Monday, June 29, 2015

Four more added to NPB All-Star Series by vote of Players

Ikuhiro Kiyota had quite a run and has been one of the hotter hitters for Chiba.
The players' vote for the NPB All-Star Series was released on Monday night, which is Monday morning in the United States. While several player votes overlapped with the fan vote, multiple players were selected into the 2015 NPB All-Star Series which will take place in Tokyo Dome and Hiroshima. Here is our reaction to all four players selected.

Stats are reflected on games completed through June 28.  We will display a slashline of Batting Average/OBP/SLG.

C/1B Shinnosuke Abe (Yomiuri): .260/.353/.366

One can argue that Abe got in for his name recognition of years past. He isn't displaying the same pop that he used to with only three home runs, but he still leads all Central League catchers in most offensive categories. He also has been limited, playing more than half of the games for Yomiuri. He was our vote for Central League Catcher, but it was very light knowing his role has moved to 1B on occasion.

1B Jose Lopez (DeNA): .298/.352/.513

Lopez was our vote for the 1B position knowing he has impressive pop playing in only his first season with the Baystars. With ability to hit for average and display some power with 13 home runs, we approve of this vote among the players.

OF Yuhei Takai (Yakult): .236/.293/.343 

This vote clearly had to do with name recognition among the players as Takai came off a solid 2014 season with the Swallows. He had 23 home runs last year, but this season he only has four. It feels like the players away from Yakult didn't know he is having a down season and this is a vote we disagree with. Personally, we want Ryosuke Hirata of Chunichi to make the Central League team.

OF Ikuhiro Kiyota (Chiba): .335/.405/.538

Kiyota was one of the hottest hitters in the month of May and continued to be strong through June. If it weren't for Lee Dae-Ho, he would have won the Pacific League MVP for May. With an on base percentage over .400, it's hard to argue against him being an All-Star. Our vote went to Katsuya Kakunaka, but we're understanding of Kiyota getting in.  


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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Weathering the storm

 The Seibu Lions had an okay week, going 3-3 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Game 1 against the Hawks ended up being a pitcher's duel where Kazuhisa Makita had a rough jam to begin the game. He allowed an opening run from Yuki Yanagita and later a home run from him. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit his 21st home run of the season with a solo jack and the Lions would later tie the game with a wild pitch.

Unfortunately the Lions would concede in the seventh inning when Makita was giving up a barrage of hits. With a runner on third, he would throw a wild pitch of his own and it would be the game-losing run. The game was called in the eighth inning due to the rain in Omiya, where Esmerling Vasquez was in trouble having inherited runners on first and second with no outs.

The Lions had plenty of opportunities with runners in scoring position, but couldn't deliver a clutch hit and waited until a wild pitch happened to score their only in-play run of the game. Anthony Seratelli had two chances and Takumi Kuriyama had another, but nothing would happen and the Hawk would win a shortened game.

Game 2 was a pitcher's duel as well as Jason Standridge went six innings and Ryoma Nogami completed seven. It was tied 2-2 after seven innings but the runs broke through for the eighth. Tatsushi Masuda conceded a run after a load of hits to put the Hawks up 3-2 again.

The bottom of the frame had a different ending though. Tomoya Mori got a leadoff hit and Ryota Wakiya singled as a pinch hitter for Yuji Onizaki. Seratelli came in to pinch hit for Gijiro Sumitani and delivered with a single to tie the game at 3-3. After Shogo Akiyama singled to load the bases, Fumikazu Kimura was up after he was a pinch runner for Kuriyama in the previous inning.

Edison Barrios has usually been a reliable setup man for the Hawks, but he left the bases loaded for Masahiko Morifuku. Kimura blasted a grand slam for his third HR of the season to left field, sending the Seibu dome into pandemonium. Tomomi Takahashi allowed a solo home run to Nobuhiro Matsuda, but that was it and the Lions get an improbable win after another quality start by Nogami. 

Game 3 against the Lions appeared to be a home run derby to start. Chun-Lin Kuo allowed a quick HR to Yanagita and later Matsuda in the first two innings. The Lions would answer back with home runs from Kimura and Kuriyama, but the third inning was where the meltdown would happen. Kuo would give up hit after hit which resulted in a three-run third.

Seibu would tie the game from a gapper by Kimura and it would be 5-5 after six innings, but Norio Tanabe took a risk that hurt. Ryohei Fujiwara had pitched 3.1 innings prior to the seventh, but the Hawks hitters had him figured out a second time around the lineup and mashed on him. He would cough up the lead from a hit by Matsuda and Shota Takekuma couldn't help with inherited runners. Backup catcher Toru Hosokawa would clear the bases giving the Hawks an insurmountable 4-run lead late in the game and the Lions would lose the series.

It was a competitive one through all the games, but unfortunately the Hawks lineup is more loaded than the Lions. Yanagita, Lee Dae-Ho, Matsuda and Seiichi Uchikawa are just on another planet right now and they further solidified themselves as the top team in the Pacific League.

Things changed in Game 1 against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters as the bats awoken versus Kohei Arihara. The Fighters' pitcher lacked control, where Akiyama was able to pounce on him early with a triple and a home run. Ernesto Mejia would later hit a tape measuring home run out of the park to make it 6-1 and put the game away early.

Takayuki Kishi went six innings with only two earned runs, both of which proved to be minimal damage. It was a strong outing until he took a lot of pitches in the sixth inning, but a good step in the right direction for the Lions' ace.

Hokkaido threw in the towel when Yuki Saito came in for the sixth inning. He would allow home runs to Hideto Asamura and Mori in humiliating fashion. The Lions would score 12 runs on the night and Akiyama was only a single away from hitting the cycle.

Game 2 saw the Lions show more power against Mitsuo Yoshikawa. He wouldn't last through four innings after two early runs, he allowed a three-run home run to Asamura to put the Lions up 5-0. They would score three more runs off Michael Crotta to go up 8-0 and break the game open for good with an RBI single from Okawari-kun.

Ken Togame wouldn't have a dominant outing, but effective by asking his defense to help him out and not have the ball leave the park. Shota Takekuma would also put in a solid seventh inning with two strikeouts. This game was such a laugher that Saito even made a cameo in the bottom of the 8th and gave up a solo HR to Kimura.

Game 3 against the Fighters saw a squandered opportunity by the Lions' bats. They had a chance to begin the game against Luis Mendoza, who didn't have a sharp first inning. With Akiyama and Kuriyama on as leadoff runners, Asamura and Okawari-kun struck out with Mejia grounded out to end any threat.

The sixth inning was the most head-scratching, where Ginjiro Sumitani had a leadoff double but Tanabe called for Akiyama to bunt shortly after. His bunt attempt failed as the Fighters attacked third base, tagging out Sumitani while Kuriyama and Asamura failed to get a hit.

Hokkaido made them pay as Yusei Kikuchi had one mistake pitch in the seventh. Ryo Ishikawa took advantage of a breaking ball that was hung up and took it opposite field to the Fighters' Oendan to break a scoreless tie. The Fighters would add another run in the ninth and the Lions couldn't sweep them.

In perspective, it's easy to get greedy against the Fighters but they aren't a pushover team. A 3-3 week can sound disappointing, but avoiding a sweep against the Hawks isn't the end of the world. The Lions got over the hump at being 10 game over .500 briefly when they won Game 2 against Hokkaido.

With five quality starts between Makita, Nogami, Kishi, Togame and Kikuchi, the Lions are in good shape to remain competitive from here on out. The hitting will have its ups and downs and unfortunately Sunday's loss to the Fighters was just a rough outing.

The road doesn't get any easier as they will face the Hawks again this week and the Chiba Lotte Marines, who have been a thorn in the Lions' side. I personally want a winning week coming ahead for the month of July, but a 3-3 week would suffice given who they're playing.

On another positive note, Shogo Akiyama reached the 40-hit plateau again for the second straight month. This also makes it more confusing as to why Tanabe elected to sacrifice bunt with him knowing he's the current leading NPB hitter.

Lots of "what could've been", but it is what it is. Can't win them all and just have to move on to the next week, which won't be a cake walk.


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Saturday, June 27, 2015

NPB All-Star Series: Pacific League Reaction

Here is our reaction to the Pacific League All-Stars voted in.  For the Central League All-Stars, click here.

Stats are based on games completed through June 27.  

For batters we will show a slashline of Batting Average/OBP/SLG 

For pitcher we will show a slashline of (Wins - Losses), ERA/FIP/WHIP 


Starting Pitcher: Shohei Otani (Hokkaido) (9-1), 1.47/1.15/0.791

Relief Pitcher: Edison Barrios (Fukuoka) (0-2), 3.38/2.46/1.602 (20 Holds, 1 Save)

Closer: Yuki Matsui (Rakuten) (1-0), 0.51/1.80/0.943 (5 Holds, 18 Saves)

Shohei Otani is the most clear-cut choice among starting pitchers and his vote was reaffirmed with a complete game shutout on Tuesday. Barrios has been a consistent setup man for Fukuoka and Matsui has the lowest ERA among closers.

While as Lions fans we'd prefer Tomoni Takahashi at closer, Matsui's ERA and WHIP are much lower and it's understandable to vote the former top draft pick of 2013 into this All-Star Game.



Motohiro Shima (Rakuten) .226/.250/.317

Shima is the more well-rounded catcher among the Pacific League. However, he is battling an injury and it's uncertain if he will be able to play in July or not. We're hoping Kensuke Kondo of Hokkaido becomes the replacement, unless defense is valued so highly in NPB that Ginjiro Sumitani becomes the catcher. 



1B: Sho Nakata (Hokkaido) .259/.351/.544

2B: Hideto Asamura (Saitama) .322/.410/.469

3B: Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura (Saitama) .287/.357/.592

SS: Kenta Imamiya (Fukuoka) .200/.247/.279

Nakata, Asamura and Okawari-kun are clear cut picks for their respective positions. Nakata and Okawari-kun lead the Pacific League in home runs while Asamura is currently best hitting 2B in NPB. 

However, there is a large disagreement with Imamiya making the All-Star game when he is hitting .200, exactly at the Mendoza Line level. Regardless of how great his defense is, I feel there he has to hit his own weight in order to qualify for the All-Star game. Gold glove caliber or not, there can't be a one dimensional person for defense only. We would prefer the speedy Takuya Nakashima to make the All-star game if we had a choice. 



Yuki Yanagita (Fukuoka) .377/.468/.626

Shogo Akiyama (Saitama) .382/.424/.541

Yoshio Itoi (Orix) .233/.336/.366

Yanagita and Akiyama are the two top batting leaders in NPB and there's no debating they are locks as All-Stars. Itoi was voted in on name recognition and his batting title accomplishments from 2014, which I would disagree with. This is the 2015 All-star game, not All-stars of past history. Itoi is having a down season hitting around .230 and isn't even the best hitting outfielder for Orix.

Two outfielders in Chiba should be considered between Ikuhiro Kiyota and Katsuya Kakunaka for the last All-Star spot. Kakunaka has been more consistent over the first three months of the year, which is who we voted for. Both are better than Itoi this year.

Designated Hitter:

Tomoya Mori (Saitama) .293/.351/.525

Mori received the most votes among all All-Stars for the ballot. There was minimal competition among designated hitters and the 19-year old brings a fresh face to NPB. After having a promising second half with the Lions in 2014, he built off of that and provides pop to the lineup. Like his other teammates, this was a clear cut vote with no debate.



The four Lions who were voted into the All-Star game were locks when we wrote about this a few weeks ago. Imamiya and Itoi are the only two voted in players we dislike, but otherwise the Pacific League voters got it right among the remaining 10.

What's more amazing for Lions fans, is how several pitchers in the rotation could be All-Star worthy and none of them are named Takayuki Kishi. This All-Star ballot reflects where the team was supposed to be, having hitting from top to bottom, but the pitching has been just as effective. 


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NPB All Star Series: Central League Reaction

The NPB All-star Votes were in on Friday 6/26. Here we will react to the fan votes and see who got into the All-Star Series for 2015 with commentary on each position. For comparison, you can check my votes here.

Stats are based on games completed through June 27.  

For pitchers, we will have a slashline of ERA/FIP/WHIP

For batters, we will have a slashline of (Wins - Losses), Batting Average/OBP/SLG 


Starting Pitcher: Hiroki Kuroda (Hiroshima) (6-2), 2.74/3.01/1.185

Relief Pitcher: Tetsuya Yamaguchi (Yomiuri) (2-4), 3.38/4.16/1.33 (12 Holds, 1 Save)

Closer: Yasuaki Yamasaki (Yokohama) (1-2), 1.91/1.16/0.765 (6 Holds, 20 Saves)

Voters definitely gave Kuroda a big welcome back to Japan by voting him into his first NPB All-Star game since 2007. Initially, he looked like an above average pitcher but has had an impressive run to make him All-Star worthy. I don't have him as the best starting pitcher but am fine with him participating in this event. Personally thought Kenta Maeda would be the best starter among Central League pitchers. 

Yamaguchi is a decent setup man for the Giants even though my vote went to Kenjiro Tanaka of DeNA. Of course his FIP shows he is vulnerable at times. Yamasaki was the consensus among fans and I don't have a problem with that. For a first-round pick out of last October's draft he has been an impressive rookie to just step in and become the team's closer. He should be in the hunt for Rookie of the Year.


Tsubawa Aizawa (Hiroshima) .264/.348/.389

Aizawa beat out Shinnosuke Abe in the vote for catcher which isn't a bad thing knowing the latter has been playing 1B at times. Aizawa doesn't have the most impressive stat-line offensively, but enough for All-Star consideration. I'm going to assume his defense is amazing behind the plate. 



1B Takahiro Arai (Hiroshima) .311/.394/.433

2B Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima) .271/.300/.383

3B: Shingo Kawabata (Yakult) .327/.365/.401

SS: Takashi Toritani (Hanshin) .257/.350/.346

Carp fans stuffed the ballot box all over the Central League. Arai is having a solid year, but wasn't my first vote. CL home run leader Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Jose Lopez were better candidates for their pop over hitting for average at the 1B position. Kikuchi has a much better glove than every 2B, but his hitting is nowhere close to what Tetsuto Yamada has done.

Kawabata has been decent and Hector Luna of Chunichi should also get in, but he's good enough to warrant votes. Toritiani got in based on name recognition and isn't close to what Kosuke Tanaka and Hayato Sakamoto are, this choice is a little insulting.



Yoshihiro Maru (Hiroshima) .252/.349/.421

Takayuki Kajitani (Yokohama) .295/.362/.436

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yokohama) .326/.395/.541

Voters got it right on both Baystars in Kajitani and Tsutsugo with the latter being an exciting player. I do have issues with Maru getting in based on his name. This is not the 2014 All-Star game and a player like Ryosuke Hirata is having a much better season. Maru has some pop, but is too inconsistent for the All-Star game.



There's two players in Maru and Toritani I disagree with as they got in on name recognition, but I expect Yutaka Wada, the Hanshin Tigers skipper to add the players who weren't voted in.  Getting nine out of 11 players right isn't too shabby, but I prefer being correct on this year alone, not basing votes off previous history prior to 2015. 


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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Mejia powers Lions to series win over Buffaloes

 Coming off a long break for makeup games after Interleague play ended, the Saitama Seibu Lions took two out of three from the lowly Orix Buffaloes. It wasn't a cake walk, but they made sure to put pressure on the rest of their competition.

Game 1 against Orix saw a battle of top pitchers with the off time happening where there were two makeup games earlier this week. Brandon Dickson faced Takayuki Kishi in what has been a battle of aces.

The Lions drew first blood in the second inning when Yuji Onizaki ripped a two-run double down the right field line, scoring Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura and Anthony Seratelli. However, that was all the offense the Lions would get as they squandered other opportunities.

After having some early scares, Kishi appeared to have settled down after four innings, but after an extended 35 minute rain delay, he escaped a jam allowing one run. The bases were loaded in the fifth and Ryoichi Adachi would make them pay with an infield single and Yuki Miyazaki would dodge a tag attempt by Ginjiro Sumitani for the Buffaloes' first run.

Eiichi Koyano would ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat, but Orix was just warming up. Kishi went through the sixth inning without any damage, but the seventh is where it would cost him. A leadoff hit and a barrage of players getting on base would catch up to him. He already entered the seventh with 113 pitches, but Norio Tanabe kept him in, displaying a vote of no confidence in the middle relief.

Adachi would single again and tie the game with runners on 1st and 2nd. Then former Lion Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a two-run gapper to put Orix up for good and putting his former team away. Koyano would score on a sacrifice fly from Takahiro Okada to make the final score 5-2.

This was a game where Tanabe left Kishi in too long. Even though his pitch count was high, he needed to display faith in his bullpen to finish the job. Kishi was pitching off a long rain delay earlier and going six innings with one earned run was enough to win this pitcher's duel. Unfortunately the bats were also unclutch when they had Dickson on the ropes.

In Game 2, it was a lopsided affair from the start, but it wasn't easy to put Orix away at first. Sachiya Yamasaki nearly got out of a bases loaded and no out situation in the first inning, where Okawari-kun grounded into a 1-2-3 double play. However, Ernesto Mejia came through with a two-out, two-RBI single to give the Lions first blood.

Seibu would have a runner on base for every inning and Orix put in Alessandro Maestri for middle relief for the third inning, but the Lions would be good with situational hitting, adding two more runs through sacrifice fly balls from Mejia and Tomoya Mori.

Every starting Lion got on base or had a base hit except Sumitani and the Lions were up 8-0 after five innings thanks to a two-out slicing double by Naoto Watanabe. Even Kyohei Nagae had two hits off the bench with four RBIs late in the game and Mejia hit his 12th home run of the season.

Ken Togame earned his first win since May 12 with eight shutout innings. It wasn't a dominant outing, but he did a good job getting the key strikeout or pop out when runners were on base. In the third, there were runners on the corners, but Togame got a key strikeout against Takuya Hara to end any threats. The 14-0 win was their largest of the season and first on the road against Orix. The home team had won the previous nine games between both clubs and it snapped a four-game win streak by the Buffaloes.

In the final game of the week, the Lions had a difficult task on their hands facing the ace of the Orix Buffaloes, Chihiro Kaneko. The red hot, Yusei Kikuchi was on the mound for the Lions and it would be the middle of the order who would propel the Lions to a win in this game. Okawari-kun would hit his 20th of the year in opposite field fashion.

The Lions would do a great job of making Kaneko work to get outs and as a result, he would be fatigued and give up the game-deciding bomb to Mejia. It was a 3-run shot that extended the lead to 4-0 Lions, and with Kikuchi in cruise control on the mound, that would seal it.

The Lions would add on a few more to make it 8-0 and with Kikuchi tossing 7 shutout innings, the Lions would earn the 8-0 victory and the series victory that went along with it.

Mejia had three home runs in two games this week which would keep the Lions at the same level with the rest of the Pacific League. With the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters swept by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, the Lions' homestand will become intense as they host both teams this week, including one outdoor game on Tuesday in Omiya.

A .500 week against the top teams in the Pacific League would be acceptable, but it's easy to get greedy. In perspective, the Hawks will be a tough outing as they are coming off as the winners of Interleague play and a four game winning streak. The Fighters however are vulnerable and they need to win that series at minimum.

With the pitching being as impressive as it is, this Lions team can really make a statement against a top hitting Hawks team that is loaded with star talent. It is an uphill battle, but the Lions took care of business against Orix to keep pace with the top of the league. Ganbarre Raionzu!


Wes Mills also contributed to this report.  Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

NPB All-Star Series: Revealing Christian's All-Star Ballot

The NPB All Star game voting concludes on June 20th. Here, we will reveal our ballot for both the Central and Pacific Leagues by position and explain why we voted for them. 

Stats reflected in games concluded after 6/16. 

For Pitchers, we will post ERA/FIP/WHIP.
For Batters, we will post BA/OBP/SLG .

Starting Pitcher: 

Pacific League: Shohei Otani (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters): (8-1), 1.66/1.18/0.821 
Central League: Kenta Maeda (Hiroshima Toyo Carp): (4-5), 2.01/1.90/1.131

For the Pacific League, it's very clear cut that Otani gets the starting pitcher vote from me. Brandon Dickson of the Orix Buffaloes comes in a close second as he is one of the lone bright spots for them. Otani has been dominant and should remain this way for the next few years.  

Maeda was a close call, but I liked his strikeout numbers compared to his competition. Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers) and Yudai Ono (Chunichi Dragons) were both very close calls. Maeda should have more wins as should the Carp, but will we see him in MLB?  The question remains as Hiroshima has not showed signs of being a contender. 


Relief Pitcher: 

Pacific League: Edison Barrios (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks): (0-1), 2.36/2.37/1.462
Central League: Kenjiro Tanaka (Yokohama DeNA Baystars): (1-1), 2.03/1.99/1.275

Tatsushi Masuda for the Seibu Lions had a rough week and despite his FIP being more impressive, Edison Barrios has been more consistent as the setup man for Fukuoka. Hiroyuki Fukuyama of the Rakuten Golden Eagles was another close candidate in the Pacific League. 

Tanaka was also a close call among Central League relievers, but his reduced number of walks was the nod over a few others. Scott Mathieson of the Yomiuri Giants, Shinobu Fukuhara of the Hanshin Tigers and Tetsuya Yamaguchi of Yomiuri were in consideration.  



Pacific League: Tomomi Takahashi (Saitama Seibu Lions): (1-0), 0.93/1.74/0.828
Central League: Tony Barnette (Yakult Swallows): (1-0), 0.31/2.63/0.897

Takahashi isn't the most trendy vote, but we will pull the small homer card on this because he has yet to blow a save and has been reliable when needed. Yuki Matsui of the Rakuten Golden Eagles has been more dominant with a lower ERA and probably wins the fan vote as a whole, but both pitchers should be considered. 

Barnette allowed his first earned run on Monday but had a dominant run up until that point of not allowing one. After having two down years for the Swallows, Barnette has picked up his form from 2012 and gets the nod as the closer for the Central. Yasuaki Yamasaki of Yokohama was also in consideration.  



Pacific League: Kensuke Kondo (Hokkaido): .316/.402/.454
Central League: Shinnosuke Abe (Yomiuri Giants): .280/.363/.374

Kondo has some of the better offensive statistics for a catcher, which is all-star worthy. Unfortunately we're not so sure of his defense, but he gets our vote due to the rest of the catchers not hitting anywhere close to .250. Motohiro Shima of Rakuten currently leads the fan vote. Ginjiro Sumitani is also in consideration for his defense.

Abe gets somewhat of a vote based on name recognition, but he is having a down year by his standards with less pop than usual. However, with the lack of catchers hitting around the rest of the Central League, the recently converted catcher who plays 1B on occasion still gets this vote.  


 First Base: 

Pacific League: Sho Nakata (Hokkaido): .263/.359/.559
Central League:  Jose Lopez (Yokohama): .315/.367/.535

Nakata is the current NPB home run leader with 20 jacks on the season. Dae-Ho Lee (Softbank) also has a very good argument to get in with a .335 average and a ridiculous .624 SLG. Both players should get into the call star game as Lee had an impressive month of May to make his case. I tend to always vote the leading home run hitter by default. 

Lopez has fewer home runs (12) than Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (18) of Yakult, but is more well rounded in average. He has proven to be reliable after having a down 2014 season. I'll sacrifice some pop for a little more average when voting in the Central League. 

Second Base: 

Pacific League: Hideto Asamura (Saitama): .313/.404/.454
Central League: Tetsuto Yamada (Yakult): .298/.397/.506

Asamura has rebounded well after having a down 2014 where he was all over the infield and didn't have an identity. Since being put at 2B, he was able to concentrate on hitting and has not had a problem hitting for average. Luis Cruz (Chiba Lotte Marines) also has some impressive power with 13 home runs to make a case. 

Yamada is not the best on defense in comparison to Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima), but the numbers don't lie that he has shown power (11 home runs) and speed with 12 stolen bases.  For a second baseman, I'll take the one who can hit significantly better in my vote. If Kikuchi was hitting around .280, I'd consider him. 



Pacific League: Takuya Nakashima (Hokkaido): .280/.360/.302
Central League: Kosuke Tanaka (Hiroshima): .286/.328/.456   

Nakashima has a better average than everyone else. Daichi Suzuki (Chiba) could make a case if his defense is better, but the crop of Pacific League shortstops is thin as this position doesn't hit. Nakashima wins this vote by default. 

Tanaka is part of the great tandem with Kikuchi on the Carp infield. Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri) was the other person I was tempted to vote for.  


Third Base:

Pacific League: Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura (Saitama): .270/.341/.573
Central League:  Hector Luna (Chunichi Dragons): .345/.425/.456

Okawari-kun has the second most home runs (19) and is the league's RBI leader with 61 total. With those leading stats, it's hard to vote against a proven home run hitter. Nobuhiro Matsuda (Fukuoka) also has a good case for 3B votes with a better average.  

Luna has been the staple of the Dragons' offense since 2013. This year he has lacked pop, but is still hitting for average among the Central league's third basemen.  Shingo Kawabata (Yakult) would've been my second choice.  



Pacific League: 
Yuki Yanagita (Fukuoka): .376/.470/.608
Shogo Akiyama (Saitama): .370/.414/.522
Katsuya Kakunaka (Chiba): .338/.400/.440

Central League: 
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yokohama): .329/.398/.541
Takayuki Kajitani (Yokohama): .303/.370/.448
Ryosuke Hirata (Chunichi): .310/.400/.410

Yanagita and Akiyama lead the league in batting average and both are in a battle for the batting title. Akiyama is obviously the leadoff hitter for the Lions giving him more at bats, but both players are impressive in their own right. Kakunaka gets the nod over his teammate Ikuhiro Kiyota, who has been red hot for the month of May which included a 23 game hitting streak. He takes the third vote over Kiyota for his consistency over the year, rather than voting someone who had a strong month.

Tsutsugo is the reigning player of the month in the Central league and is one of the most well-rounded hitters in Japan. Kajitani and Hirata should both be good complements for their abilities to get on base.  They were the best of the bunch compared to Yoshiyuki Kamei and a struggling Yoshihiro Maru, who was better last season. 


Designated Hitter (Pacific League Only):

Tomoya Mori (Saitama): .291/.355/.533

Mori has been tearing up opposing pitchers after there were some questions on whether he would start or not. With Ginjiro Sumitani at catcher, the designated hitter position for the Pacific League opened the door for him to keep hitting. A catcher by trade, Mori has already shown impressive power with 12 home runs this season where he is second on the team behind Okawari-kun. This position is very clear cut among his competitors, but it would be tempting to vote Dae-Ho Lee here knowing he has been more consistent than Mori. 


Here is a look at who I have on my All-Star Ballot:

And for those of you who can't read the Kanji for names and positions, here's a personal edit I made to show my ballot. 

In summary, I have voted no Eagles nor Buffaloes, but I expect Matsui and Dickson to both get in as representatives. If Ginji Akaminai was healthy, he would also be in consideration. There are also no Hanshin Tigers voted for, but Fujinami will easily get in among their players. 

It was also tempting to vote Luis Cruz as a SS with the shortstops I've seen in the Pacific League. There should be plenty of fun for fans and players to enjoy in the Tokyo Dome and Hiroshima this summer.  


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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NPB All Stars Series: Seibu Lions who should be in

Tomomi Takahashi has been a great closer through the first half of the season
The 2015 NPB All-Star Series will take place on July 17th from the Tokyo Dome and July 18th from Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima. Fans have been voting since the end of May for players they want to see.

With Saturday, June 20th being the deadline to vote for NPB All-Stars, here we will take a look at any Saitama Seibu Lions who deserve to be in the All Star game. It will factor who should be guaranteed versus who has an outside shot of getting in.

Note: I (Christian) keep a very tight handle on picking All-Stars factoring in work as a whole. No previous track record plays a role in my opinion, it's all based on 2015, as it should be for the 2015 All Star series. Stats are based on the completion of games through June 14, 2015.

For pitchers, we will post their slashline of ERA/FIP/WHIP, along with their win-loss record in parentheses.  Here's our previous post explaining FIP.
For batters, we will post their slashline of BA/OBP/SLG

We start with the Lions players who are on the cusp of All-Star status. Some stats look alright, but not completely guaranteed compared to the other competition around them.

SP Kazuhisa Makita: (4-4), 2.89/3.41/1.299

Makita had a bad outing on Friday against the Swallows where he was tagged for seven runs. However, he has been good at avoiding the home runs for the most part keeping the ball down and letting his defense do the work. He might have had a better argument prior to Friday's game, but his work as a whole could give him a spot.

A former closer, some experts thought he was a No. 5 pitcher at best who is inconsistent, but this season he has been solid with only two bad starts in 12 games. The submariner should at least be in the conversation for the All Star game, as he played for Samurai Japan last fall.

SP Ken Togame: (4-3), 2.84/4.36/1.140

Togame is prone to giving up the home run, which is hurting his FIP stats (allowed 11 total this season). While he has coughed up the long ball, he limits the damage and has put in several quality starts which includes Tuesday's win against the Carp. He went seven innings with only three hits allows, but two of them were solo home runs which knocked down the FIP.

Coming in as a starter in the third week of the season, he has been solid for the Lions as a middle of the rotation starter. He does a good job at settling in and isn't scared when there are base runners and has a reasonable strikeout rate (7.8 Ks per nine innings). The only scar is how he allows home runs.

SP Ryoma Nogami: (6-3), 2.80/3.74/0.984

Nogami is a pitcher who lacks strikeouts, but like Makita, he asks his defense to do the work with ground balls and fly balls. He came off a down season in 2014, but based on results, he has the lowest WHIP among Lions' starting pitchers.

He had two stints of being injured and out of the rotation, which doesn't give him a full sample size, but Nogami keeps the ball down and allows weak contact. With his WHIP being below 1.00, he should be in consideration. 

C Ginjiro Sumitani: .203/.242/.232

Sumitani's bat is far from attractive as it's at the Mendoza line. However, his defense and ability to throw runners out behind the plate is why he's even in the conversation. Sumitani is currently second in the fan vote among Pacific League catchers. While we here at Graveyard Baseball prefer more offensive production than what Sumitani brings, the culture in Japan most likely values defense over offense for a catcher.

Setup man Tatsushi Masuda: (1-3), 3.31/1.50/1.163

Masuda has avoided allowing a home run so far in 2015, but his ERA has gone up with several gappers and allowing runs in recent times. He went through a rough patch last week, but recovered at the end of the series against the Carp and did his job against the Swallows to save face. Masuda also leads the league in holds with 23 total.  


Should Be In: 
This section has players who are deserving to make the All-Star game. However, they are not 100% locks based on others in the Pacific League.

Closer: Tomomi Takahashi: (1-0), 0.93/1.74/0.828

While Masuda has had the lower FIP, Takahashi has shown to us why he is the Lions' closer as he is confident while runners are on base. The lefty makes pitches on the corners and still has yet to blow a save this season.

He leads the Pacific League with 19 saves, which is tied for the NPB lead (Yasuaki Yamasaki for DeNA also has 19).  Takahashi is best at getting the ground ball, but doesn't walk many batters and strikes out a reasonable amount. Unfortunately he doesn't lead the Pacific League lead in voting, as Rakuten Eagles closer Yuki Matsui is the current leader. 


Locks (Shoo-ins): 
In this area, we talk about players who are 100% guaranteed to make the All-Star game at the rate they're going and how the All-Star voting indicates. 

2B Hideto Asamura: .313/.404/.454

Asamura is leading all 2B in each batting category while still displaying occasional pop with seven home runs. With an .858 OPS for a second baseman, he is all but guaranteed to be playing this July.

OF Shogo Akiyama: .370/.414/.522

Akiyama won the batting player of the month award for April and has continued his hot run through May. He is second in the league's batting average while was the third fastest player to 100 hits through 61 games. Like Asamura, he had a down season in 2014 but has been on fire through 2015 as the leadoff hitter.

DH Tomoya Mori: .291/.355/.533

A first round pick out of high school in 2013, Mori has continued to mash while being the designated hitter. He was originally a catcher by trade, but the Lions correctly insert him into the lineup as the DH and he has done nothing but impress. For a 19-year old, he is second on the team in home runs with 12. Currently, he is blowing out his competition in the fan vote for the All-Star Series at DH.

3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura: .270/.341/.573

Okawari-kun is second in the Pacific League in home runs with 19 on the year, only behind Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 1B Sho Nakata. With the pop that he displays for a 3B combined with being the Pacific RBI leader (61 total), he should be guaranteed to make the All-Star Series and leads the fan vote for the 3B position.


Overall, there are four players who will make the All-Star series barring no injuries, but we think as many as three more should be considered in Takahashi, Makita and Nogami which would total seven at the most. Before the year started, we have been relieved to see multiple starting pitchers not named Takayuki Kishi who have a case for the All-Star game. 

Hitting has mostly been on point with only Ernesto Mejia off to a slow start. Earlier, Takumi Kuriyama was hitting below .200, but he recently got his average up to the .260 mark.

We will have our full All-Star ballot later this week. With this being an off week until Friday, stay tuned. Until then, Ganbarre Raionzu!


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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Kikuchi close to a no-hitter; Mejia carries the offense

The Saitama Seibu Lions had another winning week, going 4-2 against the Hiroshima Carp and Yakult Swallows, winning both series in the process. It was a productive home stand keeping pace with the rest of the Pacific League, while gaining some ground on Chiba, who was as close as one game behind a week ago.

Game 1 against the Carp looked like a pitcher's duel on paper with their ace Kenta Maeda (Mae-Ken) on the mound vs. Ken Togame. However, Mae-Ken had an off game, where the Lions had a base runner in all but one of his eight innings pitched.

The Carp drew first blood when a solo home run from Ryuhei Matsuyama, but the Lions answered back on an improbable RBI single from Ginjiro Sumitani. Ernesto Mejia put the Lions ahead on an RBI double, but Nate Schierholtz tied the game in the next frame with a solo home run of his own.

It wasn't until the eighth inning where the wheel fell off for Maeda. After allowing a lead off single to Anthony Seratelli, he threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt towards first base to advance the runner 90 feet. Sumitani would single to put runners on the corners and Yuji Onizaki would walk to load the bases with one out.

Shogo Akiyama was the hero on an opposite field gapper to left field, scoring two and keeping the Lions up for good. Tomomi Takahashi would finish off the Carp for the Lions' third straight win. It was a game where the Carp manager left Maeda in too long and his control was off for the night.

Togame had a decent outing where he only allowed three hits, but the two solo home runs prevented him from getting a win. He stranded a go-ahead runner in the top of the 7th and Tatsushi Masuda did the same in the 8th, where he earned his first win of the year.

Game 2 started promising for Ryoma Nogami, as he was cruising through five innings, but damage was done in the sixth after Seratelli initially put them ahead 2-1 on a gapper with two outs.

Norio Tanabe subbed out Nogami and there were two runners on base for Shota Takekuma. He gave up a bases clearing double from Kosuke Tanaka, giving the Carp a 4-2 lead.

The Lions would strike back in the bottom of the 8th, with an improbably RBI double from Tomoya Mori thanks to an error in left field by Seiya Suzuki. Ryota WAkiya would then tie the game on a pinch hit RBI single, but Akiyama couldn't be the hero when batting next. There was also a controversial call on a 6-4 groundout from Takumi Kuriyama.

It appears from the photo that Wakiya was safe on the ground ball, which would have extended the inning with the bases loaded, but it ended as a 4-4 tie after eight innings. The bottom of the 9th would be a nightmare as Hideto Asamura and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura single to leadoff. However, Naoto Watanabe couldn't get the bunt down, which resulted in a 2-5-3 double play and killed any rally chances. After Mori was intentionally walked, Seratelli struck out to end any threat.

The top of the 10th is where it all crumbled, started with an error on Wakiya to begin the frame. After a barrage of hits, Takahiro Arai broke the tie with an RBI single up the middle off Masuda. After a walk to Brad Eldred, Tanake would get his second bases-clearing double of the night which broke the game open with an 8-4 score. Masuda had his 4th straight outing with runners on base and this time it would haunt him.

Game 3 against the Carp had high expectations for Takayuki Kishi. He had an average outing though, with four earned runs through five innings. He gave up some early hits to put Saitama in a 2-0 hole. Consecutive hits by the Lions top 6 in the bottom of the 1st made it 3-2 after the first inning, which included RBIs from Asamura, Okawari-kun, Mejia and Mori.

Kishi had a rough third inning. With two outs, he had a runner on second and the reigning 2014 Central League home run king Brad Eldred took one yard for a no doubter and a 4-3 Carp lead. The Lions would tie it up with a two-out RBI single by Kuriyama in the bottom of the 4th with two outs. In the top of the 5th, Kishi struggled again, with runners on the corners and one out, but he was able to get out of the jam forcing a ground ball for a 1-6-3 double play and his night was over after 102 pitches.

Even though it was a 4-4 tie, the bullpen would hold their ground from two shutout innings from Esmerling Vasquez. Masuda stranded two runners on base, but was unscathed after the previous night's outing.

The 9th inning had its drama starting with a pinch hit single from Yutaro Osaki. Pinch runner Shotaro Tashiro would prevent a double play, but taking a leadoff on a routine ground out where Akiyama would have hit into one.

After Kuriyama walked, Asamura also grounded into what would have been a 6-4-3 double play. However, Tashiro kicked the ball as it crossed his path. We have no idea if this was deliberate in order to prevent a double play, but it kept the Lions alive for the time being. Okawari-kun walked and was pitched around, giving Mejia a chance after already having an RBI hit. He found a pitch and put it in the gap for the Lions' first Sayonara win of the season.

This was the start that reminded the Lions fans that Kishi is still finding his footing in the 2015 NPB season. He showed flashes of the Kishi we like to see, but continued trouble with pitch location cost him in this outing. Kishi has had issues with the home run ball his whole career, so this is going to happen but we know he's better than this. His home run against Eldred was the result of the right pitch, but wrong location. We expect a much sharper, Takayuki Kishi going forward.

Game 1 against the Yakult Swallows saw the worst outing of the season from Kazuhita Makita. He has not had a win since May 8, but brought in several quality starts leading up to Friday's 9-3  loss.

Makita continued to give up several in play hits with two outs and just couldn't catch a break. Tetsuto Yamada had a bases clearing double with two outs in the third inning, ending any hopes of this one being close. He only lasted 2.2 innings giving up seven runs in the process, making the game out of reach right when it started. By our count, he has only had two poor outings with the other coming against the Orix Buffaloes on April 18.

Game 2 saw a barrage of runs in the bottom of the 1st from the top of the Lions order. With runners on base, Okawari-kun pulled a gapper down the left field line for the first blood. With two outs, Ernesto Mejia blasted a no-doubt 3-run home run with a golf swing for his 11th of the year. He would add on in the fifth inning with a two-out, two-RBI single with runners on second and third to make it five total RBIs on the night and give the Lions a 6-0 lead.

However, the story last night was Yusei Kikuchi, who flirted with a no-hitter for the second consecutive start. Last week against Yokohama, he had 5.2 innings without a hit before a bloop single ended his chance. This time, he went 7+ innings where he had four walks and another runner on base through an error on Asamura.

In the third inning he was shaky with his location as there were two walks with one out. He was able to rebound with a strikeout and ground ball to end the threat. Kikuchi appeared to have settled in through seven innings and a high pitch count of 137 total. In the eighth inning, Hiroyasu Tanaka broke up the no-hit bid on a clean single up the middle, ending Kikuchi's night.

There was more drama in the inning, as Esmerling Vasquez struggled with command and gave up several hits to make it 6-3. Tanabe subbed in Shota Takekuma for one batter, but he also gave up a hit with inherited runners to bring the Swallows withing two. Masuda becme the fourth Lions pitcher to take the 8th and he came through with a 6-4 ground out. Takahashi cruised through the 9th for his 18th save of the year.

Game 3 saw a respectable outing by Chun-Lin Kuo, who had five shutout innings to start with minimal base running. Kuriyama opened the scoring on an RBI single after Akiyama started the game with a leadoff double. Okawari-kun hit his 19th home run of the year to double the lead at 2-0 through three innings.

In the sixth, the top of the Swallows' order got their hits off Kuo and they tied the game off a gapper from cleanup hitter Kazuhiro Hatakeyama. Takekuma came in for relief and struck out the next two batters preserving the tie.

In the bottom of the sixth, things were even more bizarre. Asamura and Okawari-kun had back to back singles to begin the inning while Mejia struck out. Mori had a ground ball in what should have been a 3-6 fielder's choice, but Yakult SS Takahiro Imanami ended up forcing a throw to first thinking he could get a double play. He threw it away between the first baseman and pitcher while Asamura was awarded an extra base from third, giving the Lions the lead again. Mori would have beaten out any throw to first base had someone been there to catch the ball.

Vasquez worked a quiet seventh inning and Masuda had one dramatic moment in the 8th. Hatakeyama took one deep to left-center field, but Akiyama leaped up at the wall to snatch it, robbing the Swallows' power hitter a double. Had that hit been in Fukuoka or Yokohama, it would have most likely resulted in a tie game.

Takahashi had the game-tying run on first base from a leadoff infield single. However, a failed bunt attempt trick by Takahiro Araki where he swung instead resulted in a pop out. He also got a ground ball and nearly a double play to end the game, leaving one runner at first and two outs. Yuhei Nakamura was up and after a long at bat of at least 10 pitches, he was caught looking on full count and Takahashi earned his 19th save of the season.

This week had its share of close games, but the Lions did just enough to win against the Carp and Swallows. Now it is a week of makeup games from interleague play and Saitama finished 10-6-2 after 18 games against the Central League.

The Lions still rely on good defense to win games and the hitting does just enough to win. They will be facing an Orix team who is coming off a strong sweep of the Hanshin Tigers, where they exploded for double digit runs in back to back games. Most importantly, the Lions are healthy, being a big reason why they're still competitive.

It's easy to think they could have gone 5-1 this week with the close loss to the Carp, but a winning week always helps. Until next weekend, Ganbarre Raionzu!


Wes Mills also contributed to this report. Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Seibu Lions managing: Reviewing Norio Tanabe's substitution moves

After more than two months into the NPB season, we have been observing differences and trends on what the identity of the Seibu Lions is.

We've been looking at manager moves and other decisions that Norio Tanabe has done, which we've seen agreement and disagreement with them.

Here, we will take a look at each position player who has come in off the bench and how Tanabe has utilized them throughout the year up to this point. Christian and Wes will both have a take on each player and move.

Note: With Right field being a consistent revolving door, every player in the outfield not named Takumi Kuriyama and Shogo Akiyama are eligible for discussion. 


1B/2B/3B Ryota Wakiya: Wakiya has been a frequent substitute at 1B for Ernesto Mejia late in a game. Earlier in the season, he is a defensive substitute for the 8th or 9th inning when Tatsushi Masuda or Tomomi Takahashi is pitching with the lead.

Most recently, Wakiya has come in as a pinch runner for Mejia if he gets on base as early as the sixth inning. If Mejia gets on base in the 8th or 9th inning, Wakiya is automatically inserted in. Every once in awhile, he could be a pinch hitter.

Christian's take: I prefer him coming in only for the 8th or 9th inning with the lead. Putting him for defense in place of Mejia at 1B makes sense, but he shouldn't be getting any at bats minus the few days off for the starters.

I dislike it when he is put in for a tie game or as early as the 6th inning, which can show a sign of arrogance that the Lions have already won. Sometimes, I am wondering if Wakiya is placed in for Mejia as punishment for the latter not producing enough this season.

Wes' Take: Like Christian, I don't understand why Tanabe is chomping at the bit to try and get him in as early as possible. My take is simple, isn't Ernesto Mejia one of the premier power hitters in all of NPB? The answer is a definitive yes, so why are you taking at bats away from him? I don't see that Mejia as a liability at first, and quite frankly with his production at the plate, he merely has to be adequate to be worth playing the entire game.

Chances are at first base, there aren't a lot of differences between Wakiya and Mejia in terms of defensive ability at first base. Sure, maybe Wakiya is more sure-handed on ground balls and scoop catches but to me the drop-off is far from dramatic between Mejia and Wakiya.

If the Lions have a lead of two or more runs and Mejia has batted for what will likely be his last at bat of the night, I'm okay with Wakiya finishing the game at first, but in any other instances, Wakiya should stay on the bench.


2B/3B/SS Naoto Watanabe: A veteran acquired by a trade with the DeNA Baystars, Watanabe has been an infield substitute on occasion for Takeya "Okwari-kun" Nakamura. Most recently, Tanabe has made him the starting shortstop in place of the struggling Yuji Kaneko since June 2 against the Chunichi Dragons.

Christian's Take: He's a decent spell infielder if anyone needs an off day. With Tanabe playing the hot hand at SS, I wouldn't be surprised if he plays more frequently with 50-50 time shared with Kaneko. I don't want him playing everyday though.

Wes' Take: Has some similarities to the Dodgers' Justin Turner, though he appears to have more range than Turner (which is surprising given that Watanabe is 34), and a lot less power than the SoCal redhead.

It's clear that the Lions front office wanted Kaneko to take the starting shortstop job and run with it. And on the defensive side, he can definitely say he has done that, but he needs to pull himself into a league average hitter for Kaneko to really be the club's starting shortstop.

With all that currently happening, to go along with a Lions bottom of the order that has really struggled, Tanabe has to try to use Watanabe and try to get lightning in a bottle from him. I say give Watanabe a bit of a run, and if he starts slumping, Kaneko can come in and hopefully will have found his stride at the plate.

All in all, it's nice to have two + gloves at shortstop.


OF Fumikazu Kimura: He was the opening day starter in RF, but he batted around the Mendoza Line of .200 to begin the year and was deactivated. He came up on May 4th and had a decent series against Orix, but after a bad weekend series against the Chiba a few days later, he was benched. Now it appears he's a bench outfielder to come in as a defensive substitute for the 9th inning when the Lions are ahead. 

Christian's Take: I'm going to assume that the Lions liked the matchup against certain pitchers when facing Orix. Right field has been done by committee throughout the year, but I feel Kimura shouldn't be starting anymore in right field. Would prefer him to only appear in garbage time.

Wes' Take: Nothing special, right field has been a mess, but it's not that big of a deal. If the starting pitcher for the Lions on a particular day is a fly ball guy, he should be considered, definitely not a guy I'm counting on.


OF Masato Kumashiro: Kumashiro was called up briefly in the month of May and even earned a few starts. However, he became only a defensive substitute in his short stint while activated appearing in only 10 games.

Christian's Take: He might be a better defensive substitute than a few other outfielders with his range and arm. However, he's a 5th or 6th outfielder at best and has no business taking at bats. He could also be a useful pinch runner.

Wes' Take: Like Kimura, he should only be considered for starting if the Lions have a fly ball pitcher starting for them. I know defense is valued extremely high in Japan, but I'm tired of wanting to tune out whenever the Lions bottom of the order is up, so no thanks.


OF Hichori Morimoto: Morimoto started the 2015 season on the Lions Ichi-gun team. However, he became expendable for a younger OF as Morimoto is 34. The Lions marketed him as part of the "Players Gourmet" series for food in the Seibu Dome. He had one start and appeared in seven games total mostly as a defensive substitute.  

Christian's Take: Unless he goes on a run streak with the ni-gun team, I don't see a reason to bring him back. 

Wes' Take: Concur with Christian, I see no value in playing him, unless injuries occur.


OF Yutaro Osaki: The Lions used Osaki as the starting RF against Hokkaido from May 12-15. He had a decent series where he had four hits on eight at bats, including a home run to go with two walks. However, they kept him on the bench after the series and he has only seen time as a late inning substitute for pinch running or pinch hitting.

Christian's Take: I'm willing to give him another shot, but the Lions appear to only like him matching up against the Fighters. He should get another opportunity when interleague play ends.

Wes' Take: I don't understand why the Lions believe one player matches up well against another team. After that Hokkaido series, Tanabe should've given him a run to see what happens. What do you have to lose at the RF position at this point?


OF Shogo Saito: Saito had a brief run as the starting right fielder at the end of April, but has remained on the bench since. He usually appears as a pinch runner for Kuriyama in late innings or as a defensive substitute in the eighth or ninth.

Christian's take: I like his range and arm to keep him on the first team. He fits the bill of a fourth outfielder and could get a few starts in my eyes, but is not starter material. His speed is useful off the bench.

Wes' Take: He's a Japanese Sam Fuld, which is a handy reserve outfielder. The team is horrible when it comes to stealing bases, in tight ball games, he should be used as a weapon in pinch running.


Utility: Anthony "Terry" Seratelli: With Wade LeBlanc struggling, it left the door open for Seratelli to be called up in his place and satisfying the gaijin rule as the fourth foreigner on the 28-man roster. His first at bat came with the bases loaded in a pinch hit situation, where he fought for several pitches before a weak line out on May 22 against Rakuten.

Seratelli briefly started in right field prior to interleague play and it wouldn't be surprising if he gets more starts in the future. Tanabe has used him as a pinch runner and pinch hitter off the bench through two weeks. He can play any infield or outfield position and he is also a switch hitter.

Christian's Take: It would be nice if he could win himself a job in right field so we have stability at that position. He has decent speed and can get on base. If anything, he should be the Lions' best pinch-hit option off the bench compared to everyone else.

Wes' Take: The Lions haven't exactly needed to have a bench full of great pinch-hitters especially since their middle of the order is so potent, but it became an issue when playing in Central League parks. The team has been exposed in grueling games where the middle of the order has underperformed. And because of that, it's seemed like the Lions have been playing for a draw (see the draw against Chunichi).

Closing Statement on Substitutions: 

Christian: It appears the Lions have a pinch hitter in Seratelli and the defensive replacements are there. The question is, how do the Lions use right field? Will it still be by committee or will there be an everyday/primary player at that position? 

I like Saito as the fourth outfielder, but not starting. If I was deciding this, I would have given Osaki some more starts and if he fails, then Seratelli would get an opportunity. The Lions should keep Wakiya on the bench rather than at the 6th or 7th inning. Lastly, I'd like to have Kumashiro up in place of Kimura if I was in charge of management. 

Wes: Seratelli and Osaki should be given opportunities. I'd call for a platoon with Seratelli and Osaki. Though I have no idea what Seratelli or Osaki's splits are (I haven't located information like that), Seratelli is a switch hitter, and Osaki is a lefty, the first pre-requisite is there for it to work.

The overuse of defensive substitutions that take away from Ernesto Mejia irk me to no end, and taking at bats away from him is just unacceptable. During the draw in Nagoya, it felt like they were playing for the draw rather than playing to win because Tanabe pulled Mejia and Mori to a lesser extent. I like defensive subs, but not when they take at bats away from your pivotal hitters.


Follow us on Twitter: @GraveyardBall

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Pitching dominates; Bats awoken in Yokohama

Tomoya Mori hits a home run in Nagoya
The Lions had a productive week, where they took a series in Yokohama versus the Baystars and split three games in Nagoya against the Dragons.

Game 1 vs. the Dragons saw some dead bats, where the Lions stranded the bases loaded twice and struck out a combined 14 times. Chunichi starter Shunta Wakamatsu struck out eight through six innings and Seibu was unable to score.

Ken Togame put in a quality start, where his only earned run came off a sacrifice fly from Of Atsushi Fujii. In the bottom of the 8th, Tomoya Mori provided an error for the ages in right field, where a hard hit single fell under his glove. The ball went to the wall and it scored a runner from first. Seibu had plenty of men on base, but couldn't punch in a run.

One disliked move we saw from both teams, was when the leadoff man was on base and the following guy was ordered to bunt him over the second while the pitcher was on deck to bat third in the inning. Not only did the pitcher get out for both teams, but they conceded an out beforehand in the process. The last batter would also get out, stranded the runner at second base.

Game 2 saw the Lions use the long ball against longtime veteran Daisuke Yamai. In the first inning, the Lions went aggressive stealing a base with Shogo Akiyama and it paid off. He would advance to third base on a ground out from Takumi Kuriyama and score on a sharply hit single from Hideto Asamura. If he was on second base, the Lions would have held him back and not scored the opening run.

Tomoya Mori had two home runs and Kuriyama had one of his own which put the Lions up for good. There was also a brilliant pitching performance from the Lions. 

Ryoma Nogami allowed only one run in the bottom of the first inning, where the Dragons went with the double steal when runners were on the corners. Ginjiro Sumitani threw out the runner at second after a strikeout, but Chunichi scored the runner at third as a result.

He settled in for the most part with multiple clean innings after the first inning. In the sixth inning, he would allow some contact and the Dragons had runners on the corners. Slugger Hector Luna was up and Nogami was initially down in a 3-0 count. He rebounded and struck out Luna on a shuuto pitch, ending any threats.

Nogami would go seven innings with only one earned run for his sixth win of the season. Tatsushi Masuda and Tomomi Takahashi would finish the game with clean innings, giving the Lions their fourth interleague win.

Game 3 was the long awaited return of Lions ace, Takayuki Kishi and it lived up to the billing of a pitcher's duel. Yudai Ono struck out seven batters and nearly went the distance for all nine innings.

Kishi had one mistake pitch, where he had a fastball upstairs against Luna, where he took it deep to left field for a home run. He went seven innings with eight strikeouts and five hits allowed total.

The Dragons elected to keep Ono in for the ninth and it backfired. Kuriyama singled with one out and Norio Tanabe pinch ran him for Fumikazu Kimura. With Asamura batting, they pulled a successful hit and run as a gapper occurred and Kimura scored from first base to tie the game. Unfortunately the Lions couldn't get a lead, as they intentionally walked Okawari-kun and Ernesto Mejia grounded into an inning-ending double play shortly after.

The Lions' bats were mostly gone thanks to some late defensive substitutions in the extra innings. They had a few threats on base, but nothing more. However, there was drama from a pitcher's standpoint as Takahashi had the go-ahead run on base. He got out of his jam for the bottom of the 9th, but the 11th became interesting.

Tatsushi Masuda was called for a second inning after a clean 10th and he loaded the bases on his own throwing error with two outs. He later forced a 4-6 groundout from Masahiro Araki to force a 12th inning.

The 12th inning was also full of pressure, with Takuya Toyoda making his 2015 debut for the Lions after being called up in place of Tatsuya Oishi. The leadoff man was on base and advanced to second on a groundout from Luna. After an intentional walk to Kei Nomoto, Anderson Hernandez popped out to left field.

Atsushi Fujii walked to load the bases with two outs and it all came down to catcher Masato Matsui to end the game one way or another. Toyoda forced a 4-3 ground out to make it a stalemate and the third tie of the season for the Lions.

This game featured several base running errors (TOOTBLAN, an abbreviation for Thrown out on the base path like a nincompoop) from both sides. Mori thought he could advance to second on a bad throw but tripped and was tagged out.

The Dragons failed to safety squeeze in one inning as Sumitani blocked the plate after a brilliant flip from Mejia. There was also a wild pitch on a ball 4 which involved a full-count with two outs to Akiyama in the 10th. Naoto Watanabe tried to score from second base due to the leadoff run, but was tagged out by the pitcher easily. 

While it felt like the Lions could have won this game in nine innings, they almost lost it in extras multiple times. The bases were loaded and stranded for the 8th, 11th and 12th innings by the Lions bullpen and they survived without a loss.

Knowing the Lions were two outs or a base hit away from losing, it is better to take the tie on the road. With the tie game happening against the Chunichi Dragons, we bring to you this vintage clip from the movie Mr. Baseball.

Game 1 vs. the DeNA Baystars was marred by rain in Yokohama. Okawari-kun opened the scoring with a three-run HR in the first inning, but that is all the Lions would get. They had chances in the third and fifth inning, but failed to score with runners in scoring position.

Kazuita Makita would take the mound after a lengthy delay in the bottom of the first and concede a run. Naoto Watanabe had a tough play in no-man's land while in left field and couldn't catch the ball. The bottom of the third is where DeNA would do their damage, as with two outs, Jose Lopez pulled a two-run HR to left field and tied the game at 3-3.

After they delayed for the fourth inning, both teams batted in the fifth. Akiyama had a single and Asamura forced a walk with two outs, but Okawari-kun popped out on first pitch ending the threat after Shun Yamaguchi appeared to be on the ropes.

Makita worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth and the tarp came on for the third time of the night. The officials shortly called the game minutes later and the Lions would have their second consecutive tie.

Game 2 against the Baystars saw the longball, where Okawari-kun and Mejia had back-to-back home runs in the second inning for an early 2-0 lead. Mori would join the action with his own solo home run to make it 4-0 in the 7th.

Yusei Kikuchi had a brilliant performance in what is one of the best hitter's parks in NPB. He had a no-hitter through 5.1 innings, where the first base hit came from Masayuki Kawahara off a broken bat single. He later hit Takehiro Ishikawa to bring up what would have been the tying run to the plate in the 6th inning. He eventually got a 3-6 groundout and a weak pop out to end the threat.

Kikuchi's only mistake on the game was a solo home run allowed in the bottom of the 7th. Asamura would get that run back with a solo HR in the 8th. Masuda was brought in for the bottom half and had a scare, where he loaded the bases all with two outs. In the end, he was able to get a weak pop up to shallow centerfield and that put the game away.

The Lions had several opportunities with runners in scoring position, but failed to get a hit and lived off the home run.

It all changed in Game 3, where the hits kept coming. Seibu took advantage of pitches from Kazuki Mishima, where he walked batters and left opportunities knocking.

They only scored one run in the 2nd off a single by Watanabe and Mori had an RBI single in the third inning, but most of the damage was done by the fourth.

After Chun-Lin Kuo bunted leadoff hitter Sumitani over to second, Akiyama delivered with an RBI double. he would score on a single from Asamura with two outs. Okawari-kun immediately broke the game open with a two-run home run on the ensuing at bat to give the Lions a 6-1 lead.

The bats padded the stats a little more after Tanabe pinch hit Kuo in the seventh. Yutaro Osaki hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and Akiyama made another clutch hit with an opposite field single to score two more making it 9-1, giving the Lions an exclamation mark scoring without a home run needed.

Kuo had one of his best outings of the season, where his only flaw was a solo home run to Lopez in the second. However, he calmly settled in with a few rallies cut short while having two outs. He did a good job at forcing the ground ball or fly ball in crunch time and the team was in cruise control for a 9-3 win.

It was Kuo's first win in two months, where he last beat the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks on April 5. He had eight shutout innings on that day.  

A 3-1-2 week is successful despite having the feeling they could have won more. We'll take it knowing they haven't had a winning week in nearly a whole month, where they were 3-3 prior to this.

What gives reason for optimism is that the Lions starting pitchers of Togame, Nogami, Kishi, Makita, Kikuchi and Kuo combined for 37.2 innings and only eight earned runs, which is a 1.91 ERA for the six games. Yokohama stadium has been known to be a hitter's ballpark, but only the Lions were hitting on this past weekend.

The Lions probably wishes they could play all their remaining games in Yokohama stadium, as Akiyama and Okawari-kun were mashing all weekend long. Seibu might have ran into the Dragons and Baystars at a good time, where the bats have been cold for both teams, but they woke up against DeNA exploding with runs.

We no longer have to see Mori in right field as the designated hitter will be back for the last two series in interleague play against the Hiroshima Carp and Yakult Swallows. Both teams are vulnerable but are coming off series wins against Rakuten and Chiba respectively.

If the pitching can continue to carry this team with a strong back end of the bullpen, there is reason for hope moving forward. We will see Kenta Maeda this week, which could be a tough outing, but the goal should always aim for a winning week.  Ganbarre Raionzu!


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