Series Recap – July 24-26, 2015

It is completely illogical and unfathomable, and in all ways inconceivable that two .500 teams should be tied for the league lead as summer vacation started here in Japan. And yet that is exactly where the Central League found itself – the Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers sat at the top, a game ahead of the Yomiuri Giants and just four games up on the last-place Chunichi Dragons. The Tigers donned “Ultra Summer” yellow jerseys for this series against the floundering Yokohama DeNA Baystars. Let’s see how they did in this series.

He won't get much recognition in the boxscore, but Imanari flashed some impressive leather in Friday night's opener.

He won’t get much recognition in the boxscore, but Imanari flashed some impressive leather in Friday night’s opener.

Game 1: I was able to take in this one from the first-base stands. Both teams started slowly, as the Tigers found themselves facing a solid starter, and in return they put their young phenom Shintaro Fujinami on the mound. Through four innings, the teams had combined for four hits. The pitching duel continued until the 7th, when it looked like Fujinami could be pulled (he had thrown 119 pitches before the jet balloon release), and Inoh could go the distance (through six innings he was still under 80 balls). However, a leadoff hit by Ryota Imanari was followed by a blast to left center by Taiga Egoshi, and the home team was on the board. Still, their starter remained in the game and survived the inning without any further damage. However, Kosuke Fukudome added an insurance run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly to the right field corner. Fujinami had now thrown 130+ pitches. Could Seung-hwan Oh be trusted with a 3-run lead? I’m not sure why, but the 21-year old came out for the ninth, kept the ‘Stars off the scoreboard and got the complete game win. He ended the game with a 152-pitch count – one I argued was far too high to be considered an excellent outing. Either way, he got the win. Final Score: Tigers 3, Baystars 0.

"So in baseball you just can't throw it there, son." Fukudome coaches Egoshi after an ugly error. -- Quote stolen from Aaron Covert.

“So in baseball you just can’t throw it there, son.” Fukudome coaches Egoshi after an ugly error. — Quote stolen from Aaron Covert.

Game 2: For the first time in over two months, the ball went to sophomore Suguru Iwazaki. He did not show enough in his first five starts of the season to get the call, and was still winless on the year. He started this one strongly, pitching four shutout innings and looking like a changed pitcher. Meanwhile, Matt Murton started the game with two doubles, the second of which brought in the game’s second run. With a little lead, how would Iwazaki do the rest of the way? He was most of the way through the fifth, when disaster struck. Ultimately hit came after hit, and he left without completing the inning. The Tigers were down a pair, due partially to a wickedly errant throw by Egoshi. Most of the rest of the way, the game was uneventful, and the Tigers bowed out weakly (just one hit after the third inning) in the middle game of the series. Final Score: Baystars 5, Tigers 2.

Taiga "Tiger" was at it again on Sunday, knocking in the third run of the game and collecting three hits.

Taiga “Tiger” was at it again on Sunday, knocking in the third run of the game and collecting three hits.

Game 3: The Tigers needed to take advantage of facing a fairly inexperienced pitcher, and in a way, they did. In each of the first three innings, they got a runner to third base, but only managed to capitalize in the second inning, when Takashi Toritani hit a 2-RBI single to right-center. Egoshi came through in the fifth with a two-out single to left, scoring another run for the home team. Starter Randy Messenger was in control in this one, throwing 7 shutout innings on 4 days’ rest. Oh bailed struggling set-up man Shinobu Fukuhara in the eighth, and finished the ‘Stars off in the ninth. Thanks to a dominant start by the fully rejuvenated American, the team won despite another night with too many runners left on base. Final Score: Tigers 3, Baystars 0.

Series Notes: Big Dominican Mauro Gomez is currently riding a 16-game hitting streak dating back to July 4. He doesn’t have a home run in 10 games, though his .287 average leads the team… Toritani picked up a modasho on Friday and again on Sunday, but went 0-4 in the middle game. He also had another error in the rubber match, though it did not result in a run… Ryota Arai got the start on Saturday but went hitless in four at-bats. He has yet to do anything to earn regular playing time this season… Akira Iwamoto took the mound for the first time in over two months in Saturday’s loss, allowing no runs in 1 ⅔ innings. He is likely to remain on the big club for the time being as a long reliever. Speaking of which, check out this table detailing Iwazaki’s six starts this year. Columns 3-5 show his good beginnings in 5 of 6 starts, and columns 6-8 show his catastrophic collapse in his last inning of work, 4 of which ended before the third out.

Date Opponent Good Start ER ERA Bad Inning ER ERA
04/02/15 Swallows 4 0 0.00 0.1 4 108.00
04/09/15 Baystars 7 0 0.00 0.1 2 54.00
04/16/15 Dragons 3 2 6.00 0.1 2 54.00
05/06/15 Dragons 5 1 1.80 1 1 9.00
05/17/15 Dragons 3 0 0.00 1 3 81.00
07/25/15 Baystars 4 0 0.00 0.2 3 40.50
Totals 26 3 1.04 3.2 15 36.82

My proposal: Use him as a long reliever. He appears to be able to get through the opposition’s order once, maybe twice, without issue. But as I understand baseball (and trust me, there’s a lot I still don’t know!), many starters try to get through the first few innings without using their whole arsenal. Perhaps Iwazaki does not have enough of an arsenal to fool batters more than once or twice. Let him work long relief the rest of the year, have him bust his butt to learn a new pitch in the offseason and give him another ride as starter next year. His ERA through 3 innings in all starts combines to 1.50 but climbs to 11.57 the rest of the way. Ah, the naive thoughts of a man who’s never played the game!

Here are the standings at the end of play on the 26th:

15-7-26 Standings

Game Commentary – Friday, July 24, 2015

 On Friday night, the Tigers began their “Ultra Summer” (ウル虎の夏) campaign at Koshien Stadium. They gave out free yellow replica jerseys to all in attendance, and will do so for the remainder of this series, as well as the entire next series (July 31-August 2, vs. Yakult Swallows). It is a wonderful way to “color the stadium yellow” and draw crowds to the last two series before their annual August road trip starts.

Ultra Yellow!

 I was fortunate to be at last night’s game, a 3-0 Tigers victory over the visiting Yokohama DeNA Baystars. Starting pitcher Shintaro Fujinami went the distance, striking out twelve and throwing a ridiculous 152 pitches. He was named co-hero of the night, alongside Taiga Egoshi, the first rookie in 35 years (Akinobu Okada was the last) to hit home runs in consecutive games. Fujinami now has 8 wins on the year, 5 complete games, an NPB-best 132 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.43, good for 4th in the CL. This all sounds quite impressive, especially for a kid who just turned 21 in April.

I would argue that last night’s performance was less-than-ideal in some ways.

1) His pitch count is incredibly high for a game that featured just 5 hits and 2 walks. Sure, he struck out twelve, and those generally require more pitches than other kinds of outs. But let’s look at how he got those strikeouts. ONE was on three straight pitches, FOUR were on 1-2 counts, FIVE were on 2-2 counts and TWO were in full count situations. He used his fastball to get 11 of the 12 strikeouts, six of which were called and six of which were swung on and missed. (The other was on a cutter.) All this to say what? It looks as though Shintaro is laboring a little too hard to get strikeouts instead of trying to induce grounders or popups. Case in point:

2) Outside of the sacrifice bunt laid down by the Baystars pitcher, Fujinami required twelve pitches to get the guy out two more times (neither of which were strikeouts). He also needed 5 pitches to get their #8 batter out once (and five more to strike him out once). These are hitters that should go down pretty easily. Instead, of the four outs recorded by these two, Shintaro threw 22 pitches. Too many for #8 and 9 batters. Know your opponents. If they are contact hitters, find a pitch that induces weak grounders and use them. That, or go for 3 (or 4) pitch strikeouts instead of throwing ball 1 and 2 on 0-2 counts (trust me, it happened a lot last night).

3) He made a poor decision in the field on a bunt, lunging to tag the runner out (and missing), then throwing errantly to first. Fortunately it did not result in a run against, but very easily could have, as the Baystars found themselves with runners on 2nd and 3rd with just one out in the third inning because of the blunder.

In conclusion, Fujinami does not seem to have a “go-to” pitch to get outs, other than using his fastball on third strikes. He needs to find that pitch in order to keep his pitch counts down to preserve his arm for the next three months.

He has outstanding potential, and I really believe he could succeed in the majors after a few more years of dominating NPB ball. He doesn’t quite have the dreamy numbers of Shohei Ohtani or the experience of Kenta Maeda, but still, he has been (justly) compared with Yu Darvish at this point in his career. Let’s see how this one unfolds.

In other great news, third baseman Ryota Imanari played outstanding defense, saving at least three hits over the course of the game. In the second, he used his reflexes to nab a Lopez liner. Then in the fourth, he lunged back towards the third base line (despite playing closer to short) to grab a sure double, then fired a bullet to first in time to get the out. Lastly, in the eighth he leapt high to catch a Matsumoto line drive.

Said Imanari, “Usually when Fujinami is on the mound, the righties don’t pull a lot of balls. I didn’t know what the coaches would say if I missed the few that came my way.”

He also contributed on the offense, with a leadoff single in the seventh. He scored on Egoshi’s blast to left center (see video below).

 It was a great night to be at the park. The crowd was enthusiastic as always, the food was good as always, and the breeze from the seaside was nice, too! Sometimes being up in row 60 isn’t so bad! Here’s to hoping the Tigers can keep this momentum (3 straight wins now) going!

Series Recap – July 3-5, 2015

I got a phone call on Saturday morning from Tigers legend Gene Bacque. The day after the team played in its 10,000th regular season game, he wanted to tell me that he was the pitcher in the team’s 3000th ever game. It was August 15, 1963 (3 days after his 26th birthday) and the team beat the Kokutetsu Swallows 4-2 in Tokyo. The team again put a foreigner on the mound for its memorial game on Friday night, this time in Yokohama against the DeNA Baystars. Riding a 3 game losing streak, could Randy Messenger lead them out of the mini-slump?

Oh NO! Our closer got roughed up yet again on Friday night.

Oh NO! Our closer got roughed up yet again on Friday night.

Game 1: For eight innings, he did just that. Messenger pitched brilliantly, allowing just 5 hits and one unearned run, striking out a dozen guys while walking just two. He left the game after 142 pitches and a 3-1 lead, thanks to a 2-run single by Yamato and a solo home run by Takashi Toritani. The Baystars pressed, especially in the eighth (when the lone run scored after Toritani’s errant throw to first allowed a 1-out runner to advance to second. The inning would have ended before Tsutsugoh’s RBI double were it not for the error. Still, with a 3-1 lead and closer Seung-hwan Oh entering the game, fans were confident that victory was ours. Guess again. Oh gave up a single, then a 2-run home run, then another single, a sacrifice bunt and a walk-off double. Tigers fans and players left the stadium in shock as the 10,000th game in team history ended about as poorly as even the most pessimistic followers could imagine. Final Score: Baystars 4, Tigers 3.

The man's bat just won't stop crushing balls. Baystars pitchers got a double dose of Fukudome's resurgence on Saturday.

The man’s bat just won’t stop crushing balls. Baystars pitchers got a double dose of Fukudome’s resurgence on Saturday.

Game 2: The last time Oh had blown a save, the team took the field the next game and staked their starter a 8-0 lead. (We won’t mention what happened next.) Hiroki Uemoto made it look like they would do the same on this day, his 29th birthday. He took the first pitch to deep left, giving the team a 1-0 lead (GIF here). It stayed that way until the 4th, when Kosuke Fukudome continued his hot season with a solo jack of his own. Toritani bumped the lead even higher in the 5th with an RBI single through the right side of the infield. Just before starter Shoya Yamamoto left the game after 5 innings, the Baystars managed a 2-spot, but he still left with the lead. Before any other Tigers pitcher could take the mound, though, Fukudome struck again, extending the team’s lead to 6-2 with a 3-run blast. However, with the Tigers’ relief squad, 4 runs is not always enough. The ‘Stars scratched and clawed their way back into this one with two in the sixth (off Ryoma Matsuda) and one in the eighth (Shinobu Fukuhara). Matt Murton brought the lead back up to 2 with an RBI double in the top of the last frame, and it’s a good thing he did, as Oh gave up a solo shot in the ninth (to the same guy who got him on Friday). Fortunately, the comeback ended there. The losing streak was over at last! Final Score: Tigers 7, Baystars 6.

With his bat, too! Shintaro has RBIs in two straight starts now. His double in the second inning opened the scoring in this one.

With his bat, too! Shintaro has RBIs in two straight starts now. His double in the second inning opened the scoring in this one.

Game 3: “Sunday Shin-chan” (Shintaro Fujinami) was looking for his sixth straight victory of the year and seventh overall, and he played like he wanted it. Not only did he strike out a dozen in eight innings of work, but he also got the team’s first RBI in the second inning. The whole team contributed in this one. Mauro Gomez hit a monster shot to left in the third (GIF here), Uemoto cleared the bases in the sixth, Murton brought Gomez home in the seventh and Toritani scored Murton as well, and then Fukudome brought another run home (though it was called an error, so no hit or RBI for him today) in the eighth. Kazuya Tsutsui made his season debut, striking out the side to cap the game off in style. Final Score: Tigers 8, Baystars 1.

History was made on Friday night, as every team in the Central League was below .500 for the first time ever. This was made possible by their annihilation at the hands of the Pacific League during interleague play. Any way you look at it, the Central will finish the year with a combined 17 game below .500 mark. On Friday, the top 5 teams combined for 8 of those, and the last-place Dragons had the other 9. The Tigers find themselves back in first at the end of the week, thanks to a Giants tie and the Carp taking care of the first-place Swallows (who are now in 4th). The Baystars are a season-worst 4 games below the surface. Here are the current CL standings. See how the PL looks here.

15-7-5 Standings

The Tigers open the upcoming week with a game in Okayama on Tuesday against the Dragons, then two at Koshien to finish the series. They travel back to Tokyo to end the week against their rivals, the Yomiuri Giants. GO TIGERS!

Here’s to you, #8!

fukudomecard

It is fitting that the star of the Tigers’ eighth straight home win is number eight, Kosuke Fukudome. The 38-year old had a game for the ages on Saturday, not only reaching base every time up, but scoring on every occasion as well. The Tigers won 5-3, and we could spend some time looking at the other guys who contributed to the win (Randy Messenger‘s gutsy performance despite a costly error, questionable calls and weak hits that somehow turned into runs; Mauro Gomez‘s 2 RBIs including a late home run that piggybacked on Fukudome’s; Yamato‘s amazing catch in center that was reminiscent of his Nippon Series work last season). You can see GIFs of much of the action here. But let’s focus on what the veteran ex-Dragon, ex-Cub, ex-Indian did to essentially win the game on his own.

After two quick and easy outs to start the first, Fukudome battled his way on base, earning a walk. This gave resurgent cleanup hitter Gomez a chance to bring him home on a deep ball to right-center (video here). The crucial first run of the game went to the Tigers thanks to #8’s keen eye and strong base running.

In the fourth, Baystars pitcher blooped a ball to right, which “the Dome” charged, threw hard to second and induced the ever-so-rare “fielder’s choice to right.” It didn’t prevent a run from scoring on the play, but it helped Messenger get out of a tough inning.

He then led off the bottom of the inning with a stand-up triple (his third of the year after recording none in his first two years with the club). The two imports both grounded out to pitcher, and fans feared another leadoff triple by the PL-graduate would be wasted, until Hiroki Uemoto (a.k.a. Lethal Uepon) punched a ball through the infield (video here). The deficit was cut in half, and the Tigers needed just one more run to even things up.

fukudomehomerun

Who else should be the one to provide the bat but Dome-san? His 10th home run of the year in the sixth was a solo shot, and sent the crowd into a frenzy. (GIF here)

But not as much as his next one, which went to an even deeper part of the stadium, and put the team up a run. (GIF here) It was his first multi-home run game in 8 years, and gave him a final line of: 3 AB, 3 H, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R. Plus one outfield assist. You want clutch? Listen to this: of his 11 bombs on the year, 2 have been the first run scored in the game, 3 have tied the game, 1 broke a tie, 1 reversed the lead, and 1 was a walkoff. Since moving into third in the hitting order, he is 13-for-27 (.481) with 3 HR and 6 RBI.

fukudomehero150627

Here is a translation of the hero interview. Did I mention that I love his curtness and frankness? Curt and Frank would be proud. (video here)

ーTell us how you’re feeling right now.
“Quite frankly I’m happy. Yeah.”

ーFirst, your game-tying home run. You were the leadoff hitter that inning. Can you take us back to what you were thinking at the time?
“What was happening then? I dunno, I think I just went in hoping to get on base.”

ーAnd how did the connection feel?
“It felt great, but the ball in my previous at bat was held in the park by the head winds, so I didn’t think this one had a chance, either.”

ーHow would you rate your condition these days?
“Well, better than usual, I reckon.”

ーHow did you prepare for your at-bat when you hit the go-ahead home run?
“We already had two outs on us that inning, and I might be overstating things but I went in thinking home run.”

ーHow did that one feel?
“Better than the first one.”

ーIt’s your first double-digit home run season since joining the Tigers, and your first in a long time. How does that sound to you?
“Yeah, it took me awhile to get back there.”

ーYou’ve been on a real roll since batting third in the order. How do you like that slot?
“It’s good.”

ーYou scored four runs today, meaning you ran a lot as well.
“I’m ready for a good leg massage tonight.”

ーOn defense you made a great play on (DeNA pitcher) Inoh’s hit, showing great focus in right as well.
“One of the team’s defining characteristics is creating momentum with sound fielding. It all starts there.”

ーThe team is now undefeated in six. How do you feel about the momentum the team has built?
“I think we’ve got some good flow going.”

ーThe team sits atop the standings. How does it feel to play good ball while on top?
“It’s fun!”

ーAbout tomorrow’s game…
“We had some great support from all you fans today, and we’ll do our best to keep things going in tomorrow’s game.”

Series Recap – May 22-24, 2015

Through the Giants series, and all season long, really, the Tigers have struggled to put runs up in the opening innings of games. In fact, dating back to February 15, the Tigers had gone 6 straight games without putting up a run in the first FIVE innings of any game! This obviously puts a lot of pressure on the starting pitcher, as the Tigers’ track record when giving up the first run of a game is quite bad. Here’s how the series against Central League-leading DeNA Baystars went down:

This lead's gotta be safe, right? Five nothing in the third? Super Mario on the mound? It's just the first-place Baystars, after all...

This lead’s gotta be safe, right? Five nothing in the third? Super Mario on the mound? It’s just the first-place Baystars, after all…

Game 1: Last time Mario Santiago took the mound, the team did not put any runs up until he was out of the game. This time, they spotted him five runs on: a Kosuke Fukudome RBI ground-out and Hiroki Uemoto double in the first, a two-run Takashi Toritani home run in the second, and a solo blast by Fukudome in the third. This one looked all but over, when the fifth inning happened. A walk between two singles (one scoring a run), then a three-run blast by emerging superstar Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh. “Super Mario” left the game mid-inning and Ryoma Matsuda came in to finish up the fifth and preserve the lead, but then put a runner on in the seventh, and Kazuya Takamiya couldn’t strand him. Tie game. Enter the bottom of the ninth, when reliever Shinobu Fukuhara gave up a leadoff hit. Then with two outs and a runner on second, the crushing blow came in the form of a base hit to the right field corner. The Baystars crawled all the way back from a 5-0 deficit. Final Score: Baystars 6, Tigers 5.

Fukudome led the way for the Tigers with 3 RBI on the day. This comes on the heels of a solo home run the day before. Is the Tigers' hitting finally finding its groove?

Fukudome led the way for the Tigers with 3 RBI on Saturday. This comes on the heels of a solo home run the day before. Is the Tigers’ hitting finally finding its groove?

Game 2: Again the Tigers started this one well, with Matt Murton driving a ball down the right field line, bringing Toritani home, giving the visitors a quick 1-0 lead. It stayed this way until the third, when Tsutsugoh again burned the Tigers, this time with an RBI single off starter Atsushi Nohmi. Neither team managed to take the lead until the ninth, as both pitchers clamped down on the batters. A Mauro Gomez walk was followed by a pinch-run stolen base (by Fumiya Araki) and a bad throw that allowed him to advance to third. Fukudome hit a deep fly to left, scoring Araki easily. Uemoto then doubled to left-center, advanced to third on a bad throw, and the Tigers were ready to extend their lead. Unfortunately, a Kentaro Sekimoto pop up to catcher and an Akihito Fujii grounder to short ended the top of the inning. Now the pressure was on Nohmi to hold back the Baystars bats. He couldn’t. A Tsutsugoh double was followed by a Baldiris single, and the home team tied it up. On to extras. Toritani draws a one-out walk, then goes all the way to third on a wild pitch. Shunsuke strikes out on a bad pitch (for the second time this game). Two outs. Yamato and Araki due up. Not looking too hopeful. Amazingly, both walk on 4 straight pitches, bringing up the grizzly veteran Fukudome. One pitch is all it took. A single up the middle scored two, and the Tigers had their biggest lead of the game, 4-2. Then, instead of bringing in the usual closer, Wada elected to go with Fukuhara again. Perhaps this was a way of showing continued trust in the man who lost the previous day. (Turns out Oh got sick over the weekend and was unable to play.) Anyways, the old veteran got through the inning without issuing a runner. Final Score: Tigers 4, Baystars 2.

Wada had plenty to be mad about. Not just the plunking that Uemoto took in the ninth. Not just his team's play as they coughed up two leads in the series. He ought to be more than a little mad at himself, too!

Wada had plenty to be mad about. Not just the plunking that Uemoto took in the ninth. Not just his team’s play as they coughed up two leads in the series. He ought to be more than a little mad at himself, too!

Game 3: Let me preface this by saying I didn’t watch the game, and am compiling this summary from what I read on Twitter and my Facebook Tigers group (join here!)

Somehow the Tigers managed to score early in three straight games! Toritani’s hit was followed by an error on Shunsuke’s grounder, then Murton-Gomez-Fukudome driving in a run each. Three run lead. However, today’s starter, Yuta Iwasada, made his debut an ugly one. Hits and walks were given out like candy as he surrendered a run in the first, then four more crossed the dish in the third. Not all of them were his, but reliever Kuwahara fed the ball to the Baystars like they were his four year old son (note: I don’t think he has a son) and this was a tee-ball game. Then Daiki Enokida joined the fun, giving the Baystars a seemingly insurmountable lead in the fifth, 7-3. Things looked bleak for the Tigers until pinch hitter Hayata Itoh hit his second long ball of the year in the seventh, cutting the lead in half. Continuing the “Day of Amnesty,” Matsuda gave the Baystars a run in the eighth, and the deficit was back to 3 with just three outs to go. So what happens? BS closer Yamasaki drills Uemoto in the head, bringing Wada out in a hurry. So did members of both teams, as this came close to becoming a full-scale brawl. (See video footage here.) The Tigers continued to pile up walks late in games, as Sekimoto and Itoh drew free passes, then Toritani added another to push a run across the plate. With just one out and the bases loaded, the Tigers were seemingly just a hit from tying or winning this one! A Yamato line drive looked good but was nabbed by the third baseman. Murton came up with two outs and… struck out. Game over. Final Score: Baystars 8, Tigers 6.

Series Notes: Tsuyoshi Nishioka left the first game in the fifth and immediately went to the hospital to have his elbow checked. It appears the injury is serious and he is due to miss extended time. The team called up Yuto Morikoshi to fill his roster spot. Ryota Arai took Nishioka’s place at third for the rest of the series… Since his mini-slump and all the fuss about his place on the starting roster, Toritani has gone 6 for 11 (.545). Despite his failed stolen base attempt in a crucial situation in Game 3, he is definitely turning things around… Catcher Ryutaro Umeno, who has not seen much action in the past week, has been sent down to the minors, likely to fine-tune his game-calling… Third baseman Ryota Imanari played in the Western League for the first time since his injury, and other than not being able to run too fast, was fine. However, word is that he will definitely not be ready for Interleague play, which begins on Tuesday… Three of the four pitchers from Sunday’s game (Iwasada, Kuwahara and Enokida) have been sent to the farm for reconditioning… Ryota Arai injured his left knee in Sunday’s game and has been placed on the disabled list.

Here are the current Central League standings.

15-5-24 Standings

I hope to write up brief team profiles for the Pacific League teams, whom we will face three times each. First up: the Rakuten Eagles at Koshien! I will be at Game 1… let’s GO TIGERS!

Miniseries Recap – April 21-22, 2015

This week features two short two-game series split by two days off in the middle The Tigers are already half done their week, as they visited Yokohama to face the slumping Baystars. Let’s end all suspense and reveal the scores. Yesterday’s game extended the home team’s losing streak to 7, with the Tigers winning 5-3. Tonight’s game evened the series at 1, as the Tigers fell 7-4 after a big 6th inning from the Baystars.

Mauro Gomez has been tearing the cover off the ball lately, with 11 RBIs in his last 6 games.

Mauro Gomez has been tearing the cover off the ball lately, with 11 RBIs in his last 6 games.

Game 1: Here is Minoru Iwata‘s progression from the start of the game: out, out, out; out, out, out; out, out, out; out, out, out; out, out, out; out, out, out. Perfect through six. It really looked like he was going to pull off a perfect game. But then the seventh happened. Plunk the leadoff guy. Strike out the next. OK still looking good, still have a no hitte… oh no! HIT! Still have a shutou… wait, that’s gone, too, another hit! And another!?! So after 6 1/3 innings, he leaves the mound ahead 3-2. At least he’s still in line for his first win of the seaso… nope, a home run off reliever Shinobu Fukuhara took care of that, too! Poor Iwata, pitching so well but never notching wins. Fortunately for the Tigers, another clutch hit by revived first baseman Mauro Gomez gave them a two-run lead heading into the home side of the ninth. Seung-hwan Oh, who recently went public about his relationship with Girls’ Generation hottie Yuri, followed a leadoff hit with three straight strikeouts. Game over. Final Score: Tigers 5, Baystars 3.

Slump buster? Matt Murton finally gets a hit after 20 straight ABs without one. Hopefully this one wakes his bat up!

Slump buster? Matt Murton finally gets a hit after 20 straight ABs without one. Hopefully this one wakes his bat up!

Game 2: For the second straight outing, starter Randy Messenger gave up a crooked number in the first inning. And for the second straight outing, I missed it. Fortunately this time, the number was smaller (2 vs. the 3 he gave up against the Giants on Friday night) and the Tigers were able to give him a lead, as well, scoring 3 in the third. As the game went on, Randy got stronger and stronger, at one point striking out six straight. The game’s outcome was decided in the sixth, though, as with two outs, the Baystars rallied for four hits (including a 3-run home run) and a walk, scoring five and taking a 7-3 lead. The inning ended well for Messenger, as he recorded his 10th strikeout of the game before leaving the mound. Unfortunately the damage was done and the Tigers could only put one more run on the board. Final Score: Baystars 7, Tigers 4.

Series Notes: In Tuesday’s game, Tsuyoshi Nishioka picked up his second straight modasho (3 hits in a game), and then got two more hits tonight. He is back in the top-5 CL hitters on the year… speaking of CL batting champs, Matt Murton finally broke out of his career-worst slump by driving in a run in the 8th inning of tonight’s game. He batted sixth tonight for the first time ever with the Tigers, and still struck out twice (adding to the three from the night before) and desperately needs to turn his season around… Gomez now has RBIs in a career-best six consecutive games and is second in the league with 17. This puts him on pace for 111, which would eclipse last year’s mark by 2… Hiroki Uemoto has drastically improved at the plate since moving back into the leadoff spot. He was batting well under .200 when hitting second or seventh, but is around .320 since the change was made 6 games ago… Messenger set an NPB record for career games by a foreigner with double-digits in strikeouts, with twelve. Next record up for the big hurler: career strikeouts by a foreign pitcher with the Tigers. He trails legend Gene Bacque by 28.

Series Recap – April 7-9, 2015

Baystars1

Game 1: No runs until the 6th.

Baystars2

Game 2: No runs until the 5th.

Baystars3

Game 3: No runs until the 8th.

If you decided to attend one of the first games at Koshien but were worried about showing up late, you needn’t have worried. The Tigers also failed to show up early. Often they failed to show up late, too. In all three games of their opening series on their home turf, the Tigers produced zero runs through the first four innings. In fact, they only scored in three innings all series and nearly half of their runs scored came on one error. Obviously it was not a good series for the Tigers, as they dropped three straight against the up-and-coming DeNA Baystars. Since winning their first three of the season, the Tigers have gone 2-7 and no aspect of their game has looked promising during this slide.

15-4-Baystars

Game 1: Although starter Atsushi Nohmi was only on the hook for 1 of the 5 runs scored against him, he was tagged for six hits and walked one through two innings, which put the Tigers in an early hole. On the whole, the Tigers pitchers combined to give up 17 hits and 8 runs, with only Fukuhara pitching a clean inning. Relievers Kaneda, Shimamoto and Takamiya allowed the ‘Stars to extend their lead back to 5 runs. The Tigers scored their runs on a Kosuke Fukudome solo home run in the sixth, which was followed later by a mishandled Hiroki Uemoto grounder to shortstop. On the whole, the Tigers scattered 9 hits and walked six times, but could not bring enough runners home to make this one close. Final Score: Baystars 8, Tigers 3.

Game 2: After a hot spring and a great first start, young Akira Iwamoto‘s magic ended here, as he allowed consecutive runs in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings before leaving with the team deep in a hole. It was one they would never come close to digging themselves out of, as their lone run came in the bottom of the fifth. Mauro Gomez broke out of his long slump with an RBI double, and even added another double later in the game, but the rest of the team was silent around him. They all combined for two hits – a Takashi Toritani leadoff double in the first and a Matt Murton single in the third. They drew seven walks in this one, so it was not a lack of baserunners, but again a lack of clutch hitting. Once again, rookie reliever Tsuyoshi Ishizaki looked shaky, allowing 2 runs in 1 1/3 innings. Final Score: Baystars 6, Tigers 1.

Game 3: Second-year pitcher Suguru Iwazaki hoped to bounce back after a shaky outing in Tokyo against the Swallows, especially with his parents in attendance. And he did a great job, holding the ‘Stars scoreless through seven, and left in the eighth with one out and runners on first and third. Fukuhara gave up back-to-back hits and the Baystars took a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the inning. A Shunsuke walk and Tsuyoshi Nishioka double gave the Tigers a golden opportunity to come back, but a Gomez grounder gave the Tigers their lone run of the inning. Final Score: Baystars 2, Tigers 1.

Even the last-place Hiroshima Carp are looking scary as they come to Koshien for the next series. They took two of three from the Giants and sit a game behind the Tigers (and Giants) in the standings. Amazingly, the three playoff teams from last season sit in the last three spots so far this year.

15-4-9 Standings

Other Notes: Murton broke the club record for most games played by a foreigner on Thursday, playing in his 704th game. The record was previously held by Willie Kirkland (1968-1973). This marks the second straight year Murton has taken a key team record. Last year he surpassed Randy Bass on the career hits list with 744… The Tigers’ team ERA is currently worst in the Central League (4.25), as is their batting average (.221). Many other Tigers analysts place some of the blame for the former on catcher Ryutaro Umeno, as he tends to call a rather simple and predictable game for the pitchers to throw. Umeno has played in all but one inning so far this season… Through 12 games, the Tigers have scored just 4 runs in the first three innings (36 total) of their matches. This means opposing starting pitchers have a 1.00 ERA against them in the early innings.