Tuesday, July 25, 2017

2017 NPB Trade deadline: Seibu Lions candidates to send away or release


The 2017 NPB Trade deadline is on July 31, but it is mostly an afterthought. While trades can happen in Japan, it usually occurs when it involves an expendable player.

In MLB, we see teams make trades to get better, or sell for the long term. Blockbuster trades are rare in Japan, with the last significant deal being in 2013 involving Yoshio Itoi. If there is a trade, it happens in the offseason majority of the time.

For the Saitama Seibu Lions, there is always a possibility of a trade, but it very doubtful overall. The roster is currently full with 70 players being the maximum. They can sell a player for cash if another team has fewer than 70 players on its roster, but they would likely have to do a one-for-one swap if they wanted to make a deal in 2017.

The Lions can always use pitching depth, but if there was an outfielder who can be useful in pinch, it wouldn't hurt. As said, a trade in NPB is usually done to get rid of the player sent off due to having no room or clue on what to do with him.

Unless you're the Fighters (just kidding,) trades are rare, but here are some players the Lions can get rid of to other teams. This list can also function as a way of seeing who looks expendable as they could be cut after the 2017 season ends. From seeing the 2015 and 2016 editions, two players would be gone by season's end, so we project at least two of these names won't exist with the Lions in 2018.

P Takuya Toyoda  - Toyoda has been with the Lions since 2013 while taken out of an Industrial League, being a Shakaijin. He saw limited time in 2015 and 2016 with no ichi-gun games up to this point in 2017. It's possible that other relievers have made him expendable.

P Toshihiro Iwao - Iwao had some interesting numbers in FIP with his ability to strikeout others, but he also had no control and would give up some juicy pitches for opposing hitters to smash. He was drafted in 2009 and has also not seen an ichi-gun game in 2017. Iwao only played in two games for 2016, his lowest total since 2010 while never appearing from 2011-2012.

P Ryohei Fujiwara - Fujiwara is at best a middle reliever at best, but is only seen as organizational depth. At 31 years old, there is minimal upside for the side arm pitcher to do much. Typically, he'll see less than 10 games at the ichi-gun level with the horrendous 2014 season being an exception.

P Chun-Lin Kuo - Kuo becomes one of the more sad stories among Lions foreigners. After showing promise as a rookie in 2015, things only went downhill. He tried being a reliever in 2016 and his control was not there. He would also be lit up by opposing hitters as a starter last season.

For 2017. Kuo put his stock into the World Baseball Classic with the Taiwanese National Team and didn't train with the Lions in spring camp down in Miyazaki. The worst case scenario would happen in Seoul, as Team Israel would light up the boxscore and Kuo failed to record three outs. With a Lions executive most likely at the game, it's presumed that the team doesn't think highly of him in comparison to everyone else. NPB does not look like the future home of Kuo's career and he will need to look elsewhere to continue playing.

P Alexis Candelario - Candelario was a cheap signing in the offseason and has only seen one spot start in Fukuoka, where he was lit up. He is seeing time in ni-gun as a starter, but has no upside at age 35.

P Frank Garces - Garces was given a few soft starts as well as a role in the bullpen in middle relief. He was either really good, or really bad in his outings leading to inconsistency and became deactivated to make room for Stephen Fife. He can still be a reliever as a lefty specialist, but his lack of velocity was not intimidating as he would often hang a few pitches to send deep.

C Komei Fujisawa - Fujisawa was a former ikusei pick who would eventually be promoted to the 70-man roster. He primarily serves as a farm catcher with others blocking him from playing at the ichi-gun level.

C Shota Nakata - Like Fujisawa, Nakata is also a farm catcher who is part of the rotation. It's possible he could serve as a coach like his predecessor, Takanori Hoshi.

C Tatsuyuki Uemoto - Uemoto was the top pinch hitting option for the Lions in 2016 under Norio Tanabe. Fast forward to 2017 and he has only seen a handful of games while being on the ichi-gun roster the entire time. Hatsuhiko Tsuji favors Naoto Watanabe among options off the bench while Uemoto is just a witness. At age 36, is it possible that he will be forced to retire?

IF Yuji Onizaki - Onizaki was acquired in a trade with the Yakult Swallows where the Lions gave up pitcher Chikara Onodera in the process. He saw several games at the ichi-gun level, but has not played one in 2017 thanks to Sosuke Genda. Onizaki is 34 and there is currently no room for him to play on the infield with the Lions.

OF Yutaro Osaki - Osaki was a regular outfielder for the Lions in 2009 and 2012, but has mostly been a part time player since. The Lions would bring him up if they liked a matchup. Under Tsuji, he has yet to play an ichi-gun game with the team preferring the younger Shuta Tonosaki in the outfield. Like most of this list, Osaki will be 33 in October and it's more of an uphill battle to get playing time with the team.

OF Masato Kumashiro - Kumashiro saw playing time in 2012 and 2013, but his time would be limited to being a spell outfielder since 2014. His defense is decent, but the Lions prefer better range under Tsuji, where Yuji Kaneko and Tonosaki roam the outfield. Kumashiro looks to be an odd man out unless injuries pile up.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sweeping Fighters secures split week


===

The Saitama Seibu Lions had a mixed bag of results for the week. They would go 3-3 against the Softbank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Figters while gaining ground on the Orix Buffaloes for an 8.5 game lead in the race for A-class. Here's how we got there:

===

The first game from the Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome had Ken Togame up against Nao Higashihama. The Lions squandered an early chance in the third inning by only scoring unconventionally. Ernesto Mejia would be tagged out trying to advance home on a ground ball prior to Shogo Akiyama scoring Shuta Tonosaki on an RBI groundout.

Alfredo Despaigne tied the game in the bottom of the 4th inning with a solo HR. The bases were loaded against Togame in the 5th inning and Seiichi Uchikawa delivered with an RBI single to give the Hawks the lead. Some good defense prevented another run from coming in as a runner was tagged out at the plate.

Higashihama dominated through 7.2 innings with six strikeouts and only five hits allowed. The tying run was on second base in the top of the 8th as Shogo Akiyama was batting. Manager Kimiyasu Kudo went with a lefty specialist Shinya Kayama and he struck out Akiyama. Tatsuya Oishi loaded the bases in the bottom of the 8th and allowed a run off a wild pitch. Dennis Sarfate made it easy in the 9th as the Lions came back from the All-Star break with a loss.

Hawks 3, Lions 1

Game notes:

-Masatoshi Okada would start at catcher, Hotaka Yamkawa was the 1B while Mejia was the DH.

===

The second game had Ryoma Nogami facing Rick van den Hurk. After some early jams by both sides, the Hawks scored first on a solo HR by Tomoki Takata. Akita Nakamura would slap an RBI double down the LF line for a second run in the bottom of the 4th.

Takata added another run off an RBI double in the bottom of the 5th, making it a tough 3-0 Hawks lead. Van den Hurk would cruising and didn't allow a hit through five innings, but Shogo Akiyama would break it up with a solo HR in the 6th.

The Hawks bullpen showed some vulnerability in the late innings as the Lions loaded the bases in the 8th. Unfortunately, Mejia would pop out and end the threat. With Sarfate pitching in the 9th, the Lions had a last gasp chance with two runners on and Takumi Kuriyama pinch hitting, but Daichi Mizuguchi was caught trying to advance as the Lions attempted a double steal. The former Lions captain would strike out, ending the game with an identical score from the previous night.

Hawks 3, Lions 1

Game note:

-Sosuke Genda picked up his 25th stolen base of the season, tying a franchise record for a rookie. Yasumitsu Toyoda (1953) and Hiromichi Ishige (1981) were the predecessors to reach 25 stolen bases as a rookie.

===

The final game would take place in Kitakyushu with Stephen Fife against Yuki Matsumoto. The Lions struck first on a two-run gapper by Mejia in the top of the 1st inning. Fife would get an early shutdown inning, but allowed a solo HR to Takuya Kai in the bottom of the third. The Lions picked up a run in the top of the 4th, but had multiple base running errors which led to outs, making it a disappointing frame.

Fife's day would end in the 4th inning as Kai would hit a second HR of the night, good for three runs and giving the Hawks a lead again. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura responded with a two-run HR in the 5th, but Uchikawa tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the frame off Yosuke Okamoto.

Kai would do damage again in the 6th inning with a triple. He would score shortly after with a sacrifice fly. Despite the Lions trailing, Yuji Kaneko hit an improbable HR off Sho Iwasaki to tie the game in the top of the 8th.

Unfortunately, Kazuhisa Makita had a disaster 8th inning, where Seiji Uebayashi broke the tie with an RBI hit. Makita continued to give up timely hits, leading to a four run inning and all but ending the game, causing the Lions to be swept in Kyushu again.

Hawks 10, Lions 6

Game note:

-Fife was taken off the roster after the game to make room for Yusei Kikuchi.

-Okawari-kun's HR was the 350th of his career and 20th of the season.

===

The Lions returned home as Yusei Kikuchi would take on Luis Mendoza. Asamura put the Lions on the board first with his 10th HR of the year for a 1-0 lead. The Fighters answered back as Kazunari Ishii tied the game with a two-out double. Sosuke Genda would commit his 13th error of the season, allowing the runner on base.

Mendoza struggled with control in the 4th inning, walking three consecutive batters to load the bases. Shuta Tonosaki would get the timely hit and plate two runners home as the Lions retook the lead. The 5th inning would be similar with Mendoza walking multiple batters and Mejia getting the timely hit this time to end his night. Okawari-kun added a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1.

Kikuchi started to struggle in the 6th with several runners on base. The Lions nearly turned a 5-4-3 triple play, but Asamura couldn't hold onto the ball and the Fighters would score two runs back.

Katsuhiko Kumon took the 6th inning and gave up a leadoff runner before a bunt moved him over. With two outs, Shogo Akiyama found a timely single to get one run back. A clean double from Asamura put the game away for good to plate two more runs.

Kikuchi's night ended in the 7th inning with multiple runners on base, but he recorded eight strikeouts with only one walk. Kazuhisa Makita came in and got two weak infield flys to earn the shutdown inning.

Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda allowed a run in the 8th and 9th innings each, but it was all academic as the Lions ended the losing streak.

Lions 8, Fighters 5

Game notes:

-Kikuchi matched a career-high 9th victory.

===

The second game from MetLife Dome featured Shinsaburo Tawata facing spot starter Akihiro Hakumura. After a slow start from Tawata escaping an early jam, Ernesto Mejia would take a ball deep with a two-out, two-run HR. Asamura forced a walk prior to the home run.

Shogo Akiyama would hit a gapper over Ishii's head in the third and it would result in a triple. With two strikes, Sosuke Genda battled and fought for a hard earned sacrifice fly for a 3-0 Lions lead.

Hakumura would last four innings, but it would be all about Tawata taking the show. He would settle in after two shaky innings to start with nine strikeouts, one walk and four hits through seven innings.

Genda added another run with a timely hit in the 7th inning while Shota Takekuma and Masuda closed this game easily to take the series.

Lions 4, Fighters 0

Game note:

-Tawata had to be added to the roster. Tatsuya Oishi was taken off due to a shoulder blade injury and Keisuke Honda was called up for the first time in 2017.

-This was the Lions 6th shutout of the season, the third time it's happened against the Fighters.

-Masatoshi Okada threw out the speedy Haruki Nishikawa in the 1st inning to slow momentum down.

===

The final game of the series had Kenta Uehara against veteran Brian Wolfe. Tonosaki started the scoring with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd inning for his 8th of the year. Yuji Kaneko leadoff the 3rd with a single and a stolen base, only to be immediately plated by Shogo Akiyama for an early 2-0 lead.

Hokkaido would get both runs back in the 4th with two runners on and nobody out. An RBI groundout scored one, while an infield single from Kengo Ota would tie the game.

Uehara's day would end with two runners on base in the 5th inning, where an infield single would go off his foot. With Yohei Kagiya pitching, Shogo Akiyama took a no doubt HR to RF for a three-run blast. Takuya Nakashima would commit a rare error to keep the inning going and Takumi Kuriyama hit an opposite field HR into the Lions Oendan for another three-run HR in the frame.

Wolfe would escape an ugly jam in the 6th inning for a shutdown frame. He would have a season-high eight strikeouts on the afternoon before the game went to the bullpen. Katsunori Hirai had a scoreless 7th while Shogo Noda had the 8th inning. Sosuke Genda added an RBI single to make it a seven-run lead.

Keisuke Honda got to make his 2017 ichi-gun debut in the 9th and had a clean frame to complete the sweep.

Lions 9, Fighters 2

Game notes:

-To make room for Wolfe on the roster, the Lions deactivated Aito Takeda. This was Wolfe's first win since early June.

-Kaneko would have a modasho with three singles. Akiyama also picked up a modasho with the home run and four RBIs combined.

-The Lions are now a combined 10-0 when facing the Fighters in the Kanto region. This includes MetLife Dome, Gunma prefecture, Tokyo Dome and Omiya. They currently have an eight game head-to-head winning streak. The season series in 2017 is currently 14-2 in favor of the Lions.

===

Playing the Fighters is arguably the best remedy for the Lions with this week starting awful in Fukuoka. The good news? Orix has lost a tad and looks like things are going downhill for the Osaka based team.

The 6th starter spot could be a revolving door with Fife ineligible to play the front end of the week. Will it be Keisuke Honda or Yosuke Okamoto going? The decision ahead will be interesting. Overall, it was encouraging that the pitching held its ground throughout the whole week minus the game in Kitakyushu.

===

We have recorded our next podcast episode for the month of July. Stay tuned everyone! 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lions survive the first half, hoping to build off strong start


The Saitama Seibu Lions currently sit in A-class, six games in front of the Orix Buffaloes in third place. Obviously, we want to stay there for the remainder of the regular season.

On the flip side, we've seen this story before of having a good start. Two years ago, the Lions looked like an A-class team before a historic 13-game losing streak would have the Chiba Lotte Marines take advantage and leapfrog ahead.

In 2015, it was the pitching that overachieved before things fell apart. Tomomi Takahashi, Ken Togame and Ryoma Nogami would have natural regression. With no closer, the Lions tried to have Kazuhisa Makita close games, which also came back to bite as he failed. The turmoil continued and in what was a meaningful game, they had to play Fumiya Nishiguchi for a retirement ceremony which led to a walk, having this as a priority over the playoff race.

Being nine games over .500 is something we'll take any day, but this team can still get better. Tomoya Mori will hopefully come back from being hit by a pitch. Takahashi could return from Tommy John surgery as early as August.

The hitting can be very up and down, which is expected. Slumps have been minimal, when it could've been worse. The Lions would have a 5-game losing streak which carried over from the end of June to the start of July as Tatsushi Masuda allowed a walkoff two-run HR with two outs. Usually a backbreaking loss is what has snake-bitten this team in the past. This year, it only lasted a week and the best remedy was to play the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, who are going through a rough season.

Here are some of the many questions that will be answered as the second half begins:

Will the rotation hold up? 

Togame has been playing better than his numbers since the month of June. Nogami has stayed in the rotation and earned his spot there. Even spot starter Yosuke Okamoto has been respectable in his time on the mound. There's been plenty of spot starting with Yasuo Sano (out for the season) included, but now the attention turns to Stephen Fife.

The Lions management felt they could get a pitcher who's good at getting the ground ball. Two starts isn't enough to judge him, but if he stays in the rotation, Fife would make the Lions a lock for A-class.

Yusei Kikuchi has finally shown the ability to be an ace pitcher this year. However, his past has shown that he has been injury prone, so it will be a question if he can be healthy. Same goes for Brian Wolfe, who is good when healthy, but has had his share of injuries over the years. So far, the Lions have dodged a bullet when he left a game early and only missed one start.

Shinsaburo Tawata and Kona Takahashi haven't even contributed much to the rotation, yet I viewed both of them as being vital pieces for success in 2017. Tawata has recently been with the ichi-gun, but hasn't shown any signs of how he played in the second half of 2016.

Can the defense continue to "Catch The All"? 

Several pitchers are benefiting from good defense behind them. They lack strikeouts and have been weak contact pitchers. Sosuke Genda has been a revolutionary change at SS from a year ago, which Hideto Asamura continue to be good at complementing the middle of the infield. Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki combine for having the best range in the outfield while Fumikazu Kimura's arm has contributed as a late substitution.

Brian Schlitter in particular has to ask the defense to carry him. Will it be sustainable?

What can Hotaka Yamakawa do? 

Yamakawa has started the season on the opening day roster in both 2016 and 2017, yet also gone down to ni-gun for a poor April. After tearing up the farm games, the Lions brought him back up and the home runs have started. This year, the Lions are playing meaningful baseball and the mentality will be different compared to how last year's storm was.

Bullpen controversy? 

The Lions have plenty of options in the bullpen if Tatsushi Masuda struggles. He isn't bad, but he hasn't been the dominant reliever he was in 2015. T. Takahashi returns from Tommy John, Schlitter can close while Tatsuya Oishi is another option out of the bullpen. If they're really feeling desperate, Kazuhisa Makita can also take a closer role like he did for Samurai Japan during the WBC.

===

There are plenty of other things to point at. While the hitting has had its moments, the pitching has done well up to this point and will need to play well if the Lions want to be in A-class. We'll find out as the second half begins this week ahead. Fasten your seatbelts everyone, it shall be a bumpy ride.

===

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tawata, Fife earn first wins to sweep Marines


It was the final week of games before the 2017 NPB All-Star break and the Saitama Seibu Lions were successful with a sweep of the Chiba Lotte Marines. They would not gain any ground on the Orix Buffaloes due to them sweeping the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, but they retained a six game lead in the race for A-class. Here's how we got there:

===

The first game against the Marines had Shinsaburo Tawata against veteran Jason Standridge. Chiba would strike first in the top of the 2nd on a two out rally where Katsuya Kakunaka reached base on a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Shogo Nakamura would plate him home with an RBI single for a 1-0 lead.

Tawata ran into another jam with two runners on and nobody out in the third. After a bunt moved the runners over, Daichi Suzuki struck out. However, Jimmy Paredes would deliver with a gapper and both runners scored making it 3-0.

The Lions answered back as Masatoshi Okada took one for the team, being hit by a pitch in the back to start the bottom of the third. Okada would advance to third on a wild pitch and later a groundout before Sosuke Genda reached base on a walk. Genda stole second, creating momentum as Hideto Asamura dropped a broken bat blooper to give the Lions two runs.

Tawata delivered a clean shutdown inning and was rewarded as Shuta Tonosaki tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the 4th. After what was a rough start, Tawata settled in with three scoreless innings, retiring 9 of the 10 batters faced from innings 4-6. Takeya "Okawari-kun" gave him some help, with a go-ahead solo HR in the bottom of the 6th inning. It would be the 350th HR in his career and 19th of the season.

Kazuhisa Makita would hit a batter in the 7th, but strikeout Roel Santos to have a shutdown inning. Hotaka Yamakawa would pinch hit and get an RBI single in the bottom of the frame, before he was tagged out trying to advance to second. Brian Schlitter also allowed a base runner, but no damage.

Tatsushi Masuda allowed a two out walk with Willy Mo Pena being the tying run at the plate. However, Masuda struck out Pena to end the game take the first game of the series for Tawata's first win.

Lions 5, Marines 3

Game note:

-To make room for Tawata on the roster, Brian Wolfe was taken off with the All-star break coming up.

===

For the second game, Ryoma Nogami would go against Kota Futaki. After a houdini in the first inning by Nogami, Asamura would hit a solo HR in the bottom of the frame to make it 1-0. Shogo Nakamura would hit a solo HR to even up the score in the second inning.

This game wouldn't be close after that, as the Lions erupted for six runs in the bottom of the 2nd. This included timely hits from Yamakawa, Ginjiro Sumitani and Sosuke Genda added three runs, but it would be Asamura who would hit a three-run blast to make it 7-1 and the rout was on, ending Futaki's night.

Keisuke Takano would take over for the Marines and the Lions piled it on with four runs in the third and 4th innings each. The fourth inning was extended as Tonosaki struck out, but the ball could not be caught and he reached first base with two outs. After Sumitani had an RBI single, Shogo Akiyama put the game away for good with a three-run HR into the Marines Oendan.

Nogami would fail to go the distance by being tagged for three runs in the top of the 6th with the third time through the order penalty striking. He would have only one strikeout and allow eight hits.

Yosuke Okamoto also gave up two runs in the final three innings, as he wouldn't start this week. Despite the high scoring affair, the lead was never in doubt as the Lions took the series.

Lions 16, Marines 6

Game notes:

-Sumitani, Akiyama and Tonosaki each had modashos. Sumitani was able to get his batting average to .280 after this game.

-By pitching the final three innings, Okamoto earned his first career save.

-Ernesto Mejia would sit out of this game as Yamakawa started at 1B. He would PH and take over late in the game, but went 0-2.

-Daichi Mizuguchi would PH and take over in LF as Tonosaki would move to 3B as a defensive replacement.

-16 runs scored by the Lions were the most by any NPB team up to this point.

-Tawata was taken off the roster after the game, making him ineligible to return to the ichi-gun until July 22 as the All-star break has begun.

===

In order to go for the sweep, Stephen Fife would be the starter against Ryota Sekiya. The Lions struck first with a timely double from Ginjiro Sumitani in the bottom of the 2nd inning. Yuji Kaneko added on with a two-RBI single, where Sumitani was initially called out at the plate. The play would go to review as the tape showed Sumitani's foot touched the plate before Yuta Yoshida got the tag down.

Fife would earn a shutdown inning the hard way in the third, escaping the frame with two runners on. He would get the ground ball and show good awareness to get Willy Mo Pena going to second base.

Daichi Suzuki and the Marines would get a run back in the 4th with a sacrifice fly. Fife avoided disaster with runners on the corners, getting Pena to strikeout and Yoshida to groundout to limit the damage.

Kaneko would answer with a solo HR for his second of the season. The top of the 5th looked like Fife was cruising, but with two outs, Shohei Kato would reach base on a hit. After a walk to Katsuya Kakunaka, Jimmy Paredes would plate a run with a double. With the tying run on second base, Fife would get Suzuki to flyout and end the threat, finishing his night with five innings, two strikeouts and two walks.

Tatsuya Oishi would have a two base runner jam in the 6th, but retained the lead allowing only a sacrifice fly to Ryo Miki. It would be his first earned run of the season. Makita had a scare with two outs, but got Shogo Nakamura to ground into a fielder's choice.

Yamakawa would blast a solo HR into the batter's eye for insurance, making it a two run lead. Schlitter also had a base runner, but two line drives to Genda and Asamura prevented any hits. Asamura would add another insurance run with an RBI single, which Akiyama reached base through a triple.

Tatsushi Masuda gave up a two out hit to Paredes, but that was it and the Lions would sweep the Marines for the second time this year.

Lions 6, Marines 3

Game notes:

-Mejia would start this game on the bench once again, taking a pinch hit appearance in the 8th inning.

-The Lions are now 9-3-1 against the Marines in 2017.

===

It was a successful week, no doubt. At the same time, this is also the Chiba Lotte Marines, who are going through a historically bad season. They're on pace for the worst season in franchise history. Fife's back was against the wall with this game, had there been more struggles or runs on the board, patience with the team could have worn thin. Instead, there's still a reason for optimism as he did just enough to win.

There's still plenty of concerns with this pitching staff, but it's good to know the bats were alive in this month of July. Last year, we suffered a run of 10-31 after a backbreaking loss. This time, the drought only lasted a week and the sweep of the Fighters proved to be a remedy. Right now, it's great to be in A-class, but there is still plenty of baseball to be played and nothing is guaranteed.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Translation: Seibu Lions players react to being voted into 2017 All Star Series

Shogo Akiyama, Hideto Asamura and Kazuhisa Makita were interviewed after being selected for the 2017 All-Star Series
With Shogo Akiyama, Hideto Asamura and Kazuhisa Makita being selected for the 2017 All-Star
series by the fan vote, the Saitama Seibu Lions uploaded a video of an interview reacting to this.

Here is what they said on making the Series:

Kazuhisa Makita: "Thank you for choosing me for the second consecutive year. Since I am one of very few [submarine] pitchers, I would like to show what I can do [well] in front of all fans."

Hideto Asamura: "Frankly I am very happy. This is the fifth time that I've made it and I am really excited because it is the dream stage for me. I want to show my 'full swing' in front of all fans!"

Shogo Akiyama: "I am very honored that I was picked among all of the great players [from] both leagues. Lots of fans there will cheer for us and I would like to play while having fun, [but I'm also] feeling a little bit nervous."

===

All three players were also asked on which Central League player they want to face in the All-Star series.

Makita: "[Yoshitomo] Tsutsugo [of the DeNA Baystars]. I thought he was a great player when I played against him during the interleague series." 

Asamura: "[Tomoyuki] Sugano [of the Yomiuri Giants]. I think he is one of the best pitchers in NPB. I would like to play against him again." 

Akiyama: "I don't know who will play. I would like to play against whoever lets me hit!"

===

Lastly, Makita, Asamura and Akiyama were asked about a goal to have during the All-Star series:

Makita: "Three consecutive strikeouts [in one inning]." 

Asamura: "I would like to hit a home run." (He hit one in Yokohama last year)

Akiyama: "[I would like to have a] 'diving catch'." *Laughter* "I can't make it alone, so I need some help from other players." 

===

The first All-star game will be on July 14 from Nagoya Dome while the second one will be at Zozotown Marine Field on July 15. Yusei Kikuchi was also added to the Pacific League roster by Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama. Sosuke Genda also became an addition replacing Eigoro Mogi of the Rakuten Eagles. 

Special Thanks goes to @Pino_Martinez for translation help. 

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Fighters swept in two different places


===

The Saitama Seibu Lions swept the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and lost a series to the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles for the week. With the winning, they would increase their lead against the Orix Buffaloes to six games as they remain in A-class. Here's how we got there:

===

Game 1 from Tokyo Dome against the Fighters would have Yosuke Okamoto return to face reigning rookie of the year Hirotoshi Takanashi. The Fighters struck first on a two-run opposite field HR by Sho Nakata in the bottom of the 1st. There would be a quick response from the Lions in the top of 2nd as Ginjiro Sumitani plated Shuta Tonosaki on a two-out RBI double.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would hit a three-run blast in the top of the 3rd to give the Lions a lead. The Fighters would make it a one-run game in the bottom of the 4th with a solo HR from Brandon Laird.

In the top of the 6th, Shuta Tonosaki would walk and steal second. As a result of stealing, he would advance to third on an off throw. Yuji Kaneko slapped an RBI single past the shortstop and made it 5-3.

Despite Okamoto giving up two HRs, he would go 5.2 innings with five strikeouts and two walks. After giving up a base runner in the 6th, Tatsuya Oishi struck out Taishi Ota to end any chance. Okawari-kun lived up to his name by hitting a second HR in the top of the 7th.

Kazuhisa Makita ran into a jam with two on and nobody out, but would only allow one run off an infield single by Haruki Nishikawa. Nakata was up again representing the go-ahead run, but he would groundout. Brian Schlitter had a two out scare in the 8th, but he would get Kenshi Sugiya to groundout.

Kenta Uehara, the Fighters first round draft pick of 2015, would take the 9th inning and be a disaster for the Fighters. The bases would be loaded with the Lions fighting off several pitches and stealing bases. Takumi Kuriyama plated one run with a single while Fumikazu Kimura, coming in as a defensive sub, would get an RBI double. Tonosaki and Sumitani cleared the bases with sacrifice flies, but the game was already put away.

Hirotaka Koishi would take the last inning to end the losing streak.

Lions 11, Fighters 4

Game notes:

-Asamura would have a modasho and Sosuke Genda had two stolen bases.

-To make room for Okamoto on the roster, Haruka Yamada was taken off, having never played an ichi-gun game.

===

The second game from Tokyo Dome would have Ryoma Nogami up against Takayuki Kato. It would be Okawari-kun with the first blood hitting a two-run HR in the top of the 1st for an early lead. Ernesto Mejia would strike with a solo HR in the top of the 2nd for his 14th of the year.

Hideto Asamura added a fourth run through a timely base hit in the top of the 3rd inning. The Fighters answered in the bottom of the 4th with a double steal attempt, but that would be it for the scoring.

Nogami would go six innings with one walk, two hits and five strikeouts on the night. Kazuhisa Makita gave up two hits, but no runs in the 7th while Schlitter and Masuda had clean innings to take the two games from the Kanto region.

Lions 4, Fighters 1

Game note:

-Shogo Akiyama would have a modasho including a double. He would also make a leaping catch at the wall to rob Shohei Otani of an extra base hit.

-Fumikazu Kimura started in RF and went 0-4.

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The last portion of the series would go to Sapporo as Stephen Fife made his debut against another gaijin in Luis Mendoza. Fighters scored first on an RBI single from Shota Ono in the bottom of the 2nd. However, the Lions responded with an RBI double from Shogo Akiyama and a two-run HR from Sosuke Genda to take a 4-1 lead.

It wouldn't be a big cushion as the Fighters came back in the bottom of the frame. With two outs, they mustered a rally as Yadir Drake hit an RBI single. Taishi Ota would score limping, but Ginjiro Sumitani couldn't field the throw from Tonosaki cleanly, adding another run. Katsunori Hirai came in for Fife and was able to keep the game tied in the 4th, but a two out backbreaker in the 5th gave the Fighters a lead again. Kazunari Ishii would get a two-out RBI triple off the RF wall

Once again, there would be no shutdown inning as the Lions created a chance in the top of the 6th. Daichi Mizuguchi got a leadoff single and he would be bunted over to second, ending Mendoza's day. After Yuji Kaneko reached on a bunt single and stole second, Shogo Akiyama came through with a single off Naoki Miyanishi for a 6-5 lead. He would later score on an error from Brandon Laird.

Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 7th inning, but Brian Schlitter ran into trouble for the 8th. He would walk Takuya Nakashima and a bad throw would lead to him being on third base. Haruki Nishikawa would plate him while Go Matsumoto added a base hit to put the go-ahead run on base. Sho Nakata was up with two outs, but a soft line drive to LF ended the threat.

Tatsushi Masuda had a clean inning for the 9th, giving the Lions their third straight win.

Lions 7, Fighters 6

Game notes:

-To make room for Fife on the ichi-gun roster, Hirotaka Koishi was sent down.

-Katsunori Hirai earned his first win and got the hero interview as the result.

-Akiyama and Kaneko had modashos with the former having a combined four RBI.

===

The first game in Sendai would have Wataru Karashima up against Tohoku native Yusei Kikuchi. It was an early struggle for Kikuchi in the bottom of the 1st with two on and nobody out, but he would force two flyouts and a groundout to allow no runs.

The Lions struck first in the top of the third as Sosuke Genda stole second base and forced a bad throw by Toru Hosokawa, having Ginjiro Sumitani score from third. Asamura would drop a double in the gap to double the lead at 2-0. Kikuchi would earn a shutdown inning the hard way, getting Zelous Wheeler and Japhet Amador out with two runners on base.

A crooked inning for the Lions would come in the top of the 6th as it would be the third time through the order. The Lions loaded the bases and Shuta Tonosaki hit a soft single for one run. Sumitani added another with a sacrifice fly. Naoto Watanabe, pinch hitting for rookie Aito Takeda, would slap an RBI single to make it 5-0.

Kikuchi dealt with one more threat in the bottom of the 8th inning with two runners on base and no outs. He would get Wheeler to flyout, Japhet Amador to line out and "Ginji" Akaminai to strikeout looking for the third Houdini of the night. He would complete the shutout for his second of the season and 5th in his career. It took a total of 140 pitches as he had 14 strikeouts.

Lions 5, Eagles 0

Game note:

-Yuji Kaneko would sit this game out with Aito Takeda making his first career start. Takeda went 0-2 before being pinch hit for in the 6th inning.

-Kikuchi was taken off the roster after the game due to the All Star break ahead. Hotaka Yamakawa would be called up.

===

The second game of the series would have Ken Togame up against Minabu Mima. Togame had one struggling inning in the bottom of the 2nd where he would walk in a run with the bases loaded. He would also allow a timely base hit to Carlos Peguero for a 2-0 Eagles lead. Togame would go five innings before Shogo Noda took over in the 6th.

Mima dominated the Lions with six scoreless innings with only two hits given up, five strikeouts and a walk. He would leave the game early due to an injury. Frank Hermann would open the door for the Lions in the 8th as Takumi Miyoshi's error would have Kuriyama on base. With the catcher's position coming up, Tsuji would pinch hit with Yamakawa and he would send on to the stands and tie the game.

The bottom of the 8th proved to tough as Schlitter was pitching. Rakuten chose to bunt twice and the Lions could not communicate in the infield, leading to an error on the pitcher and the bases were loaded. Japhet Amador would pinch hit an deliver a timely double to plate two runs. Yuki Matsui shut the door quickly and the winning streak would end.

Eagles 4, Lions 2

Game note:

-Takeda would be a pinch runner for Kuriyama and score on the home run by Yamakawa.

-Naoto Watanabe started at 3B while Okawari-kun was the DH.  Watanabe went 0-3.

===

The rubber match would have Takahiro Shiomi facing Brian Wolfe in a matinee. It would be a strong start for the Lions with a four-run first inning that started with an RBI hit by Kuriyama. Mejia would hit a three-run home run to make it 4-0.

The Eagles responded with a two-run double by Zelous Wheeler in the bottom of the frame. He would later hit a two-run HR in the bottom of the third to tie it up. This would be a no decision for Wolfe as he went five innings with seven hits given up and four strikeouts.

Shiomi appeared to have settled in after the first, but allowed several base runners with six hits and two walks. He would get two key double plays to escape any damage. The best chance for the Lions came in the top of the 7th against Hiroyuki Fukuyama, who hasn't allowed a run this season. The bases were loaded, but a double play from Okawari-kun ended the chance.

Ginji would make the Lions pay with an RBI hit off Shota Takekuma in the bottom of the frame. The Lions had the tying run on second base in the 8th, but Yamakawa couldn't get a hit as a pinch hitter. Matsui shut the door once again by striking out the side and the Lions lost the series.

Eagles 5, Lions 4

Game note:

-Genda would have a modasho.

-Watanabe would start at DH and go 1-2 before Daichi Mizuguchi would pinch run.

===

The Lions had a great start to the week before a thud finish in Sendai. While it was unfortunate to lose, any winning week is what we'll take. Fife's first career ichi-gun start was rough to watch, but we have to give him time before we make any true judgments.

Offensively, this team can be great, but it's often frustrating when they're not facing the Fighters. Unfortunately, we can't see the Lions bats get fat off them each game. There's one final series against the Chiba Lotte Marines before the All-star break and hopefully they can finish strong.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Ken Togame named Pacific League pitching MVP for June 2017


NPB announced its monthly awards for June of 2017 on Friday. Ken Togame would receive the Pacific League pitching MVP for the month of June, after going a stellar 3-0 with a 3.08 ERA.

"I was surprised, but I'm happy," Togame said in an interview.

Togame, 29, racked up 23.1 innings in June with three of his four games being quality starts. He would not allow more than two earned runs in each outing. Togame was credited with wins over the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants.

In a statement, Togame cited the win over Softbank on June 24 as his top victory. It was the only win in a stretch where the Lions went 1-8. Togame recorded his first three-win month as a result of the run support he received.

When Togame defeated the Giants on June 8, it would set a new franchise record for Yomiuri with 13 consecutive losses, matching what the Saitama Seibu Lions did in 2015. This is the first monthly MVP award the Lions have won for the 2017 season.

Other June 2017 MVPs:

-OF Yoshihiro Maru (Carp)
-P Hitoki Iwase (Dragons)
-OF Yuki Yanagita (Hawks)

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions OenDEN Episode 19


Christian and Wes return with another podcast episode covering majority of interleague play being over, filling in on the team, progress and Stephen Fife's addition. Other topics include Central League thoughts, interleague observations and the recent passings of Tamotsu Nagai and Shinji Mori.

We apologize for any mispronunciations or errors that might have come up unintentionally. Majority of this episode was recorded on 6/23. Due to technical issues and later news, a few updates and changes had to be made.

Click here if the embed doesn't work. Click here to download.



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Sunday, July 2, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Mori remembered as bats go cold


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The Saitama Seibu Lions would fail to win a game this week with a loss in Okinawa against the Chiba Lotte Marines and being swept by the Orix Buffaloes. Their lead is down to 3.5 games as they remain in A-class. Here is how it all happened:

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Game 1 from Okinawa had Kota Futaki and Ryoma Nogami scheduled to start. However, this would have a long delay due to the rain. The Marines would have a 3-0 lead after a timely hit from Shogo Nakamura and two sacrifice fly balls from Ryo Miki and Jimmy Paredes.

This game would be called in the top of the third as the rain became too excessive and no stats would count in the books. There will be a makeup game scheduled at MetLife Dome later in the year. The Lions were also without a hit through two innings against Futaki.

Daichi Mizuguchi ran around the bases in the rain. Tadahito Iguchi, who will be retiring at season's end, also ran around as well as tripping at first base. 

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Shinsaburo Tawata returned for the next game to face rookie Chihaya Sasaki. The Marines struck first on an RBI single by Shohei Kato in the top of the third. Sasaki looked like he was cruising, but control was fading in the 5th inning with two walks. Yuji Kaneko took advantage of this and tied the game with an RBI single of his own, ending Sasaki's night.

Tawata settled in for the most part, but couldn't get a shutdown inning in the top of the 6th as Katsuya Kakunaka and Willy Mo Peña gave the Marines the lead again with two RBI hits. He would leave in the middle of the frame.

The Lions answered back in the bottom of the 7th as Shogo Akiyama hit his 15th HR of the season, which is a new career high. Hideto Asamura tied the game with an RBI double to make it 3-3.

Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda took the 8th and 9th innings with no damage, but the Lions missed a chance to end the game in the bottom of the 10th off Tatsuya Uchi. With two runners on base, Ernesto Mejia and Shuta Tonosaki struck out.

In the top of the 11th, Jimmy Paredes would reach base on a fielding error by Mejia. It would be Miki who would drive in the winning run on a single and give the Lions their second straight one-run loss.

Marines 4, Lions 3 (11 innings)

Game notes:

-To make room for Tawata, the Lions deactivated Shogo Kimura as the corresponding move.

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The Lions would return to MetLife Dome for hte first time in three weeks as the Orix Buffaloes came to town. Rookie Taisuke Yamaoka was up against Yusei Kikuchi. The Buffaloes struck first on a solo HR by Chris Marrero in the top of the third.

Seibu had a chance to answer, but a double play with the bases loaded by Ernesto Mejia ended the threat. There were other times throughout the game where the bats were cold, including another ground ball leading into a simple out.

Marrero would hit a second HR out of the park which would put the Buffaloes up 3-0 in the 5th inning. Kikuchi would go seven innings with eight strikeouts, but also gave up 11 hits. Yamaoka would silence the bats with the ground ball throughout the night and only allowed two hits and three walks through eight shutout innings.

The Lions had one final gasp in the 9th inning with the bases loaded and Yoshihisa Hirano pitching, but Takumi Kuriyama would strikeout and Shuta Tonosaki gruonded into a fielder's choice to end the game.

Buffaloes 3, Lions 0

Game notes:

-Shinsaburo Tawata was deactivated on the off day as IF Haruka Yamada was called up.

-A ceremony and moment of silence took place for the late Shinji Mori before the game.

-Katsunori Hira\i pitched a scoreless 8th inning, but allowed two base runners.


===

Game 2 against Orix had Takahiro Matsuba facing Ken Togame. It would be another slow start for the Lions as Orix tagged them early on. Consecutive hits, a HBP and more would ruin Togame's 2nd inning. Koji Oshiro would get a flare to fall with the bases loaded and two runs would score. Shunta Goto added on with a two-RBI double to make it 4-0.

Togame would go five innings, allowing a total of nine hits and only three strikeouts. His command was shaky and missed location when Masatoshi Okada called for something else. The Lions got on the board with an RBI single by Daichi Mizuguchi. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would hit a solo HR in the 7th to make it closer.

That would be it as the Lions reached base in both the 8th and 9th inning, but couldn't do anything else. Hirano shut the door again as the team lost their fourth straight.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 2

Game note:

-Sosuke Genda was the leadoff hitter for the first time. He would go 0-4.

-Fumikazu Kimura started in RF and went 0-2.

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The final game of the series had Brian Wolfe against Brandon Dickson in a battle of gaijin pitchers. This time, the Lions scored first with an RBI double from Okawari-kun in the bottom of the 1st. Asamura would be caught trying to advance to third, costing the team a run. Takumi Kuriyama plated Okawari-kun making it 2-0.

Orix responded quickly with a solo HR from Stefan Romero in the top of the second. It would be Marrero again to cause trouble and tie the game with an RBI single in the top of the 4th. The Lions created a chance in the bottom of the 4th off a double by Takumi Kuriyama, which would be his 300th double in his career. Ginjiro Sumitani would plate him and give the Lions a lead again.

Wolfe was unable to get a shutdown inning and couldn't escape the 5th as an error from Okawari-kun started a rally. Romero tied the game with an RBI single and Marrero would plate two more with the bases loaded, making it 5-3.

The best chance for the Lions came in the bottom of the 6th with two runners on and no outs. Mejia fouled out, Tonosaki struck out while Sumitani popped out to end the threat. Shuhei Kojima added an insurance run off Shota Takekuma to put the game away for good as the Lions lost their 5th straight.

Buffaloes 6, Lions 3

Game notes:

-Kuriyama had a modasho while Brandon Dickson only went five innings.

-Hirai had to clean up the 5th inning and pitched the 6th inning to keep the game within reach.

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With this being the first winless week of the season, it's easy to be down. The hitting is unclutch, though the players are still getting on base. Pitching is uncertain and there has been a cloud of grieving with the recent loss of Shinji Mori.

The show must go on, but has that blown save by Tatsushi Masuda in Fukuoka become the negative turning point of the season? They'll have a game in Tokyo Dome very shortly with an irregular week coming up.

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While our podcast for June was recorded, the recent news of Shinji Mori and Tamotsu Nagai has forced a delay.  We apologize for the inconvenience.  

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