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Monday, May 27, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Swallows @Meiji Jingu Stadium, 24 May - 26 May; Dragons complete first Jingu sweep in 6 years

Well, who would have thought after the drubbing at the hands of Carp that the Dragons would be able to come back and sweep the Swallows on their home turf? Not many. The Swallows have been in wretched form as they were on an 8 game skid coming into this series. The Dragons haven't exactly been setting the league alight in May aside from a certain Shuhei Takahashi and the newer side of the rotation going into Jingu was always going to lower expectations a little. All said and done however, the Dragons completed a sweep of the Swallows for the first time since 2013 and only the second time since 2003. This also gave Tsuyoshi Yoda his first 3-game sweep as manager.

  • Game 44: Dragons 6-1 Swallows
  • Game 45: Dragons 10-3 Swallows
  • Game 46: Dragons 10-8 Swallows
Game 44
Akiyoshi Katsuno was given his second round in the rotation following his quality start against the Giants last Friday. The Gifu native put up another fine 6.2 frames against Swallows #1 starter, Yasuhiro Ogawa. Katsuno's only blemish was a lead-off solo homerun given up to Vladimir Balentien in the 7th. Katsuno was perhaps lucky not to get roughed up a bit more toward the end of his start, but he held on and the Swallows kept swinging at air to allow him another quality start to begin his professional career. 

On the batting side, it was a red-hot Shuhei Takahashi, the gift that keeps on giving, hammering in 3RBIs going 5-3 for the night with a steal. Yohei Oshima chimed in with 2 RBIs of his own going 4-4 with a steal of his own bringing up his 200th career stolen bag. The lineup seemingly kicked it's poor hitting hoodoo that it faced against the carp wracking up 13 hits to the Swallows 5 in a fairly dominant performance. Keisuke Tanimoto would strike-out one batter after relieving Katsuno in the 7th while Raidel Martinez and Hiroshi Suzuki finished off the game. 

Steven Moya would return to 1-gun action in this game replacing Enny Romero in the squad and Issei Endo in the line-up. Romero has 10 days to cool-off before possibly being recalled.

Game 45
The bats would be alight once more as they guided Yuya Yanagi to his 4th win of the season on the back of 10 runs and 16 hits. The Swallows and Dragons went tit for tat for much of the game where the Swallows slammed 3 solo homeruns that were nibbled back by a Naomichi Donoue homer and some Shuhei Takahashi magic. 

It all came apart for the Swallows in the 8th. Scott MacGuff had pitched the previous inning and with one out left to go allowed the flood gates to open as Kosuke Ito's single was followed up by a Yohei Oshima single to score Shota Ono. MacGuff was quickly withdrawn for Ren Kazuhari who promptly loaded the bases by walking Dayan Viciedo A two-base hit to Shuhei and a wild pitch later and the Dragons were left sitting pretty at 10-3 going into the bottom of the 8th. Joely Rodriguez and Toshiya Okada would clean-up the game it what turned out to be an emphatic win. 

Yanagi only got through 5 innings while Shinji Tajima and Raidel Martinez held on to the lead before the blowout in the 8th. With the bat, Shuhei once again shone, going 4-3 with 4 RBIs bringing his season average up to .337. Kosuke Ito, the 19 year-old picked up his first career modasho while Yohei Oshima joined the modasho party as well, going 4-3 with 2 RBIs adding to his recent purple patch. The returned Steven Moya picked his first two hits of 2019 to contribute to a solid victory. 

Game 46

With the series win already in hand, it was a typical hold-onto-your-butts game on Sunday. A game that you'd typically expect the Dragons to lose in a walk-off somehow managed to become a win. 

The Swallows took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to Munetaka Murakami and perpetual-thorn-in-our-side, Keiji Obiki. Naomichi Donoue's 2-run homer in the top of the second however would bring the Dragons back in touching distance. 
The Swallows weren't done as Norichika Aoki, Tetsuto Yamada and Vladimir Balentien hit back-to-back-to-back homeruns off the pitching of Tatsuya Shimizu. The young 19 year-old pitcher was not to be shaken as he struck out Murakami and claimed a double play to escape the inning. 

The Dragons would respond with a minor homerun deluge of their own as Shuhei Takahashi hit a solo while Donoue responded with his second of the night with a solo jack of his own.

Shuhei would put the Dragons on level terms in the bottom of the 5th with a 2RBI single while a 3-run homer from Steven Moya put the visitors ahead 9-3.

The Swallows would however keep up the fight and some poorly executed pitching from Ryosuke Oguma, who, with two outs on the board let himself get behind in the count and get punished for it as a Taishi Hirooka single to left-field was unfortunately fumbled by Kosuke Ito allowing 2-runs. to put the Swallows 1 run away from the Dragons. The bullpen was able to hold their nerve leading into the 9th with Keisuke Tanimoto, Raidel Martinez and Joely Rodriguez keeping clean frames. Yohei Oshima would give the Dragons a cushion in the top of the 9th after he scored Toshiki Abe, but a misjudged run to second base ended the inning prematurely. 

Enter the 9th, enter the SuzuKimbrel. Hiroshi Suzuki experience has been an interesting one this year and despite his woes, he leads the Central League in saves. Suzukimbrel walked one batter, as is custom, before he got out of jail following some bizarre 'throw and hope' pitching that saw Balentien hit into a double play to end the game. 

Well, we did it. A series that gave me plenty of cardiovascular exercise was to be a successful one for the team. The first sweep under Yoda and the first sweep at Jingu since 2013 under Morimichi Takagi. You have to go back to 2003 to find another. 

Shuhei Takahashi has been simply on fire this month. With his 8th modasho (3-hit game), Shuhei has equalled the record for a month held by Giants legend Tetsuharu Kawakami and Ichiro among others. Shuhei became the 8th man to do so. There's still a few games left in May for him to break the  record. Shuhei is averaging .451 for the month including 26 RBIs and 2 homeruns. Needless to say his BABIP is ridiculously high at .392 which means, well, all good things have to come to an end. His IsoP (isolated power) is however around .194 which is actually higher than Dayan Viciedo and only a tick below Ryosuke Hirata's rate this year. (Fukuda's is .247 but has achieved that in 70 or so less plate appearances)

Steven Moya marked a triumphant return particularly in game 3 where his homer ended up being the different between the two teams. Enny Romero has been swapped out for Moya to give the line-up more power after the loss of Ryosuke Hirata. He'll have to further make-up for the loss of Nobumasa Fukuda as well who was out of action in game 3 following a wrist injury to his right hand. He should be back in a couple of weeks.

With Enny Romero out of the picture for at least 10 days, Takuma Achira will go some way to taking his place in the rotation as he'd scheduled to start against the Baystars at Nagaragawa Stadium in Gifu prefecture on Tuesday night. Yudai Ono will likely follow up the following day but it's yet to be seen who will pitch on Thursday as we've been lucky the past couple of weeks with a couple of 2-day series where only Ono and Romero have pitched. It's likely we'll see a return of Kazuki Yoshimi in my opinion as he has pitched well in his refitting shifts on the farm.

With Fukuda and Hirata out, it may be very difficult to slide Romero back into the team without perhaps "resting" one of either Raidel Martinez or Joely Rodriguez. Problem is, can the team afford to do that? Then that brings up the question of Zoilo Almonte who would certainly add some extra pep to the line-up.

Otherwise, Hayato Mizowaki who was ruled out early in this series was diagnosed with a hamate bone fracture in his write hand and will undergo surgery. The same injury befowled prodigious Fighters slugger, Kotaro Kiyomiya last year. It looks like Mizowaki will be out completely for 6-8 weeks.

Masato Matsui as well, who was sent down at the same time, has been diagnosed with a triangular fibrocartilage complex injury and will likely be out for two weeks.

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