Two very interesting battles against teams I consider very beatable. The Tigers always put up memorable games and the Baystars I feel are the team we need to be beating to show we're making progress. The Dragons would claim their first series victory of the year against the Tigers as well as claiming their first win streak while a tie series against the Baystars would be the reward for a lack of depth to the team.
The first series of the week would be another home fixture this time against the Hanshin Tigers. I always enjoy our games against the Tigers and this was shaping up to be another intriguing contest. Citing Yoshio Itoi and Kosuke Fukudome's weaknesses against lefties, Mori announced that he would be putting up Raul Valdes, Jordan Norberto and Yudai Ono up in an attempt to nullify the Hanshin line-up.
Tigers 3 - 1 Dragons
WP: Yuta Iwasada 7 2/3IP 1ER 4SO Itoi 4-3
LP: Hitoki Iwase 1IP 2ER 0SO Oshima 3-2, Araki 4-2
The Tigers would be the first to take the lead as Yoshio Itoi scored Iwasada in the top of the 5th with a single into left field. The Dragons would however strike back immediately in the bottom of the inning as a poor pick up and throw from Iwasada followed by a fumble from Fumihito Haraguchi at first from a Sugiyama bunt allowed Kyoda to round the bases and score to even things up at 1-1.
Valdes would last 7 innings before Iwase was brought in to pitch out the 8th. The veteran gave up consecutive hits; a single to Itoi and a double to Haraguchi. With runners on the 2nd and 3rd, Masahiro Nakatani's sac-fly was enough to regain the Tigers the lead. Pinch runner Fumiya Araki was taken down due to a grounder from Takashi Toritani, but a 2-base hit from Fumiya Hojo saw the Tigers extend their lead to 3-1. The Dragons would rally in the bottom of the 8th, but a determined Marcos Mateo got the Tigers out of a jam to end the inning. It was unfortunately the last chance the Dragons would have in the game as Rafael Dolis took down 3 batters in a row to claim the save and end the game for the Tigers.
It's hard to not get frustrated with your foreign ring-ins when the batting isn't coming together. Guerrero and Viciedo combined to go 8-0 this game. Barely flattering when they're meant to be in the most pivotal spots in the line-up. Hirata hasn't been doing too much better but he still consistently gets hits albeit with a lesser frequency than desired.
Following the game, Mori was under pressure to change things up but all we could see in the lead-up was a small roster chance where Koji Fukutani replaced Hayato Mizowaki. A reliever for a back-up infielder...not exactly earth shattering.
Tigers 3 - 4 Dragons
WP: Shinji Tajima 1IP 0ER 0SO Oshima 4-4, Araki 4-3
LP: Ryoma Matsuda 1/3IP 0ER 0SO Toritani 2-2, Hojo 3-2
A grand shuffle to the personnel was in order as Guerrero was dropped from the line-up. Donoue took his place, but it was a much different looking order to what we have seen previously this season. The moy picante Yohei Oshima settled in at 3 while Kyoda took his place at the top of the order. Viciedo found himself batting 7th while Hirata took on the number 4 clean-up role.
The game started in earnest as Araki found himself at third-base when Hirata sent a fly ball into left-field which saw the veteran toddle in to score to give the Dragons an early lead. Jordan Norberto in his first start of the season seemed to show a bit of "mongrel" in his pitching, not giving the Tigers an inch and taking an aggressive approach.
Norberto would however come undone in the 5th as he loaded up the bases with two outs on the board. One could point fingers at some questionable strike zone calling that led to the jam. The Dominican threw everything he could at Hiroki Uemoto to get the plucky infielder out, but a superb at-bat saw the Tigers pinch two runs and the lead for the first time.
Chunichi would however not be outdone as a lead off single from Araki and a follow-up by Yohei "Hit Machine" Oshima gave Hirata another chance to knock in the runs. He would unfortunately hit into a double play, but it would be enough to get the Dragons back on even terms. The tug of war would continue into the 8th at Takuya Mitsuma took the mound. The former Shikoku independent league pitcher gave up a lead-off double to Fukudome which set the tone for an unfortunate inning where the rookie gave up his first earned run of the season to Hojo to see the Tigers take the lead once more.
However, as things go in these games, the Dragons pulled themselves back into the action as Oshima's double in the bottom of the 8th leveled things up once again. Tajima would be brought in to take out the 9th inning which he did with aplomb and it was up to the bottom half of the order to get the Nagoya side a win in normal time.
Naomichi Donoue would start things off with a lead-off double. The Tigers elected to walk Viciedo to 1st but a bunt from Kinoshita saw 2 runners move into scoring positions with one out on the board. Kamezawa would unfortunately fall to a short-fly leaving the result in the hands of the rookie, Yota Kyoda. The short-stop hit a grounder off former Dragon reliever Akifumi Takahashi to Takashi Toritani at 3rd who fumbled; Kyoda taking no chances took a dramatic head slide into first to be found safe and claim a 4-3 walk-off victory for the Dragons.
I must admit, this was the first time in a while I was able to watch a full game due to family commitments and it was wonderful. There was a lot to enjoy about this game and this is one of the reasons I like playing the Tigers. The games are close and I never feel we're outmatched. Good competitive baseball.
The interesting point to come out of this game is that, for one, Yohei Oshima has suddenly turned into Ichiro. He's hitting a lot. At the end of this game he was hitting .423 with an OPS of .958, leading the league. He has certainly turned up at the beginning of this season and I commend Mori for trying something new and sticking him in at 3 in the line-up again, something he tried last season to little effect. Perhaps the more surprising statistic is that Masahiro Araki has bumped his season average all the way up to .316. I was very worried about him at the beginning of the season but he, uh, likes playing the Tigers. Has gone 8-5 this series already. A hot Araki bat spells good news particularly if Oshima keeps performing behind him.
The game also marked the 16th straight game where a starter hasn't won a game. This has equaled the worst record in NPB history where the Taiyo Whales had the same start in 1969; but a win is a win. Maybe we can set a record for reliever wins.
Tigers 2 - 5 Dragons
WP: Daisuke Sobue 1IP 0ER 0SO Kamezawa 3-2, Hirata 4-2
LP: Koyo Aoyanagi 6 2/3IP 3ER 6SO Haraguchi 4-2, Nakatani 4-2
HR: Hirata (7th), Viciedo (8th)
More firsts in this game as Viciedo smacked a goodun into the right stands while Daisuke Sobue picked up his first win in over 100 appearances, not to mention the night also marked the first time this year that the Dragons have achieved back-to-back wins as well as series win.
Yudai Ono started on the mound for the Dragons and looks to be continually improving from his opening day nightmare. The lefty put in a solid 6 innings shift but was to be the first pitcher of the evening to surrender the lead for his team as Fumihito Haraguchi slashed home Hojo in the 5th. The Dragons would return with gusto in the 7th as Hirata hit a lead-off homer to level the scores.
It wasn't to end there as with bases loaded Yota Kyoda gave Chunichi a 2 run lead with a timely single into right field and on his birthday too! How nice.
In the top of the 8th Mitsuma had troubles getting his final out as he put the two 'Tanis on base. Hitoki Iwase was called on to take out lefty, Shun Takayama, but it wasn't to end well for the veteran as he gave up an RBI single to last year's rookie of the year to put the Tigers in touching distance. Pitching coach Shinichi Kondo had seen enough very quickly and pulled Iwase off the mound for Koji Fukutani who made his first appearance of the year who promptly took down the pinch hitting Ryota Arai.
In the bottom of the 8th Akifumi Takahashi was able to dismiss Oshima and Fujii either side of a Hirata base hit, but the lefty was withdrawn for Marcos Mateo in the face of the right-handed Viciedo. The Cuban had no qualms showing off today as he sliced through the first pitch he was shown low and outside and launched his first homer of the season into the right stands proving once again how much he likes playing the Tigers. (Who can forget his debut series? 1,2,3)
The reaction from the dugout was just as uplifting as the reaction from Viciedo himself. (Except for Guerrero maybe. What on earth was he thinking?)
Tajima doing his closing thing fanned two Tigers to end the innings and seal another confidence boosting Dragons win.
Viciedo breaking his duck this year is a big confidence booster to not only him but also the team. A bit of belief may have just returned. Hopefully this can get big Vic to rally and start showing more of that power that instilled fear into the hearts of NPB pitchers last season. Yota Kyoda continues to make headlines as he was involved in hitting the winning runs once again. The kid doesn't seem to hit a lot just yet, but he's getting them where its' important. He's probably one of the few Dragons where his BA is higher with RISP, albeit marginally. As far as I can tell, Oshima is the only other and Oshima currently leads the league in batting average with .400 over Shinnosuke Abe of the Giants (.373) and Brad Eldred of the Carp.(.364)
A good, confidence lifting series for the Dragons and hopefully something they can carry on with to lift themselves further up the table.
In other news, Yohei Oshima and Katsuki Matayoshi have been nominated for the March/April monthly MVP. Dayan Viciedo picked up the award for the same period last season for his dominating performances in the opening rounds.
To put a dampener on things however, the Dragons starters now have the worst winning start to a season ever in the NPB after going 17 games winless breaking the 16 game mark set by the 1969 Taiyo Whales.
Dragons 2 - 2 Baystars
SP: Katsuki Matayoshi 7 2/3IP 1ER 6SO Oshima 5-3, Hirata 4-2
SP: Joe Wieland 8IP 1ER 9SO Shirasaki 5-2, Kuwahara 5-2
HR: Hirata (9th)
Well we haven't had an extra innings game in a while so lets have another. For I think the 5th time this season, the Dragons were taken the distance. The Stars took the lead in the 2nd through a Kyoda error but Chunichi was back in the hunt shortly after in the 4th as Kyoda was scored off an RBI single from Hirata. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo would put Yokohama in the lead in the bottom of the 8th after he scored Takehiro Ishikawa, but a solo homerun from Hirata in the top of the 9th and a scoreless end to the frame ensured the game would go into extra innings once more.
Sobue, Iwase, Sato and Tajima all held on to keep the game in reach, but the Yokohama bullpen did just as well to shut out a Chunichi line-up that seems to may as well not have a bottom half to the lineup as no-one south of Hirata registered a hit.
Striking out is appearing to be more and more of an issue with the team. I've been noticing some fairly high strikeout numbers by opposing pitchers of late.
Dragons 4 - 11
WP: Kenta Ishida 6IP 3ER 6SO Tsutsugo 4-2, Tobashira 4-2, Ishida 3-2
LP: Shunta Wakamatsu 3IP 7ER 0SO Hirata 4-2
HR: Tobashira (2nd), Kuwahara (2nd), Kajitani (6th)
Wakamatsu had it handed to him on a platter as he took a battering from the Baystars who ran riot on the misfiring starter. The Dragons actually took the lead through Hirata in the first inning, but a 2nd inning deluge from the Stars, including homeruns from Yasutaka Tobashira and Masayuki Kuwahara put the Stars 5-1 to the good nice and early.
More neck strain for Wakamatsu was to come as he gave up a further two runs in the 3rd effectively ending his time on the mound for the evening. The Baystars still had blood in their nostrils as they soon went after Ryuya Ogawa who gave up an 2 RBI single with bases loaded to last year's homerun leader Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to put Yokohama out of sight at 9-1. The Dragons would attempt to crawl back into the game with a quiet 2 runs through Hirata and Toshiki Abe. That however wouldn't stop the 'Stars from ruining the party as Kajitani once again haunted Dragons fans by launching Fukutani the distance with a 2-run dinger.
Thoroughly depressing, but the game wore on and Kyohei Kamezawa provided one last shining light in the 9th as he put one more on the board before Takuya Shindo closed out the game 11-4.
Well. What can you say. I think all you can say for sure is that Wakamatsu's rookie year was a fluke and he hasn't changed enough about his pitching to warrant a continuous starting role. He's predictable. Batters can either sit on his occasional fastball or his change-up. He doesn't really have a lot of other stuff that troubles batters. However, in saying that, who would there be to replace him? Most of our starters are getting shelled on the farm. Shota Suzuki did have a good run out recently though, maybe a chance?
Dragons 1 - 0 Baystars
WP: Raul Valdes 8IP OER 2SO Araki 4-2
LP: Phil Klein 6IP 1ER 4SO
Nobumasa Fukuda, a Yokohama native and Yokohama high school grad, would join the team for this game as Wakamatsu was promptly dropped from the team after his shellacking the previous day.
A sac-fly from Ryosuke Hirata in the 1st inning would be all she wrote for this game as both teams forgot how to hit.
Masahiro Araki was the only batter between either sides to register more than one hit with the final count be 6 Chunichi hits to 4 DeNA hit. Was the pitching good? It wasn't bad. Raul Valdes pitched 8 very good scoreless innings but only whiffed 2 batters. DeNA showed some good stuff but 1 run wins like this are always a bit...well...unsatisfying. Both teams showed a lot of what plagued them last year. Both had issues with misfiring lineups and it was present once again today. A win is a win is a win for the Dragons however as they avoided a series loss which is always a net positive. In the mean time, let's just enjoy some Kamezawa plays at third.
I think all we really learned from this series is, thank go we re-signed Oshima and Hirata and the ills of last year still remain with some poor Wakamatsu pitching and very little going on with the line-up. I feel as though the team is getting more hits overall these days, but just not putting them together. The curse of the winless starter was also broken by Valdes in the last game of the series. Just another unwanted record to add to the collection, but the distraction should be over now. Also with Hirata's sac-fly he has registered RBIs in 5 consecutive games, That little move into the number four role seems to be suiting him well.
A much more optimistic outlook following these two series. Well, I guess that's what happens when you win more games than you lose. Both series providing ample entertainment but also highlighted some very dangerous pitfalls that are unlikely to desert the team too quickly. Inconsistent starting pitching and a misifiring line-up seem to be the hallmarks of the team this year...
Following this week, the Dragons drop back down to 6th on the table have momentarily overtaken the Swallows after beating the Tigers.