Got it! Book Report Coming Soon!

阪神タイガースの黄金時代が永遠に来ない理由

NomuraBookI feel like I am back in grade school for saying that I will write a book report when I finish reading, but it’s true, I will. The book is not set to “release” until tomorrow but amazon.co.jp is just that good – I got it today! The book title in English is “Why the Tigers’ Golden Age Will Never Come” (loose translation). It was written by former Tiger manager Katsuya Nomura, who has also managed the Hawks, Swallows and Golden Eagles.

I hope to receive some enlightenment about the Tigers as I read, and will share what I get out of the book. This is a first for me (reading a Japanese book and reporting about it), so bear with me! It could take some time!

Article Translation – Messenger Keys Huge Victory

Messenger’s 7 Shutout Innings & 12th Win Put Him Back on Top!

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

As the crowd roared jubilantly, Messenger’s eyes were glued on the ball. The Tiger faithful were ecstatic, and Messenger grinned. He jumped off the bench to greet the hero of the moment. With Fukudome’s game-winning hit, his strong pitching would be rewarded with a win and a tie atop the leader board (with 12, against 9 losses).

“With the score tied, Fukudome did his job well. All the fielders played well, but Fukudome’s contribution was especially huge. He always mans his position in the field well, and when the game is on the line, he delivers key hits. He’s definitely a reliable teammate, one we all count on.”

Messengerhero2He stood up on the hero’s podium expressing his gratitude, but it was the righty’s hard work on the mound that led the team to victory. In seven innings, he allowed just three hits, no runs, and struck out eight. In the sixth inning with two outs and runners on first and third, he made Kimura swing at a low-and-out 142 kph (89 mph) forkball. He pumped his fist as he trotted off the field. He walked five batters, but he also tempted the Carp hitters to swing zealously at his pitches.

MessengerPitchIt was his quick thinking on the mound that enabled him to pick up the win. He took note of the Carp hitters’ tendencies and changed up his pitches well. He started mixing speeds as he threw a lot more curves — a pitch he normally doesn’t use a lot — in the 110 kph (70 mph) range. Even pitching coach Nakanishi grinned, saying, “He used his curve well. It brought us a win, so it was worth playing him on four days’ rest.” All of his pitches make his 150+ kph (93 mph+) fastball more effective. That has not changed since his days in America. He doesn’t even need to use the two-seamer that so many pitchers in the majors rely on.

“I don’t think [the two seamer] works for me. My style is to throw a four-seamer with good spin. Just go straight at the hitters.”

He now has a personal best 12 wins, tied for the league lead with DeNA’s Kubo. He also extended his strikeout lead to 212, giving him the lead in two of the three triple-crown categories. But what he wants more than anything is a title for the team.

“Individual awards are all fine and good, but the final goal is to win the championship. That’s what I want to focus on the rest of the season.” Looks like he’s going to keep it in top gear until he reaches the top.

Weekly Update – September 8-14, 2014

When it rains, it pours. Even when the weather is nice, as it was all week, it still felt rather gloomy at Koshien. The Tigers got swept by the Giants at home since 1999. The slump has been well documented, including my own analysis (click here), so I will not talk much about the Giants sweep. Simply put, the hitters did not do their jobs, and the pitchers who were supposed to slow the Giants down (namely, Messenger on Tuesday and Nohmi on Thursday) did not even come close. Their lacklustre performances likely did not inspire much confidence in their teammates. Iwata pitched really well on Wednesday, only to have the lead blown by Fukuhara in the eighth.

So the Tigers looked to regroup on Friday as they faced the Hiroshima Carp on the weekend. Given that first place was now out of reach, the least they could to was bridge the gap between themselves and the second place Carp. After the Tigers snapped their six-game losing streak in convincing fashion on Friday (full report here), they made history once again on Saturday. Once again, it was not “good history” as they allowed a whopping 17 runs at home for the first time in 64 years. Young ace Yuta Iwasada gave up four in the first inning and was yanked after recording three outs. Hiroaki Saiuchi came in and struck out six in three perfect innings of relief, and even laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt that led to a run in the second. He left with the Tigers down 4-3, but Kazuyuki Kaneda coughed up 5 runs in two innings (including 2 home runs to the same guy) and then Tsutsui put the game out of reach by surrendering another 8 runs in relief. Gomez hit a home run in the eighth to extend his league leading RBI total to 97, but there was little to cheer about in this one.

Capping off the week, Messenger came through on Sunday to redeem himself by throwing 7 shutout innings as the Tigers blanked the Carp 5-0 to end the series on a winning note. They now sit 2.5 games behind the Carp with just over a dozen games left, including just two more against their second-place rivals.

Here is the calendar week and its results, as well as current standings.

September 8 Week

September 14 Standings

Here are the stat lines for our import players.

Player G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Gomez 6 21 2 6 1 1 1 4 3 7 0 0 .286 .375 .571 .946
Murton 6 22 3 8 2 0 1 5 1 1 0 0 .364 .440 .591 .1031

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

Player GP GS W L SV BS HLD CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
Messenger 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 10.0 9 8 8 1 7 11 7.20 1.60
Oh 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.60

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

Notes: Former big-leaguer Tsuyoshi Nishioka made his return to the big club after months of being on the shelf due to injury. He made three pinch-hit appearances and recorded a double and an RBI triple. Hopefully he sees more action this coming week. The team has also recalled young pitcher Ryoma Matsuda for the first time this season. He really can’t do much worse than the other relievers! Hope he makes a strong impact on the team. This week, they play three on the road against the Yakult Swallows (Monday to Wednesday), then come back home to face the Chunichi Dragons (Friday to Sunday). Hopefully they can redeem themselves for poor showings against both teams in the past two weeks. GO TIGERS!

Murton’s Walk-Up Song

During the off-season, I hope to be able to add information about every player’s walk-up song, and link to a youtube video of the actual song. Right now, though, I want to introduce Matt Murton’s walk-up song and the band that sings it. Until last season, he was using “Strong Tower” by Kutless. He has decided to go with something more domestic this season, though. Hokkaido’s Night de Light (ナイトdeライト) has a song called “Stain.”

Last night, the band, who is in town for a concert tomorrow evening in Osaka, attended the game thanks to an invitation by Matt Murton himself. They posted a video of themselves in the crowd when their song was blared over the speakers at Koshien. Not being a major label band, this had to be an extremely exciting moment. Link to the video is here. I’m not sure if you can see it – I am “friends” with the band on Facebook, so I can. Here’s a still shot.

NightdeLight1After the game, Murton took time to meet the band as well. Below is a picture of them with the slugger. Unfortunately, his eyes are closed. Still, a cool moment for the band and also for the man who got two hits tonight (and got beaned as well). Wishing all the best success to Matt Murton, the Hanshin Tigers and Night de Light!

NightdeLight2

The Streak is Over! Tigers Win!!!

At long last, Tigers fans can breathe a sigh of relief and stop the grumbling for a day. Six straight losses — consecutive sweeps at the hands of the Dragons and Giants — put everyone in a dour mood, but tonight’s 8-2 victory against the Hiroshima Carp has many breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Surprisingly, starter Shintaro Fujinami went the distance, throwing a whopping 137 pitches. Loading the bases with the first three batters, it looked like another long night was in store for the men in white and black pinstripes. However, a weak grounder back to pitcher resulted in a double play. Then Fujinami did the unthinkable and reloaded the bases by walking the next batter. Fortunately, the next hitter flied out to left, and the threat ended without a Carp crossing the plate. Video highlights of the first inning here.

And the Tiger bats? Having scored just 7 runs in their previous 6 games, they looked to come out blazing and give their pitcher a lead. However, the first trip through the batting order took three innings, as they managed just one Murton (2-for-3) hit (which was followed by a double play). The Carp took a 1-0 lead in the third, and the way the Tiger bats were stuck in neutral, it looked like another long night.

Then something happened: Uemoto (1-for-5) flied out to open the fourth, and Imanari (0-for-1) hurt himself midway through his at bat. Saka (1-for-2) pinch-hit and immediately smacked a single to right. The inning ended eight batters later with another Uemoto out. Hit, walk, hit, hit-by-pitch, walk, hit, sacrifice fly, hit. Where was this offence the past six weeks?

The rest of the game was rather quiet, with the Tigers adding two more in the sixth and the Carp managing another run in the eighth.

Quite honestly, I did not see any reason to keep Fujinami in beyond the sixth. He is a young man and has already pitched a career high 141 innings coming into the game. He now sits at 150, and surely the Tigers hope to use him at least three more times down the stretch. Why not give his arm a break with the game out of hand? Wada had only this to say: “His pitch count got kind of high, but he was able to throw well late in the game.” To which I say, “Yes, but he didn’t HAVE to.”

Fujinami captured Hero of the Night with his first career complete game at Koshien Stadium (as a pro, that is). He threw 137 pitches, allowing 8 hits and striking out 10.

Fujinami captured Hero of the Night with his first career complete game at Koshien Stadium (as a pro, that is).

Whatever. Right now, all that matters is that the Tigers are no longer on a losing streak. The gap between them at the Carp now sits at 2.5 games. Should the Tigers sweep this series, second place would definitely be in their reach. Never give up! Let’s GO TIGERS!!!

Game Notes: Imanari was injured when he fouled a pitch off. It bounced once and caromed off his left ribcage, but he clutched his right side as he walked off the field… Toritani went hitless again tonight, and is now 3-for-27 in his last 7 games. Is it time to give him some rest and let the games streak come to an end?… Tsuyoshi Nishioka did not start tonight and has just one plate appearance in two games since being called up from the farm team. Why not give him more playing time and field practice on the farm if you’re not going to use him beyond a pinch hit? Tomorrow’s matchup sees rookie Yuta Iwasada on the mound against Ohsera from the Carp.

Sputtering, stalling, spiralling downward…

gomez-murton-001Anyone out there who is following the Tigers knows that this is the worst stretch they have been through all season, and it couldn’t come at a worse time. When they need runs and wins the most, they are falling short. Well short.

The pitching has not been great of late. Messenger uncharacteristically tanked against the Giants last night. The relievers continue to give out hits like they’re going out of style. Nohmi and Fujinami were mediocre at best.

But the hitting has been the true problem. Consider this. The Tigers have put up runs in just 3 innings of the last 47. They are averaging one run per game in their last five. Now, the two hired guns from overseas (Matt Murton and Mauro Gomez) are doing their part and then some. During this losing streak, they are hitting a combined 13-for-35 (.371). The thing is, the rest of the team is hitting a meagre 19-for-126 (.151). That’s right. The two sluggers are almost out-hitting the rest of the lineup!

So what’s the solution? Wada tried tonight to shuffle the hitting order and even insert a few seldom-used players into the starting lineup. That’s the right idea but it is coming way too late. Uemoto is not producing at the top of the order and hasn’t been for a long time. Yamato has no business hitting second. Then again, with whom can they be replaced? I secretly hope Nishioka will come back and hit the ball well, though we have no evidence that he will. Hopefully Ryota Arai can come back as well and beef up the hitting order, too.

Right now, nothing is going well for the Tigers. Their confidence is as low as it’s been all year. It’s time to get creative with batting orders, lineups, and even practice schedules! Come on, Tigers! Stop the bleeding!

Weekly Update – September 1-7, 2014

This was a week to be forgotten, particularly this past series against the Dragons. The men in black put a measly 2 runs up in three games, and never held a lead the whole 27 innings. Without going into too much detail, the hitters could not do anything right when runners were on base. Hitting miscues, running miscues, untimely double plays… you name it, the Tigers did it wrong in this past series. The two shutouts bring their season total to 11, a disturbing number. The only bright spot is that the Giants and Carp both lost tonight, meaning the damage was minimized slightly. Still, a few wins would have put us right back in the thick of things.

Looking back at the start of the week, I wrote a short article about Randy Messenger, Mr. September. He started his outing against the DeNA Baystars by issuing 4 walks and allowing three runs in the first inning, two of which came on bases-loaded walks. So much for the sparkling September ERA, I thought. Clearly he was rattled by some close calls on balls and strikes, and it almost looked like he would get himself thrown out of the game. However, he backed off and the umpire did not take exception to his words, whatever they were. Then something amazing happened. The man settled down nicely, finishing the eighth inning without allowing another runner to score. He also struck out 12 in the game, breaking the Tigers’ single season record for strikeouts by a foreign pitcher. He sits at 201 on the year, and that number will only get bigger as he is projected to start twice next week and probably 2-3 more times the remainder of the way. Anyways, he left the game down a run. Toritani struck out to start the bottom of the ninth, then Gomez singled, Murton doubled and suddenly the game winning run was standing at second with only one out. The Baystars elected to walk Fukudome and instead pitch to Imanari, who had already struck out three times in the game. He redeemed himself with his final at bat, hitting a ball to left. The throw home to get Murton was on time, but the tag was not applied before Murton’s leg touched home plate. 4-3 Tigers, and the week was off to a great start!

That was pretty much the highlight of the week, though, and was only duplicated when Uemoto repeated the feat on Thursday, having struck out three times prior, then knocking in the winning two runs in the sixth.

Here is a calendar look at this week’s results.

September 1 Week

The Tigers have a lot of ground to make up on both the Carp and the Giants. They gained no ground on the Carp this week, and lost another two games on the Giants. These are the current standings (right up to the minute, as the Sunday evening games are coming to an end!):

September 7 Standings

The stats line for the imports is unavailable this week, but here is a basic summary. As mentioned earlier, Messenger went 8 strong (well, 7 strong out of 8) and struck out 12 on Tuesday, but did not get the win. Seung-hwan Oh earned a save on Thursday, mowing down the three batters he faced. Gomez hit a couple of home runs, now has the league lead in RBIs, but got kicked out of today’s game. Murton hit fairly well, but got caught stealing once and was thrown out at home after another “delayed steal” attempt.

Next week is crucial. Without a sweep of both the Giants and Carp, the Tigers’ chances of winning the division all but disappear. Here’s to hoping they can pull off a perfect 6-0 week! GO TIGERS!

Article Translation – Nishioka Coming Back Soon?

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

NishiokaIt looks like the long road to recovery for the Tigers’ Tsuyoshi Nishioka will soon be coming to an end. The infielder is slated to play against Western Hiroshima (Carp farm team) at Naruohama tonight (September 5).

The plan is to give him 2 or 3 at bats as DH. Because of rain earlier in the day, he was not able to take practice swings on the Naruohama Stadium field, instead working out at the indoor practice facility. He should play at DH through the end of the week, then play in the field next week. He is slowly making progress and hopes to be the catalyst that leads the Tigers to steal the division title from the Giants by season’s end.

Update: The word on Sanspo is that he took three at bats tonight, grounding out to first twice and striking out looking once. He says he was able to see the ball well, but needs to work on his timing a little more. Wishing you all the best and a speedy recovery, Nishioka!

Translation – Toritani to the Royals?

Sponichi reported today that the Kansas City Royals of the MLB are interested in the Tigers’ Takashi Toritani.


ToritaniRoyals

Shocking news from across the ocean. Several sources, including a league representative, have confirmed that the Kansas City Royals have their sights set on acquiring Takashi Toritani.

“The Royals have been scouting him for some time now. He can play any infield position and never gets hurt.”

Since the season opener, Royals scouts have been watching his moves carefully, attending several dozen games. They praise his masterful bat control, his impressive .415 on-base percentage and his rock-solid defence.

As of August 31 (9/1 in Japan), the Royals have Infante and Escobar firmly set in the lineup at second and short, but incumbent third baseman Moustakas has struggled to secure the position. Looking ahead to next season, atop the team’s wish list is a player who can play multiple positions, namely 2B, 3B and short. Toritani matches the Royals’ needs, as he demonstrated at the 2013 WBC, playing not only shortstop, but also seeing duty at second and third. Sweetening the pot even more is the fact that Toritani’s Waseda University teammate, Norichika Aoki (32), is already on the team.

Toritani first acquired overseas free agent rights during the 2012 season. It’s been a well-known fact since his days at Waseda that Toritani has big league aspirations. He spent the last two off-seasons thinking deeply about whether to stay in Japan or try his luck in the majors. In the end he chose the former, but he has made his intentions to the team clear by signing a one-year contract last off-season.

Clearly the major league market demand for Japanese infielders has been scant up until now, and it might be difficult for an MLB team to make him a better offer than the Tigers. On the other hand, Toritani’s fascination with the possibility of playing in the major leagues also cannot be denied. No doubt he will be thinking this one through once the season is over.

He is one of few born and bred Tigers, and he’s been “batting third, at shortstop” for years. As a core building block of the team, the thought of him leaving puts a gaping hole in both the offence and defence. The team knows he desires to lead them to victory for the first time in 9 seasons, so they will wait until season’s end to start negotiations to keep him.

Will he stay with the team or move on to the majors? This off-season, all eyes will be on Toritani.

Messenger – Mr. September

According to Sanspo.com, Tigers’ ace import Randy Messenger is set to start tonight’s game against the DeNA Baystars. His record over the past two Septembers is astounding. In 5 starts last year, he boasted a stellar 1.15 ERA but only won 1, due to lack of run support. If you think that’s good, his 2012 numbers are even more impressive. In five starts, he went 3-1 and allowed an microscopic average of 0.95 runs per nine.

If the bats can generate even a little offence, we could see Messenger chalk up a bunch more wins this month and possibly even win the Eiji Sawamura Award. If he does, he would be the first Tiger to win the award since Kei Igawa (he of NY Yankee infamy) was a co-winner in 2003. He would also be the first import to win it since former Tigers great Gene Bacque (all the way Bacque in 1964)!

GO TIGERS! GO MESSENGER!

Messenger ready to kick butt.

Messenger ready to kick butt against the Baystars tonight