Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Lions having a mixed bag through interleague play


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The Saitama Seibu Lions are in the hunt, but the flaws prevent them from being good. Through games on June 21, they sit in A-class with a .500 record barely ahead of the Chiba Lotte Marines and Orix Buffaloes.

Up to this point there have been multiple key points to how they got here.

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Starting Pitching has stepped out up

The Lions have the lowest team ERA in the entire NPB through June 21. Looking back to 2015-2016, the pitching was the opposite with an injured ace and no proven supporter.

Kona Takahashi has lived up to being an ace and not just a team ace by default. Kaito Yoza has done a nice job filling in for an injured Tatsuya Imai. Katsunori Hirai has been great since filling in as a spot starter. 

Even Chihiro Sumida and Shunsuke Sato have promise as rookies.

What has made this rotation great is the foreign signing of Dietrich Enns, who has kept his rotation spot since being with the ichi-gun. 

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Bullpen reliability has been critical

Tatsushi Masuda came off a brutal 2021 season, but flipped the script thus far in 2022. Kaima Taira had a handful of blown games, but he's been fine as the setup man with Yoshinobu Mizukami taking the 8th and 7th innings, respectively. 

Even Keisuke Honda, Takeru Sasaki and Ryosuke Moriwaki are decent in middle relief. The depth at this position has been one of the best. It's possible Bo Takahashi could be a long term project which the coaches will evaluate as the season goes on.

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Yamakawa is the Lions offense

On the flip side, the offense is what holds the Lions back from being great. They've been on the losing end of two no-hitters this season and the scoring is based on how Yamakawa does. 

Only Brian O'Grady among qualifies hitters has an OPS above .700. Speaking of O'Grady, he's been a good addition and it's possible his double number should be less due to some hits being close to home runs. 

The Lions continue to shuffle lineups in hope of having a stable outfield. 

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This team has made progress, yet the offensive numbers indicate they could come up short. There is an entire second half remaining and it will be an uphill battle. 

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Sunday, June 5, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Digest: Interleague play takes turn for worse

 


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With a poor second week of interleague play, the Lions have fallen to 26-30-1 and currently sit in fourth place in the Pacific League, trailing the Orix Buffaloes by two games. 

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Chunichi Dragons

The Lions exploded for eight runs and took Shinnosuke Ogasawara out of the game in the fourth inning. However, Shunsuke Sato couldn't keep up either in what was a slugfest. Nien Ting Wu was the hero with a late two-run home run and a combined four RBIs.

Brian O'Grady returned in his first game back since having a child and had an RBI double that nearly led to a HR. 

Kaito Yoza had another quality outing with six innings and one run allowed in a narrow 2-1 win. Seiji Kawagoe even had the game-winning timely hit, scoring Aito. 

Chihiro Sumida struggled in game three as the Lions couldn't pull off a sweep in Nagoya.

Lions 8 Dragons 5

Lions 2 Dragons 1

Dragons 6 Lions 3

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Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Lions struggled to score in two out of the three games as they were shutout in one of them. 

They scored an eight-run inning for the second game taking advantage of errors and Brian O'Grady hit a home run. Katsunori Hirai earned a win as a spot starter. 

As the third game was close, it took a sayonara HR from Takumi Kuriyama to take the series after a decent start from Dietrich Enns. 

Baystars 1 Lions 0

Lions 10 Baystars 5

Lions 3 Baystars 2

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Hanshin Tigers

The Lions started well with a 2-0 win, but couldn't score nor pitch after that and lost this series in Koshien to a last place team. They had a chance in the second game when they scored four runs in one inning, but came up short.

Lions 2 Tigers 0

Tigers 5 Lions 4

Tigers 6 Lions 1 

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Yakult Swallows

The nightmare continued in Jingu as Yamakawa was the primary offense again, yet the Swallows pitching showed why they won the Japan Series in 2021. 

There were two one-run losses with a late chance in the second game, but Takeya Nakamura was out. Dietrich Enns had a tie game situation, but struggled in the 6th inning as the team was swept. 

Swallows 1 Lions 0

Swallows 3 Lions 2

Swallows 5 Lions 3

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Safe to say this Lions team isn't good. It's frustrating how the pitching has mostly done a good job up to this point, yet even they've faltered a bit with Enns and Yoza not playing well.

Overall, Yamakawa is the Lions offense while we're hoping Gakuto Wakabayashi can rebound as he returned form injury at the start of interleague play.

There are six more games to go, they need to at least win three of those if they want to say they're competitive. 

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Sunday, May 22, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Struggles in Naha

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions had a fruitless week away from home, going 1-4 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

As a result, they've fallen into B-class behind the Orix Buffaloes. Most of this week was summed up by a lack of hitting, but Kaima Taira failed to close a game in Okinawa against the Hawks where he allowed multiple runs in the 9th inning. 

Otherwise, the Lions offense wasn't there. Dietrich Enns was the bright spot on the Sunday game against the Fighters, earning his 3rd win.

Right now, this isn't a good team with a one man offense in Hotaka Yamakawa.

Brian O'Grady will return for interleague play, but this team is too frustrating to take seriously. 

Game 1: Hawks 5 Lions 1

Game 2: Hawks 3 Lions 2

Game 3: Fighters 5 Lions 3

Game 4: Fighters 4 Lions 0

Game 5: Lions 3 Fighters 0

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Rookie makes early impact after no-hitter

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions went 2-2 combined against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Rakuten Eagles. They remain in A-class ahead of the Orix Buffaloes and are one game above .500.

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Roster moves

Before the games even started, the Lions made multiple transactions for the week.

-Brian O'Grady left the team for the States to witness the birth of his daughter. The Lions called up Seiji Kawagoe. 

-Venezuelan OF Romer Cuadrado was signed to an ikusei contract. He is the first foreigner in franchise history to be on a developmental deal.  Cuadrado made it as high as AA with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization before he was let go after 2021. Most recently, he played in his home Venezuelan league for the winter.

-The Lions promoted ikusei Natsuo Takizawa and even called him up to the ichi-gun immediately as Sosuke Genda was injured. Takizawa is the first developmental player to earn a promotion from the Lions 2021 Ikusei draft class. 

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Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The first game was scheduled for Miyazaki, however it rained out, only leaving some entertainment in the mud from Kakeru Yamanobe and Haruka Yamada.

As the series went to Fukuoka, the Lions made history for all the wrong reasons. 

Nao Higashihama threw a no-hitter in under 100 pitches allowing only walks to Takeya Nakamura and Hotaka Yamakawa. It was the first time the Lions were no-hit since Narciso Elvira in 2000.  

Chihiro Sumida didn't pitch poorly, but he allowed two runs in the third with timely hits from Kenta Imamiya and Yuki Yanagita for the only scoring of the game. 

Hawks 2 Lions 0

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Rakuten Eagles

Kona Takahashi had another quality start which meant his fourth consecutive win. It took a comeback by the Lions as two key runs came in the 6th inning, including a HR from Nakamura.

The Lions took the second game with a miraculous four-run 7th inning rally sparked by a two-run triple from Takizawa. He later advanced home on a wild pitch, which was a lead the bullpen wouldn't relinquish. Takizawa was a hero interview for the first two games

This magic ran out in game three as the team squandered multiple chances and couldn't sweep the Eagles. 

Game 1: Lions 3 Eagles 2

Game 2: Lions 5 Eagles 4

Game 3: Eagles 3 Lions 1

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It wasn't he greatest week, but at least the team recovered from being no-hit in Fukuoka. No idea how long Takizawa will be with the ichi-gun, but he already did more in 2022 than most would expect. 

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Sunday, May 8, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Yamakawa's resurgence continues in Golden Week


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The Saitama Seibu Lions had a successful 4-2 week against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for the homestand and Golden Week holiday. 

With these wins, the Lions are in A-class with a 3.5 game lead on the Orix Buffaloes. 

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Chiba Lotte Marines

The Lions took two out of three with quality starts from Kaito Yoza and Shunsuke Sato. Hotaka Yamakawa had two home runs in the series and Takeya Nakamura hit his first of the season in Game 3.

Yuto Koga made his debut on Thursday and called a good enough game for a shutout. 

In Wednesday's loss, Wataru Matsumoto struggled as he couldn't last three innings.  

Game 1: Lions 4 Marines 2

Game 2: Marines 7 Lions 5

Game 3: Lions 7 Marines 0

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Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Lions were aided by more offense from Yamakawa with multiple home runs, including a 2-HR game as the only offense for Sunday's win. 

Kona Takahashi had another strong outing while Dietrich Enns picked up his second win of the season with a six inning performance. 

Saturday's loss had Tetsuya Utsumi reach the career milestone of 2,000 innings pitched as he ended up with a no decision due to a lack of run support. 

A costly accident had Sosuke Genda injure his foot when a foul tip made hard contact off of it. Rookie Seigo Nakayama was called up and his fielding mistakes were a reason for the only loss of this series. 

Game 4: Lions 5 Fighters 0

Game 5: Fighters 3 Lions 2

Game 6: Lions 5 Fighters 1

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This team can be both fun and frustrating at the same time with Yamakawa carrying this offense for most part. 

Let's hope Genda isn't out for long. For a half-full glass, the pitching and Yamakawa are bright spots, yet the hitting is still abysmal for half-empty reasons. 

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Sunday, May 1, 2022

2022 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Masuda's milestone keeps team in hunt


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The Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-3 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Orix Buffaloes during a six-game road trip in West Japan. 

They sit at 14-15-1 just a half-game out of A-class behind the Orix Buffaloes. It was also a milestone week for Tatsushi Masuda in career saves. 

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Game 1: Shunsuke Sato vs. Shunta Ishikawa

Sato could only last six innings before giving up a runner in the 7th with only two earned runs. Yurisbel Gracial hit a two-run HR off Katsunori Hirai as the Hawks pulled away.

The Lions stranded multiple runners on base, including a situation when Haruka Yamada was up and the bags were loaded, but it resulted in a groundout. 

Hawks 3 Lions 0

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Game 2: Wataru Matsumoto vs. Kazuki Sugiyama

Hotaka Yamakawa hit two HRs and Brian O'Grady added another as the Lions scored early and often against the Hawks.

Matsumoto went seven innings with only one run allowed, five strikeouts and two walks. 

With Yoshinobu Mizukami and Tetsu Miyagawa off the roster due to COVID-19, Keisuke Honda was called up and closed the game in the 9th.

Lions 8 Hawks 2

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Game 3: Burch Smith vs. Colin Rea

Smith left the game after 1.1 innings due to discomfort in his right arm. With the bases loaded and Kaito Yoza entering the game, he forced two flyouts on Masaki Mimori and Isami Nomura to get out of a jam.

Hotaka Yamakawa hit a three run HR in the first inning and the Lions bullpen was able to hang on with 7.2 innings of combined work. 

Yoza earned his first win of the year going 3.2 innings after Smith's departure. 

Lions 4 Hawks 2

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Game 4: Kona Takahashi vs. Jacob Waguespack

Takahashi threw eight shutout innings, but couldn't earn the win with zero run support. The Lions had seven hits and even loaded the bases on walks for an inning, but the bullpen of Orix kept runs off the board when it mattered. 

Waguespack threw five innings in a close contest.  It came down to the 9th inning with Kaima Taira on the mound as he walked two batters and only recorded a single out. Yuma Mune delivered the only timely hit of the night in a walkoff.

Buffaloes 1 Lions 0

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 Game 5: Sachiya Yamasaki vs. Chihiro Sumida

Masataka Yoshida had two solo HRs as the Lions continued to fail scoring with runners on base. Sumida went six innings with only two runs allowed, but had a no decision.

Shoya Makino had his first extra base hit while Ryota Kawano had his first hit and RBI in NPB, but it wasn't enough as multiple chances were botched again.

Buffaloes 3 Lions 2

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Game 6: Taisuke Yamaoka vs. Dietrich Enns

This was another pitcher's duel as both starters only allowed one run and stranded plenty of base runners. Enns was able to walk the tight rope going seven frames. As the Lions couldn't get a timely hit, Haruka Yamada hit a sacrifice fly in the second inning.

It wasn't until the top of the 9th when Hotaka Yamakawa hit a solo HR to break the 1-1 deadlock. The bullpen still had drama as Kaima Taira had a bases loaded jam before escaping with a grounder.

Tatsushi Masuda earned his 150th career save the hard way, stranding two runners in scoring position and getting a flyout for the milestone.

Lions 2 Buffaloes 1

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It wasn't pretty, but a split is better than a 2-4 record with a sweep in Osaka as Japan enters golden week. 

Masuda and Taira had shaky outings, but it wasn't the worst scenario. The offense still can't hit away from Yamakawa, but the starting pitchers were amazing this week. 

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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Akiyama could find a chance with the Padres, MLB


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Shogo Akiyama signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres on Saturday. The Saitama Seibu Lions were reported to give him an offer which he turned down. 

The Padres have lacked depth in the outfield due to health reasons as Wil Myers went to the injured list while there has been a scramble of Jose Azocar, Matt Beauty, Trent Grisham, Jurickson Profar and Trayce Thompson.

Prior to Thompson recently being called up, all other Padres healthy outfielders are hitting under .250. 

Previously, the Padres had Lions OF Brian O'Grady on the roster due to a KBO team showing interest, forcing their hand in promoting him to the MLB level. 

General Manager A.J. Preller has been known to sign players from Japan, including Pierce Johnson, Nick Martinez and Robert Suarez. He also targeted Seiya Suzuki, who eventually signed with the Chicago Cubs. 

Preller was an apprentice with the Texas Rangers under GM Jon Daniels, who was also known to sign players from both NPB and KBO. 

For Akiyama, he needs a fresh start for a team that had too many outfielders and no opportunity in Cincinnati. The front office and scouts who liked him left after one season. 

The Padres could have an opening soon if someone in the outfield becomes ineffective. It will be up to Preller if and when he gets an opportunity in San Diego. 

Akiyama will likely begin his minor league assignment in El Paso AAA where O'Grady spent a fraction of 2021. However, this outfield shuffle from San Diego should present a chance for him to play in MLB again. 

The Padres were already struck in the offseaon when Fernando Tatis Jr. Was injured in a motorcycle accident. 

While the team is current 14-7 through April 29, most critics will mention they're winning against weaker competition up to this point. 

Last year, the Padres had a second half collapse and ended up finishing under .500, nowhere close to the contention they were expected be. 

Akiyama will need to be patient for that opportunity, but it should come based on the organization needing depth and being desperate for someone in the outfield.

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