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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. 

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