Tigers 1, Buffaloes 15 – The Rant

buffaloes15tigers1

Keep in mind, reader, that I love the Tigers, despite my harsh words. I want them to succeed, reach their potential, win games, even championships.

This is not a series recap, and there will be no series recap this time around. The Tigers’ play is not worthy of being retold. In fact, I question whether or not I should even be writing this at all. I simply want to voice a few things about the last two games in particular and the Tigers’ overall performance in general.

The biggest problem with the team, in spite of the ludicrous amount of runs allowed today, is not its pitching. The hitting is absolutely atrocious, and the past week has made that clearer than ever. Let’s look at our regular player’s lines over the interleague season, with the averages over the last 5 games in brackets. The number before the name is their NPB rank for average in interleague play.

28. Takashi Toritani: .302 (.200)

49. Kosuke Fukudome: .242 (.222)

53. Matt Murton: .231 (.000)

57. Hiroki Uemoto: .222 (.118)

60. Mauro Gomez: .207 (.125)

That’s right, these are their rankings out of 67 NPB batters who have had over 44 at bats during interleague play. We have ONE guy in the top 48, and FOUR in the bottom 19! And our THIRD BEST guy has been benched for the last two games! That brings me to the next problem…

Awww what's the matter, Wada? Someone mad that Uemoto copied your glasses choice? Or the losing?

Awww what’s the matter, Wada? Someone mad that Uemoto copied your glasses choice? Or the losing?

Management, coaching, strategy, etc. It’s been absolutely awful. I’m not a professional and honestly, I would be an awful manager from the dugout. But from my couch, I’m pretty good at this. The team has managed a mere 9 hits in the last two games, 4 of which came in garbage time in today’s blowout. In the first game of the series, starter Randy Messenger threw 9 brilliant innings of shutout ball, and was supported by 3 measly singles. In my opinion, there were several chances to bring in a pinch hitter to try to generate a hit, a run, which is all they needed to win this one. In the top of the 7th, with 2 outs, catcher Akihito Fujii (.192 on the season) stepped up to the plate. We could have used Keisuke Kanoh (who had hit a home run the day before) or even Murton, who is obviously a more capable bat than our old catcher. With Kazunari Tsuruoka on the bench, we still had a more-than-capable catcher to crouch behind the plate for the balance of the game. But Fujii struck out, ending the inning. Shunsuke opened the eighth with a hit, which, had he instead been able to do in the seventh, would have put the winning run in scoring position. Anyhow, in the eighth, after another delightful bunt to push Shunsuke into scoring position, we subbed in the “god of pinch hitters” Kohei Shibata (/end sarcasm). Again, why not Kanoh or Murton? Shibata proceeded to strike out (and it was his error that allowed the winning run to score in the 10th. Not that I’m throwing him under the bus.), and so did captain Tori, ending the threat. Both times I was yelling at the TV (and posting on Facebook) about why this was a bad move. I was right, but being right never felt so wrong. Again in the top of the 10th, Wada went with Fujii at the plate when he could have easily brought in a pinch hitter. Another strikeout, another wasted opportunity.

Yokoyama didn't have it today, but he was left in too long in the 4th.

Yokoyama didn’t have it today, but he was left in too long in the 4th.

Then there was today’s game. Starter Yuya Yokoyama began the 4th (in which he had just received a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Fukudome upper-deck blast) by plunking their leadoff batter. Then a hit, then a walk. It was clear he was gassed. (He threw in relief on Tuesday.) But still, the score was 1-0 and the bases were loaded. His pitches were all up in the zone, and he walked the next guy on 4 high pitches. Tie game. Another hitter, another walk, still his pitches were high and errant. I’ve been reading a book by former MLB catcher Jason Kendall lately, in which he says if a pitcher’s balls are all high, it’s a clear sign he is tired and needs to be pulled. Wada waited too long to pull the trigger. With a 2-1 deficit and bases juiced and still no one out, he brought in… Naoto Tsuru. Yes, the man who is better known for his Facebook page than his pitching. The game is still within reach, why not bring in a more experienced pitcher, like, say, Kazuya Takamiya or Yuya Andoh? At least they have put out fires earlier in the year. (And sometimes failed as well, mind you. But still, they had experience… that’s the key!) Tsuru allowed two more hits, which was enough for the Buffaloes to add 4 to their score, and the game was now officially a joke. After that, you can throw any reliever in you want, it doesn’t make a difference. Look at our bats – not like they’re gonna stage a comeback! (See hitting averages above.) So it matters little that Tatsuya Kojima and Takamiya let in another 9 runs. When the game is on the line, you gotta go with your experienced pitchers. Bad, BAD decision making by Yutaka Wada were rewarded with poor performances on all fronts, and an embarrassing loss was the result.

I’m running out of time, space and patience, so I will not continue my list of things that went wrong. I will just say one thing about each player, and call it a night.

Toritani: LEAD the team. Not in stats, not in games played, but with your voice. Create an atmosphere. Expect more from your mates.

Uemoto: Nice defense at least. Your bat has been pretty quiet since the beaning in Yokohama.

Murton: You gotta stop being so mad, especially in front of the camera. You’re not endearing yourself to teammates or fans. And your “There’s peace in Jesus” comments in hero interviews of the past look pretty hypocritical these days. Oh, and swing for the fences once or twice, please.

Gomez: Don’t swing at low pitches. Just don’t.

Fukudome: No beefs. You’re the team’s only slugger these days.

Imanari: Practice batting more. Your slump is turning you into the left-handed Murton. (OUCH. Sorry Matt.)

Center fielders: One of you, step up, please. Just one. The platoon is awful.

Tsuruoka & Fujii: When interleague ends, we need you to hit, too… because two automatic outs at the bottom of the order are not acceptable.

The End. Tomorrow’s my birthday and I expect a win from you. But I won’t be watching it so someone out there will need to report it to me. Thanks.

Monthly Tigers Magazine – June 2015

2015juneposter

The June edition hit the stands on Monday, but I decided it was time to become a subscriber instead of buying it at the newsstand every week. So mine arrived last night. It came with five player cards: Atsushi Nohmi, Yuya Andoh, Kentaro Sekimoto, Matt Murton and legendary catcher Koichi Tabuchi. Each of the next 5 issues will come with 5 more cards. Looking forward to reading this issue, as it has a lot of really interesting features!

Here is the table of contents for this issue:

  • Opening feature: Ultra Golden Week @ Koshien
  • Close-up Interview: Minoru Iwata
  • Another Side View: Iwata
  • Pinstripe Report: Searching for Ways to Move Up
  • Tigers’ Diary: Randy Bass
  • Players’ Note: Ryutaro Umeno
  • Best Nine in Tigers’ History (as chosen by Tigers OB)
  • Pop’N Talk – Travis Mikihisa Samura
  • Tigers Farm Report
  • Take Care of my Son – Koki Moriya
  • Tigers Data Analysis
  • Short Q & A – Yuya Yokoyama
  • Teammates Talk About – Akihito Fujii
  • Advice Column – Katsuo Hirata

Once again, if any of these really interest you and you’d like an English translation (or summary), let me know! I can’t promise anything but I’ll do what I can!

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!

Series Recap – May 15-17, 2015

Many, including myself, wondered why the Tigers bothered signing a fifth foreigner back in March. After all, the Fab 4 did nothing but lead the league in at least one category each while staying healthy all year. What could go wrong in 2015? Well, on May 11, veteran ace Randy Messenger (league-worst 5.88 ERA) got sent down to the farm in a move that disappointed him and his family, and the newcomer from Puerto Rico would get a chance to play on the big stage. How would he fare? Would the Tigers continue their move up the standings? Could they keep the momentum going after a disastrous previous week? Let’s look at the games one by one.

“Super” Mario Santiago pitched 7 innings, giving up just one run on 7 hits, 3 walks. He struck out 5. Photo by Sponichi.

Game 1: Newcomer Mario Santiago made his debut for the parent club, and seemed to fit right in with other Tigers pitchers: put guys on base but hold strong. Through four innings, he had allowed 7 baserunners (one on an error) and never got the first batter out. He struck out the leadoff hitter in the fifth, but then gave up two hits and the Dragons took the lead. The Tigers could not get their bats, going, however. Santiago held the fort down through seven, and was lined up for the loss, when pinch hitter Ryota Arai again worked his magic, leading off the eighth with a single. Yamato pinch-ran, stole second, and crossed home on a Tsuyoshi Nishioka double. A few batters later with two men on base, Matt Murton delivered the go-ahead hit and suddenly, “Super Mario” had a chance at being the winning pitcher! Shinobu Fukuhara worked a clean eighth, and closer Seung-hwan Oh managed to hold off their assault in the ninth. He was also helped with a game-ending throw-out to second on the Dragons’ second failed stolen base attempt. Props to veteran catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka. Santiago wins! Final Score: Tigers 2, Dragons 1.

With no outs and a runner on first, manager Yutaka Wada brought in Shunsuke to

With no outs and a runner on first, manager Yutaka Wada brought in Shunsuke to “pinch bunt” the runner over the 2nd. The result: no run scored.

Game 2: Facing the league’s 3rd best pitcher, the Tigers’ bats would be hard-pressed to generate any offense in this one. They depended heavily on veteran lefty Atsushi Nohmi to keep it close. And he did. Through seven innings, he surrendered just six hits (two of which a better third baseman may have stopped) and limited the league’s best hitting order to just one run. Unfortunately for Nohmi, the bats were even less supportive of him than they were of Santiago one day earlier. A third inning single by Akihito Fujii and a fifth inning single by Murton was all that they got, if you don’t count the three walks and plunking they took. In the end, despite big chances in the eighth and ninth innings, the pinstripes were shut out and fell back out of third place. Final Score: Dragons 1, Tigers 0.

Suguru Iwazaki could not get things going in this one. He apologized for not being able to keep his team in the game after lasting just 4 innings.

Suguru Iwazaki could not get things going in this one. He apologized for not being able to keep his team in the game after lasting just 4 innings.

Game 3: Not a whole lot went the Tigers’ way in this one. Starter Suguru Iwazaki lasted just 4 innings as he walked the bases loaded without registering an out in the 4th, giving up three runs on a grounder and a single. Akira Iwamoto, who up to this point had been used as a starter, came in to relieve Iwazaki in the 5th, gave up another 3-spot on 4 hits and left without completing the inning. The consolation for our guys was that Mauro Gomez broke out of his recent funk with three hits, including a solo home run in the ninth. It was his first long ball in nearly a month and just his third of the year. Wada still found room to put a little blame on him, though, as he grounded into an inning-ending double play in the 3rd with runners on 1st and 3rd. Final Score: Dragons 6, Tigers 1.

Series Notes: For one brief day, the Tigers found themselves in 3rd place in the Central. That quickly disappeared though, as all three teams near them in the standings won on Sunday, and the team finds itself back in a tie for 4th, just a half game out of the cellar. They also face the red-hot Giants and Baystars this week so they’ll need to bring their A-game… Murton has now hit safely in 5 straight games since his benching on May 10. His average still sits at .242 but he is hitting with more authority than he was earlier in the year… The Tigers remain at the bottom of the league in batting average (.228), home runs (18) and steals (14). Their 3.92 ERA also ranks last in the Central… Outfielder Masahiro Nakatani was optioned back to the farm team. He made just three plate appearances while up with the big club, recording one hit… Since April 22, the Tigers lost 2, won 4, lost 3, won 2, lost 3, won 3, and lost 2. Here are the current standings in the Central:

15-5-17 Standings

Series Commentary: Santiago definitely made a case for staying up with the big club, but a conundrum presents itself: whom does the team deactivate? The current NPB rule allows for a maximum of four foreigners on the active roster at any given time. Messenger is on the farm but early indications were that he would be recalled after the minimum 10 days of deactivation. However, more recent news reports suggest that rookie Yuya Yokoyama will start on the 21st and Santiago will get the nod on the 22nd. This means Messenger’s stay on the farm will go at least 12 days. Meanwhile, Murton is just starting to heat up, Oh is the incumbent closer with no reason to be demoted, and Gomez, in spite of his struggles in May, is not really doing anything demotion-worthy at the plate. It will be interesting to see how the club handles this one.

I understand the importance of “one run” in these close games, but I completely disagree with Wada’s decision-making late in game 2. When the Tigers finally got the leadoff man on base in the eighth and ninth, Wada called for his second batter to bunt the leadoff man to second, essentially giving two of the final six outs away for free. I know the Tigers have a penchant for hitting grounders, some of which end in double plays, but when games are this close, you can’t give the opposition free outs! A recent “study” (in MLB, mind you) showed that outs are more precious than bases. In other words, you have a better chance of scoring with no outs and a runner on first than you do with one out and a runner on second. Still, with Hiroki Uemoto – the team’s “speedster” – on first, Wada not only elected to bunt him over, but brought in a pinch hitter to do so! The next pinch hitter, Kentaro Sekimoto, was plunked, and with one out and runners on first and second, a third pinch hitter, Keisuke Kanoh, grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Inning over. The results were no better in the ninth, when Nishioka drew a walk and was bunted to second by our bunting pro, Yamato. Takashi Toritani struck out, Gomez walked, and again we had runners on first and second (but with two outs). Murton drove one deep to center field, but within range of their defense. Game over. Two outs wasted on bunts, and nothing to show for it. STOP CALLING FOR THE BUNT, PLEASE!

torihitthird

Team captain Takashi Toritani has a lower batting average (.234) than any non-catcher and non-pitcher in the lineup. In fact in this lineup, even the pitcher is hitting better than him! (Pssst! The pitcher actually has the best average on the starting nine on this night!)

I said it before and I’ll say it again. Toritani’s not pulling his weight. He is hitting just .143 with runners in scoring position on the season. They dropped Murton in the order when he was slumping, moved Uemoto all over the order (he’s hit first, second, sixth and seventh already this year), and benched Yamato for long periods. But Tori gets exemption from being moved? (He started the year as leadoff hitter but was moved not for his poor play, but Uemoto’s. Plus, he didn’t want to hit leadoff in the first place.) I believe it’s time to drop him down to seventh and really make this batting order better balanced. Here’s my suggestion. Your ideas are welcome in the comments.

1) Nishioka / 2) Yamato / 3) Murton / 4) Gomez / 5) Fukudome / 6) Uemoto / 7) Toritani / 8) Catcher / 9) Pitcher

Uemoto could be in second, with Yamato moving down to the lower half, but this order makes our lower half at least a little bit stronger (provided Tori starts hitting) and definitely more intimidating to opposing pitchers. It also gets a little bit of left/right/left/right that Wada likes so much, with batters 4-8 (and maybe even all the way to 1st) alternating back and forth.

Miniseries Recap – April 25-26, 2015

No need to sound the alarm just yet, Tigers fans! Toritani to the rescue! His 3 RBIs on Sunday represented his first in over a week.

No need to sound the alarm just yet, Tigers fans! Toritani to the rescue! His 3 RBIs on Sunday represented his first in over a week.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” — A Tale of Two Cities

How better to describe the last two games but to say that two different teams showed up each day. For each team.

The Tigers spent their weekend in Hiroshima, facing the last place Carp in a two-game series. The first game could not have gone worse for the Tigers, while the second game could not have gone much better.

The Tigers got pounced on early and often as the Carp walked all over the pinstripes on Saturday.

The Tigers got pounced on early and often as the Carp walked all over the pinstripes on Saturday.

Game 1: The Tigers started young ace Shintaro Fujinami against the Carp’s veteran hurler Hiroki Kuroda. Right from the beginning, Fujinami’s control was off, as was his pitch choice, as the Carp jumped on him for three hits and a run. He nearly plunked Kuroda with a couple of brushback pitches in the second, which caused both benches to clear and the Tigers to lose their composure. A fielding error by Mauro Gomez (who had been fighting a fever) brought home a run, and two more errors (a bobbled pop-up by Tsuyoshi Nishioka and a throwing error by Ryutaro Umeno) brought more runs across the plate for the home team. Then after Fujinami left the game, the relievers (Hiroya Shimamoto and Kazuyuki Kaneda) gave up bases-clearing triples in the sixth, and the Carp bats, which had been silent much of the season, came to life. The Tigers’ lone bright spot was spot starter Hayata Itoh, who recorded three hits including a 2-run home run in the top of the sixth. Final Score: Carp 11, Tigers 3.

A huge sixth inning on Sunday started with a Murton (right) RBI and was capped off with Gomez's RBI double.

A huge sixth inning on Sunday started with a Murton RBI and was capped off with Gomez’s RBI double.

Game 2: Once again, Atsushi Nohmi was led by veteran catcher Akihito Fujii, and the two combined for an excellent performance. Nohmi scattered six hits (all singles) and threw a complete game shut-out. The Tigers piled up ten hits and ten walks, and put up six runs in the sixth inning on RBI hits by Matt Murton, Takashi Toritani and Gomez, plus a bases-loaded walk drawn by Nishioka. The Carp only once had a runner in scoring position, and never put more than one man on base in a single inning. The Tigers, on the other hand, had at least two baserunners in six of the nine innings. Could this be a sign that the Tigers’ bats are coming to life? Final Score: Tigers 6, Carp 0.

Series Notes: Nishioka drew four walks in today’s game… Murton has now hit safely in three straight games, including three hits today for his first modasho of the season. Kosuke Fukudome also recorded three hits on the day… This was the first game all season that the Tigers won by more than three runs. In other words, closer Seung-hwan Oh stayed on the bench for a win for the first time this season out of ten wins… Toritani hit a foul ball in the fifth inning that set off a fire alarm at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium. The game was halted for several minutes… Former Tiger Takahiro Arai reached base safely four times (2 hits, 2 walks) on Saturday and twice more (both hits) on Sunday. He finished the series 4-for-7 (.571)… Murton is hitting .417 (5-for-12) in the three games since moving down to the six slot. It will be interesting to see if they keep him there or move him back up to his customary spot (fifth) in the order… Rookie Taiga Egoshi made his return to the team (and the starting lineup) on Sunday, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts… The Tigers host first place Yakult Swallows early this week at Koshien, and then play a short two-game series at Tokyo Dome against the Giants on the weekend. This is a much-needed chance to gain some ground in the standings. GO TIGERS!

Series Recap – April 10-12, 2015

Things just didn't go the Tigers' way on Saturday night. Messenger (right) catches the ball with his throwing hand as Uemoto and Nishioka look on.

Things just didn’t go the Tigers’ way on Saturday. Messenger (right) catches the ball with his throwing hand as Uemoto and Nishioka look on.

As the Tigers’ miserable start on home soil left fans drowning their sorrows, the heavens decided to give the team a break on Friday. Continuous rain all Friday caused the night game to be canceled (and rescheduled for September 11), and gave the Tigers another day to regroup and hopefully put an end to their 5-game losing streak.

15-4-Carp

Unfortunately the Carp rained on the Tigers’ parade on Saturday, getting the better of starter Randy Messenger, chasing him by scoring 4 straight runs before any outs were recorded in the sixth. Again the Tigers bats failed to produce much early or consistently, scoring on Kosuke Fukudome’s solo shot in the second and his RBI single in the sixth. Major league returnee Hiroki Kuroda pitched effectively enough to earn the win for the Carp, who extended their season-best streak to three. Final Score: Carp 7, Tigers 2.

For Sunday’s game, Wada decided to juggle his hitting order in a big way. Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off, Yamato was back up to second, Takashi Toritani hit third and Akihito Fujii made his first start at catcher, batting eighth. Birthday boy Shintaro Fujinami (21) took the mound against newcomer Kris Johnson, and for the first time since April 3, the Tigers found themselves leading as Fujinami hit a sacrifice fly and Nishioka brought another run home in the bottom half of the second. Unfortunately the offense sputtered after that, and Fujinami gave up a number of hits before leaving the game in the seventh, down 3-2. But wait! In the bottom of the 8th inning, pinch hitter Ryota Arai drew a walk, which was followed by a dramatic Toritani home run, putting the Tigers up by a run with just three outs to go. Closer Seung-hwan Oh gave up a lead-off hit, was given a courtesy out on a sacrifice bunt, then mowed down the next two Carp hitters. The losing streak was over at last! The game also featured many fine defensive plays, including outstanding outfield catches by Fukudome and Yamato. Final Score: Tigers 4, Carp 3.

The Tigers still have their work cut out for them, having only won one game this year by more than a single point. They have not looked convincingly strong at all this season, and the fans will not be satisfied with just this one win. They are still in the lower half of the standings and need to put together a strong winning streak against the Dragons next week in Nagoya.

15-4-12 Standings

Series Notes: By picking up the win on Sunday, reliever Ryoma Matsuda now has half of the team’s six wins. Chalk it up to being the right pitcher at the right time. Still, when is the last time a reliever has led the team in wins this deep into the season? Should continue for awhile, as no one else has more than a win so far. Messenger, Fujinami and Akira Iwamoto have the other W’s… The Tigers tied a club record on Saturday by losing their first four games of the season at Koshien. Saturday’s loss tied the 1999 squad for futility, a club that ended up in last place. Let’s hope these Tigers avoid doing the same… Minoru Iwata missed his turn in the rotation and will likely start the first or second game of the next series. With four left-handed starting pitchers currently, the Tigers are at a disadvantage against the bulk of the league, as right-handed hitters typically hit better against southpaws… With Toritani’s bomb in the eighth, the team now has 6 on the season so far. At this point last year they had double digits already. Look for Mauro Gomez and Matt Murton to bring their big bats into the next series.

2015 Season Preview, Part 1: Infield

Today I’d like to start a four-part series about the Tigers and their upcoming season. This section will look at the infield. The next will look at the outfield and general offense. The second half of the series will look at starting pitchers and the relief squad. Without further ado, let’s dive right in to what is probably the most intriguing story at this spring’s camps.

Catchers

umenotsuruokaRookie Ryutaro Umeno carried the bulk of the load last season, playing in 92 games while starting nearly half the team’s games (60). He impressed fans with his strong defense (no passed balls allowed) and potential to hit the long ball (7 HR, including back-to-back jacks in July). However, his averaged was low all year and ended south of the Mendoza line (.197). He also played in very few games after August, giving the bulk of the playing time up to the veterans. Fatigue, loss of strength and inexperience did him in last year, but he has said that it is his goal to be a power-hitting catcher who can endure the rigors of an entire season, and he needs to do just that. The Japanese say “優勝チームに名捕手あり” (Championship teams have well known catchers.) If Umeno can be that for the Tigers, this team could win the championship this season and for years to come.

The other main options, Kazunari Tsuruoka and Akihito Fuji, were both brought in as free agents and are towards the end of their careers. They need to step aside and give Umeno the spotlight as well as any wisdom they may have to impart to the future starting catcher. Others playing catcher at camp include Takashi Shimizu and Shinya Azuhata.

First Basemen

The only one here, in reality, is 2014 RBI champion Mauro Gomez. He had a completely impressive first season, batting .283 and hitting 26 home runs and driving in 109 runs. He also played in all but one game, which he sat out because of heat stroke. However, the Tigers need to be ready for a potential drop off in production. He struck out 166 times (three away from being league worst) and definitely has some weaknesses that veteran pitchers will pick up on pretty quickly. Of course we hope he can be Randy Bass II, but the Tigers need to bring someone else up to step in, should the worst case scenario come true.

Others at camp playing first include Naoto Nishida (Okinawa) and Shinta Hifumi (Aki). Neither has much hype surrounding him, and there is always a possibility that Ryota Arai step in at first temporarily if the need arises.

Second Basemen

nishiokauemotoThis is where things heat up. Last season in April, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Kosuke Fukudome collided in shallow right field, resulting in a long rehabilitation process for the starting second bagger. In his stead, young Hiroki Uemoto stepped his game up, hitting well over .300 through the first two months of the season, showing a mix of pop (7 HR) and speed (20 SB) while getting on base at a decent clip right through to the end of the season. Even when Nishioka was ready to come back, he could not displace Uemoto from second, and instead played third base (and not too  well, either). Heading into spring, Nishioka has made clear that he wants to play in the middle of the infield, not the hot corner. Since shortstop is set in stone, that leaves only second. Uemoto does not have the arm strength to play third (as seen towards the end of 2013), leaving the two men to fight for one spot. Nishioka has had an up-and-down career, both stats-wise and health-wise. He sounds like he is pushing himself to his max to regain the starting position, and I can honestly see him taking it this season and having a good one. However, parking Uemoto on the bench or using him sporadically or at a position that doesn’t suit him is also a bad idea. He has proven himself valuable to the team as well, and will not give up the starting job without a fight. Both men provide roughly the same numbers on the average, but I like Nishioka better because of his mood-making ability and aggressiveness. Let’s forget his bad years with the Marines, his “lost” years with the Twins and his injury-marred 2014. This year, Nishioka must be the leadoff hitter and spark the team’s offense.

Shortstop

This position has been settled since January 9, when the team announced that Takashi Toritani was giving up his MLB dreams to rejoin the team in 2015 and beyond. The iron man has played every inning the last 432 games (and appeared in 1466 straight) and looks to continue that streak. On one hand, it is great to have the captain back. He provides consistency at the plate and in the field almost like no other player in NPB. However, there is a slight catch-22 that comes with his ironman play. No one has played the position for years, and the young players hoping to eventually replace him will come in as 25-year old men with no game experience. I strongly believe this season, Toritani’s streak must come to an end. Whether he gives up later innings or whole games, he must give occasion to youngster Fumiya Hojoh to get on the field and make mistakes and grow stronger.

Third Basemen

ryotaaraiimanariAnother position battle takes place here, though perhaps not as dramatic as the one at second. With older brother gone, Ryota Arai looks to get the starting job at the hot corner. However, there’s another Ryota (Imanari) who is equally anxious to play every game. Both men have shown flashes of brilliance at times, but also have major weaknesses that stop them from being standout everyday players. Arai has a little more power than Imanari, but Imanari has a little more speed and perhaps a better glove. He has been known to make poor decisions at times, though, and needs to make wiser decisions on the field and base paths. I do not foresee either of these men getting the job outright. Since Arai is a righty and Imanari a lefty, they could alternate depending on the pitching matchups.

There is also grizzly veteran Kentaro Sekimoto, who came through in the clutch several times with timely pinch hits. He will likely not get more than a dozen or two starts, but will see time towards the end of close games, no doubt. Also waiting for a chance is Naomasa Yohkawa, who appears to have more power than any of the others ahead of him. Perhaps before season’s end, he will be in the mix as well.

Overall prognosis

The team has plenty of talent in the infield. There is also a decent mix of experience and youth, unproven as the young guys might be. In order for the team to be successful beyond 2015, it needs to find a balance between leaning heavily on the veterans and giving the youngsters a chance to prove themselves. The infield dirt at Koshien will see plenty of excitement this year. Stay tuned for the outfield report coming at a later date.

By the Numbers: Why the Tigers Lost

No one likes wallowing in the gloom of a postseason loss. For that reason, I will not dwell too much on the losses themselves, or the potential reality of losing Takashi Toritani to Major League Baseball. Instead, I will look at three striking numbers/factors that brought about Hanshin’s demise quickly in games 2-5. Setting Game 1 aside, the four straight losses were heart-wrenching to watch. What went wrong after the Giants sweep and a dominant victory in Game 1? I argue three things did the team in:

Game 2 starter Atsushi Nohmi held the Hawks to just 2 runs in 6 innings of work, but the first of those came on his fifth pitch of the game.

3) Early-game deficits – The SoftBank Hawks put up at least one run in each of their first three victories. Atsushi Nohmi was the quickest to surrender the lead, giving up a run on just five pitches. Shintaro Fujinami did not fare much better, following Nohmi’s pattern of hit-bunt-hit. Minoru Iwata actually gave up two runs in his first inning in Game 4, however, his took a little longer to manifest itself. More on that in the next section. The hitters did not do themselves any favors, though. In the first inning of games 2-5, they went 1-for-13 (.077) with 3 walks. The Hawks started their games going 8-for-19 (.421) with a walk. Randy Messenger was the lone pitcher to hold the Hawks off the board in the first inning, as he silenced them through at least six innings in each game he started. The bright side is that beyond the first inning, Nohmi and Iwata pitched extremely well. They were definitely not the reason the team lost the games. Another factor contributing to the losses was…

MurtonNipponSGame5

Murton gets caught stealing on a “phantom tag” (?) during the deciding Game 5.

2) Poor decisions on defense and the basepaths – Unfortunately, Yamato‘s excellent fielding throughout the playoffs was overshadowed by the poor decisions made by others. In Game 2 with the team down a run in the bottom of the seventh, Toritani led off with a hit. Perhaps trying to help out Gomez, the team’s RBI King and hero of Game 1, he tried to reach second after SoftBank catcher Hosokawa bobbled a Takeda pitch. The result was a fairly easy out, and instead of giving Gomez a chance to be the hero again, he was left to finish his at bat with the bases empty and one out. Flash forward to Game 3. A Fujinami wild pitch caromed off catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka‘s glove, and the runner on second ran aggressively enough to reach home safely. A quicker reaction to the loose ball could have prevented the run from scoring, or perhaps resulted in a throw-out at home. Game 4 saw a couple of miscues as well. First, in the opening frame, Iwata had given up a leadoff double to Yanagita. When Akashi attempted to bunt him over to third, Iwata fielded the ball, paused, and tried to get the lead runner out. He was late by a long shot. Had he been satisfied with getting the easy out at first base, the Hawks would have only gotten a single run that inning. Later in the game, with runners on first and second and two outs, Kosuke Fukudome slashed the Tigers’ first hit of the game, bringing home the tying run. Instead of stopping at first base, he tried to stretch his hit into a double. The result was an easy out and he was left laying on his back left of second base as the Hawks trotted off the field. Even later in the game, catcher Akihito Fujii tried to nail the lead runner at second on a sacrifice bunt. He was called safe (even though it appeared to be a missed call) and the Hawks had runners on first and second with just one out. Had he thrown to first, there would have been two outs and a runner on second. Instead, two batters later, Akira Nakamura rocked a walk-off home run to right. Finally in Game 5, two straight stolen base failures killed a potential Tiger rally. The first looked like a hit-and-run call that went wrong, and Matt Murton vehemently denied being tagged. Of course the call was not reversed. Uemoto followed that up with a stolen base failure of his own. Two base runners lost. And of course we can’t leave out the series-ending double play, one on which Tsuyoshi Nishioka was called for base runner interference. He has since admitted that he did it on purpose, hoping to keep the inning alive. Not the brightest move, but at least he was thinking. Regardless, the biggest culprit of all was…

Mauro Gomez strikes out in the second inning of Game 2. He hit 1-for-13 (.077) with 4 walks in the team’s 4 losses.

1) Lack of production with runners in scoring position – Unlike the Giants series, when the Tigers were knocking in almost all their base runners, they left too many men on base. The Hawks pitchers gifted them with multiple free passes (15, including 12 in the last two games), but as a team they managed a mere 4 runs in their losses, one of which was scored on a sacrifice fly. This means three men were knocked in on hits (and in one case, the runner was not even “in scoring position”), despite there being 17 at bats with players in scoring position over those four games. When you bat .176 in situations like that, it is no wonder the team lost four straight. The pitchers did their part, particularly in Games 2, 4 and 5. The bats that were strongest against the Giants (Gomez in particular) were silent in crucial situations in these four losses. Consider the data below:

Game Chances Hits Avg.
2 3 0 .000
3 2 1 .500
4 8 2 .250
5 4 0 .000
Total 17 3 .176

It was not an easy series to watch, as I said earlier, but I am still proud of the great showing the Tigers made in this year’s playoffs. No talk about a September slump anymore, no talk about never beating the Giants when it matters. The 2014 Tigers did an incredible job this year of giving their fans hope, excitement and fun. You can’t ask much more of them. Thank you, 2014 Tigers! See you next year! (The blog will continue through the off-season, just at a much slower pace.)

seasonend

Photo copyright Hanshin Tigers. Taken from Hanshin Tigers Fan page (Facebook)

Nippon Series Preview: Tigers vs. Hawks

2014nipponseriesbanner

Scheduled Games & Possible Starters:

GAME 1: Saturday, October 25, 6:15 pm (Koshien Stadium):

Randy Messenger (13-10) vs. Jason Standridge (11-8)

GAME 2: Sunday, October 26, 6:15 pm (Koshien Stadium):

Minoru Iwata (9-8) vs. Kenji Ohtonari (3-1)

GAME 3: Tuesday, October 28, 6:30 pm (YafuOku Dome):

Shintaro Fujinami (10-7) vs. Shota Takeda (3-3)

GAME 4: Wednesday, October 29, 6:30 pm (YafuOku Dome):

Atsushi Nohmi (9-13) vs. Tadashi Settsu (10-8)

GAME 5*: Thursday, October 30, 6:30 pm:

Randy Messenger (13-10) vs. Kenichi Nakata (11-7)

GAME 6*: Saturday, November 1, 6:15 pm (Koshien Stadium):

Minoru Iwata (9-8) vs. Jason Standridge (11-8)

GAME 7*: Sunday, November 2, 6:15 pm:

Shintaro Fujinami (10-7) vs. Kenji Ohtonari (3-1)

* If necessary

Record This Season:

@ Koshien Stadium: Tigers 1, Hawks 1

@ YafuOku Dome: Tigers 1, Hawks 1

Total: Tigers 2, Hawks 2

Typical Postseason Lineups:

Hanshin Tigers

Name (Pos) AB R H RBI AVG
Tsuyoshi Nishioka (3B) 19 4 7 2 .368
Hiroki Uemoto (2B) 15 6 5 1 .333
Takashi Toritani (SS) 17 4 7 3 .412
Mauro Gomez (1B) 16 2 6 8 .375
Matt Murton (LF) 15 1 4 5 .267
Kosuke Fukudome (RF) 14 1 4 2 .286
A. Fujii / K. Tsuruoka (C) 15 0 1 0 .067
Yamato (CF) 13 1 3 0 .231
Pitcher/Pinch Hitter 13 2 3 0 .231

 

 

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks

Name (Pos) AB R H RBI AVG
Yuki Yanagita (CF) 25 3 7 3 .280
Kenji Akashi (2B) 23 4 7 0 .304
Seiichi Uchikawa (LF) 26 4 7 4 .269
Dae-Ho Lee (1B) 20 1 8 4 .400
Nobuhiro Matsuda (3B) 26 3 9 2 .346
Akira Nakamura (RF) 19 1 2 0 .105
Yuki Yoshimura (DH) 21 2 5 6 .238
Kenta Imamiya (SS) 22 1 3 1 .136
Toru Hosokawa (C) 14 1 6 1 .429


Top Players:

AVG: Tigers: Matt Murton (.338); Hawks: Yuki Yanagita (.317)

HR: Tigers: Mauro Gomez (26); Hawks: Dae-ho Lee (19)

SB: Tigers: Hiroki Uemoto (20); Hawks: Yuki Yanagita (33)

Wins: Tigers: Randy Messenger (13); Hawks: Jason Standridge, Kenichi Nakata (11)

Holds: Tigers: Shinobu Fukuhara (38); Hawks: Ryota Igarashi (44)

Saves: Tigers: Seung-hwan Oh (39); Hawks: Dennis Sarfate (37)

What to Watch for:

  • centralleaguechampsThe Tigers have gone 5-0-1 this postseason, and seem to be getting stronger with each game. After a power outage in the first two games against the Carp, the team compiled 21 runs in 4 games against the Giants.
  • The Hawks, meanwhile, have gone 3-3 in the postseason, advancing thanks to the one-game advantage they held over the Fighters because they clinched the regular season title. They won games 1, 4 and 6, and have not won back-to-back games since September 5-6 (unless you count the last regular season game and the first playoff game, which were 13 days apart).
  • Projected Game 1 starter Messenger is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA against the Hawks this season. He lost on the road on May 23, giving up 3 ER in 6 IP, and then surrendered 5 ER in 5 IP at home on June 9. It wouldn’t have mattered, as his counterpart, former Tiger Jason Standridge, pitched a 3-hit complete game shutout that day.
  • Speaking of Standridge, he and close buddy Matt Murton face each other in the playoffs for the first time ever. It should be an exciting matchup. Watch for it in Game 1 and possibly later in the series as well!
  • Tigers closer Seung-hwan Oh may have to face fellow countryman Dae-Ho Lee in crucial situations as well. The Korean slugger has gone 8-for-25 in his career against Oh, including 1-for-1 this season.
  • The Tigers finished September/October with a 14-13 record, while the Hawks stumbled to a 9-14-1 record, including a 6-14 finish in their last twenty games.
  • Games 1-2, 6-7, which will be played at Koshien Stadium, will employ Central League rules, i.e. no designated hitter. This will not be a problem for the Tigers, as they have lived without a DH for much of the season. The Hawks, on the other hand, will send completely inexperienced pitchers to the plate for four games. They also will need to use strategy about when to pull their pitcher as they consider his turn at the plate.
  • Games 3-5 will be played at YafuOku Dome, and will allow both teams to use a designated hitter. The Tigers have plenty of hitters who can fill the role, though they are not accustomed to spending most of the game on the bench, waiting passively for their turn at the plate. Possible DH’s include Ryota Arai, Takahiro Arai, and possibly Ryota Imanari, if he is deemed healthy enough to play. They could also use Nishioka as the DH and put one of the Arai brothers (or Imanari) at third base.

My prediction: Tigers in 6

Game 3 Recap – Tigers Take Stranglehold!

ohgomez

The Tigers are just a win away from their first trip to the Japan Series in nine years. With tonight’s 4-2 win over the Giants, the series now sits at 3-1 in favor of the road team, which needs just one win in its next three to advance.

Tonight’s win was slightly different from their previous two, in that the Tigers surrendered the lead for the first time in 5 playoff games. The Giants led off with a mini-rally capped by an RBI single from Abe. The score remained tight as the Tigers struggled to put men on base, and in the bottom of the third, the Giants extended their lead with a solo home run off the bad of Yoshiyuki Kamei, the third home run of the series for the men in orange. Down 2-0 and yet to threaten to score in the game, the Tigers came to the plate in the 4th.

Four batters in, the bases were loaded but a Ryota Arai strikeout and an Akihito Fujii fly ball later (great catch by Chono), the Tigers remained scoreless. Starter Randy Messenger settled in after the third, holding the Giants to two runs through five, but the Tigers had also only put four men on base at that point.

Seen here earlier in the season, Mauro Gomez now has 6 RBI in 3 games against the Giants.

Seen here earlier in the season, Mauro Gomez now has 6 RBI in 3 games against the Giants.

With half the game completed and no Tiger threat to score, this one looked as though it might go to the Giants. But there’s something different about these Tigers. Hiroki Uemoto, who survived a scary bean ball to the head in yesterday’s match, led off the sixth with a single. During Mauro Gomez‘s at-bat he stole second, giving the RBI king an easier chance to drive him in. The big Dominican came through, ripping a line drive to left field. The deficit had been cut in half. Matt Murton hit one in the same direction as Gomez had, and the Tigers had a runner in scoring position yet again. As the Giants pulled lefty Sugiuchi in favor of a right-handed reliever, the Tigers adjusted by replacing struggling righty Arai with red-hot lefty Kosuke Fukudome. He went right to work, upping his career average against Nishimura to .500 (5-for-10) with a double to left center, scoring Gomez. The rally looked promising still, as there was just one out and runners on second and third. Manager Wada decided to replace Fujii with pinch-hitter Sekimoto, but he only managed to strike out. The Giants saw Randy Messenger in the on-deck circle, and thinking of how to get an easy third out, decided to give the vacant first base to Yamato, walking him intentionally. Up came pinch-hitter Takahiro Arai. WHAT? Yes, the Tigers elected to pull Messenger after 5 innings of relatively effective (3 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs on 84 pitches) work. Unfortunately, Arai grounded out to second, and the score after the Tigers’ sixth was tied at 2.

Now the Tigers had to count on their relievers for 4 innings. Whom could they trust? Who was well-rested enough? They went with a combination of Takamiya, Andoh and Matsuda to get to the eighth, and they managed to hold down the fort. No exciting details here, just relievers doing what they could to keep the Giants off the board.

The Tigers bats had heated up, and they kept the momentum going in the seventh inning. Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off with a single, and a fielder’s choice later, captain Takashi Toritani, hitless on the night, came to the dish. All he did was whack an opposite-field drive down the left field line to push himself and Uemoto into scoring position. Once again, Gomez stepped up to the plate with a golden opportunity. He took it again, this time knocking in two runs with a single to left! Tigers lead, 4-2! Murton then walked, giving the team another chance to put runs on the board. Unfortunately, the bats sputtered again, but on this night, that was enough.

Seung-hwan Oh has been lights out in the postseason thus far. 7 1/3 IP, 3 H, 0 ER!

Seung-hwan Oh has been lights out in the postseason thus far.

With two outs in the eighth and the Giants threatening (runners on first and second), Wada had had enough. Could his closer hold the Giants off yet again? He was pitching in his 10th straight game, after all! Four up, four down. (Thanks to a beautiful diving catch by Yamato to end the game!) Seung-hwan Oh has now gone 14 2/3 innings over 10 appearances without allowing a single run. Game over. Tigers lead the series 3-1, with the Giants only winning on paper.

Up next for the Tigers should be Atsushi Nohmi. The Giants could come with Yuki Koyama, but nothing has been announced yet. A win tomorrow night gives the Tigers the Central League Title for the first time since 2005. GO TIGERS!