Sunday, May 8, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Otani defeated, but Golden Week continues losing skid


The Saitama Seibu Lions went 2-4 combined against the Orix Buffaloes and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for Golden Week on the homestand.

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In Game 1 against Orix, it was Brandon Dickson against Ryoma Nogami. The start for Nogami couldn't have been worse, as he allowed a three-run home run to Takahiro Okada in the first inning.

Orix would add two more runs in the fourth inning and it would be 5-0 with Nogami's day done early. Isamu Sato would later come in as a long reliever and do well initially, where he wouldn't allow a run through the first two innings.

Shogo Akiyama put the Lions on the board with a home run, but the 7th inning would be the crucial point for the team. With Sato pitching, he would allow a base hit to Okada and then a two-run home run from Eiichi Koyano all with two outs. The Lions would score a run in the bottom of the 7th, but trailed 7-2 heading into the 9th.

Dickson was dominant with eight innings and only two runs allowed, followed by five strikeouts including some crucial ones against Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura with runners on base.

The 9th inning would bring some drama, where Hirokazu Shiranita would load the bases with no outs. Orix manager Junichi Fukura would be forced to bring in Yoshihisa Hirano with inherited runners. Akiyama had a two-run single and Takumi Kuriyama would get a two-run double to bring the Lions within one having only one out. Unfortunately this game ended swiftly as Okawari-kun and Ernesto Mejia struck out to end the game.

There were numerous chances earlier where the Lions bats couldn't capitalize. The two-run home run allowed by Sato was the difference, but this game was all but over when it started as Nogami could not get outs in the beginning.

Buffaloes 7, Lions 6

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In Game 2, it was Yusei Kikuchi against Daiki Tomei. Early on, Kikuchi's location was off and it led to two runs from Orix in the first two innings.

The Lions would answer back with a run in the bottom of the 2nd, with Tomei lacking control and walking batters. Shogo Kimura would get the RBI single to put them on the board.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Lions would get runners on base for Yuji Kaneko with a bunt.  Asamura would score as a ground ball would be hit to Orix SS Takuya Shimada, but he couldn't field it cleanly.

Kikuchi worked a shutdown 5th inning and setup a big frame in the bottom half. With two runners on and no outs, Mejia would golf swing the first pitch to dead CF and it would clear the fences with no doubt as the Lions went up 5-2 on 3-run HR. It would be his 12th of the year.

With some error help from Torai Fushimi, the Lions had runners on the corners and Ginjiro Sumitani reached base. Akiyama padded the lead with an RBI single making it 6-2.

In the bottom of the 6th, Seibu would put the exclamation point on the game with back-to-back home runs from Okawari-kun and Mejia, making it 8-2. Mejia had a no-doubt HR that went behind the Lions Oendan for a moonshot.

Kikuchi wouldn't need to look back as he went seven innings and didn't allow a run in his last five. He drew weak contact and didn't get his first strikeout until the 7th. He would earn his second win of the season after having his defense let him down in the past.

Lions 8, Buffaloes 2

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In Game 3, Ken Togame faced Kazuki Kondo for the rubber match. Brent Morel would open the scoring with a solo HR off Togame to make it 1-0. It was Togame's first HR allowed of the 2016 season.

The Lions evened it up with an RBI single in the bottom of the 2nd to make it 1-1, but the damage would come in the next frame. For the top of the 3rd, Orix would score four runs off Togame as his command would struggle. Walks and hits from Yoshio Itoi and Okada as well as a wild pitch would make it 5-1.

Togame's day would end in the 5th inning, where he would be credited with another run and Hirotaka Koishi wouldn't solve the problem, allowing a gapper to Okada, making it 7-1.

Kaneko and Naotaka Takehara would hit two-run HRs for their firsts of the season to make it 7-5, but it wasn't enough. The Lions would fail to score in the last three innings as Orix's bullpen shut the door.

Buffaloes 7, Lions 5

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In the first game against the Fighters, it was Kona Takahashi facing Luis Mendoza. The Lions were able to strike first with RBIs from Mejia on a sacrifice fly and Asamura on a single.

Unfortunately, Takahashi couldn't get a shutdown inning as Shota Ono got an RBI single. Seibu would get a run back from a sacrifice fly by Akiyama. After the Fighters got another run back in the 3rd off a Sho Nakata single, things would get ugly in the 6th.

Takahashi would load the bases thanks to an error from Okawari-kun. A ground ball was hit to third base by Brandon Laird, but Okawari-kun couldn't field it cleanly. Takahashi also had a lack of command, walking multiple batters. He would strikeout Ono with the bases loaded and the game would be tied.

Even worse, a wild pitch on the following batter would score two runs and the Fighters had the lead for good. Takahashi was called for obstruction for blocking the plate on the second run, which was a controversial call.

To add insult, Takahashi wouldn't get outs and couldn't get through the 6th inning allowing two more base runners. Hirotaka Koishi would allow one base hit to make it 7-3 to put the game away.

The call was bad, but it wasn't the ultimate reason the Lions lost this game. Takahashi's command was off and it is partially Norio Tanabe's responsibility to know when to pull the starter. It's possible that Tanabe wanted Takahashi to go through growing pains at the ichi-gun level in the worst way possible, but the game was all but over after leaving him in too long.

Fighters 8, Lions 4

Game note:

-Esmerling Vasquez and Fumikazu Kimura were activated after the game. Ryo Sakata and Tadasuke Minamikawa were deactivated as corresponding moves.

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In Game 2, Chun-Lin Kuo faced Anthony Bass. This was a no-contest from the beginning, where Kuo could not get an out and the Fighters would get a long two-out rally in the first. Kensuke Kondo would open the scoring with a single and then Brandon Laird would get a three-run no doubt HR to make it 4-0 after the first inning.

The top of the second would be no better, where Kuo would leave after two outs, but allowed four more runs with Koishi entering with inherited runners. The hits would keep piling up and the Fighters batted through the order in the inning, making it 8-0.

Despite the big gap, the Lions would claw their way back with home runs from Kuriyama and Asamura and they had a big chance in the bottom of the 6th inning with the bases loaded. However, Shogo Kimura would strike out to end the threat.  Tatsuyuki Uemoto would make it even closer with a two-RBI gapper making it 8-6, but Akiyama would strike out with the tying run on base.

S. Kimura would get a double, but make a foolish mistake trying to extend it to a triple. It was costly, because Okawari-kun had a double later in the inning, but no runs would score in the 8th. Chris Martin would shut the door in the 9th and the Lions would fail to win their 8th consecutive series.

This game was just bad from the start despite a close finish at the end. Bass was a pitcher who was beatable, but Kuo's awful beginning never gave the team a chance. Little mistakes like the base runner blunder from Kimura to Kuo's location just added up.

Fighters 8, Lions 6

Game note:

-Chun-Lin Kuo was deactivated after the game. The Lions brought up Yasuo Sano to the ichi-gun roster.

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In Game 3, the Lions faced Shohei Otani for the first time this season with Ryoma Nogami on the mound. It was a low scoring affair at the start with no runs through three innings. Otani picked up a houdini drawing a 1-6-3 double play from Kaneko.

The scoring would come in the 4th, where Daikan Yoh would get a two out single and score two runs. He would advance to third and Haruki Nishikawa would score from first, thanks to an error by F. Kimura in right field. Kimura would misplay the ball on a bounce and it would go over his head.

Mejia would bring the Lions back with an opposite field solo home run off Otani to make it 2-1. In the 5th inning, the Lions would get runners on the corners with hits from Kaneko and Akiyama. Mejia had a chance with two outs and he capitalized on it with a bloop single to tie the game.

In the bottom of the 6th, the Lions worked up Otani and found some success. Kuriyama was on base with a single and the team chose to bunt him over to second for two outs, having it all come down to Kaneko. With the outfield playing in, Kaneko made contact and hit the ball deep enough to get a triple as the Lions took their first lead of the game. Masatoshi Okada would add on with a single of his own that would extend the Lions lead to 4-2.

The Lions bullpen proved to be reliable after Nogami went five innings on short rest. Ryohei Fujiwara, Shota Takekuma and Kazuhisa Makita retired the Fighters in order for the 6th, 7th and 8th innings to preserve the lead and the 3 of them combined for 5 strikeouts. Akiyama padded the lead with a two-out, two-run HR to make it 6-2 for insurance.

Tatsushi Masuda allowed two bloop singles in his first game since eight days ago, but shut the door and the Lions pulled an improbable victory.

The hitting worked up Otani and he wasn't having his best game. It might have been a benefit not seeing him until May and the pitching was respectable. The bullpen was the big story, as they went for a combined 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K's.

Lions 6, Fighters 2

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This was another losing week, but we hope it can get better as the season goes along. The bats were inconsistent, while the errors have hurt the team. Pitching and command is also an issue, but we're happy they've kept Makita in the bullpen.

Rotation pitching needs to get better if they want to compete, but it's a miracle they're only 1.5 games behind the Fighters for third place and not in the cellar. They played like a last place team and still pulled out two wins. Can momentum be built from this victory against Otani?

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