lack of home runs and hitting for average. 

Despite all of this, it could be worse. You could be an Oakland Athletics fan.

The A's are currently in the midst of a playoff race with other top opponents in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for the wildcard and possibly the Houston Astros for the AL West division, yet there is a sense of doubt.

 They could win out yet find a way to lay an egg in the postseason even if they get hot. 

Worst part about it? They're in their window of contention, no rebuilding allowed. Some players underperformed while at other times, they can look defeated and flat against contenders.

It's also likely manager Bob Melvin is a puppet just following orders from the front office, presumably Billy Beane. There's no heart or passion on the field when it matters most. 

The common story is an offense swinging for the fences and hoping to "luck" into a championship instead of actually addressing some glaring needs, besides peaking at the wrong time. 

While it isn't the most fun watching the Lions in the midst of this year, at least they're rebuilding with several inexperienced players in all positions at the ichi-gun level. 

It wasn't good hearing about Takeru Sasaki's suspension for being with his girlfriend, however, we can only hope it's a short term bump in his career to learn from.

Kona Takahashi, Tatsuya Imai and Wataru Matsumoto have been positives in this season, though the bullpen problems have forced them to stretch their outings to 7-8 innings if possible. 

Relievers are a strange bunch, where a pitcher can look great one year and bad the next. In this case, keeping Tatsushi Masuda has backfired for 2021 when he was about to enter free agency. Can only hope he rebounds.

It didn't help to give Yuji Kaneko an extension either, who is under contract with the team through 2023. This goes same for Ken Togame, who is mostly a reliever. 

It's harder even for the foreigners in 2021 with no one showing a case to get a contract for 2022. Reed Garrett is too inconsistent to be a setup man, Matt Dermody gave up too many hits even in mop up duty, Neal's aforementioned regression continues and Cory Spangenberg has also taken a step back.  Not mention Ernesto Mejia requesting a release, where it wasn't necessary to bring him back.

At least the younger position players are getting experience. From Junichiro Kishi to Aito (Takeda), Sena Tsuge and even Gakuto Wakabayashi. 

There's an ugly amount of growing pains for now and if the offense stays bad, it may be time to Hatsuhiko Tsuji to step down. Let's enjoy the ride for what it is and hope there won't be a pennant celebration in front of the Lions. 

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Lions add Kumon, Hiranuma in trade with Fighters

 


The Saitama Seibu Lions acquired IF Shota Hiranuma and P Katsuhiko Kumon from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in exchange for IF Ryusei Sato and OF Fumikazu Kimura on Thursday morning. The NPB trade deadline was extended into August due to the Olympics. 

Hiranuma, who turns 24 on Monday, was originally a fourth round draft pick of the Fighters out of high school in 2015. His most productive ichi-gun season came in 2019 with a slashline of .236/.291/.333 in 73 games. Hiranuma's playing time continued to diminish since. 

Kumon, 29, was traded for the second time in his career with the first happening after the 2016 season. As a left-handed middle reliever, he took several medium leverage innings as a setup/situational pitcher. His playing time diminished in 2020. Kumon was originally drafted by the Yomiuri Giants in 2012. 

Sato, 24, was the Lions' seventh round draft pick in 2018. He initially made the ichi-gun in 2019 and saw time as a defensive replacement at 3B. His career went South in 2020 when he broke a team rule by going golfing with a teammate and went speeding, causing trouble with the law. The Lions suspended him for the entire 2020 season as a result. Sato only saw 11 ichi-gun games in 2021. 

Kimura, who turns 33 in September, was a starting outfielder for the Lions. He was initially drafted as a pitcher in 2006 before making the full time switch to OF in 2013. His peak season came in 2018 where he slashed .260/.330/.413 in a part time/defensive replacement role. Kimura entered the 2021 season on pace to reach domestic free agency, but he fell out of favor with only 20 ichi-gun games in 2021. 

This trade is a flyer for both teams to pickup a relatively young player thrown in with a veteran. For the Lions, they could use left-handed bullpen help with Kumon. They're also hoping Hiranuma can be cheap infield depth as he can play 3B and 2B. He's a fast slap hitter, but even in a worst case scenario, Hiranuma can be a pinch runner. 


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2021 Summer Koshien: Schools with Lions ties


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After both Koshien tournaments were cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer edition of 2021 kicked off on August 10. 

With tradition we will mention each school in this year's tournament with a 2021 Lions connection. . This is officially the 103rd edition. 

While the games already started and several school eliminated, they will still get recognition. 

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Appearance stats are for Summer Koshien only

Hokkai (South Hokkaido, 39th appearance, first since 2017): OF Seiji Kawagoe, OF Daisuke Togawa, IF Ryusei Sato, P Jiyu Okubo 

Hokkai is remembered for making the finals in 2016, only to lose to the champions. Kawagoe and Sato were both taken out of university with both players receiving limited ichi-gun playing time and the former is a converted pitcher. Sato was suspended for speeding in 2020 and is a reserve. 

Togawa and Okubo were high school draft picks in the ikusei rounds of 2014 and 2018, respectively with the former earning a promotion. 

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Tohoku Gakuin (Miyagi, first appearance): P Keisuke Honda

Honda has been a back-end starting pitcher for the Lions, but his inconsistently has not led to frequent ichi-gun action. He currently remains in ni-gun. 

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Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi, 10th consecutive appearance, 16th overall): P Tatsuya Imai

Imai was the ace for Sakushin Gakuin's 2016 championship. He is currently a front end starter in the Lions rotation and had an all-star game appearance in 2021. 

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Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma, 4th consecutive appearance, 5th overall): P Kona Takahashi

Takahashi carried Maebashi Ikuei to a Koshien title in the school's first appearance back in 2013. He is currently the ace of the Lions. 

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Urawa Gakuin (Saitama, 14th appearance, first since 2018): P Yutaro Watanabe

Watanabe was a second round draft pick in 2018 while he participated in the school's last appearance. He made his ichi-gun debut in 2021 and has seen mixed results as a reliever. 

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Shizuoka (Shizuoka, 13th appearance, first since 2018): OF Shohei Suzuki

Suzuki has been a part time outfielder for the Lions since 2020, but struggles to stay around as a starter. 

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Aikōdai Meiden (Aichi, 13th appearance, first since 2018): P Ken Togame

"Meiden" is famously known as the high school of Ichiro Suzuki. Togame has been a starter for most of his Lions career, but switched to relief after struggling in 2020. 
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Yokohama (Kanagawa, 19th appearance, first since 2018): P Daisuke Matsuzaka, Coach Masahiro Abe

Daisuke Matsuzaka became a legend from high school as he won Koshien in 1998, throwing a no-hitter in the midst of that run. Players around his age are known as the "Matsuzaka Generation." While a great pitcher prior to 2007, he has yet to appear in an ichi-gun game in this current stint with the Lions. Abe serves as an ichi-gun batting coach. 

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Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui, 3rd consecutive appearance, 10th overall): IF Shinya Hasegawa

Hasegawa was an ikusei draft pick of the Lions last October straight out of high school. Tsuruga Kehi is mostly known for Masataka Yoshida among active NPB players. 

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Osaka Toin (Osaka, 11th appearance, first since 2018): IF Takeya Nakamura, C Masatoshi Okada, C Tomoya Mori, OF Yuta Nakamigawa

The Lions pipeline with Osaka Toin continued when they took Nakamigawa in the 7th round of the 2020 draft. Mori has the most successful high school career, winning both Spring and Summer Koshien in 2012 with Shintaro Fujinami as his pitcher.  Okada was the catcher for Sho Nakata in high school and serves as the Lions backup today. Nakamura needs no intro as he's the franchise leader in home runs. 

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Meitoku Gijiiku (Kochi, 2nd consecutive appearance, 21st overall): OF Junichiro Kishi

Kishi was a pitcher in high school and actually lost to Mori's Osaka Toin team in a tournament. An 8th round pick in 2019 out of Indy ball, he has seen more ichi-gun games in 2021 and even spent time as the Lions leadoff hitter in centerfield. 

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Nishi-Nippon (Fukuoka, 6th appearance, 11th overall): P Ren Omagari 

Ren Omagari was the Lions 5th round draft pick last October out of University. Notably, he was a rubber ball pitcher and is currently in ni-gun.  

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Shōnan (Kagoshima, 20th appearance, first since 2016): P Shota Hamaya

Hamaya was a second round draft pick of the Lions in 2019 as a shakaijin. He saw a handful of ichi-gun starts, but couldn't keep his rotation spot. He remains in ni-gun. 

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Okinawa Shogaku (Okinawa, 2nd consecutive appearance, 9th overall): P Kaito Yoza

"Okisho" was home to Softbank Hawks pitcher Nao Higashihama. Yoza went to university and the Lions drafted him in 2017. A submarine pitcher, Yoza battled an injury, spent time under an ikusei contract and eventually made his debut in 2020. He was a starter last season, but is mostly a reliever in 2021. 

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Sunday, August 1, 2021

NPB Trade Deadline: Who becomes a target?


There is always one dark day in the sports world. Unfortunately, entering the second half of any baseball season means the time will be ticking on certain players with their respective teams. While some will reach free agency, others will be let go and not offered a contract for the following season, better known in Japanese as senryokugai.

Due to the Olympic break year's NPB trade deadline is on August 31 and while the trades and transactions are minor, every team needs to start thinking ahead at who could be gone soon. The NPB Draft takes place in October while the regular season is still ongoing, but it's usually a hint at when senryokugai lists are announced for each team in order to make room for the new players taken.

This deadline also applies to the additions for non-waiver pickups. However, the Olympic break should be the best time to bring in any midseason imports with the quarantine rules in effect. Foreigners serving their quarantine during the Olympics is the best case scenario.

Putting yourself in the General Manager's shoes, some players need to show life or their careers in NPB could be over. In North America on this kind of day, players are always reminded and even telling the media "it's a business" when they're sent packing via trade, cut or being released.

As with usual in NPB, trades mostly happen because teams don't know what to do with the player they have, hoping to acquire cheap depth or find a change of scenery for the individual. They're often expendable.

For those reading in Japan, this is not a hit piece for any players who may not have been good, but it's a warning to project who could be gone from the Lions after the 2021 season concludes. We have also provided an update for all foreigners under contact, which is always a year-by-year case. Ikusei players will not be listed here.

Here are the players who could be sent away by trade or senryokugai:

Shunta Nakatsuka: Nakatsuka previously survived last year's cuts by ending the season at the ichi-gun level. However, he has no action in 2021 except one game in ni-gun. He turns 27 in December as his ceiling is caving in. Time could be running out. 

Hitoto Komazuki: Once a converted outfielder, Komazuki is the designated farm catcher with Sena Tsuge as the better option. If the Lions want to promote Daichi Nakaguma from ikusei, Komazuki could be gone. However, Masatoshi Okada also has domestic free agent rights. 

Kaito Awatsu: Awatsu was a fourth round draft pick in 2018, but hasn't appeared in a game at any level for 2021. He saw an ichi-gun appearance in mop up in 2019, which I was in the building for, but nothing after that. 

Daiki Enokida: Enokida has seen his ichi-gun time continue to dwindle and has been a spot starter since last year. He has seen eight relief appearances in ni-gun, but has yet to make an ichi-gun appearance. Maybe he'll get a shot in the second half, but he's not exactly young. 

Keisuke Honda: The non-midfielder saw only two ichi-gun starts with mixed results. However, he has several ni-gun starts which should keep him afloat. 

Hiromasa Saito: Once a first round draft pick, Saito has spent majority of his career as a ni-gun pitcher. He showed promise in Australia, but the success never translated to NPB. With Kaima Taira's emergence, Saito is an afterthought.  

Mitsuo Yoshikawa: The former Fighters pitcher was a cheap flyer for the Lions in hopes to find depth. It hasn't worked out as hoped.  

Daisuke Togawa: A former ikusei, Togawa hasn't appeared in a single game at any level. He experienced a hero interview for his efforts in Chiba, but couldn't keep his roster spot in 2019. 

Daichi Nakaguma: Nakaguma has been an ikusei catcher for three years. The Lions will need to make a decision one way or another if they want to keep him around.  

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Already gone: 

Aoi Tono: Tono showed promise as an ikusei, but an injury continued to get worse and forced him to retire. 

Ernesto Mejia: Mejia was granted a release at his request. His playing time was already minimal and felt more reason to commit to his family. 

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Foreigners: 

Zach Neal: Neal is at the end of a two year contract as he struggled in 2020. He started slow in 2021, but his starts are better than his stats indicate. If he keeps up this pace, the Lions should keep him around for 2022. 

Reed Garrett: Garrett was given a second year while having a middle relief innings. He gets high leverage innings as a setup man, but his outings can be inconsistent. Garrett enters the second half on the bubble. 

Cory Spangenberg: Spangenberg had a late arrival as did most Lions imports. Last year, he had several extra base hits, but this season, some teams have pitched around him and adjusted. His versatility is what keeps him alive. However, he is on the outside with struggles at the plate and faces uncertainty unless things get better.

Matt Dermody: Dermody had the tallest uphill battle with being the only new foreigner on the Lions and had a late arrival with no in-person spring camp.  He saw a handful of starts before and during interleague play, but has yet to get a win and had some unlucky outings to prevent one. Things have gone south where he was taken off the ichi-gun at the end of interleague play and has yet to receive a call up since. 

Social media controversies aside, he'll need to make a good impression on the coaching staff to get another opportunity. If the season ended today, he'll be playing elsewhere by 2022. 

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The Lions could always use depth at any position except starting pitching, but it's unclear who they could target. In the past, I've suggested OF Louis Okoye of the Rakuten Eagles due to his Saitama prefecture ties and Kazuhisa Ishii having no attachment to him.  

Like anything, it's gutcheck time for all players who haven't produced and need to in orrder to stay alive for 2022. 

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Monday, July 26, 2021

Lions grant Mejia's request to be released


 The Saitama Seibu Lions filed the process on Monday to release Ernesto Mejia and placed him on waivers at his request. He asked for this release to put in more commitment to his family. He released the following statement:

"It's a very difficult time all over the world and it was really hard for me, who came to Japan from far away, to have no family present. I wish our teammates the best of luck for the remainder of the 2021 season and hope they will be healthy, strong and able to win. Thanks to all Lions fans for your continued support since 2014. I hope you all understand my decision. I apologize for the need to prioritize my family. I'll continue to support  the Lions forever, even from abroad." 

Mejia, who turns 36 in December, played for eight seasons with the Lions starting as a midseason pickup in 2014. The Lions were in need of a 1B after scrambling several players at the position, including a traditional OF in Hichori Morimoto. 

Despite signing in May of 2014, he won the Pacific League home run king tying Takeya Nakamura with 34 HRs. After a subpar 2015, his 2016 had a great pace in home runs and he earned a three year contract. One of his highlights include winning the All Star game Home Run derby in Yokohama. 

General Manager "Nabe-Q" had the following statement: 

"He's been with the Lions since 2014 for eight years, so I'm very sorry to hear he's leaving. However, I think this is unavoidable because his family is the main reason. He had a good personality and was a player who respected Japanese baseball. I appreciate him very much."

Mejia's time dwindled in 2017 with the emergence of Hotaka Yamakawa. He was mostly a part-time player with seldom PH and DH appearances from 2017-2021. For the final regular season home game of 2019, he hit an unlikely sayonara HR off Yuki Matsui, where the Lions eventually won the pennant. 

Originally, he began his baseball career with the Atlanta Braves organization as a teenager. He made it as high as AAA, as Freddie Freeman prevented him from any chance of being called up, 

We wish Mejia and his family the best of luck moving forward. 

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Lions fall to reality entering Olympic break

 


The Saitama Seibu Lions enter the Olympic break at five games under .500 and currently sit in fifth place of the Pacific League. Notably, Kaima Taira's streak of scoreless innings ended in Hokkaido during a tie game situation. 

In the words of the late Don Meredith, Turn out the Lights, the Party's Over. I refuse to fall for false hope when they reached .500 and couldn't get over the hump. 

At this point in time, it's all about marketing Takumi Kuriyama's journey to 2,000 career hits, which they've been doing nicely. 

The lack of hitting, unreliable middle relief and back end rotation unfortunately has the Lions on the outside. Hatsuhiko Tsuji's future after 2021 remains uncertain.  

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On Ohtani's season

There's no question Shohei Ohtani is getting the recognition he deserves, yet there is a problem in all of this. The Los Angeles Angels are a sub .500 team sitting in fourth place behind a rebuilding Seattle Mariners squad. While the article I wrote last offseason won't be true, Ohtani's team is still a mess and this has been ongoing before he arrived in Orange County. 

Yes, Mike Trout is injured, but the Angels are not going anywhere until their pitching staff is fixed. They've been structured with short term fixes and few of them have panned out. The team is still on pace to waste Ohtani's career, as they've been doing with Trout. It wasn't long ago when the Mariners wasted majority of Ichiro's career for a decade until he was traded to the Yankees. They also ruined the prime of Felix Hernandez. Deep down, you have to wonder how frustrated Ohtani is with the team despite all the individual accomplishments from this year. 

In regards to Stephen A. Smith's comments on Ohtani, I'd say to not have tunnel vision with this. This was likely a corporate decision by ESPN/Disney to create controversy and take away attention to some of their other issues from within. It has been a disaster PR situation for ESPN for awhile, yet their goal is sensationalism like most journalists today in becoming the story instead of telling it. 

SAS is one of their prime talents, yet they've stretched him too thin beyond his knowledge as he has a better specialty with basketball. Most "hot takes" in the ESPN universe just don't have authenticity when they could be on a script. Blame Disney/ESPN for that issue. This NSFW language video sums them up in a nutshell. Sure miss complaining about East coast bias. Most watch them for live games. 

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Another baseball trip


Just wanted to say the baseball from Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh were all fun. Great parks to visit. 




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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Taira continues to save the Lions, but for how long?

 


The Saitama Seibu Lions previously lost closer Tatsushi Masuda due to a poor performance. Enter Kaima Taira, who was previously the setup man to take the 9th inning. 

At the time of this writing, he has 38 consecutive games without allowing an earned run, tying the NPB record set by Kyuji Fujikawa. 

With Taira having a 0.00 ERA up to this point, he has carried the Lions into mediocrity instead of being a no-doubt B-class team. While the Lions are currently in B-class, they're also alive and in the hunt mostly playing .500 ball. 

It is nearly a similar vibe to last season, where the bullpen was consistent, yet the starters weren't great and the offense was below average. 

This time around, the starters have taken a step forward through Kona Takahashi being the team's ace, while Wataru Matsumoto and Tatsuya Imai have improved from last year. 

However, the bullpen prior to the 9th inning is the issue with no consistency. Tetsu Miyagawa was dropped to ni-gun while Ken Togame, Reed Garrett, Shota Takekuma, Ryosuke Moriwaki and even a young Yutaro Watanabe have seen some high leverage situations in protecting a lead. 

On offense, the Lions have had a surprise performance from Nien Ting Wu keeping his job on the infield while Junichiro Kishi took starts away from Yuji Kaneko. Hotaka Yamakawa came back from injury and Tomoya Mori looks like he's returned to form, though the power hitting on this team is not up to par. 

For now, it's all about individual accomplishments from waiting for Takumi Kuriyama to reach 2,000 career hits to Taira carrying this Pacific League record in games without an earned run.  

This team is rebuilding when it comes to position players, but the starters and Taira have both done their part to keep the team competitive. On paper, they would come short of A-class, but there is still another half of the season to go. We should be in for a big finish which could come down to the final week. 

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ALL STARS VOTED

A congratulations go to Sosuke Genda, Takeya Nakamura, Hotaka Yamakawa, Tomoya Mori and Taira for being the fan votes into the All Star Series. 

As a whole, it's kind of silly to overreact to reach votes and snubs, as it's really the fan's game. Everyone can pick who they want whether they're great or marginal players. Personally, only Taira and Mori are deserving, but Genda has shown his value too.

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Just wanted to announce I'll be on vacation again from July 1-7 on another trip. Tweets and posts will be inactive again..

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