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Monday, April 8, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Baystars @Yokohama Stadium, 29 March - 31 March; So close yet so far

The Dragons faced up against the Baystars for their opening series to the 2019 season and it was to be an interesting battle between two teams at different stages. The Baystars look like they're only a gear away from contenders, while the Dragons look like a team that are a gear shift down from being cellar dwellars.

The results didn't go the Dragons way, but the contests were hard fought and there were some positives and some talking points to take away.
  • Game 1: Dragons 1-8 Baystars
  • Game 2: Dragons 9-2 Baystars
  • Game 3: Dragons 2-3 Baystars
Game 1 was nervy for both sides. Shotaro Kasahara did well in his first opening day appearance keeping the Baystars quiet for 5 innings. While the scoresheet looks clean, it could be said that the Stars failed to capitalize on some pretty average control from Kasahara. Jose Lopes in particular missed a very meaty looking curve ball high in the zone that only went for a double when it could have easily cleared the fence on another day. On the mound for the Stars, Shota Imanaga threw down 11 strikeouts in his outing to mark a good looking comeback. It all came apart for the Dragons when Shinji Tajima took the ground. A comedy of errors took place where 6 runs were scored against a terrible looking Chuncihi defense. Uncoordinated errors from Issei Endo in left, ironically a defensive replacement, and Takuma Kato made what should have been a much lighter outing for Tajima a much worse looking one. 

Game 2 saw an inexperienced DeNA starter in Masaya Kyoyama take to the mound against Daisuke Yamai who has an uncanny knack for getting results in Yokohama. The line-up clicked this time around piling on 14 hits with Ryosuke Hirata being the most effective going 4-3 with 3 RBIs. Shuhei Takahashi also showed his mettle belting 3 hits in 4 PA for a single RBI return. On the mound, Yamai threw down 5 before a relay of Oguma, Sobue, Rodriguez and Hiroshi Suzuki closed out the game.

Game 3 was to be a narrow loss with Yuya Yanagi taking the mound. After some early jitters and giving up a couple of runs, Yanagi settled into the game and pitched out 6 innings. The Dragons were able to put runs on the board through Dayan Viciedo's solo homer while a runs was scored while a misfiring Almonte ground out. With 2 runs a piece on the board and the bullpen reusing arms from the previous day, Ryosuke Oguma was sent out for the 9th where he took a battering giving up the winning runs to the stars in a walk-off loss.

Overall, I think we gave the Baystars a run for their money. The Stars look a bit inconsistent among some of the better play they've been able to show off. Running away with a win of Kyoyama isn't that much of an achievement given how young he is. Shota Imanaga showed his class against the line-up. Yanagi and the team battled well in the final game but were ultimately punished by lack of bullpen depth. One wonders that the thought process of not sending out Hiroshi Suzuki was similar to Buck Showalter's now infamous gaff for the Orioles vs the Blue Jays some years ago in the MLB Wild Card game, but as it wasn't as quite an important game, we'll give Yoda and Awano a pass.

On the topic of bullpen management, the team put out a plan with their pitchers and worked with it. Kasahara was obviously told 5 innings and he was pulled for a relay of Matayoshi, Tanimoto, Tajima despite pitching fewer than 100 pitches. Daisuke Yamai similarly went through a quick 5 innings for 60+ pitches and was pulled for along relay of Oguma, Sobue, Rodriguez and Suzuki. Yanagi was given a slightly longer leash with Sobue, Rodriguez and Oguma pitching out the rest of that game.

The first two games we saw no pitcher throw consecutive days, but it kinda happened in the third game. I can only assume the logic behind that was that with Monday being a rest day they would have time to rest. Or, quite simply, the three reliever that went out were better conditioned to throw consecutively than others. Sobue is a bit of a workhorse, Oguma has been stretched out as a starter many a time and Rodriguez knows how to get through some work too.
I'm overall just impressed that there is a fairly clear plan with how to manage players, at least starters. There seems to be a focus on what will be effective vs what might be a good experience which reflects what Yoda's rhetoric has been in the pre-season of aiming to win.

Apart from an awful first game, the following two matches gave me a lot of hope for what we can do in the future. Overall, cautiously optimistic given the bounce back. I'm so far really enjoying seeing Naomichi Donoue get regular time as his defence is a joy to watch while Shuhei has been firing on all cylinders. Some fans have commented that just about every position on this team outside of left-field and maybe catcher have a change at snagging a golden glove. I'm certainly excited by the potential. 

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