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Monday, April 24, 2017

Weekly Dragons Wrap: Tigers tamed, Baystars blueballed (18th April - 23rd April)

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. 

Game 15

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. 

Game 16

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.

Game 17

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.

The Dragons traveled to Yokohama for the first time this season without one of their three Kanagawa natives; Nobumasa Fukuda, Shuhei Takahashi and Shinnosuke Ogasawara for the first time in as long as I can remember. The 'Stars have been taking it steady this season with only one win on the Dragons; a series win here could see the boys in Ochiai blue take another step up the ladder into 4th...

Game 18

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.

Game 19

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?

Game 20

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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Weekly Wrap: Did someone call for a tank? Rain saves sweep; Giants repeat (April 11th to April 16th)

It's that time of the week again and that means were're looking at the series between the Swallows and the Giants. Battles between the trendy Tokyo side and the country's most successful always brings up interesting battles. 

The first battle would be a shortened series against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows where the Tuesday was washed out. With Raul Valdes, Katsuki Matayoshi and Jordan Norberto scheduled to start, a slide in the scheduled pitchers meant only the former two would see time on the starting mound at Jingu Ballpark. 

Game 10

Dragons 5 - 2 Swallows

WP: Takuya Mitsuma 2IP 0ER 3SO                            Kamezawa 4-2, Kyoda 4-2
LP:  Tomoya Hoshi 1IP 3ER 1SO                                Ugumori 4-2
                                                                                      HR: Kamezawa (10th)

A game of firsts for the Dragons and Takuya Mitsuma claimed his first pro win and Kyohei Kamezawa thwacked his first professional homer in a win over a lackluster Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium. The game on Tuesday had been washed out pushing Valdes' start forward a day and giving the team an extra days rest.

It was the Dragons who would take the lead as Yota Kyoda starting things off with a single to score Viciedo in the top of the second. Valdes would once again show off his mettle as he provided another important RBI scoring Hirata to make it 2-0. It was the veteran Cuban pitcher who then threw down an impressive 7 innings keeping consecutive triple 3 man Tetsuto Yamada deathly quiet. Unfortunately with 2 outs on the board, a double given up to Atsushi Ugumori, followed by consecutive base loading walks opened a pinch situation which could not be successfully navigated as a catching error from Viciedo on a routine fly ball at first allowed the Swallows to get back into the game.
Valdes was clearly unhappy with his countryman. Understandably so. 

Takuya Mitsuma was brought into the fray shortly after and kept the Swallows honest while Ishiyama and Akiyoshi provided the same stability for the home team. Viciedo's error meant that the Dragons would be heading for an extended innings game for (I believe) the 4th time this season already but it was to be short and sweet. 

Kyoda's lead-off single started things positively while a triple from Fujii scored the rookie soon after to restore the Dragons lead. With 2 outs on the board, Kyohei Kamezawa took to the plate and mashed the first professional homer of his career to put the Dragons out of sight at 5-2. 
Now with the game only needing to be saved, Shinji Tajima emerged from the bullpen to claim his second save of the year striking out one in the process. 

A positive win that was only besmirched by Viciedo's horrendous error. I'm also beginning to become fond of Mori as a manager as he shared a bit of a joke with Takuya Mitsuma at the end of the game pretending to throw his first win ball into the crowd. Probably a great guy to be around when he's in a good mood and he certainly comes off as a bit of  a father figure.

Game 11

Dragons 2 - 3 Swallows

WP: Ryo Akiyoshi  1IP 0ER 0SO                              Yuhei 4-3, Yamasaki 4-2 
LP: Hitoki Iwase 2/3IP 1ER 0SO                               Hirata 2-2
                                                                               HR: Hirata (2nd), Hatakeyama (6th)

Katsuki Matayoshi started his first game as a pro and his first start since playing in the independent Shikoku Island League. He took up arms against former Phillie David Buchanan. 

The Dragons took the lead in the 2nd inning through a  solo Hirata homer.  
The lead was increased through an unlikely source as a triple in the same inning from Matayoshi pushed the scores ahead to 2-0. Kotaro Yamasaki would put the Swallows within 1 with his 2-base hit and it was the veteran Kazuhiro Hatakeyama who launched his second homer of the year into the stands of the Yakult faithful to level up the scores.
It was a well fought pitchers duel in the end with Buchanan perhaps doing the better overall as he whiffed 8 batter to Matayoshi's 3 but it was the pitcher change that would be Chunichi's undoing. Hitoki Iwase would be brought in to close out the 9th, but it wasn't to be as he gave up a hit and a sac-fly to put a runner at third. Sensing danger, Mori switched in 2015 draft #2 pick, Yu Sato in to finish off the Swallows but a timely single from Atsushi Ugumori saw the avian ball team swoop in for a walk-off victory.

Hey, at least it didn't go to extras this time, right? Some encouraging signs from this series but not from overly important pieces. Mitsuma getting his first win is great, Kamezawa also breaking his homerun duck is a nice thing to have as well but I am starting to worry about Mori's pitching choices. I feel he is leaving arms too late into games and just putting his trust in the wrong people. I love Iwase as much as any other Chunichi fan but I really don't think you can trust him in high leverage situations anymore. 

Game 12

Giants 2 - 3 Dragons

WP: Yu Sato 1IP 0ER 2SO                                                Oshima 6-4, Kamezawa 6-3
LP: Ryosuke Miyaguni 2/3IP 1ER 0SO                             Ishikawa 3-2

Yu Sato would claim his first win of the season after another extra innings marathon saw the Dragons win in a 12th inning walk-off. 

The Dragons took the lead in the 7th as a grounder from Kyoda was poorly fielded by Daisuke Nakai at second which allowed Hirata to score. Oshima would make it 2-0 in the same inning with double to score Kyoda. The lead was to however become undone shortly after as Ono pitches, in my humble opinion, a few pitches too many allowing Ishikawa to get on base and be scored by Nakai. A sac-fly from Hayato Sakamoto minutes later would see the Giants on even terms. 

Seemingly learning from his mistake against Yakult, Mori sent Tajima out in the 9th to send the game into extras for the umpteenth time this season. Both teams pulled back and forth but it was the Dragons that would break through in the bottom of the 12th as with 2 outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd. Former Dodger, Alex Guerrero hit through the field to claim a single and a walk-off win to claim the Dragons 3rd win in 12 attempts this season. 
A gutsy win but the team still isn't getting hits with RISP. The Dragons out-hit the Giants 13 to 8 on the night and only claiming 3 runs is extremely disappointing. Mori also is appearing a bit more old school than I was hoping. He seems to be keeping his starters in as long as they don't concede runs. Ono had pitched 133 balls in the game before getting yoinked and while I know stamina is one of his better attributes, you should be pulling the guy out earlier. There's been far too many reactive pitching changes and not enough proactive moves. 

Game 13

Giants 6 - 2 Dragons

WP: Kazuto Taguchi 5IP 2ER 3SO                                  Sakamoto 5-4, McGehee 4-2
LP: Shunta Wakamatsu 6IP 4ER 4SO                              Viciedo 4-2

Hayato Sakamoto was on fire as the Dragons got dismantled in the later innings while the Giants bullpen stood firm. 

It was Yomiuri who took an early lead through Casey McGehee as he scored Daisuke Nakai with an RBI single. The Dragons would however fight back and take the lead in the 3rd inning through an Atsushi Fujii double to make it 2-1 to the home team. It was to be the marauderign McGehee who would even things up again in the 6th while a Wakamatsu wild pitch gave the Giants the lead. It wasn't to end there as Shingo Ishikawa's single pushed the Giants to a 4-2 winning position. With Wakamatsu now withdrawn, the reins were handed to Daisuke Sobue to ride out the 7th inning, but the fireballing adonis couldn't stop Sakamoto and Abe from striking once more to blow out the lead to 6-2. 

Masahiko Morifuku and Scott Mathieson threw down the final two innings for the Giants only giving up one hit between them to seal a thumping Giants victory. 

The Giants seem to handle their bullpen better and let's face it, it probably is better than ours and Taguchi is probably a better starter than Wakamatsu at the moment. Outclassed to by Sakamoto and a clutch-hitting McGehee. What the Dragons wouldn't do for someone like McGehee at the moment who hits .476 with RISP as of the 19th of April. 

Another loss, and very little to write home about.

Game 14

Giants 2 - 0 Dragons

WP: Kan Otake 6 2/3IP 0ER 3SO                                Nakai 4-2, Sakamoto 4-2, McGehee 4-2
LP: Kazuki Yoshimi 7IP 1ER 4SO                               Fujii 4-3

Kazuki Yoshimi needed to pitch a perfect game to keep the Dragons in this as it all came crashing down to a poor batting performance where only Atsushi Fujii actually did anything of note.

It wasn't until Yoshimi's 7th inning that the Giants finally took the lead as Abe's follow up to Sakamoto's double edged Yomiuri in front. A pitching change saw Iwase throw down a scoreless inning before Tajima gave up an RBI to Yoshiyuki Kamei following the damage done by Sakamoto and McGehee. 

I think Yoshimi's expression on the bench said it all following Abe's ground out in at the bottom of the 7th to end the inning. We just can't buy a run when it counts.

A very sad end to a depressing series of results. It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. Oshima seems to be the only bat regularly turning up, Kyoda at short, while valuable with the glove is starting to slip with the bat and Sugiyama even is not performing up to the standards he set last year when he had the highest OBP in the team. Production at second also seems to be a major issue, but hopefully Donoue and/or Kamezawa can platoon there and pull something out. 

Chunichi's starters are also still without a win. It has been 48 years since a starting rotation has been without a win in 14 straight games from opening day. Seibu Lions in 1979 were the most recent with the Taiyo Whales (now Yokohama Baystars) did the same in 1969. Illustrious company. Mori was a rookie with the 1979 Lions hopefully he knows how to ride out a storm. 

3 wins in 14 attempts isn't good reading but...there's always next year?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Weekly Wrap: Misery, First Win, Misery (4th April - 9th April)

Game 4
Carp 7 - 1 Dragons

WP: Yusuke Nomura 7IP 1ER 7SO                              Viciedo 4-2
LP: Shunta Wakamatsu 3IP 3ER 4SO                           Tanaka 3-2, Arai 3-2, Nomura 3-2
                                                                                       HR: Eldred (1st), Mizowaki (3rd)

Yet more runs given up in the first few innings saw the Dragons fall behind as a 2-run homer to Brad Eldred as he took a liking to a Wakamatsu change-up. That was followed up by a Kosuke Tanaka's single saw the Carp 3 up in quick fashion.

In the bottom of the 3rd, Wakamatsu was changed out for Hayato Mizowaki who promptly showed his credentials by putting in a stubborn at bat and eventually launching Yusuke Nomura into the stands for his first professional home run. 

Masahiro Araki would come up to bat shortly after, and after striking out, Mori made the decision to make the pitching change by swapping out Araki allowing Mizowaki to play out the rest of the game at second. At this point Takuya Mitsuma would come into the game once more, pitching out yet another two scoreless innings. Following Mitsuma would be Takuya Asao who with much desire to see out his job perhaps tried a bit too hard. His pitching was all over the place and in his one inning he gave up 4 earned runs including 4 hits and 2 walks given up. 

Jordan Norberto and Toshiya Okada would close out the rest of the game scoreless, but it was to be a sombre day for Dragons fans where they were significantly humbled at home. A 4th consecutive loss marked the worst start to a season since 1980 where the Dragons finished last. The only shining light that season was Kenichi Yazawa's .369 average batting title season, but can this team muster even one such individual?

Game 5

Carp 3 - 3 Dragons

SP; Tomoya Yagi IP 3 0/3, ER 2, SO 2                    Oshima 5-4, Guerrero 6-3
SP; Hiroki Tokoda IP 6 1/3 ER 3 SO 6                     Arai 3-2
                      HR: Eldred (2nd)

The Dragons mustered 13 hits in this game but didn't do enough to pull the wool over the eyes of the defending champions. The 9th inning had many talking points, but before we get there, let's discuss the journey.

Dragons opened the scoring as a centre-field liner from Guerrero was enough to send Oshima home. The Carp would however reply almost immediately as in the top of the 2nd  as Eldred hit his second homer in as many games to put two on the board and take the lead. 
Tomoya Yagi would be befelled in the 3rd  as he copped one to the leg from a return hit from Takahiro Arai. Concerned for the veteran's health, Matayoshi was brought out from the bullpen. In the 5th inning the Dragons would even things up through Hirata and they would take the lead as Guerrero's sac-fly helped score Oshima who had been helped to third by a Kyoda bunt. Good pitching from Matayoshi and Okada saw the Dragons reach the 9th with their lead in tact but that's when things started to get...interesting.

For the second time this season Shinji Tajima was brought out of the bullpen to try and save the game. After getting the first out, Tajima walked Maru and Arai to put runners in scoring positions. With the "godly" Seiya Suzuki at the plate danger was all abounds. Suzuki would put a hit out into left field that was met by Atsushi Fujii who launched a laser beam to Sugiyama to claim what was to be a very important out....but. The decision went to video referral and the out decision was overturned giving the Carp their equaliser. 
It doesn't matter how many times I look at this, it's out. The freeze frame I saw of this during the game which has since been deleted was much more conclusive, but it is daylight robbery. Tajima should not have put the team in that situation to begin with, but this is just rubbing salt into the wounds. However, that being said, without this drama we wouldn't have had the next play by Yota Kyoda. His diving catch off Eldred ended the inning and boy it was a beauty.
At the bottom of the 9th the Dragons got close to winning it as Oshima was advanced to 2nd by another Kyoda bunt and 3rd through a Guerrero grounder but the king of the clean-up, Dayan Viciedo struck out when he was needed most to bring the game into extra innings.
A few more of the bullpen arms were given some innings as Iwase looked much like his old self whiffing two batters in his one inning of relief while Daisuke Sobue and Takuya Mitsuma all put in scoreless shifts. I wonder if this means something. Sobue and Mitsuma were used as closers on the farm last year and Iwase is the closer of legends. Maybe Mori was testing the waters? We'll see.

The team batted really well today and deserved to win. Not often you muster that many hits and fail to register the win. Viciedo's inclusion needs to be questioned and I'm almost hoping the team dump him and put in someone like Ishioka or Ishikawa to get some at-bats. A couple of singles a game is not what he was recruited for. The Donoue-Kyoda combo in the middle-infield combined well and it was good to see Mori finally drop Araki. Kyoda did his job superbly at number two in the batting line up registering a hit and successfully laying down 2 sac-bunts. Oshima was on fire, picking up the modasho along with Guerrero which was also great to see. Tajima's performance was the only worry this time around....a shame really.

Game 6

Carp 5 - 3 Dragons

WP: Kazuki Yabuta 1IP 0ER 0SO                               Oshima 6-4, Viciedo 6-4, Hirata 5-3
LP: Toshiya Okada 0/3 2ER 0SO                                Tanaka 5-3, Eldred 3-2
                                                                                     HR: Oshima (7th)

It was to be another extended game tonight as the Dragons took on the Carp in the 3rd and final game of the round at Nagoya Dome. RBI's from Seiya Suzuki and Brad Eldred put the carp 3-0 to the good in the 5th but the Dragons kept inching their way back into the game. Oshima's first homer of the season put things within 2 runs in the 7th.
Oshima again was involved in getting the Dragons on an even keel when he was scored by Guerrero following his double base hit. Viciedo would follow up to score Guerrero putting the Dragons back in the game in the bottom of the 9th. Hirata and Kudo would try their best to put Chunichi on top, but the game was destined to go into extra innings once more.
Hitoki Iwase and Takuya Mitsuma once again showed off effortless work as they shut down the Carp in their respective innings, but it was the Samurai Japan representative, Toshiya Okada that would put the Dragons in a jam. With one out on the board, Okada gave up 3 consecutive hits to load the bases. Sobue was brought in to try and control the situation but he gave up a sac-fly to Takahiro Arai that ultimately put 2 more runs on the board after a poor fielding mix up.
In the bottom of the 11th, chasing the game, Oshima and Kyoda got on base but it was their clean up that would fail them as both Guerrero and Viciedo capitulated to end the game.

Another...sad performance. The Dragons well out-batted their opponents putting up 15 hits on the board to the Carp's 9. Quite a feat when you consider the struggles of last year but this goes back to what I said when we played the Giants. The lineup just feels a bit disjointed. A big problem is Viciedo not getting those extra base hits. He connected superbly today with 4 hits in his 6 at-bats, but he's not Hector Luna. We don't need a guy that hits for average in that #4 spot in the line-up. I hope this is the start of him building some confidence to go longer later in the season, but it isn't why he's there.

It was a poor series at home and marks a winless opening 6 games, the equal worst start to any season in Chunichi colours. Poor by any person's standards. The positives I have seen are the new faces being given time. Hayato Mizowaki started in game 6 at second base and Yota Kyoda has started all but one game this season at short where he has been very respectable despite his rookie status. Takuya Mitsuma as well is still bamboozling batters and is yet to concede a run so far this season. Power to him.

Otherwise, an interesting statistic that has popped up for the Dragons. While they are last on the points table, they are top of UZR rankings believe it or not. The performance in the field hasn't been lacking.

Okada has been sent down to the farm to work on his stuff while the Dragons  have the worst average with RISP in the league (.127). They had stranded 13 runners as of the end of the Carp series.

Game 7

Baystars 5 - 7 Dragons

WP: Katsuki Matayoshi 3IP 0ER 1SO                              Viciedo 2-2, Hirata 3-2
LP: Kota Suda 1 1/3 IP 2 ER 1SO                                     Kajitani 5-3, Tanaka 3-2
                                                                                           HR: Kajitani (3rd)

Chunichi would register their first win of the season over the Yokohama DeNA Baystars on Friday night, as a another poor start from "staff ace" Yudai Ono, was saved by some good relief pitching and good batting at the right times.

DeNA catcher Tobashira opened the scoring in the 2nd and the 'Stars extended their lead to 2 with Takayuki Kajitani's solo homer in the 3rd.
However, with bases loaded, Ryosuke Hirata hit a timely double to put the Dragons 3-2 to the good. Yota Kyoda's impressive performances continued with his RBI single in to score Hirata to extend the lead to 4-2. It wasn't however to be all cherry blossoms for the Dragons as the 'Stars were back on even terms by the 5th inning following RBI's from Hiroyasu Tanaka and Toshiro Miyazaki. Yokohama would then retake the lead in the 5th as Tanaka once again proved decisive to the put the scores to 4-5 on the night. Matayoshi was brought in following the 5-run leak from Ono's pitching and he soaked up the pressure magnificently allowing the Dragons to rally in the 7th inning where Viciedo evened things up before Kyoda and Fujii gave the Chunichi faithful a 2-run lead.
Shinji Tajima was once again brought in to protect a small lead but for the first time this year, the closer knocked off all three batters in a row to retire the side, claim the win and claim his first save of the year.

A relieving first win to the season that came in very entertaining fashion. Mori and Oshima had a good laugh about it.
Game 8

DeNA 1 -1 Dragons

SP: Shunta Wakamatsu 8IP 1ER 5SO                       5-2 Oshima, 5-2 Araki
SP: Kenta Ishida 7IP 1ER 9SO                                 3-2 Tsutsugo, 5-2 Lopes

A battle of the starting pitchers, but it was Kenta Ishida who was the most impressive as he fanned 9 batters in his 7 innings in an impressive showing. Shunta Wakamatsu put in a good shift as well, but I feel as though Mori was guilty of trusting his man a bit too much as it was in Wakamatsu's 7th inning that the tying run was given up after Oshima had opened the scoring in the 3rd inning.
The bullpen got a good run-out once again as for the third time this season a game entered extra innings. Tajima, Iwase, Sobue, Ogawa, Mitsuma and Sato all pitched in and kept the game scoreless. Surely the team must be getting tired from these all-nighters.

Another draw on the board, but credit must go to the Baystars pitching for keeping a handle on what has been a fairly productive Chunichi line-up of late.

The highlight for me, was, apart from Wakamatsu's fairly good start was Iwase's relief inning. He struck out two and just looks so much better than he did last year. There's a sense of hunger in his pitching now that I feel wasn't there last year. He looks good.
Game 9

DeNA 2-1 Dragons

WP: Haruhiro Hamaguchi 6 1/3IP 1ER 6SO                 Kuwahata 4-2, Miyazaki 4-2
LP: Kazuki Yoshimi 7IP 2ER 7SO                                Viciedo 3-2, Oshima 4-2
                                                                                        HR: Kajitani (6th)

A narrow loss would be the reward for a much improved pitching display from Kazuki Yoshimi.
The Dragons took the lead in the 2nd inning as Naomichi Donoue scored Viciedo but it was a 2-run homer from Kajitani in the 6th that would prove the be the decider as the Dragons failed to muster up a come back.
Fine pitching fro Suda and Yamasaki shut down the line-up in the final innings to see out a narrow Baystars victory.

The Dragons were perhaps unlucky not to walk away with more from this series but the pitching from the Baystars was superb; particularly in the final two games. Much improved starts from Wakamatsu and Yoshimi were good signs, but another pretty poor showing from Ono is a worry particularly when it's happening in Nagoya.

Two very different series that I think shows a little bit where each team is at. The Carp are still likely to be a force this year despite my predictions to the contrary while the Baystars feel to me to be in a similar position to where they were last year but with a bit more oompf to their pitching. The beginning of the season for the Dragons hasn't been one to write home about but I have faith it will pick up when things settle.

Good things to see so far is the consistency of Oshima who averaging .467 following the Baystars series and even though I keep criticising Viciedo, he does keep getting contact on the ball and taking his walks. He's sitting on a .435 average (With one whole extra base hit and 3 RBIs). As for the relieving pitchers, most haven't conceded a run yet with only Okada and Asao being the main culprits and both have been sent to the farm to tune up since. Tajima is the only reliever on the current roster that doesn't have a 0.00 ERA.

It was a tough week, but I always try to look at the positive like how the more games we play the closer Yanagi and Ogasawara are to returning to the first team or how close Viciedo is to murdering a meatball pitch and sending him on a 30 game homerun streak. I only ask for simple things.

Anyway, until next week, DORAHO~!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Opening round 2017: Dragons swept aside by dominant Giants

The opening series of 2017 at the Tokyo dome was one to forget for Dragons fans as the Yomiuri Giants marched to victory in all three outing. Weak starting pitching combined with poor management of the starters contributed to 2 losses while the Tajima closing experiment continued to fail when the crunch was on.

Game 1
Dragons 2 - 6 Giants

WP: Miles Mikolas 7IP 2ER 4SO                               Guerrero 4-2, Endo 4-2
LP: Yudai Ono 6IP 6ER 5SO                                      Nakai 3-2, Sakamoto 4-2, Abe 4-2
                                                                                     HR: Abe (1st), Sakamoto (5th)

A 2-run homer to Shinnosuke Abe in the first inning set the tone as the Giants bats took to Yudai Ono.
It would be Abe again to extend the lead to 3-0 in the 3rd, while Casey Macgee extended the margin of deficit to 4-0. The Dragons mounted a small fightback in the 5th as consecutive RBI's from Shota Sugiyama and Ono put the Dragons to 4-2, but a 2 run homer to Sakamoto in the 5th put the game to bed as the Giants put their stamp of authority of proceedings.
Surprisingly, Jordan Norberto came out of the bullpen to perhaps mark a new role for him this season while Takuya Mitsuma made his professional debut striking out Seiji Kobayashi for his first professional K. Yota Kyoda also made a starting debut over Naomichi Donoue where he impressed with smart baserunning particularly when he marched to second on a sac-fly from Shota Sugiyama that opened the scoring for the Dragons. His inning ending whiff however but a mild dampener on what was otherwise a good performance from the short-stop.

Game 2
Dragons 2-4 Giants

WP: Tetsuya Yamaguchi 1IP 0ER 2SO                      Oshima 4-3, Valdes 3-2
LP: Shinji Tajima 2/3 IP 3ER 1SO                             Abe 3-2
                                                                                    HR: Valdes (3rd), Abe (9th)

The Dragons took the lead through an unlikely source as starting pitcher Raul Valdes launched a solo dinger into the stands in the 3rd inning to put the Dragons up for the first time this year.
Naomichi made it 2-0 in the 4th as he knocked in Atsushi Fujii with a two-base hit. Valdes threw down 6 1/3 innings before Matayoshi, who gave up 1 run through a walk with loaded bases, and Sobue were brought in to hold onto the game. It was however to be Shinji Tajima who would not have the best start to his year, as he came out of the pen only to give up a 3-run walk-off homer to Shinnosuke Abe after giving up a hit to pinch-hitting Shuichi Murata and a walk to Hayato Sakamoto.
Valdes did his job, Sobue and Matayoshi did theirs, Tajima did not. This is also not the first time he's given up a big dinger in the final inning. I still don't think he's a closer. Atsushi Fujii and Naomichi Donoue came into the side today and did just as well as the players they replaced from the previous day's game which is a good sign of depth. Takuya Kinoshita also called the game from behind the plate in this one.

Game 3
Dragons 3 - 6 Giants

WP: Kan Otake 6IP, 3ER 3SO                                Guerrero 4-2, Viciedo 4-2
LP: Kazuki Yoshimi 6IP 6ER 5SO                         Abe 4-2, Sakamoto 4-2
                                                                                HR:Guerrero (1st), Hirata (7th)

Kazuki Yoshimi was to be the villain as he gave up 6 runs in his 6 innings pitched to mark a terrible performance by his lofty standards. The Dragons opened the scoring in the 1st as Viciedo knocked in Oshima while Alex Guerrero's first homer in the NPB put the Dragons 2-0 in the top of the 4th.
The team would be pegged back however 3 consecutive hits given up to the Giants allowed Abe to knock 2 in to even the scores at the bottom of the 4th inning. It was to only get worse in the 6th inning as Yoshimi took a battering giving up hits to Sakamoto and Abe to allow Macgee to up the scores while Kamei put the Giants 5 clear with a 2BH. The Dragons would scrape one back through Hirata in the 7th with his first homer of the season, but it was to be for naught as the Giants bullpen held on for the win.
The positives; Takuya Asao made his first 1-gun appearance in 554 days. He whiffed one batter in his one inning in relief. Hitoki Iwase also took the mound but walked two batters in a fairly average performance. Kyoda and Endo were rotated back into the team this game which makes me think there might be some platooning going on until we find someone consistent.

Wrap Up

All in all a pretty poor showing from the Dragons. I have a feeling the batting is still a ways to go as the line-up feels a bit disjointed at the moment. Guerrero, Viciedo and Hirata look like they'll be able to achieve something together, but those around them worry me. The biggest worry has to be Masahiro Araki as the veteran's declination is much clearer than it once was. His biggest asset, his glove has been on the downturn and hit bat has truly failed to live up to expectation as he only managed one hit in 13 plate appearances. It is understandable that the team want to push him to that magical number of 2000 hits, but if he's performing so poorly, it is hard to justify particularly with a young gun, Hayato Mizowaki, in behind him waiting for a chance.

I also completely disagree with Tajima as full-time closer. I don't see a future to this endeavour. I want to see Jorge Rondon given some time in that role as he has the stuff to make it happen. The only issue will be creating room for him in the roster given that there are only 4 spots for 6 foreign players on the roster.

Shigekazu Mori will be once again under the spotlight as he was quoted as saying that he didn't even think about a 3-loss beginning to the season. I don't think many do expect to be crushed that badly particularly when you consider the performers on show, but hey, a vintage Abe and a hot Sakamoto really did the damage to the Dragons this time around.

The team has a day to try and get their heads into gear as they take on last year's Central League pennant winners, the Hiroshima Carp for the first Dragons home series of the year in Nagoya.

Other points I'd like to make, I was waaaay off with my predictions for starting pitchers. I have very little idea who's going to take the mound in Nagoya given current events. Wakamatsu will probably be one of them. Yamai, Suzuki and Oguma have all been part of pretty poor pitching on the farm as the former 2 have been losing pitchers after giving up 4+ earned runs while Oguma gave up 2 in his last appearance in relief. This is....worrying to say the least. Tomoya Yagi seems to be the only other option but he too had a below average outing on the farm just recently too.