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Friday, June 26, 2020

Series Wrap: Baystars v Dragons @ Yokohama Stadium, June 23-25; Baystars set Dragons alight in series sweep

After a hoodoo shaking 2-1 series win over the Swallows in the opening weekend, the Dragons were taken back to earth very quickly with a short trip on the Fukutoshin line out to Yokohama. While Yuya Yanagi and Takumi Yamamoto put up valiant efforts to keep their team in the hunt, but Yuichiro Okano was given a rough introduction to the NPB with a less than glorious start on Thursday. 

Game 4
Baystars 3-0 Dragons

Yuya Yanagi made his first start of the year against the team that he almost signed for back in the 2016 draft. Tyler Austin and Toshiro Miyazaki were the destroyers for the Baystars as Austin went 4-4 with and RBI and Miyazaki hit the nail in the coffin solo homer in the 6th. 

The Dragons managed to match the Baystars in hits with Yohei Oshima going 4-3 in the lead-off spot. The team however was unable to convert their any chances as Haruhiro Hamaguchi went 8 1/3 innings in a quality start. Yanagi threw 6 innings for 8 strikeouts, but wasn't economical with his pitch could as he threw 120 pitches in only 6 innings. Hiroshi Suzuki had 2 clean innings with 2 strikeouts to mop up the game but ultimately the Dragons line-up would not respond to an otherwise decent outing from their starter. 

Game 5
Baystars 3-2 Dragons

The diminutive Takumi Yamamoto was given his first run in the opening rotation at the tender age of 20 years old. The youngster from Takarazuka in Hyogo prefecture put up 5 steady frames that were disrupted by a go ahead homerun from Takayuki Kajitani. The Dragons had opened the scoring in the 2nd inning with Shuhei Takahashi's first homerun of the season in front of his hometown crowd. 

Despite mustering 10 hits, the lack of cutthroat ability with runners in scoring positions meant the team would lose out in a close game.

Dayan Viciedo, Toshiki Abe, Yota Kyoda and Yohei Oshima all had mutl-hit games but it was the misfiring middle-order sans Ryosuke Hirata that didn't put things together while Issei Endo and Zoilo Almonte in the 2 and 3 spots went hit-less. On a different day, keeping a team to 3-runs would have been easy to defeat, but early season form hasn't been encouraging yet. 

Game 6
Baystars 10-2 Dragons

My big hope for an immediate impact in the rotation, Yuichiro Okano, was shot down in flames as his introduction to NPB was a rough one. The Dragons started the game with Yuya Gunji behind the plate for his starting debut to create the first Dragons rookie battery since 2016 with Shinnosuke Ogasawara and Takuya Kinoshita. They also proved to be the first battery to make their NPB starting debut together since spring of 1937.

The Baystars took 5 runs off 5 innings including a homerun given to Tyler Austin in the 1st inning with a juicy chest high meat ball. Yuya Sakamoto on the mound for Yokohama was in good form as he took 5Ks in 6 innings keeping the Dragons to just one hit. Whilst Okano gave up 5, the relief pitching wasn't much better as fellow rookie, Yuki Hashimoto gave up 2 more in 2 innings despite 4Ks (a 2-run homer to Kajitani) while Hiroshi Suzuki faired even worse with a 3-run dinger given up to Toshiro Miyazaki. 

The Dragons clawed back 2-runs through a Yohei Oshima hit and a Toshiki Abe homer, but it was all too little too late as the pitching staff let the team down.

The Analysis
Overall, the first two games were winnable but the key cogs in the line-up just didnt' fire when required. Oshima is batting .400 through the first 6 games of the season; you can't expect much more from a lead-off hitter. Almonte conversely is currently hitting .263 with Viciedo averaging .231. Fukuda and Hirata similarly haven't done what has been required either. Not a great look from your clean-up hitters.

Yoda looks to have been platooning Fukuda and Almonte which looks good on paper, but Almonte is a switch hitter so you'd assume he could be a regular but I think the manager is doing his best to fit two of his better hitters in the line-up as often as possible. Fukuda can be so dangerous when he's on but it seems like he's only hot for a couple of months a year. Let's hope he can find his bat after warming up over the opening 2 series. 

The rotation will go through a second turn in the next home series against the Carp where Yudai Ono faces up to Daiichi Ohsera who has been somewhat of a thorn in the Dragons side the last couple of years. (What's a few complete game shutouts between friends?) The Dragons have however been good against the Carp at home, so this should be a good contest if Ono has found his feet. 

News from the Front
* Dragons golden boy, Akira Neo looks like he'll get a promotion to the top team for the first home series of the year after doing pretty well on the farm going 16-5 over 5 games batting 3rd and fielding at second.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Series Wrap: Swallows v Dragons @ Jingu Stadium, June 19-21; First opening series win in 8 years

The Dragons opened the 2020 season with the first good impression they've made to the year in 8 years as they took 2 games off the Swallows at Jingu with one convincing performance and one not as much so. 

Friday night's game was a slug fest as both team aces gave up hits like a pitching machine. 35 hits in total for the first game of the season marked a somewhat surreal beginning to the year. Dayan Viciedo's first homer of the year seemed to start things off well but a Tetsuto Yamada homer in the bottom of the same inning saw the Swallows take the lead. 

It was to be a topsy-turvy, close, affair and it took the Dragons until the 7th inning to get back on parity as Yota Kyoda and Shuhei Takahashi drove in 3 runs. Into extras, it was the Dragons that would come out on top as a Donoue grounder and a Abe single put the away team two in front. Toshiya Okada would load the bases in the bottom of the 10th to make for a tense ending, but he would finish in style, striking out young prodigy, Munetaka Murakami to end the game. 

It was a night for hitters. More than usual for Jingu. Yudai Ono only got through 4 innings after giving up 6 earned runs but the bullpen was able to hold it together for the rest of the game with only Hiroshi Suzuki giving up further runs. Ono just didn't have "it" on the day but luckily the team still pulled though. 

Saturday's game was a different tale as the batters quietened with Ryuya Ogawa and Kazuki Yoshimi on the mound. Yoshimi put in a solid 5 innings which were tarnished by 3 runs given up through 2 homers to Yamada and Murakami. The Dragons were able to claw 2 runs back but ultimately couldn't match the long-ball prowess of the Swallows middle-order. Shuhei's and Takuya Kinoshita's multi-hit games were just about the only thing to write home about in a relatively disappointing performance. 2019 #2 pick, Yuki Hashimoto made his professional debut in this game pitching a clean inning of relief.

The series decider would be decided by Kodai Umetsu's stunning performance on
the mound. The righty hurler threw a peachy 7 innings for 5 strikeouts looking to get impressive spin on his fastball, keeping the Swallows out of contention. Kyoda's 2-4un homer in the 2nd made life easier for Umetsu earlier, while an additional run added in the 6th made things comfortable where Umetsu himself scored. Credit must go to the Swallows too however as Hiroki Yamada pitched pretty well despite the homer given to Kyoda.

Overall, you can only be happy with the result. Ono exploding was perhaps not the greatest thing to watch but given he seems to require rhythm more than and other Dragons pitcher, I think we'll see him settle a little later on. Kazuki Yoshimi, despite being billed as someone with a good record against the Swallows, basically did was I expected would happen, ate a few innings for too many runs. My guess is that next week against the Carp, his spot will be taken by Shinnosuke Ogasawara. 

The Dragons will stay in the Kanto region to face the Baystars in Yokohama before the team have their home opener against the Carp on the weekend.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Opening Day 2020: We're back, baby.

The NPB is back after a lengthy delay due to the effects that COVID-19 are having across Japan and the world at large. Some players are still stranded overseas (most notably Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne of the Hawks) but we're all set for a start tonight at 18:00 JST.

The Dragons start their season with a 3 game series at Jingu Stadium against the Swallows, followed by a series against the Baystars, in Yokohama, from Tuesday. The first home series will be against the Carp on the 26th. 

How things will happen is a bit different to the regular season. The Central League has scrapped the Climax Series to save time and fit in more regular season games while the Pacific League will have a shortened version of. Interleague has also been scrapped. In the Central League it will be first past the post that goes to the Japan Series just like the days of yore. Games are also limited to 10 innings so we won't see any 12 inning ties like we have in the past, once again in an effort to save time and keep players fresh. International players will also be given another space on the roster for the time being so cool-off times become less of an issue. Teams can have up to 5 international players on their roster but only 4 can take the field in one game. Overall, 120 games will be played meaning a reduction of 23 games (plus the Climax Series). 

The Dragons themselves will be raring to go with Yudai Ono given opening day duties for the first time in 3 years. 2019 saw Shotaro Kasahara open things up while 2018 was a younger Shinnosuke Ogasawara. Ono has looked good enough in pre-season and it looks like Kazuki Yoshimi and Kodai Umetsu will be backing him up in Tokyo over this weekend. In the back-end of the rotation, we'll likely see a combo of Takumi Yamamoto and rookie Yuichiro Okano with the 6th spot still a bit up in the air. Yuya Yanagai and Shinnosuke Ogasawara are the likely candidates to fill that role. We'll still have to wait and see what the back-end of the rotation looks like, but it's possible that Yoshimi might be shifted to take spot starts with the aforementioned duo slotting in to his old spot. 

As for the roster, two rookies have made it to starting day with Yuki Hashimoto working out the bullpen and Yuya Gunji behind the dish. Takuma Kato looks the most likely to get a work out on opening day, but we'll probably see Gunji at some point in the near future. Hashimoto, let's face it, will probably see some work on Saturday after 5 good or 3 terrible innings from Yoshimi. Luis Gonzalez, Raidel Martinez, Zoilo Almonte and Dayan Viciedo all make the opening day roster with Moises Sierra missing out. Enny Romero is still injured.

The roster however has come together as follows but keep in mind there are still at least 2 starters that will be registered later for the games against Yokohama.

Pitchers: Yuki Hashimoto, Katsuki Matayoshi, Yuya Yanagi, Kazuki Yoshimi, Toshiya Okada, Yudai Ono, Kodai Umetsu, Daisuke Sobue, Hiroto Fuku, Hiroshi Suzuki, Luis Gonzalez, Raidel Martinez

Catchers: Takuya Kinoshita, Yuya Gunji, Takuma Kato

Infielders: Yota Kyoda, Shuhei Takahashi, Toshiki Abe, Shun Ishikawa, Nobumasa Fukuda, Naomichi Donoue, Dayan Viciedo

Outfielders: Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Issei Endo, Masataka Iryo, Masaru Watanabe, Zoilo Almonte, Kengo Takeda

A pretty well rounded team with no big suprises. Shun Ishikawa coming in as a pinch-hitter seems to make sense while Hiroshi Suzuki gets a chance to prove himself as an NPB level reliever again. Otherwise the team looks much like it did last year with the additions of Gonzalez, Gunji and Hashimoto. Matayoshi's stocks have risen again and he'll be back supporting the middle-back end of the bullpen. 

Overall, who isn't excited to just see some baseball!? There won't be any crowds, but there will be plenty of people looking on with the MLB still on hold and the Japanese fans hungry to see their teams back in action. With COVID-19 still doing the rounds in Japan there's no certainty that the teams will be able to play the full 120 games in any case, but at least the foot is out the door.

*Yakult Swallows vs Chunichi Dragons @ Meiji Jingu Stadium, starts on 19th June at 18:00 (JST).