Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Race for 3rd place remains tight

In a shortened week, the Lions salvaged one game from the Fighters and split with Rakuten as a makeup game is scheduled for Monday. They're now 7-4 in the last two weeks combined.  

Game 1 against the Fighters lived up to another pitcher's duel with Takayuki Kishi and Luis Mendoza. Kishi would struggle in the fourth inning where Shingo Ishikawa would get a 2-run single with two outs.  He was rather fortunate to not allow more runs.

The Lions had their chances with Shuta Tonosaki batting, but he flied out. They had a runner on third base three different times on the night, but Mendoza would shut the door and go six innings without a run allowed. The eighth inning had runners on the corners for Seibu, but Akihiro Hakamura would hold on and escape.

It was a night where Mendoza would get his fifth win against the Lions this season and fourth consecutive victory in as many starts vs. Seibu. The Fighter bumped Shohei Otani for the next day, as they spent the previous week using different pitchers against Orix making Mendoza pitch on 13 days of rest.

In Game 2, Shohei Otani continued to dominate the Lions like he does with the rest of NPB. He went eight strong innings with only two times having a runner on third base. In the fourth inning, there were runners on the corners for the Lions, but Hideto Asamura grounded into a double play. In the first, there was one specific pitch where Otani hit 100 mph (160 KM/H) on the radar gun and struck out Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura.

Yusei Kikuchi went six innings, but had a rough first, where he was tagged for three runs. This included a two-run double from Sho Nakata and a double from Kensuke Kondo. The Lions had five hits overall, which was two more than the previous game against Mendoza. Otani did not get the complete game shutout, as Hirotoshi Masui would close the door again.

In Game 3, the offense was revived after two games of being shutout. Shogo Akiyama started the scoring with a 2-run home run and Okawari-kun added a solo HR in the third inning. Okawari-kun matched his 2014 total and is still the home run king of both leagues.

Hayato Arakaki would only last 2.1 innings after giving up the home runs to the Lions. Kazuhisa Makita made his first start since July 26 as he was moved to the closer role. He had six shutout innings which including a houdini in his last. After having runners on first and second with no outs, he forced flyouts from Nakata, Kondo and Brandon Laird consecutively to get out of the jam.

Asamura ended his slump with an RBI single off new import Mitch Lively and Masato Kumashiro benefited from an error by Laird. With runners on second and third and two outs, he threw the ball away and both of them scored as a result to put the game to bed.

Yosuke Okamoto, Tomomi Takahashi and Tatsushi Masuda had minimal drama in the last three innings to stop the bleeding and the Lions were in good shape midweek.

In Game 1 against the Eagles, the Lions bats had a hard time against Kenny Ray. The Eagles drew first blood off a leadoff-triple by Hiroaki Shimauchi. He would score on a sacrifice fly from Rintaro Kitagawa i the third inning.

It wasn't until the fifth inning where the Lions would have a big chance. With runners on the corners, Ryota Wakiya was up as Takumi Kuriyama and Akiyama were on base. Wakiya would single to tie the game, but a throwing error on Kitagawa would advance Akiyama to home plate, putting the Lions up 2-1.

Ken Togame would go seven innings with only two runs allowed. It would take a triple from Motohiro Shima and a sacrifice fly from Shimauchi to tie the game again in the Bottom of the 7th. He escaped an early jam and the Lions defense would take care of itself to give them a chance later.

Koji Aoyama was on the mound Rakuten and he struggled with Wakiya on third and Asamura getting a double with less than two outs. Tomoya Mori would bring a run home where Zelous Wheeler had no choice but to take the sure play at first base as Seibu took the lead.

Masuda worked the eighth and Takahashi had a scary ninth inning again. The tying run was on second base with the help of an error by Wakiya and a walk. However, he struck out Kitagawa to end the game and earned his first save since July 7th. It was the Lions' 4,500th win in franchise history.

In the second game against Rakuten, Ryoma Nogami couldn't recover from a slow start. He allowed a three-run home run to Shima in the second inning. In the third, Nogami would give up a grand slam to Kazuya Fujita which made the game out of reach.

Yohshinao Kamata would appear in his first start in two seasons and shutdown the Lions through four. The Lions would score four runs in the fifth inning including the 20th home run from Ernesto Mejia on the season, but it wasn't enough.

Game 3 against Rakuten was cancelled due to rain, but a makeup game is scheduled on 8/31 in Sendai.

With this being a 2-3 week, it is hard to remain optimistic with the Hawks coming to the Seibu Dome along with a head to head series with Chiba in QVC. The starting pitching will need to remain strong, but the odds feel slim at the moment. They're still within 1/2 game of the Marines and more importantly they are playing meaningful baseball in the month of September.


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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

With the A's Playing Terrible, We're Thankful for the Lions (Part II)

The 2015 Major League Baseball season has been interesting and adventurous for most teams. However, as an Oakland A's fan, it hasn't been fun. However, following Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has been a lifesaver on many fronts for myself and Wes.

Last July, Wes wrote this piece on why we're thankful to be following the Lions. I echo this sentiment with how the Oakland A's season has gone. To sum it up for those who don't know, the Oakland A's made some moves in the middle of 2014 which essentially built up an "All-in" situation for they year. They made multiple blockbuster moves with no plan B thinking about 2015 and beyond. With all the expectations, they failed miserably in the postseason and were forced to retool.

The A's tried to change up their roster significantly with some partial buying moves combined with selling others. Some experts thought they could be a .500 team or an interesting one going forward, but it all was for naught and now they're paying the price for going "All-in" from 2014.

The A's bullpen reminds us of a similar to the Lions, except without a closer and a setup man. There is no identity and while they had Tyler Clippard as the closer prior to the trade deadline, no lead was safe. The offense would find ways to hit or give us a tease at the end, but some errors or bad bullpen would cost them several games.

Oakland is well-out of a playoff spot and will enjoy this offseason from the couch. The only thing interesting was the trade deadline which passed on July 31st. Now that it has come and gone and the A's sold who isn't returning in 2016, the rest of this year is a wash and it's all meaningless.

Following the Saitama Seibu Lions and NPB have given Wes and myself new life. Like Wes, I too like the Dodgers partially, but they don't count as an official team and are more of a side thing to watch. If they won it all in my lifetime, I'd be happy, but not to the extent I would for the A's or any of my other non-baseball teams.

NPB has given us a culture lesson when seeing how tactics are on the field. We see honor, honesty and a different spin than what most Americans would see in MLB. From the fun traditions of player songs to Lucky 7 songs as well as chance songs, to the concept of a player getting a stuffed animal after a home run, these traditions in Japan make it more interesting and provide a fresh view of baseball for us.

Even if this Lions team was as bad as the Chunichi Dragons, the whole league has garnered our interest for how different it is. We can easily make comparisons of how things are run which will be material for a future article in regards to MLB and NPB.

We're enjoying how humble players who were longtime minor leaguers are as they enjoy their time in Japan. Like Anthony Seratelli and Tony Barnette, we too are given another view on baseball.

Before the season, the Lions were expected to have no pitching but all offense. From the power hitting of Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura and Ernesto Mejia to the new face of Tomoya Mori to the slapstick hitting from Shogo Akiyama, they've been an intriguing team to watch with the lineup the Lions have.

We thought the season would be over before it started when Takayuki Kishi was out for two months with a strained abdomen, but the rest of the rotation and defense picked up the slack to put them in a good position. Despite losing a franchise record 13 in a row, we're still enjoying this season for how much personality and identity this Lions team has.

This team could very well not make the postseason with the rough second half they've had, but we're going embrace the ride in good and bad times. As bad as the Lions bullpen has been this year, it is nowhere near how the Oakland A's are in terms of depth. The Lions can pull some Houdini escapes while Oakland can't.

The spirit of fans from the Oendan makes the game fun despite the scoreboard. From singing "Happy Birthday" to a player to hearing a few unique chance themes gets us pumped, even though it has little to no effect on the game outcome.

As bleacher fans, we love noise and the passion from fans. While the Lions Oendan isn't the loudest in decibels, there's plenty of good coordination we see from their songs which includes some lateral movement.

Japanese culture and logic has its own unique perspective and you can tell it reflects on the field. We see some very old school fundamentals still kept with practice and it shows. They take a mathematical approach when they bunt, figuring the odds of consecutive hits are slimmer.

From a Lions standpoint, we saw how they would take a matchup they liked and put in a few random players at the most awkward moments. Sometimes those decisions would work because they liked something they saw on film or in sabremetrics. 

With all the twists and turns in this Lions season, we're thankful for the interacting on social media through Twitter with fans. Doesn't even have to be Lions fans, but just anyone who follows Japanese baseball.

More than a decade ago, it would feel impossible to study about NPB without knowing Japanese, but the magic of Twitter, social media and finding outlets (as well as a translator!) has given us plenty of access that we would never have unless we had direct roots in Japan.

We're thankful for all the games, coverage, accessibility and interaction where we hope to continue writing about the Lions and NPB.  For whatever curveballs are thrown at us, we'll take it in stride with our thoughts, even if we're not completely used to the traditions of Japan.

Ganbarre Raionzu /  頑張れ ライオンズ!


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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Bats wake up; Takahashi earns first career shutout

The Saitama Seibu Lions had their first winning week since prior to the All-Star break, where they swept the Rakuten Golden Eagles and took the series against the Chiba Lotte Marines winning two out of three. As a result, the Lions are now a 1/2 game in front of Chiba in third place for the Pacific League playoff race. 

Game 1 against Rakuten was another pitcher's duel between Takayuki Kishi and Takahiro Norimoto in Omiya. Kishi had a shaky first, but got struck out Zelous Wheeler with two runners on.

The Lions bats would remain cold again, but it didn't come without chances. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura struck out with two runners on base. Hideto Asamura also had three strikeouts and was 0-4 on the night.

The sixth inning is where the chance could come, after Ryota Wakiya would hit a leadoff triple when Ryo Hijirisawa would misplay a ball in centerfield.  Norimoto looked like he would escape when he struck out Okawari-kun and Ernesto Mejia, but Tomoya Mori walked and Takumi Kuriyama was up with runners on the corners. A wild pitch in the dirt would sent Wakiya home and the Lions were on the board.

Norio Tanabe would go with a defensive lineup after the Lions scored by moving Wakiya to 1B and adding Masato Kumashiro in right field. 

Kishi would have his own inning of stress in the seventh, where walked Wheeler to start. The Eagles would bunt a pinch runner in Makoto Moriyama to second base and the tying run was in scoring position.

After forcing a groundout, Motohiro Shima was up and he singled to right field. With Kumashiro getting to the ball quickly, Rakuten would not send Moriyama home and Kishi would get another chance for a Houdini.

Kishi would strikeout Tetsuro Nishida to end the frame and get the shutdown inning. Tomomi Takahashi worked an easy eighth inning, but the ninth inningbecame dramatic. Kazuhisa Makita would hit Willy Mo Pena with a pitch and the Eagles would have the tying run on again with a pinch runner in Toshihito Abe.

To make matters worse, Moriyama would get the bunt down, but Makita's throw to first base was off target, having two on and nobody out. Mitsutaka Goto would bunt again, but this time Gijiro Sumitani would save the day, attacking third base and a 2-5-3 double play would happen.

Hiroaki Shimauchi would extend the game with an infield single where Kyohei Nagae had no chance. Shima was up again with runners on the corners and hit one on the button on an 0-2 pitch. It looked like it would fall, but Kumashiro would save the day with the catch while sliding. It was the third 1-0 win for the Lions in 2015. They would finish the season with a 2-1 record when playing in Omiya.

In Game 2, the Lions looked like they would continue to strand runners against Wataru Karashima. In the fourth inning, the Eagles would draw first blood with an RBI single by Matsui. Shuta Tonosaki had an error that kept the inning alive, making it unearned for Yusei Kikuchi.

However, the Lions broke through when Kuriyama hit his eighth home run of the year to put the Lions up 2-1. Tomoya Mori led the inning off with his first triple of the season. Asamura would break an ugly drought with an RBI double and Mori would add a timely single in the fifth to triple the lead at 4-1.

Kikuchi would have to earn his shutdown inning, striking out Matsui and Tatsuro Iwasaki with a runner in scoring position. He had 10 strikeouts and only one walk through six innings pitched.

Asamura would beat out a double play and get another run on the board in the sixth. A wild pitch by Fumiya Ono put the game out of reach at 6-1 and the Lions bullpen shut it down. Shota Takekuma, Tatsushi Masuda and Takahashi combined for the last 3 innings and would only allow one hit. It was encouraging that Takahashi would strike two batters out to end it.

In Game 3, the Lions jumped out to a fast 4-0 lead in the second inning, where Asamura had an RBI single with runners on second and third. A fielding error on the throw by Shima went to centerfield, and Asamura was able to advance to home plate resulting in an unofficial home run.

Chun-Lin Kuo would do well in the first two innings, but the third is where the trouble came. He would allow a barrage of hits and the Eagles would tie it up at 4-4. Toshihiro Iwao would take over and get a clean 4th inning, but the 5th saw more damage by Rakuten. Willy Mo Pena would clear the bases on a gapper to put the Eagles up 7-4.

However, the Lions were able to load the bases themselves with Naoto Watanabe up to bat. He would pull a gapper of his own down the left field line and the game was tied in the bottom of the fifth. Shogo Akiyama would give the Lions the lead for good with a single plating Watanabe.

Yosuke Okamoto would work a clean shutdown sixth inning and the Lions were in business. The Lions would add insurance off a sacrifice fly from Kuriyama and another RBI from Watanabe in the 7th. Ginjiro "Gin-Chan" Sumitani would also get a gapper to plate two more and make it 11-7. Gin-Chan put the game away for good with a two-RBI single in the 8th. The Lions would win 15-7 and it would be their fourth in a row.


Game 1 against Chiba Hideaki Wakui looked to be smooth sailing with a four-run second inning. Asamura, Okawari-kun and Akiyama would each have RBIs and a passed ball made it 4-0 after three innings.

Ken Togame allowed a solo HR to Luis Cruz, but would avoid any further damage when stranded runners on the corners twice. He would go six innings with only four strikeouts. It wasn't his best outing as he was being hit hard, but some great defense bailed him out and prevented more runs on the board.

In the sixth, a turning point happened for the Lions as Ikuhiro Kiyota looked like he would get a triple, but a relay from Kuriyama to Tonosaki to Watanabe caught him out at third base. It was a 7-6-5 play and he would have scored from second because the Marines would have base hits latter that inning. This play took a perfect throw from Tonosaki and it nabbed Kiyota right at the end.

Okamoto would allow a leadoff hit, but would get a double play in the seventh. Masuda also didn't allow any runs in the eighth. Seibu would add insurance in the seventh where a wild pitch would score a run and Okawari-kun would hit a gapper to bring two more, making it 7-1.

The ninth inning is where the game would become chaotic. Takahashi saw five batters and could not get an out. From a bases loaded situation, to a barrage of doubles, the score would be 7-4 when he left with nobody out and two on base for Shota Takekuma.

Takekuma would allow some more hits, making it 7-5, but would get a flyout from Kiyota. Alfred Despaigne would then ground into a fielder's choice, where a diving Watanabe saved a run and the Lions got a force out at second base. Kazuya Fukuura would make it a one-run game with a single and it was up to Katsuya Kakunaka batting a second time in the inning. Despite a five run 9th inning, Takekuma would get a flyout to Shogo Saito in left field and end it. It was the fifth straight win for the Lions in an ugly manner.

If it weren't for some great defensive plays including Sumitani throwing out Takashi Ogino, this would have resulted in a loss. The defense had to be perfect on the night and it was. There were several miscues from Chiba including wild pitches and even a catchable ball from Kiyota early on that cost them some runs. 

In Game 2, Ryoma Nogami just couldn't catch a break and Chiba's lineup sent a message in the first inning. He had no answer for Kyota and Fukuura, who did the damage against the Lions in the past and the score was 4-0 after 1 inning.

Chiba would add another and the Lions would respond with three runs with the help of a base hit by Tonosaki. However, that was the closest they would get as Chiba would score four more runs in the fourth to make it 9-3 after Kiyota hit a two-run home run.

It was a spot start for Shuta Kimura, where he would last 3.1 innings and only the allow three runs in second. Ernesto Mejia added a late home run for his 19th of the year, but that would be it and the Lions would be blown out by a final score of 9-5.In low leverage, Kuo would make his first appearance out of the bullpen going 2.2 innings. 

Game 3 against Chiba already had a quick start for the Lions with an RBI single from Wakiya. Shogo Akiyama would later hit a three-run home run off Yuta Omine, where he made a fielding mistake to attack the lead runner rather than the sure out at first base.

The Lions would pile on with doubles from Mori, Mejia and even an RBI single from Gin-Chan in the third inning and it was already a 7-0 lead. Kona Takahashi had his best career outing with a complete game shutout. It took some tremendous defense to keep the shutout intact, but still an impressive feat for only his fourth career start.

This was the first complete game shutout by a Lions rookie straight out of high school since Daisuke Matsuzaka in 1999. That's a pretty good company to be in, knowing what "Dice-K" did for the Lions. 

Norio Tanabe's decision to keep K. Takahashi in for the 9th was a little greedy, as he had two runners on base, but still got out of his own jam and earned the shutout. The Lions are now in pole position, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

There are still question marks with this bullpen with Makita back in the rotation and Kuo now in the bullpen. What happens at closer? Does T. Takahashi keep his job there or do they chose someone else?

This 5-1 week was much needed after a long run of losing and it was the first winning week in 7 attempts. Until they beat Chiba, it felt like the Lions could only defeat Rakuten, as they're 14-5 against them head to head this year. However, the monkey is off their back and there is life.

I'm not going to say this team is "back" yet, because the bullpen is took shaky, but it's a good start. They'll face the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters the Eagles on the road this week, which includes a matchup against Shohei Otani. Can only hope to go 4-2 on the North side of Japan.


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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Report: Makita removed from closer role; Headed back to the rotation

Yet another shakeup to the Lions bullpen has been executed by Norio Tanabe and the Lions front office. This time the move comes off more as a logical move rather than a panic move.

When Kazuhisa Makita was sent to the bullpen, the move appeared to be more of an overreaction to the bad stretch of form from the bullpen, rather than a move that needed to be made. I tried to look at the positives, the rotation seemed to be keeping the Lions in games but the lack of faith in the Lions middle relief proved to cost them some games at a frustrating rate, then the back end guys like Tomomi Takahashi and Tatsushi Masuda started to struggle at an alarming rate. As a result, the Lions front office did not feel comfortable just letting thing play out, as the long 13 game losing streak ensued.

The logic of the move was simple, the rotation has been solid all year, why not take out some of the best parts of the rotation and add it to the bullpen to form a potentially solid 7-8-9?

It seemed all well and good, only if you pretend that Makita was the same pitcher he was in 2011 when he actually was the Lions closer as a 26 year old rookie. At that time, Makita was striking out 6.1 per 9 innings and walking 1.1 per 9. As opposed to this season, where he's striking out 4.3 and walking 2.8. It's not exactly the numbers of a closer anywhere in the world.

Takahashi and Masuda have the stuff to both be closers. They strikeout batters and don't pitch to contact, which can give way to possible bloop singles. On the flip side, Makita has given up plenty on several occasions during his short time as the closer this season.

I said this to Christian in private many times, I thought the move was of the panic variety, but the thought behind it wasn't that far off. In fact, moving Makita to the bullpen could've been a smart strategical move, but making him the closer was not.

Makita's profile as a submarine pitcher makes him a difficult matchup for just about anyone especially if the opposing team has been facing a traditional over the top or 3 quarter arm slot starter the entire game, but just imagine if you brought Makita in for the 6th inning as a change of pace. We've seen it before, Lions pitchers end up having to pitch longer than they are capable of and in the end, they get hit around. 

With Makita in this role which we call the "bullpen ace", that is no longer a worry going forward. Makita could pitch two innings, or 3 innings and whenever he faces trouble, you can then look to Masuda and Takahashi to really shorten the game and take your middle relief from an apparent weakness to an apparent strength.

This was all my dream, sadly. I'm not sure whether or not this role has been used by Japanese teams or not, but from my instinct, it seems that a move like that wouldn't of seemed to be a move that saved face, since making Makita the closer seemed like the Lions had fixed a problem with a solution, when in reality, they actually had not.

Now, Makita is moving back to the rotation, and seemingly, Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo will be sent to the bullpen where I think he'd be more effective anyway, considering how solid he looks early on his starts but then waivers during just the second time through the order. Takahashi will retain his role as closer, and Masuda will retain his role as the setup man.

And as it stands right now, the Lions rotation looks at times very solid and the bullpen is back to looking fantastic in the 8th and 9th, but a huge question mark is in the 6th and 7th. Though hopefully, Kaku Kuo can contribute enough in middle relief. When Makita was the closer, the 7th and 8th wasn't anything to worry about while the 9th was always a roller coaster but you knew he could get the job done. With Makita out of the rotation, it was having trouble going deeper into games.

If I had to pick between the two, I'd pick having Makita in the rotation, because with that, the Lions have a team that is capable of capturing lightning in a bottle and making noise in the postseason (if they get there of course, cross your fingers).

Looking ahead to this weekend's pivotal series with Chiba, we got what we wanted! A Lions sweep of lowly Rakuten coinciding with a Fighters sweep of the Marines sets up a 3 game set at the Seibu Prince Dome where they're only a half game out of the 3rd and final playoff spot. These 3 games may decide almost everything for the Lions in 2015, especially since they seem to be on a roll while Chiba is seemingly coming back down to earth.


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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tomoya Mori brings a fresh face to baseball

Tomoya Mori is one of the youngest players on the Saitama Seibu Lions. Not only did he turn 20 earlier this month, but he has become one of the more intriguing players in his short time as a player on the ichi-gun team.

From having his batting music change from Dr. Dre, to a song titled "Yume ga Mori Mori" from Hiroko Moriguchi, which is a song that's older than him, he has a personality before he even steps on the field.

The Lions drafted him in 2013 without opposition, as the consensus crowd liked Daichi Osera and Yuki Matsui over Mori. In 41 games last year, he showed some flashes which included six home runs where he could rake the ball.

Before the 2015 season started, there was questions on whether Mori would be the starting catcher over Ginjiro Sumitani, who is a defensive stalwart behind the plate. Jim Allen of the Kyodo news advocated that Mori needed to be inserted into the lineup and the best solution was having him play as the designated hitter. He made the claim that spending any games at the ni-gun level in the Eastern League is a waste of time and his career.

The Lions all but listened to Allen, having him as the DH primarily this season with Sumitani remaining behind the plate. He was batting sixth for the first half, but has moved up to as high as the No.3 spot and occasionally batting fifth in front of the struggling Ernesto Mejia.

Considered to be undersized at 170 cm and 80 kg, Mori has answered the call with his bat, initially batting around .290 in the first half. His production took a dip to .285, but he has provided occasionally pop with 13 HRs and finds the gap with 28 doubles.

Mori garnered support for the 2015 All Star Series with the most votes among any player. Given the competition for the designated hitter vote, it was an easy call, but it's clear Mori has his own following around the country.

He is remembered for being the battery teammate of Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, as both of them won the Summer Koshien Tournament in 2012. Fujinami of course was one of the more popular players to be drafted the year before in the 2012 draft.

With Mori having his own following and known to make funny swings, occasional base running bloopers, big hits, he could be one of the most exciting hitters to watch in the future. When Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura's time is done and when the Lions move on from Takumi Kuriyama, it could be Mori that becomes the face of the franchise.

In only his first full season, he has already dazzled as an interesting hitter despite being a catcher by trade. He has a big cut in his swing, but his plate discipline has improved as the season goes on. The game could change dramatically in the next five years, but Mori would be on pace to be one of the most consistent players with his bat.

A catcher by trade, it will be interesting if the Lions would ever decide to put him behind the plate in the future. The Lions have played him at the ni-gun level for a handful of games to let him develop as a catcher, but they love his bat so much that they make the effort to play him in the lineup.

Even when there were interleague games involving the designated hitter removed, the Lions countered the idea with him playing in right field, sacrificing defense so his bat was there.

If he tears it up in the next five or six years, he could be an MLB prospect that teams would look for. One thing we do know is, the sky can be the limit for a young catcher who is only 20. If there is any indication he continues to hit well, it will be trouble for the Pacific League for years to come.


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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Akiyama drops the ball; Season on the brink

The Saitama Seibu Lions struggled this week losing both series to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. A 2-4 week has them in trouble, 3.5 games behind the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Game 1 against the Fighters lived up to the billing of a pitcher's duel in a rematch of Shohei Otani vs. Takayuki Kishi. Both pitchers would go the distance in what was a low scoring game.

Kensuke Tanaka would get the only RBI for the the Fighters off a single in the seventh inning, where it broke a scoreless tie. The bottom of the 7th had its own drama. With Takumi Kuriyama getting a leadoff double, there was a chance for Ernesto Mejia to tie the game. He would crush a pitch to deep left field and nearly hit it out of the park off Otani.

Kishi faced only 30 batters on the night, which is three over the minimum through nine innings. He had a base runner in the ninth, but forced a groundout to end the game for his second win of the season. It would be his fourth complete game and a win which he finally earned.

Game 2 against Hokkaido had a slow start from Yusei Kikuchi, where he allowed a barrage of hits and fell into an 0-2 hole. Shingo Ishikawa drew first blood with an RBI single. Takeya "Okawari-kun" would hit his 32nd home run of the season with a solo jack in the second to respond.

Okawari-kun wouldn't help in the third with a throwing error on what should have been a double pay. The Fighters would make him pay with an RBI single from Sho Nakata. He would add another RBI in the fifth with a timely hit.

The Lions would bring back two runs in the sixth from a sacrifice fly by Hideto Asamura and a single from Yutaro Osaki to make the score 5-3, but that is as close as they got. Keisuke Tanimoto would come in and stop the bleeding by getting Shota Tonosaki to fly out. Seibu would also strand the bases loaded in the fourth inning.

Luis Mendoza didn't have the greatest outing, but limited the damage in caparison to Kikuchi. The defense failed Kikuchi and it was the fourth straight time Mendoza would get a win over the Lions.

In Game 3, Chun-Lin Kuo would allow a home run from Sho Nakata to start the scoring in the second. The Lions would take the lead with some hits from Tomoya Mori and Tatsuyuki Uemoto, but hte offense would stall with a bases loaded opportunity in the fourth. Asamura, Okawari-kun and Kuriyama would strike out to Kohei Arihara to end the frame and no runs would come.

Daikan Yoh would go 3-5 and Takuya Nakashima would also do damage with three hits. After jumping ahead 7-2, the Fighters put the exclamation point on the game when Nakata would hit his second HR of the game off Kazuki Miyata, which was good for three runs.

Seibu would score six runs in the bottom of the sixth including a bases clearing double from Kuriyama, but it was too late. Otani would even add a solo home run of Yosuke Okamoto just for insult at the end.

In Game 1 against the Hawks, Ken Togame just couldn't get the final out in the first inning. On a two-strike pitch, he allowed an opposite field solo HR to Yuki Yanagita for the first run. After walking Dae-Ho Lee, he would allow another HR to Nobuhiro Matsuda and the Hawks would be up 3-0.

Softbank would add two more in the second inning and the 5-0 hole was just too much. The Lions would strand runners early again, but the poor start was too much to overcome. Their bats would combine for 16 strikeouts and Rick van den Hurk would get his seventh win of the season, second against the Lions.

In Game 2, Ryoma Nogami would be off to a good start, until Kenta Imamiya would get first blood off a solo HR to let field. Okawari-kun would do damage on his birthday as a three run home run would follow in the top of the fifth off Shota Takeda.

The Hawks would respond immediately with Dae-Ho Lee clearing the bases on a gapper with a three-RBI double to make it 4-3. Miraculously, the Lions would get on base in the sixth inning and a chance for Akiyama came with two on base. He would place a bloop single right in the left field gap and they would tie it. Ryota Wakiya would also walk with the bases loaded to put the Lions up 5-4.

With the Arizona Diamondbacks executives and Tony La Russa in attendance, things were looking good. Hall of Fame inductee Randy Johnson and former Dback Luis Gonzalez were also visiting for the game.

Tatsushi Masuda would work an easy sixth, but the seventh is where the nightmares continued. Tomomi Takahashi allowed a leadoff single and the runner was bunted over to second base. Then he tried fielding a comebacker with his bare hand where it bounced into an area where everyone would be safe. Yanagita would tie the game on double to left field with the first pitch.

However, the Lions nearly got out of the jam with two outs. But an error by Akiyama from dropping an easy fly ball from Akira Nakamura would put the Hawks back on top. Ryota Igarashi and Dennis Sarfate would make quick work of the Lions and Seibu would lose their fourth straight.

In Game 3 against the Hawks, the Lions would trail early after Lee would hit a two-run home run off of Kona Takahashi. He would do more damage with a two-run double in the third inning.

Wakiya would bring the Lions within two after hitting a two-run HR and Asamura had an opposite field homer to make it a one run game. Then the Lions would load the bases in the sixth, where Ernesto Mejia came through with a clutch single to tie it at 4-4. Masato Kumashiro would make contact as a pinch hitter and score Okawari-kun on a sacrifice fly.

The Lions had more chances in the seventh and eighth with the bases loaded, but would only score one run off a walk by Mori. T. Takahashi would be scary again, but would end up with a scoreless sixth while Masuda took the seventh and eighth. Makita closed out the ninth inning after allowing a run and the Lions would snap the four game skid.

This was a brutal week on all fronts and the Game 2 vs. the Hawks put the Lions' season in a nutshell. Nothing was going right with this team with hitting, pitching nor bounces and it took an unlucky round to lose to them. Pitching was poor this week for the most part outside of Kishi, but the bats woke up in the last two games against Fukuoka.

The Lions are facing Rakuten and Chiba this week and if a 4-2 record in the next six games doesn't happen, this season is all but over. I'm not feeling optimistic on this team, but it's not over yet. Wakiya has been a positive throughout this horrible month of Lions baseball, where they're 6-23 in their last 29 games.

This homestand is officially make or break, because Chiba isn't slowing down anytime soon.


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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 1

This is our inaugural pilot Podcast Episode talking about the Seibu Lions.

First off, sorry about the typing sounds that show up every now and then, we were trying a new system.
We do a lot of introduction as well as discussions on the 13-game losing streak and the consequences coming out of it.

We also discuss Ernesto Mejia and the thoughts on the foreign free agents from the offseason. This is a first recording for us with hopefully more to come in the future. We plan on podcasting once a month.


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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Okawari-kun sets a new record

The Lions would take the series against the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but ultimately lose to the Orix Buffaloes in Osaka. They are now 7-1 when they play in Sendai. 

Game 1 against Rakuten had a slow start from Takayuki Kishi. He allowed two runs to begin the game and would later get ripped with another two-run double in the fifth inning. Three of the four runs he allowed were unearned. 

The Lions had a chance early, but Ernesto Mejia struck out and was caught looking. Takahiro Norimoto would have a clean outing until the seventh inning. He would strand the bases one more time before the Lions got their first run on the board. Ryota Wakiya had an RBI single and Hideto Asamura tied the game on a bases clearing double off Norimoto, resulting in a no decision.

Rhiner Cruz was vulnerable in the eighth inning as the bases were loaded, but the Lions ended up stranded them again for the second time of the night. Tatsushi Masuda would take the eighth inning and had trouble with runners on the corners. He would allow the game winning RBI to Shintaro Masuda and the Lions would lose their 13th in a row.

Yuki Matsui cruised through the ninth and Seibu set a franchise record for most consecutive losses. They previously had 12 losses in 1979.

Game 2 had a better start with an RBI single from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura off Wataru Karashima. They would add two more runs off infield hits, including some speed from Shota Tonosaki at home plate. Takumi Kuriyama would also beat out a double play.

Yusei Kikuchi got the Lions back on track with 6.2 innings of shutout baseball. He earned one shutdown inning by striking out Gaby Sanchez with runners on the corners. There was another threat where Kazuo Matsui got a bloop single, but Kazuya Fujita over-ran second base and Akiyama threw him out to end the fouth.

The seventh inning is where it got dramatic when Kikuchi left with two runners on and two outs. Masuda would take the mound and get a ground ball, but it had an awkward bounce and the bases were loaded. Rakuten attempted a suicidal surprise bunt with Koji Yamasaki, but Masuda threw home and got the force out.

The Lions broke the game open in the ninth with a solo home run from Shogo Akiyama and Mejia gave the dagger with a two out single having runners on second and third. Tomomi Takahashi would have a clean eighth. The streak was finally broken and the Lions would be on a winning track.

Asamura would leave the game early with a shoulder injury and wouldn't participate in Game 3. In the third outing against Rakuten, Chun-Lin Kuo would start off well with two clean innings. However, he would allow some hits in the third, fourth and fifth which would add up to four runs, including a solo HR to Mitsutaka Goto.

In the third inning, Ryota Wakiya was too aggressive throwing to home when he should have taken the sure out at first base. Kuo would later walk in a run but reduce the damage to two in that inning. 

However, the bats would stay alive with Okawari-kun getting another RBI single to begin the game. Mejia would score on a wild pitch in the next inning and Kuriyama would find the gap for an RBI double in the third. Akiyama would hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Tonosaki from third base.

The game would remain tied and the Lions bullpen took over with inherited runners in the fifth inning. Shota Takekuma would clean up the mess and the sixth inning is where the runs would come.

Mejia would get a leadoff single while Masatoshi Okada would fake a bunt and swing a soft line draft past an up close 3B. Kenji Tomura's night was done and the bullpen would come in. With two outs and the bases loaded, it was up to Wakiya and he delivered with a line drive single to center field, scoring two runs.

Masuda and Takahashi would get through the sixth, seventh and eighth unscathed despite allowing base runners. Kazuhisa Makita would get a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his first save since his rookie season of 2011 and the Lions left Sendai with a two game win streak and a series win.

Game 1 against Orix saw an old friend dominate. Ken Togame had no answer for Hiroyuki Nakajima, who had three RBIs and went 3-4 against his former team.

The Lions would score runs with base hits, including RBI singles from Tonosaki and Mejia. Masato Kumashiro would also beat out a double play chance, scoring another run.

The go-ahead run from Orix would come in the sixth, where Shuhei Kojima would get an infield single and later steal second. Shunta Goto would get the RBI off a single and the Lions wouldn't recover.  

In the ninth inning, the Lions had a chance after the defense failed to catch a foul ball from Akiyama. He would later hit a double, bringing the tying run in scoring position. However, Tomoya Mori struck out and the game was over.

In Game 2, the Lions got off to a strong start including a 2-RBI double from Tomoya Mori on his 20th birthday. Okada would also get an RBI and the Lions were up 3-0 after two innings, but he would injure himself.

Orix chipped away at the lead as Ryoma Nogami walked in a run. He would get a houdini in the fifth after the bases were loaded and Yoshio Itoi had an RBI single to cut the lead to one, but he got Francisco Caraballo to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame.

Yosuke Okamoto and Takahashi would pitch well in the 6th and 7th and things were looking good. However, the Lions would strand several base runners including a two on, nobody out situation in the eighth. Asamura was called to bunt and would foul out as a result. They stranded another chance in the 9th and even though Masuda escaped the eighth, the horror would come at the end.

Kazuhisa Makita would allow an infield single to start and the Buffaloes bunted Yuya Oda to second base. They would intentionally walk Itoi, but Makita couldn't throw a strike on Nakajima to load the bases. Kojima, the same hero from last night would get a Sayonara win for Orix double off the Lions and they would lose 4-3. It was the fourth one-run loss of the week.

In Game 3 against Orix, the Lions offense would show up late. Kona Takahashi had to nurse a 1-0 lead thanks to a Wakiya base hit in the third inning, but he didn't allow a run. He would benefit from a great defensive play by Asamura to double up a runner on second base.

He would last 5.1 innings, where Okamoto would come in and take the 6th. He got the ground ball the Lions needed and a 5-4-3 double play ended the frame. 

The eighth inning started the scoring from a bases loaded walk by Mori. Then Okawari-kun hit a record breaking grand slam, the 16th of his career which passed Sadaharu Oh's previous career high of 15. He also passed the 100 RBI mark as a result of the hit.

Home runs from Shogo Saito and Akiyama followed to put the game away. The Lions would go 3-3 on the week, which is progress from a 13 game losing streak, but could have easily been 4-2 or even 5-1.

Right now, the bats have become feast or famine, living and dying by the home run. The forecast doesn't look good with a tough series coming up, but it's not over yet.

Pitching has shown it can give the Lions a chance, but the bats need to come alive if they want to make a serious run. My optimism isn't very high right now, but having a .500 week is an upgrade over consecutive losses and a nasty losing streak.


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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Summer Koshien 2015: Which Lions' schools are represented?

The Summer Koshien has kicked off and it is one of the most important baseball events in Japan. For those who don't know, it's a high school tournament where schools from each prefecture are represented in qualifying locally at first. 

This year, there are 49 schools where there is one from each of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Hokkaido and Tokyo are the two prefectures to have two representatives. Hokkaido had a northern and southern representative school while Tokyo had an East and West representative. The format is simple, where it's a single elimination bracket just like March Madness for college basketball in the USA.

Games take place in Koshien stadium as the high school baseball has priority over the Hanshin Tigers. As a result during both the spring and summer Koshien tournaments, the Tigers must play their home games in Osaka using the Kyocera Dome, which is one of two stadiums for the Orix Buffaloes.

Legends will be made through this tournament and several of these players who are seniors will be drafted in October by NPB teams. Players can either go to an independent league, industrial league, university or straight to NPB once they graduate high school, but we will save draft talk for another article.

Here we will take a look a which high schools who qualified in the tournament were where a Saitama Seibu Lions player went. I only including players who have played a game in 2015 for the Lions, so no farm guys are included for this article. The full list was provided here courtesy of @Eigokokoyakyu.

P Yusei Kikuchi: Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate Prefecture)

This is the same school that Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher Shohei Otani attended and both players were hyped up to go straight to MLB in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

P Ryohei Fujiwara: Tottori Johoku (Tottori Prefecture)

Hanshin Tigers pitcher Atsushi Nomi also attended this school. It's on the southern side of the Honshu island. Former NPB player Kazuhisa Kawaguchi went here as well.


The bigger upset was when Osaka Toin was knocked out by Osaka Kaisei. Had they qualified for Koshien, this list would have shown the alma mater of Hideto Asamura, Takeya Nakamura, Masatoshi Okada Tomoya Mori.

While it may be hard for us to be attached to a school or knowing the current players, baseball is universal where we love the sport. Games are happening at a friendly hour in the daytime while in Japan, as it starts as early at 4:00 p.m. in Pacific time.

We watched the opening day of Koshien and the competition will be sure to heat up for the next two weeks. Enjoy your baseball everyone!


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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Kona Takahashi Film Study: Is He the Next One?

Who is this young kid? 

You'll know soon.

He's Kona Takahashi, the Lions 2014 first round draft pick, and the 18 year old kid whom Saitama believes will be their ace in 3-4 years.

Kona first rose to prominence as a 16 year old at the 2013 Summer Koshien by leading his high school, Maebashi Ikeui to the championship. Takahashi put his team on his back and caught the eye of many pundits for his tremendous efforts. For our American readers who aren't familiar with Japanese Baseball culture, the Summer Koshien is the National High School Baseball tournament that is one of the most popular events in Japan every year, so Takahashi is already familiar with the big stage. This takes place inside the same building that the Hanshin Tigers play in, forcing the NPB team to play a few home games from the Orix Buffaloes' nearby Kyocera Dome.

Takahashi was one of six players taken unopposed in last year's draft and with the way it played out, it's fair to say that he was considered the 3rd or 4th best pitching prospect in the draft.

Takahashi's measurements read 6'2", 188 pounds. Personally, I'd like to see him bulk up a little more but as an American, I'm not sure if that's completely necessary.

His pitching arsenal includes a fastball that sits in the high 80s and tops out around 92. His secondary pitches include a full range of breaking pitches with a slider, splitter, and curveball. Experts say that Takashshi could end up multiple plus pitches by the time he is ready.

Now it's time for our film study, because ni-gun highlights are for the most part nowhere to be found, we'll be taking a look at Takahashi's Koshien outings.

Because Takahashi made his ichi-gun debut on Sunday, I'll be jotting down a few thoughts on how he looked under my thoughts from his film study.


Thoughts before Debut: Most Japanese pitchers follow the idea of "pitching backwards" while their American counterparts lead with their fastball and then bring in the cheese to vanquish the opposing batters, the Japanese usually lead with their breaking stuff and use the fastball as more of a way of keeping hitters honest. Kona Takahashi appeared to follow this school of thought during his time in high school. 

His fastball wasn't impressive in terms of velocity, but when it hits the corners to cause the hitters to freeze or get jammed, the pitch can be quite effective, especially after throwing his other great off speed pitches.

This clip was taken from what appears to be a pre-season game played in March and what is seen from this clip is that clearly, Takahashi has bulked up a good amount since that legendary performance in the 2013 Summer Koshien. That was to be expected, but the even better news is that his fastball appears to have vastly improved (though it's impossible to be sure without radar gun readings) with this more imposing frame. His fastball doesn't need to be pure gas, but as long as it can be a solid out-pitch is what I'll be looking for.

Thoughts After Debut: Watching his debut, he was throwing in high 140s km/h, a 10 km/h increase from his glory days of the 2013 Koshien. Not only was he throwing his fastball harder, he was also throwing it often, which isn't necessarily a good thing, which I'll explain in the next pitch analysis.


Thoughts before Debut: When you watch raw highlights of Takahashi, this is the very first pitch that will standout. The velocity of the pitch would hover around 100 km/h during his high school days and he'd throw it often early in the count to get ahead in the account. That shows you how much confidence he has in the pitch.

I wasn't seeing the swing causing a lot of swings and misses but hitters rarely were able to stay on it and were often times completely frozen and were left to hope the pitch would float out of the strike zone. The one thing I tend to worry about when it comes to pitchers who rely on big curveballs is throwing it too often to the point where hitters can sit on the pitch and make it a liability.

On the flip side, if he can stay ahead of the cat and mouse game by successfully mixing up his pitches, he can make his fastball better by using his curveball because of the large variations in velocity between the two pitches.

Thoughts After Debut: After watching so much of Takahashi during his 2013 Koshien run, I was shocked to see little to no use of his curveball. When he was in high school, he used it just as much as Takayuki Kishi. I wasn't the only one who noticed, Japan Times writer Jason Coskrey, who was on the Japanese Baseball Weekly Podcast with John Gibson and they both agreed that the Lions had the training wheels on him.

He was "nibbling" on the corners and unfortunately he was missing a lot which got him into trouble against the Hawks hitters. I would like to see much more use of his curveball in his next outing with the ichi-gun.


Thoughts before debut: When looking at his slider, we're gonna be looking at different variations of this pitch. The above gif is a great example of a quality slider of Takahashi. This was taken from an earlier game in the 2013 Summer Koshien which happened to be a game where Takahashi was completely untouchable. 

A big part of why he was so dominant was because of this pitch, when used perfectly, it will be a long day for an opposing lineup. When his slider has this type of action and tails away from a right handed hitter, it can be a great pitch for him. I believe that as Takahashi goes on in his career, this will be the pitch that decides whether he has a good outing or a great outing. 

We see this all the time with Clayton Kershaw, his fastball and curveball will usually be working for him, but if his slider is working, we know he's gonna flirt with a no hitter. Even if the slider isn't working on that given day, Takahashi has enough potential plus pitches to a quality outing even when you don't have your best stuff, which is always the mark of a true ace.

Thoughts After Debut: This was another pitch that I don't remember seeing featured often by Takahashi. I remember seeing him get one strikeout thanks to this pitch but other than that, he used it quite sparingly. He threw a lot of fastballs and splitters mostly. You have to throw this pitch more often. Yes, there's a lot of bad things that can happen if you hang a slider (they usually end up in the next prefecture), but it's part of what makes Takahashi, so you have to let him throw it.


Thoughts before Debut: I know, that pitch doesn't seem to fit the characteristics of your typical splitter, a splitter usually goes down that much but not THAT much, it looks more like an overhand curve if anything. That's what I thought, until I saw the close up camera angle on the release.

There you have it! Now you can see that it's definitely a splitter. Index and middle finger have a fastball grip but more spread out across the ball, and there's no flicking of the wrist to show that it's a breaking ball. Here's another example of the splitter.

This particular pitch was thrown a couple ticks higher than the previous example, I think this pitch looks more like your typical splitter effect, you expect a bad ball swing on a ball in the dirt and that was the action induced from the batter. For that reason, I'd say that this example is a much better endorsement of his splitter and just shows how foolish he can make hitters look. I think this pitch has a chance to be at the level of a Shohei Otani or Masahiro Tanaka splitter. It's that devastating.

Thoughts After Debut: Ginjiro Sumitani allowed him to throw this pitch a lot and at times it looked very good with inducing ground balls (though some were unlucky and found holes) but at other times he didn't get the action on his splitter that we're so used to seeing. We'll have to see what happens against another opponent.


Overall: An 18 year old with this kind of promise is really something to see. It's clear that in only two years since his heroics on the sacred dirt of the Koshien, the Lions have done quite a lot to make him improve as a pitcher. 

He didn't look overwhelmed during his debut against the Softbank Hawks and that was the one thing I took out of it. His command was spotty, he was nibbling at a bad rate, but I believe in two years time, we'll be talking about this kid in the same way many are talking about Takahiro Norimoto for Rakuten.


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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Dozens of problems

The nightmare continues for Saitama as the Lions were winless for the second straight week. They were swept by the Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Game 1 against Chiba saw a pitchers duel between Takayuki Kishi and Ayumu Ishikawa. After both gave up a run in the first, each pitcher settled in with several strikeouts and groundouts.

The seventh inning is where the game was decided as the Lions had the bases loaded. Takumi Kuriyama pulled a ball that had great contact, but it was foul. He would strike out and Hideto Asamura would flyout ending the Lions' chance.

In the bottom frame, Chiba would take the lead with some heads up base running by pinch runner Yoshifumi Okada. After Shoitsu Omatsu got the hit and Okada pinch ran for him, a double from Daichi Suzuki created a chance. Kazuya Fukuura would pinch hit a ground ball to Ryota Wakiya. Unfortunately, he tried throwing home and Okada beat out the throw at home plate, giving Chiba the lead for good.

Kishi would have his third consecutive complete game of the season going eight innings in a losing record. In those three losses, he would only allow five earned runs. The nightmare would continue for the Lions with minimal clutch hitting outside of a two-out RBI single from Tomoya Mori.

The second game vs. Chiba was another low scoring affair at first. Yusei Kikuchi would allow first blood to Alfred Despaigne on a solo home run in the fourth. Another RBI would come later on a gapper for a 2-0 lead.

Ernesto Mejia struck back with a solo home run and the Lions appeared to be in business with runners on base. Unfortunately Seibu would not get a clutch hit throughout night, stranding runners whenever an opportunity came. Takuya Fukuya looked vulnerable late, but his bullpen cleaned up the mess and the eighth inning would become a nightmare for the Lions.

Tatsushi would give up a run while trailing 2-1 and later a dagger to end it. Tatsuhiro Tamura hit a grand slam to center field, destroying any chances of a Lions comeback. The streak would continue to eight games.

In Game 3, Chun-Lin Kuo made his first start since July 2 and had a decent outing with the exception of one inning. In the fourth, he had runners on the corners with no outs. Despaigne would ground into a fielder's choice conceding a run. He limited the damage in that frame after loading the bases, but the Lions couldn't score.

Dae-Eun Rhee would go seven scoreless innings and the Lions had a runner on second three times on the night. The bats couldn't string together hits and Esmerling Vasquez would walk in a run for the seventh.

They scored two runs for the entire three game series while the starting pitching combined to go 20 innings for five earned runs. Even when Kuo didn't have a meltdown inning, the bats were dead and continued the drought of nine consecutive losses. It was the first time the Lions were below the .500 mark for the season.

Game 1 against the Hawks had a good start with an RBI double from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura in the bottom of the first off Rick van den Hurk. However, Ken Togame couldn't get a shutdown inning and coughed up two runs in the next frame. Kenta Imamiya would get a sacrifice fly while Hiroaki Takaya would get an RBI single.

The score would remain 2-1 until the fifth inning, where a timely hit from Yuichi Honda would add another run. Shogo Akiyama would hit a solo home run to answer back, but that was it for the Lions offense. A chance followed after the HR, but Okawari-kun and Asamura struck out on consecutive at bats.

The Hawks could have ended the game earlier with the bases loaded where Togame left Shota Takekuma in a jam. But Takaya lined out and the infield tagged up for a double play to keep it a one run game.

What's worse is how the ninth inning was. Trailing by a run, Tomomi Takahashi gave up a solo HR to Imamiya and double the Hawks lead. Dennis Sarfate would close it out an the Lions' losing streak would continue to 10 games.

In Game 2, Ryoma Nogami had one mistake in the first inning after allowing Yuki Yanagita to get on base and steal second. Seiichi Uchikawa would hit a two-run homer and that would be the difference maker in an impressive pitcher's duel.

Nogami went seven strong innings despite the beginning and even stranded the bases later. Shota Takeda shut down the Lions bats after they loaded the bases in the bottom of the first. Asamura would strikeout on a full count pitch ended their best threat of the game.

The Lions had runners in scoring position in four of the innings, but couldn't muster an RBI until the seventh inning, where Masatoshi Okada would get an RBI single. Seibu had a chance in the ninth off closer Dennis Sarfate, but a failed hit and run led to Shogo Saito being thrown out at second base. Overall, the Lions struck out 11 times on the night and haven't scored more than two runs in five consecutive games.

In Game 3, first-round draft pick Kona Takahashi made his ichi-gun debut in a desperate move by the Lions' management. Unfortunately the results couldn't change as the rookie had control issues.

In the second inning, he would load the bases and walk in a run when he hit Taisei Makihara with a pitch. He couldn't get an out in the fourth inning against the top of the lineup and allow four runs total, including a two-run single by Shinya Tsuruoka with the bases loaded.

The Lions had their chances, including two different occasions with the base loaded. Kuriyama would flyout in the first against Hayato Terahara while Okada had a hard hit ball that resulted in a lineout. Okawari-kun would hit a three-run HR in the seventh inning, but it was all academic and too late.  The Lions would lose 4-3 as Kazuki Miyata allowed a run with an inherited runner in the fourth.

This was a desperate move by the team's management to put an 18-year-old rookie into the fire against NPB's top team. He looked overwhelmed when facing the Hawks lineup and while the Lions have a significant losing streak, we hope his development isn't ruined through this game.

They have currently matched the longest losing streak in franchise history at 12 games. It also ties the Yokohama DeNA Baystars for the most consecutive losses in the 2015 season. The last time the Lions lost 12 in a row, it was 1979 and was the team's first year at the Seibu Dome in Tokorozawa and there was no roof, as it was known as "Seibu Lions Stadium".

Pitching has been respectable this week, but the hitting has been below average in a high leverage situation. Too many stranded runners even though guys are getting on base and the entire team is to blame for this.

With Kazuhisa Makita moving to the bullpen, it becomes a time to get nervous with how the team has performed. Tomomi Takahashi has been demoted and is responsible for two of the losses in this drought, while also having the Lions out of striking distance in another.

The team isn't dead yet, but it's close. Right now, they need to refocus and just worry about the task at hand, not look at the scoreboard or standings. Personally, I hit the panic button once the team dropped to .500 earlier this week.

We end this recap on this video, where no one should be thinking about playoffs right now. This comes from Jim Mora Sr, former Indianapolis Colts head coach in the NFL.


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