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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Swallows @Nagoya Dome, 10 April - 12 April; Shrewd Dragons sweep sorry Swallows

The Dragons coming off a series victory away to the Tigers would face off against a Swallows team hot off destroying the Giants at Jingu at Nagoya Dome.
Coming into the game news came about that Daisuke Matsuzaka would be spared as start in this series to be replaced by fellow veteran Kazuki Yoshimi who had been tuning up on the farm. The rotation of Yanagi and Garcia remained the same going into what proved to be quite a good series for the Dragons.

Game 10

Swallows 0 - 3 Dragons

Good things: Yanagi showing his ace potential, Almonte RBI getting
Bad things: Line-up being pretty quiet

Both bullpens got a rest as two young starters with star potential played out a wonderful pitching duel both tossing complete games.

Yuya Yanagi pitched a complete game shutout to claim the first of the season in the NPB and the first of his career as a Dragon. The Swallows struggled to find an answer against the former Meiji University captain as they only mustered two hits.

All 3 runs for the Dragons would come in the 3rd inning as Oshima and Almonte batted in the all important runs. But apart from that one little run there was very little else the Dragons could muster against Swallows young star, Juri Hara who himself pitched a complete game albeit having conceded 3 runs.
Ogasawara had a bit of fun with Yanagi to celebrate his CGSO

A great game if you love to watch pitchers. Yanagi took 6 strikeouts and gave up 2 walks in a 111 pitch complete game shutout while Juri Hara got through 8 innings of work with 5 strikeouts and 103 pitches. Two very similar stat lines.

Game 11

Swallows 3 - 8 Dragons

Good things: Pinch-hitter doing their job, Garcia and Almonte's celebration
Bad things: Fukuda's golden sombrero.

Onelki Garcia once again pitched a gem 5 innings with with 4Ks to set up the Dragons win. David Huff for the Swallows as well looked on his way to a no-no before it all fell apart in the bottom of the 5th where the new American signing got rocked by a Chunichi line-up that found it's groove.

Tetsuto Yamada had given the Swallows the lead in the top of the 5th, but with 2 outs and based loaded after walking Takuya Kinoshita, Garcia was replaced by the pinch-hitting Toshiki Abe. The utility infielder found his time to shine as his well placed double drove in 3 runs to give the Dragons the lead. Oshima's following single would drive Abe home, while Kyoda showed the same courtesy to his lead-off companion. At a 1-1 count, Almonte would go yard for a 2-run homer to load up 7 total runs for the Dragons in a demoralizing inning for the Swallows.

The scoring wouldn't stop there as the Tokyo side ran up another two runs off Sobue's pitching, but the buffer would be too great to overcome as Matayoshi, Suzuki and Tajima stopped any further score with Suzuki overcoming a bases loaded jam. Viciedo would find time to bat in another RBI in the 8th to round out the scoring at 8-3.

A game where the Dragons seized their opportunity when they were granted it. One wonders what Swallows manager Ogawa was thinking keeping Huff in for so long, but in the end it was to our benefit. Both Almonte and Garcia were pretty happy with the result.

Game 12

Swallows 4-9 Dragons

Good things: Sweepin', Zoilo dongin'
Bad things: The Swallows pitching

It would be a rematch made out of the 2011 Climax Series as Kazuki Yoshimi took on Shohei Tateyama. The two veterans were both the respective aces of their teams in that 2011 match-up but both have fallen somewhat from that perch. Yoshimi in my opinion has the higher floor and ceiling for that matter, but it's hard to know which Yoshimi will turn up these days.

Tateyama's night would not start off well as after walking the lead-off man, Oshima he proceeded to give up a double to Kyoda and 2-run homer to Zoilo Almonte. The Dominican switch-hitter launched his third homerun of the season into the 5th tier of the stands at Nagoya Dome with estimates of 130m (426 feet) the travelling distance. Truly massive but a beautiful swing to make it happen.
A Viciedo sac-fly would add more pain in the third inning while an Oshima triple in the 4th drove in two more. Oshima's triple marked his 9th consecutive year with a triple. Swallows would pull one back through a grounder but it was once again the Dragons to pile on the runs as the pinch-hitting Fujii drove home Kamezawa while a Kyoda single added in his 2nd RBI of the night. Viciedo's bases on balls with bases loaded would blow out the scoreline to 9-1.

After Yoshimi's quality start, Junki Ito threw down 2 scoreless innings escaping a bases loaded jam in the top of the 8th. 2015 second round pick, Yu Sato got the chance to make his first appearance of the year in the 9th. Sato would give up three runs, but would eventually seal a 9-4 victory and the Dragons first sweep of the year.

Almonte really turned it on in this series with the long-ball and the overall support from the line-up at key moments was a big reason for a good series of victories. Against a better pitching outfit, the Dragons will probably suffer a little bit as the Swallows were quite loose at times, but let's enjoy this feeling while we can! Doraho~!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Series Wrap: Dragons v Tigers @ Kyocera Dome, 6 April - 8 April: Ogasawara's first win, Line-up blues, The full Almonte

I always enjoy our games against the Tigers. It's always a tight battle and there is very rarely ever a clear winner. It also helps that one of my fellow bloggers, a Tigers fan, is an alright bloke.

This series takes place at Kyocera Dome which was where we opened the season in 2016. This was not only the first series I covered, but also one where Dayan Viciedo went absolutely berserk. (Game 1, 2, 3) Would this be an omen? Probably not, but it's always fun to reminisce.

Game 7

Dragons 3 - 2 Tigers

Good Points: Ogasawara quality start, Mori not overworking Ogasawara, Shuhei modasho
Bad Points: The line-up still done broke.

Shinnosuke Ogasawara would secure his first win of the season where he pitched a magical seven innings keeping the Tigers very honest giving up only 3 hits one of which was to render the two RBIs against Yoshio Itoi. Itoi opened the scoring for the Tigers in the 1st frame taking Ogasawara deep for 2-run homer after the Dragons had taken a 1-run lead through a Shintaro Fujinami wild pitch.

Fujinami would once again be at the centre of things in 5th inning as he loaded up the bases only to walk Yota Kyoda to give-up the equalising run. A pro-active Kanemoto went straight to the bullpen following and was able to keep the Dragons out until the 8th where a dribble single between second and first from Fukuda allowed Ryosuke Hirata to score.

It would be a tricky ending to the game in the 9th with Tajima on the mound as he gave up a lead-off double to Oyama. This followed by a sac-bunt from Itohara brought a pinch-runner in Ueda out with the Tigers catcher Umeno at the plate. The Tigers looked to be after a squeeze play and after Umeno dropped the bunt, Tajima's quick glove work to Matsui, his ensuing tag and throw to the first to enact the double ended what was to be a fairly anticlimactic ending for Tigers fans. At all seemed to end so suddenly and in such an odd fashion but the Dragons came away with the win.

In the analysis, there's a lot wrong with the way we bat. Whenever the lead-off hitters seem to get on base, the clean-up malfunctions and when the clean-up actually hits, it's when no one is on base. Oshima and Kyoda got on base 5 times between them in this game, but Almonte and Viciedo went hitless. The lower order seemed to click a bit better with Fukuda moving down to 7th pushing Hirata into 5th and Shuhei into 6th in the order. But still, they're not putting it together yet which is frustrating considering how reasonably well the team did last year in this department.

Game 8

Dragons 1 - 3 Tigers

Good points: Dillon Gee's arm not falling off, Hirata continuing to rack-up hits
Bad Points: Viciedo. Kyoda and Viciedo tacos (たこ or Tako in Japanese refers to ' octopus, which is round...like a zero. In this case, zero hits)

We seem to be able to get hits but not where it counts. The Dragons hit 8 to the Tigers 4 in this game, and still found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreline. Dillon Gee also pitched a 125 complete game for some reason. Why? Only Mori knows. He did pitch well I guess?

The Tigers took the lead in the first through an infield splittling RBI single from our beloved Kosuke Fukudome who continues to rake at a ripe old age of 40. The Tigers would increase their lead through an Oyama 2-run homer in the 4th and that would be just about it. The Dragons would get one back in the 6th through Almonte and had a good chance to convert more runs soon after but a strikeout from Fukuda ended hope there. With bases loaded in the 8th, Fukuda would shoot himself and the team in the foot once more hitting into a double play.

Fukuda and Viciedo, two projected important parts of the clean-up are both averaging under .200 with RISP. Viciedo in fact is averaging .100 despite otherwise hitting .323. Shuhei once again reached base twice today while Hirata reached 3 times. Shuhei and Hirata conversely average .375 with RISP and both sport OPS's in the .830 - 1.000 range. I think Hirata needs to be a candidate for taking Almonte's spot at 3 while Almonte drops to 4 or 5. Shuhei I'm quite happy to keep where he is as I think the extra protection has helped his production. Viciedo's lack of ability with RISP is very concerning. He has never been all that strong in this regard (2016: .232, 2017: .196) which makes me wonder how much of his struggles are mental. He's a good hitter when he's on but something seems to happen to him when runners are on second or third base.

A disappointing loss and a game that requires a lot of reflection.

Game 9

Dragons 9-7 Tigers

Good Points: Almonte finding the middle of his bat, Kasahara QS, Kyoda Modasho
Bad Points: Matayoshi stealing Kasahara's win by being bad, Ono getting beaned

I've written each of these reports after each game and I have to eat my words about Zoilo Almonte very quickly as he went 5-4 with 4 RBIs to lead the Dragons to a 9-7 victory over the Tigers to capture the first series win of the season.

The line-up came together well with Almonte finding form and Hirata backing him up in the #5 slot.
Shotaro Kasahara started the game against veteran Tigers southpaw Atsushi Nomi. Kasahara got through a tidy 6 innings work that only included 2 walks and one earned run. Nomi conversely only lasted 4.1 innings after, perhaps unluckily, giving up 5 runs. His replacement Ishizaki would however get tossed after he beaned Shota Ono with bases loaded. Ono was withdrawn for Masato Matsui immediately after. Early reports suggest that the result is just bruising.

With the score at 5-1 things were looking comfortable particularly with a relatively strong bullpen to come, but one of those pillars of the set-up gang, Katsuki Matayoshi, had a particularly bad day at the office giving up all manner of hits and walks to give the Tigers a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the 7th. It was not however to last long however as Mateo of the Tigers continued the theme of generally reliable relievers having a bad day. 2 walks and an infield hit later, Zoilo Almonte was brought to the plate where his well timed single drove in two runs for the visitors while a Hirata single moments later would push the score to 6-9. Oyama would chalk one up for the hosts in the 9th off Tajima's pitching, but that would be all she wrote in a topsy turvy game of good relievers having a bad day.

A first series win to start the season. I still reserve judgement on the bats, but they got through their work in game 3 after struggling for the first few games. Almonte at #3 may still work while Hirata seems like a good fit at 5. Viciedo's longevity at 4 concerns me however as while he averages .343 with a .995 OPS as of Sunday's game, he has an average of .083 with RISP. I guess it's only a matter of time, but I am concerned he's seizing up when opportunities present themselves.

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!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Opening Series 2018: Swept by the Carp, and you're to blame

A rather maudlin start to the season as for the second time in two years, the Dragons were swept in the opening series ushering in an uncanny, strange deja vu (points for those that get that reference) on fans. We were once again treated to the same only same old at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium as the Carp continued their spell of dominance deftly deflecting any kind of challenge the Dragons dared to make.

Game 1
Dragons 3 - 6 Carp

Good things: Ogasawara starts, not getting blanked, Yota Kyoda
Bad things: Ogasawara getting shelled, lower line-up ineffective

The Dragons didn't get off to a great start. Ogasawara's two walks in the first inning gave the Carp the first runs off a sac fly, but the Dragons would even it up with a Marty McSacfly of their own through Masato Matsui, surprising everyone in starting over Shota Ono. The Carp would nudge ahead again in the following inning but the Dragons would take a short lived lead in the 6th after Kyoda failed to bunt when Oshima was on second but with two strikes on the board, Kyoda hit a single to even things up. A double play hit into by Viciedo would put the Dragons ahead as Kyoda glided home from third. It wouldn't last however as Kosuke Tanaka of the Carp's double but the Hiroshima side back in front and further misery was piled on Shinnosuke Ogasawara who was withdrawn in the 7th.  Daisuke Sobue and Junki Ito pitched out the game but it was a not so good performance from the team overall.

Game 2
Dragons 2 - 6

Good things: Zoilo homer, Fuku-chan homer, Modasho and 2 bags for Kyoda, Gee debut
Bad things: Gee debut
Dat flip.

Dat swing.

Dillon Gee had a pretty bad introduction to Japanese baseball as he was rocked 5 earned runs in 6 innings. The Dragons actually had the lead in the 3rd through Fukuda's solo shot, but it was to be taken back abruptly in the 4th by Hiroshima as a whole heap of control issue ranging from walks to dead balls saw the Gee give up 4 runs very quickly. Almonte would be responsible for a fumble that cost his team runs but it wouldn't change much as a Maru 2-run homer put the Carp clear at 6-1. Almonte's homer in the 8th was a small consolation, and good on him for getting that monkey off his back, but when you don't even force the Carp to bring out their closer for a save position it's a sad affair. Shinji Tajima and Katsuki Matayoshi however got their first innings of the season both going scoreless.

Game 3

Dragons 3 - 8 Carp

Good things: Dingers, Hiroshi Suzuki's debut
Bad things: Tanimoto's pitching

You'd think in a game where we hit three homers we'd have a decent chance. Well, not when there's no runners in front. Viciedo hit his first and second homers of the season while Hirata also chipped in with his first dong of the season.
Shotaro Kasahara started the game against Daichi Ohsera and looked good to begin with. The lefty pitched 6 innings for 4 earned runs which isn't too bad given his relative inexperience. Keisuke Tanimoto soiled the proverbial however giving up 4 in his one inning of relief. A triple to Mejia, a 2BH to Kikuchi, a walk to Maru and a homer to Eldred racked up 4 earned runs for the former Ham Fighter. Hiroshi Suzuki would however come out of the pen for the first time in his career and pitch out a scoreless frame recording 2 strikeouts and recording a velocity of 155 km/h in the process.
Viciedo swats one into left.
Hirata goes boom.
Overall as series we'll forget real quick. There were some good things to consider but it doesn't spell well for the future if the Carp are still that far ahead of us. At least going into the one day break we have equal top homerun leader (Viciedo) and overall steals leader (Kyoda) so that's something?

It also rounds up a very sad record for the Dragons in Hiroshima who have only won 4 games here since 2016.

Almonte's defence was something to be desired during these three games and on Monday he was put through a grueling training session to help him with his deficiencies. His inability to track on day 1 meant Tanaka scored 2 instead of none and errors fielding for Gee just highlighted a poor glove.

Funny thing to come out of the media is what they should be calling a game where both Viciedo and Almonte hit homeruns in. The suggestion as been "an AV double bang" (rough translation enhanced for innuendo). For those not in the know, AV in Japan is "adult video" so..you know...naked people doing naked things. The club spokesperson has however told the media not to do this and essentially "please think of the children.