Friday, August 31, 2018
The NPB regular season is winding down with a little more than a month remaining. Some teams have pulled away from the pack, while others have hung in there.
Here's how things look as August just concluded:
1. [^] (2) Hiroshima Carp: 69-44-2; 17-9-1 in August
The Carp have the Central League pennant all but locked up as we continue to talk about magic numbers, which currently stands at 19. Coming off a road sweep of the Yomiuri Giants all but ends any chance of a comeback or collapse. Only question is, who should be the MVP? Yoshihiro Maru or Seiya Suzuki? They're lighting it all up. It's also good to see Kris Johnson secure a 10-win season after having an injury-riddled one last year.
2. [v] (1) Saitama Seibu Lions: 68-45-2; 15-10-1 in August
The Lions are still maintaining first place, but there is quite a race behind them. Best thing for them is how the bullpen has turned things around with a shuffle of personnel. Deunte Heath has been great at closer, Shogo Noda and Katsunori Hirai have rebounded, Hiromasa Saito has come in to contribute and even recent import signing Kyle Martin has shown flashes of brilliance.
Starting pitching might be running out of gas, but the offense is already elite. If they can bullpen their way to wins with that offense, lookout.
3. [^] (10) Fukuoka Softbank Hawks: 61-50-1; 18-6 in August
The Softbank Hawks are back. A nine-game win streak at the end of the month had them as close as five games behind the Lions, making it possible for a shot at their second straight pennant. They still have 7 head-to- head games against the Lions to make some noise.
After some younger players have gone through growing pains, the team as a whole hasn't missed a beat. Kotaro Otake could be the secret pitching weapon while Yurisbel Gracial has had no trouble filling in for an injured Alfredo Despaigne. Yuki Yanagita is still having an MVP-caliber season.
4. [^] (5) Tokyo Yakult Swallows: 57-56-1; 14-11 in August
The Swallows hang on to A-class with a winning month, something no other Central League team did outside of Hiroshima. As long as he hits .300, Tetsuto Yamada will hit the Triple-3 club for the third time in his career as he just reached 30 stolen bases. Pitching has been up down, but this team has been miles better than last year as they topped their 2017 win total in August. Credit given where it's due as they secured a winning record to end this month.
5. [v] (4) Yomiuri Giants: 58-62-2; 13-13-1 in August
The Giants remain inconsistent where they can play well on some days and not on others. Hiroshima has been their nemesis and for the second year in a row, they've guaranteed a losing head-to-head record against them. Kazuma Okamoto has done a tremendous job carrying them on offense up to this point.
6. [v] (3) Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters: 61-52-3; 10-13-2 in August
The Fighters' pennant chances are starting to fade as the Hawks have leaped them in the rankings and standings. They've had a good run, but it's possible that talent is overtaking them when comparing the rest of the league. Bullpen has been extremely leaky while the hitting is very up and down.
7. [^] (11) Hanshin Tigers: 50-59-1; 11-13 in August
The Hanshin Tigers found a way to leap these rankings by default, given the competition has fallen harder. This team is still poor offensively as first round pick Yusuke Oyama still likes to struggle with runners in scoring position. Starting pitching has prevented this team from falling further, but will it last? They're right on the fringe of A-class, but it's not encouraging to be swept by the Swallows when they should've hit better.
8. [^] (12) Orix Buffaloes: 53-60-5; 11-13-1 in August
The Orix Buffaloes stopped the bleeding from last month, but it might be too little, too late. Takahiro Okada is back, the pitching is still good, but they're far from A-class. Their starters will play a good spoiler role in September, but is the bullpen out of gas? If anything, at least Masataka Yoshida has been healthy and remains a fun player to watch.
9. [=] (9) Chunichi Dragons: 53-66-1; 11-15 in August
This team should be in dead last by a mile given their bullpen, but Dayan Viciedo's amazing month prevents further failure. They have to trust the process, but it's hard to wait when the younger players are still growing and going through the struggles.
10. [v] (6) Chiba Lotte Marines: 52-58-3; 9-14 in August
Nobody picked the Marines to finish in A-class. It appears reality has sunk in since the All-Star break with pitching depth being exposed and injuries to Mike Bolsinger and Ayumu Ishikawa hurting the group. They're getting good production out of Yuki Ariyoshi, but this bullpen has been hard to watch, like the rest of the league.
The question lies, do you just play Kazuya Fukuura so he can get to 2,000 career hits, but hurt the team or do you keep trying for A-class? Fukuura has 1992 career hits right now.
11. [v] (8) Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles: 47-66-3; 8-15-2 in August
The Eagles avoided the Power Rankings cellar for a second month in a row despite their record. Seven of their 15 losses were by one run, showing that this group is competing and playing well in some aspects. Taking away their 6-16 record against the Lions, they have a combined 35-38-3 record against all four other Pacific League teams. The starting is still competing while Kazuki Tanaka continues to get the production that was initially thought to come from Louis Okoye.
Japhet Amador's ban after getting popped for drugs is a good thing in the long term, as the Eagles need younger players to showcase themselves. What will Kenji Nishimaki do as Eigoro Mogi is out? They should be a decent spoiler like Orix.
12. [v] (7) Yokohama DeNA Baystars: 51-62-2; 10-15 in August
The Baystars are playing like a last place team despite not being there. Safe to say, this is a huge disappointing season for Alex Ramirez's squad after making the Japan series last year. Starting pitching is being carried by rookie Katsuki Azuma, which not a good thing from a team standpoint.
Offensively, they're too home run dependent with inflated numbers given their ballpark. It's likely they're wasting a year of Toshiro Miyazaki and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 6:09 AM
Sunday, August 26, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 2-4 against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, where their lead has been cut to 5 games ahead of the latter. Here's what happened:
Game one came from Tokyo Dome featuring Yuki Ariyoshi and Shinsaburo Tawata. The Lions had first blood on a timely hit by Hideto Asamura after Sosuke Genda stole second base. Shuta Tonosaki added another through a timely hit in the fourth.
Tawata looked like he was cruising through four innings, but trouble came in the 5th. He successfully recovered from a wild pitch and tagged out Katsuya Kakunaka at the plate, but walked two more batters as the bases were loaded. After a long at-bat, former Fighters OF Hiromi Oka tied the game with a bases-loaded hit up the middle. Yudai Fujoka added another timely to give the Marines the lead while Shogo Nakamura hit a three-run HR, all with two outs.
Tonosaki hit a two-run HR in the 6th to cut the lead in half, but it was too late. The Lions best chance came with two runners on in the 8th, but Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura grounded into a fielder's choice and Takumi Kuriyama struck out as the Lions lost the opener.
Marines 6, Lions 4
-Makoto Aiuchi, Brian Wolfe and Shota Takekuma were taken off the roster to make room for Tatsushi Masuda, Ryuya Ogawa and Masato Kumashiro. Ogawa made his Lions debut in the 6th inning and gave up one hit, but no runs. Masuda allowed a hit and walk, but no damage.
-The Lions finished the 2018 regular season going 1-6 in Tokyo Dome against the Marines, Giants and Fighters combnied.
Game two was in Chiba as Tomohito Sakai faced Tatsuya Imai. The Lions struck first off a sacrifice fly from Hotaka Yamakawa and timely hit from Tomoya Mori for a 2-0 lead in the first. The Marines tied it in the third when Tatsuhiro Tamura hit a solo HR and a throwing error by Asamura allowed another.
A timely hit from Shunichi Nemoto gave the Marines a lead in the fourth inning at 3-2. Offense turned it around in the 7th, when Sakai was left in and the Lions went on a tear. After a bunt by Masatoshi Okada to move two runners over, Shogo Akiyama hit a gapper and both of them scored. Two more tmiely hits from Genda and Asamura padded the lead and it was all capped off by a HR from Hotaka Yamakawa.
Chiba never recovered from this six-run inning and the Lions were able to use Ogawa and Sho Ito for the ninth as Imai earned his third win.
Lions 8, Marines 3
The final game had Tanner Scheppers facing Daiki Enokida. It was a slow start after a timely hit from Seiya Inoue in the first for a 1-0 lead. Scheppers looked like he was cruising, but a two-run HR from Akiyama came in the 6th. Enokida went 6.1 innings with seven strikeouts while earning a shutdown inning in the bottom of the frame.
Yuji Kaneko added two more runs with a bases loaded single off the Marines bullpen in the 7th, where Daichi Suzuki misfielded a ball that went his way. Katsunori Hirai allowed an inherited runner to score through an RBI groundout, but limited the damage in the bottom of the 7th.
Kyle Martin had two runners on base in the 8th, but got Katsuya Kakunaka to flyout and escape unscathed. Deunte Heath closed it out in the 9th to secure the victory and series win.
Lions 4, Marines 2
-Imai was the corresponding move to make room for Enokida on the ichi-gun.
The Lions traveled west to Fukuoka with Yusei Kikuchi taking on Softbank Hawks ace Kodai Senga. Kenta Imamiya hit a Rickey Henderson HR to begin the bottom of the 1st for a 1-0 Hawks lead. Asamura tied it with a timely single, but Kikuchi coughed up the lead again with a two-run HR to Yuki Yanagita.
Okawari-kun brought the Lions within one run with a solo HR, but that was all the scoring. Kikuchi went all eight innings and lost his 13th game against the Hawks in 18 attempts as he's now 0-13. Several times the Lions stranded a a runner on second base, including in the 9th when Yuito Mori was pitching. Takumi Kuriyama ended up striking out to end it and lose the first game.
Hawks 3, Lions 2
Game two had Ken Togame against import signing Ariel Miranda. Nobuhiro Matsuda just continued his mastery of Togame with a timely hit in the first and a solo HR in the 4th to make it 2-0 and a sacrifice fly added a third run. Tatsushi Masuda gave up a couple solo HRs to put this game away. Offensively, the Lions were only able to muster up some walks and Miranda had a no-hitter going into the 9th inning.
Shogo Akiyama broke it up in the 9th inning with a hit off the right field wall. Asamura ended a shutout by plating him with a double, but it was already too late as the Lions lost their second straight.
Hawks 5, Lions 1
-Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura played his 1,500th career NPB game and was honored in the 5th inning.
The final game had Kotaro Otake facing Chun-Lin Kuo, where the latter made his first ichi-gun start in more than two years. A two-run HR by Yuki Yanagita and grand slam from Kenta Imamiya should have ended this one early, but the Lions scored eight runs through the next seven innings while Kuo was able to eat six of them.
Despite all of this, Katsunori Hirai gave up a two-run HR to Yanagita to tie it. Both teams had chances in extra innings, but the Lions stranded the bases loaded in the 11th as their best opporunity. With Hiromasa Saito taking the 12th, he let one runner on base and gave him a free pass to second with a bad pickoff attempt. He allowed one more hit, which prompted Tatsushi Masuda to come in with inherited runners. Imamiya walked and Yurisbel Gracial hit a sayonara grand slam to end it, sweeping the Lions in the process.
Hawks 12, Lions 8 (12 innings)
It's officially time to panic. The Lions have a lead, but the pitching is not there when it's needed. Even worse, Masuda is still awful and hasn't shown any progress since he was taken off the ichi-gun roster. Maybe it's overreaction, but pitching can win or lose the day and the Lions don't have an ace. Is this the same Lions who collapsed in 2015 or the one who rebounds like 2017? Time will tell, but being swept in Fukuoka is the norm at this point, like it has been since 2008.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 1:59 AM
Sunday, August 19, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-2-1 against the Orix Buffaloes and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for a six game home stand. They're now 6.5 games up on the Fighters for one of their largest leads of the season as they remain on top of the Pacific League.
Here is how it all happened:
Game 1 against Orix had Shinsaburo Tawata against Andrew Albers. This was a nightmare start for Tawata, where he failed to record an early out and two runs came home on a throwing error by Hideto Asamura. Timely hits continued and made it 6-0 in the first.
The Lions chipped away at the lead with solo HRs from Shuta Tonosaki and Ernesto Mejia. Albers was eventually chased in the bottom of the 6th, as Hotaka Yamakawa hit a two-run HR.
It wasn't until the 8th inning where the Lions tied it off Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Timely hits came from Tomoya Mori and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura with the latter coming with two outs. Despite the disaster first inning, Tawata went seven more frames and didn't allow an extra run
Deunte Heath pitched a clean 9th inning while Kyle Martin had a double play in the 10th to keep it tied. Yamakawa beat out a double play in the 10th with a head slide. Mori took the next pitch into the gap and Yamakawa scored from first for a sayonara win. It was Mori's third sayonara of 2018.
Lions 7, Buffaloes 6 (10 innings)
-Fumikazu Kimura and Daiki Enokida were taken off the roster for Sho Ito and Aito Takeda with the latter making his first career ichi-gun start. Takeda went 0-2.
Game 2 was Kona Takahashi facing Taisuke Yamaoka, where the latter made his first start since July 28. This game featured all home runs as Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a two-run HR in the first while Tonosaki responded with a solo HR.
Masataka Yoshida hit a broken bat two-run HR in the third and that all but sealed the game in the third. Takahashi still went six innings despite giving up four runs.
The Lions once again chipped away at the lead with solo HRs from Okawari-kun and Yamakawa, but they continued to strand the runner on second base throughout the night. They had one final chance with Tonosaki on second base, but pinch hitter Takumi Kuriyama hit a liner right to the left fielder to end it.
Buffaloes 4, Lions 3
The final game of this series had a rematch of Tatsuya Imai facing Brandon Dickson. This was a pitcher's duel which featured stranding runners all night long. Imai conceded a run early, but the Lions couldn't punch in a run of their own until the 8th inning, where Yamakawa hit a solo HR.
Later in the 8th, there was a two out chance for Kuriyama and he got a base hit, but Tomoya Mori couldn't touch home plate on review and was ruled out. Both side went scoreless in extras where Mori stranded two more runners in the 12th to create an even stalemate.
Lions 1, Buffaloes 1 (12 innings)
The homestand continued as the Fighters came to town with Mizuki Hori against Yusei Kikuchi. Ryo Watanabe hit a solo HR in the second while Nishikawa also had a timely hit for a 2-0 Fighters lead. Yamakawa hit another solo HR in the 2th for his fourth in a row in as many games. Okawari-kun tied the game in the 5th with a solo HR for his 20th of the year.
Two sacrifice fly balls led to a manufactured run in the 6th for the Lions as they took the lead at 3-2. Kikuchi stayed in the 7th and this backfired as Kensuke Kondo and Brandon Laird had timely hits to give the Fighters the lead once again. Kyle Martin allowed a late 9th inning HR from Sho Nakata to seal it as the Fighters took the first game.
Fighters 5, Lions 3
-Aito Takeda and Kona Takahashi were deactivated to make room for starter Ken Togame and Yuji Kaneko with the latter making his return in this game. He scored the initial go-ahead run off the sacrifice fly.
Game two had Ken Togame up against Naoyuki Uwasawa. This one had an early start to the scoring with Shogo Akiyama hitting a Rickey Henderson HR and Okawari-kun htiting a two-run HR to make it 3-0. Togame gave up a flurry of hits and the game was tied 3-3/
Hotaka Yamakawa had a timely single after Sosuke Genda stole second to make it 4-3 in the third , but the Fighters tied it again in the 5th, but Togame didn't leave trailing after his outing was done.
Makoto Aiuchi struggled in the 6th and walked multiple batters, giving up the go-ahead run. Hiromasa Saito looked like he would fold under pressure and gave up a run through a wild pitch to Kensuke Kondo and it was 6-4.
The best chance for the Lions came in the bottom of the 8th, where they loaded the bases against Michael Tonkin with two walks and a hit. Takumi Kuriyama pinch hit for the catcher and grounded out to bring in a run. This led to the DH being removed as Mori was put in the field.
Yuji Kaneko hit a triple with the outfield playing in and both runners scored to make it 7-6. Deunte Heath closed it out in the 9th adn the Lions stole one.
Lions 7, Fighters 6
-Genda's stolen base was his 30th of the season.
The final game had a battle of foreigners with Brian Wolfe against Nick Martinez. Sho Nakata started the scoring with a two-out timely for the first blood. Hideto Asamura responded with a solo HR. After the Lions stranded runners in the third, the Fighters got another two-out timely hit from Ryo Watanabe.
Shuta Tonosaki responded with a solo HR in the 4th to tie it again at 2-2. It wasn't until the 6th when Shinya Tsuruoka broke the tie with a hit down the RF line. Watanabe added another to make it 4-2 as he earned a modasho. It took an even harder 7th inning when Shota Takekuma left two runners on base for Katsunori Hirai. A strikeout and a lineout double play prevented further damage.
The Lions got their chance in the bottom of the 7th, where Kaneko plated one run after initially showing bunt. They successfully loaded the bases with two walks, one by Kuriyama and another from Akiyama. With Asamura hitting, he made no doubt with a grand slam to give the Lions a lead.
This one still was far from over as Kyle Martin loaded the bases with three walks. However, he got a strikeout on Haruki Nishikawa and Kensuke Kondo grounded out for a tough Houdini and shutdown frame. Deunte Heath had minimal trouble closing this one out like the last game.
Lions 7, Fighters 4
This was a solid week when they were a few outs away from facing defeat. Thrilling wins and hopefully the Fighters are demoralized from the last series. It's been a whacky week, but the Lions fans and team will take what we're getting.
The biggest concern is how the teams is home run dependent, needing to not rely on HRs for the only offense, but it was a fine result to build up the lead on the Fighters as they're 6.5 up. Lions need to take advantage of this in the coming weeks.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 5:53 AM
Sunday, August 12, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-2 against the Orix Buffaloes and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for the six-game road trip. They gained ground on the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters as their lead is now at five games.
Plenty of offense from this week as well as a a debut took place besides some milestones. Here is how it all went down:
The first game against Orix featured Shinsaburo Tawata against Andrew Albers. Takeya "Okawari-kun" started the scoring in the top of the second with a two-run HR. By plating two runs, he reached the milestone of 1,000 career RBIs.
Timely hits from Hideto Asamura and Shuta Tonosaki made it 4-0 and Tawata put this game on cruise control. Tawata couldn't get the shutout after leaving the game in the 8th where he tripped over a bat, but still recorded nine strikeouts and only one walk without allowing a run.
Tomoya Mori hit a two-run HR to put the game away for good. Shogo Noda and Makoto Aiuchi closed it out with no problem.
Lions 6, Buffaloes 0
-This was the Lions first shutout victory since June 1 against the Hanshin Tigers.
Game two had Kona Takahashi making his 2018 ichi-gun debut against Chihiro Kaneko. The Lions scored early and often with timely hits from Hotaka Yamakawa and Okawari-kun for a 4-0 lead. Takahashi gave back two of those runs, but limited the damage.
This game had Takahashi walking the tight rope, but getting the key out and continuously stranding runners. Orix eventually tied this game in the 4th and it was seesaw battle. Ernesto Mejia hit a sac fly in the 6th and Takahashi picked up the shut down inning in the bottom of the frame to put himself in line for a win.
Okawari-kun hit his 4th home run in as many games in the top of the 8th with two outs and gave the Lions some insurance to make it 7-4. Neil Wagner was brought in for the bottom of the frame after Shogo Noda and Katsunori Hirai worked a solid 7th. He failed miserably allowing multiple hits and making it a one-run game in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and a full count, Hiromasa Saito got a ground ball for an out and escaped with a lead. Deunte Heath closed it out without trouble to take the series.
Lions 7, Buffaloes 6
The final game from Kansai featured Tatsuya Imai against Brandon Dickson. Orix scored first through a timely by Masataka Yoshida. Tomoya Mori responded with a two-run HR and Shogo Akiyama added a solo HR in the 5th to make it 3-1. Imai looked like he was cruising, but gave up several hits in the 5th and led to a meltdown inning.
With two outs and trailing 3-2, Imai allowed a grand slam to Yoshida which gave the Buffaloes an insurmountable lead. Shota Takekuma gave up a run in the 7th and the Lions tried a comeback in the 8th with three runs, a solo HR by Yamakawa and a 2-run HR by Okawari-kun, his 5th in five straight games.
The 9th inning had drama too, but Tomoya Mori couldn't get a hit with two runners off Hirotoshi Masui as the win streak ended. Offense was just too home run dependent for the day.
Buffaloes 7, Lions 6
-To make room for Imai, Ichiro Tamura was taken off the roster.
The week shifted to Sendai as Yusei Kikuchi took on Takahiro Shiomi. Eigoro Mogi struck first with a two-run HR, but the Lions responded quickly with HRs of their own. Yamakawa hit a solo HR while Okawari-kun hit a HR in his sixth straight game, good for two more runs.
Kikuchi all but settled in, giving up only a solo HR in the 7th with a larger lead and didn't falter afterwards. The Lions took advantage of an error from Mogi for one run and Tomoya Mori hit a solo HR as well. Shuta Tonosaki and Asamura also had timely hits in this game to make it easy.
Lions 7, Eagles 3
-Kyle Martin was called up while Neil Wagner was taken off the ichi-gun roster. He didn't appear in this game.
Game two had Brian Wolfe facing our old friend Takayuki Kishi. Asamura hit a three-run HR in the top of the first and the Lions batted around the order which knocked Kishi out of the game as he left with a leg injury.
Hiroki Kondo took over from there and the Lions had no trouble scoring off him with two separate three-run innings. Timely hits came from Genda and Akiyama while Yamakawa hit a HR. Okawari-kun's HR streak ended at six games, but he still picked up a timely single.
With plenty of run support, Wolfe went seven shutout innings with five strikeouts and one walk. Makoto Aiuchi struck out the side in the 8th and Kyle Martin made his NPB debut in the 9th, where he hit a batter, but recorded a strikeout and preserved the shutout.
Lions 10, Eagles 0
The final game of the series had Daiki Enokida against Wataru Karashima. Toshiaki Imae scored first with a timely hit.
Mori tied it in the 6th with a timely single after Yamakawa was intentionally walked. This one remained tied as the Lions stranded runners too often after Enokida did the same in the beginning. Enokida ended up going seven innings with a no decision.
It was a left on base party for the entire game as it went to extra innings. No one conceded runs on either side, but Hiromasa Saito suffered in the 12th. With one out, Eigoro Mogi hit a Sayonara two-run HR to salvage one game.
Eagles 3, Lions 1 (12 innings)
This was a solid week with minimal complaint. Sure it's disappointing to not sweep the Eagles, but they were hot coming into the series.
If anything, the bullpen looks more stable with Hirai, Noda and Heath taking the back innings. Kyle Martin has shown more promise than Neil Wagner as well.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 5:23 PM
Sunday, August 5, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-2 this week in a homestand against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. They maintained their lead in the Pacific League race as they're currently up 3.5 games on the Fighters.
Here is how we got there:
The first game against the Hawks had Shinsaburo Tawata against Kodai Senga. This one was like a home run derby, where the Lions have five solo HRs combined from Hideto Asamura, Ernesto Mejia, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Hotaka Yamakawa and Shogo Akiyama. Shuta Tonosaki also brought in a run through bases loaded walk.
Tawata ended up going the distance, allowing four runs in the top of the 9th, but with plenty of run support. It was his fourth complete game of the season and eighth in his career.
Lions 7, Hawks 4
Game 2 featured a debut from Kotaro Otake against Hayato Takagi, making his first start in months where the former was promoted from ikusei. Yamakawa hit a two-run HR in the first, but that was all the glory for the Lions.
The Hawks tattooed Takagi for seven earned runs, where even an error created an inside the park grand slam (though it goes in the books as an hit and error). Tomoya Mori had a consolation grand slam in the 9th, but it was way too late. Otake went eight innings and won his debut with the HR as his only blemish.
Hawks 14, Lions 6
-Haruka Yamada was the corresponding move to make room for Takagi.
-The Lions set a franchise record for being the fastest team to 500 runs through 90 games. Their previous record was reaching 500 runs at 91 games in 1983.
The final game had Tatsuya Imai returning to face Shuta Ishikawa. Softbank scored first off a sac fly in the top of the second, but the Lions erupted in the next frame. Tonosaki hit a two-run HR and Okwari-kun followed up with a solo HR to make it 3-1. Timely hits continued without a home run and the Lions batted around the order for a seven run inning, including a gapper from Sosuke Genda.
This game finished with both sides trading runs, but it was Imai's longest game of his career going seven innings with only two runs allowed, his first win in nearly two months.
Lions 10, Hawks 2
-Ichiro Tamura was called up with Imai. Keisuke Honda and Takagi were the corresponding deactivation moves. Tamura ended up closing the 9th inning.
The biggest home series of the season started over the weekend against the Fighters as Yusei Kikuchi took on Naoyuki Uwasawa. This one had pitcher's duel written all over it, but Shogo Akiyama hit a timely triple for the first blood. The Fighters responded with a three-run fourth inning as Brandon Laird hit a home run.
There wouldn't be life for the Lions until the 7th, where runners were on base and Takumi Kuriyama hit a sac fly. With the bases loaded, Asamura grounded into a double-play ball, but Kazunari Ishii rushed the throw to first, scoring two runners and giving the Lions the lead again. Katsunori Hirai and Deunte Heath ended up being the heroes as they recorded the final seven outs of the game.
Lions 4, Fighters 3
Game 2 was a battle of foreigners as Brian Wolfe returned to face Nick Martinez. Sho Nakata led the scoring with a timely double in the third and a two-run HR in the 5th inning. The Lions continued to strand runners all night despite having 10 hits.
Oswaldo Arcia put the icing on the cake with a two-run HR in the 8th. The Lions scored three in the bottom of the 8th through a HR by Okawari-kun, but it was already too late.
Fighters 6, Lions 3
The final game of the week had Daiki Enokida up against Hirotoshi Takanashi. After Akiyama tripled to start the bottom of the first, Asamura hit a sac fly for a 1-0 Lions lead. This didn't last long, as Arcia hit a two-run HR in the second. An error on Tomoya Mori through a sac bunt had him throw the ball in right field for two more Fighters runs.
Okawari-kun took a pitch deep into the Lions Oendan for a three-run HR in the bottom of the 2nd. With the game staying tied and both sides threatening, the Lions broke through in the 5th when Shuta Tonosaki hit a three-run HR.
After Enokida went five innings, the bullpen took over in the 6th where Katsunori Hirai had no trouble. Shogo Noda and Hiromasa Saito both got double plays in the 7th and 8th. However, Neil Wagner took over after Kensuke Kondo reached base in the 8th and walked Sho Nakata on four pitches. On full count against Brandon Laird, Wagner threw one upstairs and it was chased for a strike three.
Deunte Heath struck out three batters in the 9th for his second save of the week as the Lions took the series. .
Lions 7, Fighters 4
There is still a lot of work to be done and it took a 4-2 week to gain 0.5 games on the Fighters, but better than a loss. Still, this team has potential to do a lot if this bullpen can be fixed. So far, we're seeing progress.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 5:31 AM
Summer Koshien has already begun. Better yet, this is the 100th edition of Japan's National High School Baseball tournament for 2018.
The field has been expanded to 56 from 49 previously./Prefectures who have two schools represent are as follows with the directions:
The Saitama Seibu Lions have had multiple schools represented, but with an expanded field, it's even larger than before and the biggest since we've been writing. Here are all the schools that have a Seibu Lions connection for 2018:
Hansaki Tokuharu (North Saitama): Aito Takeda and Manaya Nishikawa
Hansaki Tokuharu has become the new powerhouse of Saitama and they're the defending Summer Koshien champions. Nishikawa played on that team which won it all and is seen as a future position player. Takeda previously had the family name of Otaki when he was at Hanasaki Tokuharu and was a senior on the 2015 team. He cuold be a future outfielder after he made his ichi-gun debut in 2017. This is the fourth straight year Hanasaki Tokuharu has appeared in Summer Koshien.
Urawa Gakuin (South Saitama): Takuya Toyoda
Urawa Gakuin is making their first appearance in five years. Known as the previous powerhouse of Saitama prefecture, the split field helped them get in. As for Toyoda, he's only seen limited time at the ichi-gun level and hasn't been impressive. It wouldn't be surprising if he's cut after 2018.
Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate): Yusei Kikuchi
This school became famous with Kikuchi when he carried them to the Final Four back in 2009. Shortly after, some pitcher named Shohei Otani became the phenom and appeared in a Spring Koshien game, only to lose to Osaka Toin and Shintaro Fujinami. Kikuchi had plenty of hype prior to Otani and eventually chose to stay in Japan, where the Lions won a six-way drawing for his draft rights.
After years of some disappointment and injuries, Kikuchi had a breakout year in 2017 and has been the team's ace after Takayuki Kishi left. This is Hanamaki Higashi's first appearance in three years and ninth overall.
Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi): Tatsuya Imai
Sakushin Gakuin has been the recent powerhouse of Tochigi prefecture, making their 8th consecutive Summer Koshien appearance. Imai won the 2016 Summer Koshien tournament and pitched the entire way through. He was on quite a loaded team, but did a rare thing to be drafted straight out of high school, as most from Sakushin Gakuin will either become college students or shakaijin.
Imai was taken in the first round by the Lions later that fall and made his ichi-gun debut this year. He won his debut and has shown flashes of promise in his second NPB season, viewed as the future ace.
Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma): Kona Takahashi
Maebashi Ikuei made their first Summer Koshien appearance in 2013 and Kona Takahashi was a Junior. He became a legend in his own right by winning the whole tournament. This is their third straight Summer Koshien appearance as it's likely they've become the class of Gunma prefecture since.
Takahashi was drafted by the Lions in 2014 without opposition and pitched a shutout in his rookie season of 2015. While showing promise in 2016, he continued to struggle with control and saw limited time in 2017. He has yet to appear in an ichi-gun game for 2018.
Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui): Yusuke Tamamura
Tsuruga Kehi is making their first Summer Koshien appearance in three years and eighth overall. Tamamura was drafted by the Lions one-year removed from high school in the fourth round of 2014. He has yet to appear in an ichi-gun game, but regularly starts down in ni-gun.
Ryokokudai Heian (Kyoto): Ginjiro Sumitani
Heian has been a traditional powerhouse in Kyoto, but this is their first Summer Koshien appearance since 2014. Sumitani was a first round draft pick in 2005 by the Lions and has continued to be a mainstay at catcher. However, the Lions have been phasing away as he's a part-time catcher this year.
Osaka Toin (North Osaka): Tomoya Mori, Hideto Asamura, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Masatoshi Okada
This school and group needs no introduction. Osaka Toin is the powerhouse of the Japanese High School Baseball World producing plenty of NPB talent all over. Surprisingly it's only their 10th appearance in Summer Koshien, but they've won this tournament in 2012 and 2014. They've also won the Spring Koshien title in 2008, 2012, 2017 and 2018.
Mori and Asamura were part of the 2012 and 2008 teams, respectively with the former winning both titles in the same year. The famous battery of Mori and Shintaro Fujinami will always be remembered for their double championship of Haru-Natsu Koshien in 2012.
Okada became a shakaijin before being taken by the Lions in the 2013 draft, the same class as Mori. Okawari-kun was a second round draft pick in 2001.
Tottori Johoku (Tottori): Ryohei Fujiwara
Tottori Johoku is making their first appearance since 2015. Fujiwara has mostly been a low leverage relief pitcher for the Lions and is likely on the outside. While he can strikeout a few righties, he isn't built for the long run and could be cut after 2018.
Kagoshima Jitsugyo (Kagoshima): Shogo Noda
Kagoshima Jitsugyo is making their first appearance since 2015 and it's their 19th overall. Noda was drafted as a shakaijin by the Lions in 2015 and has appeared out of the bullpen mostly as a lefty specialist and as a setup pitcher. Mostly known as a nibbler, he could be good for one batter.
Hotoku Gakuen (West Hyogo): Ichiro Tamura
Hotoku Gakuen has made quite a few Spring Koshien appearances, but this is their first Summer Koshien since 2010. They are the "home team" based on geography as they're directly in Nishinomiya.
Tamura went to Rikkyo University in the Tokyo Big6 League and was a 6th round draft pick by the Lions in 2016. He has mostly seen low leverage innings ad the ichi-gun level and has been prone to give up home runs. It's possible he could develop into a quality reliever down the road.
Aikodai Meiden (West Aichi): Ken Togame
Aikodai "Meidan" is mostly famous for being the high school of Ichiro Suzuki and everyone can brag that he is their senpai if they attended there. This is Meidan's first Summer Koshien since 2013 and 12th overall. Togame was drafted in the first round of 2011 by the Lions as a shakaijin and has been an inconsistent starting pitcher. He looks good one year, then bad the next season, failing to have two consistent years.
Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi): Takanori Hoshi (coach)
Sendai Ikuei is a pretty well-known Tohoku powerhouse. They've come in second place of Summer Koshien twice in the last 30 years. In 2015, they lost to Tokaidai Sagami in the finals. Hoshi was picked up by the Lions from the Yomiuri Giants in 2011 for cash considerations in the middle of the season as a short term catcher solution.
Having spent his entire career up to that point behind Shinnosuke Abe, he had an opportunity and was part of the last Lions team to win a postseason series. He spent teh late years of his career in ni-gun and became an ikusei/developmental player coach. Hoshi presumably works with ikusei catcher Masato Saito.
Kinkidai Fuzoku (South Osaka): Shinobu Sakamoto (Trainer)
Kinkidai Fuzoku is the opposite of Osaka Toin and is the ultimate underdog of the dance. This is their first Summer Koshien since 2013 and 10th overall, but their history is ancient. Sakamoto has been a trainer with the Lions since 2007.
The biggest note is how on August 5, Sakushin Gakuin is facing Osaka Toin in the first round. In Soccer, we often say "Group of Death", but this opening round matchup is a death one having two powerhouses face each other so early. Should be fun and entertaining. If only we could see Imai watching this game with his Osaka Toin teammates.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 3:01 AM