Monday, July 27, 2015

Trade Talks: Who can the Lions give up for a possible swap?

Atsushi Okamoto could be viewed as expendable
The NPB Trade deadline is on July 31st. It is the exact same day as it is in MLB. However, with Japan 16 hours ahead of Pacific Time zone, this deadline essentially on July 30 for those living in North America.

For those who don't know, trades in Japan are very minor and activity is not as large as it is in Major League Baseball. Unless you count posting fees to MLB teams, blockbuster trades are extremely rare in Japan, because the logic by management would be that they gave up too much to get someone good. There would be more criticism from the media and others claiming the team paid a high price for a player.

One big exception was when Yoshio Itoi was traded by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to the Orix Buffaloes, but that happened in the offseason after 2012. It isn't impossible, but they're hard to find for the most part.

Most of the time, teams will keep players that are productive and don't let them walk in free agency as much in comparison to MLB. Another unusual thing is how players are commonly free agents in the middle of a season because their contracts are based on games of service time with the ichi-gun. You can essentially save a few games of contract on a pitcher if there is a shortened week by deactivating him.

Trades in NPB are about players who are expendable to teams. Management most likely has no plan or idea what to do with a player they traded and they hope to just remove someone and have addition by subtraction getting another player who was viewed as useless.

At the time of this writing, there has only been one trade this season where it involved the Yomiuri Giants and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. They swapped an outfielder and pitcher as all four players were buried on the depth charts. Hokkaido picked up OF Kenji Yano and P Hideki Sunaga while the Giants acquired P Toshiyuki Yanuki and OF Atsushi Kita. So far, Yano has proved to be decent off the bench for the Fighters as a reserve outfielder and the trade has worked in their favor up to this point.

The Lions have picked up infielders Naoto Watanabe and Yuji Onizaki by trade out of the players on the team's 28-man roster. Logically, the Lions could try and look for another reliever needing a change of scenery, but it is still a longshot that any trade action comes this week.

Here we will take a look at who the Lions could give up for another player that could be seen as deadweight. This list was formed with logic and based on observation of what the Lions have done with certain players. I view these people as players in the doghouse.

RP Taiki Nakago: Nakago was the compensation choice by the Lions in 2014 when they let Hideaki Wakui walk in free agency at the end of 2013 as he signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines. He was a decent reliever in Chiba, but couldn't be effective in 2014. Nakago has yet to play a game in 2015 with the Ichi-gun.

RP Atsushi Okamoto: Okamoto started the year with the ichi-gun team and was decent last year in relief. However, the Lions management deactivated him after a bad outing in Yokohama and has not given him a chance since. Trading him would seem like a long shot, but it wouldn't surprise us knowing how they haven't played him in awhile.

RP Masamitsu Hirano: Hirano has been buried by the Lions and has only played in 10 games for both the 2012 and 2014 seasons combined. His inactivity would prompt a possible trade.

C Takanori Hoshi: Hoshi was acquired by the Lions through a trade in 2011, but he has only been a backup for four seasons behind Ginjiro Sumitani. He played in 11 games for 2014 and with Masatoshi Okada currently their backup, it doesn't look like there's room for him.

C Tatsuyuki Uemoto: He started in 2010 when Sumitani was hurt, but has seen limited playing time since. Like Hoshi, there just isn't room for him with Tomoya Mori being a possible project and Okada as the backup.

OF Ryo Sakata: Sakata was on the ichi-gun at the start of the year, but his poor bat led to a demotion in the first month of the season. The right field position has been a flex spot in the lineup, but it doesn't look like the Lions are giving him another chance.

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Realistically, we don't see a trade happening even though the team has struggled with a six game losing streak. Management could panic from within and keep trying to tamper with the lineup on occasion as well as use the bullpen in different ways, but roster changes are meant for the offseason.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Laird tames pitching; Seibu loses six straight


The Saitama Seibu Lions were swept by both the Orix Buffaloes and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters this week. They have now lost six straight games and 10 of their last 11.

Game 1 against Orix saw a tremendous pitching matchup between aces Takayuki Kishi and Chihiro Kaneko. In this game, the Lions would fail to scratch anything off of Kaneko, though they were able to get him out of the game after the 7th.

Unfortunately the Lions would fail to get anyone across. They would score on a rally of ground balls in the third. In the fourth, a solo home run from Ryoichi Adachi on a hanging curveball would be the dagger in what was another fantastic Kishi outing where he ended up getting saddled with a loss. The Buffaloes would win by a score of 2-0.

Game 2 against Orix saw a slow start from Yusei Kikuchi. He went five innings, but all of his damage happened in the first with hits from the bottom of the order. Yoshitomo Tani hurt the Lions the most with a two-run gapper down the right field line and later the Buffaloes were up 4-0.

Tomoya Mori pulled a deep ball to right field, but it was a foul ball and not a home run. Okawari-kun had a solo HR, which was his 299th in his career. Orix's bullpen settled in after there were threats against starter Daiki Tomei. The Lions could not execute consecutive hits in the entire series, with the home run being their only run in 18 innings against Orix.

Game 1 vs. the Fighters was a tough outing from the start as Shohei Otani faced the Lions. Ken Togame had minimal damage until the fourth inning, where he hung a pitch to Brandon Laird for a solo HR. The bottom of the order did damage from Haruki Nishikawa and Kengo Ono matching up well to get base for the top of the order.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would reach the precious milestone of 300 HRs and 1,000 career hits on one swing to bring the Lions within 2 making the score 3-1 after four innings. Unfortunately Togame couldn't get out of a jam again and Kazuki Miyata didn't do well with inherited runners to make it 5-1.

Okawari-kun would tie the game with a dramatic grand slam on his next at bat. Laird would get a run back for the Fighters in the sixth inning off Yosuke Okamoto which would give them the lead for good. Tatsushi Masuda couldn't get an out and was tagged for six earned runs in the eighth inning which ended any chance of a comeback.  It would be the Lions' fourth consecutive loss.

Game 2 against Hokkaido looked promising from the start as a few infield singles would put the Lions up 2-0. Shuta Tonosaki would also hit his first career home run in his first start with the ichi-gun and they retained a 3-1 lead after two innings.

Ryoma Nogami would be good for getting out of jams as he lasted six innings and had one earned run, but the scare came in the the bullpen. Masuda would allow a run and Tomomi Takahashi would blow the save on a ground rule double by Shinjo Ishikawa.

Laird would do damage again with a left field gapper and the Fighters would go ahead 6-4, extending the losing streak to five games. It was the third consecutive blown save by Takahashi.

Game 3 started well with an RBI single from Tomoya Mori and the Lions were leading 2-0. But a two-run HR from Laird tied the game and momentum went downwards.

The Lions would get a run back, but the fifth inning is where the meltdown began. Hideto Asamura fielded a ground ball on what should have been a routine double play, but the throw was wide and everyone was safe. Daikan Yoh made them pay with a three-run home run of his own as Kazuhisa Makita hung up another pitch.

Seibu wouldn't recover with more hits coming and even Takahashi allowed an extra run in garbage time. Patience is becoming thin and even the yellow uniforms couldn't save this week for the Lions.

The Chiba Lotte Marines are only three games behind and they are most likely licking their chops for the upcoming series at QVC. If the bullpen can't figure themselves out, this season could very well turn South for the worst. Takahashi's pitches had no zip while the hitting has been cold.

The only positives from this week were the milestones reached by Okawari-kun and Mizuguchi being promoted. Otherwise, the hitting just isn't there and the bullpen is unreliable from all pitchers.

Other developments to note include Tonosaki starting at SS while Hichori Morimoto while deactivating Fumikazu Kimura.  Couldn't also help but notice Ernesto Mejia moving down to 7th in the lineup and was benched for Sunday's game.

Things are looking down, but the team isn't dead yet. Be thankful we aren't the Chunichi Dragons or well-behind like Orix.

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Seibu Lions promote Daichi Mizuguchi from Ikusei roster


The Seibu Lions announced they promoted ikusei developmental player Daichi Mizuguchi on Thursday morning. He was originally an ikusei draft pick of the Lions in 2012 out of the industrial league.

For those who don't know, ikusei development players are similar to how the NFL has a practice squad. They are employed by the team, but are not officially on the roster, which in this case is the 70-man roster. The only difference is how the NFL's practice squad players are free agents and can be signed by another team to their active roster.

Ikusei players have a long shot of making the team and are of low priority. Some teams can stash several players to develop for the future but all of them don't have the greatest odds of having a long career with a team. Ikusei can partake in ni-gun farm games and their stats will count, but they will wear a triple digit number to show they are part of the developmental squad.

This system has been in place since 2005, but the Lions have not participated in the ikusei draft until 2011. Mizuguchi was the second ikusei pick in Lions history for 2012 and the second to be promoted to the 70-man roster. The other ikusei is C Komei Fujisawa. Currently, the Lions have 68-players on their roster with two ikusei players.

Through 49 games with the ni-gun, Mizuguchi posted a slashline of .341/.423/.388. From seeing his tape, he appears to be a second basemen, which currently is full. It appears he has some speed with nine stolen bases, but he has a long way to go if he wants to make the 28-man active roster.

"Now I have to be a player that would be able to make a contribution to our team," Mizuguchi said in an interview. "Therefore I need more and more hard work. The factor of my success is that I've been able to show my ability [during these 2.5 years] and the Lions have recognized it."

If Mizuguchi can show versatility on the infield and play SS, there can always be a chance he comes up. However, if he ever comes to the ichi-gun in the short term, he appears to be a pinch runner or a filler when pitchers are temporarily deactivated.

In his interview, he told that speed was his strength in baseball as well as his defense on the infield. As the photo shows above, he is wearing "00" instead of a triple digit number to show he's part of the official roster.

Congratulations to Mizuguchi on a promotion and good luck. Welcome to the main roster.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Lessons From FIP: Midseason Report on the Lions' Bullpen

Norio Tanabe has had the task of navigating an inconsistent bullpen that has so far fared well during the early part of the year.



We're back with more statistical analysis of the Lions and this time we look at the bullpen which has been known to be a weakness of the team with the exception of the back end. Here we will look at 6 relievers, because those are the only ones that have built enough of a sample size to warrant getting a part in this statistical analysis.

Overall, the unit as a whole is one that is quite interesting. As a unit, they don't give up a lot of home runs, with the exception of low leverage reliever, Yosuke Okamoto. In fact, excluding Okamoto, the unit has given up a total of 4 Home Runs, which has allowed for many of these relievers to glide into lower FIPs that indicate that they should be performing better than they really are. That's a great sign, a bullpen that gives up a lot of home runs is a bullpen that will single-handedly ruin games by lighting the fuse to any explosive situation. This bullpen may be giving up the lead, but they have still allowed their highly touted offense the opportunity to come back in the game if they have given up a few runs do to hits and walks.

The only consistent problem for Lions relievers has been their lack of command, a lot of walks have been charged to the Lions middle of the order and that has led to plenty of problems when it comes to Tanabe's trust of his relief corps outside of Masuda and Takahashi. Now let's look at individual relievers.

2015 Stats are reflective of games completed after July 21. 

Yosuke Okamoto


There's only one way to describe Okamoto's season: UGLY. As the Lions' de facto "garbage time" reliever, Okamoto has piled up 35.2 IP and is allowing 2 home runs per 9 innings. This is in 14 relief appearances to go along with 3 starts. He's bounced around from the ni-gun and the big club and the results have not been good. We've seen before how an FIP tries to take a player back down to earth because of some crazy, low ERA numbers but here it's the exact opposite. Everyone needs a garbage time reliever, but it would be nice if Okamoto could be just a bit more competent in completing his role. Quite frankly, the 29 year old has never seen numbers this bad in his career. He got to start 16 games last year and half-way through this season, Okamoto has already reached the amount of home runs he gave up last year. There's not much to suggest when it comes to improvement, only that the only direction to go is up.

Kazuki Miyata


Well, that's a trend that's not promising, isn't it? The 26 year old, former 6th round pick has the shortest sample size in this study and he has seen nothing but problems in a low leverage role. Luckily for us, there is a little bit of good news when we look at Miyata more closely, we can see that he is at least striking out a good number of hitters and that's somehow kept his FIP at a reasonable rate despite having a walk rate of 7.2 per 9. More needs to be seen from Miyata but after 15.0 IP this season and 14.2 IP, there's no real role for him in the Lions' bullpen.

Esmerling Vasquez

ERA: 4.06
FIP: 3.32


We move into the middle relief options for the Lions and we start with their power right-hander, Esmerling Vasquez. The former Arizona Diamondback has followed similar performance to what he had when he pitched in the states. Walks continue to be the problem for the 31-year old but the good news is that his walks allow Tanabe to make the necessary moves before things get too out of hand. He hasn't given up a home run this year and that is his most redeeming quality. If he can somehow get his walk rate to pedestrian levels, the Lions would be quite happy with him as their 7th inning guy. I do think there's some level of luck involved with Vasquez's higher ERA but with the amount of walks given up, it's not surprising that his ERA is above 4.

Shota Takekuma


The left-handed specialist has had a puzzling year for my liking, he really hasn't made it easy for me to analyze him and give him a proper label. He has a WHIP of over 1.6, yet a solid ERA and FIP, color me amazed. His walk rate has been quite high just like Vasquez, but his strikeouts have been real high to go along with a continuing streak of having not given up a home run since last season. I wouldn't be surprised to see his ERA start to inch up a bit in the second half but we have to be happy with his production so far.

Tatsushi Masuda



Now here's a guy who's fun to analyze. The Lions set-up man has been the best Lions reliever and his ERA has really been unfair to him, because he deserves to be doing so much better. He doesn't allow home runs, he strikes out nearly 10 per 9 innings and his walk rate is decent. That's a reliever I want on my team. A 2012 first round pick of the Lions, Masuda is having a breakout season and really making those scouts who evaluated him look really good. I expect his ERA to join his FIP in the second half of the season.

Tomomi Takahashi



The Lions closer is having another solid year but not as good as the previous year. Last year he had a strikeout rate of 11.5, while this year he has a more pedestrian rate of 7.3. That explains the elevated FIP numbers but then again, years like 2014 are quite rare so it's hard to hold that against him. He's already tied his career high in home runs, but that doesn't appear to be a huge concern. Overall, I expect more of the same from the Lions closer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

NPB Central League mediocrity remains a joke


All Central League teams had a losing record for the second time this year and in NPB history
Some would like to call it parity, but other will say mediocrity. One thing we can conclude from NPB's Central League is that no team is dominant or great.

After games concluded on July 21, all six Central League teams had a losing record for the second time this year. Last month, it was an NPB first when they all were under .500. The chaotic part about this is that any team can win the pennant and make the playoffs with no one written off.

Before the year started, the Chunichi Dragons were believed to be the worst team in NPB, but even they're not dead as they trail by 3.5 games. The only team we can stick a fork in is the Orix Buffaloes, who've had a poor start which is most likely too tough to overcome.

We'll try and examine why no team has pulled away in the Central League as best as possible. At this point, mediocrity trumps the idea that the there is parity in this half of NPB.

The Interleague Play brought them down

This is the most obvious point, knowing that the Pacific League won against the Central League head to head with a 61-44-3 record which included all Central teams losing on the last day when each of the 12 teams faced each other. While the Central swept the All-Star series, there was clear superiority from the Pacific League head to head.

It's understandable to have this mediocre record through the first week of playing Central League teams again, but this is ridiculous. There hasn't been interleague play for five weeks yet we are back to every team being under .500 with a losing record.   

Most teams don't have a reliable bullpen

The Baystars and Swallows have a great back end of the rotation with Yasuaki Yamasaki and Tony Barnette respectively, but everyone else as a whole doesn't have the fire power. Chunichi recently demoted Koji Fukutani for a brief week and Katsuki Matayoshi has had an increased role. They have remained unreliable.

Meanwhile, the Hiroshima Carp have gone to a closer by committee situation and even moved a starter to the bullpen. They were the consensus favorites to win the Central League pennant, but are right now nowhere close. Currently Shota Nakazaki is the closer but even he hasn't been the most reliable. Putting first round draft pick Daichi Osera in the bullpen has been a desperate move and it hasn't been a good one as he is built to be a starter.

The Hanshin Tigers have a good closer in Seung-Hwan Oh and Shinobu Fukuhara, but the rest of their pen is hard to watch. They've been notorious to blow a lead or give up runs if the starting pitcher does not go seven innings. Lastly, the Yomiuri Giants have no closer issues, but the setup role between Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Scott Mathieson has been shaky.

Teams who have disastrous bullpens can't be trusted, but with four out of six teams having a brutal unit, there's no question it's all evened out.

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Hitting has been lacking among the Tigers and Giants

Both the Giants and Tigers are heavily dependent on their starting rotation which has been solid. However, slow starts from Matt Murton and Hiroki Uemoto held them down. The Giants have plenty of bodies who can hit, but they haven't brought the average up on a consistent basis. 

They've been dependent on great outings from Tomoyuki Sugano and Miles Mikolas within their rotation. The Kyojin don't have an everyday player who is hitting above .280.  

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The Carp and Giants have underachieved

This is our biggest explanation for the mediocrity in the Central. Both teams have had expectations and neither has pulled away due to hitting or bullpen problems. The Giants have had trouble hitting while the setup role has been questionable.

Meanwhile, the Carp score in bunches but have several days without hitting. They're an inconsistent team who can have eight runs on one day, but zero the next. Hiroshima's rotation is what has carried the team as the bats are up and down. If the bullpen can get fixed, they have the potential to make a run but it's doubtful due to how unreliable they are. 

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Central League Standings Prediction: 

1. Yomiuri Giants
2. Yokohama DeNA Baystars
3. Hanshin Tigers
4. Hiroshima Carp
5. Yakult Swallows
6. Chunichi Dragons

I expect the Giants and their hitting to be more improved as the season closes out. By default, I don't trust teams with a questionable starting rotation so I have to throw out the Swallows. The Dragons and Carp have the worst bullpens of the bunch, even though the Tigers are making a case for this, so I have Hanshin barely in front of both of them.

My bold pick is having the Baystars in second, as they've won a lot of close games, but they're playing well pitching with Yasutomo Kubo and Shoichi Ino while in a hitter's park. I think they're very capable of having their first playoff berth since 1998, which would excite the crowd. It was very tough picking between the Tigers and Carp, but I feel Hiroshima's bullpen will take them down and disappoint others.

Either way, this will be an entertaining finish with the Central League up for grabs. No one can be eliminated yet as even the Dragons can go on a run. 

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lessons From FIP: Lions' Rotation Mid-Season Report



Ken Togame's first half gave him a spot on the All-Star team, is the success legit?

Through this entire first half of the season I've been waiting to be able to craft this post. If you remember from the early part of the season, I started with this post which talked about our early findings from calculating the early Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stats of Lions pitchers. Give that a read if you need a bit of introduction into this process and a bit of background on how to interpret these numbers.

In this post, you're gonna find some numbers that are going to call into question some of your opinions on Lions starting pitchers but also at the same time reinforce them. Earned Run Average (ERA) is at many times a flawed statistic that just doesn't tell the full the story of a pitcher's body of work. So without further a due, let's get the verdict on who's for real and who's fool's gold in the Lions Rotation.

Stats from 2015 are reflective of games completed after July 15.  


Yusei Kikuchi



As you can see from the chart and graph, Kikuchi's FIP/ERA relationship has been closely proportionate throughout his young career and with the exception of his rough 2014 season, his numbers have been solid and spit out a conclusion that Kikuchi is among the best pitchers in the entire Pacific League. That's a hard one to argue against. Track record is the only thing that's standing in his way, but there's no reason to think that Kikuchi will continue this pace for the rest of the 2015 season. His home runs given up are in line with the rate that he's given up throughout his career, while his walk rate has gone down to a level not seen since 2012. And on top of that good news is that his strikeout rate is at a career level, everything about Kikuchi's year screams, "CAREER YEAR." Let's just hope that injuries don't get in the way. This first half of the season has allowed us to all but ensure that his 2014 season was nothing more than an outlier and a season that has no statistical purpose in looking at.


Ryoma Nogami

Years ERA FIP


2012
2.97
3.86


2013
3.95
3.92


2014
4.49
4.38


2015
3.35
3.73































Pitchers like Nogami were not expected to do much of anything when it came to helping the Lions get to contention. And when you look at his peripheral numbers, nothing exactly stands out, so what's the true verdict on Ryoma Nogami? His WHIP is at a career low of 1.047 and his H/9 is also at a career low mark, his walk rate has gone down considerably (2.3, down from 3.1) since last season and is now more in line with the walk rate seen in 2013 (2.4). Now why exactly are his H/9 down so low? This could have something to do with his defense, with the amount of home runs he gives up a year, the solid outfield defense of the Lions could have a lot to do with that number, but I believe luck also plays some sort of factor. Now I don't expect Nogami to go back to the poor numbers of 2014, since I believe this is a classic bounce back season, but I still think Nogami will end the year with an ERA around 3.75 and 3.80. As a back end of the rotation guy, Nogami is a solid contributor and is critical to the Lions success in the second half.

Kazuhisa Makita

For the last several minutes, I've been glued to the numbers above, and quite frankly, it's difficult to say other than it's puzzling. I will say this though, Kazuhisa Makita has proven to find a lot of success at frustrating opposing batters by creating weak contact. What would help accompany this information would be a groundball percentage that would showcase the amount of weak contact that Makita is creating from his odd sidearm delivery. I believe the last couple years of the graph is more indicative of what we're going to get going forward. Who knows whether or not his FIP will reflect his ERA since we had one year where there was almost no difference in 2014 and then in 2013 we had a ridiculous difference in the two measurements. The jury is out on Makita but as the Lions leader in innings pitched, I have confidence in him when it comes to the eye test.

Ken Togame


Sometimes when you look deeper into the numbers, you just end up getting more and more confused. Part of the problem with Togame is the lack of a real sample size. It's hard to put any stock into 2014 because of his hip issues and 2012 was more of a bullpen year for him. So 2013 is the only year to take a whole lot of stock into and even that year doesn't help out a whole lot. The incredible thing about the graph is seeing the major discrepancy in FIP to ERA in the year 2015 and this all due to the ballooning home run rate of Togame. He's already given up a career high amount of home runs, and that will certainly create a high FIP. It looks like those home runs haven't bothered his ERA which begs the question, are the home run rates a moot point? He's walking guys at a respectable rate and his strikeout rate is at a career high, so it sounds like he's giving up a lot of solo home runs which can skew certain numbers but really not matter much in the grand scheme. I expect Togame's ERA to go up to around 3.50 but I still like what I see from Togame regardless of his skyrocketed FIP.

Takayuki Kishi
















He's only had 6 starts so it's hard to make any real declarations but from what I see, I'm gonna keep it real short and simple: He's got this. His rate numbers are identical to the ones he's put out his entire career so I expect his FIP to stay around 3.00 and his ERA to come way back down and accompany its sabermetric brother. He's definitely still Ace Kishi.


Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo

2015

ERA: 4.53, FIP: 4.98

The young Taiwanese pitcher with braces has had an inconsistent first half of his career in Japan and the jury is still out on who he is as a pitcher. First and foremost his command must improve if he is to improve his numbers. This is his first season playing professional baseball as he was an amateur before the Lions signed him.

Wade LeBlanc

2015

ERA: 4.23, FIP: 4.62

Who knows when LeBlanc's next opportunities will come but his start to his new life in Japan has not been a good one. He's extremely lucky and having watched a few of his starts, I can definitely support the numbers with what I've seen. The only thing good I can see from Wade LeBlanc is that he's left-handed, he is pitching well with the ni-gun so let's hope his command will be cleaned up in his next opportunity and then he can contribute to the team.

Stay tuned, a post on the bullpen will be up soon! 

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Seibu Lions midseason report: Expectations vs. Reality

The Lions did not have Takayuki Kishi for more than two months
As the 2015 NPB season was approaching, fans and writers alike had their opinions on every team with the itch for baseball just around the corner. The Lions had their own expectations from prognosticators.

Here we will look at what others said about the Lions and will compare them to what they are with that statement in reality.

Expectation: The Lions have no starting pitching outside of Takayuki Kishi
Reality: The pitching from the rotation has been decent statistically, but most of it comes from a great defense. 

The Lions were thought to have poor pitching from the rotation having Ryoma Nogami, Kazuhisa Makita and and a questionable Wade LeBlanc. Majority of the Lions pitchers had a down year in 2014 under Haruki Ihara, but this season they have done a good job at keeping the ball in play. Makita, Nogami and Ken Togame aren't the most effective pitchers, but they don't lose the game for the team. Only Togame allows home runs mostly in the rotation. 

Defense in particular has improved from Hideto Asamura while the range is perfect from Shogo Akiyama and Takumi Kuriyama. Yuji Onizaki and Yuji Kaneko would play fine defense at SS while Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura has covered 3B well.  Lastly, Ginjiro Sumitani has thrown out several runners behind the plate as one of the best catchers in Japan when it comes to defense. 

The best scenario for Lions pitchers has been forcing ground or fly balls and let the fielders do the rest of the work. 

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Expectation: Asamura and Akiyama would rebound from having a down 2014 season
Reality: Not only have both been solid hitters, but arguably the best at their positions

Asamura had an RBI-leading season in 2013 which he won't match this year, but he's hitting .300 and showing occasional pop. The biggest thing for him is that he isn't forced to play multiple positions on the infield like last season at SS, 1B and 2B. He was able to stay at 2B while the shortstop position becomes a flex option for the Lions.  

For Akiyama, he's been arguably the best hitter in NPB while in competition with Yuki Yanagita for the hitting title. The Lions' centerfielder has remained consistent all season and even had a 31-game hitting streak. There's a different kind of discipline from him in 2015 that has set him apart from previous years. He knows when to take a pitch and swing, but also has a good ability to be a slapstick hitter. On occasion he even shows some pop.  

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Expectation: The Lions have power and can be the best offense in NPB
Reality: The Lions as a team are inconsistent and have feast or famine results

The Lions have flexed their muscles at times as Okawari-kun is the home run leader with 26, but they've been inconsistent this year. Ernesto Mejia has not been close to his form last year as the league adjusted to him, but he has shown occasional pop.  

Overall, there have been a share of ups and downs with this offense where the bottom of the order in Sumitani, the shortstop and right field positions have weighed the team down. This has been a top heavy lineup, but they aren't a juggernaut offensively as one might think. They score in bunches but can be hungover on multiple nights.  

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Expectation: Tomoya Mori can mash and being in the Eastern League is a "waste of time" for his career
Reality: Mori has lived up to hype and still has tremendous upside at age 19.  

Tomoya Mori was a first round pick of the Lions in 2013 and has impressed all year long. There were some questions as to how the Lions would play him as he is usually a catcher. Even though Sumitani is behind the plate, they made him the designated hitter and even placed him in right field during interleague games on the road. 

While he has been aggressive with his swing, Mori can make contact and the ball can fly off his bat. He could be the face of the Lions for years to come and still has room to grow.  

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Overall: The Lions were picked to finish in fourth place by some, but a few were bold enough to say third place for their potential on offense. Doubters will say the Lions are benefiting from the Orix Buffaloes being in the cellar, but those who have a half-full glass can claim they're competing. 

Pitching and defense is why the Lions are where they are. The back end of the bullpen has been reliable as a whole, the middle relief is poor while the hitting has been streaky. We will gladly take third place knowing they aren't a significant amount of games down. They've dodged some bullets but they're at a good spot for where they were expected to be. 

The goal for this second half should obviously be to win games, but they shouldn't be obsessed with scoreboard watching elsewhere. Just improve and get in the postseason as the third team and anything can happen. Realistically, I don't see a Pacific League Pennant because the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are too loaded to catch, but a playoff berth is doable and a head-to-head series against the Fighters would be acceptable.   

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Akiyama's streak, losing skid ends in split with Rakuten

Akiyama's 31 game hit streak ended on Tuesday
The Seibu Lions split the short two-game series with the Rakuten Golden Eagles as they end a four game skid which dated back from last week. 

The first game against Rakuten saw a good pitcher's duel as it lived up to the hype between Kazuhisa Makita and Takahiro Norimoto. Makita went seven innings and let the defense do the work, with several double plays and even a pickoff happening.

Runs did not come until the sixth inning, where a key hit by Tomoya Mori with two runners on broke the scoreless draw. Naoto Watanabe would be up with the bases loaded and add he another run on an RBI groundout as there was no play at home plate.

Rakuten got a run back in the seventh, but Makita forced a double play to limit the damage as the defense conceded the run. The drama came in the ninth, where Tomomi Takahashi allowed a leadoff hitter and Zealous Wheeler came in with a pinch hit double to tie it at 2-2. It was Takahashi's second blown save of the season, but it kept a chance for Shogo Akiyama to extend his hitting streak, where he was 0-4 up to that point.

After a scoreless bottom of the ninth and Esmerling Vasquez took the 10th, the stage was set. Vasquez forced a double play of his own to give the Lions a chance. Akiyama ended up walking on an outside pitch and wouldn't swing away at something that was off target. This ended his streak at 31 games with a hit, but he got on base as he promised, saying he wasn't concerned about having a possible record. He was two games short of the All-time NPB record at 33 and one short of the Pacific League record at 32.

After Hideto Asamura was on base, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura was up with two outs. On a two strike pitch, Koji Aoyama hung a pitch on the outside corner and Okawari-kun pulled it to the Lions' Oendan for the second Sayonara win of the year. The current NPB home run king hit his 26th home run of the year and in hindsight, it might been smarter to walk him for Mori.

It didn't look like the Lions would do well on Rakuten's bullpen after Norimoto had a strong outing of eight strikeouts. Relief pitchers Rhiner Cruz and Yuki Matsui were also automatic with six straight batters retired in the 8th and 9th innings before Aoyama came out for the 10th. 

Game 2 saw a great start from Ryoma Nogami, as he pitched eight scoreless innings with only two hits. The Lions would get two runs from a 2-RBI double from Mori in the first inning. Okawari-kun would add two more in the fourth with a 2-RBI single down the LF line, from a two out rally.

The Lions would strand the bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th and it would come back to bite them. Norio Tanabe elected to keep Nogami in for the ninth with a 4-0 lead and 100 pitches. He would allow two straight singles before Wheeler would hit a three-run home run to make it a one run game.

Tomoni Takahashi came in and allowed a single from Willy Mo Pena to put the tying run on base. After he was able to retire two batters, Akihisa Makida came in and found the gap, scoring the pinch runner from first and Takahashi blew his second save in as many nights.

The Lions had their chance to walkoff with runners in the 9th and 10th innings, but the bunting wouldn't get anything done as execution was off. They even bunted a runner over to second with Ginjiro Sumitani batting next with two outs, where it wouldn't help in any form.

Vasquez would have the bases loaded in the 11th inning and allowed the game-losing base hit from Tatsuro Iwasaki, who only made his eighth at-bat of the season. It was a dumpster fire of a game for Lions fans after what looked promising for eight innings.

There is no excuse for Tanabe to leave Nogami in as long as they did and he should have put in a specialist when Wheeler was batting. Takahashi has been underused at times due to less save situations occurring, but even he gave up a big hit where it is partially his fault.

It's never good to limp into the All-Star break by going 1-5 in your last six games, but the Lions have just pulled that. The good news is, the Chiba Lotte Marines had an eight game losing streak of their own during this span and broke it with a win. Seibu is still six games ahead of the fourth place Marines as they couldn't score runs until their last game vs. Orix.

Being backed in to this isn't a good feeling, but the Lions are exactly what their record is. They appear to be an above average team, but nothing great and nowhere near contender status. Thankfully, they're not in the Bottom 3 of the Pacific League and can still turn things around, but Takahashi has hit a rough funk which he will hopefully snap out of it.

We will have more Lions and other NPB thoughts coming this week now that we're at the All Star Break.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Akiyama's streak lives, but bats fail

The Seibu Lions had a rough week going 1-4 with two games remaining before the All-Star break. This included games against the Orix Buffaloes and a rough trip in Hokkaido against the Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Game 1 against Orix was a classic pitcher's duel and a rematch of opening day with Brandon Dickson and Kazuhisa Makita. The game was under three hours and players would swing early in their at bats to make the game quick.

The Lions had multiple chances squandered including a bases loaded situation with no outs. Tomoya Mori would strike out, Ryota Wakiya would ground out and Shogo Saito would ground out to ruin the chance. However, another came in the sixth inning where Okawari-kun doubled with one out. Mori would move him to third on a ground out giving Wakiya a chance for redemption. On a full count pitch, he sliced one opposite field to the left field and Okawari-kun scored easily from third.

That ended up being the only run of the game as Makita went eight strong innings without a run. He overcame a leadoff double in one inning and Ginjiro Sumitani threw out two runners trying to steal second base.

Makita benefited from some great defense behind him where Okawari-kun flashed the leather and even Hideto Asamura helped turn a double play. Regardless, he didn't allow any dangerous contact where the outfielders had to show off their range. We were relieved when Norio Tanabe put in closer Tomomi Takahashi for the ninth, as he struck out the final two batters with the tying run on base. He got his second consecutive save in as many days. Fittingly, Dickson and Makita were involved with opening day's 1-0 result and the only run was scored in the sixth inning, just like Tuesday.

Game 2 vs. Orix was one that should be forgotten by Lions fans. Ryoma Nogami had a poor start with no location nor control which created a batting practice environment for the Buffaloes. He couldn't get an out in the fourth inning and already allowed five runs on his own.

Ryoichi Adachi had two home runs and was a double short of the cycle against the Lions. Former Lion Esteban German also was dangerous, getting three hits on the night. It was 10-0 Buffaloes after five innings, which gave some reserves a chance to play in garbage time. Third round draft pick rookie Shuta Tonosaki made his debut as a pinch runner for Okwari-kun and scored on a sacrifice fly. He would later get his first career base hit later in the game.

Even backup catcher Masatoshi Okada hit his first home run in his NPB career. The only thing left to decide, was Shogo Akiyama's hitting streak being alive or not. He walked twice, but the Lions got enough hits in the 8th inning to get him a chance in the ninth. Akiyama extended his hitting streak to 28 games with a solo home run to left field. In the end, it was a 12-6 beatdown thanks to a bad outing from Nogami.

Game 1 in Hokkaido lived up to its billing of a pitcher's duel. Shohei Otani and Takayuki Kishi both went eight innings but only one emerged.

Otani showed signs of vulnerability early on and had a few instances with runners on base, but the Lions couldn't get the clutch hit to score a run. A few plays involved great defense from Hiromi Oka where he dived for a ball and caught a liner from Yuji Onizaki.

Kishi had a perfect game through six innings and allows a walk in the seventh, but one mistake in the eighth ended up being the difference. Kensuke Kondo had a leadoff double to end the bid for a no hitter and the Fighters bunted him over to third. After the successful sacrifice bunt, Oka would pull off a safety squeeze, where the ball bounced down the first base line but stayed in fair territory to score the only run of the game.

Hirotoshi Masui would close out the Lions with a 1-2-3 ninth inning and the pitcher's duel was finished.Kishi out pitched Otani, but it won't reflect on the scoreboard. If anything, we like what we're seeing from him going forward.

Game 2 against the Fighters saw both starters not lasting long. Kohei Arihara went two innings, but lacked control with four walks. After hitting Takumi Kuriyama with the bases loaded, he would allow a grand slam to Asamura to give the Lions a 5-1 lead.

Unfortunately, Ken Togame would allow a three-run home run in the third to Kensuke Kondo to ruin all momentum. A meltdown fourth inning would follow with three more runs all charged to Togame, including some key hits from Kensuke Tanaka and Takuya Nakashima.

Tanabe elected to put in Yosuke Okamoto, which is a move we disagreed with in long relief and a wild pitch with inherited runners made it 7-5 after four innings. He would allow another run in the sixth where Shota Takekuma would not get the outs needed with inherited runners and that would prove to be the difference.

Mori would get a two-RBI single with the bases loaded in the seventh off Michael Crotta, but Anthony Seratelli couldn't follow up and tie the game. While it's easy to blame the bats for this, Togame just had a poor start and couldn't recover after the meltdown fourth inning. The Fighters would improve their record in one-run games to 13-4.

There wasn't a sense of urgency by putting in Okamoto, who we view as a mop up pitcher. They gave high leverage opportunities for Kazuki Miyata as well.

Game 3 saw a bad outing from the Lions' defense. Yusei Kikuchi had a bases loaded jam with no outs and successfully got the ground ball needed, but Asamura couldn't handle the throw from Okawari-kun and two runs scored as a result as the ball was in the outfield.

Kikuchi didn't pitch terribly until the fifth inning, where he failed to cover first base and could have gotten a double play, but it resulted in a 3-6 fielder's choice and a run came home to keep the inning alive. He would allow a run to score and later a barrage of hits would come. Brandon Laird would break the game open with a three-run home run to put the Fighters up 8-0 and it marked the second bad outing from Kikuchi.

From a hitting standpoint, Luis Mendoza was dealing and there wasn't a clutch hit in sight. He won his second straight head-to-head game against the Lions with plenty of run support. 

This four-game losing streak is the longest for the Lions this year. The pitching wasn't there, but neither was the clutch hitting outside of Tuesday's win over Orix.

We can only hope this is a short term thing, but the concerns have to be there for the hitting, who've been inconsistent and scored in bunches for the season. The Lions were expected to have questionable pitching and this weekend's games outside of Kishi and Makita's starts had its first set of bad outings.

The good news is, Shogo Akiyama's hitting streak stayed alive through all five games with at least one hit. At 31 games, he is currently two short of the NPB record and could tie it after two games against the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Seibu will presumably see Takahiro Norimoto this week, but he is not invincible. It will be hard to sweep Rakuten for two games with their ace on the mound for one, but being swept at home would be unacceptable.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shogo Akiyama named Pacific League MVP for June


Shogo Akiyama won the Pacific League hitting MVP for the second time this year, beating out Yuki Yanagita of Softbank for the month of June award. He previously won this award for the month of March/April and is in the hunt to be the batting champion.

In the month of June, Akiyama hit .448 with an on base percentage of .495.  He had a hit in every game with the exception of June 2 against the Chunichi Dragons.

"I didn't think I'd be able to receive the [Pacific League] MVP award in June because I received it once [in April]," Akiyama said in reaction as translated by @Maple_Ash.

Akiyama has been one of the most consistent hitters for the Lions and by hitting leadoff, he gets the most at bats among players in NPB. Yanagita might have been more deserving with his ability for his pop, but there is no denying that both players were worthy of this award.

Softbank's 1B Lee Dae-Ho beat out Ikuhiro Kiyota of Chiba for the Pacific League hitting MVP for the month of May.

It's been an interesting journey for Akiyama, as he had a down season hitting .259 in 2014. He was even batting sixth in the lineup throughout the year, as it wasn't a fun season for the Lions finishing fifth. Akiyama became the second player in NPB history to have back to back months of 40 hits or more, a distinction that Ichiro Suzuki once had.

As Jim Allen of Kyodo News wrote, Akiyama has been padding some of his stats on more inferior pitchers, while Yanagita hasn't had as significant of a drop.

From observation, Akiyama has been playing to slice the ball and hit for the singles most recently. He's done a good job at finding the gaps in the infield or creating a soft liner for a base hit. Last night against the Orix Buffaloes, he extended his hitting streak to 28 games with a solo home run in the ninth inning.

While this pace of hitting .370 throughout the whole year might be unsustainable, Akiyama and Yanagita are both chasing history towards Matt Murton's single season NPB record of 214 hits. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but we here at Graveyard Baseball are thankful that Akiyama has given us something to enjoy.

"There were few games in June [that] I could pile up many hits," Akiyama said. "So June became a good month for me. In March and April, I worked furiously. And that made me realize [I was] a little fatigue. I thought my conditioning [was] inferior to that of April. Though I don't intend to change [my conditions] every month, some things happened to occur at the same time."

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Four Lions added to the 2015 NPB All Star Series as roster was finalized


Four Saitama Seibu Lions were added to the NPB All-Star Series last week to already include an impressive group of players from the same team. Tomoya Mori, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Hideto Asamura and Shogo Akiyama were already voted in by the fans.

Here are the additions to the NPB All-Star Series with the choices coming from Fukuoka Softbank Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo. For pitchers, we will post the statline of (Wins - Losses), ERA/FIP/WHIP. For position players, we will post the statline of BA/OBP/SLG. Stats will be based on the completion of games after July 5.

We will also include a quote from each player in reaction to being selected as an All-Star. Translations courtesy of @Maple_Ash

Lastly, Wes and Christian speak their thoughts on all four players getting in.

Ken Togame: (7-3), 2.54/4.15/1.21
(No quote about being selected)

Tatsushi Masuda: (2-3), 2.97/1.38/1.15, 27 Holds
"Players were chosen in first order. To be playing professional baseball and participate in the All-Star game, that was my dream. I'm strange to a bunch of other strangers, so I hope to be friends with the other Lions players."

Tomomi Takahashi: (1-1), 1.99/3.09/0.99, 4 Holds, 20 Saves
(We're also going to assume there's a joking laughing matter in this)

"[Kudo] entrusts me to be the closer with [Rakuten Eagles closer Yuki] Matsui. I want to learn my name because my face is characteristic."

C Ginjiro Sumitani: .192/.233/.231
"Lots of Lions players are participating in the All-Star Game. I want to work so that fans can admire me." 

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Togame deserves recognition for a solid early campaign, but with some of his numbers disagreeing, maybe this is a sign of being a little lucky. His FIP is inflated mostly because he walks a good amount and he gives up a lot of solo home runs which is the one area that FIP punishes pitchers. 

His WHIP shows that he's keeping his hits to a low level which could either be the fantastic work of the Lions defense, luck, or a combination of both. It would be interesting to see a further study into Togame's season when it comes to whether or not he's producing a good level of weak contact or not.

The back end of the bullpen deserves a whole lot of credit for what they've done this season. They've really been a reliable tandem and with Japanese pundits slobbering over the good amount of saves from Takahashi, I look the other way and smile at how clean those two have been this season.

They don't walk really anyone and they don't give up the long ball. That's all you can ask for when it comes to relievers. FIP really rewards Masuda for the amount of strikeouts and not giving up a single home run this season.

Takahashi would be in similar FIP territory if his strikeout numbers were more like his ones in previous years but in this case, its his set up man who's besting him there. We have to expect his WHIP to go up a little bit but you have to wonder if his strikeout numbers will make a return as well, something has to give for Takahashi. Both are well deserving of this honor, though not for the reasons many Japanese pundits will point to (like saves and holds).

Sumitani has been a hole behind home plate with his bat, but the current All-Star team has shown guys who have elite defense can qualify for the All-Star Series. Fans voted in Softbank's Kenta Imamiya as the Pacific League's shortstop as he is known for his gold glove on the infield. 

"Gin-Chan" has been reliable behind the plate, keeping passed balls down to a minimum with only a handful of wild pitches allowed. He is best at throwing guys out to second base and his arm is a weapon in itself. Better yet, he is effective at blocking the plate in crunch time as shown on several plays at home. Kudo wanted his defense for the series and it wouldn't be surprising if he starts one of the two games. Motohiro Shima of Rakuten was voted in by the fans, but he is battling an injury and is most likely out. Someone else should be his replacement for one of the games while Sumitani takes the other.
With eight all stars in total, we're happy that both Takahashi and Masuda were included to the team. We were guessing that at least one starter would get in and Togame ended up getting the nod, beating out Ryoma Nogami and Kazuhisa Makita.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Beat goes on for Akiyama, Kikuchi

The Seibu Lions went 3-2-1 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines for a successful week of baseball. Notably, Shogo Akiyama continued his hit streak to 26 games. 

Game 1 against the Hawks came on Monday in Tokyo Dome with a sea of yellow thanks to a corporate giveaway by Softbank. The game itself was a pitcher's duel, but it had a slow start from Kazuhisa Makita.

After having runners on the corners, All-Star SS Kenta Imamiya, mostly known for his defense broke the tie with an RBI single in the second inning. Shuhei Fukuda would also get a clutch two-out hit with a double off the wall, and Tomoya Mori made a mistake in right field by trying to catch the ball. A second run would score on the hit and the Hawks would lead 3-0.

The Lions weren't short of chances though, which there were at least two runners on base in four of the nine innings. It took a brilliant catch by Seiichi Uchikawa to save one run and the Lions would only score one from a bases loaded single by Yuji Onizaki.

In the ninth inning, Hawks closer Dennis Sarfate was in a jam. Seibu had Akiyama and Takumi Kuriyama both on base, but Hideto Asamura flied out and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura struck out for the third time of the night to end it. Makita couldn't get the third out of the second inning which made the difference, but Shota Takeda out-dueled him for his second win against the Lions in as many weeks.

Game 2 had a slow start from Ryoma Nogami as he allowed a barrage of hits and two runs in the first inning. However, Ernesto Mejia hit a three-run home run in the third and it gave them the lead for good. Kuriyama hit a three-run home run to pad the lead to 6-2.

Nogami would settle in from innings two through six, allowing minimal threats from teh dangerous Hawks lineup. He would only allow a solo HR to Nobuhiro Matsuda in the seventh, but ended any extra damage by stranding two runners on base after it.

The ninth inning saw Okawari-kun hit a grand slam for the 14th of his career and the 22nd home run of the season. The Lions cruise to a 10-3 victory, making things comfortable for players and fans alike.

Game 3 saw a decent outing from Chun-Lin Kuo, where he only gave up a solo HR to Yanagita in the first inning through five. The Lions bats would contribute with a HR from Ryota Wakiya and Hideto Asamura. Even Mori threw a runner out at home plate while playing in right field.

However, the bullpen would be dodging bullets through the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with Shota Takekuma, Esmerling Vasquez and Tatsushi Matsuda. All three pitchers had runners on base and would strand them each time. The ninth inning was there the nightmare would occur as Tomomi Takahashi saw his first save situation since June 14 with a 3-1 lead. He allowed a barrage of hits including an RBI double down the line and an infield single where he chose to throw home to keep the lead, but it backfired and the Hawks tied it. Uchikawa would take the game and series for the Hawks with a Sayonara sacrifice fly.

Takahashi was due to have a blown save somewhere, but rest ended up being rust for the Lions' closer. If I was managing, he could have played in Monday's game during the eighth inning just to get work knowing Tuesday was an off day. In perspective, the Hawks are still the team to beat, no one can deny this.

The last game came with a price, as Mori became limited heading into the next series as he injured himself making a catch against the wall in Fukuoka.

Things became more interesting in a home stand against Chiba, where everything was unpredictable. Takayuki Kishi allowed five runs through 6.2 innings while the Lions pounced on Karakawa in the first four innings for four runs.

Okawari-kun had a solo HR and gave Seibu the lead with an RBI single in the sixth, but Kishi couldn't get the shutdown inning after Norio Tanabe elected to use him for another inning after already having 113 pitches. Katsuya Kakunaka was the nemesis of the night, as he had a triple, double and a backbreaking triple with 2 outs with the last being in the seventh against Kishi.

The Lions bullpen miraculously got out of Kishi's jam in the seventh and didn't allow a run through 5.1 innings of work. This included Yosuke Okamoto, Shota Takekuma and Kazuki Miyata taking an inning each. They were able to induce the ground ball as Okamoto and Takekuma forced double plays. Kakunaka had a great chance to put the Marines in front, but was denied by the Lions pitchers.

Seibu had their own chances in extra innings, including a bases loaded situation in the 11th inning. But Mejia grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the frame. The 12th inning also saw a chance when Fumikazu Kimura was bunted over to second base and Mori was allowed to pinch hit with two outs. He was hit by a pitch giving Akiyama a chance to be the hero. However, he hit a 4-3 groundout, causing the Lions fifth tie of the season.

It was a down game for Kishi combined with a miraculous effort by the bullpen, but the bats weren't clutch in the late innings. A few blunders from Kimura in RF caused an extra run to score and the Lions continued to give their fans a scare with runners on base. While they could have won this one, they nearly lost as well.

Game 2 was continuing the brilliant season from Ken Togame, where he went eight strong innings. He allowed a first inning home run from Kakunaka, but he would settle in mostly with only a sacrifice fly in the third inning.

Okawari-kun would start the scoring in the bottom of the 1st for the Lions, with a three-run home run on a 3-1 pitch. Kuriyama would hit a solo home run as well as reserve outfielder Shogo Saito. The Lions took a patient approach at the plate and it paid off, forcing Hideaki Wakui to throw more pitches per batter.

He would only last four innings and Okawari-kun would tack on two more RBIs through doubles. After what was a demoralizing tie, the bats woke up in crunch time against one of the Marines' better pitchers for an 8-2 win.

Game 3 against the Marines saw dominance from Yusei Kikuchi, where he had 7.1 strong innings allowing only an RBI groundout. He had seven strikeouts on the day and silenced the top of the Marines order with only two hits and three walks.

Asamura would draw first blood for the sacrifice fly and Ginjiro Sumitani would have the game winning hit on an RBI double after Shogo Saito was bunted over to second base. Okawari-kun would add insurance with another home run, hitting one in each of the three games against Chiba.

The Lions would take the series with a 3-1 win, with the monkey off their back against the Marines. Previoiusly, the Lions lost three consecutive series against Chiba and would only win one out of three, but this time they go 2-0-1. What also makes this remarkable is how they did it with Ryota Wakiya at 1B and Tomoya Mori on the bench, only having one at bat the whole series.

Kikuchi has gone 37.1 innings and only allowed four earned runs in his last five outings with four of them being wins. After having a lot of hype out of high school, he's having a strong run and beginning to look like what many envisioned him to be. Hopefully he keeps it up and doesn't get injured or hide any pain like he did in the past.

With Seibu having a winning week, we will always take it even if it wasn't the most attractive. The Hawks are the team to beat and there is no shame in losing to them, even though game three had a heartbreaker. Biggest takeaways is that they're still competitive and fighting through the stretch.

Hitting could always be better, but the starting pitching has been teh bright spot with five out of six starters allowing three earned runs or less. No one would have thought Kishi would allow the most in a given week before the season. It's a shortened week against Orix and Hokkaido as we hope for another winning one ahead. Winning three out of five would be acceptable, but it's easy to want four wins.

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