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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Series Wrap: Dragons v Giants @ Nagoya Dome, 3 April - 5 April: Yanagi blues, Garcia boons, Matsuzaka croons

Looking at the pitching match-ups for this series you'd be tricked into thinking that the Dragons would have a chance at winning, nay, even sweeping the series. That was my naive thought as I saw Yanagi v Yamaguchi, Garcia v Yoshikawa and Matsuzaka v Otake.

Game 4

The good: Shuhei's 3RBI triple, Ito and Iwase's relief stints
The bad: Mori's management of Yanagi, Tanimoto being awful

Giants 10 - Dragons 3

Yuya Yanagi got his first start of the season at the home opener. He missed last year's start to the season with injury and I must admit I was pretty optimistic heading into this one.
The game started with a fairly impressive pitch from Miss Japan and Aichi native, Norie Ichihashi to open things but Yanagi wouldn't fair too well going into the game proper.
Yanagi would however be the first to stutter as he gave up 2 early runs after battling nerves which saw him hit his first batter, Daikan Yoh, who then had to leave the game with a fractured hand. Yanagi wouldn't register his first out until striking out Kazuma Okamoto but the damage was already done through Sakamoto and McGehee. Yanagi was able to find some rhythm in the next two innings but in the 4th with two outs and loaded bases, Sakamoto put through a 2-run single where decided he'd had enough and took Yanagi off the mound to replaced by Junki Ito.
The Dragons would put themselves in touching distance in the 6th however as a bases loaded situation was converted by a Shuhei Takahashi triple putting the score at 4-3. The Giants would push their lead to 5-3 shortly after and the game was put to bed after another horror inning from Keisuke Tanimoto in the top of the 9th as he gave up 7 hits and 5 earned runs. 3 of these hits were infield singles which is a bit unlucky, but....

Quite simply put, the pitching was not great. The Dragons let the Giants have 18 hits. It's possibly a grace of god that we didn't lose by more. The line-up as well is still showing disjointedness which is to be a little bit expected given that it's a fairly new line-up overall but, it's still very disappointing. Oshima's slow start is a big part of this as he's only averaging .176 in the lead-off position (granted it's only the 4th game of the season) and Fukuda and Shuhei have been equally disappointing so far.

In saying all this, the Dragons were still in with a, albeit slim, chance in going into the 9th inning before Tanimoto once again showed us how well prepared he was for the season. He now has an ERA of 40.50. Needless to say, news today is that he will be dropped to the farm to prove himself. The Dragons have plenty of relief arms that don't give up 4+ runs per inning so I'm not exactly sad about this.
The only thing I will say, is that I feel the leash given to Yanagi was a bit short in this game. He did give up quite a few hits and walks, but when you have runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs, I think you have to give him a go to get that last out to redeem himself. Show him that you think he's good enough to bounce back. I'm a little bit disappointed by how this was managed.

Game 5

Giants 1 - 4 Dragons

Good points: Garcia's first start and win, Hiroshi Suzuki's perfect relief
Bad points: Kyoda failing to register a hit, No homers

Onelki Garcia's first start for the Dragons was a memorable one as the Cuban kept no-hit the Giants through 5 innings. He gave up a few walks, but 7Ks for only two hits and 1 ER looks pretty good in anyone's books. Viciedo opened the scoring againts Mitsuo Yoshikawa with an RBI single in the first, and a triple from Garcia of all people drove in 1 more run in the 4th. The slow drip would continue as an error in the 6th allowed Shuhei Takahashi to score and the young second baseman's triple in the 7th would allow for the 4th run of the game.
With Garcia coming off the mound in the 6th, a relay of Matayoshi, H. Suzuki and Tajima rounded off an impressive display of pitching with the 2017 #1 draft pick, Suzuki fanning 3 batters in a row.
Watching Suzuki take down those 3 batters, particularly Hayato Sakamoto at the end of it was pure, naked enjoyment. I don't think I've enjoyed a relief inning that much ever. The command of his fastball and his ability to beat batters with it was amazing to watch. If this is a taste of what's to come, then I can't wait for the first course.

A fly-out off Tajima's pitching and a nice catch from Oshima in the outfield would seal a positive victory for the team where the pitching really held it together. The bats still have a lot more to give and 4 runs against the Giants is an okay return but not overly inspiring.

Game 6

Giants 3 - 2 Dragons

Good things: Matsuzaka didn't get too messed up, Shuhei keep hitting
Bad things: Line-up still disjointed, Giants win the series

The Heisei-monster, Daisuke Matsuzaka made his first start in Japan since he left the Seibu Lions for the Boston Red Sox 12 years ago. A perfect game to market the aging star against the Giants at home, Matsuzaka had an evening that was neither memorable nor forgettable. 2 errors from Kyoda at key moments will make one wonder what might have been in a narrow loss.

Alex Guerrero would make the first scoring contribution of the night in the first to give the Giants an early lead. The Dragons would however fight back through Zoilo Almonte's RBI double in the bottom of the inning. Matsuzaka's control going through the Giants order was noticeably not all that good, but somehow he kept them honest until the 3rd where Casey McGehee's RBI and a poor throw from Kyoda over Viciedo's head off an Okamoto grounder saw the Giants 3-1 up.
Kan Otake on the mound for the Giants did a solid job keeping the Dragons off balance and only conceded 4 hits for his trouble from 5 innings. Matsuzaka similarly lasted 5 innings with a much less flattering 8 hits and 3 walks.

The Dragons would pull one run back in the 6th through a Shuhei Takahashi single and were perhaps unlucky to not level things up after loading the bases with Ono at the plate with only one out, but the formidable Giants bullpen of Mathieson, Uehara and Caminero ensured that the rest of the game was snuffed out.

Not a bad return to the game from Matsuzaka but certainly not one we can praise him too much for. He showed some wicked stuff at times particularly with his changeup, but the come back is still some ways away. Shuhei maintains his great form with the bat and is the teams RBI leader as a result. Shuhei's plate discipline has been impeccable so far with a very impressive OPS.

Next up, the Tigers at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka. Doraho!

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