Headline News – September 30, 2014


Just looking at today’s headlines on Sanspo.com’s Tigers page, we can see a lot of interesting things:

  • Mauro Gomez was taken too lightly by DeNA’s pitching staff twice, and he made them pay in the end with a walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th.
  • Seung-hwan Oh pitched two perfect innings, and was able to control his pitches well in the 9th and 10th.
  • Yamato is back in perfect form in the number 2 slot in the batting order, and now has 50 sacrifice bunts on the season.
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka scored last night’s game-winning run, and now sports a ridiculous .625 on-base percentage as a pinch hitter.
  • Oh’s representative gave him encouraging words, saying, “I knew he would pitch this well.”
  • Fujii became the 467th player in NPB history to play in 1000 career games.
  • Ryota Arai is making progress in his recovery from lower back injury, taking 22 practice swings and clearing the fence with one of them.
  • Hiroki Uemoto has gone 24 plate appearances without a hit now. Wada wants to see him collect a few more bases in the games ahead.

The Race for Second is ON!

With the Hiroshima Carp’s loss to the Swallows tonight, the Central League Standings look like this:

September 28 Standings

That’s right, the Tigers are tied for second place! Keep in mind the importance of second over third: that team gets to host the entire best-of-three “1st Stage” playoff series. With that in mind, here is the schedule for the remaining games for both teams:

Hanshin Tigers:

9/29 vs. DeNA Baystars @ Koshien (SP: Iwata)

9/30 vs. DeNA Baystars @ Koshien (SP: Messenger)

10/1 vs. Hiroshima Carp @ Mazda Stadium (SP: Fujinami? Nohmi?)

[Update 9/29: Sanspo reports that Nohmi is slated to start the game, with Fujinami available in relief.]

Hiroshima Carp:

9/29 vs. Yakult Swallows @ Mazda Stadium

9/30 vs. Yakult Swallows @ Madza Stadium

10/1 vs. Hanshin Tigers @ Mazda Stadium

10/5 vs. Yomiuri Giants @ Mazda Stadium

These scenarios remain:

  • If the Tigers can win out their regular season (3-0), they lock up 2nd place, regardless of what the Carp do with their other three games.
  • If the Tigers win both their games against DeNA but lose to the Carp (2-1), they will finish in 3rd unless the Carp lose two or more of their other games (2-2 or worse).
  • If the Tigers win one against DeNA and beat the Carp (2-1), they have to hope the Carp lose at least one of their other games (2-2 or worse).
  • If the Tigers lose both against DeNA and beat the Carp (1-2), they have to hope the Carp lose at least two of their other games (1-3).
  • If the Tigers win just one against DeNA and lose to the Carp (1-2), they have to hope the Carp lose all three of their other games (1-3).
  • If the Tigers lose all three of their remaining games (0-3), they will finish in third, regardless of what the Carp do in their other games.
  • Factoring tie games into the remaining schedule gives me headaches, so we will end the scenario talk here.

All I know is, the Tigers now have a solid chance of taking second place and gaining home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Their fate, though, is in their own hands! I say they ought to just win out the season… don’t even give the Carp a chance to recapture sole place of 2nd!


Giants Win Central League Title: So what?

GiantsLast night the Yomiuri Giants won the Central League title for the third consecutive year and thirty-sixth time overall. Unlike major league baseball, where the division championship means a slight home-field advantage, the NPB playoff rules tilt things heavily in the league champion’s favour. Here’s a look at the NPB playoff format. Sorry the graphic is so small. It’s the best I could do on short notice! I’ll work on a better one for next season!


In the MLB, only one wild card team (out of sixteen, counting the two who were eliminated in a one-game playoff last season) in the past seven years has won the World Series: the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, who are actually had the worst regular season record of any World Series champion in history! Those Cardinals won 5 of their 9 road games en route to the championship. Since NPB teams are required to win 6 of 9 road games (2 of 3, then 4 of 6) just to win their league, it could be said that the Cards only won the NL Pennant because they played some of their games at home.

In the NPB, two teams have managed to win it all despite not finishing first in their division: the 2007 Chunichi Dragons and the 2010 Lotte Marines. The Marines actually finished third and had to win 6 of 9 on the road against “superior” teams to win the crown. Twelve of the 14 Japan Series finalists since 2007 have been league champs after the regular season, but only 5 of those won it all. In that same span, though, there have been 28 non-league champs in the playoffs. Just two have gone on to win the Japan Series. You do the math. OK, I’ll do it for you. Mathematically and historically speaking, if you win the division you have a 35.7% chance of winning the Japan Series. If you finish in second or third, you have a 14.3% chance of winning it all. Though the odds are definitely in the favour of league champs, the underdogs still have a chance. I won’t be betting any money on the Hanshin Tigers this year, whether they finish second or third, but I also won’t count them out until they are eliminated.


Game Recap – Stayin’ Alive!


Disco’s dead but the man born in the disco era is showing signs of life. Disco went out in a blaze of glory on July 12, 1979, as fans (and haters of the genre) gathered at Comiskey Park in Chicago to burn up records, clothes and more. Kosuke Fukudome was born April 26, 1977, right in the middle of disco’s peak. Last night, number 8 showed us that both he and the Tigers are staying alive as they push for second place.

A little personal talk here. I had previously attended two Tigers games this season. Both games were a disaster for the home team — in one, they put up 3 weak singles (one got caught stealing, another became the victim of a double play) as no runner passed first base in a 4-0 loss to Shohei Ohtani’s Nippon Ham Fighters; in the other, they hit 4 lazy singles, took 1 walk and reached base on error once as they managed just 1 run (on a double play) in an 8-1 loss to the Yakult Swallows. That’s right… they hit 7-for-57. No RBIs. I felt like the fan who brought the team bad luck.

So when the Tigers put up 3 measly hits through 5 innings (but the first extra base hit I had ever seen live), it looked like the same old song and dance. Disco’s dead, and it brought the Tigers along to the grave. The team was down 3-0 and it looked like their chances of hosting a playoff game were about the same as Disco Stu coming to life and become a huge hit.

A huge hit. That’s what they needed! And that’s what they got! The bottom of the sixth was a completely different story, as Yamato led off with a single (his second of three on the night) and Toritani followed that up with one of his own. Gomez did not get a hit, but his fly ball was just a few feet from clearing the fence. You could sense that something was about to explode. And explode it did. Murton singled up the middle, scoring Yamato, and I got to witness my first Tigers RBI at Koshien this season. So we’ve got runners at first and second, and one out. For some reason, the Carp elect to change their pitcher. Kuri had been throwing well and keeping the Tigers under control through 5. So in comes Toda to throw to the man known as Dome-san. The former all-Japan player took a 2-0 fastball and sent it screaming over the wall in left-center. Fans responded with screaming of their own. It was euphoric at Koshien Stadium, as all the nervousness of the first five innings was released. Fans were high-fiving strangers, hugging, dancing, partying like it was, well, the disco era.

The next three innings passed quite uneventfully, as the Carp only threatened a little in the 8th when our relievers gave up a hit and a walk. Wada had had enough at that point, and brought in closer Seung-hwan Oh earlier than usual, asking him to get the last 5 outs. He did so effectively, needing just 17 pitches to coax 4 fly-outs and a strikeout. Game over, Tigers win, 4-3!

And with that, the Tigers hopes of hosting playoff games this season remain slim but alive. They won one game they absolutely could not afford to lose. The next is today! Realistically, with 4 games left and a 1.5-game gap, the Tigers pretty much have to win out the season. The finale could be the decider, though, as they face these same Carp on October 1 at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima. I’d love to say I’ll be there, or that I’ll be at one of the next three home games, but I won’t be. So I’ll be reporting from in front of the TV screen. You can bet this fan will not give up on the Tigers season until the very end! GO TIGERS!

Game Notes: With his 37th save of the year, Oh clinched the saves crown in his first year in NPB. Congratulations!… Starter Shintaro Fujinami earned his career-high 11th win as he hung in just long enough for the Tigers to take the lead… Fukudome (and Yamato, for that matter) are heating up at the right time of the year – both are hitting over .300 in September… Tonight’s game against the Swallows features starter Suguru Iwazaki. Game time is 6:00pm. Get your rally caps out!

Series Recap – September 23-25, 2014

WalkoffLossNot another September meltdown. Not a repeat of last year. That’s all fans, players and management alike have talked about since the middle of this season, as the Tigers started to contend for first place. A six-game losing streak earlier this month gave everyone nightmares and it felt like the Tigers were simply going through the motions. Then they won three series in a row, and things looked better. But this series might seal their fate as they fall deep into third place with precious few games left.

First, Tuesday caused heartbreak, and many fan poured out their doom, gloom and frustration from their minds to their fingers and finally to screens around the world. The team actually had 11 base runners, but only managed to score a single run, taking a 1-0 lead in the eighth. For his part, Minoru Iwata was looking for his 10th victory of the season. He went deep into the game, getting in a little trouble early on, but then pitching a perfect 4th through 7th inning before allowing one hit in the eighth. With his count at 139 pitches, he was pulled and closer Seung-hwan Oh was called upon to protect the meagre lead. After a strikeout, DeNA’s Tsutsugoh slashed a grounder to first. Unfortunately, Gomez, who had a rough afternoon at the plate, bobbled it, resulting in the winning run coming to the plate. Blanco made no mistake, as he blasted Oh’s second pitch deep into the left field stands. Game over. Heartbreak on.

But the two “goats” from that game wasted no time redeeming themselves. Gomez brought home the first run in the game on Wednesday, and the Tigers took a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning. It looked like a potential blowout, but the Baystars hung in there, scoring two in the sixth and another in the seventh, and the game was tied heading into the ninth. Toritani led off with a single to first, his third hit of the game (and second straight modasho). Up next, batting cleanup, #5, Mauro Gomez! On a 2-2 count, he rocked a pitch into the left field bleachers, much like Blanco had the day before. Tigers lead 6-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Oh came in, and perhaps fans got a little nervous. This time, however, he dispatched of the Baystars hitters in order, preserving the win. The Carp got blown out against the Swallows, and the Tigers once again pulled to within 1.5 games of second place.

The rubber match started extremely well for the men in black. Yamato walked, Toritani singled, Gomez walked, and Murton brought two of them home with a double. Fukudome brought the next two home with a single immediately after. However, starter Randy Messenger had a bit of a rough outing, loading the bases in three of the first five innings, giving up three runs and leaving the game’s fate in the hands of the relievers from the sixth onward. It took less than an inning for the relievers to surrender a run, and in the eighth, Fukuhara (winner of Wednesday’s game) gave up another run to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth. Despite a leadoff double by Fukudome, the next three batters (all pinch hitters) could do no better than advance him to third. Game over. Another disappointing loss.

The series looked like this:

September 23 Series

Here are the current standings, as of the end of play tonight:

September 25 Standings

The gap between the Tigers and the Carp has now widened. The rest of the week sees the Tigers playing single matchups against the Carp (Friday) and Swallows (Saturday) at home. Friday’s game looks to be crucial, as the two teams see each other twice in the next 6 days. I hope to report on the game tomorrow, as I will be in attendance.

The imports all had some good and some not-so-good this week. These are their stat lines.

Gomez 3 10 2 2 0 0 1 3 3 3 0 0 .200 .385 .500 .885
Murton 3 13 1 4 1 0 0 3 0 1 0 0 .308 .308 .385 .692

What do the hitters’ stats mean? Check here for details!

Messenger 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5.0 9 3 3 0 3 4 5.40 2.40
Oh 2 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 1.1 1 2 1 1 0 3 6.75 0.75
What do the pitchers’ stats mean? Check here for details!

Series notes: Seung-Hwan Oh established an NPB record on Wednesday for most saves in a rookie season by an import player with 36… Randy Messenger keeps his league in wins (13) and strikeouts (222) despite not winning on Thursday… Gomez’s lead in RBIs (107) is now 10, as Eldred (Hiroshima) continues to struggle… The Baystars, Dragons and Swallows are all mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and the lone drama left is the race for second, as the Giants’ magic number is 2.


Article Translation – Ryota Arai Update

The original article can be found here 元の記事はこちらです

arairyotarehabHanshin’s Ryota Arai had an outdoor batting practice session at Naruohama (where the farm team plays) on the 22nd, his first since injuring his lower back. “I hope to keep making progress, little by little. I’m not just thinking about the Climax Series, I want to get back to 100% as soon as possible,” he said passionately as he makes preparations to get back on the Tigers’ active roster. Farm team trainer Nakano explained, “It was his first outdoor batting practice, but I didn’t see any problems at all.”

My two yen worth: Here’s to hoping Ryota can make it back soon! Mind you, the Tigers seem to have a lot of players who are eligible at positions that already have able starters. It will be hard for him to crack the starting lineup, though perhaps third base is a good fit for him, especially with Imanari still out.

Series Recap – September 19-21, 2014

gomez100rbiThey needed just one more run. In the last 5 1/3 innings they put nine guys on base, and only one needed to cross home plate. None did. The Tigers were aiming for their first three-game series sweep since their 8-game winning streak at the start of July, but fell short. Down 3-2 in the sixth, Yamato rapped a double to right, bringing in the tying run. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Toritani could not bring the winning run home. In the last three innings of regulation, neither team could score a run, though the Tigers had plenty of chances. In each inning from the 7th through 10th, they advanced at least one runner into scoring position. Still, no one scored. In the top of the 11th, Saiuchi came in and unfortunately did not have his best stuff. Two walks and a hit later, the bases were loaded with just one out. In came Takamiya, who did what he could, but allowed a sacrifice fly as the Dragons plated the winning run. In the bottom of the inning, the Tigers put a man on with one out, but could not advance him past first, and the game ended in an unfortunate 4-3 loss.

Fortunately, the first two games were well played from start to finish. Shintaro Fujinami started the first game, needing the win to become the first pitcher since Daisuke Matsuzaka to get double-digit wins in his first two seasons out of high school. He would also become the first Tiger to do so in 46 years. Unfortunately he struggled out of the gates, as Tigers pitchers have done a lot lately, and gave up two (unearned) runs in the first. Lucky for him, the Tigers bats came out strong as well, giving Fujinami a 3-2 lead to work with in the second. He allowed the tying run to cross home, but the Tigers responded with at least one run in each of the next five innings, and coasted to a 9-3 victory. Fukudome hit a home run and earned his first modasho as a Tiger.

The second game of the series featured strikeout king Messenger on the mound for the Tigers. He also struggled in the first, allowing a run (unearned) on two hits and a walk. He never really got his control down in this one, walking five batters, but he also went five more innings allowing just a home run, and the Tigers bats gave him a little leeway as well. Gomez drove in a run in each of his first three at bats, including his 100th RBI in the first, and his 25th home run in the fifth. He ended the game 4-for-4, 3 RBI and 3 runs scored. Final score: Tigers 7, Dragons 3.

The series looked like this:

September 19 Series

Here are the current standings, as of the end of play tonight:

September 21 Standings

No ground gained, no ground lost this series. Up next for the Tigers is a 3-game road trip to Yokohama this Tuesday to Thursday, then single matchups against the Carp (Friday) and Swallows (Saturday) at home. Friday’s game looks to be crucial, as the Carp have a fairly easy week ahead as well. I’m happy to say I have tickets for the game. Can’t wait!

The imports started the series well but ended on a bit of a downer. These are their stat lines.

Gomez 3 15 4 7 1 0 1 6 0 5 0 0 .467 .467 .733 1.200
Murton 3 11 0 4 1 0 0 2 3 1 0 0 .364 .500 .455 .955

What do the hitters’ stats mean? Check here for details!

Messenger 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 6.0 8 2 1 1 5 6 1.50 2.17
Oh 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3.0 1 0 0 0 0 3 0.00 0.33
What do the pitchers’ stats mean? Check here for details!

Series notes: Messenger took the league lead in victories with his 13th win on Saturday, and also reached the 1,000 career innings pitched (US + Japan) milestone. Congratulations!… Mauro Gomez now has 104 runs batted in on the season, 8 ahead of Hiroshima’s Eldred. With just 8 games left on the schedule, it looks like he will become the first foreigner in Tigers history to lead the league in RBIs in his first year in Japan. He also became the first to reach triple digits in RBIs… Matt Murton‘s batting average is now .339, quite far ahead of second-place Yamada (Dragons, .321) and Kikuchi (Carp, .321). Barring a complete meltdown on Murton’s part and a ridiculous hot streak from either other man, the batting title should be his… Seung-hwan Oh pitched two innings in Sunday’s game and even made his first plate appearance as a batter. He is now hitting 1.000 for his career in Japan!… The Tigers should finish the season with each of its import players leading the league in a key category – Messenger in strikeouts for sure, and probably wins as well; Gomez in runs batted in, Murton in batting average, and Oh in saves.


Article Translation – Ryota Arai Making Progress

The original article can be found here 元の記事はこちらです

Ryota Arai of the Hanshin Tigers was seen doing rehabilitation exercises at Naruohama on September 18th. He has been off the starting roster since August 29th with a sore lower back. He did sprints, played catch and for the first time since his injury, took indoor batting practice at the cages. “I was able to swing just like always, but could only put about 50% of my strength into it. I’ll ramp things up slowly.” Saying he will “do what it takes to make sure it doesn’t flare up again,” he hopes to contribute to the Tigers’ pennant run next month.

Tigers to Pursue Free Agent Kaneko?

kanekoAccording to Sanspo.com, there are reliable sources saying the Tigers are making the acquisition of Orix Buffaloes ace pitcher Chihiro Kaneko their top priority this off-season. While they cannot make this intention public (under tampering regulations), they have said that they want to strengthen the pitching staff.

And with good reason, too. Last off-season, they lost Kubo to DeNA and Standridge to Softbank, and while first draft pick Iwasada and sixth pick Iwazaki have managed to fill the gap, the reality is that the Tigers’ ERA this season ranks 5th in the Central League (4.03, better only than the pitiful Swallows’ 4.62). Kaneko is definitely a huge upgrade, as he leads the entire NPB with a sparkling 1.99 ERA.

Many Tigers fans would love to see the ace wearing pinstripes, but others are a little more cautious. One aficionado said anonymously, “You know why he always wears long spandex under his uniform? He can’t handle the heat and humidity and hates sweating. He is always a better pitcher in domed environments.” Interesting. Something I had never thought about, for sure. I do not think signing Kaneko would downgrade the staff by any means, but I sure hope the Tigers do not overpay for his services.


Series Recap – September 15-17, 2014

ToritaniHitThey wanted a sweep. They needed a sweep. They didn’t get it. The basement-dwelling Yakult Swallows pulled off a come-from-behind win in the second game, 5-3. Starter Minoru Iwata looked to have this one under control, but with a one-run lead in the sixth, he gave up a hit to leadoff hitter Kawabata, then served up a fat pitch to Iihara, and the Tigers suddenly found themselves behind again. In what has become a disturbing trend, the Tigers’ starters have given up at least one run in the first inning in six of their last 11 games. The last chance the Tigers had to make a comeback came in the eighth, when Toritani led off with a double. Unfortunately, neither Gomez nor Murton nor Fukudome could cash him in, leaving the score 4-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth. It was a tough game to lose, and Iwata admitted afterwards that his pitches were too hittable. See game highlights here.

Fortunately, newcomer Suguru Iwazaki pitched a gem in the series opener on Tuesday, allowing just a run over 7 innings. In picking up the victory, he became the first sixth-round draft pick in team history to get five wins in his rookie season. He is looking good so far since his recall from the farm team, allowing just 3 ER in 13 innings. Again in this one, the team started in the hole, as Iwazaki gave up a run in the first. Murton tied it up in the fifth with a solo shot, his second home run in two games. The floodgates opened up in the eighth. With Arai on second and one out, Sekimoto slashed a double to right, Nishioka walked, Uemoto walked, Yamato grounded up the middle for another RBI, then Toritani hit to center for another two runs. Fukuhara helped make things interesting in the bottom of the inning, allowing 2 runs before being pulled for closer Seung-hwan Oh, who got the four last outs to end the game.

Atsushi Nohmi took the mound in the rubber match, and pitched exceptionally well. He scattered 5 hits over 8 shutout innings, and the Swallows never threatened to score in this one. Toritani came through with RBI hits in the first and third, and picked up another modasho with his third hit in the seventh.

The series looked like this:

September 17

Here are the current standings, as of the end of play tonight:

September 17 Standings

So the Tigers still sit 1.5 games behind the Carp. Honestly, the Giants are out of reach so we need to hope the Carp slump a little and we catch fire, so we can finish second and at least host a few Climax Series games!

The imports had a somewhat quiet week. These are their stat lines. Note: Randy Messenger has not yet pitched this week, so I have not included him in the stat line.

Gomez 3 12 0 3 1 0 0 1 0 4 0 0 .250 .308 .333 .641
Murton 3 9 1 2 1 0 1 1 2 2 0 0 .222 .417 .667 1.083
What do the hitters’ stats mean? Check here for details!
Oh 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1.1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.00 0.00
What do the pitchers’ stats mean? Check here for details!

Series notes: After a 1-for-30 (including 0-for-20) slump, Toritani broke out this series, amassing 7 hits in 11 at bats… Tsuruoka has started 4 of the past 6 games at catcher. One has to wonder if Umeno is tired, or if management has grown weary of his poor performance in the batter’s box… Uemoto also collected a modasho in the third game of the series, setting the table nicely for Toritani… Fukudome flashed his leather in the field and even surprised the Swallows fielders with a bunt single in the eighth tonight. He is heating up at the right time.