Tuesday, October 30, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions and Melbourne Aces partnership will be continuing for another season. On Tuesday, the Aces announced that Hiromasa Saito and Hayato Takagi would be joining the team for the 2018-2019 season.
Saito, 23, was the team's first round draft pick in 2017 and appeared mostly out of the bullpen with one spot start at the end of the regular season. At the ichi-gun level, he went 1-3 in 16 games with 16.2 innings of work and a 7.02 ERA. He had his share of inconsistency, but was a spark in middle relief for the short term.
The Lions are hoping he can contribute next year as he competes with Shota Takekuma and Shogo Noda among left handed relievers. He is a 3/4 arm slot pitcher who is athletic and can field well, but his control was up and down.
Takagi, 29, was the compensation selection from the Yomiuri Giants when the Lions lost Ryoma Nogami in free agency. Despite having a decent track record in the Central League, he struggled in 2018 for the first time playing in the Pacific League. Takagi didn't do well out of the bullpen and had only one quality start, which was good for his only win of the season. In eight games, he went 1-2 in 19.2 innings of work in 16 games with a 8.69 ERA.
With the Giants, he was a rotation starter, but injured his throwing hand when trying to execute a sacrifice bunt in 2017. He finished that year out of the bullpen and hasn't recovered. The Lions hope he can crack the ichi-gun in some way, shape or form as he was as disappointment for the team and fans alike.
The Lions will also send an interpreter and undisclosed coaches who will work with the players while they're in Australia. The first game for the Aces will be on November 16 and they'll leave the team when the calendar year of 2018 ends after the All-Star break.
In Australia, the ownership of all teams has changed and the Aces are under a new regime. The ABL League has also expanded with Geelong-Korea, which will feature several KBO players out of Korea's top league. Across the ditch is another expansion team in the Auckland Tuatara.
The Lions are not the only team to partner with an ABL team this year. The Canberra Calvary are linked with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars which features Shota Imanaga among the group. In Auckland, there will be three Chiba Lotte Marines players including Tomohito Sakai and Taiga Hirasawa participating.
This is the eighth consecutive year the Lions have partnered with the Aces. Previous players who have spent time down under include Yusei Kikuchi, Fumikazu Kimura (as a pitcher), Shogo Noda, Yasuo Sano, Makoto Aiuchi, Hirotaka Koishi, Shota Nakata, Keisuke Honda, Hitoto Komazuki, Tomoya Mori, Shunta Nakatsuka and Kona Takahashi.
Other transaction note:
-The Lions have designated P Kaito Yoza, C Komei Fujisawa and P Tomomi Takahashi as senryokugai players. Yoza was a 5th round draft pick in 2017 while Fujisawa was a former ikusei. T. Takahashi was an all-star in 2014 and 2015, but failed to make an impact at the ichi-gun and didn't do well after having Tommy John surgery in 2017-2018.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 1:27 AM
Sunday, October 28, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted a total of seven players and three in the ikusei round, making a total overall of 10. They were the only team to take a player in the first round unopposed while all 11 over teams wanted a high school player. Hatsuhiko Tsuji would have taken the draw since Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe chose to retire from doing this.
Here is a profile on each draft pick:
P Wataru Matsumoto (松本 航)
College: Nihon Taiiku [Nittai] (Tokyo)
High School: Akashi Shiritsu (Hyogo)
Date of Birth: November 28, 1996
Height: 176 cm (5' 9")
Weight: 84 kg (185 lbs)
Matsumoto is a 3/4 arm slot pitcher who can reach 155 kph on the gun. His fastball is his biggest strength, but can pitch a slider, curve ball, cutter and splitter. He was able to begin his college career as a freshman by playing immediately, where he was able to rack up the seventh most amount of strikeouts in University baseball history at 343 total.
The Lions were impressed with his precision on his pitches and think he can play right away.
P Yutaro Watanabe (渡邉 勇太朗)
High School: Urawa Gakuin (Saitama)
Date of Birth: September 21, 2000
Height: 190 cm (6' 2")
Weight: 90 kg (198 lbs)
Watanabe, a Saitama native, tops out at 149 kph with the ability to throw a two-seam fast ball, slider, curve and splitter. He gained attention for a decent outing in the second game of the 2018 Summer Koshien Tournament, where he struck out 10 batters in a complete game win. His team was eventually eliminated in the third round against the champions, Osaka Toin.
Due to his tall stature out of high school, he has drawn comparisons to Shohei Ohtani. The Lions liked his physical abilities and felt this upside could translate towards the long term. It's possible that he was a top 10 player on the Lions draft board as Nabe-Q said he was surprised to see Watanabe still available.
IF Kakeru Yamanobe (山野辺 翔)
Industrial League Team: Mitsubishi Motors Okazaki (Aichi)
College: J.F. Oberlin University (Tokyo)
High School: Toin Gakuen (Kanagawa)
Date of Birth: May 24, 1994
Height: 170 cm (5' 7")
Weight: 74 kg (163 lbs)
Yamanobe was mostly a defensive wizard in college, but improved his bat while as a shakaijin. He has decent speed while also being able to hit some occasional pop. Yamanobe was the starting second baseman in his first year out of the corporate leagues. One scouting site compared him to a right-handed version of Eigoro Mogi.
His range appears to be his biggest strength and at worst could be a defensive replacement. This is also insurance for the Lions assuming Hideto Asamura leaves in free agency.
P Kaito Awatsu (粟津 凱士)
College: Higashi Nihon Kokusai (Fukushima)
High School: Yamamoto Gakuen (Yamagata)
Date of Birth: March 1, 1997
Height: 180 cm (5' 11")
Weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)
Awatsu can throw a sinker, curve, two-seam fast ball, slider and cutter while topping out at 145 kph. In his senior year of college, he went undefeated with a 9-0 record and an ERA below 0.50 in 62 innings of work. During his third year in college, he switched from being a side arm pitcher to 3/4 arm slot. He tries to resemble for Lions player Tetsuya Shiozaki when it comes to his sinker.
The Lions liked his sinker as a whole and felt his control was Awatsu's best strength.
C Shoya Makino (牧野 翔矢)
High School: Yugakkankoto (Ishikawa)
Date of Birth: March 4, 2001
Height: 178 cm (5' 10")
Weight: 77 kg (169 lbs)
Makino had no Koshien experience, but hit well in his short time during the Ishikawa prefecture qualifiers for the tournament in the past. A lefty hitter, he's capable of having pop when registering 15 home runs. He converted from being a shortstop in his first year of high school.
Scouts liked his pop speed at 1.8 seconds throwing to second base and the Lions liked his physical traits. His shoulder is reported to be really strong.
P Ryosuke Moriwaki (森脇 亮介)
Industrial League team: Sega Sammy (Tokyo)
College: Nihon University (Tokyo)
High School: Tonan (Kyoto)
Date of Birth: July 13, 1992
Height: 175 cm (5' 8")
Weight: 70 kg (154 lbs)
Moriwaki can throw up to 152 kph and has a fastball, curve, slider, fork and changeup in his arsenal. His fastball has decent control and the Lions liked his versatility to mix it up. They think he can be a reliever right away and at age 26, he's capable of doing so like Katsunori Hirai did among former shakaijin.
IF Ryusei Sato (佐藤 龍世)
College: Fuji (Iwate)
High School: Hokkai (Hokkaido)
Date of Birth: January 15, 1997
Height: 174 cm (5' 8")
Weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)
Sato was the cleanup hitter at Fuji University and is capable of playing third base. He has power and can hit for average, but it's possible only his pop can translate into NPB. Defensively, he is adequate and play third base. If anything, the Lions could see him as a successor to Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura.
Fuji University is a pipeline that Lions fans are very familiar with having Hotaka Yamakawa, Shuta Tonosaki and Shinsaburo Tawata already taken from this school. Sato was a freshman when Tawata was a senior among the group. On another trivial note, he is cousins with 2018 Speed Skating Olympic gold medalist Ayano Sato.
P Aoi Tono (東野 葵)
College: Nikkei (Fukuoka)
High School: Fukuoka Daichi (Fukuoka)
Date of Birth: November 30, 1996
Height: 183 cm (6' 0")
Weight: 75 kg (165 lbs)
Tono can hit 146 kph while throwing a fastball. He can also throw a slider, cutter and curve ball. Control has been his biggest issue with a strikeout rate of 8.64, walk rate at 4.68 and hit rate at 5.76. It's clear the Lions wanted a a left handed pitcher for depth, but weren't willing to take him in the regular draft given his control issues. They felt his fastball was sharp.
P Jiyu Okubo (大窪 士夢)
High School: Hokkai (Hokkaido)
Date of Birth: August 2, 2000
Height: 198 cm (6' 8")
Weight: 88 kg (194 lbs)
Okubo has extreme size for a high school pitcher. There is very little information about him besides that he can max at 140 kph. The Lions view him as an unfinished project, indicating why he became an ikusei pick.
C Daichi Nakaguma (中熊 大智)
College: Tokuyama (Yamaguchi)
High School: Kyushu Gakuin (Kumamoto)
Date of Birth: August 27, 1996
Height: 176 cm (5' 9")
Weight: 84 kg (185 lbs)
Very little information was given for Nakaguma other than the fact he is a catcher. He had some Best 8 honors while in high school and college. Nakaguma will likely compete with Masato Saito as both are ikusei catchers working with coach Takanori Hoshi.
In the end, the Lions did the right call in my book by not going for the high school hyped Akira Neo. It's easy to go for the talent, but there was no guarantee that they'd land Matsumoto as a fall back option. The Lions lack hard throwers, but if the Climax Series didn't show already, the pitching needs help in all departments.
The team is also expecting Hideto Asamura to leave in free agency and I wonder if he gets a lowball offer. With Yamanobe being taken, the Lions expect to reload at the 2B position as they also took Sato, a college infielder. Time will tell what this class could be, but it's good to know three pitchers and an infielder could potentially contribute in 2019, where we won't need to wait seven years to determine this class.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 5:39 PM
Thursday, October 25, 2018
In a draft where several teams had targets in the first round, the Saitama Seibu Lions avoided a drawing and selected P Wataru Matsumoto in the first round out of Nippon Taiiku University.
Matsumoto, who will turn 22 in November, is a hard thrower and can hit a max velocity of 155 kilometers per hour (96 mph).
His college career has the 7th most amount of strikeouts in University baseball history, right behind Tomoyuki Sugano, who is currently with the Yomiuri Giants. He is capable of using a splitter, cutter, curve and slider.
He bills in at 176 cm and 85 kilograms and has a 3/4 arm slot style of pitch.
Matsumoto might have been viewed as the best college pitcher in the 2018 NPB Draft and the Lions were able to nab him before anyone could fall back after losing. Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe mentioned how the team was debating between pitcher and infielder Akira Neo. They chose to take the safe path of pitcher after seeing their staff show vulnerability all season last year.
In his college career, he has a combined 1.63 ERA with a 30-18 record in 375.2 innings of work. He reached 343 career strikeouts. Matsumoto won MVP honors in the Spring 2016 season.
It's possible that Matsumoto can make an immediate impact if his control is decent and impresses the coaches early. There are holes in both the rotation and bullpen for 2019.
We will have more analysis on each draft pick later after further research. Stay tuned.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 2:04 AM
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
The 2018 NPB Draft will take place on October 25.
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 2017 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.
1. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Pacific League, 6th place)
2. Hanshin Tigers (Central League, 6th place)
3. Chiba Lotte Marines (PL, 5th)
4. Chunichi Dragons (CL, 5th)
5. Orix Buffaloes (PL, 4th)
6. Yokohama DeNA Baystars (CL, 4th)
7. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL, 3rd)
8. Yomiuri Giants (CL, 3rd)
9. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (PL, 2nd)
10. Tokyo Yakult Swallows (CL, 2nd)
11. Saitama Seibu Lions (PL, 1st)
12. Hiroshima Carp (PL, 1st)
The Lions can obviously go in any direction. Keep in mind that if they go to a drawing, they will likely be taking last from the box unless they like the same player as the Carp. Here's how we'll breakdown each position:
Pitching is still the most obvious hole on the team and with Yusei Kikuchi being posted this offseason, it's going to get even harder. The 2015 class doesn't appear to be providing the depth needed and the team could go anywhere for bullpen or starting pitcher help. There is a trio of pitchers from Toyo University in Hiroshi Kaino, Taigi Kamichatani and Kodai Umetsu.
The team has been linked to Kosei Yoshida, who made himself known through the 2018 Summer Koshien Tournament carrying his school on his back. College pitcher Wataru Matsumoto has also received quite a bit of recognition among the Lions brass. There are several fall back options if the Lions don't hit on their first nomination choice.
The Lions are set for the long term at catcher with Tomoya Mori. However, they will likely let Ginjiro Sumitani walk in free agency. It's possible they take a late flyer on someone or wait until the ikusei round. Behind Masatoshi Okada and Mori, the Lions have three farm catchers and it's possible one of them goes to the ichi-gun. They could promote Masato Saito if they want, but there is no priority to take a catcher this year.
Hideto Asamura is a free agent and it's likely the Lions are bracing for him going to another team. Third base has plenty of questions long term when Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura won't be there forever. Akira Neo out of Osaka Toin is the consensus "Best player" among the teams and media, but he will go to a large drawing. If the Lions are feeling lucky, they'll put their name in the box. Infielder Ryo Ota is an interesting fallback option.
The outfield is all but set with Shuta Tonosaki and Shogo Akiyama. They have taken plenty of high school outfielders in recent years hoping someone can emerge in the future. Kyota Fujiwara is the big name out of Osaka Toin, but the Chiba Lotte Marines already announced they're going for him. Koji Chikamoto is a a shakaijin who could be taken later.
With the Lions not announcing their pick in public this year, I don't think they go for Neo. It's likely they go with Wataru Matsumoto or Kosei Yoshida as they are secretive about their plan. The Lions front office was debating Neo by mentioning a future infielder or taking a future pitcher, but I think they're going to stick to the plan on the latter.
The Lions cut five players when announcing their first senryokugai list. It's possible that even more can be dropped after the draft.
Of course anything can happen. Only five teams revealed their pick and it's a question how many teams go with Neo. Stay tuned everyone, this will be interesting.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:34 PM
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions season ended on Sunday against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Final Stage of the Climax Series. Here is how it happened:
As the Lions were already awarded a one game advantage, the Hawks took it away when Yusei Kikuchi struggled in the first game played against Rick van Den Hurk. He couldn't get a 1-2-3 inning until the third and his location was off, which allowed several base runners through hits or walks./ It was in the fourth inning where the Hawks broke it open through timely hits let and right.
On the other end, the Lions had hits of Van Den Hurk, but couldn't bring them home outside of two hits in the third.
Hawks 10, Lions 4
Game two had Shinsaburo Tawata facing Ariel Miranda. Takumi Kuriyama's three run home run gave the Lions a 3-0 lead, but the Hawks responded with three of their own. Neither side could get a shutdown frame with runs being exchanged, but Hideto Asamura's three-run HR proved to be the difference. Tawata gave up five runs through six innings, but recovered after the third while Miranda couldn't make it that far.
The Lions were able to feast on the Hawks bullpen and Kuriyama tied a Climax Series record with six RBIs. Sosuke Genda also had a modasho and kept rallies alive for the night.
Lions 13, Hawks 5
Game three had Daiki Enokida facing Kodai Senga. Seiji Uebayashi hit a three-run HR in the second inning and the Lions never recovered. While they were trailing 4-0, the Lions killed a rally of their own when sending a runner to home plate on what looked like a timely from Genda.
Ken Togame came in middle relief and was lit up, making this game an easy laugher for the Hawks as every starting player for the opposition had at least one hit.
Hawks 15, Lions 4
Game four had Tatsuya Imai against Nao Higashihama. Imai gave up two early home runs to Yuki Yanagita and Takuya Kai for a 4-0 lead the Lions never recovered from. Higashihama limited the Lions to a two-run HR in the third and that was it.
To add insult t the game, Alfredo Despaigne hit Tomoya Mori by swinging around on the wrist which hurt the team's confidence. Tatsushi Masuda and Kyle Martin struggled in the 7th inning which secured another win for the Hawks.
Hawks 8, Lions 2
Game 5 had Brian Wolfe facing Rei Takahashi. Yanagita hit an early bases-clearing double in the first to put the Lions in a hole they never recovered from once again. It was a one run game after five innings, but the Lions left Wolfe in the game too long for the 6th and it backfired when he gave up another run.
Kyle Martin struggled in the 8th inning once again and gave up two runs, putting a three-run lead as insurmountable. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a HR in the 9th, but it was too late as the Lions season ended with a 4-2 series loss./
Hawks 6, Lions 5
The Lions have had several moves since the loss, which included General Manager Haruhiko Suzuki stepping down at the end of the 2018 calendar year. Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe will take over when 2019 begins as the Heisei era also ends.
Deunte Heath and Kyle Martin were already given contracts for 2019, which I think is fair. Heath was an obvious decision given how he established himself as the team's closer in the second half. Martin is a small surprise given he wasn't awful, but not dominant in his short time with the ichi-gun. Thankfully, the Lions didn't judge him based off his postseason. If anything, he'll get a full year experience.
For now, it's also unclear whether Brian Wolfe retires from the game or not. There hasn't been any Lions decisions one way or another on him, but he could be useful as a spot starter.
Lots of frustration regarding this team in the Climax Series, but we knew the bullpen and rotation had its flaws coming in. Unfortunately, Yusei Kikuchi's career in Japan ends on a sour note, but we wish him the best when he is posted and goes to MLB.
Only question now is what happens to Hideto Asamura? The whole league is on watch now that he's a domestic free agent.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:06 PM
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions took home NPB's last monthly awards as Shinsaburo Tawata and Hotaka Yamakawa were named the Pacific League MVP pitcher and hitter, respectively, on Tuesday for the months of September and October combined. Both players also swept the PL awards for March and April earlier this year.
Yamakawa won for the fourth time in his career and second this season. He hit .333 while leading hte PL with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. He was second in slugging average with .706 and on base percentage at .465, making his OPS 1.171.
Tawata went 4-0 in five starts and was second in the league with 35 innings pitched. He had only 17 strikeouts, but the lowest ERA among PL pitchers at 1.54 and earned a shutout against the Orix Buffaloes in that span.
Tawata and Yamakawa were both teammates at the high school level and in college at Fuji University. Yamakawa was a second-round draft pick in 2013 while Tawata was the first round pick in 2015.
This is the fourth and fifth times the Lions have won a Pacific League MVP award in 2018. Besides Tawata and Yamakawa winning in April, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura won his award in August.
Central League MVPs:
Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants): 4-1, 3 SO, 49 IP, 44K, 1.10 ERA
Neftali Soto (Yokohama DeNA Baysars): .360/.445/.830, 14 HR, 31 RBI
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:29 PM
Monday, October 15, 2018
The Final Stage of the Climax Series is about to begin on October 17. With the first stage concluded, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks will take on the Saitama Seibu Lions in a best of 7 series.
As a result of winning the Pacific League Pennant, the Lions are already awarded one game and all games played will be at MetLife Dome.
Here is a breakdown leading up to this point:
The Lions were a consensus pick to finish in A-class, but no one took them seriously enough to be a contender. There were larger question marks with the rotation losing Ryoma Nogami and the bullpen letting Kazuhisa Makita and Brian Schlitter leave via the posting system and free agency, respectively.
Everyone knew the Lions could hit, run and mash for power as they led the league in stolen bases the year before. This year, they set a franchise-record 792 runs scored, which was good for being in the top 3 all-time in NPB history. Sosuke Genda avoided a sophomore slump and continued to make plays defensively and set new records for most games played with every inning at the start of career.
Things weren't easy as the team struggled through bullpen issues in the first half, but a shuffle with three midseason pickups led to Deunte Heath, Kyle Martin and Ryuya Ogawa replacing Tatsushi Masuda, Shota Takekuma and Tomomi Takahashi on the back end.
This year was about the rise of Hotaka Yamakawa putting a full season together, to Daiki Enokida being a surprise acquisition and being a huge contributor to the rotation. Hideto Asamura and Shogo Akiyama also had MVP caliber years to carry the offense while Tomoya Mori was the catcher for majority of the season.
The Hawks came off last being the defending champions and were picked to repeat again by several experts. While some guys are a year older, everyone expected them to overcome any hangover and win the pennant again. Instead, they had an inconsistent offense through the first half of the year while Kodai Senga was continuously hurt.
Reigning PL MVP and Shoriki Award winner Dennis Sarfate and Sho Iwasaki were lost for the season early in the year, leading the back end of the bullpen to Ren Kajiya and Yuito Mori taking over. Yuki Yanagita is an MVP candidate while the Hawks found contributions from their foreign signings in Yurisbel Gracial and Angel Miranda to help in the second half.
A strong final two months had the Hawks in position to overcome a potential 10.5 game deficit to the Lions, but it was too little, too late as they came in second place for the second time in three years.
The Lions have a 1-3 playoff series record against the Hawks, which includes losses in 2006, 2011 and 2012. They last beat the Hawks prior to the Climax Series era in 2004, which was a best three out of five.
The Lions have Yusei Kikuchi and everyone else behind him which is an uncertainty. From Daiki Enokida to Shinsaburo Tawata, it's unknown how they can perform given their history with strikeouts. Bullpen is scary until the 9th inning when Deunte Heath comes in. Who is the bridge?
Softbank has Kodai Senga and a better cast of support with Angel Miranda and former starters moving to the bullpen. Their depth is greater in comparison to the Lions. Edge: Hawks
Hotaka Yamakawa is the home run king of 2018. Defense isn't the greatest, but he gets on base, which is important for a slugger.
The Hawks have done a recent rotation which includes Akira Nakamura playing first at times. It's unlikely they will use Seiichi Uchikawa like before. Nakamura is a solid hitter and should be a threat, but the pop from Yamakawa is better when comparing the two. Edge: Lions
Hideto Asamura is coming off his best career season with 32 HRs and a .310 batting average, let alone an OPS above .900. Defensively he has also been a whiz.
Softbank used Taishi Makihara to end 2018. However, veteran Kenji Akashi took over the duties in the postseason as their 2B as the days of Yuichi Honda are officially gone. He has been a respectful light hitter, but nowhere near to what Asamura has done. Edge: Lions
Takeya "Okawari-kun" is coming off an amazing second half with 28 HRs since July and has hit .300 in that span. There's no question he has been a boost to the Lions offense since returning from injury and rehab.
Nobuhiro "Matchi" Matsuda has been a mainstay for the Hawk and continues to have power of his own. Okawari-kun has a slight edge by hitting for average, but defensively it's pretty even. Edge: Lions
Sosuke Genda has created stability at this position for two consecutive years. Best thing is he can also hit without being a zero in the lineup.
Tomoki Takata would likely start for the Hawks if Kenta Imamiya remains injured. If Imamiya was healthy, both shortstops would be elite and it's even, but Genda has the clear cut advantage over Takata. Edge: Lions
Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki are likely to be in the Lions outfield. They all have great range and know their roles. However, Tonosaki is coming off an injury and saw limited time when returning, it will be a question if he starts or not. Takumi Kuriyama has done well in the 4th outfielder role.
Yuki Yanagita is one of the best, while Seiji Uebayashi continues a strong form after cracking the ichi-gun last year. Yurisbel Gracial also has pop and can be dangerous as a result. With all three Hawks outfielders being a threat, their depth is greater than the Lions unless we're talking defensive range. Edge: Hawks
Tomoya Mori has been the starting catcher for most of the games, but it's possible the Lions could use Masatoshi Okada or Ginjiro Sumitani depending on the pitcher. All three have had respectable defense and hitting for a catcher's standards.
Takuya Kai is the best catcher in NPB with a great pop time Japan will value his defense more than anything else, but the Lions hitting can cancel out both. If anything, it's a battle of hitting vs defense in this case. Edge: Hawks
The Fighters have been going with a committee at catcher from Yushi Shimizu and Shinya Tsuruoka taking the games behind the plate. Both guys are respectable defensively, but the Lions depth is better with the bat. Edge: Lions
The Lions have played Mori and Kuriyama at DH depending on the matchup. When Mori is the DH and batting 7th, it's a huge luxury given his talent.
Alfredo Despaigne is always a threat when it comes to power, but isn't hitting for average as much. He still serves his purpose on the team to boost the Hawks offensively. Edge: Hawks
Hatsuhiko Tsuji took the team to another level since taking over as the Lions manager. There's enough creativity and use of the bullpen and pinch hits to keep the team respectable.
Kimiyasu Kudo has two rings to his name, but he is more aggressive with bunting while Tsuji doesn't. Kudo is also overly obsessed with lefty/righty when it comes to pinch hitters and pitchers, where he can use two players for one at-bat on the former. Edge: Lions
The Lions went 13-12 against the Hawks in the regular season, but the home team won majority of the time. That being said, the Hawks could go into MetLife Dome and pull a small upset with their pitching and veteran presence that knows how to get it done. Never underestimate the heart of a champion. This should be a close one either way with it possibly going to the maximum distance.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 7:00 AM
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
The 2018 NPB regular season is coming to a close with only a handful of makeup games remaining. With A-class and B-class decided, it's time to give a final power rankings list for the entire league.
While power rankings can't be truly decided on win percentage and the standings, the body of work as a whole combined with what has happened since the All-Star break have been factored in. A few makeup games haven't happened yet at the time of this writing, but it won't affect these rankings as the records will be updated as they're played. .
Here's how it looks:
1. [^] (2) Saitama Seibu Lions (88-53-2); 20-8 since 9/1; 16-7 at clinching point
The Lions finish 2018 with a franchise-record scoring offense while going on a season-high 12-game win streak to hold off any challengers. By the winning the Pacific League Pennant, the tough competition made them better and they'll be favorites as they enter the Climax Series. It's rather impressive this team stayed in first place since Opening Day and didn't falter minus being tied once in the summer. They're the fifth team in history to do this and first since 1997.
Their other rare distinction is being the second team to win a pennant with the league's highest ERA since the 2001 Kintetsu Buffaloes. Much of this comes from the middle relief giving up runs with a high lead, but even then, the bullpen has its question marks coming into the postseason.
Hideto Asamura, Hotaka Yamakawa and Shogo Akiyama were three of the most potent players in NPB and it's a bonus they're all on the same team. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura also helped with a huge boost in the second half, slugging beyond just his 28 HRs.
2. [^] (3) Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (82-60-1); 21-10 since 9/1
The Hawks made an impressive run to end the regular season, but came up just short despite having a seven game win streak in the midst of the month. Yuki Yanagita will be an MVP candidate and the talent is still there. They could have won the pennant themselves if their 6-11-1 July wasn't so poor, or having an inconsistent first half.
In this case, it was how they started, not how they finished to lose the pennant. However, they are still a contender despite the struggles because they're red hot.
3. [v] (1) Hiroshima Carp (82-59-2); 13-15 since 9/1; 9-11 at clinching point
The Carp were on cruise control since the pennant was all but decided at the All-Star break. A strong August took place. but it's been a month of meaningless baseball for the most part. Yoshihiru Maru should the Central League MVP with a new career high in HRs.
Offensively, everything is there to make a run, but how does the pitching hold up? Kris Johnson had a solid rebound year while Daichi Osera was the leader in the rotation.
4. [=] (4) Tokyo Yakult Swallows (75-66-2); 18-10 since 9/1
It was in late August when five teams in the Central League had a losing record. The Swallows emerged to being over .500 and stayed that way in September. Tetsuto Yamada reached Triple 3's for the third time in the last four years while Wladimir Balentien continues to mash with their 2017 MVP Tomotaka Sakaguchi, Nori Aoki and "Yuhei" Takai.
This team can hit and turned the corner right at interleague play. No one could've predicted this team to be in A-class after everything went wrong a year ago. This year, everything went right from being healthy to the Central League competition faltering. Pitching is slightly below average, but the Swallows should be competitive given how strong they're been since June.
5. [^] (6) Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (73-66-3); 12-14 since 9/1
The Fighters have arguably been backed in to the postseason with two consecutive losing months. However, they still finished with a winning record, which is something many pundits didn't expect after losing Shohei Ohtani. They have a nice young core to build on and the Fighters will be entering the Climax Series with house money.
6. [v] (5) Yomiuri Giants (67-71-5); 9-9 since 9/1
The Giants get penalized for having a losing record and finishing .500 in the last two months combined. They did well enough to escape two years of B-class, but still didn't earn it given they have a losing record.
Now that they're in, they'll be a dangerous threat with Tomoyuki Sugano playing his first postseason game since 2015 (he missed 2016 with an injury) and Kazuma Okamoto making his debut. Not many thought they'd get great contributions from C.C. Mercedes to take them into A-class.
This group is inconsistent as a whole, but the opportunity to get hot is there. Only thing strange about it all? Yoshinobu Takahashi has resigned and will be outgoing while Tatsunori Hara will return next year.
7. [^] (12) Yokohama DeNA Baystars (67-74-2); 16-12 since 9/1
The Baystars waited too long to make a run and get into A-class. Pitching wasn't there for 2018 with consistently poor performances and injuries piling up. For a group that looked like a last place team statistically much of the year, this 2018 shortcoming is a makeup for them getting in last season.
They ended up wasting a year of Neftali Soto and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, where the bats were also an issue as they were too home run dependent. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff looks. Alex Ramirez is staying for 2019, but he will be on the hot seat.
8. [=] (8) Orix Buffaloes (65-73-5); 12-13 since 9/1
Orix got their biggest win of the year when manager Junichi Fukura resigned. It was overdue, but the worst part about this is how they wasted years of Yuki Nishi, who could be leaving in free agency or to the posting system. Former Marines manager Norifumi Nishimura will be in charge next year, but this has the feeling of a lazy hire given he was their head coach this season.
Starting pitching is good enough to compete, but can the talent be developed? If the coaching staff doesn't have a shake up, it looks like it could be the status quo.
9. [=] (9) Chunichi Dragons (63-77-2); 10-11 since 9/1
The Dragons, by some miracle, find a way to avoid the cellar again in our power rankings as they'll be in 5th place in the Central. Bullpen was hard to watch while it took some veterans and foreign imports performing above expectations to escape last place. The youth is still developing and no one has stepped it up yet.
Manager Shigekazu Mori is likely to move to the front office while his current position is currently vacant. Another group of veterans from last decade have finally retired as we say farewell to Masahiro Araki, Hitoki Iwase and Takuya Asao. Unfortunately it has been a hard fall for Asao, who will retire at age 34 after being an MVP at one point in his career.
This section was really hard to decide who should be in last. All three teams are deserving of it.
10. [^] (11) Tohoku Rakuten Eagles (57-82-3); 10-16 since 9/1
The Eagles will retain Yosuke Hiraishi as the manager for 2019, continuing the trend of the interim being given an opportunity for the following season. After Masataka Nashida stepped down, the team responded with a decent run in July before they faltered. At least their losing looks competitive, unlike two teams below in the rankings.
Starting pitching is there, but the offense took a big step back and will lack pop with multiple imports not returning. Rakuten also lacks speed on the bases besides having bullpen issues stemming from the second half of 2017.
11. [v] (10) Chiba Lotte Marines (59-79-3); 7-21 since 9/1
The Marines are on a 13-game losing streak in home games and have had the worst record since the All-star break at 19-41-1 at the time of this writing. Tadahito Iguchi's first year ends on a thud with several mistakes going wrong, from a base running blunder by Shogo Nakamura to the bullpen collapsing.
Some can fall back on Takashi Ogino's injury at the All-Star break, but Ayumu Ishikawa's is what has really hurt them. It's likely Ishikawa played 2018 through an injury after he had a strong first half. Their biggest goal in this offseason will be to retain Mike Bolsinger, who had an excellent first year in Japan. It's possible the home run totals for the Marines will get better, as Zozotown Marine Stadium will get a terrace of seats similar to how the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks added some to the Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome in 2015.
12. [v] (7) Hanshin Tigers (61-79-2); 11-20-1 since 9/1
The Hanshin Tigers were the only team in NPB to not have a winning month in 2018 and will finish dead last in the Central League. Their best month was going 12-12 in May, but the offense never put it together as a whole when the pitching hid all deficiencies. The Tigers set a new franchise record for most losses at Koshien Stadium with 39. The top high school had more wins in the Koshien Tournament (6) than the Tigers did (5) from August to the end of 2018.
Bullpen regressed from 2017 while the injuries piled up in September, but this team was eliminated a long time ago given how the offense had the same struggles as before. Similar to the Marines, the Tigers lack any pop. The Tigers were good for one thing in 2018: Knocking the Baystars out of the postseason by going 17-8 against them.
Tomoaki Kanemoto just resigned from his managerial position. Should be interesting to see who is next.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:40 PM
Saturday, October 6, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions finished a combined 4-2 against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks for the final week of the regular season. They clinched the pennant on Sunday for their first in 10 years.
With this week having little meaning in teh standings, we'll just provide some notes and extras regarding what went down:
-Shuta Tonosaki returned to the lineup for the first time in a month. By having two strikeouts, he had 100 on the season, becoming the 6th Lion to have that distinction. The other five are Sosuke Genda, Hideto Asamura, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Tomoya Mori and Hotaka Yamakawa.
-Asamura reached 127 RBIs, which is a new franchise record, beating Alex Cabrera and Okawari-kun's previous single-season high of 123.
-The Lions went 68 innings without a traditional timely hit from September 22 to October 1 when Asamura broke it having a timely single, plating two runners. They scored only through the home run or an RBI groundout in that stretch.
-Daiki Enokida picked up his 11th win against the Fighters on Tuesday, which set a new career-high. He previously had four in his lone starting season with the Hanshin Tigers back in 2013.
-Shinsaburo Tawata will finish 2018 as the NPB wins leader with 16. The Lions forced a win when he pitched eight innings having a high pitch count. Shogo Akiyama hit a solo HR in the top of the 9th to secure Tawata's win.
-Kona Takahashi and Sho Ito earned wins as spot starters against the Fighters and Marines, respectively. Both pitchers were highly dependent on the defense in their wins, but Kona went eight innings to earn his victory after escaping a bases loaded no out situation.
-Sosuke Genda broke a 70-year record for assists and double plays in a single season. He is also the first Japanese player to play every single inning for his first two seasons in NPB.
It's been a fine week overall with no injuries as the team will have 10 days off until the final stage of the Climax Series. This should be interesting as the first stage won't involve the Lions when the Hawks and Fighters battle to the death.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 1:18 PM
Thursday, October 4, 2018
The Saitama Seibu Lions announced that five players are officially senryokugai and will not be offered contracts for the 2019 season. They are Ryohei Fujiwara, Takuya Toyoda, Yusuke Tamamura, Ryo Sakata and Kentaro Fukukura.
All five players fell out of favor with only Toyoda playing an ichi-gun game in the 2018 season. Among the crop, Sakata has the best chance of making another roster in NPB as a pinch hitter.
EDIT: Sakata has announced retirement from NPB.
Tamamura is the youngest of the group being 23 years old and being the only one failing to play an ichi-gun game in his career.
The 2018 NPB Draft is on October 25 and with five players gone, it appears that the Lions will draft five players at minimum later this month. The Lions already released Neil Wagner earlier this year and the 70-man roster currently stands at 63.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 2:29 AM