Sunday, September 6, 2015
Lions Weekly Digest: A sweeping of Chiba in the home stretch
The Saitama Seibu Lions would go 5-2 this week which includes a makeup game, as well as two series against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines.
In the makeup game against the Eagles in Sendai, the Lions started strong with a 5-0 lead thanks to a grand slam by Ernesto Mejia. It would put the game away early as they jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the fourth inning.
Kona Takahashi would allow two runs in five innings with four strikeouts and earn his fourth win of the season. His only runs came from a gapper in the fifth inning when he was facing the batting order for the third time.
Mejia would add another solo home run and had eight RBIs total including two other hits combining for three runs.Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would add a solo home run in the ninth for his 35th of the season, beating his total from last year. In the end, the Lions would win 15-3 against a spot starter in Takashi Kawai. Yasuhiro Tanaka also earned a save for pitching the final three innings of the game.
In Game 1 against the Hawks, the Lions were hitting well off Hayato Terahara to begin the game. Captain Takumi Kuriyama started the scoring with a solo home run. Okawari-kun had a two-run HR later and the Lions would pour it on in the third inning. After the home run, Ginjiro Sumitani had an RBI double to score two more and the Lions led 5-0 after three.
Takayuki Kishi had a respectable outing, going seven innings with only two runs allowed and one of them coming off a HR by Nobuhiro Matsuda. Mejia would add a solo HR but the Lions put the game away in the sixth. With the bases loaded, Mejia would hit a a two-run RBI double off Shingo Tatsumi and Tomoya Mori had a chance to break it open.
The bases were loaded again and Mori connected for his first career grand slam, pulling it to right field. It was his first home run since June 26. Kishi was able to limit the damage from the top of the lineup and it took some impressive range by the defense to keep the Hawks off the board. All starting players would have at least one hit and the Lions would win 13-3 in a comfortable fashion.
In Game 2, Chun-Lin Kuo got off to a poor start and allowed four runs to begin the game. This included a balk and a gapper from Seiichi Uchikawa. However, the Lions would claw back with a solo HR from Ryota Wakiya and RBI single from Mori.
After five innings, Wakiya would get an RBI single and bring the Lions within one. They also blew a chance to to score more with strikeouts from Sumitani and Yuji Onizaki. In the eighth inning, pinch hitter Yutaro Osaki would tie the game on a clutch single and there would be extra innings.
The Lions blew a bases loaded chance in the 11th with Wakiya striking out on a ball in the dirt. Tanaka was forced to take the 12th inning and Yuki Yanagita broke the tie with a solo HR. Dennis Sarfate would shut the door and Seibu would be even with Chiba again heading into Thursday.
In Game 3, Kazuhisa Makita had a similarly bad start like Kuo in the previous night, being in a 5-0 hole. In the third inning, the Lions would be trailing 8-0 after Makita allowed a three-run HR to Kenji Akashi. Tadashi Settsu won his fifth straight decision and solid night, going seven innings with one run allowed.
Despite losing the series to the Hawks, they competed in two of the games and unfortunately were bound to lose to the best team in NPB. Game 2 had opportunities that just fell through.
The week shifted to Chiba where the Lions would take on Hideaki Wakui with Ken Togame and both pitchers would have strong outings. Togame went seven innings with only one run allowed on a solo HR from Alfred Despaigne in the sixth.
Wakui allowed an RBI single to Okawari-kun in the first, but that was all the damage done as he went eight innings. The game would extra innings after Tomomi Takahashi escaped a jam in the 9th with two runners on. He would strike out Tadahito Iguchi on a curve ball, challenging the veteran up front.
In the 10th, Naoya Masuda allowed a leadoff walk to Mori where the Lions would have Shuta Tonosaki pinch run for him. After Sumitani got a successful sacrifice bunt with two strikes, Yutaro Osaki had a chance as a pinch hitter for Yuji Onizaki. Osaki came through with a gapper and the Marines outfield playing in, putting the Lions up for good.
Takahashi would have early control issues for the 10th, but forced Ikuhiro Kiyota to flyout while Despaigne struck out. Saburo Omura would single and keep Chiba's hopes alive, but the door was shut when Takahashi got Luis Cruz to flyout and end it. The Lions would allow a base runner for Chiba in every inning whether it was through a hit, walk or error. If it weren't for some amazing defense by Onizaki, it could have been a loss.
In Game 2, the Lions would get a lead early again from an RBI single by Okawari-kun. Takuya Furuya would pitch around him in the third inning, but Mejia would get an RBI single of his own to put the Lions up 2-0. Kuriyama added another and the Lions led by three after three innings.
The fifth inning saw a two-out, two-run home run from Mejia and it would be his 24th of the season. Even a two-out rally would start and Sumitani would get a single to make it 6-0.
Yusei Kikuchi put in another strong outing with eight shutout innings. He would only have four strikeouts, but some great defense in the infield from Okawari-kun and Asamura would make things easy. The Lions turned three double plays on the night including one in the eighth where Onizaki caught a deeper line drive and doubled up at second base.
In Game 3, Kona Takahashi would start slow with two runs from an RBI single by Cruz. However, the Lions would respond in the second with a three-run home run by Sumitani off Yuta Omine. It was his first home run of the season.
K. Takahashi would go five innings and settle in after first, but had no strikeouts. He escaped a bases loaded jam in the fifth and got Despaigne to pop out to end his night. The Lions would break it open with three runs in the third inning with RBIs from Okawari-kun, Mori and Kuriyama to make it 6-2.
Chiba wouldn't score again until the sixth inning when Ryoma Nogami came in for relief. They added one run, but no more after pinch hitter Saburo Omura struck out. Mori would hit a solo home run shortly after off Dae-Eun Rhee, who has been a nemesis of the Lions. Saitama put the game away when Osaki got a pinch hit single and Shogo Akiyama drove in another run in the 9th inning. The game was called prior to the bottom of the 9th due to rain with the score being 9-3.
It was the first series win in Chiba since August of 2014. The Lions have now won a series on the road against every Pacific League team and had their first sweep of a series since August 20. They have five series sweeps for a three-game series this season.
Norio Tanabe and the Lions management made an excellent call this week by having Nogami out of the rotation and switching to Kikuchi for Saturday's start. There clearly was priority and urgency wanting the weekend series and with Nogami struggling, having him in a split start with Kuo worked out fine.
The Lions nearly beat the Hawks on Wednesday despite the bad start and now Nogami will stay out of the rotation with no more six-game weeks. Kikuchi rewarded them with eight strong innings and a game to possibly demoralize Chiba in the process.
With the Lions now two games up on the Marines, things are looking good with the offense hitting. The irregular schedule of September begins with only two games against Orix and one vs the Fighters with a home game facing Chiba to close it out. Winning three out of four games would put them in good shape towards a possible postseason spot.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 2:18 PM