Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: five-game skid ends, but team is in trouble

Since our last update, the Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-3 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Rakuten Golden Eagles, Chiba Lotte Marines, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Orix Buffaloes combined for six games.

In Thursday's game against the Hawks, the nightmare scenario happened where the magic number was one while the Chiba Lotte Marines didn't play. Previously, they did not have to face Shohei Otani due to a rained out game at QVC.

Kona Takahashi would only last four innings and had no answer for Nobuhiro Matsuda with a two run home run. The Hawks would tack on five runs total and the Lions were off the board mostly until the late innings. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would get a two run double, but it was too late. The Hawks would clinch the Pacific League pennant in front of the Lions with a win as Dennis Sarfate shut the door. It was their second straight Pennant with no drama.

On Saturday's game, the Lions were forced to face Otani and he would have a complete game with 11 strikeouts, two hits, two walks and one earned run. Kazuhisa Makita would only last 2.1 innings and allow three runs in the first. Kensuke Kondo would do most of the damage going 4-4 with three RBIs. Ryota Wakiya also got hurt on a collision at home plate and was deactivated as a result.

For Sunday's game against the Fighters, the Lions jumped out to a 5-0 lead which included RBIs from Ginjiro Sumitani and a home run. The sixth inning would be costly as Takayuki Kishi created his own jam and nibbled the strike zone facing the top of the order for the third time.

Kensuke Tanaka and Sho Nakata knocked out Kishi while Shota Takekuma couldn't get get an out. Brandon Laird would put the icing on the cake after a three-run home run against Yosuke Okamoto to put Hokkaido up for good at 7-5, scoring seven runs in the inning.

The Fighters added two more while Ernesto Mejia got a two-RBI hit, but it was too late. It would be the Lions' fifth straight loss.

The first game against Orix had a good start where despite Shogo Akiyama sacrifice bunting. Naoto Watanabe filled in at 3B for Okawari-kun while Yuji Kaneko played his first game in months at shortstop. Kaneko had a double and the Lions jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a double from Mejia.

Ken Togame would go seven innings, but they weren't invincible despite allowing no runs. He had only two strikeouts and escaped multiple jams including one in the first inning. The Lions defense and a few fly balls would preserve a shutout and they would add insurance in the eighth with a sacrifice fly from Tomoya Mori and a walk from Yuji Onizaki. The losing streak was finally over and Seibu would win 7-0.

Game 2 against Orix, the Lions jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to a double by Mejia and a three-run home run from Hideto Asamura off Nobuyoshi Yamada. Yusei Kikuchi would go five innings with no runs allowed and got out of a jam in the third.

An error from Kyohei Nagae would result in two unearned runs and Tomomi Takahashi would allow them when inherited. Mori added insurance with an RBI double and Masuda worked a six out save to preserve a win.

For Game 3, the Lions faced a nemesis who had their number in Daiki Tomei. It didn't look good at first when Orix was up 3-1 against Ryoma Nogami. Orix would go up 4-2 after a hit from Akiyama and a safety squeeze to have it as a two-run game.

Mejia would hit his second home run of the day and tie it with a two-run jack in the sixth. Sumitani would get a timely double with two runners on and the Lions took the lead for good at 6-4. Mori added insurance with a double in the seventh and Seibu swept Orix for the third time this season.

Despite sweeping the Buffaloes, Chiba would also sweep Rakuten in the process and are only one game behind with six games in hand. It is remarkable they swept them without Okawari-kun. Things are looking doubtful, but the season isn't over. There's five games remaining for the Lions and all of them are now must-win situations.

Takahashi left the game on Wednesday with a foot injury, but even when healthy he had been struggling. The bats remain bi-polar, but the five games against Rakuten, Chiba and Orix are doable. Our final digest of the regular season will be when they play their final game. Hopefully, they can overcome the odds and retain the third spot.


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Monday, September 21, 2015

Morimoto and Nishiguchi announce retirement

This week, both pitcher Fumiya Nishiguchi and Hichori Morimoto announced they will retire when the season is over. Both players are legends in their own right for what they contributed to NPB.

Nishiguchi, 42, played for 21 seasons all with the Saitama Seibu Lions. His best season came in 2005, where he nearly pitched a perfect game through 26 batters, only to allow a home run with one out remaining. He also threw a perfect nine innings, but the game against Rakuten in 2005 went to extra innings where he allowed a base hit in the 10th.

For 2005, he had a 17-5 record with a 2.77 ERA to go with 137 strikeouts. His career will end with a 182-118 record and a career 3.73 ERA. In 2015, he made one spot start against the Yomiuri Giants allowing four runs through four innings in a loss against Miles Mikolas.Nishiguchi was part of both Japan Series championship teams in 2004 and 2008.

Meanwhile, Morimoto, 34, is most remembered for his time with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from  2000-2010 where he won a Japan Series title in 2006 with Yu Darvish. He was a popular reserve outfielder at first before being a full-time centerfielder for the Fighters.

Morimoto's best career seasons were in 2006 and 2007, where he woudl hit .285 and .300 respectively. After a brief three-year stint with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, he spent 2014 as a Lion as a part time outfielder in rotation. This year in 2015, he started on the 28-man roster as a reserve, but was demoted in favor of the younger Masato Kumashiro and Shogo Saito.

Both players are most likely not hall of famers, but they are remembered for what they did on the field. They were champions, longtime veterans and both played for the Lions with Nishiguchi spending his entire career with Seibu.

Congratulations to both players and good luck with the next adventure. 


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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Seibu Lions released Wade LeBlanc

In a move that was inevitable, the Saitama Seibu Lions released P Wade LeBlanc earlier this week. This was confirmed when he was reunited with his wife and children in Louisiana, as posted on Instagram by Natalie LeBlanc.

For his farewell, LeBlanc posted a photo from the training camp in Miyazaki showing himself and the other foreign players getting a personalized sake. He had the following statement and photo:

"There aren't too many jobs where the people you work with become family....I'm gonna miss my new brothers." -Wade LeBlanc.

He last appeared with the Lions ni-gun team on June 14 and has spent the last few months recovering from an elbow injury. In eight starts with the ichi-gun team, he posted a 2-5 record to go with a 4.23 ERA and 4.62 FIP. He won his NPB debut on April 2 where he went six innings against the Rakuten Golden Eagles and one unearned run allowed due to error.

His highlight with the Lions ichi-gun was on April 15 where he had a complete game against the Eagles receiving plenty of run support. LeBlanc also had a quality start against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters where he went 7.2 innings and allowed a late hit to lose against Shohei Otani. His last start was on May 21 in a loss to Chiba.

The Lions dumped all their foreign players from 2014 with the exception of Ernesto Mejia hoping to find fresh blood. LeBlanc made $1 million with the Lions after being a fringe player between the minors and majors during his MLB career. He was originally in the San Diego Padres rotation before bouncing around with the Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as well as one game with the New York Yankees.

This signing proved to be stop gap bridge to pave way for Kona Takahashi and Yusei Kikuchi, who both started the season with the ni-gun. He was also in the rotation in place of Takayuki Kishi as the Lions' ace was out for the first two months of the season with an injury. We were hoping LeBlanc would be a serviceable fifth or sixth starter, but it wasn't the case.

The problem with LeBlanc was how he didn't have a pitch to strikeout hitters. He would have a slow curve ball which batters could easily foul off and put the ball in play. Like many Lions pitchers, it was all about asking the defense to win games and LeBlanc was no different. This experiment failed and didn't work out to produce results minus two games against Rakuten.

Despite all the problems he brought to the rotation, we're thankful LeBlanc got to do something we here at Graveyard Baseball have never done, which is visit Japan. We've learned he's a great guy off the field and wish him nothing but the best. Good luck Wade in your future endeavors.


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Monday, September 14, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Akiyama reaches 200 hits

The Lions went 2-3 against the Orix Buffaloes, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Chiba Lotte Marines and Rakuten Golden Eagles combined. They're now 1.5 games in front of Chiba with 11 games remaining.

In Game 1 against Orix, it was a tough battle that lived up to the hype between Brandon Dickson and Takayuki Kishi. Dickson started as a result of a cancelled game last Sunday.

In a low scoring affair, Dickson would have six shutout innings where plenty of guys were stranded on base. The Lions had five walks and three hits off him, but couldn't punch a run home.

Kishi went eight innings allowing only three hits and a walk, but one mistake pitch resulted in a run. He allowed a solo home run from Tony Blanco in the third inning and Orix had the lead until the eighth.

With Hideto Asamura on first, Ernesto Mejia would hit a two-run home run off Yoshihisa Hirano and it gave Seibu the lead for good. Ginjiro Sumitani would give them an insurance run to make it 3-1 heading into the ninth.

Tomomi Takahashi got two outs, but allowed a hit and a walk causing pressure with runners on first and second. Tatsushi Masuda would come in and get Ryoichi Adachi to ground out and secure the win.

Game 2 saw a bad start for Kazuhisa Makita as he allowed four runs in the third inning. Takahiro Okada would get an RBI single with the bases loaded while Takuya Hara and Tony Blanco added two runs of their own to make it 4-0.

Ryoma Nogami would work three innings in relief, but it wasn't enough for the team to catch up. The Lions would strand runners consistently for the night. 

The Lions would have only two hits the entire game and four base runners which included an error from Okada and a walk. Daiki Tomei would shutout the Lions with a complete game with seven strikeouts. It was his 10th win of the season.

In Saturday's game against the Fighters, the Lions got off to a good start with a solo home run from Shogo Akiyama. However, the top of the second would be nightmare for Ken Togame, where he couldn't get an out.

The Fighters would bat around the lineup with several singles and ground balls leaving the infield. Everything wasn't placed right, and Hokkaido would score six runs without an extra base hit. 

Seibu chipped away at the lead with a two-run home run from Sumitani and an RBI single from Asamura brought the Lions within two. Brandon Laird hit a solo home run off Nogami in long relief, feeling the game was over.

Masaru Nakamura's day was already done after 1.1 innings, making it a bullpen game immediately for both sides.

Asamura would add another RBI hit in the fourth, but the drama came in the sixth inning. After Sumitani got on base, Akiyama would triple for his 199th hit of the season. Ryota Wakiya would then single and tie the game at 7-7, bringing an improbable comeback.

The Lions bullpen would have seven innings without a run, where Nogami, Yosuke Okamoto, Takahashi and Masuda would go unscathed. Hokkaido would put in their closer in Hirotoshi Masui for two innings and it was the 11th inning. The Fighters ended up bunting multiple times where it would come back to bite.

After a leadoff single from Shohei Otani in the 11th, Daikan Yoh would be unable to bunt pinch runner Kenji Sato over to second. They used Takuya Nakashima to send him over, but it would make two outs in the frame.

Kensuke Tanaka got a single to have runners on the corners for Sho Nakata. A timely RBI single put the Fighters up 8-7 with the heart of the Lions order up in the bottom frame.

Naoki Miyanishi would walk Asamura with one out, setting up a chance. Takeya "Okawari-kun" was up after going 0-5 up to that point. On a low pitch, he pulled one to the left field stands and ended the game in sayonara fashion. It was the third sayonara win for the Lions this year and second on a home run from Okawari-kun.

Had the Fighters spent a few innings not playing for one run, they could have won this with a reserve starter, but the offensive power of the Lions bailed out a poor start from Togame.

In Sunday's game against Chiba, the Lions got off to a good start from an RBI by Okawari-kun. Chiba would tie it at 1-1, but Akiyama would get his 200th hit of the season with an RBI single of his own to put the Lions in front again.

Yusei Kikuchi looked like he was cruising, but the top of the seventh is where the damage was done. Takashi Ogino would safety squeeze to allow one run, but a throwing error from Kikuchi put the Marines on top. Alfredo Despaigne would add on with a two-run single for a 5-2 lead.

The Lions chipped away in the seventh with a gapper by Mori and a single from Akiyama, but it wasn't enough. They had their best chance in the eighth inning off Tatsuya Uchi where Okawari-kun and Mejia were on base with one out.

Mori and Shogo Saito would strike out swinging and end the frame, effectively making sure Chiba would win. Yuji Nishino closed the game and the Lions fell back to only two games in front.

In the game in Sendai against Rakuten, the Lions would have no offense on the night. Takahiro Norimoto would go seven innings without a run and have 11 strikeouts.

Wakiya would be in scoring position for the fourth inning, but Asamura, Okawari-kun and Mejia would strike out consecutively to end any threat. With two outs in the fourth, Zelous Wheeler would hit a two-run home run which would be enough for the Eagles to win. Ryo Hijirisawa would add another run through a sacrifice fly as insurance.

Yuki Matsui shut the door and the Lions would lose two straight to end the series of three consecutive games in as many different opponents.

The Lions will face Softbank this week as well as the Fighters in Sapporo Dome. We can only hope they take two out of the three games, but none of them will be easy.

They will also need Chiba to lose to the Fighters with several makeup games happening this week. After that walkoff against Hokkaido, it looked like this team would be smooth sailing, but this race for third looks to come down to the wire.


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Monday, September 7, 2015

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 2

This is the second episode of our Seibu Lions podcast.

In this episode, we discuss the Lions bullpen moves including Kazuhisa Makita going back to the rotation. There is also talk about Kona Takahashi, the Chiba Lotte Marines in the race for third place and more!

Lastly, there is talk about the MVP candidacy of Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura.

Please be sure to give us feedback if possible. 


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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: A sweeping of Chiba in the home stretch

The Saitama Seibu Lions would go 5-2 this week which includes a makeup game, as well as two series against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines.

In the makeup game against the Eagles in Sendai, the Lions started strong with a 5-0 lead thanks to a grand slam by Ernesto Mejia. It would put the game away early as they jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the fourth inning.

Kona Takahashi would allow two runs in five innings with four strikeouts and earn his fourth win of the season. His only runs came from a gapper in the fifth inning when he was facing the batting order for the third time.

Mejia would add another solo home run and had eight RBIs total including two other hits combining for three runs.Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would add a solo home run in the ninth for his 35th of the season, beating his total from last year. In the end, the Lions would win 15-3 against a spot starter in Takashi Kawai. Yasuhiro Tanaka also earned a save for pitching the final three innings of the game.

In Game 1 against the Hawks, the Lions were hitting well off Hayato Terahara to begin the game. Captain Takumi Kuriyama started the scoring with a solo home run. Okawari-kun had a two-run HR later and the Lions would pour it on in the third inning. After the home run, Ginjiro Sumitani had an RBI double to score two more and the Lions led 5-0 after three.

Takayuki Kishi had a respectable outing, going seven innings with only two runs allowed and one of them coming off a HR by Nobuhiro Matsuda. Mejia would add a solo HR but the Lions put the game away in the sixth. With the bases loaded, Mejia would hit a a two-run RBI double off Shingo Tatsumi and Tomoya Mori had a chance to break it open.

The bases were loaded again and Mori connected for his first career grand slam, pulling it to right field. It was his first home run since June 26. Kishi was able to limit the damage from the top of the lineup and it took some impressive range by the defense to keep the Hawks off the board. All starting players would have at least one hit and the Lions would win 13-3 in a comfortable fashion.

In Game 2, Chun-Lin Kuo got off to a poor start and allowed four runs to begin the game. This included a balk and a gapper from Seiichi Uchikawa.  However, the Lions would claw back with a solo HR from Ryota Wakiya and RBI single from Mori.

After five innings, Wakiya would get an RBI single and bring the Lions within one. They also blew a chance to to score more with strikeouts from Sumitani and Yuji Onizaki. In the eighth inning, pinch hitter Yutaro Osaki would tie the game on a clutch single and there would be extra innings.

The Lions blew a bases loaded chance in the 11th with Wakiya striking out on a ball in the dirt. Tanaka was forced to take the 12th inning and Yuki Yanagita broke the tie with a solo HR. Dennis Sarfate would shut the door and Seibu would be even with Chiba again heading into Thursday.

In Game 3, Kazuhisa Makita had a similarly bad start like Kuo in the previous night, being in a 5-0 hole. In the third inning, the Lions would be trailing 8-0 after Makita allowed a three-run HR to Kenji Akashi. Tadashi Settsu won his fifth straight decision and solid night, going seven innings with one run allowed.

Despite losing the series to the Hawks, they competed in two of the games and unfortunately were bound to lose to the best team in NPB. Game 2 had opportunities that just fell through.

The week shifted to Chiba where the Lions would take on Hideaki Wakui with Ken Togame and both pitchers would have strong outings. Togame went seven innings with only one run allowed on a solo HR from Alfred Despaigne in the sixth.

Wakui allowed an RBI single to Okawari-kun in the first, but that was all the damage done as he went eight innings. The game would extra innings after Tomomi Takahashi escaped a jam in the 9th with two runners on. He would strike out Tadahito Iguchi on a curve ball, challenging the veteran up front.

In the 10th, Naoya Masuda allowed a leadoff walk to Mori where the Lions would have Shuta Tonosaki pinch run for him. After Sumitani got a successful sacrifice bunt with two strikes, Yutaro Osaki had a chance as a pinch hitter for Yuji Onizaki. Osaki came through with a gapper and the Marines outfield playing in, putting the Lions up for good.

Takahashi would have early control issues for the 10th, but forced Ikuhiro Kiyota to flyout while Despaigne struck out. Saburo Omura would single and keep Chiba's hopes alive, but the door was shut when Takahashi got Luis Cruz to flyout and end it. The Lions would allow a base runner for Chiba in every inning whether it was through a hit, walk or error. If it weren't for some amazing defense by Onizaki, it could have been a loss.

In Game 2, the Lions would get a lead early again from an RBI single by Okawari-kun. Takuya Furuya would pitch around him in the third inning, but Mejia would get an RBI single of his own to put the Lions up 2-0. Kuriyama added another and the Lions led by three after three innings.

The fifth inning saw a two-out, two-run home run from Mejia and it would be his 24th of the season. Even a two-out rally would start and Sumitani would get a single to make it 6-0.

Yusei Kikuchi put in another strong outing with eight shutout innings. He would only have four strikeouts, but some great defense in the infield from Okawari-kun and Asamura would make things easy. The Lions turned three double plays on the night including one in the eighth where Onizaki caught a deeper line drive and doubled up at second base.

In Game 3, Kona Takahashi would start slow with two runs from an RBI single by Cruz. However, the Lions would respond in the second with a three-run home run by Sumitani off Yuta Omine. It was his first home run of the season.

K. Takahashi would go five innings and settle in after first, but had no strikeouts. He escaped a bases loaded jam in the fifth and got Despaigne to pop out to end his night. The Lions would break it open with three runs in the third inning with RBIs from Okawari-kun, Mori and Kuriyama to make it 6-2.

Chiba wouldn't score again until the sixth inning when Ryoma Nogami came in for relief. They added one run, but no more after pinch hitter Saburo Omura struck out. Mori would hit a solo home run shortly after off Dae-Eun Rhee, who has been a nemesis of the Lions. Saitama put the game away when Osaki got a pinch hit single and Shogo Akiyama drove in another run in the 9th inning. The game was called prior to the bottom of the 9th due to rain with the score being 9-3. 

It was the first series win in Chiba since August of 2014. The Lions have now won a series on the road against every Pacific League team and had their first sweep of a series since August 20. They have five series sweeps for a three-game series this season.

Norio Tanabe and the Lions management made an excellent call this week by having Nogami out of the rotation and switching to Kikuchi for Saturday's start. There clearly was priority and urgency wanting the weekend series and with Nogami struggling, having him in a split start with Kuo worked out fine.

The Lions nearly beat the Hawks on Wednesday despite the bad start and now Nogami will stay out of the rotation with no more six-game weeks. Kikuchi rewarded them with eight strong innings and a game to possibly demoralize Chiba in the process.

With the Lions now two games up on the Marines, things are looking good with the offense hitting. The irregular schedule of September begins with only two games against Orix and one vs the Fighters with a home game facing Chiba to close it out. Winning three out of four games would put them in good shape towards a possible postseason spot.


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