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Monday, June 24, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Fighters @ Nagoya Dome 21 June - 23 June; Dragons trot out a sweep to finish interleague.

What's the best medicine after you've just been swept? Ham! I mean, sweeping the Fighters, of course! The Nippon Ham Fighters were the unlikely recipients of a Dragons sweep just after the home team had it handed to them by the Lions.

  • Game 67: Fighters 2-4 Dragons
  • Game 68: Fighters 1-6 Dragons
  • Game 69: Fighters 4-8 Dragons

Game 67 
The Dragons came out of the block all guns blazing as Shuhei Takahashi's 3-run homer in the first inning gave the team an early lead. 

The Fighters would nab one back in the 3rd but a Viciedo solo shot in the 6th would be enough to secure victory despite Sho Nakata answering in kind in the 9th. 

Yuya Yanagi would earn his 8th win of the season while Raidel Martinez would clean up with his 3rd save.For the batter, Toshiki Abe has a modasho for his efforts. 

Game 68
Kazuki Yoshimi's first start in some time would be a successful one as he fanned 6 batters in 5.2 innings against Chihiro 
Kaneko. A battle of control pitchers that were, it was Yoshimi that came out on top. 

Yohei Oshima and Dayan Viciedo go things moving in the 3rd with a rally of hits while the Fighters came back within 1 run with Wang Po-Jung's pinch-hit single in the 5th. Ryosuke Hirata and Yota Kyoda would rack up 2 more runs for the home-team in the 6th while Oshima rounded out the scoring in the bottom of the 8th with his RBI single. 

Game 69
The Fighters put up Koshien darling, Kosei Yoshida for the final game of interleague with the Dragons putting forward Enny Romero.

The game would start with a bang as Sho Nakata launched a 2-run jack in the top of the first inning. It was a short lived lead however as Yoshida gave up consecutive hits and a walk to the top of the order. Dayan Viciedo would capitalize with an equalizing two-base hit while a sac-fly from Shuhei Takahashi would give the Dragons the lead.

Shuhei would be instrumental in increasing the lead with a double to score Yohei Oshima in the 3rd while Toshiki Abe joined in the fun to push the lead to 5-2. Haruki Nishikawa would pull one back for the Fighters before another Shuhei-Oshima combo from a grounder allowed restored the 3 run buffer. Taishi Ohta would give his team some hope as he capitalised on Toshiya Okada's wayward pitching but consecutive extra base hits from Issei Endo and Ryosuke Hirata ended the game at 8-4.

Oshima was very much the hero scoring three times with a modasho. Shuhei and Viciedo did the damage with the bats racking up 5 RBIs between them.

A great series win to bounce back after a trouncing by the Lions and overall a nice way to close out interleague play.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Lions @ Nagoya Dome 18 June - 20 June; Battle of the Domed ends in Lions roaring to victory

The Seibu Lions gave the Dragons a lesson in Dome-meistery as they went ballistic on a hapless pitching staff that surrendered 23 runs over the course of the series.

The first sweep loss of the season was against an unlikely foe in the Lions who haven't been setting things alight in the Pacific League compared to last year's pennant run, but it was more than enough to show what happens when your roll out slingshots to take down a regiment of tanks.

  • Game 64: Lions 16-2 Dragons
  • Game 65: Lions 5-2 Dragons
  • Game 66: Lions 2-1 Dragons
Game 64
You want a disaster? This is how you get a disaster! Takuma Achira got rocked for 8 runs through his unfortunate 4.1 innings while Junki Ito gave up another 8 in his first appearance of the season. 

The Lions line-up saw everyone on fire as the majority of batters hit 2 or more as they amassed 18 hits for the game. The Dragons only real reply was in the third innings when an Yohei Oshima single and a Dayan Viciedo sac-fly put 2 runs on the board. Among the mayhem, Oshima and Atsushi Fujii were the only Dragons to have multi-hit games while, outside of Achira and Ito, the pitcher put in good enough shifts with Hiroto Fuku, Keisuke Tanimoto, Daisuke Sobue and Toshiya Okada keeping clean frames. 

Unsurprisingly, Takuma Achira was removed from the first team after this performance. 

Game 65
Under the pitching of Yudai Ono, the Dragons would fare much better against the Lions in the second game of the series. The Dragons help the lead through ground ball scrampble where Shuhei Takahashi scored from third of Takuma Kato's bat. Kato and Shuhei would once again combine as the former once again scored the latter to give the team the lead.

Yudai Ono on the mound dealt 4.1 no-hit innings before Takeya Nakamura nabbed a single in the 5th. It would Nakamura again who would haunt as his 2-run homer in the top of the 7th would level things for the Lions.

Confident in his starter, Yoda sent Ono out for the 9th inning and was unfortunately burned by the decision as Ono loaded the bases which allowed Nakamura to score 2 on a single. Yuji Kaneko would extend the Lions lead to 3 before Toshiya Okada got the Dragons out of a jam to end the inning. 

The reply in the bottom of the 9th would start in earnest with Atsushu Fujii's lead-off single followed by a Hotaru Yamakawa fumble allowing Yota Kyoda to stand on first. Takuma Kato would unfortunately hit into a double-play while the pinch-hitting Donoue would fall to a 150 km/h fastball from Tatsushi Masuda. 

Ono has been really good this year going deep into games and it's easy to say in hindsight that he should have been pulled earlier. I guess however with the previous evening's bullpen run-out fresh in Yoda's mind and the fact Ono was still under 100 pitches by the 9th meant that keeping him in was a good decision. Perhaps keeping him in with runners on 1st and 2nd may not have been the wisest decision in retrospect, but you win some, you lose some. 

Game 66

Ryosuke Hirata would make his return from injury as Daisuke Yamai would duel Zach Neal to avoid the sweep. The veteran pitcher did a decent job of things after early jitters in the second inning where Hotaru Yamakawa sent him yard and Fumikazu Kimura scored Tomoya Mori on a scuttled ground ball. 

Shuhei Takahashi would respond for the Dragons as Yohei Oshima ran home despite the former grounding into a double play. 

Both starters would go 5 innings a piece before the bullpen shut down things for both teams. Hiroto Fuku recorded 3 K's in his 1.2 innings of relief to really show how well he's done since coming back from injury last year. Daisuke Sobue and Joely Rodriguez would soak up the remaning innings in what would be a close loss.

Overall a series with little to write home about. The Dragons were completely  outclassed by an explosive Lions line-up that looked just as much at home in Nagoya as they do at the Seibu Dome. The contrast of the have-pops and the pop-less was quite stark in this series as it completely revealed how little power the Dragons line-up actually has. 

A disappointing series. Next up, the Fighters at home.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Marines @ ZoZo Marine Stadium 14 June - 17 June; Bullpen blowup but wily wins in rain extended series

Another road trip, this time to the East took the Dragons to a visit to the Chiba Marines. The Marines have been hitting long-balls like no other team this season somewhat in thanks to their "homerun lagoons" added to the stadium this year but it hasn't been enough to see them as an established force.

A series of high emotions highlighted by a walk-off loss in game two of the series had Dragons fans in all-sorts but it was ultimately another successful series on the road.

On a personal note, this marks 6 years since I saw my first NPB game in the same fixture back in 2013. Both teams have changed somewhat dramatically since then; probably for the best.
  • Game 61: Dragons 4-1 Marines
  • Game 62: Dragons 7-8 Marines
  • Game 63: Dragons 5-4 Marines
Game 61

Yuya Yanagi was on fire in his start against the Marines as he threw down a complete game surrendering only one run, a Brandon Laird homer. Yanagi fanned 13 batters through his 9 innings for his 7th win and first complete game of the season. 
The Dragons took the lead through Shuhei Takahashi in the 4th but Laird's homer evened things up in the 7th. The Dragons would however pile on the pressure in the 9th against Kota Futaki, also on the road to a complete game up until that point. Yohei Oshima stole second whole a poor throw allowed him to advance to third. Dayan Viciedo would give the Dragons the lead with an RBI single while Shuhei Takahashi blasted a 2-run jack into the back screen to give the Dragons breathing space and ultimately the win. 
A great pitchers battle ended in a survival of the fittest as Yanagi outlasted Futaki over the course of 9 innings. While Yanagi championed on the mound, it was Shuhei with the bat, going 4-3 with 3RBIs that won it for his team.

Game 62

Saturday's game was rained out and the fixtures were shifted a day. Game 62 of the Dragons season would start on Sunday with Tatsuya Shimizu on the mound against Mike Bolsinger

The Dragons took the ascendancy in the 2nd with Atsushi Fujii and Yota Kyoda batting in a run a piece. Kyoda would follow up with an RBI single in the 4th while Yohei Oshima would add another in the 5th innings. Kyoda would then notch his 3rd RBI of the night with a 3-base hit in the top of the 6th. 

The Marines would claim a run back in the 7th through Daiichi Suzuki but further scoring plays from Kyoda and Masataka Iryo pushed the Dragons to a comfortable lead in the top of the 8th. Another solo homer to Hiromi Oka in the bottom of the inning would take some wind out of the sails, but all was well leading in to the 9th inning.

Shinji Tajima was rolled out with a 5-run buffer where he would promptly throw 3 of them away firstly giving up another solo homerun to Daiichi Suzuki. Tajima left runners on 1st and 3rd before being pulled for Raidel Martinez. The lofty Cuban however would have no answers as he gave up hits to Shogo Nakamura and Yuta Fujioka to restrict the Dragons lead to just one run. Martinez was able to take care of Ryuyhei Tamura but a hit and a walk later Martinez was withdrawn. Joely Rodriguez would take the mound in a high pressure, bases loaded situation where, on a 3-2 count, gave up the winning hit to Suzuki to give the Dragons their second walk-off loss in 3 games. 

The Dragons had no answer to Daiichi Suzuki's clutch hitting and the mentality wasn't there for the pitchers to hold onto a large lead in the 9th inning. On the balance of the game however, it deserved to be a close finish as Shimizu got away with a bit after he had 5 hits an 5 walks off his pitching. 

With the bat, it was Yota Kyoda who shone brightest with his 2 hits and 3 RBIs. Masataka Iryo also managed his second career modasho while Oshima, Nobumasa Fukuda and Fujii all had 2-hit games.

We may have bemoaned Hiroshi Suzuki continually shouldering runners, but he never quite blew up quite like Martinez has...

A video of Yota Kyoda kicking up a fuss at the end of the game has been found when he kicks the edge of the dugout flinging his glove on the ground in frustration. If nothing else, this has increased my love of him. Mentally, very strong and absolutely hates losing. Given the performance he put in on the night, one can hardly blame him.

Game 63

Before anything started, news of Shinji Tajima's demotion hit camp with Junki Ito coming in to replace him.

An unusual Monday game in Chiba was greeted by an Enny Romero in search of his 4th win of the season. Romero was able to rip 11Ks from the Lotte line-up despite giving up 4 runs, including a Shogo Nakamura 2-run blast in the 2nd. 

The Dragons put up 4 runs in the 4th off Lotte rookie, Toshiya Nakamura. Yohei Oshima, Dayan Viciedo, Nobumasa Fukuda and Atsushi Fujii all got among the RBIs to cancel out Nakamura's homer in the 2nd. The lead would be pushed to 3 runs in the top of the 6th through Viciedo scoring Oshima after he stole second base. 

The Marines would take the game within one run after 2011 Japan Series nemesis, Ikuhiro Kiyota doubled and then was scored by Hiromi Oka. Takashi Ogino would then in turn score Oka to put the scores at 4-5. 

The Raidel Martinez experience would cause some nerves as he gave up a leadoff double to Oka. A skillful bunt from Ryuhei Tamura would put runners on 1st and 3rd to further the clench. To make matters worse, pinch-runner Ryo Miki would steal second to increase the pressure on Martinez to get his outs. Surely with the previous evening fresh in his mind, Martinez struck out Ogino, aided in the ground out of Yuta Fujioka and struck out Daiichi Suzuki to end the game in style. Not something the team will want to see repeated again. If this is going to be a feature of the Dragons games, they're going to have to show a cardiac arrest warning before broadcast, or at least before Martinez pitches...

Viciedo was the best of the bats with 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Romero had a solid, dangerous outing, while the all-Latin American relay of Joely Rodriguez and Raidel Martinez closed out the game.

A series that the Dragons will take. It was hard fought and they were perhaps unlucky not to claim a sweep. Questions will remain of Raidel Martinez as closer but there's nothing to say he won't grow into the role. The key issue however will be replacing him when he leaves for international duty next month. That's roughly 20 games where we'll need to decide on a different set-up pattern.

In some good news, Ryosuke Hirata made big progress in his rehabilitation from a calf strain as he started on the farm on today and otherwise seemed to have a lot of fun doing it.
The Dragons will be back in Nagoya on the 18th for a 3-game series against the Seibu Lions.

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Buffaloes @ Kyocera Dome, 11 June - 13 June; In battle for blurst of blurst, Dragons are winners.

The Dragons took on the Pacific League cellar dwellars, the Orix Buffaloes, in their next series. The Buffaloes are a team that would probably be bottom in either league. They had two top line starters taken from them in the off-season in Chihiro Kaneko and Yuki Nishi while the line-up itself is far from intimidating.

Before the series began, Shuehi Takahashi was awarded the MVP for the month of May as he batted .417 with 3 homeruns and 29 RBIs. The first such award of his career.

A chance to win a series, the Dragons went to Osaka optimistic of a result and walked away with a series win.

  • Game 58: Dragons 2-1 Buffaloes
  • Game 59: Dragons 6-2 Buffaloes
  • Game 60: Dragons 5-6 Buffaloes

Game 58
The first game of the series was decided is less than convincing fashion as a wild pitch from Taisuke Kondo allowed former Buffalo, Taiki Mitsumata to advance to second before he was scored by a Yohei Oshima single.

The Buffaloes only run of the game came in the 6th inning to level things up after Atsushi Fujii had give the Dragons the lead in the 2nd. It wasn't even to come off the Buffaloes' bat as Keisuke Tanimoto had issues locating his pitches as he walked in Shuhei Kojima.

A low scoring affair where you can't really say even the pitchers dominated. Yoshinobu Yamamoto on the mound for the Buffaloes was probably the most outstanding player in the game as he threw down 7 inning and 6 Ks. Takuma Achira put in some good work as he got through 5.2 IP for just 2 strikeouts.  Toshiya Okada would however claimed the win while Joely Rodriguez and Raidel Martinez closed things out. Martinez appears to be the new closer after the team had fiddled around with the late innings relief.

Game 59
Yudai Ono would put in another quality start as he guided his team to victory.
Taisuke Kondo would once again be the villain for the Buffaloes as he gave up 4 earned runs. The Dragons vastly out-hit their opponents 13-2 in a deserved victory.

Takuma Kato's RBI single in the 2nd inning would give the Dragons an early lead that would be immediately pegged back in the bottom of the 3rd via Kodai Sano who equalised and Shuhei Fukuda who gave the home team the lead. Yohei Oshima would put the team on level terms when he scored Masataka Iryo in the 5th but it was an explosion of runs in the 8th against Kondo that would secure the victory. Yota Kyoda would give his team the lead with a single into left with bases loaded. Masataka Iryo would 2-up his team-mate however when he hit a base-clearing triple to blow the lead out to 4 run. Some shaky moments from Joely Rodriguez in the bottom of the inning would spice up the match-up but a 3 up, 3 down inning from Raidel Martinez ensured a comfortable win.

The star of the show, apart from Ono, was surprisingly, Masataka Iryo. Batting lead-off he managed a single, two doubles and a triple including the all important 3 RBI triple to seal the game late on. Yohei Oshima, Atsushi Fujii and Yota Kyoda all chipped in with 2 hits a piece.

Game 60
The final game of the series would be one to forget as a poor outing from Raidel Martinez decided the game. Daisuke Yamai (Known to some as 病 (yamai; same reading as his name but means "illness") would be paired up with Masataka Iryo (医療; iryo; same reading as his name but means "medicine") where one hoped the latter would help the former to lead the team to victory

Yamai was able to get through 6 innings with only a Stefan Romero homer blemishing his record. It was however to be an inning that would undo all of the Dragons hard work as 2 more runs were bled by Toshiya Okada and Daisuke Sobue.  Thge Dragons had taken a 3-0 lead in the top of the inning through a Shuhei Takahashi grounder and a Nobumasa Fukuda RBI single with loaded bases.

Eager to atone, the Dragons went on the offensive against experienced closer
Hirotoshi Masui where, with two outs on the board and runners on 1st and 2nd, Fukuda came again to the rescue with sweeping 2-base hit to give the Dragons a 3-5 lead going into the bottom of the 9th. Raidel Martinez would however botch it as he loaded the bases, walked one in and had Masataka Yoshida claim an RBI on a ground-out to even the scores. Stefan Romero would give the Buffs a walk-off win with a single into left field scoring Shuhei Fukuda.

Iryo did his best to medicate Yamai's innings as hit two singles. Dayan Viciedo went 3-3 to claim a modasho while Nobumasa Fukuda was the most study, going 3-2 with 4 RBIs.

Say what you might about the maligned, Hiroshi Suzuki, but he never surrendered more than 1-2 runs per outing. Suzuki seems to be able to mentally reset himself even if he gives up runs whereas Martinez, at least in this case, seemed to get nervous.

Overall, a series win is a series win but it wasn't a pretty series in the least.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Eagles @Nagoya Dome, 7 June - 9 June; Dragons fail to escape from Eagles' talons

The Rakuten Golden Eagles have been on a decent run of form this year despite the loss of ace, Takahiro Norimoto to injury early on this year. Rakuten aren't quite as formidable as many of the other Pacific League teams in general, but having to face up to Hideto Asamura, Jabari Blaish and Takayuki Kishi is not an easy task in any case. They are leading the Pacific League for a reason.

The Dragons were able to take the first game on the back of some 1-run Yuya Yanagi pitching and an explosive performance from the line-up, but unfortunately the line-up used up all it's alotted runs in the first game to end a series of what should have been in a familiar tale of losing my small margins.

  • Game 55: Eagles 3-13 Dragons 
  • Game 56: Eagles 2-1  Dragons
  • Game 57: Eagles 5-2 Dragons
Game 55

The Dragons scored in every inning this game as they gave the Eagles hell to pay. The main highlight of the game came from Atsushi Fujii as he hit a 3-run jack in the bottom of the second inning in his second plate appearance with the top team this year.
Dayan Viciedo was the best of the batters as he claimed a modasho and 2 RBIs while Fujii went 4-2 with 3 RBI, and Shingo Takeyama chipped in with 3-2 and 2 RBI. On the mound, Yanagi threw down 7 innings including 5 strikeouts in a professional outing while Hiroto Fuku and Shinji Tajima both gave a run up each closing out the game. 

Game 56

Takayuki Kishi would shut-down the Dragons in the next game of the series as he pitched 7 , 1-run innings backed up by former major leaguer Alan Busenitz and Yuki Matsui out of the pen. 

Enny Romero would start the game and would give up his first run of the game through a Yuya Ogo grounder after the bases had been loaded by a dead ball. The Dragons would even things up in the 6th through a Shuhei Takahashi infield single but a suicide squeeze pulled off by Ogo once again would prove to be the winning run in the top of the 7th as the Rakuten pen shut down the rest of the game. 

Romero took an NPB career best 10Ks in this game but was on the unfortunate end of some tactful small ball baseball. A combination of Toshiya Okada, Keisuke Tanimoto and Raidel Martinez finished the game for the Dragons who claimed 12Ks in all for what was not a bad pitching performance. 

With the bats Shuhei Takahashi was the only man to get 2-hits or more and also the only one to claim an RBI. Yohei Oshima otherwise claimed his 16th steal of the season.

Game 57

Tatsuya Shimizu would be found out of his depth as the Eagles took to him in the 3rd inning as Hideto Asamura and Jabari Blaish put up 3 runs. Shuhei Takahashi would claim one back for the home team in the 4th through a double but the Eagles would immediately reply with a loaded bases single from Ginji and a walk from 2018 Draft 1st pick outfielder, Ryosuke Tatsumi. Masataka Iryo would at least make the Eagles bring out their closer as he scored Taiki Mitusmata in the bottom of the 7th, but that would be all she wrote for the Dragons as the stonewall of Alan Busenitz and Yuki Matsui once again kept the team out from a come back. 

Tatsuya Shimizu got rocked for 5 runs; a performance that showed he is still a raw, 19 year old talent. The bullpen otherwise put up a decent perforamcne as Hiroto Fuku, Daisuke Sobue and Toshiya Okada put together a combined 8Ks over 4.2 innings pitched.  

On the batting side, Shuhei Takahashi continues to defy my doomsaying as he notched another modasho, going 3-3 with an RBI and a walk. When will the Shuhei crazy train slow down? I really don't know anymore but I'm sure it will eventually. It's just a matter of when and I'm afraid the longer this form continues, that harder the fall is going to be. 

The next series will be against the ailing Orix Buffaloes at Kyocera Dome. Nobumasa Fukuda will return to the top-team today and will likely fit straight back into the line-up. The lack of power in the line-up has been noticeable and Fukuda is just about one of the best power-hitters we have at the moment. Masato Matsui is also slated for a return. 

The predicted starters against the Buffaloes are Takuma Achira tonight, Yudai Ono on Wednesday and most likely another trip around with Daisuke Yamai on Thursday.

The Dragons are 2-8 over their last 10 games and while they haven't had quite as big a slump as the Swallows did for the last couple of weeks, they haven't fared much better as the Dragons are only half a game away from anchoring the bottom of the table.

In other, different news. Hall of Famer, Morimichi Takagi had a swing in the practice nets of Nagoya Dome as part of a grassroots engagement program with kids. He's still got it as the 77 year old former 2nd baseman clocked a 100km/h swing speed. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Hawks @Yahoo Auction Dome, 4 June - 6 June; Hawks howitzer to victory

For the last few years, interleague has been somewhat of a curse for the Dragons and an otherwise foregone conclusion. The Pacific League in general has been of a higher quality lately and the Central League teams have always been bet on to be on the losing side of most games. The Dragons in particular have had a terrible time of it the past few years despite having relatively positive results when interleague first began in the mid-2000s. As the team has passed into obscurity however, the distance between the Pacific and the Dragons has become all the more obvious. It's never worth having high expectations, but it's always fun to see some different match-ups once in a while.

The first series of interleague took the Dragons down to Fukuoka to play last year's Japan Series champions, the Softbank Fukuoka Hawks. Homeruns by the home team made a big difference in the opening two games with 10 in total being sent into the stands by the Hawks off the Dragons pitching. Only five out of seventeen Hawks RBIs weren't from a homerun. Ouch.
  • Game 52: Dragons 4-6 Hawks
  • Game 53: Dragons 2-5 Hawks
  • Game 54: Dragons 4-6 Hawks
Game 52

Takuma Achira got his start finally after missing out on his last two scheduled starts due to weather issues. Not exactly the kindest game to throw at a guy that is trying to stake his claim for the rotation, but I guess you have to perform when asked. 

The Hawks didn't take long to get into the mood as Gō Kamamoto head a lead-off homer to set the tone. Yurisbel Gracial would join the party just moments later with a right-stand solo shot while Nobuhiro Matsuda added to the dong parade with an oppo shot with two outs on the board. 

The Hawks would add to their lead in the 4th as Akira Kawase stroked home Takuya Kai. Their lead was then added to in the 5th with Kamamoto's second jack of the night.

Rick Van Den Hurk on the mound for the Hawks kept the Dragons at bay through 5 no-hit innings. The Dutchman however would waiver in the 6th as he gave up a rally of hits to Takuma Kato, Yota Kyoda and Issei Endo. The pinch-hitting Naomichi Donoue then blasted a grand slam, his second of year, to put the Dragons just one run away from equalizing. 
Failing to take the initiative, the Dragons didn't even register another hit all game. Alfredo Despaigne added another in the bottom of the 7th off the pitching of Toshiya Okada. 

Apart from that one inning where Naomichi hit his slam, it was a very dire outing from the Dragons line-up. The Hawks conversely put up 11 hits and 6 runs while their pitchers dominated with 12 strikeouts. 

Shuhei Takahashi batted 4th in the line-up in place of Viciedo on the back of his good form with RISP but he went without a hit. 

Donoue's pinch-hit grand slam was the first of such since Norihiro Nakamura against the Swallows in October 2007. With Donoue's second grand slam of the year, he is the first Dragons since Tyrone Woods in 2006 to hit more than one grand slam in a year. Woods had 4 that year. It also marks a rather obscure record for Naomichi and his brother Takehiro being the first brothers to hit pinch-hit grand slams.

Game 53

Yudai Ono has been the in-form pitcher this year, but whatever he's doing didn't work against the Hawks how threw 4 homers at him. Ono pitched through 7.2 innings for 8K and only one hit he gave up wasn't a homer. 

The Dragons actually reaped first blood against returning Hawks ace, Tsuyoshi Wada through a Toshiki Abe sac-fly. Two solo jacks from Nobuhiro Matsuda and Seiichi Uchikawa however pinned the Dragons back momentarily before Dayan Viciedo replied with his own long ball to even the scores in the 4th. 

An oppo jack from fellow Vicedo's compatriot, Alfredo Despaigne would put the Hawks ahead before the Cuban flavour continued with a 2-run fence clearer from  Yurisbel Gracial. Hiroshi Suzuki would clean-up Ono's 8th inning of the night while Yuito Mori would claim his second save in as many games in the 9th. 

The Dragons did a much better job of hitting the ball this game as they put up 10 hits to the Hawks 5. Viciedo would have a mult-hit game while Yota Kyoda claimed a modasho to bump his season average up to .275. 

Game 54

Daisuke Yamai was promoted to start the final game in Fukuoka and it was to be another game bookmarked by Hawk homeruns and a tale of what might have been for the Dragons.

It didn't start well for Yamai as his first contribution was giving up two run jack to Yurisbel Gracial's for his 12th homerun of the year and his 3rd of the series. Alfredo Despaigne would hit a solo shot into the travelling Dragons fans in the bottom of the 3rd before the Dragons fought back to level things with a Viciedo 2 RBI double in the top of the 4th and an RBI single from the clutch hitting, Toshiki Abe.

Keisuke Tanimoto, relieving for Yamai, had a wayward inning in the 6th however as he walked in a run after having issues with control giving the Hawks the lead. The Dragons would then equalize through veteran catcher, Shingo Takeyama  while Yohei Oshima's should-have-been in the park homerun was robbed by the officials under some controversy. A decision that cost the Dragons the lead.

Joely Rodriguez would take the 8th and unfortunately bottled it as he failed to get the last out finally giving up a 2 RBI double to Gracial and surrendering the lead.That would be all she wrote however as the Dragons bowed out of Fukuoka after being swept away in a storm of powerful batting.

Shuhei Takahashi and Oshima both had multi-hit games while Toshiya Okada and Daisuke Sobue were the only Dragons pitchers to stay clear of the Hawks' howitzers.

A series I had written off at the beginning of it failed to surprise as the Dragons were shown to be completely out of their depth. The Hawks 12 homeruns this series is more than 1/3 of the season total the Dragons have so far. That proved to be the difference. I am growing increasingly concerned that the batting philosophy introduced by Masahiro Doi in the last two year was a focus on putting bat to ball, often sacrificing power. Average over homeruns seems to be the philosophy this team has which is a little outdated. This is why we saw Hirata hit for average really well last year but put up smaller power numbers than he has in previous years. The same goes for Viciedo who, if he sacrificed a few points on his average, could probably hit for more power. I'd like to think Shuhei has it in him as well to hit 20 homers or so. Masahiko Morino was a similar type of line-drive hitter, but he still clobbered 2 x 20 homerun season, with a number of others in the high teens. Granted though, this was a bit later in his career. At age 25, Morino was yet to secure his place as a regular in the line-up behind Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. Takahashi I think has it in him to at least get 20 in a season, but I wish there was more encouragement to hit for the fences or at least a style of coaching that encouraged it.

I also think it's about time that Joely Rodriguez was given a rest. He hasn't been as effective in the last few games and could do with some RnR in my opinion. A recovery on the farm for a couple of weeks while Almonte or Moya come up could do the trick. On a similar note, the Dragons will be without Raidel Martinez from July 16th to August 10th as he has been called up by the Cuban national team. Part of the contract signed with the Cuban Ministry of Sports to give access to these players means that Martinez has to go. Given his growing importance as a high leverage reliever and Rodriguez recent slump, the timing isn't great, but it was never going to be great hence why I think it prudent to rest Rodriguez now so he can pick up the slack with Martinez is gone.

Not an encouraging start to interleague, but the Dragons have a good chance to bounce back against the Eagles in Nagoya on Friday as Yuya Yanagi faces up against southpaw Wataru Karashima.

In other news Kosuke Ito will be out for three weeks following a injury to his rectus femoris muscle. He had been struggling at the plate in the top team.

Meanwhile, on the farm, yesterday we saw Masami Ishigaki in left-field which might suggest a promotion in future for him as it has been a problematic position for the Dragons to fill this year. Ishigaki spent the majority of last year at third base while he saw some reps at first this year following his recovery from injury. Wataru Takamatsu as well, who has mostly been a mid-game sub this year, started at second base which hopefully spells some more meaningful at bats for him. In my opinion, playing Taiki Mitsumata over him is an utter waste. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Giants @Tokyo Dome, 31 May - 2 June; Giants too strong at home

The Giants have largely outclassed the Dragons this year and this series was not to be much different as, apart from an encouraging dismantling of Giants rookie, Yuki Takahashi, it was all down hill after that as the Giants were able to keep the Dragons out.
  • Game 49: Dragons 7-3 Giants
  • Game 50: Dragons 5-6 Giants
  • Game 51: Dragons 1-3 Giants
Game 49
Yuya Yanagi continued his handy contributions as probably the second most consistent starter for the Dragons this year. He took his 5th win of the year on the back of 6Ks in 6 innings for 3 earned runs.

The Dragons and Giants would exchange blows in the opening stanza but it was the Dragons through Shuhei Takahashi that would take the initiative in the 3rd as the aforementioned drove in two with his double. The Dragons would add to the damage as Dayan Viciedo and Shuhei Takahashi hit back-to-back homeruns to force the score to 6-1. 
The Giants would pinch two more runs off Yanagi's pitching, including a Takumi Oshiro solo homer, but the Dragons would put the finishing touches on the win with an Issei Endo solo homer off Seiji Tahara. 

The bullpen would otherwise hold their nerve through 4 innings with Toshiya Okada, Keisuke Tanimoro, Joely Rodriguez and Raidel Martinez closing out a positive win. 

Shuhei would finish the game with 2 hits meaning he would just miss the mark for most modasho in a month. He still however can be happy he accompanies such luminaries as Tetsuharu Kawakami and Ichiro Suzuki in equaling the record. Yota Kyoda would be the only other to have a multi-hit game but it was once again Shuhei, doing what a good captain does, leading by example to help claim the win.

Game 50
The pendulum swung toward the Giants as a close game was unfortunately decided by a walk-off loss care of newly instated closer, Joely Rodriguez. 

Tatsuya Shimizu had kept the Giants at bay through 5 scoreless frames but Yoda will be wondering "what if" after his replacement, Ryosuke Oguma loaded up the the bases putting Shinji Tajima in direct danger.

The Dragons had  achieved a 4-0 lead thanks to a Dayan Viciedo 2-run shot and a Toshiki Abe 2RBI single.
Tajima would however surrender a grand slam to Christian Villenueva with 3 of those runs were pinned on Oguma. Tajima would give up another solo shot to Shinnosuke Abe who registered his 400th career long shot to give the Giants the lead. 
The Dragons were able to claw back an equalising run in the 9th care of a Seiji Kobayashi passed ball, but Hayato Sakamoto's single after Toshiyuki Kamei stole second base was enough to win the ball game for the men in Orange. 

Game 51
Shun Yamaguchi kept the Dragons out as he improved on his last outing in Nagoya. It was however to be Hayato Sakamoto that would reap with the bat with two defining plate appearances that would decide the game. 

Enny Romero was re-instated to the top team for this game following Steven Moya's limited effectiveness in the line-up. The Dragons would take first blood as Dayan Viciedo's hit to third base was fumbled by Christian Villenueva allowing Issei Endo to score. It would however be more Romero thigh-slapping frustration as Sakamoto smacked a solo shot to even things up in the 3rd. A following 2-run dinger in the 5th would be enough to push the Giants ahead and win them the game. 
Both pitchers dominated in this game with only 11 hits being managed between the two teams. Romero did relatively well on his first start back, but Yamaguchi pitched similarly well meaning some brilliance from Hayato Sakamoto was the difference. Toshiya Okada and Keisuke Tanimoto both picked up scoreless relief innings to finish the game while Shuhei Takahashi was the only Dragons bat with a multi-hit game. Iori Katsura, replacing Shota Ono, recorded his first hit in 3 years as he was ushered back in after being injured and otherwise left to the wolves by Shigekazu Mori. 

Shuhei has quietened a little bit in recent games, but not by that much. He now tops the league for average as he's batting .346. He not quite as impressive in other categories, but is 7th in the league in OPS, OBP and slugging. He is however not even in the top 30 for walks which is a point of concern as he currently averages 1 walk per 16 plate appearances.He is also striking out 6.56% of the time which is a bit below the best of the top batters this season. His IsoD, which measures plate discipline, is one of the worse among qualified batters at 0.48 while his BABIP is .390 which is a minor drop since last week, but shows Shuhei is still hitting way too many balls in play to be sustainable. I'm afraid that the Pacific League boys are going to put a lot of pressure on him.

Not a great way to close out the Central League standing before inter-league but off we go. The Dragons will play the Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka on Tuesday night to begin their campaign. This is the same fixture as with 2016 when a young Shinnosuke Ogasawara made his professional debut. Takuma Achira will at least get his chance at redemption as he takes on Dutch international, Rick van den Hurk. Daisuke Yamai appears to be starting on Wednesday.

How the Dragons will use the DH will be an interesting point to look out for. At the moment, it looks like it will be a complete waste as there doesn't seem to have been a call for Zoilo Almonte. It looks as though it will be a battle of who is least worst at fielding as it has been in years past. Last year we saw Alex Guerrero DH with Atsushi Fujii in left. Not so much of an improvement with the bat, but and improvement on defense. This time we'll probably see something similar with maybe Kosuke Ito in left and Masataka Iryo at DH. The only other option to get anything resembling power would be Yusuke Matsui based on the current roster.

Lastly, for a bit of fun, manager Yoda has been referred to by many fans as "肩幅番長" (katahaba bancho) or 'broad shouldered leader.' Yoda has been known for the breadth of his shoulders since his days as a fireball reliever in the early 90s. This somewhat fortunate picture give you an idea of just how wide his shoulders are.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Baystars @Nagoya Dome, 29 May - 30 May; A series of unfortunate events

A rainout in Gifu on Wednesday meant that for the second year in a row the green city in the mountains would miss out on their game. Last year it was renovations, this year, the weather. Takuma Achira, a graduate of the nearby Nihon University Ogagi High School also missed his chance to get another start in the top team as the Dragons decided against sliding the rotation, going ahead with Yudai Ono and a shortly-rested Akiyoshi Katsuno.

A fairly disappointing pair of losses was to follow against one of the Central League's cellar dweller. The cream appears to be separating from the pack as the Tigers, Carp and Giants appear to be the only teams to look anything resembling formidable.

  • Game 47: Baystars 2-1 Dragons
  • Game 48: Baystars 8-1 Dragons
Game 47
Yudai Ono would take his schedule start against the Yokohama Baystars in what would be the Dragons 8th contest with the light blues from Kanagawa for the season. 

The 'stars would take the lead in the opening frame after Neftali Soto stroked home Kazuki Kamizato. The Dragons would even things up in a close contest in the 6th where Naomichi Donoue scored on Yota Kyoda's ground out. 

Yudai Ono would get through 7 innings work for 7Ks for his 7th quality start in 9 starts this season. 

With scores level after 9 innings, extras beckoned and while Joely Rodriguez was able to keep the Baystars, the often maligned Hiroshi Suzuki would be the villain as he surrendered an RBI single to Yokohama slugger, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. Suzuki gave up 3 hits in his single inning  and his team were unable to rustle the same as Kyohei Kamezawa and Shuhei Takahashi failed to convert with runners on 2nd and third in the bottom of the 11th. 

Dayan Viciedo would be the only Dragon with a multi-hit game while the rest of the team chipped in with 6 hits. 

Game 48

When you have hindsight, it is perhaps now easy to say that not giving Akiyoshi Katsuno his extra day's rest was a bad idea. I'll say that I felt uneasy about the idea given he's only a rookie and Achira was meant to start anyway, but off we go. 

Katsuno surrendered a grand slam in his opening inning to Jose Lopez following 3 consecutive hits. A Toshiro Miyazaki single in the second would add pressure. Miyazaki would further add to Katsuno's misery alongside Kazuki Kamizato as they both doubled to give the Baytstars a 7-0 lead. A wild-pitch later and Katsuno was withdrawn for Hiroto Fuku.  

Dayan Viciedo would spare some blushes with his RBI single at the bottom of the 4th but it was safe sailing for Katsuki Azuma and the Baystars as they recorded a series win away despite their less than inspiring performances this year. 

The Dragons K'd 12 times in this game to the Baystars 6. Toshiki Abe and Yusuke Matsui at the top of the order had multi-hit games while the Dragons relay of Fuku, Ryosuke Oguma, Toshiya Okada kept things on an even keel before Hiroshi Suzuki gave up another 3 hits and a run.

A fairly sad series in the end that left me a little bit disappointed over the decision not to slide the rotation. Match-up between Achira and Taira would make sense, while throwing out Ono against Azuma would have made for an okay match-up as well. Even looking ahead at the 3 games against the Giants, Katsuno v Takahashi looks alright while the team could have saved on registering Romero for another week with Yanagi and Shimizu finishing off that series. I'm sure there's logic to the decision, but I'm not seeing it. 

Next up, last series before interleague against the Giants.