Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Report: Lions re-sign Brian Wolfe


Just one day after announcing Brian Schlitter would not return, the Saitama Seibu Lions have reportedly reached an agreement to bring back Brian Wolfe for 2018 on Wednesday afternoon.

Wolfe, who will be 37 at the end of the month, will be entering his 9th year in NPB. He was originally with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2010-2013 as a starting pitcher. Wolfe dealt with injuries during his two year stint with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from 2014-2015, but he won two championships.

The Lions brought Wolfe as a midseason pickup during the 2016 season. He went 4-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four starts. Last year, he stayed in the rotation for majority of the season and made 23 starts, going 9-4 with a 3.73 ERA, where most of his quality outings were in the first half.

By pitching 125.1 innings, it was his highest career total since 2013. Wolfe could potentially reach the 9th year of service time (free agency status) by 2019 if he were to continue playing, which would make him a Japanese player on the roster by 2020.

Wolfe will once again be part of the Seibu Lions rotation which includes Yusei Kikuchi and Ken Togame. Others in the mix should be Shinsaburo Tawata and Kona Takahashi. Ryoma Nogami is a pending domestic free agent.

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Other note:

-The Lions hired Ming-Chieh Hsu to be part of the ni-gun pitching staff. He will join Kento Sugiyama as ni-gun pitching coaches. Hsu will focus on the right handed pitchers while Sugiyama will coach the lefties. Hsu played for the Lions from 2003-2013 as a reliever.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Report: Lions will not retain Brian Schlitter


The Saitama Seibu Lions entered the offseason in early October and made another decision. On Monday, the Japanese media reported they won't bring Brian Schlitter back to the team.

Schlitter, 31, was the setup man for the Lions bullpen in 2017. The Chicago native was with the team as early as fall camp in 2016, where he was informed he could compete for the closer role.

After having a strong start to the season, Schlitter struggled in the final six weeks where he blew a four run lead against the Rakuten Eagles on August 30. He finished 2017 with a 1-5 record, 32 holds and a 2.83 ERA.

In 63.2 innings of regular season work, he only had 23 strikeouts and 29 walks. Management likely remembers Game 3 in the first stage of the Climax Series, where Schlitter took the top of the 8th inning. With the Lions trailing by one run, Schlitter gave up a solo HR to Zelous Wheeler and a two-run bomb to Shintaro Masuda to put the game out of reach. He only allowed one HR in the regular season.

By letting Schlitter go, this is a vote of confidence in Tomomi Takahashi, who returned in September while coming off Tommy John surgery. Takahashi was previously the team's closer until Tatsushi Masuda took the role. 

Schlitter becomes the fourth import to not be retained by the Lions in 2017. Alexis Candelario was released in the middle of the regular season, while Frank Garces and Stephen Fife spent a brief stint in the Miyazaki Phoenix League during October, but were also released.

Most recently, Shotaro Tashiro became a senryokugai release after the 2017 NPB Draft, making it a total of 12 roster subtractions thus far. The Lions drafted six players and two ikusei in the draft.

Assuming the Lions sign their six main draft picks, the 70-man roster will have six openings. However, the Lions will likely keep two spots open if they want to promote either or both of their ikusei picks to the main roster.

With this likely to happen, the Lions have room for four players at minimum, as they can all be imports. There has been no announcement on Chun-Lin Kuo or Brian Wolfe returning for 2018 or not. 

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mori, Takahashi and Nakatsuka to work down under with the Melbourne Aces

Graphic via the Melbourne Aces
The Saitama Seibu Lions and Melbourne Aces announced their partnership will continue for the 2017-2018 Australian Baseball League season on Friday afternoon. Kona Takahashi, Shunta Nakatsuka and Tomoya Mori will be the three Lions players to play with the Aces.

All three players will be with the team from November 17 until the All-Star break ends on December 26, which will be for half of the season.

Mori, 22, has the most ichi-gun time among the trio having been mostly a designated hitter. At age 19, he already played in 138 regular season games. In 2016, he had trouble finding a position in the field, but his bat proved to be valuable.

Last year, he missed most of the season due to being hit by a pitch and suffering a fracture in an exhibition in March against Cuba's World Baseball Classic team. His career ichi-gun slashline is .294/.371/.469 and has a single-season career high of 17 HRs from 2015.

The Lions hope to give Mori more work at catcher as they eased him in the last two seasons. When the team was already out of contention, he saw regular starts at catcher in 2016. Mori was a part time catcher in 2017 and the Lions are hoping for more development with the Aces. If the Aces want a bat, he is capable of mashing as the designated hitter.

When drafted in the first round of 2013, the Lions shocked everyone by taking a catcher who was viewed as undersized despite his bat. Mori was an accomplished high school catcher where his team won the 2012 Summer Koshien tournament with Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami as his battery mate.

Takahashi, 20, was the Lions first round pick in the 2014 NPB Draft. He was an accomplished high school pitcher where he carried his school through the 2013 Summer Koshien tournament and won the whole thing.

For his rookie year, Takahashi got his feet wet in 2015 and threw a shutout as an 18-year-old kid against the Chiba Lotte Marines. He threw another shutout in 2016 as he had a large workload, but struggled with control as the season wore on. Last year, he started with similar ups and downs, but missed most of 2017 due to a shoulder injury. He won his final start returning from his injury on September 24 where he went 6 IP, 5 K, 1 BB, and one earned run allowed.

While Takahashi is only 20, he is viewed as the team's future ace and the long term will depend on him being the next great Lions pitcher.

Nakatsuka, who will be 23 at the end of December, was the team's second round draft pick in 2016. He started the year with sickness and spent majority of 2017 in ni-gun struggling with control.

His ichi-gun debut was in the same game Takahashi started on September 24 where he recorded two quick outs. However, he threw 12 consecutive balls leading to three walks and loading the bases before being taken out. He was credited with two earned runs in the outing.

In 20 ni-gun games, Nakatsuka split time as a starter and reliever recording 58.2 IP, 33 BB, 44 K and a 3.84 ERA. Nakatsuka's fastball can hit 157 KPH (97 mph) on the gun and the Lions saw some upside when drafting him as a long term prospect.

This is arguably the most talented group of Lions to come to the Aces yet. With Takahashi supposed to be a future ace, Mori a premier hitter and Nakatsuka being a premier prospect, the ceiling is high.

Other staff members expected to make the trip to Melbourne include interpreter Shuntaro Kobayashi, trainer Kazuyoshi Ono and the recently retired Tatsuyuki Uemoto. Since being released as a player by the Lions, Uemoto became one of the team's bullpen catchers.

This will be the seventh consecutive year of partnership for the Lions and Aces during the ABL season. Previous players currently on the Lions roster to go down under include Yusei Kikuchi, Fumikazu Kimura (as a pitcher), Hirotaka Koishi, Yasuo Sano, Makoto Aiuchi, Komei Fujisawa, Shota Nakata, Kentaro Fukukura, Ryohei Fujiwara, Shogo Noda, Keisuke Honda and Hitoto Komazuki.

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2017 Japan Series: Baystars an underdog against NPB's empire


The Yokohama DeNA Baystars will take on the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the 2017 Japan Series. Here is our breakdown of what's to come ahead:

Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars climbed the mountain in taking the first stage of the Climax Series against the Hanshin Tigers in three games, while also winning four out of five games played against the Hiroshima Carp.

Surprisingly it was their starting pitching and bullpen that came through when they needed it most, which started of with Joe Wieland winning the crucial Game 3 vs the Tigers. Game 4 was a difference maker when Shota Imanaga came out in relief for two innings and the Baystars shut the door on a favored Carp team.

The Carp weren't at full strength with no Seiya Suzuki, Brad Eldred and Tomohiro Abe, but they also didn't have a proven ace. There were plenty of young pitchers who were overwhelmed against the Baystars bats. In the final game, the home runs kept coming and the Baystars obliterated Hiroshima 9-3.

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Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Softbank Hawks won the Pacific League again after some early struggles against the Eagles. It was Seiichi Uchikawa who hit a home run in each of the first four games. Uchikawa is the biggest subplot of this whole series as he was a former Baystars player who left to find success in Fukuoka, after being tired of losing. The Hawks also got a boost in the final game when Yuki Yanagita returned for the first time in a month, as he was the 2015 Pacific League MVP and could win it again in 2017.

It wasn't all about Nobuhiro Matsuda or Alfredo Despaigne, but Akira Nakamura with the timely hits to put the Hawks in the third Japan Series in four years and fifth in seven years.

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Outlook:

This is the Baystars third Japan Series in franchise history and first since 1998. They won as Taiyo Whale in 1961. The Baystars have also not lost a Japan Series coming into 2017.

The Hawks are aiming to set a dynasty with their third Japan series in four years, which would have an undisputed title. Last time they were in this stage was 2015, where they beat the Yakult Swallows in five games.

Yokohama is your ultimate Cinderella story, having not made the postseason in the Climax Series era prior to 2016. They've built a good foundation since 2013 up to this point and the fruition has finally come. For the Hawks, it's Japan's new Empire having the highest payroll in NPB and an organization that is well-run from top to bottom aiming for another title, which could be the 4th in the Softbank Era.

Reminder that the Japan Series begins on October 28.

Christian: If the Baystars want to pull this upset, they need to hit home runs. Both parks involved make this possible, but can they do it against the Hawks pitching for a seven game series? I like the Hawks pitching to overpower the Baystars where Yokohama only has a one game stand. The Pacific League is still stronger from top to bottom and don't see it changing. My heart says the Baystars, but as a betting man, the Hawks are too great to pass up.  Hawks in 5

Wes pick could come later.  For those on Twitter please @ him @WhirlWideWes 

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2017 NPB Draft: A summary of each Lions pick

Graphic provided by the Seibu Lions
The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted a total of six players and two ikusei picks on Thursday night at the 2017 NPB Draft. Initially, the tried to take shakaijin Daiki Tajima out of the industrial leagues, but ended up losing a 50-50 drawing to Junichi Fukura and Hisanobu Watanabe was left with a blank piece of paper.

With the Lions going to plan B, here is what the Lions ended up with which includes a short profile:

P Hiromasa Saito (齊藤大将)




College: Meiji University (Tokyo)

High School: Toin Gakuen (Kanagawa prefecture)

Date of Birth: June 3, 1995

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 74 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Saito was a reliever converted to starter out of the Tokyo Big6 college league who tops out at 149 km/h (92 mph). He's a 3/4 arm slot who has an effective slider. He can also throw a curve, changeup, screwball and a cutter.

On paper, the Lions were looking at a left handed pitcher and drafted for need when trying to go for Tajima. After losing out, the Lions would've likely gone with Katsuki Azuma, but the Yokohama DeNA Baystars nabbed him in the first reveal where Saito was probably the third choice. Saito's slider can easily make him a lefty specialist immediately and he could work his way into the back end of the rotation.

When interviewed as he was drafted, Saito was humbled to be an alternate first round pick even though several in the media saw it coming. He compared himself to Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters setup man Naoki Miyanishi.

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OF Manaya Nishikawa (西川 愛也) 



High School: Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama)

Date of Birth: June 10, 1999

Height: 177 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 75 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Nishikawa won the 2017 Summer Koshien title with Hanasaki Tokuharu last August and was the team's starting left fielder. He hit a total of 31 HRs in his HS career and specialized at hitting the gap. He was a No. 3 hitter in the lineup during the latest tournament, but also saw time as a cleanup hitter. in 6 Koshien games from the last tournament, he hit .333 (9 for 27) with two doubles and two triples.

This is the third straight year the Lions have taken a high school outfielder following Aito Takeda (formerly Otaki) and Shohei Suzuki. Nishikawa was teammates with Takeda at Hanasaki Tokuharu in 2015. Besides Nishikawa, other Lions players who've won a Koshien title include Hideto Asamura (2008), Tomoya Mori (2012), Kona Takahashi (2013) and Tatsuya Imai (2016).

Nishikawa is another long term pick for the outfield and a possible heir to Takumi Kuriyama. With the Lions set in the short term, Takeda, Suzuki and Nishikawa will compete for a job in the long run. Nishikawa also has decent speed, where he can run to first base in 4.3 seconds. He's expected to come of surgery in November recovering from an injured pectoral muscle.

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P Sho Ito (伊藤翔)


Independent League Team: Tokushima Indigo Socks (Tokushima)

High School: Yokoshiba Keiai (Chiba)

Date of Birth: February 10, 1999

Height: 175 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Ito had one dominant season in the Shikoku Island League before the Lions drafted him as he'll be 19 next year. He's another 3/4 arm slot pitcher who tops at 152 kph (94 mph) with a two-seam fastball, curve, slider and fork ball. In 16 games with the Indigo Socks, he recorded an 8-4 record with 103 IP, 92 hits, 97 K, 22 walks and a 2.18 ERA. He had the second most amount of  wins and strikeouts in the league while having the third best ERA.

As a bonus, Ito has experience playing a handful of NPB third teams (san-gun) from the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants. From a Lions standpoint, Ito is a long term project who has the raw tools and velocity. If everything goes right, he could be a starting pitcher in four to five years.

Ito has the same name as a soccer player who once appeared in Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 with Grenoble.

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P Kaima Taira (平良 海馬)



High School: Yaeyama Shoko (Okinawa)

Date of Birth: November 15, 1999

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 81 kg (179 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Taira can hit as high as 154 kph (96 mph) and adds a slider, curve, cutter, changeup and sinker. In the Koshien qualifiers, Taira came up short and his team lost a game 0-1 where he started. He can bench press 110 kilograms (243 lbs) and run 50 meters in six seconds. Taira was also a cleanup hitter for his high school with the ability to hit the ball as deep as 123 meters (403 ft).

The Lions see plenty of upside with Taira with his strong velocity with the hope he can develop his other pitches, including his changeup. They can mold him in any way they want, though he was the team's ace in high school. His hitting ability can also be a fallback option if he wants to become a position player.

For any Yu-Gi-Oh! fans out there, his first name Kaima 海馬 has the exact same kanji as characters named Seto Kaiba. Of course in this case, Kaiba is the surname in the anime.

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P Kaito Yoza (與座 海人) 


College: Gifu Keizai (Gifu)

High School: Okinawa Shogaku (Okinawa)

Date of Birth: September 15, 1995

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 74 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Yoza is a submariner who started as a reliever before turning starter at university. His max velocity is 132 kph (82 mph) where he has a slider, curve and sinker. In his combined college career of 51 games, he recorded a 22-15 record in 326 IP, allowing 268 hits, 219 K, 52 walks and a 1.96 ERA. In his senior season, he recorded a 1.17 ERA in the spring and 0.81 ERA in the fall with more than 100 innings pitched. He earned MVP honors in both the fall 2015 and spring 2017 seasons.

It's likely that Yoza will be the heir to Kazuhisa Makita in having one submarine pitcher to develop. Makita is a pending free agent and could leave sooner than later stating his desire to play stateside. With Yoza having experience as a starter, the Lions can go either way on him when he goes through development in ni-gun.

With the addition of Taira and Yoza, the Lions have five Okinawan born players on their roster.

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IF Ryusei Tsunashima (綱島 龍生)


High School: Itoigawa Hakurei (Niigata)

Date of Birth: January 21, 2000

Height: 178 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Tsunashima grew up playing all positions, but was most recently a shortstop in high school for Itoigawa Hakurei. Has has no Koshien experience, but carried his team offensively while hitting in the heart of the order. Tsunashima is mostly a light hitting shortstop, but impressed scouts during the Koshien qualifiers.

Tsunashima is the only person from Niigata on the Lions roster. Like any high school pick, he is a long term project who can play anywhere in the field. It's possible he can take over at third base when Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura retires or sees time as a defensive replacement. His fallback options include catcher and outfielder, similar to how Hitoto Komazuki is now a catcher with the team.

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Ikusei: OF Wataru Takagi (高木渉) 


High School: Shiritsu Shinsokan (Fukuoka)

Date of Birth: December 6, 1999

Height: 180 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 75 kg (165 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Takagi is a two-way player who can reach 146 kph (91 mph) as a pitcher. However, the Lions took him as an outfielder. He was a cleanup hitter in high school and suffered a shoulder injury which dampened his value as a pitcher. He can run 50 meters in 5 seconds, which was the 9th fastest among players. He bat and pitching were both a problem in the Koshien qualifiers, where he struggled in the 4th game of the Fukuoka prefecture tournament on the mound.

For the Lions, he's an athlete trying to figure out what to do next in his career. The Lions can make him an OF with the hope to develop him in the long run. Takagi shares the exact same name as a famous voice actor in Japan.

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Ikusei: C Masato Saito  (齊藤 誠人)

College: Hokkaido Kyoiku Iwamizawa (Hokkaido)

High School: Sapporo Kosei (Hokkaido)

Date of Birth: August 7, 1995

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 168 pounds

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Saito was a five-time Division II Best IX catcher at Hokkaido Kyoiku Iwamizawa. His pop speed on the throw to second base clocks in a 1.75 seconds and he once hit .425 in a season. In his senior year, he fractured his right hand and could not finish 2017 healthy. When Saito was in high school, he was a cleanup hitter.

This is a simple flyer pick where the Lions acquired cheap depth. Dominating Division II is nice, but the Lions and everyone else will have to wait and see what it translates to at the NPB level. The additions of Takagi and Saito were the most ikusei picks in a single draft by the Lions in franchise history. This was the first time selecting any player in the ikusei draft since 2014.

When reacting to being drafted, as a Hokkaido native, he hopes to be an interesting fan favorite like Tsuyoshi Shinjo was for the Fighters.

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Summary:

The Lions tried to go for the best pitcher available for the now, but came up short. It's clear they wanted to fill their need of a left handed pitcher, but everyone else is a project where majority of this class is full of teenagers. It is interesting that the Lions took two ikusei picks and maybe it was a hint that Yuji Onizaki and other ikusei coaches were added to coaching hierarchy earlier this month.

In 2018, we could see H. Saito as a lefty specialist to complement Shota Takekuma and Shogo Noda. Yoza could also make appearances out of the bullpen if they feel he can take over Makita's spot. None of us will know what the Lions got out of this class and it will take at least seven or eight years to evaluate what the team picked up.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Report: Lions announce Tajima as 2017 first round draft pick nomination


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced their draft pick nomination on Wednesday for the 2017 NPB Draft. Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe said the team will go for LHP Daiki Tajima out of the industrial team known as JR East.

Tajima, 21, is viewed as the best pitcher in the 2017 NPB Draft. It was already reported that the Orix Buffaloes will go for him, meaning both teams will enter their first drawing since 2012, which was tied for the longest running drought in the NPB Draft.

Nabe-Q said in a statement that Tajima is the best pitcher available while also needing to reinforce a left handed starter. Last year, the Lions took four right handed pitchers in the 2016 NPB Draft.

Majority of NPB teams are expected to go for IF Kotaro Kiyomiya in the draft, but several teams are on the outside looking for other possibilities. The Softbank Hawks, Chiba Lotte Marines, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Hanshin Tigers and Yokohama DeNA Baystars are all linked to Kiyomiya.

Others have a preference in athleticism, where the Hiroshima Carp openly said they will not draft Kiyomiya. Most of the Japanese media speculates they will go for C Shosei Nakamura out of Koryo HS. The Chunichi Dragons are also linked to Nakamura.

The Rakuten Eagles and Yomiuri Giants have both been secretive about their draft nomination. Rakuten has been learning towards IF Hisanori Yasuda while the Giants are contemplating between Nakamura, Kiyomiya and Tajima.

Assuming the Carp, Tigers and Hawks do not take Tajima, the Lions will be the last to draw from the box when they go for Tajima with Orix and possibly any other team involved. By finishing in second place in the Pacific League, they have the 9th priority in waivers. Nabe-Q will be the representative to take the draw which he has no control over.

The 2017 NPB Draft begins at 4:00 a.m. ET (1:00 a.m. PT on Thursday, October 26 with an ikusei round starting shortly after. It will be interesting to see who is the future for all 12 NPB Teams.

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Other note:

-Kento Sugiyama was announced as a ni-gun pitching coach for the Lions. He previously worked with the Lamigo Monkeys in Taiwan's CPBL.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

2017 NPB Draft: How should the Lions approach it?


The 2017 NPB Draft is on October 26 and all attention will shift towards it when the day comes. Even the teams who will be in the Japan Series will need to turn their attention to the draft for one night.

As a reminder, the first round is a free for all where everyone selects who they want and if anyone wants the same player, they draw for his rights with a winning ticket out of a box. Teams that miss on their player will go again until all 12 teams have their first round selection. The record for most teams wanting one player is eight.


Hideo Nomo was one of the two instances where this happened while the other was Hideo Koike in 1990. A video of the first round in 1989 is here below.


 Most recently, the 2016 first round can be seen here.


For the record, the representative for each team is chosen at the team's discretion. Sometimes it's the manager, other times it could be an executive, GM equivalent or even a scout. 

From the second round and on, the draft order is like a traditional one where the worst team of one league goes first, then it reverses to the worst of the opposite league then flops back to the second worst of the original in a snake format. The Pacific League won the regular season head-to-head series again, so they will select first.

Here is how the draft order will look in the second round, while the odd rounds will be this list in reverse:

1. Chiba Lotte Marines (Pacific League, 6th place)
2. Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Central League, 6th place)
3. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL, 5th)
4. Chunichi Dragons (CL, 5th)
5. Orix Buffaloes (PL, 4th)
6. Yomiuri Giants (CL, 4th)
7. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (PL, 3rd)
8. Yokohama DeNA Baystars (CL, 3rd)
9. Saitama Seibu Lions (PL, 2nd)
10. Hanshin Tigers (CL, 2nd)
11. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (PL, 1st)
12. Hiroshima Carp (PL, 1st)

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For the Lions, they could go in many directions this year. Here is a breakdown of each position: 

Pitcher:

The Lions have openly said they're interested in reinforcing their pitching depth. Last year, they didn't take a left handed pitcher and only took four right handers. Two pitchers have first round potential, but none other than Daiki Tajima out of the industrial league's JR East is the consensus pitcher everyone likes. Kohei Miyadai out of the Tokyo University, from the Tokyo Big6 league is also an intriguing option among lefties. 

Right handed pitchers Ryota Kusuba, Sho Yamaguchi, Hiroki Kondo, Keiichi Okada and Masaki Tanigawa are all names that have been linked. Yamaguchi is the only high school pitcher among the bunch while Tanigawa and Okada are industrial league pitchers. Okada is a side arm pitcher as well. Kondo and Kusuba are both from University.

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Catcher:

On paper, the Lions don't need a catcher immediately, but Ginjiro Sumitani could exercise his international free agent option if he wants. Masatoshi Okada is a spell catcher while Tomoya Mori has been behind the plate part time. With Tatsuyuki Uemoto retiring, there is room for one.

The Lions have been linked to two catchers where one of them is expected to be a first round pick. Shosei Nakamura broke Kazuhiro Kiyohara's single Koshien home run record and carried his high school through the tournament. He is considered to be very athletic and at least one team will go for him. Munetaka Murakami is another high school fall back option, but can't be an immediate contributor.

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Infielder:

With the Lions drafting Sosuke Genda, they won't be hungry for a shortstop anytime soon. However, third base could be a hole with Takeya "Okawari-kun" not getting any younger and he's also a pending free agent. Finding a corner infielder wouldn't hurt.

Hisanori Yasuda out of Riseisha high school is one of the most touted at his position. He could be a fallback option if the Lions miss out on a drawing. The most intriguing infielder of this draft class is Kotaro Kiyomiya, who has been hyped up for several years. Many thought he would choose to follow his family's path of going to university, but he shocked the baseball world by making himself eligible for the NPB draft.

Kiyomiya is consensus "best player" in this year's class and it wouldn't be surprising if nine teams go for him, which would surpass the record. His bat is supposed to be the best in the game, but he isn't as athletic as other position players and would be at 1B.

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Outfielder:

The Lions don't have a power hitting outfielder, though Shogo Akiyama had a magical 25 home run season as the team's CF. Two corporate league outfielders in Toshio Kitagawa and Seigo Yada are who the Lions are linked to with the former having the ability to play catcher. Having a solidified fourth outfielder wouldn't hurt, but the Lions are set at defensive replacement.

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Outlook:

The Lions are set when it comes to position players for 2018. However, it never hurts to add someone who can help immediately. They won't be playing every game like Sosuke Genda, but having an extra infielder or outfielder? It won't cause a problem.

Currently, the Lions are contemplating between Kiyomiya or a pitcher with their first round pick. We're guessing they want a pitcher for the now, rather than a high schooler if it's in the first round. There has not been an announcement at the time of this writing, so the longer this goes, the more we think they don't go for Kiyomiya. 

Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe said the team will make a decision on October 25, the day before the draft. Nabe-Q was the man who drew the winning tickets for Yusei Kikuchi in 2009 and Tatsuya Oishi in 2010. His nickname is "hand of god" for his success in a six-team drawing for back-to-back years.

Are the Lions feeling lucky or are they not? Tajima will likely get a drawing as well, but not as many teams involved. It was already announced that the Orix Buffaloes will go for Tajima.

The last time the Lions went to a drawing was 2012, where they lost a three-way draw for Nao Higashihama. Does that drought end? They've taken Tomoya Mori, Kona Takahashi, Shinsaburo Tawata and Tastsuya Imai unopposed. This is tied with Orix for the longest drought without a drawing in the draft. They definitely need at least one left handed pitcher at minimum.

Kiyomiya will likely have at least six teams selecting him while Tajima should have three at minimum. If the Lions went for Kiyomiya, the winning ticket might have already been drawn as they'll be one of the last to select. However, he's still talented enough to make an attempt.

Miyadai and Yasuda would not be bad options if the Lions wanted to go rogue and buck any prognosticators. There are currently 10 open spots on the roster with 7 senryokugai players, while it was also announced that Stephen Fife, Frank Garces and Alexis Candelario wouldn't be coming back. Candelario was released before the regular season ended.

With the roster space, they could easily draft seven players. I'd expect a six man class at the smallest due to the recent cuts. I would not be surprised if they take at least four or five pitchers with one or two position players at most. My gut says Tajima will be the selection, but they could surprise and feel lucky enough to go for Kiyomiya.

Anything can happen unless we see the Lions make a public announcement like they did with Tawata in the past. A post-draft article will come when the time comes. Stay tuned, this should be interesting how the long term future could be.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2017 Climax Series: Pennant winners have high expectations


The 2017 Climax Series for the Pacific and Central Leagues begin soon. Here's how we see both sides. A reminder that the pennant winners of both leagues are automatically awarded one game for finishing in first, but we will write this as if there were 7 games to not confuse you. (Example: Eagles in 6 means they won four games and lost one on the field, Carp in 4 means they played three games on the field and won all of them).

Pacific League

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Hawks win the pennant after nearly missing a year ago thanks to a hot run by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. This year, they had a slow April, but went on a tear after interleague play. Yuki Yanagita will likely be hurt and not playing, but they have plenty of options and depth as a whole.

While Kodai Senga is arguably their best starter, he spent multiple stints off the ichi-gun and other young Hawks players would get playing time as a rebuild on the fly. Nao Higashihama carried the load of innings, Shunta Ishikawa and Yuki Matsumoto snuck in some starts with the former playing well. Seiji Uebayashi was a starting outfield and Takuya Kai will be the next catcher with the fast pop time.

The addition of Alfredo Despaigne gave them the pop they needed after missing Dae-Ho Lee from 2015. A good chunk of the year was also without Seiichi Uchikawa, but the Hawks managed to dominate the Pacific League anyways.

Closer Dennis Sarfate also set the new single-season saves record and continued his strikeout dominance when taking the 9th inning. Softbank has a hoard of depth at all positions if needed.

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Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

The Eagles outpitched the Saitama Seibu Lions in the opening stage of the Climax Series thanks to Takayuki Kishi in Game 2 and a combination of bullpen and Minabu Mima in Game 3. While they were shutout against the Lions in Game 1, the bats did just enough damage against Ken Togame and Ryoma Nogami before they were able to feast on the bullpen.

Eigoro Mogi and Zelous Wheeler were the two who rounded out the dangerous offense in the first stage. The bullpen did their jobs in Games 2 and 3, but going to Fukuoka will be a different animal.

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Outlook

Christian: The first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series has been viewed by spectators as the rights to lose to the Hawks. Not just because of the one-game advantage, but for how the Eagles have to put in a fourth starter to begin the next series. The depth is not there on paper and the Hawks are expected to cruise, but I think the Eagles pitching will prevent a shutout in the wins column.  Hawks in 5

(Wes pick to come later)


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Central League

Hiroshima Carp

The Carp won their second straight pennant and pulled away almost as early as last year when clinching it. While the talent is still there, the path was different than expected. Seiya Suzuki had an MVP caliber season prior to his injury while Yoshihiro Maru and Ryosuke Kikuchi were able to put two consecutive strong years together.

Their largest surprise was the production they got out of their young starters. Kazuki Yabuta was a reliever converted to starter. Yusuke Nomura led the team in innings while former first round picks Daichi Osera and Akitake Okada were not flashy, but solid. Kris Johnson had an injury prone season and down year after being the reigning Sawamura Award winner, but the offense was able to carry the team up to this point.

Hiroshima's biggest weakness is their bullpen, where Takeru Imamura, Shota Nakazaki and Jay Jackson have had their ups and downs. Jackson in particular lost playing time in the middle of the year, but regained his setup role at the end.

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Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars made it through the first round after controversially playing a second game in the puddles of Koshien Stadium against the Hanshin Tigers. Despite all the weather issues, Game 3 did not have a problem where Joe Wieland and the bats all showed up at once.

Consider the rainy game a bad outlier, where the ball took some strange bounces in a missy field, but the Baystars pitching was solid otherwise. Hitting is still a slight concern, but it was important that Jose Lopez got the big home run in the Game 3. This is a rematch of last year's Climax Series with Wieland, Haruhiro Hamaguchi and Spencer Patton being the new additions while the Carp rotation is different.

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Outlook

Christian: The Baystars took another step forward from last year's team that didn't have to see Tomoyuki Sugano. However, they still got the benefit of playing in a muddy field which changed the complexion of the series. With the Carp being a little raw in comparison to last year combined with an improved Baystars team, I think this can be competitive. I'm still sticking with the odds and the favorite, but the Baystars have a fair shot at this considering they went 12-12 against the Carp (Not counting a final regular season game that was pointless for Hiroshima).  Carp in 6

(Wes pick to come later)

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Kikuchi and Yamakawa win final monthly 2017 MVP award


The final monthly awards for NPB were announced by the league on Tuesday night. From the results, the Saitama Seibu Lions swept the Pacific League as Hotaka Yamakawa and Yusei Kikuchi were named hitter and pitcher of September/October, respectively. 

To end the regular season, Yamakawa hit .326 with 10 HRs, 19 runs, 30 hits, 68 total bases and a .739 slugging average. In 10 of those games, he recorded multiple hits.

Yamakawa won this award for the second consecutive time as he was named the August 2017 recipient last month. He became fourth player in league history to win the monthly award in back to back months. The other three are Doug Jennings (July and August 1995), Ichiro Suzuki (June and July 1998), and Yuki Yanagita (August and September 2015), according to YakyuDB (Gen).

"I made my presence known and I felt a lot of pressure a little being the Lions cleanup hitter," Yamakawa said in a statement. "When I got up to the ichi-gun, at the beginning, I wasn't hitting well and at that time I've been putting pressure on how to do better if I do not hit well today. As the cleanup hitter, I firmly have confidence of going out with absolute results." 

Kikuchi earned his first career monthly MVP award with a 3-0 record, 0.29 ERA, 31 IP, 37 strikeouts and one shutout in four games through September and October. On September 7, he pitched a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts.

On September 14, he went into Sendai and earned a win over his senpai and predecessor ace Takayuki Kishi. 

"That game was purely enjoyable," Kikuchi said.

Including this month, the Lions officially earned five monthly MVP honors in 2017. Ken Togame (June 2017) and Shogo Akiyama (July 2017) were previously winners in the summer while Yamakawa won his first award in August.

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Central League monthly MVP winners:

OF Ryuhei Matsuyama (Carp)

P Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants)

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Seibu Lions 2017 playoff digest: Season ends in Climax Series


The Saitama Seibu Lions season ended against Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the first stage of the Climax Series. Here is how it all went down:

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Game 1 would have Takahiro Norimoto against Yusei Kikuchi. Hideto Asamura drew first blood with a two-run HR in the bottom of the 1st after Sosuke Genda was hit by a pitch. After Kikuchi drew multiple double plays, the Lions erupted in the bottom of the third.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and Ginjiro Sumitani hit a two-out double to make it 5-0. Shogo Akiyama and Sosuke Genda slapped timely singles to add two more runs.

Kikuchi escaped a bases loaded situation in the top of the 4th and it was smooth sailing from there. Okawari-kun crushed a three-run HR off Koji Aoyama to make it 10-0.

It wasn't dominant, but Kikuchi earned the shutout victory with nine strikeouts and good defense behind him.

Lions 10, Eagles 0

Game notes:

-With the HR, Okawari-kun tied the league record for most home runs in the Climax Series with 8.

-Every Lions starter had a hit or got on base. Sumitani and Yamakawa had modashos.

-Including the postseason, Kikuchi went 9-0 against the Eagles in nine games, earning a win in each of them.

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Game 2 had Ken Togame facing Takayuki Kishi. The first pitch of the game was sent to the stands thanks to a leadoff HR by Eigoro Mogi. After Kishi worked through giving up a double, the Eagles added two more runs with a base hit by Shintaro Masuda and a safety squeeze from Motohiro Shima.

Despite the slow start, Togame put in a quality start and kept the Lions in the game with 6.1 innings and one strikeout. He did this with only 87 pitches.

Shogo Noda came in with the hopes to retire two left handed batters, but walked two and later gave up an infield single to Mogi from a full count, scoring a run from second base to make it 4-0.

Kishi dominated his former team, with 6.1 innings, eight strikeouts and only three hits allowed without a walk. The Lions scored a run in the 8th inning off an RBI groundout, but that was as close as it got.

The Lions had one final chance off Yuki Matsui in the 9th inning, but came up short when Shuta Tonosaki and Okawari-kun struck out with two runners on base.

Eagles 4, Lions 1

Game note:

-Masatoshi Okada started at catcher and went 0-2.

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The elimination game featured Ryoma Nogami facing Minabu Mima. Nogami would start the game on a slow note, where he walked three batters and gave up an RBI infield single to Zelous Wheeler for a 1-0 Eagles lead. Mima earned a hard shutdown inning where Shogo Akiyama was stranded at third base and two batters struck out.

Wheeler singled to leadoff the 4th and advanced to second base on a bunt. Nogami threw a wild pitch and Wheeler scored from second base. His night ended after 3.2 innings, where he struggled to get the leadoff batter out in three out of four tries. Noda retired Eigoro Mogi with a runner on second to end the top of the 4th.

The Lions chased Mima in the 5th inning after two runners were on base and Ginjiro Sumitani hit a sacrifice fly. The tying run was on third base again, but Akiyama struck out against Yuhei Takanashi. 

Offensively, the Lions blew multiple chances despite only having a few hits. There were runners on base in particularly the 6th inning, but failed situational hitting left a dismal result.

Brian Schlitter came in the top of the 8th and retired the first two batters. However, he gave up a solo HR to Wheeler and a two-run HR to Masuda for the killer finish.

Asamura hit a solo HR, but it was too late. The Lions bats weren't going to score for the rest of the night as their season ended.

Eagles 5, Lions 1

Game note:

-This is the first time in Pacific League Climax Series history where the winner of Game 1 of the first stage did not advance to the next round.

-The Lions have lost in the Climax Series for the third straight trip. Last two outings were in 2012 and 2013, both at home.

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As the season has finished, we want to say thanks for joining us on social media and on our blog. More analysis and coverage to come in the future.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Five Lions named to Samurai Japan for Asia Professional Baseball Championship


Five players from the Saitama Seibu Lions were announced as players for Samurai Japan for the Asia Professional Baseball Championship on Thursday night.

Katsunori Hirai, Hotaka Yamakawa, Sosuke Genda, Shuta Tonosaki and Shinsaburo Tawata will be representing Japan among the Lions. To be eligible, a player had be born after January 1, 1993 or be with their professional team for three years or less. This counts as a U24 baseball event.

Genda and Tawata are both 24 while Hirai and Tonosaki were drafted in 2016 and 2014, respectively. Samurai Japan was also allowed to have three older players who can fit the overage bracket. Yamakawa would be one of the three as he was drafted in 2013 and will turn 26 in November.

Yamakawa, Genda and Tonosaki all received significant playing time with the ichi-gun in 2017. Genda was second in stolen bases with 37 and had tremendous defense. Tonosaki became a starting outfielder for majority of the season and also had his share of stolen bases while maintaining that he belongs with the ichi-gun. He is the only player on this list to spend the entire 2017 season at the ichi-gun level.

Tawata spent the first half of this season with an injury, but came on well in the second half as a starter. Hirai would be a medium leverage pitcher to take innings in middle relief. Yamakawa had the strongest season of the bunch, where he hit 23 home runs after being called up in the second half.

Nien Ting Wu will also be participating in this tournament representing Taiwan. With the Lions, he appeared in 15 ichi-gun games batting .231/.295/.333. He practiced playing multiple positions, including the outfield at the ni-gun level. 

The APBC begins on November 16 with all games taking place in Tokyo Dome. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are the three participants as they'll play each other in a round robin format. The top two countries after all the games will play a championship deciding game, meaning a team will play three games at most.

Best of luck to all Lions players involved next month.

Here is the remainder of the Samurai Japan roster:

Pitchers:

Taisuke Yamaoka (Buffaloes)
Katsuki Matayoshi (Dragons)*
Yasuaki Yamasaki (Baystars)
Taisuke Kondo (Buffaloes)
Shota Imanaga (Baystars)
Kazuki Yabuta (Carp)
Tsuyoshi Ishizaki (Tigers)
Mizuki Hori (Fighters)
Kazuto Taguchi (Giants)

Catchers:

Kensuke Kondo (Fighters)
Tatsuhiro Tamura (Marines)
Shingo Usami (Giants)
Takuya Kai (Hawks)*

Infielders:

Yota Kyoda (Dragons)
Shogo Nakamura (Marines)
Ryoma Nishikawa (Carp)
Go Matsumoto (Fighters)

Outfielders:

Louis Okoye (Eagles)
Masayuki Kuwahara (Baystars)
Seiji Uebayashi (Hawks)

*Overage bracket


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

2017 Central League Climax Series: Hanshin taking on streaky Baystars


While we already previewed the Pacific League's first round of the Climax Series, the Central League also has an intriguing matchup of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars and Hanshin Tigers. Here is our breakdown:

Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars came into this season with higher expectations after finishing in A-class for the first time in the Climax Series era. They were able to repeat this success with a third place finish, but some will argue that they were the beneficiaries of the Yomiuri Giants underachieving. The Giants had a poor 6-12 stretch in interleague play with an overlapping 13 game losing streak and a stretch of 1-15 when it ended.

DeNA clinched A-class on the last week of the regular season as the Hanshin Tigers knocked out toe Kyojin. This year's team had some down seasons offensively with some inflated numbers due to their hitter's ballpark. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo only had 28 home runs and Takayuki Kajitani wouldn't get on base as well for a leadoff hitter. It took a batting title season from Toshiro Miyazaki and a tremendous rebound year from Jose Lopez to do enough with the bats.

Starting pitching continued its upward trend, where Shota Imanaga avoided a sophomore slump, Shoichi Ino carrying the innings and Joe Wieland being a solid foreign import signing. Middle relief and inconsistent hitting has been the Baystars weakness as they've been dependent on the home run. Spencer Patton, Tomoya Mikami and Kenjiro Tanaka were all shaky, but Yasuaki Yamasaki had a better season and re-earned the closer spot in the middle of the year.

At 73-65-5, Alex Ramirez's (Rami-chan) Baystars had a winning record for the first time since 2001.  The Baystars will probably use Imanaga, Wieland and Ino in this series.

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Hanshin Tigers

Tomoaki Kanemoto entered his second season as the team's manager and with the trend among the Tigers, this year determines a make or break scenario for the long run. The Tigers started slow out of the gate defensively with plenty of kids in the field.

Hanshin's ultimate strength was pitching with Randy Messenger, Takumi Akiyama and Atsushi Nomi being the mainstays in the rotation. Messenger spent the last two months injured while others had to step it up. Their bullpen took the biggest leap with Rafael Dolis closing, Marcos Mateo as the setup man, while supporters Akifumi Takahashi, Kentaro Kuwahara, Suguru Iwazaki and Kyuji Fujikawa all had roles in middle relief.

The only disappointment in all of this was Shintaro Fujinami spending most of the year in ni-gun as he struggled with control. He is slated to not play in this series.

Offense has been up and down, where free agent signing Yoshio Itoi spent a chunk of the season injured, but was solid in the second half when healthy. Takashi Toritani kept his iron man streak intact with a decent year at the plate, but some positions would change from opening day. Like last year, it was all about getting experience for players and a few were able to step it up.

Masahiro Nakatani, Shunsuke Fujikawa and Hiroki Uemoto were all decent in perspective with Nakatani leading the team in home runs. Kosuke Fukudome is getting up there in age, but he still had a role with 18 home runs. An aging Takashi Toritani had a rebound season playing 3B. Even Hayata Ito, an outfield viewed as a first round bust, has become a solid pinch hitter.

Shun Takayama, the team's 2015 first round pick, was disappointing and was sent to ni-gun, Fumiya Hojo would lose his job at shortstop and foreigners Eric Campbell and Jason Rogers only provided a short term solution for a handful of games.

Like Rami-chan, Kanemoto doesn't have a  track record and this will be his first postseason as manager. It's likely the Tigers will have Messenger, Akiyama and Nomi taking the three games.

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History

As earlier mentioned, this is only the second time the Baystars have played a postseason game in the Climax Series era with the first being last year. Prior to 2016, their last playoff game was in the 1998 Japan Series.

Hanshin missed the postseason after a poor September in 2016 in Kanemoto's first year. They were an A-class team from 2013-2015 and made the Japan Series as a second place team in 2014.

The Tigers won the head to head series 14-10-1 in the regular season. Strangely enough, the road team would do better when these two teams played, where Hanshin dominated Yokohama Stadium going 8-3-1.  This means DeNA won the games at Koshien going 7-6, but this record shouldn't mean too much.

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Outlook

Christian: I think the Tigers rotation and bullpen will be no match for the Baystars, but anything can happen. DeNA needs to get to the starter early, because if Hanshin goes to their bullpen, it's over on paper. The Baystars starting pitching can keep them in games, but I don't trust their pen, nor their streaky bats who live and die by the home run. Kanemoto's inexperience could hurt them in the series as Rami-chan is one who has strong preparation skills. However, I'm picking the team with more talent and stronger pitching over an intriguing rotation, but no middle relief. Yokohama's team won't be as lucky like last year when avoiding Tomoyuki Sugano.  Tigers in 3. 

Wes: Like Christian, I see this series pretty similarly. I can see the Baystars matching the Tigers in one game, but not two, which is why it's hard for me to find a path for the Baystars to steal another Climax Series. I think the venue of Koshien not only favors the Tigers because of the home field advantage but more so in the fact that it's a pitcher's park which will play into the strengths of the Tigers and less so for the Baystars. If Rami-chan does get it done, there has to be something to be said for his motivation skills but I just don't see in this series. Tigers in 2.

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For more in-depth Tigers coverage, The Hanshin Tiger can take you there. 

Follow @TheHanshinTiger

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Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 21


This is the 21st Episode of the Saitama Seibu Lions podcast.  Christian and Wes discuss the team as a whole, previewing the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for stage 1 of the Climax Series and more!

Other topics include retiring players, new managers and even a few general national headlines.


We apologize for any errors or mistakes that may have happened.  Click here to download. Click here if the embed doesn't work.

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As a bonus, Christian and Wes ranked all 6 NPB playoff teams in a game format. Here were the results:

1. Softbank Hawks
2. Hiroshima Carp
3. Seibu Lions
4. Hanshin Tigers
5. Rakuten Eagles
6. Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Why are they ranked like this? It's explained in a bonus podcast episode below. Listen to find out.



Click here to download. Click here if the embed doesn't work.

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Special thanks to Max G. for the graphic. 

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Monday, October 9, 2017

2017 Climax Series: Previewing Seibu and Rakuten


The Saitama Seibu Lions will be facing the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at MetLife Dome from October 14-16. For the first time 2013, the Lions clinched A-class and finished second place in the Pacific League. This is also Rakuten's first postseason trip since 2013, when they won the pennant under Senichi Hoshino as the manager and Masahiro Tanaka as the ace.

In our preview we'll break down each position and history on both teams leading up to this point.

Background:

As earlier mentioned, the Lions are in the postseason for the first time in four years. The Lions longest stretch of finishing in B-class (Bottom 3) prior to 2014-2016 was 1979-1981, where it was the first three years as Seibu Lions in Tokorozawa. The 1979 Lions were an inherited mess, coming from a team with no identity, scandal and multiple sales in the previous decade. It was also the last year they came in dead last place in the Pacific League.

Coming into the year, Seibu was not a popular pick for A-class under new manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji. There were pitching question marks as well as a poor defense in 2016 that Tsuji needed to fix. The consensus feeling on the Lions was that the could hit at will, but not out-hit their pitching staff.

In the era of the Climax Series (since 2007), the Lions have only advanced to the final round twice in 2008 and 2011.They come in second place three times in 2010, 2012 and 2013, but came up short each time. The Lions did advance as the second place team when the Pacific League exclusively had a playoff in 2004, where that team won the Japan Series.

Rakuten is a recent expansion team due to the merger of Orix Blue Wave and Kintetsu Buffaloes coming the Orix Bufaloes. This is only their third year in A-class and in their last trip back in 2013, they won the Japan Series.

The Eagles were a trendy surprise A-class pick among the three teams who finished in B-class for 2016. They added ex-Lion Takayuki Kishi in the offseason and manager Masataka Nashida had them trending up offensively based on his track record.

In 2009, the first Climax Series appearance for the Eagles, Rakuten came in second place and swept the Softbank Hawks to make the final round. Neither team has faced each other in a postseason series until now.

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Rotation

The Lions are likely to use Yusei Kikuchi, but the question of who comes afterwards is anyone's guess. Ryoma Nogami has done a good job to stay in the rotation for the whole year. Ken Togame was initially the team's 6th starter, but showed he belonged with the ichi-gun.

Brian Wolfe carried the load for most of the first half, but has fallen off on the second half. Shinsaburo Tawata is also intriguing after he had a slow start, but has been respectable in the second half. There are plenty of options, but the decision on who to play after Kikuchi is the question mark.

It was announced that Kikuchi will take Game 1, Togame will take Game 2. Nogami or Tawata could be going if there is a Game 3.

The Eagles three probable pitchers are clear cut in comparison. Takahiro Norimoto is the team's ace and Kishi is part of the 1-2 punch. A potential Game 3 could be an interesting decision for Nashida, but it will likely be Minabu Mima as the third pitcher.

Norimoto and Kishi are a better duo than the combination that the Lions put out on paper and have the experience as well when adding Mima. Eagles get an advantage given the Lions uncertainty.

Edge: Eagles

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Bullpen

It was Rakuten's bullpen as one of the biggest flaws in 2016. They would get quality starts only to have the bullpen crumble. This year, Yuki Matsui had a rebound season and Hiroyuki Fukuyama had an unbelievable stretch without allowing a run to begin the year. Frank Herrmann and Yuhei Takanashi are also intriguing options if needed.

Despite the quality and turnaround, the second half has not been kind to the Eagles where Matsui was injured. The rest of the team went through a funk which trickled to the bullpen. Do we get a first half or second half Eagles bullpen in the postseason?

The Lions also had a strong first half where Tatsushi Masuda has remained the closer where there were some hiccups. Tsuji rode Kazuhisa Makita and Brian Schlitter for the 7th and 8th innings where both were solid in the first half. Other options out of the bullpen include lefty specialists Shota Takekuma, Shogo Noda and Tomomi Takahashi, who is coming off Tommy John surgery.

Like the Eagles, the Lions had an awful second half in middle relief where Makita and Schlitter struggled to protect a lead. The Lions were able to win due to blowing out their competition in games, but when everything is on the line, the bullpen is more likely to falter.

Based on "What have you done for me lately?", both sides are an even matchup as they limp into the postseason. However, the Lions have better depth and more options compared to the Eagles.

Edge: Lions

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First Base

"Ginji" Akaminai has moved around the infield for his career but will likely start at 1B for the series. He was a clutch player from that 2013 team and has the grit for the postseason with his experience.

Hotaka Yamakawa burst onto the scene in the second half of the year for the Lions and has kept his job at first base. His defense and range aren't as impressive at Ginji, but he has the pop to do damage as he won player of the month for August.

Ginji is the more proven player, but Yamakawa's pop and recent trends give him a slight advantage for Seibu.

Edge: Lions

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Second Base

Hideto Asamura is coming off another solid season in his first year as the team's captain. Hovering close to .300 and coming just shy of 100 RBI and 20 HRs, Asamura continues to bat in the heart off the order for the Lions with adequate defense.

Kazuya Fujita is a defensive whiz known for his range and fielder. He has an above average bat for a second baseman, but hasn't been healthy for most of the year.

Asamura has the advantage based on the level of his bat alone. Fujita's only argument is what he does with his glove.

Edge: Lions

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Third Base

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura has been limited for most of the year and has dropped in the Lions batting order. His defense is decent, but he hasn't hit for average in 2017 with only pop.

Zelous Wheeler is having a good season bumping up his average above .270 while reaching the 30 HR benchmark for the first time in NPB. He's also versatile enough to play in the outfield if the Eagles need him.

Combining the pop that both players provide, there's no question that Wheeler has the edge comparing these two. His defense and batting average are better, no doubt.

Edge: Eagles

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Shortstop

Sosuke Genda is likely to win Pacific League rookie of the year by leading the league in stolen bases and having the third highest number of hits for a first year player. His defense has been magical, giving the Lions new life even though he has several errors.

Eigoro Mogi should have won the rookie of the year award last season and had an MVP caliber first half. However, injuries and platooning have limited Mogi's appearances as he wasn't in every game.

Genda is the faster player who is better defensively, but Mogi's bat is stronger without a doubt. When Mogi is healthy, he's a core-four player for the Eagles, giving them the advantage here.

Edge: Eagles

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Outfield

Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki are probably the fastest outfield trio in NPB. All three of them have range, but not the greatest arms. Tonosaki earned his starting job after impressing in left field, which later became right field. Akiyama is coming off a career year with 25 HRs, even though he had 216 hits in 2015. Defending stolen base king Kaneko is still dangerous on the bases as Tonosaki joins him with great speed.

The Eagles used Hiroaki Shimauchi and Carlos Peguero for majority of the season in the OF. Takero Okajima was an all-star for 2016, but had fallen off in 2017. Louis Okoye has been the most intriguing position prospect as a raw talent, but injuries have made his ichi-gun season short.

While Okoye has a lot of potential to do damage, the Lions outfield is more well-rounded and balanced with a proven track record compared to Rakuten's.

Edge: Lions

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Catcher

Ginjiro Sumitani and Motohiro Shima have both played for Samurai Japan, where the former replaced the latter in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Shima has the better reputation, but had a poor season at the plate.

Sumitani has been smarter as a hitter this year while likely benefiting from BABIP. He hasn't been an everyday catcher with Masatoshi Okada getting some games, but his defense is unquestioned. Based on 2017. Gin-chan gets the nod.

Edge: Lions

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Manager

Hatsuhiko Tsuji entered his first season as a manager after spending several years as a coach. He made his goal simple, which was to focus on defense. Obviously has no track record or postseason experience being the man in charge until now.

Masataka Nashida has led the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to Pacific League pennants in 2001 and 2008, respectively. In both outings, his teams would lose the Japan Series. When hired, this was initially viewed as a retread, but it made plenty of sense for an Eagles team who struggled offensively in 2015 under Dave Okubo. Nashida was the predecessor to current Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama.

Under Nashida, the Eagles offense has taken off with less stolen bases, but stronger as a hitting team. Plate discipline and hitting were his strengths at improving the Fighters when Trey Hillman left and it has carried over to Sendai.

With Nashida being more experienced, he has a slight edge over Tsuji, but you can make a good argument for the Lions skipper.

Edge: Eagles

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History: 

The Seibu Lions went 16-8-1 against the Eagles in 2017, which included a 10-game winning streak in the midst of this. Kikuchi also has an eight game streak of beating the Eagles.

Rakuten was strong in the first half when playing Norimoto and Kishi, but the Lions emerged victorious against the bullpen and back end of the Eagles bullpen.

Nashida's last playoff game was in 2011, which was fittingly against the Lions. It was the last time the Lions won a postseason series and was also the final time Yu Darvish played in NPB for the Fighters. This record means all but nothing as the Eagles will put out their best pitchers and should be a challenge.

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Outlook:

The Eagles looked like a pennant winning team in the first half of the year, but fell off the moment Yuki Matsui and Carlos Peguero were injured and the bullpen regressed. The offense wasn't clicking like it was in the first half, while the Lions went on a surge with a 13-game win streak.

Norimoto, Kishi and Mima will still be a tough matchup for the Lions as it is arguably more talented. Does the first half Rakuten team show up or the one we've seen since August?

For the Lions, the bats have been red hot since Yamakawa emerged as the starting 1B and the pitching held its ground. While we can't predict what will happen, we'll find out if the Lions can hit on Norimoto and Kishi. If not, they'll be in for a low scoring affair as the Rakuten starters are capable of stealing one in Tokorozawa.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Report: Seibu Lions announce 8 Senryokugai players


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced eight players on their Senryokugai list for 2017. They will not be returning to the team next season.

C Tatsuyuki Uemoto, IF Shogo Kimura, IF Yuji Onizaki, P Toshihiro Iwao, IF Naoto Watanabe, P Isamu Sato, OF Yutaro Osaki and OF Shotaro Tashiro were announced as the players who will be cut.

Kimura was an initial signing after a tryout in 2016 during spring camp. He tore his ACL in the middle of 2016 and spent the beginning of this season as an ikusei in recovery. Kimura played in three games, only recording one hit.

Uemoto was the top pinch hit option in 2016 under Norio Tanabe, but fell out in favor of others including Ryo Sakata, Takumi Kuriyama and other spell players for the role. After playing in 67 games for 2016, he only appeared in 11 where he was on the ichi-gun, but didn't play. He plans to retire.

Onizaki came from the Swallows in a trade for Chikara Onodera and served as a utility infielder. With Sosuke Genda taking the reins at SS, there was no room for Onizaki on the ichi-gun.

Watanabe was another depth option for the infield, but he fell out in favor of Nien Ting Wu and Shuta Tonosaki. He was also a pinch hitter with a decent glove, but will be 37 later this month.

Iwao was a promising pitcher who could strikeout others, but lacked control and failed to make the ichi-gun in 2017. He was a third round pick in 2009.

Osaki was a starting OF in 2012, where he mostly spent his career as a spell outfielder. His role continued to diminish as time went on and he failed to play an ichi-gun game in 2017. A report indicates that he will retire while Kimura is still looking for work.

Sato, 23, is the youngest of the players on this list and fell out of favor for other pitchers on the roster. He made his way up to the ichi-gun in 2016 where he earned one win. He was also involved in a driving accident, which led to a team suspension. In 14 ni-gun games, Sato recorded a 10.64 ERA in 11 innings.

Tashiro was an opening starter at right field known for his range and speed. However, his lack of hitting would result in reduced playing time. Under Norio Tanabe and previous managers, he was a pinch runner and defensive replacement.

Seven roster spots are officially open for the Lions with these players not returning. A decision will be made on all foreign imports soon, which could leave even more openings. The Lions already released Alexis Candelario earlier this year, giving the team eight open spaces.

The NPB Draft will take place on October 26.

The Lions also announced who would be going to Miyazaki prefecture for the fall 2017 Phoenix League. Here is how the roster shapes up:

Pitchers:

Tatsuya Oishi, Takuya Toyoda, Shunta Nakatsuka, Seiji Kawagoe, Ryohei Fujiwara, Hirotaka Koishi, Tadasuke Minamikawa, Ichiro Tamura, Makoto Aiuchi, Keisuke Honda, Tsubasa Kokuba, Frank Garces, Naoaki Matsumoto, Koki Fujita, Stephen Fife

Infielders: 

Nien Ting Wu, Haruka Yamada, Kazuki Kaneko

Catchers: 

Hitoto Komazuki, Shota Nakata, Komei Fujisawa

Outfielders:

Masato Kumashiro, Shotaro Tashiro, Daisuke Togawa

The Phoenix League starts on October 9 and will go until the 30th.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Second place, home series secured


The Saitama Seibu Lions guaranteed a second place finish in the Pacific League with a 1-2 week against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in a shortened home stand. Here is what happened:

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The first game had Takahiro Norimoto facing Ken Togame. After a scoreless battle of Houdinis, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a two-out timely single to plate Hotaka Yamakawa in the bottom of the 4th for a 1-0 lead.

Togame was cruising through five innings, but Zelous Wheeler hit a two-run HR in the top of the 6th and ended his night early to give the Eagles a lead. It was the only downside to Togame's night, where he had six strikeouts and eight hits allowed.

The bases were loaded for the Lions in the bottom of the 6th, but Norimoto struck out Masatoshi Okada and ended the threat. Norimoto's night was done after 130 pitches as the bullpen carried the remaining load.

Daichi Mizuguchi was caught stealing in the 8th to end a chance at a rally. The bottom of the 9th saw Ernesto Mejia lining out as a pinch hitter to end the game as the Eagles kept the last three innings scoreless.

Eagles 2, Lions 1

Game note:

-Kyohei Nagae was called up to the roster.

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The second game from the series had Minabu Mima facing Yusei Kikuchi. Ginjiro Sumitani hit a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd for the first blood of the game. An error from Kikuchi in the third inning tied the game as he failed to throw the ball to first base. Carlos Peguero added a timely single to give the Eagles a lead.

This wouldn't last long as Hotaka Yamakawa hit a two-run HR for his 22nd of the season. Kikuchi struggled with control and even Kona Takahashi was in the bullpen warming up. He would overcome several walks to keep the Lions one-run lead.

With the third time through the order penalty hitting Mima, the Lions took advantage in the bottom of the 6th. Tomoya Mori slapped an RBI double and a sacrifice fly from Takumi Kuriyama made it 5-2.

The Eagles got a run back on an RBI groundout by Kazuya Fujita in the 7th and they threatened again in the top of the 8th. Rakuten loaded the bases with no outs having two walks and a bunt fielder's choice.

Taishi Nakagawa and Yuichi Adachi struck out with Motohiro Shima as the last hope. He flew out to centerfield and the Houdini was completed.

The Lions pulled away in the bottom of the 8th where Ginjiro Sumitani hit a two-run HR for his second bomb of the night. Genda added an RBI triple and Akiyama hit a two-run HR of his own to make it 10-3.

Shota Takekuma closed out the game as the Lions secured a split.

Lions 10, Eagles 3

Game notes:

-With that triple, Genda passed Shigeo Nagashima for third most hits for a rookie as it was his 154th of the season.

-Shogo Akiyama hit his 25th HR of the year, good for second on the team.

-This would be Kikuchi's 16th win of the year, tying for the Pacific League lead.

-Shogo Saito was added to the ichi-gun with Daichi Mizuguchi being deactivated.

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The final matchup of the regular season had the Fighters come in with Yuki Yoshida and the Lions had Brian Wolfe. Toshitake Yokoo slapped a base hit with the bases loaded in the top of the first for the opening runs.

Sosuke Genda hit an RBI triple and scored on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2 Fighters after one inning. Wolfe couldn't get a shutdown inning as the Fighters scored both of those runs back off timely hits from Taishi Ota and Kensuke Kondo.

Both runs would come back with solo HRs by Mori and Okawari-kun. Both teams exchanged a run in the 4th inning, where Wolfe couldn't finish his portion of the frame. The game was tied in the bottom of the 5th when Yamakawa hit a solo HR. 

The tie was broken again as T. Ota would hit two-run HR off Tomomi Takahashi in the top of the 6th. Hirotoshi Masui gave the Lions one last chance with two runners on base, but Shuta Tonosaki struck out and end the game.

Fighters 8, Lions 6

Game notes:

-The Lions finished 17-8 against the Fighters in 2017.

-Rakuten would have a tie against the Chiba Lotte Marines on Wednesday, so the Lions secured second place and will be hosting the playoff series.

-Genda recorded his 10th triple of the season, a new rookie record.  He also became the 4th rookie to play in every inning in his rookie season, the first since Sadayuku Tokutake in 1961. 

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The postseason will begin on October 14. We here at Graveyard Baseball will provide a preview ahead with an outside shot of a podcast recording. We apologize for all the non-podcasts that have happened in the last two months due to technical computer difficulties and both of us going through transitions in our lives.

There will be a preview in writing guaranteed as they take on the Eagles, which will be a best two out of three series. We're looking forward to playoff baseball, something we as Oakland A's fans haven't done in a few years.

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Translation: Interview with Nien Ting Wu


Pacific League TV recently uploaded an interview from Saitama Seibu Lions infielder Nien Ting Wu, which is all in Mandarin targeting the audience in Taiwan and anyone else who can speak the language.

Wu, 24, has been a reserve infielder for the Lions as he was a 7th round draft pick in 2015. He does not count against the foreign import limit as he went to school in Japan (hence he was drafted). Wu has connections with the Lions as his father played in Japan's industrial leagues and even managed a team in CPBL.

Last season, he received extra playing time with the Lions on the infield, mostly at SS as the season was winding to a close. This year, he was called up late in the 2017 season and has been at 3B, but practicing all positions in ni-gun.

Thanks to some help, we've been able to write a transcript of this interview. Here is what he said:

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With your recent stay in the 1st team, can you shed some light on how do you approach the games? What sort of attitude you have going into the game? 

"If I get the opportunity to play, I will do my best to perform and impress the coaches and management. I'm hoping for more opportunities to start in the future."  

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Let's talk about the second team (ni-gun), while you're in the minor league, you have drawn quite a lot of walks at the same time topping the Eastern League in OBP.  Do you feel a lot more confident in terms of your plate discipline this season? 

"My hitting strategy is still the same as last year, but in ni-gun, I aimed to get on base more, while maintaining a high batting average. In doing so, it increased my chance being call up to the first team (ichi-gun)."

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Having played various positions in the minor league, do you find yourself being more confident when it comes to adjusting to different positions? 

"I take it one step at the time, as I see being able to cover more than one position will benefit me in the long run within the organization. It's a slow transition as I started the year at shortstop. I'm just trying to get more comfortable at different positions and trying to gain more experiences for next year." 

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We know there are a lot of competent hitters within the Seibu Lions organization. Do you learn anything from them being on the same team? 

"When I'm struggling, I always ask the "senior players" for help. In general, they're all very happy to help me out. For example, I'll ask Hideto Asamura when it comes to fielding. Shogo Akiyama will get hitting related questions. Takumi Kuriyama will share his past experiences as a rookie. I am very fortunate being able to play alongside with those senior players as I really learn a lot from them." 

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Let's switch from hitting to pitching. There are a lot of pitchers in the Pacific League who also played for Samurai Japan. Can you tell us, among those pitchers, who left the most unique impression to you? 

"The deepest impression? Last year, I had more opportunities to hit. So far, I've encountered Takahiro Norimoto, Kodai Senga and Shohei Otani. For Otani, I never faced anyone who throws as hard as him. With Norimoto, I was a surprised by his dominating presence on the mound." 

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Let's switch from Japan to Taiwan. We know when you were in high school you have a younger teammate named "Chen Chieh-Hsien" who is now playing in CPBL for the Uni-Lions. Chen is currently hitting over .400 in batting average this season. Does a player like Chen performing well motivate you? 


"Definitely. During my senior year of high school, we were teammates covering the middle infield together. From time to time, I do watch CPBL to see how Chen's doing. I feel very motivated when he's shining in Taiwan. I hope one day we can get the opportunity to play on the same team in NPB again." 

Side note: Wu went through the Japanese education system, played for Okayama Kenkyosei High School. Chen Chieh-Hsien went 3-for-3 against Samurai Japan's Tomoyuki Sugano and Ayumu Ishikawa earlier this year in a friendly. There are several NPB scouts in Taiwan observing Chen this season. A benefit of signing Chen is he does not take up a foreign player spot on the roster like Wu. He would likely be eligible for NPB after 2018. 

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Lastly, we want to invite you to share a few words to fans in Taiwan. 

"The 2017 season is almost over. I will continue to work hard and I hope to perform even better next year. I would like to ask fans to continue to cheer me on and thank you for supporting me."

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Special thanks goes to Rob (@GOCPBL) and Vivien Wong for translation help. 

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