Sunday, September 24, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Nogami earns first career shutout


The Saitama Seibu Lions had a successful two-game series against the Orix Buffaloes to end the home stand. They're now three games ahead of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles with only six games remaining in the regular season. Here's how we got there:

===

The first game had Ryoma Nogami against Taisuke Yamaoka. Shogo Akiyama led off the the game with a single and the Lions moved him 180 feet with a bunt and fly ball. Hotaka Yamakawa brought him home with an RBI single.

Akiyama would come through in the bottom of the 5th with another timely hit to double the lead at 2-0.  Nogami escaped one jam in the 2nd, but had minimal threats.

Run support and insurance came in the bottom of the 8th, where Hideto Asamura came through with a timely double, plating two more runners. Yamakawa hit another one off the CF wall for a 5th run.

Nogami would end up going the distance with only four hits allowed, one walk and five strikeouts for his first career shutout. It was also his first 10 win season since 2013.

Lions 5, Buffaloes 0

Game notes:

-Ryohei Fujiwara was taken off the roster for Shota Takekuma.

-Ken Togame was also taken off earlier in the week while Shunta Nakatsuka was eligible.

===

The last game of this series would have Kona Takahashi return to the ichi-gun for the first time since May 17 to face Takahiro Matsuba. An error from Sosuke Genda put the leadoff runner on base and he advanced to third on a sacrifice fly. Masataka Yoshida would ground out and the Lions were forced to concede the opening run in the 1st inning.

The bottom of the 3rd inning had better form for the offense, where the Lions loaded the bases and Akiyama tied the game with a double play, forcing Orix to concede the runner on third. Genda gave the Lions the lead with a double as the runner on third base would score.

After a shutdown inning from Takahashi, the Lions erupted for four runs in the bottom of the 4th. Yamakawa would hit his 20th HR of the season and timely hits from Shuta Tonosaki, Okawari-kun and Nien Ting Wu made it 6-1. 

Both teams traded runs in the 5th inning where Orix scored on an RBI groundout and Asamura hit a HR for his 19th of the year. Takhashi went six innings with only one earned run given up and five strikeouts.

After another series of trading runs, the Lions were able to sweep the short series and end their season against Orix on a high note.

Lions 8, Buffaloes 5

Game notes:

-Kona Takahashi has won his last three starts dating back to two games in May. 

-The Lions finished with an 11-14 head to head record against Orix for 2017. 

-Shota Takekuma pitched the 7th inning for the first time since September 3 and struck out two batters.

-Shunta Nakatsuka made his ichi-gun debut in the 9th inning and retired the first two batters on two pitches. However, he couldn't throw a strike to the next three batters which loaded the bases. Tatsushi Masuda was forced to come in and retire the final out.

===

Solid series and more importantly, the Lions gained ground on Rakuten through the weekend. The most important thing for the Lions is to get healthy. We're hoping Tatsuya Oishi returns soon and can complete the bullpen depth. The magic number to clinch second place is currently 5 at the time of this writing.

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Thursday, September 21, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: A-class for the first time in four years


A disappointing six-game home stand had the Saitama Seibu Lions go 2-4 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines. As of Thursday, they have a two-game lead on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in a race for second place. The Softbank Hawks would clinch the Pacific League pennant and the Lions also clinched being in A-class for the first time since 2013.

Here's how we got there:

===

The first game against the Hawks had Ryoma Nogami against Nao Higashihama. Hotaka Yamakawa struck first blood with a HR in the bottom of the 2nd.

Softbank answered back with a two-run HR by Yuki Yanagita. Nogami would struggle in the top of the 5th where the third time through the order penalty would strike. Timely hits from Kenta Imamiya and Yanagita end Nogami's day at 4.1 innings. Katsunori Hirai came in and Alfredo Despagine made it 6-1 with a single through the infield.

Higashihama would go six innings with nine strikeouts and only one other hit besides the HR. He was efficient at striking out Lions on a full count with his slider. Despaigne hit a solo HR off Frank Garces for good measure in the top of the 7th. Shuta Tonosaki had a late two-run hit, but it was all too late as the Hawks would win the pennant.

Hawks 7, Lions 3

Game note:

-The Lions clinched A-class after this game despite losing. Orix would lose 6-3 in Hokkaido to the Fighters. It ended a three year hiatus from the postseason where they last made an appearance in 2013.

===

The second game would have Kodai Senga against Shinsaburo Tawata. For the second inning, the Lions were able to load the bases and Shuta Tonosaki fought a long at bat for 14 pitches to earn a sacrifice fly for the first run of the game.

While the Lions had runners on later in the game, they would botch every opportunity after the 2nd as Senga went through six inning unscathed. Tawata had three situations with multiple runners on base, but some solid defense from the infield and more prevented any scoring through seven innings.

Brian Schlitter took the 8th and allows three consecutive hits, where Despaigne plated two runs home off an RBI single. Sho Iwasaki would take the bottom of the frame and give up a solo HR to Yamakawa and it was tied.

Tatsushi Masuda had a clean 9th inning while Kazuhisa Makita took the 10th with little trouble. It would be Livan Moinelo taking the bottom of the 10th where he ran into early trouble as Genda had a leadoff single. A pickoff attempt by Moinelo failed and got Genda to second base with the ball being thrown away.

The Hawks would intentionally walk Yamakawa and Asamura to see Takumi Kuriyama. After a 1-2 count, Kuriyama was able to make it a full count after a check swing. Moinelo would miss upstairs and the Lions won on a walkoff walk.

Lions 3, Hawks 2 (10 innings)

===

The rubber matchup had Brian Wolfe against Tsuyoshi Wada. This one would have scoring early as the Lions scored four runs off Wada in the first through timely hits by Asamura and Mori with the latter hitting a triple. Kuriyama hit a sacrifice fly for the last run of the inning.

Yuki Yanagita would hit a solo HR in the top of the 2nd and the Hawks answered in the third with three more runs with doubles from Kenta Imamiya and Akira Nakamura. Wolfe's day was already done going 2.1 innings as Katsunori Hirai prevented anymore damage.

Frank Garces came in for the 4th and it was a disaster. The bases were loaded with one out after a lack of control hitting a batter and a walk. Imamiya added one run and Nakamura slapped two more to have Garces exit. With Ryohei Fujiwara pitching, an error from Genda extended the frame as he couldn't pass the ball to Asamura, scoring another run. Uebayashi cleared the bases giving the Hawks an insurmountable 11-4 lead, or so it seemed.

The Lions chipped away at the lead with an RBI groundout from Akiyama in the 4th. Wada's day would end after five innings as he was in line for the win. Shunta Ishikawa came in as a reliever for the 6th and allowed three runs thanks to a gapper from Ginjiro Sumitani and a HR from Akiyama.

It would be a one run game in the 7th with Ryota Igarashi pitching. Okawari-kun hit a sac fly and Shuta Tonosaki had a timely single after Yuji Kaneko stole 2nd as a pinch runner.

A two-out rally would come out of nowhere in the bottom of the 8th off Igarashi. Asamura walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Yamakawa was walked intentionally shortly after and Fumikazu Kimura came in as a substitute. Mori then hit another timely triple, scoring both runners and giving the Lions their first lead since the first inning.

Masuda pitched in the 9th, but gave up a solo HR to Despaigne and the game was tied again. In the bottom of the 9th against Yuito Mori, Masatoshi Okada reached first base and Akiyama beat Y. Mori to the bag on an infield single. However, Okada was caught trying to advance to third base and the game would go to extra innings again.

Keizo Kawashima would get a double as both Genda and Kaneko lost the ball in the sun as it was setting down from MetLife Dome's roof. After a bunt, Imamiya did damage again with a gapper down the LF line to give the Hawks a 13-12 lead. Masuda couldn't even finish the frame as Makita got Despaigne to flyout.

Dennis Sarfate was a healthy scratch from the game and was ineligible to play. Moinelo would take the bottom of the 10th. Genda's leadoff double gave immediate life knowing the game was far from over. Ryo Sakata came in as a pinch hitter and walked, later being pinch ran by Daichi Mizuguchi.

Genda stole third base and Mori hit another timely single to tie the game. Kimiyasu Kudo would have Hayato Terahara enter in the middle of Yuji Kaneko's at-bat with a 2-1 count. Kaneko sliced a ball that hit the wall and it was just fair, landing right on the line for the second straight sayonara win as Mizuguchi scored.

Lions 14, Hawks 13 (10 innings)

Game note:

-Nien Ting Wu and Schlitter were the only two players to not play.

-This was the 5th sayonara win of the season.

===

The homestand continued with the Chiba Lotte Marines throwing out Kota Futaki against the Lions using Yosuke Okamoto. Chiba scored first with a timely 2-RBI single by Shohei Kato as the bases were loaded. The lead wouldn't last long as Kaneko hit a timely double and Akiyama plated him shortly after in the bottom of the 2nd.

Okamoto failed to get a shutdown inning in the 3rd as Katsuya Kakunaka hit a two-run HR. Okamoto left the game in the 5th with a lack of control with two runners on base. Hirai cleaned up the inning with a pop out, but the Lions failed to respond on offense in the bottom of the frame.

Genda made it a one-run game in the bottom of the 7th with a timely single, but that was as close as it would get. Kazuhisa Makita allowed two runs in the top of the 8th as the bases were loaded. The first run came as Okawari-kun couldn't field an unusual dribbler and the second came from a sacrifice fly from Kazuya Fukuura to seal the game.

Marines 6, Lions 3

Game note:

-Frank Garces and Brian Wolfe were taken off the roster, with the latter not needed due to an extended break ahead. Kentaro Fukukura and Okamoto were added.

===

Game 2 had Ken Togame facing rookie Tomohito Sakai. The Marines struck in the first inning off a timely hit from Daichi Suzuki. Yamakawa tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd.

The Lions ruined a chance with two runners on and nobody out in the bottom of the 4th as Yamakawa lined out and Mori grounded into a double play. Scoring wouldn't come again until the top of the 7th, where Yuta Yoshida hit a two run blast off Togame.

A two-out chance for the Lions came in the bottom of the 7th with two runners on base, but Tonosaki flew out to right field. Sakai would go the distance and earn a complete game with five strikeouts, one walk and only four hits allowed.

Marines 3, Lions 1

Game note:

-This is the only time the Lions have lost a three-game series to the Marines in 2017.

===

The final game of the series and head to head matchup against the Marines had Yusei Kikuchi against rookie Chihaya Sasaki. Asamura and the Lions scored first with a solo HR in the bottom of the 1st inning. The Lions failed to add more run support as Mori hit into a double play in the bottom of the 4th.

Kikuchi had two houdinis, but escaped with six scoreless innings, seven strikeouts and two walks while allowing four hits. Hatsuhiko Tsuji pulled a quick hook as Kikuchi only had 83 pitches and brought in Makita for the 7th. This would backfire as Shota Omine hit an RBI gapper to tie the game. Noda was forced to come in the game with inherited runners and retire the final out to keep it tied.

Schlitter came in the 8th inning and already allowed two base runners, having one score off a sacrifice fly from Tatsuhiro Tamura. Jimmy Paredes added another run with a single and it was 3-1 in the 8th. Katsunori Hirai did worse in the 9th as he balked in a run.

Every mistake would be crucial as the Lions threatened in the 9th. Asamura hit another solo HR and Tonosaki added another run with a single. With two runners on base, Ryo Sakata struck out and Kaneko grounded out as the Marines swept the series in a one-run loss.

Marines 4, Lions 3

Game notes:

-The Lions finished with a 16-8-1 record against the Marines in 2017. They were 10-2 on the road at Zozotown Marine Stadium.

===

Is this a disappointing stretch?  Of course it is. We can only hope that the bullpen is just hungover temporarily and it doesn't continue towards the end of the season. We'll see what lies ahead, but it's unusual how Tsuji pulled the hook on Kikuchi. Let's hope he's not hurt.

Right now, Schlitter looks like the biggest mess, as he struggles to strike anyone out. Get well soon to both Shota Takekuma and Tatsuya Oishi.

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sweep in Sendai


The Satiama Seibu Lions pulled off a two-game sweep in Sendai over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. They currently have a 3.5 game lead over them and remain in second place of the Pacific League.

With these wins combined with other results in the Pacific League, the Softbank Hawks magic number to clinch the pennant is 1 while the Lions also have a magic number of 1 to secure A-class.  Here is how the week went.

==

The first game in Sendai had rookie Shoma Fujihira against Ken Togame.  Rakuten took first blood with a solo HR from Hiroaki Shimauchi in the bottom of the 2nd inning.

Tomoya Mori would hit a leadoff double and runners would be on the corners for the Lions creating a chance in the top of the 4th. However, Hideto Asamura grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.

The bottom of the 4th proved to have momentum continue Rakuten's way, as Takero Okajima and Carlos Peguero reached base with hits. With Okajima on third, Togame would throw a wild pitch with two strikes and the runner would score. Zelous Wheeler would slap a single one pitch later to make it 3-0.

The Lions got a run back with Sosuke Genda hitting an RBI single in the top of the 5th. After Togame pitched a shutdown frame, the Lions would erupt for four runs in the top of the 5th, where a three-run bomb came from Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura. This would end Fujihira's night and Yuhei Takanashi came in.

A bloop single to Okada and Genda's safety bunt would result in a hit and an error by Takanashi, sending the ball to right field and Okada on third base. Yuji Kaneko hit a sacrifice fly for another run of insurance.

Togame took the 6th inning and gave up a two out double to "Ginji" Akaminai, but Wheeler would strike out and end a threat, giving the pitcher a shutdown inning for his last frame of the night. He went six innings with five strikeouts, one earned run and six hits with no walks.

Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 7th while Brian Schlitter gave up a walk and a hit in the 8th, but no runs. In the top of the 8th, Genda provided insurance with a 2-RBI double beating a shift to make it 7-3.  This hit also secured a modasho.

Like Schlitter, Tatsushi Masuda gave up a hit and walk creating a chance. However, a groundout to Yuichi Adachi and infield fly from Japhet Amador ended the game.

Lions 7, Eagles 3

Game note:

-The Lions won their 9th straight game against the Eagles with one tie in the 10-game stretch.

===

The last game of the series would have an old friend in Takayuki Kishi up against Yusei Kikuchi in a battle of Tohoku natives. This game would start fast as three pitches from Kishi turned into a run for the Lions. Akiyama singled, Genda placed a bunt single and Mori slapped a third single for a 1-0 lead.

This lead wouldn't last long as an error from Hotaka Yamakawa would have Ginji on base. Taishi Nakagawa tied the game with a gapper to left field. Kikuchi dealt with a bases loaded jam that included a walk and bunt single in the bottom of the 5th, but he would get Ginji to ground out into a 6-4-3 double play.

In the top of the 6th Mori would earn a walk and Yamakawa struck out, but the former advanced to second base. Asamura would come through with a single up the middle and the Lions took a 2-1 lead.

Kikuchi would cruise through eight innings with 11 strikeouts, four hits and two walks. Masuda took the 9th inning and gave up a double to Wheeler, but both Japhet Amador and Shimauchi grounded out as the Lions pulled off the short sweep.

Lions 2, Eagles 1

Game notes:

-The Lions finished with a 7-4-1 record in Sendai. It was their 10th straight win over the Eagles with a tie included in their last 11 games head to head.

===

Close games after slow starts have been going the Lions way after struggles last season. It's good to see progress and right now, we're hoping the team is healthy as they gear up towards the postseason.

What happens now? Most likely a pennant party in MetLife Dome with the Hawks coming for a three game series. The Lions will need to sweep them in order to prevent this from happening.

With the irregular schedule in September, our next weekly digest will come after the series against the Marines on Thursday.

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Report: Otani to be posted after 2017 season

Newspaper outlets in Japan broke the news that Shohei Otani would be posted. Photo via Jason Coskrey.

In what has been a story in the making for years, the Japanese media reported that Shohei Otani announced his intentions of going to MLB after the 2017 season on Wednesday afternoon (Tuesday night in U.S.A. time).

Otani, 23, has been a pitcher and hitter for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters since 2013. On the mound in five seasons, he has a combined 40-15 record, 12 complete games, six shutouts and a 2.57 ERA.

He was an MVP for the Pacific League in 2016 and helped lead the Fighters to a Japan Series title in the same year. The 2016 season was his breakout year as a hitter, where his slashline was .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs. He was limited on the mound last year due to a blister, but was still a threat being the team's DH.

When Otani was a top prospect out of high school at Hanamaki Higashi, there was speculation that he would forego the draft and head straight to a major league team. Despite telling teams to not draft him, he was still eligible and the Fighters were the only group to take him in a free-for-all. The Fighters would convince Otani to sign with the team after weeks of negotiation and the young phenom would not take the same path of Junichi Tazawa.

Otani will leave with an amateur status, making his availability to any team financially easier. At age 25, players born outside of the United States are considered free agents like a normal free agent. If he is younger than 25, however, foreign players are subject to the international bonus pools for their signing bonuses, which are between $4.75-5.75 million per team.

With a low max salary combined with a paltry posting fee, which is still being negotiated, it's anyone's guess as to where he signs as there cannot be an excessive financial offer compared to what Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish would get.  

There will be plenty stories about Otani for the next few months (let alone after he signs with a new team). While it's obvious he wants to go to the majors, we will answer some of the many FAQs that have come about with Otani and NPB: 

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Why did Otani not enter North America when he could have out of high school and why are the Fighters willing to sell for almost nothing?

The Fighters "recruited" Otani the moment they drafted him despite the verbal advice of not having interest in NPB. They're a team who will take the best player on their draft board no matter the cost or risk. Had Otani refused to sign, the Fighters, like many sports teams, would end up wasting a 1st round draft pick. 

Manager Hideki Kuriyama showed Otani a book titled "Otani's Dream" which had a plan of going to MLB, something Otani has always wanted to do. There was plenty of data showing success and failures from Japan going to the States. While we don't know the details of what was in this book from beginning to end, there was likely a plan for the team and himself on reaching certain goals. 

It's probable that winning a Japan Series championship would speed up this process and the Fighters would give the green light for a posting to happen when he wants. Now that Otani has made his declaration that he wants the leave, the Fighters will fulfill their promise and approve of it. 

===

What kind of pitches does he have? 

We wrote this piece awhile back from 2015, but there could be more to update. In 2016, he had a slow start to the year on the mound and it was argued that he was showing off his changeup when it wasn't his ultimate strength. A more detailed piece on his arsenal will come later in the year.  

Recently, he has set a record in NPB for fastest pitch hitting 165 km/h (102.5mph) on the radar gun. Velocity is there and he has the fork ball to stifle others.  

===

What has he been doing lately? 

Otani has spent most of the 2017 injured or rehabbing while not at full strength. He dealt with a nagging ankle injury which kept him out of the 2017 World Baseball Classic. While he played in the opening week of the season, he didn't start playing regularly until near the All-star break in July where he was only a hitter.  

It wasn't until July where he finally made an appearance on the mound. Even then, Otani has been on a strict pitch count limit as most recently shown with less than 80 pitches. This season is all about becoming healthy as a pitcher and the Fighters hope by season's end he'll be 100%. 

===

What are some concerns of Otani?

Durability and health are two things that become a reason to hold back. He has dealt with injuries in the last two seasons with a blister in 2016 and an ankle which carried over into 2017. Most recently he strained his thigh after running to a base which kept him out of the lineup, rather than just off the mound.  

Obviously the transition to MLB from NPB is always a concern for anyone coming over, but the workload of going every 4-5 days after pitching once a week is the biggest challenge for any starting pitcher.  

The hitting part is still unproven compared to his pitching if it translates to the MLB level, but it will be worth a shot to see if his athleticism and bat can do anything.  

===

How did the Fighters use his bat and pitching in a season? 

Majority of MLB scouts see Otani's pitching as the jewel of talent, but his bat is still strong. The common pattern in NPB is how starting pitcher's will only play once a week. Otani would typically pitch one day, get the following game off, then DH the next 3-4 games, then take the day off prior to his next start, which would then rinse and repeat.  

However, there were a few select games where Otani would hit for himself and the DH was eliminated altogether.  In 2014, he was seen playing right field on occasion, but the Fighters haven't done this recently.  

===

Ohtani or Otani? 

Technically they're both right when it comes to grammar. While you do see "Ohtani" on the jersey, we personally will type Otani because it is on the NPB website and journalists in Japan typing English must use that spelling. An interesting fact is that Otani himself prefers Ohtani.  This might be hard for you to read Hiragana, but an explanation can be seen here. "Ootani" is also technically correct, but no one in English would understand that one due to the sound.  

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Why would Otani leave for MLB when he can make more money by waiting until he's 25?

Money is not what always makes the world go round in Japan. Several guys in NPB don't make a lot, but it is more for the love of the game. Otani does not care about the money by doing this and merely wants an opportunity to play in MLB, which has been his dream. Speculation came early on this, but no one knew the answer except Otani himself when he announced it.  

===


Where can we find highlights of Otani? 

The best thing to do is search his name in Kanji, but there are plenty of ways to see him on youtube in English typing. Here's some tape we'll link for you:





For searching, I'd suggest copying and pasting his name 大谷 翔平 into any video services and see what you can find.  

===

How many MLB teams have looked at Otani? 

Technically every MLB team knows or has seen tape of him. Whether a team is serious about it is another story. Teams had an early start in February of 2016 and 2017 as the Fighters used the San Diego Padres facility in Peoria, Arizona as a spring training location for a portion of camp. 

Scouts are always in Japan, but his starts this season (which rarely have come due to his injury) are getting all the attention. Teams who have been documented to scout Otani's games this year include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds.  

At the time of this writing, three of those teams would have their general manager make the trip to Japan in person. 

Ranger GM Jon Daniels was in Japan last May with two scouts and his assistant GM Josh Boyd in Kamagaya, the Fighters farm team facility. They would watch Otani take indoor batting practice and run out in the field besides throw a few baseballs as he was rehabbing his injury, but were not allowed to talk to him.  

Yankees GM Brian Cashman was in Japan on August 31 to see Otani's second start.  Most recently, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto was spotted at the Fighters game on September 12. Could more GMs take a look up close? We'll find out. 

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Which team would be best suited for him?

While it's easy to talk about location and parts of America with a Japanese presence such as Seattle or Los Angeles being helpful, an American League team would be most beneficial for him if he wants to hit and pitch. It's very well-known that Otani likes hitting and wants that opportunity and with the National League, he'd likely only hit for himself and be an occasional pinch hitter. 

Personally, I think the Yankees would fit best considering all the factors of needing a DH and a hitter friendly park, but that's just me.  

===

Which team do you think will sign Otani?

That guess is as good as anyone's. My personal opinion is that Otani will sign with the team who grants him the right to hit. Many fans and teams see him as a pitcher only, which is fine as it is his proven strength that should carry over to the Major Leagues. However, as mentioned before, Otani likes to hit and the team who gives him the offer of anything he wants will end up signing him.  

It's passive to say the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers are the three main contenders in this. I would not be surprised if Jon Daniels will give him everything from wearing Jersey #11 to being marketed around Texas.  Teams will reveal their cards at season's end, but the ride is just beginning as we'll all be on Otani watch this offseason. Fasten your seatbelts and stay tuned folks, because it's going to be a bumpy one. 

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Monday, September 11, 2017

Report: Alexis Candelario placed on waivers


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Monday that they placed Alexis Candelario on waivers. Once he passes through waivers and every team passes on him, he will be a free agent. This will likely be the first of many roster cuts to come in the fall.

Candelario, 35, was well-traveled in baseball having played in an Independent league while being stateside as well as several others in Mexico, Italy, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

With the Lions ichi-gun, he would only be used for one spot start on May 2 in Fukuoka against the Softbank Hawks. He recorded 3 IP, 7 ER, nine hits, two walks and two strikeouts. This would result in a 14-4 loss.

Candelario spent majority of his time in ni-gun where he appeared in 17 games. He recorded a 2-7 record with 65 innings and a 4.98 ERA with the ni-gun team.

When he signed with the Lions last December, we viewed him as a low risk signing with minimal upside. He had a colorful background playing in different countries, but it wasn't enough to work his way up the ranks to the ichi-gun.

The Lions currently have 69 players under contract, but majority of their roster cuts will not be announced until the end of the regular season, where they become Senryokugai.  A list of potential candidates to be cut can be found here.

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, September 10, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Kikuchi earns another shutout in Sawamura race


The Saitama Seibu Lions secured a neutral week by going 3-3 against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. With these wins, the magic number for A-class is five with a comfortable lead over the Orix Buffaloes. They also hold a one game lead over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Here's how we got here:

===

The opener against the Marines had Ayumu Ishikawa against Ken Togame. Tomoya Mori plated the first run with an RBI single in the bottom of the first after a bunt from Sosuke Genda moved Shogo Akiyama to 2nd base. A sacrifice fly from Takumi Kuriyama put the Lions up 2-0 in the bottom of the third.

Ikuhiro Kiyota dropped a bloop single with the bases loaded to give the Marines a run back. However, Togame was crafty enough to escape with no outs as Tatsuhiro Tamura grounded into a double play and Takashi Ogino grounded out in the top of the 4th to prevent anymore runs.

Togame would have minimal drama through six innings, but it was the top off the 7th where things would change. A leadoff walk to Kiyota was be followed up by a bunt and a strikeout. Shogo Noda was brought in to face pinch hitter Shota Omine. With the outfield playing in, Omine would hit a double off the wall, but was caught trying to advance to third base while tying the game with the runner scoring.

In the bottom of the 7th with Akiyama on first, Genda would bunt his way on with a single as Daichi Suzuki couldn't cover first base in time. Mori took the next pitch into the outfield for a go-ahead RBI single. Genda then beat out a throw towards home plate and scored another run. Kuriyama added another sacrifice fly as pinch-runner Daichi Mizuguchi scored from third to make it a three-run game.
The rest of the game was on cruise control as Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda would pitch a scoreless inning and end the two-game losing streak.

Lions 5, Marines 2

Game note:

-Despite giving up the hit, this was Shogo Noda's first career win.

===

The second game had Yosuke Okamoto up against Kuan-Yu Chen. Both sides wouldn't score until the top of the 4th, where Willy Mo Pena hit a two-run bomb as the Marines drew first blood. Yuta Yoshida would hit a solo HR in the 5th to make it 3-0.

A two-run HR from Akiyama in the bottom of the frame made it a one-run game, but Shogo Nakamura would hit a two-run HR in the 6th and make it 5-2. Okamoto would go six innings with thoes three home run given up allowing eight hits and getting two strikeouts.

Both teams would trade two runs again as Shuta Tonosaki had a two-RBI single with the bases loaded, but Jimmy Paredes would hit a two-run HR off Katsunori Hirai in the top of the 7th. Kuriyama hit a solo HR in the bottom of the 8th, but it was still a two run game.

Hideto Asamura would hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 9th as closer Tatsuya Uchi was pitching to make it a one-run game. Kuriyama then tied it with a single. After Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura was intentionally walked, Tonosaki grounded into a fielder's choice and Yuji Kaneko flew out to make it go to extras.

Masuda took the 10th inning and gave up a sacrifice fly to Pena as the Marines retook the lead. The Lions had one last gasp with two runners on and one out, but Asamura grounded into a double play and the Marines won the game.

Marines 8, Lions 7 (10 innings)

Game notes:

-Shota Takekuma was taken off the roster with a shoulder injury. Okawari-kun would be called up after hitting a grand slam in ni-gun to take his place.

-The Lions removed the DH by having Tomoya Mori play as catcher after the team used Masatoshi Okada and Ginjiro Sumitani. Kaneko would pinch hit for the pitcher's spot.

-Genda surpassed Hiromichi Ishige's franchise rookie record in hits by getting his 128th of the season during this game.

===

For the rubber match, it would be Ryota Sekiya facing Yusei Kikuchi. Hotaka Yamakawa crushed his 15th HR of the season to left-centerfield for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd. Akiyama hit an opposite field HR into the Lions Oendan to make it 2-0 in the third. An RBI fielder's choice from Kuriyama made it 3-0.

This day belonged to Kikuchi, who went the distance with only four hits allowed and one walk. He would have 10 strikeouts and force two double plays on the night for his fourth shutout victory of the season.

Lions 3, Marines 0

Game note:

-With few games next week, Okamoto was taken off the roster. Frank Garces was added in his place.

===

The homestand continued as the Fighters entered MetLife Dome with Hirotoshi Takanashi against Ryoma Nogami. Shohei Otani would hit a two-run HR in the top of the 1st and it set the tone for the game.

A crooked disaster inning came in the top of the 4th, where the Fighters scored seven runs, including multiple timely hits from Kengo Ota, Taishi Ota, Go Matsumoto for five of those. Otani would hit another two-run HR off Frank Garces to make it an impossible 9-0 lead.

Takanashi would go 7.2 innings with 10 strikeouts before giving up a two-run HR to Ryo Sakata preventing a shutout. Garces and Ryohei Fujiwara would eat up the remaining innings in the Lions loss.

Fighters 9, Lions 2

===

The second game would involve Shinsaburo Tawata facing Takayuki Kato. After some squandered chances by the Lions in the early innings, the Fighters would draw first blood on a solo HR by Brandon Laird in the top of the 4th.

Bats for the Lions would come thin. The bases were loaded in the second, but no runs. They also had a runner on third in the fifth inning, but weak contact drew another Houdini for Kato. Tawata's effort would be wasted with seven strong innings with six strikeouts as the HR was the only problem of the day.

The latest chance came in the bottom of the 8th, where Kato allowed two runners to reach base and Genda was on third. However, Chris Martin came into the game and forced a 6-4-3 double play for another Houdini.

Even in the bottom of the 9th, Yamakawa would hit a leadoff double. Hatsuhiko Tsuji would have Masatoshi Okada bunt the pinch runner Tonosaki over to third. Kuriyama struck out and Okawari-kun would follow, making the Lions lose in shutout fashion.

Fighters 1, Lions 0

Game note:

-Yamakawa would have two doubles, accounting for half of the Lions hits as they were held to four as a team.

-Genda picked up two stolen bases in one inning.

===

The final game of the series had Naoya Ishikawa facing Brian Wolfe. An early error from Asamura would put the Fighters on the board first. Two timely doubles from Akiyama and Asamura in the bottom of the 1st would erase the deficit and give the Lions a lead.

The Lions followed that up with a solo home run from Ginjiro Sumitani before Asamura's second error gave a run back. Okawari-kun and Yamakawa would each hit a two-run HR to make it 7-2, but Laird hit another deep HR to give a run back.

The Fighters would go on a run in the top of the 6th with some infield hits after the HR, but an error from Sosuke Genda sparked it getting another run, ending Wolfe's day as he couldn't record an out.

Kazunori Hirai was forced to come in with inherited runners. Kazunari Ishii would get an RBI single and a third run would score in the inning. Haruki Nishikawa would drop a bloop single to bring the Fighters within a run. Go Matsumoto tied the game with a clean single and the lead was blown.

The bottom of the 6th would favor the Lions, as Okawari-kun started with a leadoff walk. A bunt from Sumitani set up the go-ahead run as Genda slapped a single.

Despite the meltdown 6th, Kazuhisa Makita and Brian Schlitter had no trouble in the 7th and 8th innings. Tatsushi Masuda would do the same and the Lions secured one win in the series.

Lions 8, Fighters 7

Game note:

-For the first time since 2013, the Lions clinched a winning record.

===

As crazy as this week was, at least they didn't having a losing one. There's ups and downs with the bats and the defense, but it would be helpful if they're not hungover.

Hope to see progress continue and a possible clinch of A-class this week ahead. Unfortunately, it's also likely that the Softbank Hawks clinch this weekend with a three-game series in MetLife Dome coming up.  The next digest will come earlier as a result of a short series in Sendai.

===

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hotaka Yamakawa named Pacific League Hitting MVP for August 2017


The August 2017 monthly MVPs were announced by NPB on Thursday night. Hotaka Yamakawa would win the hitting MVP from the Pacific League for the month.

Yamakawa, who will turn 26 in November, was called up in July after starting the season on the opening day roster. In August, he would hit .326 with 30 hits, 9 home runs and 28 RBIs. He would also have 20 walks with an on-base percentage of .451 and a slugging average of .696.

In 11 of those games in August, he had at least two hits. There were at least 10 RBIs in 10 of those games.

Yamakawa has taken the starting 1B role since July and has continued to be there since. It has led to the benching of Ernesto Mejia, where he was even deactivated from the roster to begin August.

This is the first time Yamakawa has earned a monthly honor and it's the third time a Saitama Seibu Lions player has done it this season. Ken Togame won the pitching honor in June while Shogo Akiyama was the hitter of the month for July.

Other recipients of August 2017 awards:

P Dennis Sarfate (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yokohama DeNa Baystars)

P Miles Mikolas (Yomiuri Giants)

===

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Akiyama reaches 1,000 into 2nd place


The Saitama Seibu Lions reached second place in the Pacific League with a 3-2-1 week against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Orix Buffaloes on the road. This is the first time in the 2017 season the Lions have been in front of the Eagles in the standings. Here's what happened for the week:

===

The opener from Sendai had Ken Togame return from his injury to face Takahiro Shiomi. Shogo Akiyama started the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 4th. The Eagles tied the game when Motohiro Shima slapped an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the 5th.

Hideto Asamura would give the Lions a lead again in the top of the 6th, with an RBI single after Tomoya Mori would take advantage of a hit and run. Sosuke Genda provided insurance with a soft single past Eigoro Mogi to make it 3-1.

Togame would have a solid outing with 6.2 innings, four strikeouts and no walks while scattering six hits. Shota Takekuma retired Hiroaki Shimauchi with a lineout to end the 7th.

Brian Schlitter recorded two strikeouts in the 8th while Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th which had a double play to end the Lions' short losing streak.

Lions 3, Eagles 1

Game note:

-To make room for Togame on the roster, Keisuke Honda was taken off.

-Genda would hit leadoff for the first time and Tomoya Mori would bat second in the lineup.

===

In Game 2, Yosuke Okamoto would face Minabu Mima. An early error from Nien Ting Wu would score a run for the Eagles in the bottom of the 1st. Carlos Peguero followed that up with a two-run HR. The Lions answered in the top of the 4th as Wu hit an RBI double.

An error by Shogo Akiyama would be costly as a ball landed and bounced for ground rule double instead of a routine flyout. Motohiro Shima would plate the runner home. Hideto Asamura would hit a two-run HR in the top of the 5th to make it a one-run game. Masatoshi Okada would then hit a timely two-run double down the line to give the Lions a 5-4 lead, ending Mima's day.

Hotaka Yamakawa hit a three-run HR in the top of the 6th to make it 8-4. However, this game was far from over. A failed chance in the top of the 8th left the door open for a comeback as the bases were stranded.

There would be a one-hour rain delay with massive showers in Sendai. Even worse, a second stoppage would happen as birds would take over the field, forcing the stadium to turn off its lights and use fireworks to move the animals away.

Brian Schlitter came on in the bottom of the 8th and allowed two 2-run RBI hits to Louis Okoye and Takero Okajima to tie the game, blowing the lead in the process at 8-8. Shogo Noda was forced to come in and retire Peguero with a comebacker to preserve a tie. Rain would poor in Sendai and the officials called the game with a draw.

Lions 8, Eagles 8

Game notes:

-Five Lions would have at least two hits in this game.

-Ernesto Mejia came in as a pinch hitter and walked. He was replaced by Daichi Mizuguchi as a pinch runner.

===

For the final game, Yusei Kikuchi would face Tomohiro Anraku. The Eagles scored first as Okoye hit a Rickey Henderson style home run for a 1-0 lead. Seibu answered back with a sacrifice fly from Ginjiro Sumitani in the top of the second. Tomoya Mori then cleared the bases for a double, giving the Lions a 4-1 lead.

A throwing error from Zelous Wheeler had Sosuke Genda safe on first, resulting in a run scoring from third base in the top of the 4th. Kikuchi had one scare in the bottom of the 5th with two runners on and no outs, but the Eagles only mustered one run through an RBI groundout by Japhet Amador.

An insurance run would come as Shogo Akiyama hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 7th. For Kikuchi, the rest of the game was on cruise control as he went the distance with all 9 innings pitched. He would only walk two batters, allow five hits and strike out 11 batters for his 13th win of the season.

Lions 6, Eagles 2

Game notes:

-Akiyama reached his 1,000th career hit with a modasho.

===

The week would go to Kansai with Ryoma Nogami facing Brandon Dickson in Kobe. It would be Orix to score first as Hiroyuki Nakajima sliced a single past the infield for the opening run in the bottom of the 2nd.

That lead wouldn't last long, as the Lions erupted in the top of the third. Timely hits from Yamakawa, Kuriyama, Wu, Tonosaki and Masatoshi Okada would make it 5-1 and end Dickson's night as he couldn't finish the frame. Orix got a run back when Takahiro Okada hit a sacrifice fly.

Nogami would have a solid seven innings with six strikeouts, four hits given up and no walks. Schlitter had a scare with the tying run at bat and runners on the corners, but some liners right to the infield prevented any runs. He would also get Masataka Yoshida to groundout.

Yamakawa put the game away with a two run home run in the top of the 9th for his 14th of the season. Shogo Noda took the bottom of the 9th and the Lions took the opener of the series.

Lions 7, Buffaloes 2

Game notes:

-Nien Ting Wu would start at 3B again, Yuji Kaneko started the game on the bench.

-Kuriyama would have a modasho and start in LF in his hometown of Kobe. The Lions finished with a 2-1 record in this ballpark for 2017.

===

The second game from Kyocera Dome would have Shinsaburo Tawata facing Taisuke Yamaoka. An error from Genda would allow a runner to reach base and a bloop hit from Stefen Romero would score a run for Orix in the bottom of the 1st.

There would be a fast answer from the Lions as Kuriyama's RBI single tied the game in the second. The tie wouldn't last long as Tawata got two quick outs in the bottom of the frame, but four consecutive singles led to two runs, including timely hits from Masahiro Nishino and Koji Oshiro to make it 3-1.

The Lions failed to score more off Yamaoka despite having plenty of walks and hits to create chances. Yamaoka would go six innings with seven strikeouts. Hikaru Ito would send a ball to the stands off Katsunori Hirai in the 6th to give Orix insurance. A sacrifice fly from Wu would bring the Lions within two runs once more, but that was it.

Orix's bullpen would hang on and take the second game of the series.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 2

Game note:

-Wu would bat leadoff for this game and go 1-4.

===

The final game of the series and week would have Brian Wolfe, who was saved for this weekend, against Sachiya Yamasaki.

Two consecutive 2-out hits by Akiyama and Asamura lead to the Lions drawing first blood when the latter hit a gapper down the RF line. Orix answered back as a throwing error from Asamura led to one run and a RBI double play added another.

Ernesto Mejia tied the game with a solo HR and an RBI single form Genda gave the Lions a lead again.  The Lions defense let them down in the bottom of the third, where two throwing errors by Wu and Ginjiro Sumitani led to two base runners. Masataka Yoshida would take a hanging pitch from Wolfe to the RF stands as Orix took a 5-3 lead.

The Lions couldn't score off the Orix bullpen after Yamasaki left in the 2nd and the Buffaloes made them pay. Chris Marrero cleared the bases with a double in the gap and the game was all but over. Ryo Sakata would hit a three-run pinch hit HR in the top of the 7th, but it was too late.

Ryoichi Adachi would have a bases clearing double in the bottom of the same frame to erase any chances of a come back.

Buffaloes 11, Lions 6

Game note:

-To make room for Wolfe, the Lions would take Kentaro Fukukura off the roster.

-The 2017 Seibu Lions finished with a 3-6 record in Kyocera Dome. They had a 5-7 record in Kansai when playing the Buffaloes including the games in Kobe.

===

The Lions are thankfully in second place of the Pacific League with the Eagles being cold. Better yet, the Lions won't see Orix much for the rest of the season, as they're a continuous thorn in their side. Taking the series in Sendai was very satisfying and preventing a sweep in Osaka is what we'll take, fora team that has the Lions number.

===

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Mejia homers in disasterous week


It would be an awful affair for the Saitama Seibu Lions as they would go 1-5 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Orix Buffaloes. They still maintain a healthy lead over Orix for A-class, but blew a chance to gain more ground on the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles.

===

The opening game from Fukuoka had Rick Van Den Hurk against Brian Wolfe. After a passed ball by Ginjiro Sumitani, Seiji Uebayashi would score later from an RBI groundout by Yuichi Honda in the bottom of the 3rd. Kenta Imamiya would slap an RBI double off the wall in the 6th and that's all that was needed to take Wolfe out after the inning was over.

Van Den Hurk shut down the Lions through seven innings with only two hits, one walk and 10 strikeouts. The Hawks would pull away in the bottom of the 7th with a three-run HR off Shota Takekuma by Imamiya. For good measure, Tomoaki Egawa would get a two-RBI hit with the bases loaded in the 8th off Makoto Aiuchi.

Hawks 7, Lions 0

Game notes:

-To make room for Aiuchi, the Lions deactivated Stephen Fife, Hirotaka Koishi and Ichiro Tamura. Kentaro Fukukura and Shogo Noda were also called up.

-Ernesto Mejia remained a pinch hitter.

===

The second game had Shunta Ishikawa facing Yosuke Okamoto. This one would be over from the very beginning as Yuki Yanagita hit a two-run HR in the bottom of the first. The Hawks would also bat around in the bottom of the 2nd for a total of four runs, creating a six run deficit after two innings.

Okamoto would also allow a three-run HR to Nobuhiro Matsuda in the bottom of the 5th, ending his night early. It would be the first time he earned a loss. With plenty of run support, Ishikawa was on cruise control with seven shutout innings and seven strikeouts, giving up only two hits and two walks.

Noda, Fukukura and Aiuchi got to pitch some mop up innings and save the bullpen, but the Lions were shutout for second straight night.

Hawks 9, Lions 0

Game note:

-Brian Wolfe was taken off after the game, Ryo Sakata was called up to start. He would go 1-2 with a walk.

===

In the final game of the series, Yusei Kikuchi would face Kenichi Nakata. Early on, Kikuchi would be called for an illegal pitch and Yanagita made him pay with an RBI double in the bottom of the 1st. Alfredo Despaigne would then hit a two-run HR into the porch for a 3-0 Hawks lead.

Mejia hit a solo HR in the top of the 2nd, but that was as close as it would get. Kikuchi would get lit up for four runs in the bottom of the 2nd, which included a three-run HR from Kenta Imamiya. Nakata would not allow a run again and go seven innings, earning run support like the previous pitchers.

Fukukura, Noda and Aiuchi would once again eat up the last six innings, combining for three more runs allowed in what was a laugher series in Fukuoka.

Hawks 10, Lions 1

Game note:

-The Lions are 1-11 when playing in Fukuoka, which includes one game in Kitakyushu.

===

The week would come back to Kanto with one final game in Omiya as Brandon Dickson would take on Ryoma Nogami. This one had the Lions jump out to a 3-0 lead after Hideto Asamura and Hotaka Yamakawa would get timely hits. Asamua added another one in the second inning with a sacrifice fly.

Mejia hit a solo HR in the bottom of the third and the rout was on. The Lions scored at least one run in each of the first six innings which also had Yuji Kaneko hit a HR. Nogami would get six shutout innings with seven strikeouts and one walk for a game that was on cruise control.

With the back end relief not pitching earlier in the week, Kazuhisa Makita, Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda took the last three innings to secure the shutout.

Lions 8, Buffaloes 0

Game note:

-Nien Ting Wu was added to the roster in place of Kyohei Nagae. He would come in as a replacement at 3B.

===

The second game from MetLife Dome had Taisuke Yamaoka against Shinsaburo Tawata. It would be a flat one from Tawata as he gave up four home runs for a 5-0 Orix lead in the first three innings. Two of them would come from Chris Marrero while Masataka Yoshida and Takahiro Okada would contribute too.

The game was out of reach and Yamaoka ended up with a shutout, striking out 10 Lions and scattering nine hits. Katsunori Hirai, Noda and Aiuchi took the last three innings giving up a combined four runs.

Buffaloes 9, Lions 0

===

The final game of this series would have Takahiro Matsuba against Keisuke Honda.  Some early speed from Shuta Tonosaki and Sosuke Genda would translate into runs with a sacrifice fly from Shogo Akiyama and a timely single from Hideto Asamura. Hotaka Yamakawa added a solo HR for a 3-0 lead.

Orix responded and tied the game in the top of the second with consecutive hits and walks. The timely hits came from Shuhei Kojima and Yuki Miyazaki.

The Lions answered with two more runs of their own as Akiyama recorded a two-out timely single with Wu on third and Genda on second (after stealing). Masatoshi Okada added another run in the 3rd inning with a two-out RBI single of his own.

Honda would be taken out after 2.2 innings, where an error by Wu prevented him from finishing the third. Matsuba was taken out after two innings to make this a bullpen game.

After Katsunori Hirai had  a scoreless 5th, things unraveled in the 6th inning. Kazuhisa Makita gave up multiple hits and allowed one run. Then with two runners on base, Yoshida would pull a 3-run HR to give Orix their first lead of the game at 7-6.

This one wasn't over without a fight. Yuta Kuroki would hit Asamura with a pitch in the seventh and both Yamakawa and Mori would walk. With Kuriyama's spot coming up, Hatsuhiko Tsuji chose to pinch hit with Yuji Kaneko. This call would work as he dropped a bloop double to score two runners and give the Lions a lead again.

Brian Schlitter would make things become a disaster with a leadoff double. After a bunt would move the runner over, Schlitter would walk Yoshida. Eiichi Koyano came in to pinch hit and would hit a HR on the first pitch, giving Orix a 10-8 lead. This time, Orix would hold on with only one base runner in the 8th and a solo HR from Yamakawa allowed in the 9th.

Buffaloes 10, Lions 9

Game notes:

-To make room for Honda, Shotaro Tashiro and Makoto Aiuchi were taken off the ichi-gun roster. Ryohei Fujiwara was also added.

===

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Mori boosts bats in return



The Saitama Seibu Lions secured another winning week in the books. They would go 4-2 combined against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Here's what happened:

===

The first game of the series had a spot start form Josh Corrales making his ichi-gun debut against Brian Wolfe. It was an awful debut from Corrales, where a string of three consecutive walks led to a run. Takeya "Okawari-kun" also beat out a double play to extend the inning and double the Lions lead in the first inning. Tomoya Mori would make his first AB of the 2017 season rememberable with an RBI single. Ginjiro Sumitani would also be hit by a pitch to make it a four-run inning.

Shintaro Masuda would give the Eagles a run back with an RBI double, but the Lions responded with Sosuke Genda doubling and Shogo Akiyama plating him immediately with a single in the second.

Wolfe looked like he would be cruising to an easy win, but gave up a string of consecutive hits with a walk for one run. Louis Okoye would then clear the bases on a double to tie the game, as the Lions blew a 5-1 lead in the process.

Yasunori Kikuchi took over in the 4th inning for the Eagles and the base runners came again. Mori hit one off the wall to plate two more runs. Wolfe would fail to get a shutdown inning as Zelous Wheeler took one deep to make it a one run game in the 5th. With Shota Takekuma pitching, Masuda would strike again with a solo HR and tie the game once more.

Takekuma had a shutdown inning thanks to a strikeout, throw out double play from Sumitani. With Kohei Morihara pitching, he would give up home runs to Hotaka Yamakawa and Kyohei Nagae where the latter was called up to the ichi-gun for the first time since May. Shuta Tonosaki would later hit a two-run HR to put the game away for good.

Hatsuhiko Tsuji didn't waste anything, as Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 7th inning with a four run lead. Yamakawa dropped a bloop RBI single for another run. Katsunori took the 8th with no problem minus one error from Genda.

The bottom of the 8th is where the Lions piled it on with five runs. Timely hits from Sumitani, Akiyama, Nagae and a walk from Genda made it easy.  Hirotaka Koishi gave up a late run, but it was all over after two comebacks.

Lions 17, Eagles 8

Game notes:

-Every starting Lions player had at least one hit.

-Akiyama secured a modasho.

-To make room for Nagae and Mori, the Lions deactivated Tatsuyuki Uemoto and Naoto Watanabe.

-17 runs is the highest amount of runs scored by the Lions in the 2017 season.

===

The second game featured Minabu Mima against Yosuke Okamoto. It would be the Lions to score first as Kyohei Nagae reached base on an error by Mima, where the pitcher dropped the ball on an exchange.

After Okamoto fought through a chance in the top of the 4th, he would be rewarded in the bottom of the frame. The Lions looked like they would squander a chance with two on and nobody out, but Nagae came through with a gapper plating both runners. Genda plated Nagae shortly after to make it 4-0.

Mori would hit his first HR of the season and the game would be on cruise control from the 5th inning. Okamoto would get a sixth inning and have a clean affair with no runs allowed, three strikeouts and one walk while scattering three hits.

Brian Schlitter took the 7th without trouble while Makita pitched the 8th. Hirai pitched the 9th inning and the Lions secured their 11th shutout of the season, taking the series.

Lions 5, Eagles 0

Game notes:

-Okawari-kun would sit this game out with Nagae starting at 3B, batting 9th.

-The Lions are 7-0 when Okamoto starts a game, he has been the winner in six of them.

-Mori secured a modasho, his first of the season.

===

The final game of the series had Tomohiro Anraku against Yusei Kikuchi. This one would be a classic pitcher's duel with minimal threats. The Lions had a runner on third, but nothing would happen in the first. Kikuchi loaded the bases with a two walks and a hit-by-pitch, but a 2-3 double play from Kazuo Matsui would have no runs in the 4th.

Anraku allowed a base runner almost every inning and the best chance came in the bottom of the 7th. With two runners on and two outs, Ernesto Mejia came in for a pinch hit with the ichi-gun, but popped out to centerfield. Anraku went seven innings without a run, scattering seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts.

Both sides would pitch a scoreless 8th inning and it was onto the 9th, where Kikuchi would not allow a run the entire time. He had two hits, seven strikeouts and two walks up to that point. Frank Hermann came in for the 9th inning and retired the first two batters easily, but it wasn't over yet.

Shuta Tonosaki hit a double off the LF wall to create a chance. Sumitani would then be hit by a pitch on what would've been a ball four. With the 9-spot up, which Mejia already pinch hit for, Fumikazu Kimura was due to hit. Tsuji took the right call and had Takumi Kuriyama take a shot. On a 2-1 pitch, Kuriyama went opposite field for a walkoff three-run HR to send MetLife Dome into a frenzy. It was his second sayonara HR o the season and third overall by the team to complete the sweep.

Lions 3, Eagles 0

Game notes:

-This would be the 12th shutout win by the Lions in 2017.

-The Lions won six straight games against the Eagles and were on a five game winning streak.

-Okawari-kun was taken off the roster with back pain. He is expected to return in the minimum 10 days as Mejia took his spot.

===

The week would shift to Sapporo as Luis Mendoza would take on Ryoma Nogami. It would be the Fighters to score first when Shohei Otani slapped an RBI single in the bottom of the 1st. Sho Nakata would then hit a two-run HR in the bottom of the 6th as the Lions bats were no threat.

Mendoza would go 7.1 innings giving up only four hits and one walk while striking out six batters. Nogami went six innings with only three runs given up, but it wasn't enough. Nakata added another run in the bottom of the 8th to seal it as the Fighters shut out the Lions.

Fighters 4, Lions 0

Game note:

-This would be the 7th time the Lions were shut out this year, their first time with no runs since June 30.

===

The second game had Naoyuki Uwasawa facing Shinsaburo Tawata. After Uwasawa showed vulnerability with bad control, Hotaka Yamakawa put the Lions on the board first with a two-run HR in the bottom of the 4th. Tehre wouldn't be anymore scoring until the 9th inning, where Hideto Asamura hit into an RBI groundout after some manufactured bunts.

This game was all about Tawata, where he earned his second shutout in as many weeks. The early trouble he had was in the 7th when Otani hit a double. However, Nakata struck out and Brandon Laird grounded out to make it simple.

There was one last gasp for the Fighters as Takuya Nakashima and Otani reached base with two outs. However, Nakata would hit an infield fly and Tawata earned the shutout.

Lions 3, Fighters 0

Game note:

-This was Tawata's third career shutout, where last year he accomplished this against the Fighters.

===

The rubber match would have Stephen Fife facing Kenta Uehara. It would be a rough start for Fife in the first and third innings with timely hits and several base runners, but damage would be limited both times with a double play and one run given up in both frames.

Otani added a third run through an RBI single and Fife's outing would end in the bottom of the 5th inning, where he failed to get an out. Katsunori Hirai would allow an RBI single with inherited runners to make it 5-0.

Uehara struggled with control and allowed a base runner each inning, but found a way to not allow a run. Ernesto Mejia made his first start and failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position. Uehara would last five innings before the reigns were handed to the Fighters bullpen.

With Hirotaka Koishi entering in the 6th, it was a white flag on this game as he allowed two more runs to score. Ichiro Tamura would also give up a two run HR to Brandon Laird. The Lions prevented a shutout with Genda dropping an RBI single and Kuriyama hitting a home run, but that was it as the Lions lost the series.
 
Fighters 9, Lions 3

Game note:

-Mori was benched before entering the game as a catcher. Kuriyama would start in LF.

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This was still a decent week with the Lions pulling off the sweep of Rakuten. However, with Fife's loss, we've unfortunately learned what he is, which is a back end starter who could take a light start on occasion. It's clear when Ken Togame is healthy again, Fife would be the first one farmed.

We'll see what lies ahead, but the big series in Fukuoka will determine the next level of this team.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tawata earns shutout in final series from Chiba


The Saitama Seibu Lions would go .500 for the week against the Orix Buffaloes and Chiba Lotte Marines in a road trip. They maintain a healthy 14 game lead on the Buffaloes and are only 5.5 games behind the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for second place. Here is how we got there:

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The first game from Osaka had Chihiro Kaneko up against Ken Togame. Takahiro Okada hit a leadoff "Rickey Henderson" style home run to begin the bottom of the 1st for a 1-0 lead. Hiroyuki Nakajima added two more in the second with an RBI single.

The Lions were on the board in the top of the third thanks to a fielding error by Nakajima. Togame would only go two innings and couldn't get an out in the third. When Frank Garces entered, it was all but a disaster as Orix continued to feast on his pitching. Eiichi Koyano broke the game open in the bottom of the 4th with a bases clearing double.

Ichiro Tamura also got some mop up time and allowed two solo HRs to Masataka Yoshida as the game was on cruise control. This would be the first road loss in red uniforms.

Buffaloes 12, Lions 6

Game notes:

-Tamura and Garces were called up, replacing Shogo Noda and Keisuke Honda.

-Togame was deactivated after the game and Hirotaka Koishi was called up in his place. It was reported that Togame had tightness in his lower back.

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Game 2 featured Yosuke Okamoto against Nobuyoshi Yamada. Our old friend Nakajima would score first again with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd. The Lions responded with a timely single in the top of the 3rd by Shuta Tonosaki with two outs and the bases loaded, giving the team a 2-1 lead.

The bases were loaded again for the Lions in the top of the 4th, but Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura appeared to have grounded into a double play ball. However, Chris Marrero couldn't field the relay cleanly and two runs would score as the ball went past 1B.

Okamoto loaded the bases in the bottom of the 4th and Nakajima hit a single to score one run. The game was tied on a two-run double from Shuhei Kojima. After a grounder saved a run, Okamoto's night ended as the bases were loaded again with two outs. Shota Takekuma struck out T. Okada to end the threat and the game remained tied.

Taking over from the 4th inning Sachiya Yamazaki stayed in for the 5th. With two outs, Koyano would botch a throw to 1B and Yuji Kaneko was safe as Marrero was forced off the bag. Shogo Akiyama made them pay with a gapper as Kaneko scored from first. Sosuke Genda slapped the first pitch and double down the LF line to plate Akiyama. Asamura then hit one off the LF wall to score Genda and make it a 3-run inning.

Takekuma pitched a quick 5th inning thanks to a double play and the pitching was on automatic transmission. Hotaka Yamakawa added an RBI double in the 7th to extend a hit streak. Kazuhisa Makita pitched the 6th and 7th, Brian Schlitter took the 8th and Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th inning in what was a comfortable win.

Lions 8, Buffaloes 4

Game notes:

-Genda had a modasho with two doubles included.

-Yamakawa's batting average went above .300 for the first time going 1-2 with two walks.

-Naoto Watanabe took the DH while Takumi Kuriyama was on the bench.

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The rubber match had Takahiro Matsuba against Yusei Kikuchi. Orix scored first in the bottom of the 1st inning from a solo HR by Chris Marrero. This lead didn't last long, as Takumi Kuriyama tied the game with an RBI single in the second.

Ryoichi Adachi would then take one deep off Kikuchi in the 3rd inning. Matsuba held the Lions in check, allowing only one run through six innings, but had five walks. The score remained the same, until Asamura took a deep HR off Taisuke Kondo in the 8th inning to tie the game.

Kikuchi stayed in the game and it would bite the team. With two runners on, Okada struck out, but Masataka Yoshida would slice a gapper with the outfield playing in, plating both runners and giving Orix the lead once again. Yoshihisa Hirano allowed the tying run to be at the plate, but Daichi Mizuguchi lined out and the Lions lost the series.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 2

Game notes:

-Yamakawa's hitting streak was snapped, but he still drew two walks.

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The week would go to Kanto with the Chiba Lotte Marines using Tomohito Sakai against Ryoma Nogami. Asamura opened the scoring with a two-run HR in the top of the first. Chiba got a run back on an unusual fielder's choice which resulted in a throwing error by Okawari-kun.

Asamura hit a second HR of the game with a solo shot in the third. The Marines then tied the game in the bottom of the 5th, where Katsuya Kakunaka pulled a HR into the Marines Oendan. Both pitchers would only go five innings, leaving it into the hands of the bullpen.

Shota Takekuma helped bail out Katsunori Hirai in the 6th inning, but ran into trouble for the 7th. Two RBI gappers from Willy Mo Pena and Daichi Suzuki led to two runs, giving the Marines their first lead of the night. There was one last gasp for the Lions with the tying runners in scoring position, but Asamura and Okawari-kun both struck out to end the game.

Marines 5, Lions 3

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Game notes:

-Watanabe and Kuriyama appeared in the game as pinch hitters, though only Watanabe would get an AB.

-Daichi Mizuguchi was the starting DH.

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The second game would have Shinsaburo Tawata facing our old friend Hideaki Wakui. After Tawata had an early battle with runners on the corners, this one wouldn't have scoring for some time until the top of the third, where Yuji Kaneko took a HR into the Marines entrance gate for a solo "ski ball" HR.
Tawata had runners on base throughout the game, but wouldn't allow a run or anything significant through six innings. He struck out the side for his first three Ks of the game in the bottom of 6th. Bats were also non-existent against Wakui as it was a 1-0 game in the 7th.

The biggest chance for the Marines came in the bottom of the 7th where a leadoff single was bunted over to second base. Tawata would walk Shogo Nakamura, but Kazuya Fukuura would hit into a 4-6-3 double play and end the threat.

Wakui looked like he'd get through the 8th inning unscathed, but with two outs and two strikes, Shogo Akiyama took one into the Marines Oendan for a two-run HR. Tawata would cruise to his second career shutout win, with a clean 8th and only giving up one base runner in the 9th to end the two game skid.

Lions 3, Marines 0

Game note:

-Sosuke Genda picked up a stolen base with his 29th of the season.

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The final game of the series had Stephen Fife making a start against Kota Futaki. It would be the Lions on the board first after Fife escaped a early jam. Tonosaki hit a triple to the right field gap while Ginjiro Sumitani plated him with a double.

A good defensive play from Akiyama throwing a runner out at home plate would save a run in the second. Asamura added a run in the 5th with a sacrifice fly, but trouble came for Fife in the bottom of the 6th. Shogo Nakamura hit one to the gap to tie the game and Suzuki pulled one down the RF line to give the Marines a 3-2 lead. Fife cruised through five innings, but it would be the 6th wehre he couldn't get an out.

This looked like another game where the Lions would lose by a run as Futaki pitched seven innings. However, Naoya Masuda took the 9th and gave life. Asamura worked a long at-bat and got an infield single with a head slide. A successful hit and run put Asamura at third with Yamakawa getting a single and no outs.

Kuriyama tied the game with a sacrifice fly and Shuta Tonosaki secured a modasho with an infield single of his own. Sumitani picked up his second RBI as 3B coach Toshifumi Baba made an aggressive send to the plate, but pinch runner Fumikazu Kimura was safe at the plate with his foot on the bag in time.

What happened next was a confusing play. Mizuguchi failed to get a bunt down on  a suicide squeeze attempt and Tonosaki was in a pickle. The catcher would miss the tag and Kuan-Yu Chen couldn't tag him out as Tonosaki's foot was on home plate first. This could have been ruled as being outside the base paths, but it wasn't. Kaneko added an RBI single to make it 6-3.

T. Masuda closed this one out with a strikeout. Interestingly enough, the game ended with a caught stealing as Ginjiro Sumitani would nab Shohei Kato at second to finish it.

Lions 6, Marines 3

Game notes:

-The Lions finished 10-2 at Zozotown Marine Field. It was the final game in 2017 for the Lions at this stadium.

-Kaneko would bat leadoff while Akiyama would hit third.

-To make room for Fife on the ichi-gu roster, Frank Garces would be deactivated.

-By pitching in the 8th, Schlitter earned his first career win.

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It wasn't the greatest week, but it wasn't the worst by finishing .500. As long as this team doesn't collapse or go South by a lot, the Lions are in good shape. Fife's start in particular was encouraging since we don't know the health of Ken Togame besides him being out for an estimated two weeks. The Lions would be happy if he goes five frames with minimal damage.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shogo Akiyama named July 2017 Pacific League hitting MVP


Shogo Akiyama was named the Pacific League hitting MVP for the month of July on Tuesday afternoon. In the previous month, he would hit .351, leading the league in hits.

"I surprised myself because I didn't expected this award," Akiyama said in an interview.

While the Lions spent June scrambling with Yuji Kaneko and Akiyama trading time in the leadoff spot, the latter would bat first for the entire month of July. Akiyama briefly spent time batting third in the lineup during interleague play.

In July, Akiyama had five modashos, 19 RBIs, two stolen bases and three home runs. At one point, he had an 11 game hitting streak from July 18-30.

When asked about one of his favorite games, Akiyama pointed to the modasho he had in Tokyo Dome against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters on July 4, where he went 0-6 on the previous game.

There were plenty of candidates on the Lions who scored runs in July, including Hideto Asamura, Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki, but Akiyama's high average was viewed the best of the bunch.

This is the first time Akiyama has won this award since June of 2015. It's the third time overall, where he also won this award for March/April of 2015.  This award became the 72nd time a Lions player became a monthly hitting MVP, the most among all of NPB.

Previously, Ken Togame was named Pacific League pitching MVP for June of this season.

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Other Monthly MVPs:

P Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants): 4th time, 4-0, 29.0 IP, 0.31 ERA, 30 K

OF Masayuki Kuwahara (Baystars): 1st time, .389, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 2 SB

P Nao Higashihama (Hawks): 1st time, 3-0, 20.1 IP, 1.33 ERA, 13 K

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer Koshien 2017: Schools connected to the Lions


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Summer Koshien begins very soon. It's officially (August) Madness coming up, with plenty of intriguing games to take place, all in Koshien Stadium.

This also means it's the road trip of death for the Hanshin Tigers, as they will occupy Kyocera Dome for their home games during the tournament. There are a total of 49 schools representing 47 prefectures of Japan for the event. Hokkaido has two teams, divided by the north and south while Tokyo is separated by east and west.

Here are the schools that have a Saitama Seibu Lions player connection in them fro 2017:

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Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi): P Tatsuya Imai

Sakushin Gakuin has been a powerhouse in the last decade thanks to a recent manager. Last year, they won the entire Summer Koshien tournament with Imai being the team's ace, pitching the whole way. The defending champions are back and looking for more. Interestingly enough, the Lions are rumored to be interested in their current OF Maeto Suzuki, who is drafted eligible for next fall.  

Imai was the Lions first round pick this past fall thanks to a strong effort in the Koshien tournament. He bucked a rare trend, being the first selected out of their high school in a very long time. Typically, Sakushin Gakuin players will go to university or an industrial league team before going to NPB. 

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Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima): P Ryoma Nogami

Kamimura Gakuen is making its 4th appearance and first in five years. Nogami has been a mainstay in the Lions rotation as he was a second round draft pick in 2008 out of the industrial league's Nissan Motors. This year, he would be on pace to have his best season since 2012.  

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Hokkai (Southern Hokkaido): OF Daisuke Togawa, P Seiji Kawagoe

Hokkai is a powerhouse among the schools in Hokkaido and will be making their 38th appearance in the tournament. Last year, they were not considered the best in the field, but went on an incredible run to the finals, only to lose to Sakushin Gakuin. It took some crazy comebacks, but it was entertaining to watch. 

Togawa was an ikusei draft pick of the Lions in 2014 straight out of the high school. He has remained in ni-gun since. Kawagoe would be drafted out of an elevator University of the same name in 2015 as a second round pick. He was formerly an outfielder converting to pitcher. Like Togawa, he has yet to see an ichi-gun game. 

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Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama): OF Aito Takeda 

Hanasaki Tokuharu has recently dominated Saitama prefecture as they're making their third straight appearance in the tournament. Takeda, formerly known as Aito Otaki, was part of the 2015 team who made a decent run to the Elite 8 round. He was drafted by the team in the fourth round of the 2015 draft and saw some ichi-gun time this year after tearing up ni-gun. Most recently he was a pinch hitter/pinch runner before being sent down.  


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Naruto Uzushio (Tokushima): C Shota Nakata

Nakata originally went to the school prior to Naruto Uzushio, which was known as Naruto Kogyo. This school would merge with another and form Naruto Uzushio. This is the first time the merged school makes a Koshien tournament appearance. Nakata is mostly a reserve farm catcher who works with the young pitchers down in ni-gun.  

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Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma): P Kona Takahashi

Kona Takahashi took Maebashi Ikuei to their first Summer Koshien title as the team's ace in 2013 as a Junior. It was also their first appearance of the tournament in school history. This is the second straight year Maebashi Ikuei qualifies for Natsu Koshien as they were bounced in the first round of the 2016 edition. 

While Takahashi was a Lions first round draft pick, he has seen minimal time at the ichi-gun level.  ===

Osaka Toin (Osaka): C Masatoshi Okada, 2B Hideto Asamura, 3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, C/OF Tomoya Mori

Okawari-kun, Asamura and Mori are a pretty famous trio in the bunch as they were drafted straight out of HS by the Lions. Okada would go to an industrial league before being taken by the Lions in 2013, the same year as Mori. 

Recently, Osaka Toin reclaimed the throne of Osaka after Riseisha proved to be a threat. Spring Koshien's final of 2017 would have both schools playing each other for the title, with Osaka Toin winning. As a result Osaka Toin is aiming for a Haru-Natsu Koshien of winning both Spring and Summer in the same calendar year, trying to be the 8th team to do so. The last time this happened, it was also Osaka Toin who would pull this off in 2012 with Mori and Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami as the battery. 

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Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi): Coach Takanori Hoshi

Hoshi spent his playing career mostly as a backup to Shinnosuke Abe with the Yomiuri Giants. He would be sent to the Lions for cash in 2011 and saw a limited amount of playing time as a backup catcher. He worked mostly with ni-gun pitchers from 2015-2016 and retired as a player after the 2016 season. Hoshi is currently a developmental coach at the ni-gun level.  

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Enjoy the tournament for what it is everyone, regardless of who is playing. Follow @Eigokokoyakyu for all the information.  

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Editors note: We deeply apologize for incorrectly marking Fukuoka prefecture when writing about the 2017 Spring Koshien Lions article. A correction and deletion was made. 

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