Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tsuji, other factors helped turn around Lions

When the 2016 season took place, the Satiama Seibu Lions were already down and out before the All-Star break. Playing in the All-Star game was just a formality and all this team could look forward to was the draft and young players developing.

Last year's record was 64-76-3 while the 2017 Lions are currently 77-57-3 and have already clinched A-class. How did all of this change with a new manager? Here's some factors and reasons:

Hatsuhiko Tsuji

First and foremost, the Lions let Norio Tanabe go as manager with someone else taking over. They initially had Tetsuya Shiozaki lined up to be the team's manager, but some poor defensive blunders through most of the season forced a change.

Management saw how the Lions had 101 errors in 2016 and there needed to be a change. Tanabe was a hitting coach before his promotion in the middle of the 2014 season and by hiring Tsuji, it was the opposite with someone who is defensive minded. Tsuji was remembered as a great defensive 2B during his time as a player in the Lions golden era, but it also helped that he was active as a coach most recently with the Chunichi Dragons.

The Lions still have several errors, but we're seeing less gut-wrenching errors than before. Through 137 games in 2017, the Lions only have 55 unearned runs compared to the 70 in 2016.

Tsuji entered the Lions with an obvious focus on defense and the team has lived up to it. Even Tomoya Mori has developed on the defensive end as a catcher in his short time as his arm look accurate. Tactically, he'll put players with better range or arm in the outfield compared to normal and for a few plays, they live up to the hype. Tsuji also puts in a stronger defensive replacement team for the late innings.


Sosuke Genda

The Lions weren't far away from having a complete lineup. Everyone knew about their hitting, but Genda's defense has also been huge. The Lions were arguably a shortstop away, a position they've lacked in 2016 where it was a revolving door. With Genda taking out of the industrial leagues, he was ready from Day 1 and his defense has hid any issues with the bat. He leads all shortstops in errors, but does plenty of other fielding plays that would normally take away base hits.

His speed has also been vital, where not only does he steal bases, but get an extra base off several hits. He can advance 90 feet, but opposing fielders have also been forced to make a play faster than normal due to his presence. With all the statistical franchise records he has reached as a rookie (stolen bases, hits, triples), he should be a lock for Pacific League rookie of the year.



Continuing from Genda, the Lions are more than just a power hitting team. Adding Shuta Tonosaki as an everyday position player and Yuji Kaneko to the outfield, they will each have 20 stolen bags a piece. No one else in the Pacific League has 100 stolen bases and the Lions have 118 as a team through 131 games. A balance of speed and power? It's a fun combination.


Yusei Kikuchi's 2017 season has been a breakout year. The 覚醒 kanji translates to "awakening" while his name is also included on the sign with the year 2017.  
Starting pitching

This probably goes in the books as the largest surprise, where most pundits said the Lions had no depth in their rotation. Yusei Kikuchi was unproven because he wasn't healthy for a full season. Everyone else was either injury prone or viewed as a back end starter at best.

With a team ERA of 3.54 through 137 games, it's more than adequate as the third best in the Pacific League. The resurgence of Ryoma Nogami and Ken Togame have been the largest factors, where the latter began the year in ni-gun and came up as a 6th starter. Neither pitcher is fancy, but they've been solid at drawing contact and keeping the ball in the park.

Even the spot starters have been respectable, as Yosuke Okamoto and Yasuo Sano would have outings of four or five innings each. Sano could be a future starter when healthy, but the Lions management has to like what they saw before his injury took him out.

First and foremost, Yusei Kikuchi has been an ace and healthy for the year. Before the season, Wes wrote a piece saying the Lions have no pitcher who can get to the 160 inning benchmark, indicating a top pitcher. This season, Kikuchi reached this with several complete games without issue. With Kikuchi staying healthy and being in the conversation for the Sawamura award, we could talk about his future in MLB if he has a similar season in 2018.


Hotaka Yamakawa

Okawari-kun is struggling? No problem. The Okinawan had a similar start to the 2016 season where he was deactivated early on. However, Yamakawa was called up earlier rather than later and emerged as a strong hitter while playing meaningful baseball. Last season, he was called up in August when the Lions were all but dead.

Yamakawa was named the August Pacific League MVP and already has 20 home runs through 72 games. In a strange sample size, Yamakawa gets on base, hits home runs and can make important hits. When the Lions didn't have Mori for most of the season and Ernesto Mejia struggling, Yamakawa picked up the slack and has boosted the HR total to 145, the highest it's been since 2010.


Shogo Akiyama

Akiyama is arguably an MVP of the league where he has 24 HRs as the team's leadoff hitter. With a slashline of .321/.400/.523, we're seeing a former cleanup hitter in college take his game to another level. He will always be remembered for his record-breaking season of 2015 with 216 hits, but Akiyama has shown in 2017 that he can do more than slap singles. From walks to doubles and now HRs, Akiyama can do it all and should receive MVP votes behind Yuki Yanagita.

This year, he has no trouble batting as low as third in the lineup and has picked up several RBIs due to Kaneko, Tonosaki and even Genda batting behind him. Taking Akiyama off the team would have a different dynamic offensively, making him the team's MVP.


An argument can be made for the bullpen, but it's really the defensive emphasis which has helped Brian Schlitter, Tatsushi Masuda and Kazuhisa Makita on the back end. The goal has been to keep the ball in play and let the defense do the rest. For Schlitter in particular, he lacks strikeout and has been the most dependent on the Lions defense to bail him out.

It only took a few changes to the roster, but this Lions team remains fun and exciting to watch with both power, speed and a solid defense to back up the pitching staff. They also have a future where the development of Tatsuya Imai, Kona Takahashi and Shinsaburo Tawata will be vital for the long run.


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Sunday, September 24, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Nogami earns first career shutout

The Saitama Seibu Lions had a successful two-game series against the Orix Buffaloes to end the home stand. They're now three games ahead of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles with only six games remaining in the regular season. Here's how we got there:


The first game had Ryoma Nogami against Taisuke Yamaoka. Shogo Akiyama led off the the game with a single and the Lions moved him 180 feet with a bunt and fly ball. Hotaka Yamakawa brought him home with an RBI single.

Akiyama would come through in the bottom of the 5th with another timely hit to double the lead at 2-0.  Nogami escaped one jam in the 2nd, but had minimal threats.

Run support and insurance came in the bottom of the 8th, where Hideto Asamura came through with a timely double, plating two more runners. Yamakawa hit another one off the CF wall for a 5th run.

Nogami would end up going the distance with only four hits allowed, one walk and five strikeouts for his first career shutout. It was also his first 10 win season since 2013.

Lions 5, Buffaloes 0

Game notes:

-Ryohei Fujiwara was taken off the roster for Shota Takekuma.

-Ken Togame was also taken off earlier in the week while Shunta Nakatsuka was eligible.


The last game of this series would have Kona Takahashi return to the ichi-gun for the first time since May 17 to face Takahiro Matsuba. An error from Sosuke Genda put the leadoff runner on base and he advanced to third on a sacrifice fly. Masataka Yoshida would ground out and the Lions were forced to concede the opening run in the 1st inning.

The bottom of the 3rd inning had better form for the offense, where the Lions loaded the bases and Akiyama tied the game with a double play, forcing Orix to concede the runner on third. Genda gave the Lions the lead with a double as the runner on third base would score.

After a shutdown inning from Takahashi, the Lions erupted for four runs in the bottom of the 4th. Yamakawa would hit his 20th HR of the season and timely hits from Shuta Tonosaki, Okawari-kun and Nien Ting Wu made it 6-1. 

Both teams traded runs in the 5th inning where Orix scored on an RBI groundout and Asamura hit a HR for his 19th of the year. Takhashi went six innings with only one earned run given up and five strikeouts.

After another series of trading runs, the Lions were able to sweep the short series and end their season against Orix on a high note.

Lions 8, Buffaloes 5

Game notes:

-Kona Takahashi has won his last three starts dating back to two games in May. 

-The Lions finished with an 11-14 head to head record against Orix for 2017. 

-Shota Takekuma pitched the 7th inning for the first time since September 3 and struck out two batters.

-Shunta Nakatsuka made his ichi-gun debut in the 9th inning and retired the first two batters on two pitches. However, he couldn't throw a strike to the next three batters which loaded the bases. Tatsushi Masuda was forced to come in and retire the final out.


Solid series and more importantly, the Lions gained ground on Rakuten through the weekend. The most important thing for the Lions is to get healthy. We're hoping Tatsuya Oishi returns soon and can complete the bullpen depth. The magic number to clinch second place is currently 5 at the time of this writing.


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Thursday, September 21, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: A-class for the first time in four years

A disappointing six-game home stand had the Saitama Seibu Lions go 2-4 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines. As of Thursday, they have a two-game lead on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in a race for second place. The Softbank Hawks would clinch the Pacific League pennant and the Lions also clinched being in A-class for the first time since 2013.

Here's how we got there:


The first game against the Hawks had Ryoma Nogami against Nao Higashihama. Hotaka Yamakawa struck first blood with a HR in the bottom of the 2nd.

Softbank answered back with a two-run HR by Yuki Yanagita. Nogami would struggle in the top of the 5th where the third time through the order penalty would strike. Timely hits from Kenta Imamiya and Yanagita end Nogami's day at 4.1 innings. Katsunori Hirai came in and Alfredo Despagine made it 6-1 with a single through the infield.

Higashihama would go six innings with nine strikeouts and only one other hit besides the HR. He was efficient at striking out Lions on a full count with his slider. Despaigne hit a solo HR off Frank Garces for good measure in the top of the 7th. Shuta Tonosaki had a late two-run hit, but it was all too late as the Hawks would win the pennant.

Hawks 7, Lions 3

Game note:

-The Lions clinched A-class after this game despite losing. Orix would lose 6-3 in Hokkaido to the Fighters. It ended a three year hiatus from the postseason where they last made an appearance in 2013.


The second game would have Kodai Senga against Shinsaburo Tawata. For the second inning, the Lions were able to load the bases and Shuta Tonosaki fought a long at bat for 14 pitches to earn a sacrifice fly for the first run of the game.

While the Lions had runners on later in the game, they would botch every opportunity after the 2nd as Senga went through six inning unscathed. Tawata had three situations with multiple runners on base, but some solid defense from the infield and more prevented any scoring through seven innings.

Brian Schlitter took the 8th and allows three consecutive hits, where Despaigne plated two runs home off an RBI single. Sho Iwasaki would take the bottom of the frame and give up a solo HR to Yamakawa and it was tied.

Tatsushi Masuda had a clean 9th inning while Kazuhisa Makita took the 10th with little trouble. It would be Livan Moinelo taking the bottom of the 10th where he ran into early trouble as Genda had a leadoff single. A pickoff attempt by Moinelo failed and got Genda to second base with the ball being thrown away.

The Hawks would intentionally walk Yamakawa and Asamura to see Takumi Kuriyama. After a 1-2 count, Kuriyama was able to make it a full count after a check swing. Moinelo would miss upstairs and the Lions won on a walkoff walk.

Lions 3, Hawks 2 (10 innings)


The rubber matchup had Brian Wolfe against Tsuyoshi Wada. This one would have scoring early as the Lions scored four runs off Wada in the first through timely hits by Asamura and Mori with the latter hitting a triple. Kuriyama hit a sacrifice fly for the last run of the inning.

Yuki Yanagita would hit a solo HR in the top of the 2nd and the Hawks answered in the third with three more runs with doubles from Kenta Imamiya and Akira Nakamura. Wolfe's day was already done going 2.1 innings as Katsunori Hirai prevented anymore damage.

Frank Garces came in for the 4th and it was a disaster. The bases were loaded with one out after a lack of control hitting a batter and a walk. Imamiya added one run and Nakamura slapped two more to have Garces exit. With Ryohei Fujiwara pitching, an error from Genda extended the frame as he couldn't pass the ball to Asamura, scoring another run. Uebayashi cleared the bases giving the Hawks an insurmountable 11-4 lead, or so it seemed.

The Lions chipped away at the lead with an RBI groundout from Akiyama in the 4th. Wada's day would end after five innings as he was in line for the win. Shunta Ishikawa came in as a reliever for the 6th and allowed three runs thanks to a gapper from Ginjiro Sumitani and a HR from Akiyama.

It would be a one run game in the 7th with Ryota Igarashi pitching. Okawari-kun hit a sac fly and Shuta Tonosaki had a timely single after Yuji Kaneko stole 2nd as a pinch runner.

A two-out rally would come out of nowhere in the bottom of the 8th off Igarashi. Asamura walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Yamakawa was walked intentionally shortly after and Fumikazu Kimura came in as a substitute. Mori then hit another timely triple, scoring both runners and giving the Lions their first lead since the first inning.

Masuda pitched in the 9th, but gave up a solo HR to Despaigne and the game was tied again. In the bottom of the 9th against Yuito Mori, Masatoshi Okada reached first base and Akiyama beat Y. Mori to the bag on an infield single. However, Okada was caught trying to advance to third base and the game would go to extra innings again.

Keizo Kawashima would get a double as both Genda and Kaneko lost the ball in the sun as it was setting down from MetLife Dome's roof. After a bunt, Imamiya did damage again with a gapper down the LF line to give the Hawks a 13-12 lead. Masuda couldn't even finish the frame as Makita got Despaigne to flyout.

Dennis Sarfate was a healthy scratch from the game and was ineligible to play. Moinelo would take the bottom of the 10th. Genda's leadoff double gave immediate life knowing the game was far from over. Ryo Sakata came in as a pinch hitter and walked, later being pinch ran by Daichi Mizuguchi.

Genda stole third base and Mori hit another timely single to tie the game. Kimiyasu Kudo would have Hayato Terahara enter in the middle of Yuji Kaneko's at-bat with a 2-1 count. Kaneko sliced a ball that hit the wall and it was just fair, landing right on the line for the second straight sayonara win as Mizuguchi scored.

Lions 14, Hawks 13 (10 innings)

Game note:

-Nien Ting Wu and Schlitter were the only two players to not play.

-This was the 5th sayonara win of the season.


The homestand continued with the Chiba Lotte Marines throwing out Kota Futaki against the Lions using Yosuke Okamoto. Chiba scored first with a timely 2-RBI single by Shohei Kato as the bases were loaded. The lead wouldn't last long as Kaneko hit a timely double and Akiyama plated him shortly after in the bottom of the 2nd.

Okamoto failed to get a shutdown inning in the 3rd as Katsuya Kakunaka hit a two-run HR. Okamoto left the game in the 5th with a lack of control with two runners on base. Hirai cleaned up the inning with a pop out, but the Lions failed to respond on offense in the bottom of the frame.

Genda made it a one-run game in the bottom of the 7th with a timely single, but that was as close as it would get. Kazuhisa Makita allowed two runs in the top of the 8th as the bases were loaded. The first run came as Okawari-kun couldn't field an unusual dribbler and the second came from a sacrifice fly from Kazuya Fukuura to seal the game.

Marines 6, Lions 3

Game note:

-Frank Garces and Brian Wolfe were taken off the roster, with the latter not needed due to an extended break ahead. Kentaro Fukukura and Okamoto were added.


Game 2 had Ken Togame facing rookie Tomohito Sakai. The Marines struck in the first inning off a timely hit from Daichi Suzuki. Yamakawa tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd.

The Lions ruined a chance with two runners on and nobody out in the bottom of the 4th as Yamakawa lined out and Mori grounded into a double play. Scoring wouldn't come again until the top of the 7th, where Yuta Yoshida hit a two run blast off Togame.

A two-out chance for the Lions came in the bottom of the 7th with two runners on base, but Tonosaki flew out to right field. Sakai would go the distance and earn a complete game with five strikeouts, one walk and only four hits allowed.

Marines 3, Lions 1

Game note:

-This is the only time the Lions have lost a three-game series to the Marines in 2017.


The final game of the series and head to head matchup against the Marines had Yusei Kikuchi against rookie Chihaya Sasaki. Asamura and the Lions scored first with a solo HR in the bottom of the 1st inning. The Lions failed to add more run support as Mori hit into a double play in the bottom of the 4th.

Kikuchi had two houdinis, but escaped with six scoreless innings, seven strikeouts and two walks while allowing four hits. Hatsuhiko Tsuji pulled a quick hook as Kikuchi only had 83 pitches and brought in Makita for the 7th. This would backfire as Shota Omine hit an RBI gapper to tie the game. Noda was forced to come in the game with inherited runners and retire the final out to keep it tied.

Schlitter came in the 8th inning and already allowed two base runners, having one score off a sacrifice fly from Tatsuhiro Tamura. Jimmy Paredes added another run with a single and it was 3-1 in the 8th. Katsunori Hirai did worse in the 9th as he balked in a run.

Every mistake would be crucial as the Lions threatened in the 9th. Asamura hit another solo HR and Tonosaki added another run with a single. With two runners on base, Ryo Sakata struck out and Kaneko grounded out as the Marines swept the series in a one-run loss.

Marines 4, Lions 3

Game notes:

-The Lions finished with a 16-8-1 record against the Marines in 2017. They were 10-2 on the road at Zozotown Marine Stadium.


Is this a disappointing stretch?  Of course it is. We can only hope that the bullpen is just hungover temporarily and it doesn't continue towards the end of the season. We'll see what lies ahead, but it's unusual how Tsuji pulled the hook on Kikuchi. Let's hope he's not hurt.

Right now, Schlitter looks like the biggest mess, as he struggles to strike anyone out. Get well soon to both Shota Takekuma and Tatsuya Oishi.


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Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sweep in Sendai

The Satiama Seibu Lions pulled off a two-game sweep in Sendai over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. They currently have a 3.5 game lead over them and remain in second place of the Pacific League.

With these wins combined with other results in the Pacific League, the Softbank Hawks magic number to clinch the pennant is 1 while the Lions also have a magic number of 1 to secure A-class.  Here is how the week went.


The first game in Sendai had rookie Shoma Fujihira against Ken Togame.  Rakuten took first blood with a solo HR from Hiroaki Shimauchi in the bottom of the 2nd inning.

Tomoya Mori would hit a leadoff double and runners would be on the corners for the Lions creating a chance in the top of the 4th. However, Hideto Asamura grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.

The bottom of the 4th proved to have momentum continue Rakuten's way, as Takero Okajima and Carlos Peguero reached base with hits. With Okajima on third, Togame would throw a wild pitch with two strikes and the runner would score. Zelous Wheeler would slap a single one pitch later to make it 3-0.

The Lions got a run back with Sosuke Genda hitting an RBI single in the top of the 5th. After Togame pitched a shutdown frame, the Lions would erupt for four runs in the top of the 5th, where a three-run bomb came from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura. This would end Fujihira's night and Yuhei Takanashi came in.

A bloop single to Okada and Genda's safety bunt would result in a hit and an error by Takanashi, sending the ball to right field and Okada on third base. Yuji Kaneko hit a sacrifice fly for another run of insurance.

Togame took the 6th inning and gave up a two out double to "Ginji" Akaminai, but Wheeler would strike out and end a threat, giving the pitcher a shutdown inning for his last frame of the night. He went six innings with five strikeouts, one earned run and six hits with no walks.

Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 7th while Brian Schlitter gave up a walk and a hit in the 8th, but no runs. In the top of the 8th, Genda provided insurance with a 2-RBI double beating a shift to make it 7-3.  This hit also secured a modasho.

Like Schlitter, Tatsushi Masuda gave up a hit and walk creating a chance. However, a groundout to Yuichi Adachi and infield fly from Japhet Amador ended the game.

Lions 7, Eagles 3

Game note:

-The Lions won their 9th straight game against the Eagles with one tie in the 10-game stretch.


The last game of the series would have an old friend in Takayuki Kishi up against Yusei Kikuchi in a battle of Tohoku natives. This game would start fast as three pitches from Kishi turned into a run for the Lions. Akiyama singled, Genda placed a bunt single and Mori slapped a third single for a 1-0 lead.

This lead wouldn't last long as an error from Hotaka Yamakawa would have Ginji on base. Taishi Nakagawa tied the game with a gapper to left field. Kikuchi dealt with a bases loaded jam that included a walk and bunt single in the bottom of the 5th, but he would get Ginji to ground out into a 6-4-3 double play.

In the top of the 6th Mori would earn a walk and Yamakawa struck out, but the former advanced to second base. Asamura would come through with a single up the middle and the Lions took a 2-1 lead.

Kikuchi would cruise through eight innings with 11 strikeouts, four hits and two walks. Masuda took the 9th inning and gave up a double to Wheeler, but both Japhet Amador and Shimauchi grounded out as the Lions pulled off the short sweep.

Lions 2, Eagles 1

Game notes:

-The Lions finished with a 7-4-1 record in Sendai. It was their 10th straight win over the Eagles with a tie included in their last 11 games head to head.


Close games after slow starts have been going the Lions way after struggles last season. It's good to see progress and right now, we're hoping the team is healthy as they gear up towards the postseason.

What happens now? Most likely a pennant party in MetLife Dome with the Hawks coming for a three game series. The Lions will need to sweep them in order to prevent this from happening.

With the irregular schedule in September, our next weekly digest will come after the series against the Marines on Thursday.


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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Report: Otani to be posted after 2017 season

Newspaper outlets in Japan broke the news that Shohei Otani would be posted. Photo via Jason Coskrey.

In what has been a story in the making for years, the Japanese media reported that Shohei Otani announced his intentions of going to MLB after the 2017 season on Wednesday afternoon (Tuesday night in U.S.A. time).

Otani, 23, has been a pitcher and hitter for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters since 2013. On the mound in five seasons, he has a combined 40-15 record, 12 complete games, six shutouts and a 2.57 ERA.

He was an MVP for the Pacific League in 2016 and helped lead the Fighters to a Japan Series title in the same year. The 2016 season was his breakout year as a hitter, where his slashline was .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs. He was limited on the mound last year due to a blister, but was still a threat being the team's DH.

When Otani was a top prospect out of high school at Hanamaki Higashi, there was speculation that he would forego the draft and head straight to a major league team. Despite telling teams to not draft him, he was still eligible and the Fighters were the only group to take him in a free-for-all. The Fighters would convince Otani to sign with the team after weeks of negotiation and the young phenom would not take the same path of Junichi Tazawa.

Otani will leave with an amateur status, making his availability to any team financially easier. At age 25, players born outside of the United States are considered free agents like a normal free agent. If he is younger than 25, however, foreign players are subject to the international bonus pools for their signing bonuses, which are between $4.75-5.75 million per team.

With a low max salary combined with a paltry posting fee, which is still being negotiated, it's anyone's guess as to where he signs as there cannot be an excessive financial offer compared to what Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish would get.  

There will be plenty stories about Otani for the next few months (let alone after he signs with a new team). While it's obvious he wants to go to the majors, we will answer some of the many FAQs that have come about with Otani and NPB: 


Why did Otani not enter North America when he could have out of high school and why are the Fighters willing to sell for almost nothing?

The Fighters "recruited" Otani the moment they drafted him despite the verbal advice of not having interest in NPB. They're a team who will take the best player on their draft board no matter the cost or risk. Had Otani refused to sign, the Fighters, like many sports teams, would end up wasting a 1st round draft pick. 

Manager Hideki Kuriyama showed Otani a book titled "Otani's Dream" which had a plan of going to MLB, something Otani has always wanted to do. There was plenty of data showing success and failures from Japan going to the States. While we don't know the details of what was in this book from beginning to end, there was likely a plan for the team and himself on reaching certain goals. 

It's probable that winning a Japan Series championship would speed up this process and the Fighters would give the green light for a posting to happen when he wants. Now that Otani has made his declaration that he wants the leave, the Fighters will fulfill their promise and approve of it. 


What kind of pitches does he have? 

We wrote this piece awhile back from 2015, but there could be more to update. In 2016, he had a slow start to the year on the mound and it was argued that he was showing off his changeup when it wasn't his ultimate strength. A more detailed piece on his arsenal will come later in the year.  

Recently, he has set a record in NPB for fastest pitch hitting 165 km/h (102.5mph) on the radar gun. Velocity is there and he has the fork ball to stifle others.  


What has he been doing lately? 

Otani has spent most of the 2017 injured or rehabbing while not at full strength. He dealt with a nagging ankle injury which kept him out of the 2017 World Baseball Classic. While he played in the opening week of the season, he didn't start playing regularly until near the All-star break in July where he was only a hitter.  

It wasn't until July where he finally made an appearance on the mound. Even then, Otani has been on a strict pitch count limit as most recently shown with less than 80 pitches. This season is all about becoming healthy as a pitcher and the Fighters hope by season's end he'll be 100%. 


What are some concerns of Otani?

Durability and health are two things that become a reason to hold back. He has dealt with injuries in the last two seasons with a blister in 2016 and an ankle which carried over into 2017. Most recently he strained his thigh after running to a base which kept him out of the lineup, rather than just off the mound.  

Obviously the transition to MLB from NPB is always a concern for anyone coming over, but the workload of going every 4-5 days after pitching once a week is the biggest challenge for any starting pitcher.  

The hitting part is still unproven compared to his pitching if it translates to the MLB level, but it will be worth a shot to see if his athleticism and bat can do anything.  


How did the Fighters use his bat and pitching in a season? 

Majority of MLB scouts see Otani's pitching as the jewel of talent, but his bat is still strong. The common pattern in NPB is how starting pitcher's will only play once a week. Otani would typically pitch one day, get the following game off, then DH the next 3-4 games, then take the day off prior to his next start, which would then rinse and repeat.  

However, there were a few select games where Otani would hit for himself and the DH was eliminated altogether.  In 2014, he was seen playing right field on occasion, but the Fighters haven't done this recently.  


Ohtani or Otani? 

Technically they're both right when it comes to grammar. While you do see "Ohtani" on the jersey, we personally will type Otani because it is on the NPB website and journalists in Japan typing English must use that spelling. An interesting fact is that Otani himself prefers Ohtani.  This might be hard for you to read Hiragana, but an explanation can be seen here. "Ootani" is also technically correct, but no one in English would understand that one due to the sound.  


Why would Otani leave for MLB when he can make more money by waiting until he's 25?

Money is not what always makes the world go round in Japan. Several guys in NPB don't make a lot, but it is more for the love of the game. Otani does not care about the money by doing this and merely wants an opportunity to play in MLB, which has been his dream. Speculation came early on this, but no one knew the answer except Otani himself when he announced it.  


Where can we find highlights of Otani? 

The best thing to do is search his name in Kanji, but there are plenty of ways to see him on youtube in English typing. Here's some tape we'll link for you:

For searching, I'd suggest copying and pasting his name 大谷 翔平 into any video services and see what you can find.  


How many MLB teams have looked at Otani? 

Technically every MLB team knows or has seen tape of him. Whether a team is serious about it is another story. Teams had an early start in February of 2016 and 2017 as the Fighters used the San Diego Padres facility in Peoria, Arizona as a spring training location for a portion of camp. 

Scouts are always in Japan, but his starts this season (which rarely have come due to his injury) are getting all the attention. Teams who have been documented to scout Otani's games this year include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds.  

At the time of this writing, four of those teams would have their general manager make the trip to Japan in person. 

Ranger GM Jon Daniels was in Japan last May with two scouts and his assistant GM Josh Boyd in Kamagaya, the Fighters farm team facility. They would watch Otani take indoor batting practice and run out in the field besides throw a few baseballs as he was rehabbing his injury, but were not allowed to talk to him.  

Yankees GM Brian Cashman was in Japan on August 31 to see Otani's second start.  Most recently, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto was spotted at the Fighters game on September 12. Could more GMs take a look up close? We'll find out. 


Which team would be best suited for him?

While it's easy to talk about location and parts of America with a Japanese presence such as Seattle or Los Angeles being helpful, an American League team would be most beneficial for him if he wants to hit and pitch. It's very well-known that Otani likes hitting and wants that opportunity and with the National League, he'd likely only hit for himself and be an occasional pinch hitter. 

Personally, I think the Yankees would fit best considering all the factors of needing a DH and a hitter friendly park, but that's just me.  


Which team do you think will sign Otani?

That guess is as good as anyone's. My personal opinion is that Otani will sign with the team who grants him the right to hit. Many fans and teams see him as a pitcher only, which is fine as it is his proven strength that should carry over to the Major Leagues. However, as mentioned before, Otani likes to hit and the team who gives him the offer of anything he wants will end up signing him.  

It's passive to say the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers are the three main contenders in this. I would not be surprised if Jon Daniels will give him everything from wearing Jersey #11 to being marketed around Texas.  Teams will reveal their cards at season's end, but the ride is just beginning as we'll all be on Otani watch this offseason. Fasten your seatbelts and stay tuned folks, because it's going to be a bumpy one. 


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Monday, September 11, 2017

Report: Alexis Candelario placed on waivers

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Monday that they placed Alexis Candelario on waivers. Once he passes through waivers and every team passes on him, he will be a free agent. This will likely be the first of many roster cuts to come in the fall.

Candelario, 35, was well-traveled in baseball having played in an Independent league while being stateside as well as several others in Mexico, Italy, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

With the Lions ichi-gun, he would only be used for one spot start on May 2 in Fukuoka against the Softbank Hawks. He recorded 3 IP, 7 ER, nine hits, two walks and two strikeouts. This would result in a 14-4 loss.

Candelario spent majority of his time in ni-gun where he appeared in 17 games. He recorded a 2-7 record with 65 innings and a 4.98 ERA with the ni-gun team.

When he signed with the Lions last December, we viewed him as a low risk signing with minimal upside. He had a colorful background playing in different countries, but it wasn't enough to work his way up the ranks to the ichi-gun.

The Lions currently have 69 players under contract, but majority of their roster cuts will not be announced until the end of the regular season, where they become Senryokugai.  A list of potential candidates to be cut can be found here.


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Sunday, September 10, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Kikuchi earns another shutout in Sawamura race

The Saitama Seibu Lions secured a neutral week by going 3-3 against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. With these wins, the magic number for A-class is five with a comfortable lead over the Orix Buffaloes. They also hold a one game lead over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Here's how we got here:


The opener against the Marines had Ayumu Ishikawa against Ken Togame. Tomoya Mori plated the first run with an RBI single in the bottom of the first after a bunt from Sosuke Genda moved Shogo Akiyama to 2nd base. A sacrifice fly from Takumi Kuriyama put the Lions up 2-0 in the bottom of the third.

Ikuhiro Kiyota dropped a bloop single with the bases loaded to give the Marines a run back. However, Togame was crafty enough to escape with no outs as Tatsuhiro Tamura grounded into a double play and Takashi Ogino grounded out in the top of the 4th to prevent anymore runs.

Togame would have minimal drama through six innings, but it was the top off the 7th where things would change. A leadoff walk to Kiyota was be followed up by a bunt and a strikeout. Shogo Noda was brought in to face pinch hitter Shota Omine. With the outfield playing in, Omine would hit a double off the wall, but was caught trying to advance to third base while tying the game with the runner scoring.

In the bottom of the 7th with Akiyama on first, Genda would bunt his way on with a single as Daichi Suzuki couldn't cover first base in time. Mori took the next pitch into the outfield for a go-ahead RBI single. Genda then beat out a throw towards home plate and scored another run. Kuriyama added another sacrifice fly as pinch-runner Daichi Mizuguchi scored from third to make it a three-run game.
The rest of the game was on cruise control as Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda would pitch a scoreless inning and end the two-game losing streak.

Lions 5, Marines 2

Game note:

-Despite giving up the hit, this was Shogo Noda's first career win.


The second game had Yosuke Okamoto up against Kuan-Yu Chen. Both sides wouldn't score until the top of the 4th, where Willy Mo Pena hit a two-run bomb as the Marines drew first blood. Yuta Yoshida would hit a solo HR in the 5th to make it 3-0.

A two-run HR from Akiyama in the bottom of the frame made it a one-run game, but Shogo Nakamura would hit a two-run HR in the 6th and make it 5-2. Okamoto would go six innings with thoes three home run given up allowing eight hits and getting two strikeouts.

Both teams would trade two runs again as Shuta Tonosaki had a two-RBI single with the bases loaded, but Jimmy Paredes would hit a two-run HR off Katsunori Hirai in the top of the 7th. Kuriyama hit a solo HR in the bottom of the 8th, but it was still a two run game.

Hideto Asamura would hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 9th as closer Tatsuya Uchi was pitching to make it a one-run game. Kuriyama then tied it with a single. After Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura was intentionally walked, Tonosaki grounded into a fielder's choice and Yuji Kaneko flew out to make it go to extras.

Masuda took the 10th inning and gave up a sacrifice fly to Pena as the Marines retook the lead. The Lions had one last gasp with two runners on and one out, but Asamura grounded into a double play and the Marines won the game.

Marines 8, Lions 7 (10 innings)

Game notes:

-Shota Takekuma was taken off the roster with a shoulder injury. Okawari-kun would be called up after hitting a grand slam in ni-gun to take his place.

-The Lions removed the DH by having Tomoya Mori play as catcher after the team used Masatoshi Okada and Ginjiro Sumitani. Kaneko would pinch hit for the pitcher's spot.

-Genda surpassed Hiromichi Ishige's franchise rookie record in hits by getting his 128th of the season during this game.


For the rubber match, it would be Ryota Sekiya facing Yusei Kikuchi. Hotaka Yamakawa crushed his 15th HR of the season to left-centerfield for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd. Akiyama hit an opposite field HR into the Lions Oendan to make it 2-0 in the third. An RBI fielder's choice from Kuriyama made it 3-0.

This day belonged to Kikuchi, who went the distance with only four hits allowed and one walk. He would have 10 strikeouts and force two double plays on the night for his fourth shutout victory of the season.

Lions 3, Marines 0

Game note:

-With few games next week, Okamoto was taken off the roster. Frank Garces was added in his place.


The homestand continued as the Fighters entered MetLife Dome with Hirotoshi Takanashi against Ryoma Nogami. Shohei Otani would hit a two-run HR in the top of the 1st and it set the tone for the game.

A crooked disaster inning came in the top of the 4th, where the Fighters scored seven runs, including multiple timely hits from Kengo Ota, Taishi Ota, Go Matsumoto for five of those. Otani would hit another two-run HR off Frank Garces to make it an impossible 9-0 lead.

Takanashi would go 7.2 innings with 10 strikeouts before giving up a two-run HR to Ryo Sakata preventing a shutout. Garces and Ryohei Fujiwara would eat up the remaining innings in the Lions loss.

Fighters 9, Lions 2


The second game would involve Shinsaburo Tawata facing Takayuki Kato. After some squandered chances by the Lions in the early innings, the Fighters would draw first blood on a solo HR by Brandon Laird in the top of the 4th.

Bats for the Lions would come thin. The bases were loaded in the second, but no runs. They also had a runner on third in the fifth inning, but weak contact drew another Houdini for Kato. Tawata's effort would be wasted with seven strong innings with six strikeouts as the HR was the only problem of the day.

The latest chance came in the bottom of the 8th, where Kato allowed two runners to reach base and Genda was on third. However, Chris Martin came into the game and forced a 6-4-3 double play for another Houdini.

Even in the bottom of the 9th, Yamakawa would hit a leadoff double. Hatsuhiko Tsuji would have Masatoshi Okada bunt the pinch runner Tonosaki over to third. Kuriyama struck out and Okawari-kun would follow, making the Lions lose in shutout fashion.

Fighters 1, Lions 0

Game note:

-Yamakawa would have two doubles, accounting for half of the Lions hits as they were held to four as a team.

-Genda picked up two stolen bases in one inning.


The final game of the series had Naoya Ishikawa facing Brian Wolfe. An early error from Asamura would put the Fighters on the board first. Two timely doubles from Akiyama and Asamura in the bottom of the 1st would erase the deficit and give the Lions a lead.

The Lions followed that up with a solo home run from Ginjiro Sumitani before Asamura's second error gave a run back. Okawari-kun and Yamakawa would each hit a two-run HR to make it 7-2, but Laird hit another deep HR to give a run back.

The Fighters would go on a run in the top of the 6th with some infield hits after the HR, but an error from Sosuke Genda sparked it getting another run, ending Wolfe's day as he couldn't record an out.

Kazunori Hirai was forced to come in with inherited runners. Kazunari Ishii would get an RBI single and a third run would score in the inning. Haruki Nishikawa would drop a bloop single to bring the Fighters within a run. Go Matsumoto tied the game with a clean single and the lead was blown.

The bottom of the 6th would favor the Lions, as Okawari-kun started with a leadoff walk. A bunt from Sumitani set up the go-ahead run as Genda slapped a single.

Despite the meltdown 6th, Kazuhisa Makita and Brian Schlitter had no trouble in the 7th and 8th innings. Tatsushi Masuda would do the same and the Lions secured one win in the series.

Lions 8, Fighters 7

Game note:

-For the first time since 2013, the Lions clinched a winning record.


As crazy as this week was, at least they didn't having a losing one. There's ups and downs with the bats and the defense, but it would be helpful if they're not hungover.

Hope to see progress continue and a possible clinch of A-class this week ahead. Unfortunately, it's also likely that the Softbank Hawks clinch this weekend with a three-game series in MetLife Dome coming up.  The next digest will come earlier as a result of a short series in Sendai.


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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hotaka Yamakawa named Pacific League Hitting MVP for August 2017

The August 2017 monthly MVPs were announced by NPB on Thursday night. Hotaka Yamakawa would win the hitting MVP from the Pacific League for the month.

Yamakawa, who will turn 26 in November, was called up in July after starting the season on the opening day roster. In August, he would hit .326 with 30 hits, 9 home runs and 28 RBIs. He would also have 20 walks with an on-base percentage of .451 and a slugging average of .696.

In 11 of those games in August, he had at least two hits. There were at least 10 RBIs in 10 of those games.

Yamakawa has taken the starting 1B role since July and has continued to be there since. It has led to the benching of Ernesto Mejia, where he was even deactivated from the roster to begin August.

This is the first time Yamakawa has earned a monthly honor and it's the third time a Saitama Seibu Lions player has done it this season. Ken Togame won the pitching honor in June while Shogo Akiyama was the hitter of the month for July.

Other recipients of August 2017 awards:

P Dennis Sarfate (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yokohama DeNa Baystars)

P Miles Mikolas (Yomiuri Giants)


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Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Akiyama reaches 1,000 into 2nd place

The Saitama Seibu Lions reached second place in the Pacific League with a 3-2-1 week against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Orix Buffaloes on the road. This is the first time in the 2017 season the Lions have been in front of the Eagles in the standings. Here's what happened for the week:


The opener from Sendai had Ken Togame return from his injury to face Takahiro Shiomi. Shogo Akiyama started the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 4th. The Eagles tied the game when Motohiro Shima slapped an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the 5th.

Hideto Asamura would give the Lions a lead again in the top of the 6th, with an RBI single after Tomoya Mori would take advantage of a hit and run. Sosuke Genda provided insurance with a soft single past Eigoro Mogi to make it 3-1.

Togame would have a solid outing with 6.2 innings, four strikeouts and no walks while scattering six hits. Shota Takekuma retired Hiroaki Shimauchi with a lineout to end the 7th.

Brian Schlitter recorded two strikeouts in the 8th while Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th which had a double play to end the Lions' short losing streak.

Lions 3, Eagles 1

Game note:

-To make room for Togame on the roster, Keisuke Honda was taken off.

-Genda would hit leadoff for the first time and Tomoya Mori would bat second in the lineup.


In Game 2, Yosuke Okamoto would face Minabu Mima. An early error from Nien Ting Wu would score a run for the Eagles in the bottom of the 1st. Carlos Peguero followed that up with a two-run HR. The Lions answered in the top of the 4th as Wu hit an RBI double.

An error by Shogo Akiyama would be costly as a ball landed and bounced for ground rule double instead of a routine flyout. Motohiro Shima would plate the runner home. Hideto Asamura would hit a two-run HR in the top of the 5th to make it a one-run game. Masatoshi Okada would then hit a timely two-run double down the line to give the Lions a 5-4 lead, ending Mima's day.

Hotaka Yamakawa hit a three-run HR in the top of the 6th to make it 8-4. However, this game was far from over. A failed chance in the top of the 8th left the door open for a comeback as the bases were stranded.

There would be a one-hour rain delay with massive showers in Sendai. Even worse, a second stoppage would happen as birds would take over the field, forcing the stadium to turn off its lights and use fireworks to move the animals away.

Brian Schlitter came on in the bottom of the 8th and allowed two 2-run RBI hits to Louis Okoye and Takero Okajima to tie the game, blowing the lead in the process at 8-8. Shogo Noda was forced to come in and retire Peguero with a comebacker to preserve a tie. Rain would poor in Sendai and the officials called the game with a draw.

Lions 8, Eagles 8

Game notes:

-Five Lions would have at least two hits in this game.

-Ernesto Mejia came in as a pinch hitter and walked. He was replaced by Daichi Mizuguchi as a pinch runner.


For the final game, Yusei Kikuchi would face Tomohiro Anraku. The Eagles scored first as Okoye hit a Rickey Henderson style home run for a 1-0 lead. Seibu answered back with a sacrifice fly from Ginjiro Sumitani in the top of the second. Tomoya Mori then cleared the bases for a double, giving the Lions a 4-1 lead.

A throwing error from Zelous Wheeler had Sosuke Genda safe on first, resulting in a run scoring from third base in the top of the 4th. Kikuchi had one scare in the bottom of the 5th with two runners on and no outs, but the Eagles only mustered one run through an RBI groundout by Japhet Amador.

An insurance run would come as Shogo Akiyama hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 7th. For Kikuchi, the rest of the game was on cruise control as he went the distance with all 9 innings pitched. He would only walk two batters, allow five hits and strike out 11 batters for his 13th win of the season.

Lions 6, Eagles 2

Game notes:

-Akiyama reached his 1,000th career hit with a modasho.


The week would go to Kansai with Ryoma Nogami facing Brandon Dickson in Kobe. It would be Orix to score first as Hiroyuki Nakajima sliced a single past the infield for the opening run in the bottom of the 2nd.

That lead wouldn't last long, as the Lions erupted in the top of the third. Timely hits from Yamakawa, Kuriyama, Wu, Tonosaki and Masatoshi Okada would make it 5-1 and end Dickson's night as he couldn't finish the frame. Orix got a run back when Takahiro Okada hit a sacrifice fly.

Nogami would have a solid seven innings with six strikeouts, four hits given up and no walks. Schlitter had a scare with the tying run at bat and runners on the corners, but some liners right to the infield prevented any runs. He would also get Masataka Yoshida to groundout.

Yamakawa put the game away with a two run home run in the top of the 9th for his 14th of the season. Shogo Noda took the bottom of the 9th and the Lions took the opener of the series.

Lions 7, Buffaloes 2

Game notes:

-Nien Ting Wu would start at 3B again, Yuji Kaneko started the game on the bench.

-Kuriyama would have a modasho and start in LF in his hometown of Kobe. The Lions finished with a 2-1 record in this ballpark for 2017.


The second game from Kyocera Dome would have Shinsaburo Tawata facing Taisuke Yamaoka. An error from Genda would allow a runner to reach base and a bloop hit from Stefen Romero would score a run for Orix in the bottom of the 1st.

There would be a fast answer from the Lions as Kuriyama's RBI single tied the game in the second. The tie wouldn't last long as Tawata got two quick outs in the bottom of the frame, but four consecutive singles led to two runs, including timely hits from Masahiro Nishino and Koji Oshiro to make it 3-1.

The Lions failed to score more off Yamaoka despite having plenty of walks and hits to create chances. Yamaoka would go six innings with seven strikeouts. Hikaru Ito would send a ball to the stands off Katsunori Hirai in the 6th to give Orix insurance. A sacrifice fly from Wu would bring the Lions within two runs once more, but that was it.

Orix's bullpen would hang on and take the second game of the series.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 2

Game note:

-Wu would bat leadoff for this game and go 1-4.


The final game of the series and week would have Brian Wolfe, who was saved for this weekend, against Sachiya Yamasaki.

Two consecutive 2-out hits by Akiyama and Asamura lead to the Lions drawing first blood when the latter hit a gapper down the RF line. Orix answered back as a throwing error from Asamura led to one run and a RBI double play added another.

Ernesto Mejia tied the game with a solo HR and an RBI single form Genda gave the Lions a lead again.  The Lions defense let them down in the bottom of the third, where two throwing errors by Wu and Ginjiro Sumitani led to two base runners. Masataka Yoshida would take a hanging pitch from Wolfe to the RF stands as Orix took a 5-3 lead.

The Lions couldn't score off the Orix bullpen after Yamasaki left in the 2nd and the Buffaloes made them pay. Chris Marrero cleared the bases with a double in the gap and the game was all but over. Ryo Sakata would hit a three-run pinch hit HR in the top of the 7th, but it was too late.

Ryoichi Adachi would have a bases clearing double in the bottom of the same frame to erase any chances of a come back.

Buffaloes 11, Lions 6

Game note:

-To make room for Wolfe, the Lions would take Kentaro Fukukura off the roster.

-The 2017 Seibu Lions finished with a 3-6 record in Kyocera Dome. They had a 5-7 record in Kansai when playing the Buffaloes including the games in Kobe.


The Lions are thankfully in second place of the Pacific League with the Eagles being cold. Better yet, the Lions won't see Orix much for the rest of the season, as they're a continuous thorn in their side. Taking the series in Sendai was very satisfying and preventing a sweep in Osaka is what we'll take, fora team that has the Lions number.


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