Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tsuji and other factors helped Lions win first pennant in 10 years


The Saitama Seibu Lions won their first pennant since 2008 on Sunday night thanks to a loss by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks against the Chiba Lotte Marines. They held the lead in first place since Opening Day an never relinquished it minus one day of being tied with the Fighters in the middle of the year.

While the clinching day itself felt backed in, the Lions had to earn their way with a 12-game win streak in September and holding off a hot Hawks team. Prior to September 30, the Lions had no help from another Pacific League team beating the Hawks since September 7. They had to defeat the Hawks themselves five out of six times in the month to help lower that magic number.

There were a number of factors into this after the Lions had been a B-class team for three consecutive years prior to Hatsuhiko Tsuji as manager. In a lot of ways, this season has been rewarding as a result of some bad times.

Here, we will explore some reasons on how it happened:

Sosuke Genda

The Lions took a shakaijin in the third round of the 2016 NPB Draft, a position that wasn't stable for the team under Norio Tanabe. Genda has since broken ancient records from assists to consecutive games played featuring every inning.

In general, Genda's stability at SS has provided the ability to take away base hits. Better yet, he contributes on offense too and had another season of 30+ stolen bases. At the time of this writing, he only has eight errors, which is tremendous for a shortstop given how many plays he makes.

The shortstop in the past would bat in the bottom 3 of the lineup, but having Genda second provides speed and occasional bunts. Crazy enough, he still gets big hits here and there.


Hatsuhiko Tsuji's defensive mindset

The Lions defense was the theme of 2016 with how awful it was. Having more than 100 errors and other issues is something Tsuji was set to fix when he was hired. Today, Genda and Hideto Asamura have become one of the most effective duos on the infield and even the outfield had a nice retooling.

Takumi Kuriyama moves to a part time position while Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki bring great range to the outfield with the latter having a strong arm on the right side. It's possible that Hideki Hashigami gets credit for these decisions, but regardless, the defense has become amazing to catch more and allow less despite the ball being in play so often.


Getting on base and hitting for average

The Lions lead the league in walks and no other team is close. Getting on base creates more opportunities and this goes beyond the home run stereotype. Kuriyama, Tomoya Mori, Tonosaki, Asamura, Yamakawa and Akiyama all had an on base percentage of .350 or higher.

Timely hits have also helped and having a team batting average higher than .270 is tremendous, giving the ability for a crooked inning. This offense has shown a game isn't over until it's over as they made a comeback from being down 8-0 before. They have 38 comeback wins on the season, which counts any game won while trailing from the first to ninth innings.

This team has a franchise record-breaking offense in runs produced and is in the top 5 of NPB history all time. They likely won't reach the top, but being in an elite club doesn't hurt.


Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura's resurgence

Okawari-kun had a terrible first three months and spent most of it in rehab. He didn't even hit a home run through that portion of the season. However, he has really picked it up since July having a .300 batting average in the last three months and winning a player of the month award for August.

With all 28 of his current home runs coming in the second half, it was an extra spark that Lions got for a veteran that is viewed to be on the decline. He nearly tied Sadaharu Oh's record for consecutive games with a HR, but only reached six.


Tomoya Mori's production behind the plate, hitting from catchers

This was an expected year of phasing away from Ginjiro Sumitani as the everyday catcher. Mori ended up catching majority of the games and has been the second best at throwing out runners in the Pacific League behind Takuya Kai of Softbank.

Crazy enough, even Masatoshi Okada and Sumitani have been decent as part-time hitters being behind Mori where the former has had his share of timely hits. Mori's catching skills are still a work in progress in calling games, but his future is looking bright for a guy who was only viewed as a high school catcher who happened to hit.


Hotaka Yamakawa putting a full season together

Yamakawa showed in spurts what he can do when sending the ball deep. He finally had a strong April to not be deactivated and even won the player of the month award to start. While there is some inconsistency, Yamakawa has become a feared hitter and will be the 2018 home run king of NPB.


Bullpen shuffle

This team had its issues with the bullpen from the very beginning. Every Lions reliever from the opening day roster has been deactivated at some point in the 2018 season as a result. From Shota Takekuma to Tatsushi Masuda regressing, it was a painful problem to address.

The Lions had to sign Deunte Heath in May and even he struggled out of the gate by being deactivated in the summer. Heath took reins of the closer role once Masuda showed he couldn't handle it and Fabio Castillo struggled when switching from the rotation.

Other midseason pickups in Kyle Martin and Ryuya Ogawa have been serviceable and suddenly all three pitchers, including Heath, are likely to be the back bone of the Lions bullpen in the postseason. If anything, the Lions have more bullpen options than before despite the ups and downs.


Daiki Enokida

Enokida was acquired from the Hanshin Tigers in a trade for Youske Okamoto and most of us thought this would be a minor thing to pick up some bullpen depth. The Lions emphasized the need for a left handed pitcher and made Enokida a starter. After spot starting a few weeks into the season, he won himself a job an kept it ever since.

While he is nowhere close to being an ace, the team has picked up quality starts from him as this is his best season as a starter after being in the Tigers doghouse. Given that the Lions won the pennant, this one-sided trade will go down as one of the best in franchise history.


Because the remaining games for this week do not matter in the standings, there will be no regular weekly digest. 


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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Junichi Fukura's resignation was long overdue

Junichi Fukura resigned from his managerial position of the Orix Buffaloes on September 25. What's sad about this is that it needed to happen earlier and that the Orix front office wanted him to stay around.

Rewind to the 2015 season, where expectations were high coming off their first A-class season in six years and were supposed to build off of it.. A nightmare beginning led to the resignation of then-manager Hiroshi Moriwaki. They didn't play bad, but their record had them in the cellar at the time in June of 2015 while in the midst of interleague play.

Fukura became the manager on an interim basis and should've served as a caretaker for Orix to find a new manager. Instead, the Buffaloes get lazy and keep Fukura for the following 2016 season while a front office clash involving Ryuzo Setoyama and another executive kept the team distracted.

While both executives were fighting for power, Fukura was a yes-man in all of this and was overwatching the situation as a manager, but the power struggle was well-documented from the players, coaches and media. The war ended after the 2016 season, but even though the Buffaloes finished last that year, the front office kept Fukura around as the clash was ongoing at the time.

When the war was concluded, Setoyama was kept around while the other executive was dismissed. Orix has a hot beginning to 2017, but fell apart in the middle due to injuries and underachieving. There were even knee-jerk reaction moves to poor performance like taking deactivating Yuki Nishi for a bad game and giving him a 10-day break.

The Buffaloes have been run to live for the now, taking college or shakaijin with their last three first-round draft picks in Masataka Yoshida, Taisuke Yamaoka and Daiki Tajima. On paper, their roster has plenty of talent, but it isn't being developed or coached They make several play that don't show up as errors in the stat sheet from taking a bad angle, to making a bad drop as their attention to detail is lacking.

Simple fundamentals have been missing and it felt like the Buffaloes have had no plan in all of this, though it's easy to think So Taguchi is the future manager as he has been in charge of the ni-gun.

Fukura has absolutely no upside as a manager after showing a last place year, yet the team still mired itself in mediocrity with B-class finishes after strong starts in 2017 and 2018. Results spoke for themselves and this year, Fukura admitted to taking responsibility for the shortcomings.

Orix's front office still has incompetence until told otherwise despite all their talent. It is best for them to go outside the organization when hiring someone new. They can't clean house like how MLB does it, but there should be fresh leadership to make some drastic changes, because the current staff has felt stale.

If Orix just promotes Taguchi, it's a red flag as he may be a player's coach like Fukura without any developmental skills. Regardless, this resignation by Fukura in 2018 set the Buffaloes back three years by not hiring someone earlier and it cost some prime years of Nishi for it. 


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2018 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: On the cusp of a pennant


The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-1 against the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in what was a productive week. They cut their magic number down to one after not receiving any help from the rest of the Pacific League, having to earn their way to lowering it.

Their series against the Hawks was the beginning of a stretch with eight consecutive games to close out the regular season.

Here is how the week went:


The first game from Sendai had Shinsaburo Tawata facing Shoma Fujihira in a battle of first round draft picks. Two errors from Hotaka Yamakawa and Hideto Asamura lead to a run by the Eagles in the third inning to break the scoreless tie.

This lead didn't last long, as the Lions went back-to-back-to-back in solo home runs from Asamura, Yamakawa and Takumi Kuriyama for a 3-1 lead. Hiroaki Shimauchi brought the Eagles back to within run off a timely hit i the 5th. Tawata continued to play with fire, having several runners on base and giving up eight hits through 6.1 innings.

An error from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura led to another chance. With Ryuya Ogawa coming in, "Ginji" Akaminai dropped a bloop single to tie the game. The Lions continued to strand runners on base all night and couldn't muster up any offense.

With both bullpens holding strong with Kyle Martin and Deunte Heath for the Lions, this one went to extra innings. Okawari-kun hit a solo HR off  Chia-Hao Sung and gave the Lions a lead, but the bottom of the 10th had drama.

Katsunori Hirai retired the first two batters, but walked the third and Hatsuhiko Tsuji went with Shogo Noda, which was countered with our old friend Naoto Watanabe pinch hitting. Noda walked Watanabe and Tatsushi Masuda came in. On a full count, Masuda struck out Louis Okoye for the last out as the win streak was kept alive.

Lions 4, Eagles 3 (10 innings) 


The season finale against the Eagles had Daiki Enokida against Yuri Furukawa. Zealous Wheeler hit a sac fly for the first blood in the third inning while Kengo Horiuchi recorded his first NPB ichi-gun hit in teh 4th. It was a timely triple to make it 2-0 as Enokida was forced to strand runners all night.

Despite the two runs, Enokida was able to go seven innings and settled in after the fourth inning. The Lions once again stranded runners all night, but a chance came in the 9th inning after a walk from Tomoya Mori and singles from Masatoshi Okada and Sosuke Genda, where the latter had a modasho. Shogo Akiyama hit a grand slam off Kohei Morihara and gave the Lions a lead for good, as they were two outs away from losing.

Deunte Heath allowed a solo HR to Toshiaki Imae, but that was it and the win streak reached 10 games.

Lions 4, Eagles 3


The week shifted back home with Rick van Den Hurk facing Chun-Lin Kuo. The Lions scored first off a three-run HR from Tomoya Mori, but the Hawks got two runs back off Kuo through the fifth inning. Kuo lasted 4.2 innings before he let two runners on base and Hatsuhiko Tsuji pulled the hook. Ryuya Ogawa retired Yuki Yanagita as the Lions kept the lead.

After Yamakawa hit a HR, the Lions had a meltdown inning in the top of the 6th. Katsunori Hirai inherited a mess and gave up a bases-clearing double to Takuya Kai as the Hawks took the lead. It looked like the Lions would fail to capitalize on chances again, but another one came in the bottom of the 8th when Ren Kajiya walked Ernesto Mejia and Yuji Kaneko reached base on a fielder's choice after Tomoki Takata chose to go to second base and failed.

Kazuo Matsui as a pinch runner saved the inning as he was safe at second. Kimiyasu Kudo went with Shinya Kayama to face Shogo Akiyama and the latter hit a three-run HR into the batter's eye for a 7-5 Lions lead.

This one still wasn't over as Deunte Heath had two runners on base. However, Alfredo Despaigne flew out to right field and the Lions win streak reached 11 while halting the Hawks 7-game wins streak at the same time.

Lions 7, Hawks 5

Game notes:

-Makoto Aiuchi, Hirotaka Koishi and Nien Ting Wu were deactivated.


Game two had Yusei Kikuchi against Kodai Senga. Yamakawa hit a three-run HR in the first inning. However, this lead wouldn't last long as Yamakawa's error put runners on base and the Hawks struck back with a barrage of timely hits in the third to tie it at 3-3.

Senga appeared to have settled in, while Kikuchi had to strand runners all night. With two outs in the 6th, Okawari-kun hit a two-run HR to give the Lions a lead. Kikuchi would get a clean 7th inning and settle in nicely to do his part. Kyle Martin pitched a scoreless 8th which featured a double play.

Deunte Heath closed it out and the win streak reached 12.

Lions 5, Hawks 3

Game note:

-The Seibu Lions released Neil Wagner.


The final game had Tatsuya Imai facing Angel Miranda in a rematch from two weeks ago. The Lions struck first on an RBI groundout, but they squandered their chances again for the day. Imai conceded a two-run HR to Nobuhiro Matsuda in the fourth and it gave the Hawks their first lead of the day.

Matsuda hit another HR off Masuda to ice it and secure no clinch party in Tokorozawa as the win streak ended. Miranda ended up going seven strong innings and scattering five hits.

Hawks 3, Lions 1


It's safe to say the Lions should clinch their first pennant in 10 years this week. There is some concern with the bats lacking timely hits, but the home runs have been timely to say the least.


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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Report: Kazuo Matsui announces retirement from playing career


Saitama Seibu Lions OF and technical coach Kazuo Matsui announced his intention to retire as a player on Wednesday afternoon. Matsui, who will turn 43 at the end of October, will finish 2018 with his 24th and final year playing baseball.

Matsui signed with the Lions as a player/coach last winter which reunited with the team he started with, his first time in 15 years. He only appeared in 23 games hitting .129 with only four base hits and none of them being extra base hits. He also appeared as a pinch runner before being deactivated on September 15.

His career began with the Lions straight out of high school as a third round draft pick out of PL Gakuen in 1994. Matsui saw three pennants , but missed out on a Japan Series championship as he joined the New York Mets in 2004.

Matsui hit a home run in his first career at bat and had some glory in New York before he was traded to the Colorado Rockies. In 2007, he was part of a team that clinched the postseason by winning a Game 163 against the San Diego Padres. Matsui hit a decisive grand slam against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS of that year as the Rockies went on to lose to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Injuries derailed his major league career and he saw a decline in playing time in his final three stateside years with the Houston Astros.

Matsui returned to Japan in 2011 with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. He was part of the 2013 Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles who won the Japan Series with Masahiro Tanaka, Casey McGehee and Andruw Jones. He even made the all star game in 2015 and amassed 2,703 combined hits between NPB and MLB while reaching the 2,000 hit mark in Japan in 2015.

While it's easy to think he may return as a coach, Jim Allen of Kyodo News mentioned how it was a tough position.

Matsui will likely get one last ride after being a longtime Lion from the 90s and early 00s, the best position player to come from this franchise in the Major Leagues. A retirement ceremony and at-bat will occur against the Softbank Hawks on the final homestand.


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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Former Nishitetsu Lion Takiuchi dead at 82

Former Nishitetsu Lion Yasuo Takiuchi died on Sunday of chronic heart failure, as announced by Seibu. He was 82 years old.

Takiuchi, was a member of the 1950s Nishitetsu Lions which held a golden age three-peat from 1956-1958. He was a versatile defensive substitute from 1954 to 1963 and averaged about 80 games off the bench, Takiuchi's best statistical season was in 1960, where he hit .249/.303/.419 in 81 games. 

In high school, he participated in the Summer Koshien tournament and after his playing days, he was a coach for several different positions. At both the ni-gun and ichi-gun level for the Nishitetsu, Taiheyo Club, Crown Lighter and Seibu Lions, he mostly coached the defense from 1964-1973 and 1975-1981.

Takiuchi just missed the Golden Era Lions prior to their first championship in the Seibu era in 1982. He spent a decade of his life after the Lions as a coach for the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1982-1992, serving as a ni-gun defensive coach. His highest position was being teh ni-gun manager from 1989-1992.

Earlier this year, Teruyuki Takakura, who was also part of the 1950s Nishitetsu Lions, passed away at age 83. Shinsaku Katahira also passed away last winter. R.I.P. Takiuchi, you will be missed.


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Saturday, September 22, 2018

2018 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Enokida reaches 10 wins, Yamakawa steals one


The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-0 this week against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Chiba Lotte Marines. They currently have a 6.5 game lead on the Softbank Hawks and reduced their magic number to seven.

Here is how it all went down:


The first game against the Fighters had Shinsaburo Tawata facing Takayuki Kato. This one was settled early when Shogo Akiyama hit a Rickey Henderson HR and Hideto Asamura added a two-run HR in the second which led to a 4-0 lead.

It wasn't easy for Tawata, as he allowed a base runner in every inning he pitched, but only allowed one run through 6.1 innings of work. The modasho from Akiyama and late hits also made this one a laugher even though Shogo Noda gave up a two-run HR later in the game.

Lions 7, Fighters 4


Game two had Daiki Enokida against Mizuki Hori. Enokida's beginning was slow, where he walked in a run without allowing a base hit. Three walks and a HBP led to the first blood in the first inning.

The Lions responded in the third inning, when Sosuke Genda hit a three-run HR with two outs and Asamura followed with a solo HR of his own. Enokida settled in nicely and even flirted with a no-hitter through five innings. Making his first career ichi-gun start, Haruka Yamada hit a two-run HR in the 4th to put it all away for his first NPB hit and HR.

Enokida had seven strong innings and successfully earned his 10th win of the season. He was the first to get 10 wins after having zero the previous year since Shinichi Yamauchi in 1973.

Lions 12, Fighters 4


The week shifted across Kanto where Tanner Scheppers was scheduled to face Yusei Kikuchi in Chiba. However, this game was rained out, snapping the initially booked stretch of nine consecutive games.


The Marines chose to pitch Ayumu Ishikawa for Friday while Kikuchi stayed on the mound for the Lions. Both teams scored three runs in the first inning with some rainy weather. Yamakawa had a timely while Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a timely double.

It wasn't until the second when Genda hit a timely double off the wall and added two more runs, which one came off a throwing error by Shogo Nakamura to make it 5-3. Asamura added a timely hit in the fourth while Shogo Akiyama hit his 21st HR of the year.

Yusei Kikuchi's rough start was aided by the rain, but he settled in after a weather delay in the second inning. He went seven frames with four runs allowed and reached the milestone of 1,000 career innings pitched, which was recognized after the fifth inning. Katsunori Hirai and Deunte Heath had scoreless innings to end this one.

Lions 7, Marines 4

Game note:

-Brian Wolfe was deactivated for Sho Ito.


The last game had Tatsuya Imai facing Kota Futaki. This game had an early 1-1 draw with an RBI groundout by Chiba and a timely from Fumikazu Kimura, but the Lions took the lead in the 6th off a timely hit from Okawari-kun. Unfortunately, they stranded the bases and it came back to haunt them later. Imai conceded a run with two outs as Shohei Kato came up with a timely hit to tie it 2-2.

After using three pitchers in the 7th inning to go unscathed, Ryuya Ogawa struggled in the 8th, giving up the 2,000th career hit by Kazuya Fukuura for a leadoff double. A throwing error from Ogawa gave the Marines the lead at 3-2. The Lions had a chance in the 9th with two runners on, but Genda struck out and Tatsuya Uchi retired Hideto Asamura and Yamakawa was the last hope. On a 2-1 pitch, Yamakawa didn't pull the foul ball from earlier and roped a HR into the Lions Oendan for a 5-3 lead.

Deunte Heath closed it out with minimal trouble and ended up earning the save as the Lions win streak reached eight games.

Lions 5, Marines 3


The finish in Chiba was incredible and a hostile atmosphere given it was all about Fukuura. Every win was important too since the Hawks did not lose this week. Either way, the pennant is so close that we can smell it. Just gotta finish strong.


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Friday, September 21, 2018

NPB's Central League remains comical

The Central League Standings at the conclusion of games on September 21 show 1.5 games separate last place from third place.
NPB is a league that is limited to 12 teams, unlike how MLB can have over-saturation with 30. Divide it in half and you get the Central League, where things have become interesting or hard to watch, depending on how you see it.

The Hiroshima Carp have all but clinched this league as early as July, when they pulled away having a lead by double digits in games. Many including yours truly thought there would be competition, but instead, we've seen underachieving and a dose of mediocrity. 

Here's the team-by-team situation I've seen as an outsider who tracks the Pacific League a little closer:

Hiroshima Carp:

The Carp were supposed to win the pennant to many spectators, but the gap was thought to be closer than before. Daichi Osera has lived up to his billing as a first round pick from years ago and has taken the reins as an ace. Kris Johnson had a rebound year while Seiya Suzuki and Yoshihiro Maru are MVP candidates. They're also getting bonus production out of Tsubasa Aizawa, which is pretty crazy for a catcher. Even the role players like Ryoma Nishikawa are solid behind the stars.


Yakult Swallows: 

The Swallows were expected to be in a rebuild phase with Junji Ogawa returning as the manager and being there to bite the bullet while grooming Shinya Miyamoto, the long term project. This team has a group of veterans playing while there isn't much youth at the ichi-gun. Wladimir Balentien is healthy and Tetsuto Yamada is back in Triple-3 territory after a horrendous 2017.

Surprisingly it was Interleague Play which sparked this team facing new competition and they rose up to the occasion. They faltered after facing Pacific League teams with an eight-game losing streak at one point, but they've stayed on course to be in A-class and have a good chance to finish there for the first time since 2015.

In 2017, everything went wrong for them with injuries and more, but they're on the side of good luck in 2018 with others faltering. Pitching is by no means dominant, but competent enough to compete. It's promising how Juri Hara has been after being a backup option in the draft./I'm also sure Nori Aoki's veteran presence has been an asset to the Swallows lineup.


Yomiuri Giants

The Giants are streaky, where the bats can magically look good one day and bad the next. They have gotten contributions from some unexpected players like C.C. Mercedes and Kazuma Okamoto, but others like free agent signing Ryoma Nogami and Kazuto Taguchi have underachieved. This team has not put it together for 2018 and should be in B-class.


Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Yokohama came off a Japan Series appearance and were expected to build off of it. Instead, we have a team that should be in last place, but they're still in the hunt. The Baystars are too home run dependent offensively while on the pitching side, things have gotten worse. Katsuki Azuma has carried the rotation as a first year rookie while other starters have suffered injuries and not being one hundred percent.

Injuries have piled up and missing Jose Lopez for some time hurt, but it can't be an excuse for why the rest of the offense struggles as a whole hitting for average. It isn't a good look for manager Alex Ramirez, who currently has a reputation of having a mediocre team just happen to get hot in October.


Chunichi Dragons

The Dragons are in Year 2 of a true rebuild under Shigekazu Mori. They're hitting on their foreign signings in Onelki Garcia and Zoilo Almontee while Dayan Viciedo has been solid, but other parts are lacking. Specifically, the bullpen has been dependent on an aging legend Hitoki Iwase in middle relief while the closer position had its shuffles, including throwing a raw Hiroshi Suzuki out there.

They've also gotten good mileage out of veterans Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kazuki Yoshimi, but that won't last in the long term. They're waiting for the younger players to step it up and so far, it's a large question mark. Plenty of "learning moments" with the starter being left in too long or some position players like Shuhei Takahashi getting reps. Can't depend on just imports and veterans as poor drafting/developing in the last several years has put them in this position.

However, it has to be nice there's meaningful baseball in Nagoya for the first time since 2012, their last A-class season. They aren't deserving of it with this team, even though they own the Carp.


Hanshin Tigers

Where to begin? Starting pitching kept them competitive and prevented any further downfall. Hitting is not there and a lot of this can fall on manager Tomoaki Kanemoto. The bullpen of 2017 was due for some regression and some shuffles were made, but it isn't poor. For majority of the year, Yusuke Oyama had his struggles which have hurt the team, even though he has picked it up in September.

Biggest financial thing to note is import Willin Rosario goes in the books as a disappointment, where the transition from KBO to NPB hasn't worked out. Randy Messenger being hurt doesn't help either.


At one point, last place was a tie for fourth place as the Tigers, Dragons and Baystars were 1.5 games behind the Giants for A-class and only percentage points separated them. With the third place team likely to finish with a losing record and nowhere close to .500, it is a joke.

However, there is a positive in all of this: Ticket sales should soar with meaningful baseball. September and October are usually the months of makeup games and several teams giving retired players one last go-around for everyone to see. Races can be decided early, but with everyone in the Central still alive, it's crazy.

Flashback to 2004, the Pacific League began a "playoff" system where the top three teams made it in. It wasn't even called the Climax Series and the Central League scoffed at it. However, a decent pennant race involving three teams had people watching around the country and the tickets were being sold.

The Central League had some jealousy and eventually adopted the Climax Series which has been universal since 2007 for both leagues. Not only has the Pacific League been winning on the field since the turn of the 21st Century for majority of the time, but they've helped with progressive ideas.

Everything in the Central League is already tough to watch outside of Japan, while the Pacific League makes it easy. In this case, the Central can thank the Pacific for the Climax Series and its existence as we head down the home stretch of the 2018 NPB Season.


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Monday, September 17, 2018

2018 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tawata earns second shutout, sweeping the Hawks


The Saitama Seibu Lions went 5-1 this week against the Orix Buffaloes, Rakuten Eagles and Softbank Hawks combined and are in the midst of a stretch with nine consecutive games. They extended their lead on the Hawks to 6.5 games and mathematically clinched A-class with a combination of these wins and losses by the Marines.

With this week, the Lions magic number to clinch the pennant is now 11. Here is what happened:


The first game from Kobe had Shinsaburo Tawata against Takahiro Matsuba. Shogo Akiyama hit a two-run HR in the third inning and was all the Lions needed as Tawata recorded a shutout. Some timely hits in the later innings from Akiyama, Nien Ting Wu and Sosuke Genda put icing on the cake for an easy win.

Lions 7, Buffaloes 0


Game two had Daiki Enokida against Daiki Tomei. Both sides had runners on base through the beginning, but only Orix capitalized on a two-out double from Kenya Wakatsuki in the 4th.

Enokida was lucky to allow only one run through four innings, but was destroyed in the 5th when Stefen Romero and Hiroyuki Nakajima hit back-to-back solo HRs to end it early. Hiromasa Saito continued to allow runs in a later frame and the Lions bats were all but dead as they stranded runners off Tomei.

Buffaloes 7, Lions 0


The week shifted back home as the Eagles came in for a stand alone game with Yuri Fukukawa against Yusei Kikuchi. This game was over early when the Lions scored three runs in the first inning, including a two-run HR from Hotaka Yamakawa. Tomoya Mori hit a solo HR in the second and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a three-run HR in the third to put it away.

Kikuchi went eight innings with only one run given up in the 7th inning while only having six strikeouts and two hits allowed.

Lions 10, Eagles 5


The defending champion Softbank Hawks came in for a three game series with Kodai Senga while the Lions used Chun-Lin Kuo for the second time against the same team. A wild pitch with the bases loaded and a timely hit from Takumi Kuriyama gave the Lions an early 3-0 lead in the first. Kuo gave up a solo HR to Yurisbel Gracial, but was able to get the the fifth inning with minimal damage.

A timely base hit in the 5th appeared to have tied the game, but Yuji Kaneko gunned down a runner at home plate and the Lions kept their lead. Hideto Asamura responded in the 5th with a three-run HR off Senga to truly break it open. Both sides ended up trading runs for the rest of the day with Yamakawa belting two more home runs, making him have 40 on the season. It was also Kuo's first win in three years.

Lions 11, Hawks 5

Game note:

-Kazuo Matsui was taken off the ichi-gun to make room for Kuo.


Game two had Kotaro Otake facing Tatsuya Imai. The Lions jumped out to an early lead thanks to some timely hits from the first four batters, including a home run from Yamakawa where it was 4-1 after the first. The Lions made it 8-0 after two innings via timely hits from Genda, Yamakawa and Okawari-kun after Seiji Uebayashi failed to cut off the ball in centerfield.

Imai was able to get 5.2 innings with three runs allowed and had a jam in the 6th. With runners on base, Hatsuhiko Tsuji went with Ryuya Ogawa against pinch hitter Shuhei Fukuda. Kimiyasu Kudo countered with another pinch hitter in Keizo Kawashima, who struck out.

Kyle Martin gave up several hits for one run in the 8th, while Deunte Heath had a scare in the 9th. With the bases loaded and no outs, he struck out two batters and had to fend off a timely hit, which brought the tying run on base. Heath forced a groundout to end the game as the Lions took the series and Imai earned his fifth win.

Lions 8, Hawks 5

Game note:

-Haruka Yamada was called off as Kuo was taken off the ichi-gun.


The final matchup in the series on Monday had Brian Wolfe against Angel Miranda. This time, there wasn't a no-hitter alert as Akiyama had the first hit for the Lions. Kuriyama scored first with a grand slam in the bottom of the first inning. Uebayashi responded in the secnod with a solo HR of his own.

Wolfe was injured after a ball hit him on the hamstring and left the game in the third inning. With Shota Takekuma taking over, he escaped with a double play. He created another jam in the 4th, where Tatsushi Masuda had to come in and get a double play of his own as the bullpen was forced to take over the rest of the day.

Ogawa pitched two perfect frames in the 6th and 7th. Okawari-kun rewarded the bullpen with a three-run HR off Roberto Suarez, giving the Lions a 7-1 lead. The Lions bullpen combined for seven shutout innings after Wolfe left the game and there was no doubt to this one after the second HR.

Game note:

-Shogo Saito was the corresponding move to make room for Wolfe.

-The last two games did not have Yuki Yanagita after he was hurt in batting practice. Kenta Imamiya also got injured in this game when a bad throw towards second base left his leg out of position when stepping on second for a force out.


Safe to say this was a fine week even though it's unfortunate the Hawks had some key injuries for the series. Regardless, winning games with Kuo and Imai starting felt impossible, but it happened. A bullpen win after Wolfe goes down early? No problem.

This team has shown character through it all, whether it's the bats or the pitching and this is a remarkable group. Now that the Magic Number is being made public, let's hope they can catch the flag and finish the rest of this season strong.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gurazeni anime provides realism to NPB, professional baseball


Sports anime often have a similar premise of a player or team having a goal. To quote the Pokémon English opening song: Wanting "to be the very best, like no one ever was."

Gurazeni (which started as a manga of the same name) goes away from this notion where it's about the survival and struggles of being a professional baseball player. Its title translates into "Money Pitch" and it covers the story about a mediocre pitcher named Natsunosuke Bonda who is a lefty-one-out guy (LOOGY) trying to make a living.

Bonda is 26-years old and has been in the league since being drafted out of high school, but he only makes a paltry ¥18 million (less than $180,000) for the season. An Easter egg is how the fictional name Bonda (凡田) has the kanji 凡 in it, referring to something "average" or "ordinary" as a hint to the reader.

Gurazeni has an NPB setting without saying the NPB names, as shown with Jingu Stadium and even Umbrellas referring to the Yakult Swallows
Bonda goes through plenty of adventures along the way knowing about opponents through reading magazines while waiting to pitch in the bullpen. This includes stats and salaries, where he is fixated on the latter. From recognizing who makes double his  ¥18 million salary to those who make less, Bonda is able to note every player and narrate this to the audience.

While money seems a little greedy given this is part of the show, Gurazeni shows the cruel side of baseball. It's not always about winning pennants, games or championships, but to survive in a competitive environment. Bonda knows his playing career will eventually end and he hopes to accumulate as much money as possible before it's over. He hasn't even spent his signing bonus.

Gurazeni provides accurate maps and information on the Swallows, as their farm team plays in Toda, Saitama. 
This concept alone is a refreshing take on baseball, which brings a slice of life to anyone in the work force. As Shakaijin, we all want to get better or move up in the world through promotions and finding even better jobs. Bonda is doing the same, but playing for a better contract. While he loves the game of baseball, he also knows it's his job and has the theory that money is under the ground with every pitch, becoming important for his salary the following year.

Bonda goes through several twists and turns of adventure showing a fictional behind the scenes. From former players to teammates at the farm, to even opponents and knowing their backstory, Bonda has plenty of inspiration and a memo of who to not be while playing professional baseball.

There is even a plot that has to do with foreigners playing in NPB, explaining the gaijin rule and how it works. Being a ballplayer has more responsibilities than just staying in shape and producing on the field. It's a life of ups and downs, which Bonda continues to go through as a lefty specialist wanting to stay at the ichi-gun.

The best focus to this anime is how it isn't always about what happens on the field, let alone there is not as much in-game analysis and more perspective on careers, which brings a slice of life to the viewer.

When it comes to criticism, an argument can be made that the pilot should not have been a double header episode with two different stories in each half. The introduction to Bonda was good, but the second story introducing a broadcaster who was a former player felt like too much and should have been saved for later.

The artwork for this anime isn't flashy, but it is tailored to look exactly like NPB without using the team names. Mazda Zoom-Zoom, Tokyo Dome, Yokohama Stadium, Koshien Stadium and Jingu Stadium have all been seen. If anything, don't compare the animation to something along the lines of Studio Ghibli or what Makoto Shinkai has directed.

If you're into baseball behind the scenes, this show is easily for you. It's a greater understanding of life as a ball player and the concept of staying up at the ichi-gun level.

Best yet, it was popular enough in the Spring to be picked up for a second season, which begins in October.


Other external facts:


Gurazeni has all elements of NPB are there minus the team names being replaced with obvious fictional ones. Besides the stadiums, the colors are still the same to indirectly represent the following teams:

Bunkyo Mops = Yomiuri Giants
Jingu Spiders = Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Bonda's team)
Nagoya Wild Ones = Chunichi Dragons
Kawasaki Blue Comets = Yokohama DeNA Baystars
Hiroshima Carnabeats = Hiroshima Carp
Osaka Tempters = Hanshin Tigers

The manga has Pacific League teams as well. For the Saitama Seibu Lions, they become the Tokorozawa Jaguars.


The opening song is "Merigo" by Robert Yoshino, featuring SKY-HI. Its lyrics capture the show's purpose on the ups and downs in life as it's a "Merigo", short for Merry-go round as shown in the music video.

The closing song in the credits is "Shadow Monster"by Toki Asako. Not a bad tune given how relaxing it is, talking about being bold and not shy.


Fukushi Ochiai is a well-known voice actor who plays Bonda, but he also happens to be the son of the famous Hiromitsu Ochiai, who was famous as a manager and front office executive for the Chunichi Dragons. Former Swallows manager Mitsuru Manaka and Dragons pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto also provide cameo appearances on select episodes doing the color commentator role.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Nakamura wins August 2018 MVP Award

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura was named the Pacific League hitting MVP for August on Tuesday afternoon. This is the second time he has won a monthly MVP award and his first since July of 2015.

Nakamura, who turned 35 last month, had a .319 batting average which had 29 hits while hitting 12 home runs and 26 RBIs in the month of August. He also tied a Pacific League record for six consecutive games with a HR, one shy of the NPB record where Sadaharu Oh hit seven.

This is only the third Lions monthly MVP Award in the 2018 season. Previously, Shinsaburo Tawata and Hotaka Yamakawa were named the Pacific League pitcher and hitter MVPs respectively for the month of April. 


Other August MVP Winners:

P Kodai Senga (Softbank Hawks): 4-0, 31.1 IP, 37K, 0.86 ERA

1B Dayan Viciedo (Chunichi Dragons): .465, 7 HR, 24 RBI,

P Geronimo Franzua (Hiroshima Carp): 17.2 IP, 0-1, 1 Save, 0.51 ERA, 19 K. 


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Sunday, September 9, 2018

2018 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Staying course

The Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-2 for the week against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Chiba Lotte Marines. The Softbank Hawks are still on their tail as they maintained a four-game lead in the Pacific League pennant race.

Here is how it all went down:


The first game from Asahikawa had Shinsaburo Tawata facing Mizuki Hori. Sho Nakata started the scoring with a two-run HR in the first inning. Hideto Asamura beat out a double play to plate one run in the third. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit his 24th HR of the year with two-run blast to give the Lions a lead.

It wasn't until the 5th when the Lions started to pull away as Hori couldn't record an out. Tomoya Mori and Okawari-kun added two more timely hits to make it 5-2. Kensuke Kondo got a run back of Tawata as the Lions pitcher was only able to go five innings, but that was it. Takumi Kuriyama had a timely hit in the 7th and Shogo Saito walked with the bases loaded.

Kyle Martin allowed some deep contact against Brandon Laird, but Shogo Akiyama robbed him of a home run. Deunte Heath had no trouble in the 9th and the Lions ended a short losing streak.

Lions 7, Fighters 3

Game notes:

-Fumikazu Kimura was called up with Shuta Tonosaki taken off due to an oblique injury.

-Okawari-kun earned the hero interview with a modeasho.


The second game from Asahikawa had Daiki Enokida up against Takayuki Kato. Enokida gave up some early runs through allowing base runners and the Lions were held to two hits against Kato, where Shogo Akiyama was the first base runner in the 4th inning. The Fighters bullpen made the rest of this game boring as they were shutout.

Fighters 4, Lions 0


The Lionis went home to take on the Marines as Yusei Kikuchi faced Kota Futaki. Kikuchi started this one slow giving up a manufactured run, but Takumi Kuriyama tied it. He gave up three more runs including a two-run HR from Taiga Hirasawa to make it 4-1.

This lead didn't last long, as the Lions came back with a three run sixth inning. With the bases loaded, it all came down to Ernesto Mejia, who came through with a short single up the middle and with the outfield playing back, the game was tied.

Yuji Kaneko was instrumental in this one with two leadoff hits and having a double to start the 7th. With two outs, Hideto Asamura delivered a timely to give the team their first lead of the night. A five run 9th inning off the Marines bullpen padded the numbers, giving modashos to Sosuke Genda and Asamura.

Lions 10, Marines 5


Game two was a mess from teh beginning, featuring Ken Togame and Mike Bolsinger. Togame gave up eight runs in the first two innings, including a bases-clearing triple to Tatsuhiro Tamura and a HR to Seiya "Aja" Inoue. The Lions came back in the second, with eight runs of their own, which featured a tying grand slam from Hotaka Yamakawa. The Lions even had the lead in the 4th when Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura had a timely hit to make it 9-8.

This lead didn't last long as Sho Ito gave up runners and Taiga Hirasawa tied it in the 5th. Disaster came in the 6th when Kyle Martin allowed multiple runners on base through walks and gave up a sacrifice fly, which ended up being the game winner for Chiba. Shogo Noda put the game out of reach when giving up three more runs in the 9th and the Lions couldn't get a win streak going for the week.

Marines 13, Lions 9


The final matchup was Tatsuya Imai against Atsuki Taneichi. An RBI groundout by Tomoya Mori started the scoring. Katsuya Kakunaka tied the game off a fielder's choice. With Kaneko stealing second base, Asamura delievered a timely hit to make it 2-1 in the third.

Kazuya Fukuura hit a solo HR and both sides kept trading runs. Mori hit an RBI double and the Lions finally pulled away in the 5th, where Kuriyama hit a two-RBI double with the bases loaded. Okawari-kun added a timely of his own to make it 6-2.

Imai walked the tight rope in several innings, but got Fukuura to strikeout in the 5th and strand a pair of runners. He later drew a double play from Shogo Nakamura in the 6th for a key shutdown frame.

The Lions bullpen made the rest of the game dull, taking care of business with a team effort. As a result, they secured a winning week and Imai's 4th career win.

Lions 6, Marines 2

Game note:

-Nien Ting Wu and Makoto Aiuchi were called up in place of Ken Togame and Sho Ito.


It's been a productive week in perspective. Best yet, the team is not HR dependent like before. Speed is back with Kaneko and even though Tonosaki is out, there is plenty of threat in the Lions offense.

Lots of work to still be done, but we're happy to be in first at teh moment. The next digest will not come until Tuesday due to the Softbank Hawks series overlapping into Monday.


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Monday, September 3, 2018

2018 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Struggles in Osaka

Photo credit: @N_524_photo
The Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-2 against the Rakuten Eagles and Orix Buffaloes this past week. However, their lead for the Pacific League has been trimmed to four games after the conclusion of Sunday. Here is what happened:


Game one took place in Gunma prefecture with Shinsaburo Tawata and Takahiro Norimto. Kazuki Tanaka started the game with a Rickey Henderson-style HR in the first inning. Tawata escaped further damage thanks to a rare 5-4-3 triple play.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura tied the game in the bottom of the second inning with a solo HR.  A bad error from Kenji Nishimaki gave the Lions their first lead in the bottom of the fourth when an infield fly hit the ground and two runners were on base with two outs.

Tawata continued to lack strikeouts as he has all season and it caught up to him in the sixth inning after a throwing error from Hideto Asamura. Timely hits with runners on base from Motohiro Shima, Takero Okajima and Nishimaki led to a four run frame. Ryuya Ogawa successfully stranded the bases loaded with a double play to prevent further damage.

The Lions offense showed life in the bottom of the 7th where Yuji Kaneko and Sosuke Genda reach base on hits. Shogo Akiyama dropped a bloop single to plate one run and with Norimoto still pitching, there was a chance for more. Asamura took the second pitch into the stands and send the crowd rocking with a three-run blast and a 6-5 lead.

Kyle Martin had a scoreless 8th inning while Deunte Heath stranded the tying run on second base to end the losing streak.

Lions 6, Eagles 5

Game note:

-Asamura passed 100 RBIs for the first time since his peak season in 2013.

-Sho Ito earned his first career win after recording a double play and strikeout in the 7th inning.

-Sosuke Genda switched to being the leadoff hitter while Akiyama was dropped to second. It was the first change to the top of the order all season as batters 1-4 were Akiyama, Genda, Asamura and Hotaka Yamakawa.


Game two went to Omiya with Daiki Enokida against Wataru Karashima. Toshiaki Imae opened the scoring with a timely hit in the third inning. While the Lions stranded more runners in scoring position, they finally broke through in the 6th when Tomoya Mori got a timely hit.

Enokida allowed only one run through six inning, but failed to get a shutdown frame in the 7th when he gave up a two-run HR to Yasuhito Uchida and a solo HR to Kazuki Tanaka. The Lions chipped away at the lead in the 8th when Okawari-kun hit a sac fly, but Mori struck out to end the threat.

It all came down to the bottom of the 9th with Frank Herrmann closing it out for the Eagles. Takumi Kuriyama hit one into the gap for a one-out double and Shogo Saito pinch ran for him. With the Omiya chance song playing, Sosuke Genda walked. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position. Shogo Akiyama tied it with a grounder going past the infield. After Asamura flied out, it was up to Hotaka Yamakawa.

Akiyama stole second base and Yamakawa made no doubt on this game with gapper for the 7th sayonara win of the season.

Lions 5, Eagles 4

Game note:

-Haruka Yamada was called up in place of Chun-Lin Kuo.

-Ito earned his second straight win in as many appearances by pitching the top of the 9th.


The Lions then moved to Kansai as Yusei Kikuchi faced Brandon Dickson. This was a classic pitcher's duel and Ginjiro Sumitani's timely hit was the only run of the game as both sides continued to strand runners. Kikuchi went seven shutout innings to earn his 10th win of the season, but it was sloppy on offense when the team failed to pull away.

Lions 1, Buffaloes 0


Games two and three were awful losses where they blew an 8-1 lead in the former as Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a sayonara HR off Deunte Heath, who failed to record an out.

Buffaloes 10, Lions 8

Tatsuya Imai was outdueled by Yuki Nishi in Game 3 where the bats were dead despite having several hits.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 1


It's unfortunate that nothing went right despite a winning week. They should be thankful it was 3-2, because the Lions were a few outs away from going 2-3, 1-4 or even 0-5.  This kind of play won't cut it against the Softbank Hawks.


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