Sunday, April 18, 2021

2021 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Stalemate comes as foreigners join the team

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The Saitama Seibu Lions went 2-2-1 against the Fighters and Softbank Hawks in a five game homestand. They sit in A-class, but only lead the Chiba Lotte Marines by one game. There was other news this week from foreigners arriving and a recent retirement. 

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Game 1: Wataru Matsumoto vs. Takahisa Ikeda

The Lions offense was nearly non-existent again scoring only two runs and "Aito" Takeda had the only traditional RBI off a hit. Matsumoto didn't allow a run through five innings, but loaded the bases while failing to record an out. Yasuo Sano couldn't clean up the mess as Kensuke Kondo hit a single before the Fighters score two more runs which was enough to win the game. Ikeda went six innings while giving up three hits. 

The Lions had chances in the 8th and 9th innings, but couldn't cash in more besides Aito's timely hit. 

Fighters 3 Lions 2

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Game 2: Tatsuya Imai vs. Hiromi Ito

Imai went six innings and only allowed one run which came off an error from the infield. Timely hits by Nien Ting Wu and Tomoya Mori were enough as the Lions, for the fourth consecutive game, scored only two runs. Reed Garrett, Kaima Taira and Tatsushi Masuda closed out the game in a 7-8-9 format combining for eight strikeouts to split the series. 

Lions 2 Fighters 1

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Game 3: Kona Takahashi vs. Shunta Ishikawa

Yurisbel Gracial had a solo HR in the top of the first, but also cost his team a run in the bottom of the frame. Gakuto Wakabayashi appeared to hit a home run and Gracial gave up on the play, but the ball goes off the wall for a double and the Lions eventually score on a wild pitch. 

The game stayed tied until the 6th inning, when Tomoya Mori hit a solo HR. The 2-1 score stood as the Lions pitchers didn't allow any runs, yet stranded runners on base. Takahashi went seven innings and had to earn his final out on a foul out catch by Mori while diving. Taira had runners on first and third, but struck out Ryoya Kurihara on full count to end the top of the 8th. Masuda drew a double play from Nobuhiro Matsuda to close it out as the Lions won their second straight in their fifth consecutive game scoring only two runs. 

Lions 2 Hawks 1

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Game 4: Syota Hamaya vs. Rei Takahashi

Hamaya gave up multiple two-run HRs to Gracial and Nobuhiro Matsuda. which ended this one early. A sacrifice fly from Manaya Nishikawa was all the scoring from the Lions offense in this laugher. Hamaya lasted only four innings, allowing a total of five runs. Rei Takahashi shut down the Lions for six innings, which allowed Carter Stewart Jr. to make his ichi-gun debut with a scoreless frame in the 9th. Hamaya was deactivated after the game. 

Hawks 7 Lions 1

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Game 5: Katsunori Hirai vs. Yuki Matsumoto 

Both starters only allowed two runs and went six innings. It looked like the Lions would pull away when two timely hits from Haruka Yamada and Gakuto Wakabayashi were gappers, but Akira Nakamura hit a two-run HR off Masuda in the top of the 9th to tie it. 

With a fast 1-2-3 9th, the Lions ended up taking a draw. 

Lions 4 Hawks 4

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Imports join the team

All Seibu Lions import players finished the 2-week quarantine this week after arrival in Japan. Cory Spangenberg, Ernesto Mejia, Zach Neal and new foreigner Matt Dermody all joined the team and will have ni-gun action to start.  The Lions formally introduced Dermody on Saturday. You can see it here


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Ikusei pitcher retires

Seibu Lions pitcher Aoi Tohno announced a voluntary retirement on Sunday after it was discovered a torn ligament from spring training continued to get worse. Tohno, 24, was an ikusei draft pick of the Lions in 2018. Last year, he appeared in 11 ni-gun games with a 3.74 ERA in 21.2 innings of work. 

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Could be worse? The Lions offense remains a liability. Let's hope Spangenberg and Mejia can put a boost to a raw and young offense. If anything, Wakabayashii is promising.

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

2021 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Hirai dominates in salvaging road series

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions fell to third place in the Pacific League and trail the Rakuten Eagles by one game for first place. They went 2-4 against the Eagles and Chiba Lotte Marines for what was a tough stretch. 

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Game 1: Wataru Matsumoto vs. Takayuki Kishi

Matsumoto had four walks in one inning and allowed a solo HR to do all the damage needed against the Lions. Kishi went six innings with two runs allowed, but the offense was mostly dead for the night. Disaster struck with Mitsuo Yoshikawa entered the 5th and 6th innings, allowing a combined eight earned runs to put this one away. 

Eagles 13 Lions 2

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Game 2: Tatsuya Imai vs. Takahiro Norimoto

The Lions had no answer for Ryosuke Tatsumi, who tripled and hit a HR in this one to give the Eagles a lead for good. Gakuto Wakabayashi had a modasho, including his first career HR, but it wasn't enough as Norimoto held the Lions to two runs over seven innings. Imai had three runs allowed in five innings while walking five batters. 

Eagles 6 Lions 3

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Game 3: Towa Uema vs. Ryota Takinaka

Takinaka had a perfect game through five innings and it wasn't until Aito Takeda had a base hit in the 6th to break it up. It was another day of poor offense with a shutout. Making his ichi-guu debut, Uema went 5.1 innings, but gave up home runs to Eigoro Mogi and Tatsumi in what was a drubbing to secure first place for the Eagles in the sweep. 

Eagles 4 Lions 0

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Game 4: Kona Takahashi vs. Kota Futaki

The Lions offense had nearly no signs of life against Futaki while Kona Takahashi allowed several base runners. Two manufactured runs and a HR by Kota Yamaguchi made it 4-1. "Aito" Takeda had a solo HR in the second, but the Lions had their best opportunity in the 8th. With the bases loaded, Nien Ting Wu hit a two-RBI single and Aito followed that up with a three-run HR. 

Bullpens made the difference in this one as Kaima Taira and Tatsushi Masuda had no issue taking the 8th and 9th as the Lions snapped a three game skid. 

Lions 7 Marines 4

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Game 5: Syota Hamaya vs. Minabu Mima

Leonys Martin hit two HRs off Hamaya which gave the Marines an insurmountable 4-0 lead. Hamaya would only last three innings before he was pulled. Aito hit a solo HR in the 5th inning, but it wasn't enough. With the bases loaded in the 8th inning off Yuki Karakawa, Wu and Aito failed to drive in any runs to seal the game. Mima pitched seven strong innings with only two runs allowed for Chiba. 

To add injury to insult, Gakuto Wakabayashi left the game early with an injury. 

Marines 6 Lions 2

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Game 6: Katsunori Hirai vs. Shota Suzuki

Neither team could score on a traditional hit in this game. Chiba scored first on an RBI groundout with two runners on base,  but didn't muster up anymore offense. The Lions followed this with Sosuke Genda stealing two bases and later scoring on a sacrifice fly from Takeya Nakamura in the 4th. 

In the 5th inning, Ryusei Sato advanced from first to third base after a wild pitch by Suzuki and scored on a sacrifice fly from Haruka Yamada to make it 2-1. Both sides traded chances, but neither could score and even stranded the bases loaded. In the 8th, Chiba has the bases loaded with two outs,  but Kaima Taira struck out Tsuyoshi Sugano, who was caught looking on full count to end the threat.

Hirai outpitched his competition, going seven innings with eight strikeouts in giving the main relievers work for the end. The Lions took the series after a rough sweep against Rakuten. 

Lions 2 Marines 1

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It wasn't pretty, but it could've been worse. The Lions bats don't look good given the injuries and possible lack of pop. However, the pitching Kona Takahashi and Hirai remains encouraging through it all. Big thing? The Lions bullpen did something Chiba couldn't do for a game in holding a lead. Down the stretch, if things stay this way, it's an advantage. 

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

2021 Seibu Lions Series Digest: Unlikely heroes put team in first place

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-0-1 against the Hokkaido Nipppon-Ham Fighters and Softbank Hawks in a five game road trip. With no lossees for the week, they sit in first place leading the second-place Rakuten Eagles by one game. Here is who it went down. 

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Game 1: Wataru Matsumoto vs. Ryusei Kawano

Hotaka Yamakawa left the game early after injuring himself on a home run trot in the first inning. "Brandon" Tysinger made the game with his first career hit being a two-run HR in the second inning. Offense was not an issue for the Lions as Fumikazu Kimura went 4-4 and even replacement player Haruka Yamada had a timely hit. 

Matsumoto allowed three runs on 5+ innings pitched. Sho Ito needed a strikeout on Go Matsumoto to preserve an early one-run lead. This laugher was easier as the Lions bats pulled away late, allowing former Fighter Mitsuo Yoshikawa to finish the game in the 9th inning facing his old team. 

As a result of both Yamakawa and Takumi Kuriyama taken off the ichi-gun roster, Nien Ting Wu and Ryusei Sato were called up. 

Lions 11 Fighters 4

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Game 2: Tatsuya Imai vs. Hiromi Itoh

This turned out to be a pitcher's duel in scoreboard, but Imai showed grit in getting through some tough innings with five scoreless frames. His velocity was solid for his outing before Sho Ito gave up a run in the 6th. The only Lions run came off a solo HR by Wu in the 5th inning.  

While the Lions bats were non-existent, the Fighters threatened multiple times, but Tatsushi Masuda closed the door, preserving a tie in the 9th inning. 

Lions 1 Fighters 1

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Game 3: Kona Takahashi vs. Shunta Ishikawa

The Lions got to Ishikawa in the third inning with four runs, which included a three-run HR by Takeya Nakamura, his first of the season. Wu dropped a bloop into the outfield with the bases loaded to put the game away early. Kona Takahashi had another impressive outing, with only two runs allowed in eight innings for his second win of the year. 

Lions 6 Hawks 2

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Game 4: Syota Hamaya vs. Rei Takahashi

This was another game where the Lions attacked the Hawks early, which started in the first inning through a two-run timely hit by Wu. He eventually had a modasho and five RBIs in the game, leading to his first ichi-gun hero interview since 2016. 

Hamaya also had a decent outing with only one run allowed, six strikeouts in five innings of work. The Lions bullpen had minimal issue too, until the 9th when Hiroki Inoue couldn't close out the 9th inning and gave up three runs, but Tatsushi Masuda recorded the final out to take the series. 

This game didn't come without a price as Shuta Tonosaki took a pitch off the ankle and suffered a fracture. Kakeru Yamanobe was forced to come in as a replacement. 

After the game, Kento Watanabe and Ryusei Tsunashima were called up as Tonosaki was taken of the ichi-gun roster. 

Lions 7 Hawks 4

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Game 5: Katsunori Hirai vs. Tsuyoshi Wada

Wu hit a solo HR while rookie Kento Watanabe hit a two-run HR to provide just enough for the offense. Hirai lasted 5.2 innings, allowing only two runs. The Hawks loaded the bases multiple times, but Tetsu Miyagawa and Kaima Taira got important strikeouts when it counted to keep zeroes on the board for the bullpen. Reed Garrett had a 1-2-3 9th inning and the Lions swept the Hawks in Fukuoka for the first time since 2004. 

Lions 4 Hawks 2

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The injuries suck and it's unlikely Nien Ting Wu will keep up this pace. However, credit is given where it's due for nearly all phasees ths week. The Lions won on pitching and defense with a few decent hitting outings in between. Get well soon, Tonosaki. 

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

2021 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Defense carries Opening Series win

 


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The Saitama Seibu Lions took the opening series with two out of three games against the Orix Buffaloes to begin the 2021 NPB season. They're tied for second place with the Rakuten Eagles having a 2-1 record. Here is how it all went down:

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Game 1: Kona Takahashi vs. Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Kona Takahashi went 7.1 innings with three earned runs. The Lions capitalized offensively with three runs scored through an error by Orix on the field, including a backbreaker from Ryo Ohta. Orix chipped away at a 4-0 lead where Takahashi allowed home runs against Masataka Yoshida and Yuma Tongu.

Hatsuhiko Tsuji left him in the game longer, but after allowing some hits and a third run, Kaima Taira and Tatsushi Masuda were forced to clean up the mess with the tying run on base for both the 8th and 9th innings. With the Lions winning it was their sixth Opening day win in the last seven years. It was also the 10th consecutive Opening Day loss for Orix, which padded the Pacific League record. The Hanshin Tigers hold the NPB record at 11. 

Lions 4 Buffaloes 3

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Game 2: Syota Hamaya vs. Hiroya Miyagi

Miyagi dominated most of the game, allowing one earned run in the first inning to Hotaka Yamakawa, but settled in for seven frames. Hamaya was able to go 4.2 innings, but had moments of struggling with location and control. He threw a wild pitch with a runner on third base and Tetsu Miyagawa did the same when inheriting runners in the fifth. This was the difference maker as the Lions had the bases loaded in the 7th, but only scored when Gakuto Wakabayashi was hit by a pitch. Yuji Kaneko flied out shortly after adn the Lions bats couldn't solve Orix's pitching

Buffaloes 3 Lions 2

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Game 3: Katsunori Hirai vs. Taisuke Yamaoka

Tomoya Mori hit a two-run HR in the first inning and that was enough off Yamaoka. Hirai went six innings while stranding several runners through the first three innings, but settled in for the fourth and fifth. Key strikeouts prevented any runs on the board. Insurance came when Takeya Nakamura had a two-out single, plating two runs. Reed Garrett gave up the only run in the game, with a solo HR to Kotaro Kurebayashi. Otherwise, this turned out to be a solid team win. 

Lions 5 Buffaloes 1

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This series has some concern with how the staff left Kona Takahashi in for an extra inning. They're giving him the ace treatment when he still has yet to prove it. Call it desperation, but they were hoping to save the bullpen for other games. Let's hope they understand when he's out of gas and not to try to force the issue they way they did in the 8th inning. 

Otherwise, the defense looks good, offense not so much. Lots of raw players with growing pains. 

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

First team 2021 Opening Day Seibu Lions roster announced

 


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced their Opening Day roster, on the eve of the 2021 NPB season begins. This year, 29 players are allowed on the ichi-gun roster with 25 of them permitted to play in a single game. 

Here is how the 29-man opening day roster stacks out for the Lions in their first series against the Orix Buffaloes:

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Pitchers (12): 

Kona Takahashi: The Opening Day starter has high expectations coming into 2021. With a solid second half of 2020, they're hoping he can continue his form into this year. 

Tatsushi Masuda: The Lions closer returns on a new contract and prevents any losses in free agency over the offseason. Should remain the closer until told otherwise. 

Tetsu Miyagawa: A possible hybrid, the 2019 first round draft pick can likely go into the rotation if necessary or help in relief. This year, the team hopes he can transition as a starter. 

Syota Hamaya: Another second year player from the 2019 draft class hoping to stay at the ichi-gun level. Saw a handful of starts and relief appearances in 2020 and likely gets games in the rotation. 

Katsunori Hirai: Once a setup man, Hirai transitioned as a spot starter and likely begins this season in the rotation. 

Reed Garrett: The only foreigner able to join the team in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Garrett should be a setup man. However, his 2020 was summed up by a strong first half followed by a rough second half of the season. 

Yasuo Sano: Once a spot starter, Sano can still have this role. He'll likely take the medium and low leverage innings hoping to work his way up. 

Sho Ito: Ito should be the low leverage/mop up duty pitcher. Can he stay at the ichi-gun and keep his roster spot? 

Ichiro Tamura: Tamura has spent nearly his entire career taking the low leverage innings. He reached a career-high of 41 IP last season as a result of the team trailing. Maybe he can get his first career win? 

Hiroki Inoue: Another draft pick from 2019 on the ichi-gun roster. Inoue came out of high school and only saw three innings in ni-gun last year. Should make his debut in a low leverage situation. A hard thrower, he hopes to work his way into the setup role. 

Mitsuo Yoshikawa: The former Fighters pitcher was the only domestic free agent signing by the Lions. As a lefty, he hopes to shore up the depth in an area the Lions were lacking. Can he stay in the rotation?

Kaima Taira: Taira came off a great 2020 as the team's setup man. Crazy how he turns 22 this November, but can he repeat last year's success? 

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Catchers (3): 

Tomoya Mori: Coming off a disappointing 2020, Mori hopes to hit well again and should be the starting catcher. 

Masatoshi Okada: A backup catcher, Okada can also serve as the pinch bunter if needed. If he stays at the ichi-gun for more than half of the season, he'll have domestic free agent rights. 

Sena Tsuge: Tsuge saw a handful of starts and showed promise with his bat. Could be a serviceable option in emergency. 

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Infielders (7):

Hotaka Yamakawa: Yamakawa had an injury prone 2020 and it affected his ability to hit. It was a forgettable season forcing him to take a paycut. He's hoping to bounce back in 2021. 

Shuta Tonosaki: Tonosaki's power and average took a major dip in 2020. He still provides speed on the bases and should be starting at 2B. 

Sosuke Genda: The Lions starting SS remained pretty consistent with his bat. A silent captain who can field pretty well. 

Kakeru Yamanobe: This is likely a make or break season for Yamanobe if he can't find ichi-gun starts. At 27 years old, his upside and ceiling is about to cave in. A shakaijin draft pick from 2018, he has speed on paper, but can his bat take him into the lineup? 

Haruka Yamada: Yamada is a defensive replacement who lacks hitting. Known for his celebration antics, he's a wild one in the clubhouse. 

"Brandon" Taiga Tysinger: The Okinawan is one of two 2020 draft picks to make the opening day roster. He'll likely be slotted in at 3B and share time with others if he doesn't hit his weight. 

Takeya Nakamura: The legendary Lions home run king is in the twilight of his career. Should be a part time DH and 3B. Does he have much in the tank left?  

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Outfielders (7): 

Takumi Kuriyama: The other main veteran born in the Showa period is hoping to crack the 2,000 hits mark for his career. He needs 74 to reach that milestone. 

Yuji Kaneko: Coming off a bad season with a lack of stolen bases, Kaneko hasn't rewarded the Lions since signing his extension. Not the best leadoff hitter when getting on base isn't his specialty, but he will be the starting CF. 

Fumikazu Kimura: Usually RF for his defense, he may be better as a replacement player instead of every day starter. Like Okada, he is also on pace to reach domestic free agent rights. 

Gakuto Wakabayashi: The other 2020 draft pick making the opening day roster is the Lions fourth round draft pick. He'll get some starts with the outfield having openings. 

Shohei Suzuki: He got his first significant amount of starts last year, but couldn't keep his job by the second half. Thought to be a centerfielder long term, he'll need to hit better in order to stay on top. 

Manaya Nishikawa: The Lions gave him a taste of ichi-gun action for evaluation. If he can hit, he'll win himself a job. Likely there as depth. 

Junichiro Kishi: Kishi saw a handful of games and even a start. Looking to get his first base hit, he'll definitely get reps as a replacement player and pinch runner. 

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With Zach Neal, Matt Dermody, Cory Spangenberg and Ernesto Mejia all unable to come to Japan on time, it's unlikely they'll be seen until late April and it's possible they don't play until May when ready to go. This is an opportunity for some younger Lions players to get reps from Brandon to Hamaya. Some imports are guaranteed to take an ichi-gun role once they're able to play and in condition. 

Eventually, some of these players will be deactivated soon for the next series as only three starters are guaranteed on this first roster. 

Here's a few quick thoughts on the Pacific League opponents for 2020: 

Softbank Hawks: They remain contenders as the four-time defending Japan Series champions. Even with some veterans getting older, they have plenty of youth to be come the next men up. Expected to be in first. 

Chiba Lotte Marines: Which team is this? Tadahito Iguchi should be on the hot seat if they can't deliver a definitive A-class season. Last year was a first half success, followed a COVID outbreak thanks to Ikuhiro Kiyota, which led to a second half collapse. Fortunately for them, no challenger in the Pacific League emerged. This is a season where they need a breakout from some of their recent draft picks like Hisanori Yasuda. Otherwise, it's all hype. 

Rakuten Eagles: With the return of Masahiro Tanaka and a top draft pick Takahisa Hayakawa able to make instant impact on paper, the Eagles are thought to be an A-class shoo-in from their rotation alone. However, their offense and bullpen are question marks and the biggest issue is Kazuhisa Ishii making himself the manager after already being the GM in signing players. Is there much player development happening with lots of veterans added in the last few years? With 2021 being the 10-year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the hype and sense of optimism is real. 

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters: For a group who lost Kohei Arihara to the Texas Rangers, there is no proven ace nor many star bats in their lineups. Sho Nakata and Taishi Ota can only do so much. There are some slap hitters, but can anyone hit for pop or is it all small ball? This roster isn't attractive on what looks like another rebuilding year. If Kotaro Kiyomiya can show some promise, then there's hope. 

Orix Buffaloes: Orix has a starting pitching staff that can hang with anyone. Their problem is a lack of offense being dependent on Masataka Yoshida. Otherwise, their worst enemy is themselves when making mistakes in the field or with pitching, base running and even at bats. Satoshi Nakajima took over midseason and the reduced their errors, but can the offense be marginal? The pitching staff on paper can carry them to A-class. They just need confidence. Last year, the Buffaloes were the difference between second and third place for Lions as they struggled against this team. On the flip side, the Marines were able to get early and take advantage of some blunder mistakes.  

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Outlook:

Who knows what this Lions team can be? It has the mix of a rebuild while also still competed with talent on offense who struggled last year. They need a proven ace and a breakout year from a starting pitcher. There's a case for both third and fourth place being right on the bubble for A-class/B-class. 

If things go right, the bullpen stays to form while the offense and starting pitching take a step forward. Injuries and constant failure stemming from last year is guaranteed a B-class season and under .500. Last year, it was the bullpen who bailed them out and it's unlikely they can repeat 2020's dominance. 

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I also wanted to take this time to apologize for a lack of activity and no primers in the offseason. Some odd work schedule adjustments due to COVID and a shorter offseason made it difficult. Even with time off, it was used to travel in the short windows I had. 

Not all games will be tweeted and watched live, but there will be some activity and updates as time goes on. 

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Voices in the Wind shows coping with loss, disaster


 This year marked the 10th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami hitting the Tohoku region of Japan. Recently, I watched the film "Voices in the Wind" as part of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center advertising and featuring it as part of their virtual events. As a disclaimer, this post will not be baseball related if you couldn't already tell.  

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Voices in the Wind, better known as Phone in the Wind or Wind Phone (風の電話 Kaze no Denwa) shows the journey of Haru (Serena Motola), who lost her parents and brother after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami from her home town of Otsuchi, Iwate at nine years old. 

The setting takes place in 2019, eight years removed from  the disaster. A wind phone was built in 2010 within Otsuchi by Itaru Sasaki as a way of connecting with a cousin he lost. 

Haru, now 17, is shown living with her aunt Hiroko in Kure, Hiroshima and has gone through a life living with her since the tragedy. A state of uncertainty comes, as she is a senior in high school and not sure what to do after graduation when asked the question. One day, Hiroko falls to the ground and is in the hospital. 

Initially reluctant to make a trip Otsuchi when asked by Hiroko, her mind changes on a whim, but with a lack of confidence. Her hitchhiking journey meets several others who have their baggage and questions on life, but give reason for hope. 

These groups include a middle-aged man living with his mother who is suffering from dementia to pair of a brother and sister, where the latter is pregnant as a single mother. Lastly, she finds a man named Morio who lost his wife, child and his home was damaged in the Earthquake and Tsunami while working in the nuclear plant up in Fukushima prefecture. 

This film is a coming of age story, but it shows that even though the natural disaster happened several years ago, the pain, both physically and emotionally are still there. Haru's grief never materialized and it took this journey to Otsuchi to find some closure. Eventually, she reaches the famous phone for the climax scene with a one-sided conversation with her family. 

Director Nobuhiro Suwa returned to his home country with his first work in Japan since 2002. What stands out about this film is the few cuts and long takes in one shot. Several times, he's using the elements of silence or lack of sound to fit into the emotion with grief and uncertainty. 

In the final scene, Suwa put extreme faith in Motola by having her speak into the unplugged phone for several minutes, uncut. Majority of this film has allowed actors to improvise and go freely with a still shot staying there beyond a normal 5-10 seconds. 

For something so simple, Suwa's direction is minimalist, but effective in bringing the tone of Haru's character throughout the film. Sometimes she is standing at a distance while being reluctant or confused, bringing symbolism to her nature. 

Gone are the distractions of the outside world. The audience can experience the same level of despair Haru has when she's seen alone in silence or openly frustrated when her family isn't with her. 

Some in the West might say these scenes will drag too long, but it's exactly the point why Suwa went with this direction. When we lose something permanently, grieving doesn't happen overnight and Haru's situation is no different. 

Nothing can turn back the hands of time, but Haru's journey in this film is a sign of hope. The groups of people Haru encounters on her path to Otsuchi are also going through struggles of loss and uncertainty, but they don't give up on life. 

The pregnant mother was 43, yet she has a vibe of optimism in bringing life to the world. The man who lives with his dementia prone mother lost his sister to suicide while Morio lives in his vehicle despite the trauma of losing his family and damaged home. All three subconsciously push Haru to drive for something and a purpose in life. 

Suicide has been a common way of death in Japan among younger people and only sprouted further with the COVID-19 pandemic. Haru would have been one of those in youth struggling and just going through the motions. 

We don't move on from tragedy, however, we must move through it and finding closure in a manner that Haru and 30,000+ people have since 2011 are a reason for hope. 

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You can see the trailer here. 



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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Will the Lions 'Break It' for better or worse?

 


The Saitama Seibu Lions season begins near the end of this month. However, this 2021 season has more concerns than optimism on what lies ahead for both the team and manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji himself. 

Here are some story lines to notice and pay attention to for the upcoming year: 

Could this be the end of Tsuji?

Last year, the Lions finished at .500 and nearly made the postseason with a late push, but they were eliminated in a de facto deciding game against the Chiba Lotte Marines and lost to the Rakuten Eagles right before it all. By the end of the year, the Lions were starting an unproven "Aito" Takeda and offensively inept Nien Ting Wu in the midst of the most important games of the year with hopes of finding lightning in a bottle. Did he lose his touch with finding the right personnel for the best situation? 

While the Lions were an A-class team by the end of the season, it wasn't anywhere close to deserving due to several factors. Having the wrong kind of record could lead to a forced resignation at the end of the year. 

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Can the offense return to form prior to 2020? 

When Takumi Kuriyama overachieves and is carrying your offense, it's not a good thing from a Lions standpoint when there are other core players to focus on. Hotaka Yamakawa and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura battled injuries while Shuta Tonosaki and Tomoya Mori were hard to watch. With several players having a down offensive year, they can only go up right? 

It's easy to mention how Shogo Akiyama leaving for the Cincinnati Reds made a difference, but it's not an excuse when four players didn't contribute as much last year when they were expected to fill any holes he left. The outfield is also uncertain with a continuous revolving door at one position and it's uncertain if Cory Spangenberg will be available by Opening Day. 

In response, the Lions drafted five position players in the regular draft with three of them being out of college. The last time they took at least four position players was in 2000, while the previous time they selected five was in 1987, featuring Ken Suzuki. Kuriyama and Nakamura weren't even on the team yet in 2000, as it was the draft Hiroyuki Nakajima was part of. 

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Can Kona Takahashi sustain his success from the end of 2020? 

The Lions rotation as a whole was messy. However, Kona Takahashi was the lone bright spot among the starting pitchers and understandably, he was announced as the Opening Day starter. There have been flashes from an ichi-gun shutout in his first year (2015). However, he hasn't been as consistent as he was in the second half of 2020. When drafted, the Lions thought he could be the future ace of the rotation. This will be a proving season for Takahashi, who went through significant time away from the ichi-gun as a healthy ni-gun player.  

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Will someone in the 2020 draft class make significant contributions?  

The Lions took only two high school players in the main portion of the 2020 NPB Draft with four college position players and one shakaijin pitcher. Gakuto Wakabayashi and "Brandon" Tysinger are getting ichi-gun camp looks and Takeru Sasaki has a chance to be a reliever or starter if necessary.  It wouldn't hurt to have someone help the team sooner than later. 

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Who is starting? 

The Lions have a handful of clear cut starters for their rotation, but the roster as a whole is based on depth and playing the matchup. They can spot start several veterans for the preferred opponent when necessary. Zach Neal may not be there for Opening Day, but it's expected to have Tatsuya Imai and Wataru Matsumoto among rotation starters after Takahashi. 

From there, it's very uncertain with Ken Togame, Daiki Enokida, Tetsu Miyagawa, Syota Hamaya, as well as veterans Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tetsuya Utsumi and new addition Mitsuo Yoshikawa ready to go. There's plenty of options, but no one appears to be a guaranteed rotation starter every week. 

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Can anyone unknown step it up? 

Several high school draft picks over the last few years should be old enough to help at the ichi-gun level. Whether it's Manaya Nishikawa, Shohei Suzuki, Aito, Ryusei Tsunashima, or even Hiroki Inoue, it is vital for someone to make sure the Lions aren't as status quo from 2020. 

Fumikazu Kimura is on pace to earn domestic free agent rights after 2021 and it wouldn't hurt to have someone ready to go in transition for the outfield, a hole this team suffered from last year. The Lions also have Ryusei Sato returning from his 2020 suspension, thought to be infield depth. 

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The uphill battle for foreigners could be difficult

Some teams were able to plan around COVID-19 and fly their imports to Japan as early as January so they could quarantine and join by camp. The Lions have majority of their imports training from home, including new signing Matt Dermody. Only Reed Garrett is currently with the Lions as he quarantined and joined in the middle of camp. Veterans like Ernesto Mejia and Zach Neal shouldn't be affected by this, but for Dermody, he'll have a tough learning curve where things can't be figured out virtually. 

Cory Spangenberg is also at home, but it's uncertain when he'll be able to join the Lions. The team has already prepared for not having any imports by Opening Day on March 26 and with the pace of players not coming needing to quarantine on arrival, there's a huge question mark on when they're ready. The 3B position could be a void with an aging Okawari-kun and unproven depth behind him in the event Spangenberg isn't there. 

For Neal, he enters a contract year hoping to earn another deal and keep his career abroad going. It wasn't a fun 2020, where it felt like the league adjusted to his success from 2019. Can he readjust to Pacific League hitters in his third season? 

Even if a player comes before Opening Day, Dermody has the toughest battle by not physically being there at camp and only communicating virtually. 

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How will the Lions Break it? 

Break It is the big slogan for 2021, with the hopes of younger Lions taking advantage of an opportunity and possible slump years rebounding for the proven veterans. The question is, do we have some breakout seasons from unproven players or does the team breakdown somewhere to cost Tsuji his job? 

Winning a pennant feels like a stretch given the Softbank Hawks are on a different level, but the Lions still need to show they can compete with the rest of the league. Some underachieving for the offense cost them a postseason spot when it was the bullpen who carried everything. Odds say relievers can follow up a good year with a bad one, but there's hope if Ryosuke Moriwaki, Kaima Taira and Tatsushi Masuda can keep their main role in the bullpen. 

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