Sunday, May 28, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Akiyama powers team on special grounds


The Saitama Seibu Lions would have another winning week as they took two games from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Maebashi, Gunma and Omiya, Saitama. They would go 3-2 combined as they lost a series in Sendai against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Despite the losing at the end of the week, the team holds a seven-game cushion on both the Orix Buffaloes and Fighters as they are still in A-class as interleague play begins soon. Here is how the team got here:


The first game against the Fighters from Maebashi, Gunma would have Takayuki Kato up against Ryoma Nogami. Shogo Akiyama would leadoff the bottom of the 1st inning with a "Rickey Henderson" solo home run.

This would be a classic pitcher's duel as Nogami had six shutout innings with five walks and only had one chance in the top of the 5th. Nogami overcame a leadoff double in the first by throwing the runner out at third on a bunt attempt. He would also Houdini his way in the second, as he faced runners on second and third with one out. Kazunari Ishii struck out while Yushi Shimizu would flyout to RF as Fumikazu Kimura caught a ball off balance, saving two runs.

Kato would have seven innings with seven strikeouts on the night. Kazuhisa Makita took the 7th inning and struck out two batters and the Lions added a run in the bottom of the frame. With Takumi Kuriyama reaching base, Daichi Mizuguchi would pinch run and be on third. Ginjiro Sumitani successfully got a bunt down for a squeeze play and made it 2-0.

Brian Schlitter had two runners on base for the 8th with no outs initially, but got Sho Nakata to flyout and forced a double play from Brandon Laird. Tatsushi Masuda make quick work in the 9th and the Lions won their third straight game.

Lions 2, Fighters 0

Game note:

-Brian Wolfe was taken off the roster due to an injury from Sunday. Katsunori Hirai was called up in his place. He is the third player from the 2016 Lions draft class to be added to the ichi-gun.

-This was the third Lions shutout of the season.


Game 2 from Omiya would have Ken Togame up against Masaru Nakamura, who was making his first appearance of 2017. It would be a slow start for the Lions as Brandon Laird hit a solo Hr in the top of the 2nd. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would respond with an RBI single in the bottom of the third.

Unfortunately for Togame the top of the 4th is where things would fall off. A string of consecutive timely hits from Taishi Ota, Hiromi Oka and Kazunari Ishii would give the Fighters a 4-1 lead. After Takumi Kuriyama responded with an RBI hit in the bottom of the 5th, Togame would continue pitching in the 6th.

A throwing error from Okawari-kun created a chance for the Fighters and it would be Ishii again who would plate another RBI for the Fighters, making it 5-2. Frank Garces would strike out Haruki Nishikawa on three pitches to limit the damage and keep the game within range.

M. Nakamura would go five innings with five walks and two earned runs. Manager Hideki Kuriyama would pass the torch to Keisuke Tanimoto and he would walk the first two batters, giving a big chance. After Ginjiro Sumitani would move both runners over 90 feet with a bunt, Shogo Akiyama took the first pitch to the Fighters Oendan, tying the game with one swing.

The party didn't end there, as Sosuke Genda reached base with an error from Ishii, forcing a tough play. Tanimoto would be called for a balk after what looked like a flyout from Asamura, giving another chance. Asamura would make Tanimoto pay, with a ball in the gap as Genda scored easily from second.

Edwin Escobar struggled with control in the 7th and the Lions made him suffer. He would walk Kuriyama, have a passed ball and then hit Shuta Tonosaki to put runners on base. Fumikazu Kimura would bunt both runners over and Shogo Akiyama delivered with a two-RBI single.

The back end of the bullpen in Kazuhisa Makita, Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda would make quick work in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, respectively and the Lions would win their fourth straight game.

Lions 8, Fighters 5

Game note:

-With three pitches, Garces would earn the win and have a hero interview.

-Akiyama would have five RBIs.


The week would shift to Sendai as the Lions had Yusei Kikuchi on the mound against Yudai Mori for the Eagles. Chances would be minimal for both teams, though the Lions looked like they were knocking on the door against Mori.

In the bottom of the fourth, it would be Kazuo Matsui with a timely hit for the first run of the game. Mori would pitch six scoreless innings with two strikeouts and one walk before it would be in the bullpen's hands.

Frank Herrmann would have a scoreless 7th while Kohei Morihara would take the 8th. With Kikuchi needing run support, the top of the 8th would start with Kimura walking. Ginjiro Sumitani would bunt Kimura over and Akiyama moved him again with an infield single. With runners on the corners, Genda would pick up the luckiest hit of the night. While attempting a safety squeeze bunt, the ball would be in the air, but land on the ground as Ginji Akaminai and Morihara couldn't catch it to tie the game.

Hideto Asamura would make the Eagles pay with a gapper to right field and plate both runners. Takumi Kuriyama, pinch hitting for Naoto Watanabe, would add two more runs and make it 5-1.

Kikuchi would pitch the 8th inning with a total of 9 strikeouts and Masuda closed the game in the 9th to secure the Lions 5th straight win.

Lions 5, Eagles 1

Game notes:

-Asamura would have a modasho on the night.

-It wasn't a clean outing for Masuda in the 9th with two base runners, but once again, he left unscathed in a non-save situation.


Game 2 from Sendai would have Minabu Mima against Yasuo Sano, making this third start of the year. The Lions struck first on a home run by Okawari-kun in the second inning, but the team failed to capitalize on a chance in the third.

The wheels would begin to fall off in the bottom of the 4th inning. Sano struggled with control and loaded the bases, giving Takero Okajima a 2-RBI single to give the Eagles the lead. He would load the bases again and manager Hatsuhiki Tsuji was forced to go to the bullpen early, this time with Garces. Carlos Peguero would launch a no doubt grand slam to put an end to the game early as the Eagles ended the Lions 5-game winning streak.

Mima would go six innings with seven strikeouts and limiting the team to five hits. Chances came in the late innings for the Lions, but it was too late.

Eagles 6, Lions 1

Game notes:

-Masatoshi Okada started at catcher. He would go 0-3 with two strikeouts.

-Katsunori Hirai made his ichi-gun debut in the 8th inning. He gave up two hits and a walk, but didn't allow a run.


The rubber match would have Makoto Aiuchi spot starting in place of the injured Brian Wolfe against former Lion Takayuki Kishi. This mismatch on paper over from the start as Peguero hit a solo HR in the first inning to set the tone. Aiuchi would allow another set of consecutive hits on the second inning and timely RBIs came from Okajima and Motohiro Shima. Eigoro Mogi put the game out of doubt with a two-run blast.

Aiuchi couldn't even get an out in the third inning as he was credited with even more runs. Hirotaka Koishi would be called up before the game and ate up some innings, but allowed plenty of hits.

Kishi wouldn't need to do much as he went seven innings with only two runs allowed. His only blemish was a solo HR to Akiyama in the 4th, but he already had a 10-1 lead by then. The Lions would lose their first series since May 7.

Eagles 13, Lions 2

Game notes:

-Ryohei Fujiwara would be sent down to make room for Koishi.

-Katsunori Hirai gave up his first runs in his career as he took the 6th and 7th innings.


Despite the losses in Sendai, this has been another successful week of Lions baseball. The bullpen will be well-rested as interleague play begins on Tuesday. Obviously there are plenty of concerns with the back end of the rotation, but the team has weathered the storm so far while missing some players.

Akiyama has been playing like an MVP, Kikuchi is rock solid while the bats are still a threat. Can the back end of the rotation hold up? Will the bats stay strong against Central League pitchers that aren't normally seen? We'll find out.


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