Mini-Series Recap – July 28-29, 2015

With the Road Trip of Death looming and a quick series in Nagoya on tap, the Tigers needed to sneak in a couple of road wins before coming home for one last Koshien Ultra Summer series. They were facing the last place Chunichi Dragons with just one problem: a history of losing at Nagoya Dome. Could they come home 3 games over .500? Let’s look at the games one by one.

Rare for a mid-reliever to get "Hero of the Night" but Andoh was clutch on Tuesday night.

Rare for a mid-reliever to get “Hero of the Night” but Andoh was clutch on Tuesday night.

Game 1: This one started poorly for the Tigers, both at the dish and in the field. They failed to put anyone on base in the first two innings, and starter Minoru Iwata surrendered a two-run home run in the bottom of the second. However, the floodgates opened in a huge way for the visitors in the top of the third. Taiga Egoshi walked, and five hits later (RBIs by Hiroki Uemoto, Kosuke Fukudome and two by Matt Murton) he was back at the plate again, and this time he knocked in two more runs. A two run deficit became a four run lead in just an inning. However, after a few calm innings, Iwata struggled again in the fifth and sixth, giving up a run in each frame and not completing the sixth. He left with the bases loaded and two outs. Fortunately, reliever Yuya Andoh managed to strike out their batter, getting out of that inning and then holding fort in the seventh as well. For the Tigers’ bats’ part, they did not record another hit the rest of the way – but their six run explosion held up as the “winning combo” relievers – Shinobu Fukuhara and Seung-hwan Oh – pitched clean innings to preserve the win. Final Score: Tigers 6, Dragons 4.

No Tigers fan is tired of seeing this: Taiga the Tiger hitting the long ball once again on Wednesday!

No Tigers fan is tired of seeing this: Taiga the Tiger hitting the long ball once again on Wednesday!

Game 2: Each pitcher surrendered a lead off hit in the first, but neither team scored. The Tigers opened the scoring in the third as Uemoto grounded out to second but broke up a double play, scoring Kazunari Tsuruoka from third. For his part, starter Atsushi Nohmi threw three great innings, but unraveled in the fourth. A leadoff double was followed by an infield single. With runners in the corners he induced a pop foul to third, giving hope for a scoreless fourth, but threw his next pitch wild, scoring a run. One out later (would have been an inning ending double play were it not for the WP), an RBI single gave the Dragons a 2-1 lead. Things stayed fairly calm in the middle innings, but the rookie of the week(s), Egoshi, hit a solo blast in the top of the 7th to tie the game at 2. Taiga the Tiger wasn’t done there, though. Murton drew a leadoff walk in the ninth, and two batters later, Egoshi hit a first-pitch double to left center, giving the Tigers the lead once again. Oh took the mound in the ninth for the second straight night, earning another save while allowing a two-out single. Final Score: Tigers 3, Swallows 2.

Series Notes: Mauro Gomez’s 16-game hitting streak ended on Tuesday as the slugger went 0-4. He followed it up with another hitless (0-3, HBP) night on Wednesday… Egoshi has started seven straight games now and appears to have won the center field position, at least for now. His average is still well below the Mendoza Line, but he has a lot of multi-base hits in his limited playing time so far this year. The team needs more “power hitting” so his low average can be swallowed a lot more easily because he makes his hits count… Iwata’s win on Tuesday was his first since the last game of interleague play, when he threw 140 pitches to beat the Nippon Ham Fighters… A few key moves in the seventh may have cost the Tigers a run or two. Cold-hitting Ryota Arai was left in against a right-handed pitcher instead of bringing in Ryota Imanari. A runner on for Egoshi would have meant a lead for the Tigers. Then with two outs, instead of pinch-hitting for Nohmi, they took an easy third out, leaving him in for the bottom of the inning. Perhaps Wada thought he would need his pinch hitters later in the game, but then he subbed Arai out for Imanari on defense in the seventh anyways… Tigers have Thursday off but the other Central League teams play, so standings will be updated after those games. Check here for full standings. (For now, they remain tied for first with the Swallows, three games above .500.)

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

ASB – Report Card Time! Part 2

Yesterday we took a look at how the Hanshin Tigers did in the field and at the plate. Today we look back at how the hurlers have performed to date. I will look at the steady starters one by one, then the spot starters as a whole, the relievers as a whole with special focus on the back end of the bullpen. Here… we… go!

"Sunday Shin-chan" has come to the rescue many times this year.

“Sunday Shin-chan” has come to the rescue many times this year.

Shintaro Fujinami: I don’t think any pitcher in baseball has as many unearned runs as our young phenom. That can mean a few things: 1) the spin on his pitches make hit balls bounce funny, resulting in errors; 2) the team plays a little more nervously behind him; 3) the score keepers are generous with him, charging more errors to the fielders than usual; 4) he has problems putting errors behind him and getting the final outs of innings. I tend to believe the latter two to be true. Still, this guy is something else to watch pitch. His rough April (1 win, 3.66 ERA) was quickly forgotten as he got really hot in May (0.88 ERA) and played quite well in June (2.70) as well. The kid also won MVP honors at Game 1 of the All-Star matches, and has been named to nearly every national team in the past year. The present is quite bright, but the future could be even brighter. Overall Grade: A-

Minoru Iwata: Long known as the pitcher who can’t buy run support, Iwata’s adventures continued this year. He has been quite consistent so far, keeping his ERA in the low 3’s much of the season. While he only had one outing that could be called “dominant” he also has not thrown any absolute stinkers, either. He flirted with a perfect game in April but it all unraveled in the 7th and he didn’t even earn the victory. Still, he has a decent shot at his first double-digit win season since 2008. Let’s hope the team can show this steady #3 pitcher some love the rest of the way. Overall Grade: B-

Messenger has been the team's best pitcher since rejoining the team on May 29.

Messenger has been the team’s best pitcher since rejoining the team on May 29.

Randy Messenger: The season could not have started much worse for the big workhorse from Nevada. By May 10, his ERA was 5.88 – worst in the Central League – and he got suddenly demoted to the farm for most of the rest of the month. Upon his return, though, he has been lights out: a June ERA of 0.87 and his July ERA sits at 2.25 so far. Talk about regaining ace status! Look for more of the same from the big man the rest of the way. He seems to have found his groove. The team will need his best if it hopes to contend. They could stand to give him a little more run support, too, mind you. Overall Grade: B-

Atsushi Nohmi: Many worried about our ace of years past after a shaky 2014. He came to camp and worked harder than anyone, throwing more bullpens than the team expected. It looked as though it would pay off, as he started the new season very strongly. Through April 30, his ERA was an ace-like 2.08. But since then it has steadily risen (4.19 in May, 4.50 in June and an unsightly 5.40 so far in July). It might be fatigue, or it might be age. Either way, the team needs to use him a little more strategically the rest of the way. Perhaps more rest, perhaps shorter starts. But they cannot expect him to do what he has done in the past. Overall Grade: C-

The Spot Starters: Includes Akira Iwamoto, Suguru Iwazaki, Mario Santiago, Yuya Yokoyama, Yuta Iwasada, Shoya Yamamoto, Takumi Akiyama. Many of these guys put together great first starts, but either fizzled out or never got a second look. None really looks ready to take the 5th (or 6th) spot in the rotation just yet, but someone’s got to fill in the rest of the way. Who will it be? I personally hope Iwazaki can find his touch again, and perhaps Iwasada or Yamamoto could round it out. Without consistency from the back end of the rotation, though, it’s going to be a rough second half. Overall Grade: C

Uh-Oh? Oh No? Oh boy? We want "Oh Yeah" the rest of the way!

Uh-Oh? Oh No? Oh boy? We want “Oh Yeah” the rest of the way!

Seung-hwan Oh: Fans of the team are familiar with the drama that this Korean brings to the mound in close games. His season actually started quite poorly. Despite giving up just one run, he allowed more base runners than usual, causing fans to tighten their grips on remote controls and smartphones. He settled in quite nicely through May, and had one major meltdown in early June. July, though, has been a very ugly month. Through six outings, his ERA on the month is 8.53, and he has given up three home runs in that span. His job appears secure, if only because there is not one else on the squad who could take his place. However, I expect more consistency from someone who is a closer. His good times are great, but his bad times have been occurring too frequently. Overall Grade: C

Shinobu Fukuhara: Used almost exclusively as a set-up man (8th inning before handing the reins to Oh), the 38-year old has been incredible this season. Until recently his ERA was under one, but has now risen to 1.67 after a rough July. I personally believe he needs more rest, and perhaps overuse (36 appearances already) will render him less effective the rest of the way. Still, there’s a reason he was named co-MVP of the first half by manager Wada. Overall Grade: A

Andoh has been great at times, awful at others this year.

Andoh has been great at times, awful at others this year.

The Rest of the ‘Pen: Includes Yuya Andoh (3.72), Ryoma Matsuda (5.52), Kazuya Takamiya (3.38), Hiroya Shimamoto (9.35), Kazuyuki Kaneda (5.19), Daiki Enokida (10.38), Kentaro Kuwahara (8.53), Tsuyoshi Ishizaki (11.05), Hiroaki Saiuchi (2.89), Tatsuya Kojima (7.00), Kazuya Tsutsui (0.00), Naoto Tsuru (3.38), more. Awful. Inconsistent. They make close games blowouts, and are the cause of many a changed channel in this home and probably many more across the nation. As bad as the bats have been this year, the bullpen might be even worse. The ERAs of these guys would give the best Indian mathematicians headaches. Only Takamiya, Saiuchi and Tsutsui have been somewhat decent; the latter two have only played in the past month or so. Overall Grade: F

Aggregate Arms: The bats are pretty lean, but the pitchers aren’t really doing their part, either. Team ERA (3.89) is second worst in NPB (only better than the Chiba Lotte Marines), and the number of huge blowout losses is disheartening. Some hurlers are doing their part to keep the team in games, but it seems like whenever Randy or Iwata or another pitcher holds the other team to 2 or fewer runs, we still end up on the losing end more often than not. In that area, we cannot fault the pitchers. However, the number of times I have seen pitchers say “I wasn’t able to give my team a chance to win. I’m sorry” is uncountable. Overall Grade: D

Mini-Series Recap – July 14 & 15, 2015

Manager Wada's magic number 86 has come up. The team's runs for/against differential sits at -86 on the season.

Manager Wada’s magic number 86 has come up. The team’s runs for/against differential sits at -86 on the season.

Two losses and a win, two losses and a win. What comes next in this pattern? If two losses, then there would be no time for a win – the team had just two games remaining before the all-star break. That being the case, they started two of their core pitchers on short rest at home against the Hiroshima Carp. Could they pull their way over the .500 mark before the weekend of rest?

The guys were all smiles on Tuesday. Nohmi pitched well for 7, Uemoto and Toritani got RBIs, and Imanari... was happy, too.

The guys were all smiles on Tuesday. Nohmi pitched well for 7, Uemoto and Toritani got RBIs, and Imanari… was happy, too.

Game 1: They certainly started this one right: Kosuke Fukudome, Mauro Gomez and Matt Murton collected two-out hits, the last one resulting in the first run of the game. The rebounding redhead struck again in the third inning with a run-scoring sacrifice fly, and the Tigers broke open a 2-0 lead. Starter Atsushi Nohmi had the game under control as well, pitching solidly in his 7 innings (6 hits, 1 unearned run) of work. The Tigers took full control with runs in the 5th (Hiroki Uemoto 2-run double, Takashi Toritani RBI single), and despite a run surrendered by Shinobu Fukuhara (someone give this old man some rest!) the outcome was never in question. Back to .500! Final Score: Tigers 5, Carp 2.

Randy Messenger steps up to the plate as the sun sets at Koshien on Wednesday night.

 
Game 2: This one looked bad from the onset, though having Randy Messenger on the mound means you will always have a chance to win. He pitched a strong game, going six innings and giving up a single run on 4 hits. For their part, the Tigers brought up perhaps their least intimidating lineup of the season. Shunsuke in center (mind you, who else will step up there?) batting second, and Katsuhiko Saka starting at third base. Yes, Ryota Imanari has been struggling mightily. But why not Ryota Arai? Oh right, the whole righty-vs-lefty “advantage” Wada loves to “exploit.” So let’s bring in a .154 lefty with no pop instead of our righty who actually can hit a ball with some authority! The results were predictable. No offense to the offense, but they were offensive. Lots of base runners, mind you – two guys got plunked (yep, the two I chose to diss for being in the starting lineup) and six took first on balls. But despite several chances with runners in scoring position, the team could not muster a single run. In the bottom of the sixth, the 7th, 8th and 9th batters were due up. Would they pull Messenger for a pinch hitter? “No chance,” I said to my buddy, trying to sound like I knew baseball better than anyone else, “Even if there’s a guy in scoring position and they bring in a pinch hitter and score a run, they would have to depend on the bullpen to hold down the fort for 3 innings afterwards, and we all know that never happens. And if the first two guys get out, I can guarantee they’ll let Randy hit and then pitch at least the 7th, maybe even the 8th.” I’m not Wada though, and I don’t call the shots. Two outs into the inning, they pulled the big righty in favor of the hitless Yuto Morikoshi. He flied out to center and we were left to ask our bullpen to keep it close. They couldn’t. Recently recalled Kosuke Katoh walked a guy who got bunted over to second, and Yuya Andoh proceeded to give up a single on his third pitch. Now 2-0. The Carp added one more in the ninth off birthday boy Seung-hwan Oh for good measure, and the game ended without a sound from the Tigers’ fans. Final Score: Carp 3, Tigers 0.

Someone looks a little too happy about beating his old teammates.

Someone looks a little too happy about beating his old teammates.

Series Notes: Gomez now has an 11-game hitting streak, while Murton’s 9-game run ended in Wednesday’s loss… Oh has thrown just one scoreless frame in his last 4 outings, and has not thrown a clean inning since June 27. Perhaps it’s time for my proposal to be given a look!… Messenger is now winless since taking the first game after league play resumed on June 20, despite giving up 2, 1, 4 and 1 earned runs in his starts. This lack of run support is killing the starters, who have to be feeling pressure to completely shut out the opposition… The Tigers are tied for second at present, just a half game behind the DeNA Baystars, who swept the Giants to take over first. Our guys start the second half with six straight at home against these two teams, and the rest of the season could depend largely on how they fare coming out of the gates. I will be in attendance next Friday and hope to see a win for a change! (I’m 1-3 so far this season.) No standings graphic here, but check here for updated CL and PL rankings.

Rumors & Ideas: Thinking Outside the Box

The events of the past few games have prompted sports writers to start dreaming up scenarios of how the Tigers can break out of their mediocrity, leaving the rest of the Central League behind them (assuming no other team snaps out of their funk). Here are the two most interesting ideas I have read, along with my opinion.

perezmug

The club should explore ways to get this guy up on the parent team.

1) After tonight’s start in Tokyo, put Randy Messenger on the 10-day DL, and call up Nelson Perez. With the All-Star Break coming soon (just 4 games between his start tonight and the break), he would be eligible to return for the second game after the break, which would also be against the hated Yomiuri Giants. The move would give the team at least a 5-game look at Perez in their lineup. He has been hitting quite well on the farm, raking at a .400 (12-for-30, 2 HRs) clip through 8 games. Surely after scoring just 4 runs in 3 games against the Dragons, no one in the organization is blind to the problem the team has scoring runs.

My Opinion: I say go for it. The team needs to take risks, and this one is about as unrisky as you can get. The plan was to plug Randy in for the second game of the Carp series right before the break, but they could also give the start to someone else. I had the idea of dropping Seung-hwan Oh to the farm in August in favor of Perez taking the 4th foreigner slot. (League regulations limit the number of imports on the active roster to 4.) Perhaps this would be a good “sneak preview” of how that might play out. Randy has been pitching extremely well lately, so there are two ways of seeing this: (1) Ride the hot hand. Let him pitch two games before the break and he’ll still be rested for the second half with 5 days off as usual; (2) Don’t overwork the workhorse of the staff! Give him 10 days off and see how well he does the rest of the year. I’m divided here, and would probably agree with the former if the team could get him enough run support to win games. However, as we’ve seen in recent weeks (years?) the team simply does not consistently reward its strong pitchers with victories. Let’s try this one out, bring up Perez and see what the kid’s got. A lineup with him and a red-hot Mauro Gomez, Matt Murton and (somewhat cooling off) Kosuke Fukudome would be a real pleasure to watch.

What's wrong with Nohmi? His performance of late has the team scratching its collective head.

What’s wrong with Nohmi? His performance of late has the team scratching its collective head.

2) Drop Atsushi Nohmi to the bullpen. Perhaps long relief is better suited to him at this stage of his career. That, or even what one blogger suggested: put Seung-hwan Oh in the set-up role and give the closer position to Nohmi. Intriguing to say the least. Nohmi has lost 9 games already this year and dropped 13 decisions last campaign, too. His ERA has risen significantly since the end of 2013, and he does not seem to have the stamina or ability to pitch long innings anymore. Further complicating things is Oh’s recent slide. The numbers look bad enough, but they could be much worse. He has gotten himself out of two bases-loaded (and fewer than 2 outs) jams in the last three weeks, so just a little bad luck and that ERA (and number of blown saves/losses) could be much more inflated than it already is. The rest of the bullpen has also been a weakness all year, and could use some reinforcement.

My opinion: As intriguing as this idea is, I’m going to have to pass on it. Nohmi has not been a reliever since 2008, and putting him in this role could destroy his confidence and make him even less effective than he already is. Instead, I propose restructuring the bullpen a little. Drop Yuya Andoh down to the farm for some rest (he is pushing 38, after all) while bringing up one of the young spot starters to do long relief work. The team would then have two guys (in addition to Hiroaki Saiuchi) who could pitch multiple innings, taking the pressure off some of the rest of the bullpen. Guys like Shoya Yamamoto, Takumi Akiyama, heck even Akira Iwamoto or Hiroya Shimamoto, deserve more of a shot on the big club. Wada loves his old grizzly veterans though, so it is unlikely he will rest Andoh or the even older (but more effective) Shinobu Fukuhara.

What do you all think of these suggestions made by sports writers? Keep in mind, none of us (and I include myself here) are former managers, so all our theories and ideas are probably rubbish to those who have played and managed the game before. Still, it’s fun to pontificate and theorize about different ideas, is it not? Comments always welcome, folks!

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!

A Modest Proposal

Drastic Times Call for What?

Drastic Measures! Yes! Who said that?

I did. Now, I don’t know the game of baseball the way the experts do. I’ve never been a player (beyond age 13) and I’ve never been a coach (beyond assistant-coaching a girls’ team way back in the day). But I do know a few things.

1) Good teams don’t have this many losing streaks. Did you know the Tigers have lost 3 or more straight games SEVEN times already this year? Fortunately they have had nearly that many winning streaks (6) as well. Still, too many skids mean that there is simply no way they can win the pennant.

2) Their road record is abominable. As of today’s action, the team is a brutal 12-25-1 on the road. Their home record is a strong 24-12-0, though, which puts them just a game under .500 on the year. But there’s something about batting first that brings this team to its knees too often.

3) They’ve lost way more blow outs than they’ve won. If we count a 4+ run win as a blowout, the team has won just 5 of those all year, while losing an amazing 19. Perhaps the mark of a good team is one that wins close games though. But in one-run games, they are just 13-12, which really is not amazing (nor is it lucky, I suppose). The bottom line: they give up way too many runs and score way too few.

Seung-hwan Oh got lit up on Friday night, allowing 4 hits and only recording an out on a sac bunt as the team lost a walk-off, 4-3. It was the 10,000th game in team history.

Seung-hwan Oh got lit up on Friday night, allowing 4 hits and only recording an out on a sac bunt as the team lost a walk-off, 4-3. It was the 10,000th game in team history.

4) They blow leads like no other team. I don’t have full numbers, but Seung-hwan Oh has blown 4 games already this year. He blew 6 all of last year. His ERA in the last 31 days is a mediocre 4.70 despite giving up runs in just 3 of 13 appearances. He is not the lone reliever who has coughed up leads and lost games, though. In the past month, Shinobu Fukuhara has done it twice and Yuya Andoh has done it once as well. The starters have had terrible outings and the rest of the middle relievers have given up their share of runs, too.

With these things in mind, I propose the following:

If things do not improve in July, send our closer down to the farm and let him learn a new pitch or two, so he can stop serving up beach balls to our opponents late in games. Call up newcomer Nelson Perez to fill the foreigner quota. And here’s some of my logic for waiting.

Let's see if this guy makes our park look small with his big bat. Bring him up!

Let’s see if this guy makes our park look small with his big bat. Bring him up!

The Tigers play 14 of their next 19 at home. Their home record is decent. Bringing Perez in to play center field at vast Koshien would be a baptism by fire… he’s not a natural center fielder anyways. So you wait until August 4, when the team plays the entire month away from Koshien. Then you either put Perez or Kosuke Fukudome in center, where our team has had awful production all year. Now the batting lineup features 3 foreigners and has no real easy outs, other than pitcher (and catcher, unless Ryutaro Umeno gets more playing time). You could also make manager Wada drool by starting an alternating left-right lineup: Toritani L – Uemoto R – Fukudome L – Gomez R – Perez L – Murton R – Imanari L – catcher R – pitcher.

The Tigers sorely lack power, and while Perez is still unproven, perhaps this month would be enough to prepare him for the bigs. (Mind you, through 5 games he is hitting .368 for the farm team.) He apparently said Koshien Stadium was a “small park” but of course talk is cheap. He does boast good power, and even if he does not live up to his own hype, his presence could give opposing pitchers one more big bat to worry about. The long August “road of death” (all games away from Koshien until the 29th) would be a little more bearable if the team started making some noise with their bats.

No matter how you look at it, this team will not win the pennant as it is now. It needs a catalyst of some sort, and in my opinion, it can only come from the batters, who need to wake out of their season-long slumber. Sacrificing Oh would take a lot of guts on the team’s part, but if they sent Randy Messenger down for his 5.88 ERA through 6 weeks… why not do the same thing to your closer? What’s the worst that could happen? Someone else comes in and blows games? For the record, Messenger has come back on fire, lowering his ERA to 3.30 in 6 starts since being recalled.

Once again I say, bump the closer down, bring up the young Dominican to “add a little spice” to the lineup.

Series Recap – June 30-July 2, 2015

It must have been getting lonely at the top. The Hanshin Tigers were the lone Central League team with a winning record heading into the last series of June, and they were riding a 7-game undefeated streak that stretched back to the middle of the month. Their best hitters were heating up, and their starters were getting the job done. This was the team fans were waiting to see all season! Could they keep it up as they started the summer with a 6-game road trip to the Kanto area?

Iwata joined Iwazaki as

Iwata joined Iwazaki as “kuyashii” (frustrated) pitchers who couldn’t get the job done. He would be joined a day later by fellow Iwa, Yuta Iwasada. Are they all told to use that same word when they can’t get through six innings?

Game 1: The big story was whether or not ironman Takashi Toritani was alright. After getting beaned in the back last week, his health was in question and his slump at the plate prompted Wada to slide him down the order to seventh. He responded with four hits in four at-bats, including opening the score in the 4th inning with a 2-run double off the left-center wall. His final hit of the game was an infield hit down the right field line. He beat the throw to first, but because of poor defense by the Swallows, a third Tigers run crossed the plate, tying the score with less than two innings to go. Starter Minoru Iwata continued to struggle with control and concentration at the plate, particularly the third time through the opponents’ order, and he was pulled before he could complete the sixth. He allowed 3 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their most consistent reliever to date, Shinobu Fukuhara, fell apart and could not keep the game tied in the bottom of the eighth. He immediately put himself in a bad place by allowing a leadoff hit, a stolen base and a walk. One out later, he allowed two more hits, and was lucky to get out of the inning with just a one-run deficit, as two Swallows baserunners got tagged out on the base paths. The Tigers could not mount a rally in the ninth, and their winning streak came to an end. Final Score: Swallows 4, Tigers 3.

Game 2: For the first time since June 13th, the Tigers were forced to use one of their “fringe starters” as Yuta Iwasada took the mound. The 2013 1st round pick has been trying to prove himself capable and ready to join the rotation permanently, but struggled in the third inning of this one, giving up three runs and leaving the rest of the work to a shaky bullpen. Youngster Hiroaki Saiuchi, who pitched 2 2/3 innings of clean ball against Hiroshima to preserve a tie last week, looked to do the same here but instead lost his control in the fifth. Kazuya Takamiya also proved Wada’s lefty-vs-lefty theory wrong on this night, and after six innings of work, the birds had put six runs on the board. For the Tigers’ part, Matt Murton continued his stellar play with a solo shot in the second, and also made a brilliant catch at the wall later in the game. Starting catcher Ryutaro Umeno tied the game at 3 in the fifth with a 2-run blast, but it was all for naught. Down 6-3 late, pinch hitter Ryota Imanari singled but had his work negated by a Keisuke Kanoh double play. This was followed by a Mauro Gomez home run (his 10th on the year) but since it was just a solo shot, the team remained down two. In the ninth, Ryota Arai reached base on an error, and pinch hitter (what?) Kosuke Fukudome nearly justified his recent deification with a deep blast that barely missed tying the game. With runners on second and third and just one out, the team had a legitimate chance to tie the game, even win it, but a Katsuhiko Saka grounder to the mound and a Kohei Shibata fly out ended the game. Final Score: Swallows 6, Tigers 4.

(Not from Thursday's game.) Not sure what possessed Wada to put Imanari in the leadoff slot. My guess is the whole team was deflated when they saw the starting lineup (not Imanari's fault - he's been hitting well lately).

(Not from Thursday’s game.) Not sure what possessed Wada to put Imanari in the leadoff slot. My guess is the whole team was deflated when they saw the starting lineup (not Imanari’s fault – he’s been hitting well lately).

Game 3: Where Wednesday called for a righty-heavy lineup (the Swallows started a lefty), Thursday begged Wada to do the opposite. He trotted out six lefties to face a right-handed pitcher, even giving Imanari the leadoff role, and putting Fumiya Araki in the two-slot (benching Hiroki Uemoto after his poor fielding and hitting on Wednesday). Toritani stayed down in sixth, and Shibata got the start in center, batting seventh. Certainly a very different lineup than the ones that had recorded nine or more hits in nine straight games. It showed, as the team generated just five hits (three from the recently dependable cleanup hitters), and the pitching staff once again got pounded, completing the sweep in style. Atsushi Nohmi lasted just 4 innings, taxing the bullpen even further, and Hiroya Shimamoto allowed 5 runs in the eighth, ensuring him a spot on the farm team from tomorrow. Final Score: Swallows 10, Tigers 1.

And with that, the Yakult Swallows find themselves in first. Four different teams have occupied the top spot now since the end of May, and once again no Central League team is over the .500 mark. Here are the current standings.

15-7-2 Standings

Mini-Series Recap – June 23-24, 2015

The Tigers played their second of two 2-game sets to open up the post-interleague schedule. This time, they traveled to the “Hokuriku” region to play a couple of true road games: the first in Nagano, the second in Toyama. With just 0.5 games separating them from the Giants for the league lead, but also with a mere 3 game lead on the last place team, they needed to continue their strong play before coming home for a three-game series on the weekend. It was a wild mini-series, so fasten your seatbelt and join me as we go over the action.

Gomez got all of this pitch, and everyone knew the instant it left his bat that we were 20 seconds from celebrating with Imanari. Komanechi!

Gomez got all of this pitch, and everyone knew the instant it left his bat that we were 20 seconds from celebrating with Imanari. Komanechi!

Game 1: Though rain threatened to drown this one out, this one was played in full. Including a 33-minute rain delay, the game went all the way into the dark hours of the night, as each team took leads, lost leads, tied the game, and repeated the process all over again. The Tigers drew first blood on a Ryota Imanari solo shot (his first of the year) in the second. The rains chased players from the field and when the game resumed, it was the Carp who responded to the soggy conditions much better than the Tigers. In fact, they chased starter Minoru Iwata after just four innings of work, taking a 3-1 lead into the fifth. That was when the Tigers roared back against ex-MLB pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. Kohei Shibata took a two-out pitch to right-center, cashing in Imanari and Takashi Toritani, tying the game at 3. The score remained knotted through Ryoma Matsuda‘s two innings of relief, but then took a turn for the worst when Yuya Andoh came in and fell apart in the seventh. Two hits were followed by a wild pitch, and the winning run crossed the plate for the fish. However, the game was not over yet. With runners on first and third, Mauro Gomez took the first pitch he saw to deeeeeep left, reversing the teams’ fortunes and putting the Tigers up 2 with just six outs to go. With Shinobu Fukuhara and Seung-hwan Oh due up to pitch those innings, this one was over, right? Think again. Once again, the ex-Arai came back to bite the Tigers, hitting a solo shot to left and narrowing the lead to one. Still, our closer only had to shut down their 8th, 9th and 1st hitters to end the game. No problem, right? Think again, again! A walk, a hit batsman, and a hit later, the game was tied. Runners were on second and third with no outs. All the Carp needed was a hit, a deep fly or a squeeze play, and they had three chances to do it. But a sharp grounder, a shallow fly and a strikeout later, this one was headed to extras. Nothing was decided in three frames, despite chances on both sides, and youngster Hiroaki Saiuchi pitched 2 2/3 innings of shutout ball to help the Tigers preserve the tie. With the Giants’ loss, this put them in a tie for first, but it also meant that for the first time in Central League history, no team had a winning record after sixty-plus games. Final Score: Tigers 6, Carp 6.

Nohmi

Nohmi “helped his own cause” by driving in two runs in the fourth, giving his team a huge lead.

Game 2: If both the Tigers and Giants lost here, every CL team would be UNDER .500 for the first time in history. But this one was never in question. Kosuke Fukudome knocked in Toritani in the first, and then the offense padded their lead nicely in the 4th with an Imanari double (2 RBI) followed by an Atsushi Nohmi single (2 more), making the score 5-0. Matt Murton also smashed one to left in the fifth (see it here), his second home run in 4 games, and despite a couple runs along the way by the Carp, the Tigers cruised to victory in fashion. Gomez added an insurance run late, and yesterday’s goats (Fukuhara and Oh) pitched strongly in the last two frames. The Tigers were once again over .500, and awaited the Giants result to see where they would sit in the standings. Final Score: Tigers 7, Carp 2.

The team finds itself in sole possession of first (by a game) after the Giants were toppled for the second straight night. The Baystars have won 2 straight after dropping 12 in a row. These are the most recent standings in the Central:

15-6-24 Standings

The Tigers host the DeNA Baystars for three at Koshien this weekend and will finish the month of June with their first of three straight at Jingu Stadium to face the Swallows. Let’s hope they can keep this little hot streak going to end the month strong. Go TIGERS!

By the Numbers: Interleague & Beyond

Let’s look back on the past 3 weeks, in which we played against the six Pacific League teams. We’ll go through the numbers, starting with…

0 – The number of runs allowed in 24 innings pitched by Randy Messenger. He shut out the Saitama Seibu Lions for 7 innings, then the Nippon Ham Fighters for 8, and finally the Orix Buffaloes for 9. He came out with just a 2-0 record, getting a no-decision last Friday as the cross-town rival Buffaloes managed to push…

1 run across the plate against reliever Shinobu Fukuhara in the 10th inning of that game. He allowed three straight singles and looked to still be in a position to get out of the jam until Kohei Shibata bobbled the ball in center field. Still, instead of lamenting the Tigers’ loss here, we should be glad that they also won…

2 games by that same 1-0 score. Both of these were with Messenger on the mound, including the second one which came against NPB poster boy Shohei Ohtani. Look for him to eventually find his way to the major leagues. Another player who just acquired international free agency rights is Nobuhiro Matsuda, who hit…

3 home runs in the series against the Tigers, including a walkoff against reliever Yuya Andoh in extras in the rubber match. Fukuoka’s converted bandbox, Yafuoku Dome, had its outfield walls brought in after averaging just 1.03 home runs per game last season. This year, heading into interleague play, the average was up to over 2.5 per game! Anyways, the Hawks absolutely dominated the Tigers and won the interleague title with a 12-6 record. They hit a whopping 23 home runs (1st) and stole 13 bases (T-3rd), while the Tigers managed to swipe just…

4 bases in 18 games. So much for Wada’s goal of stealing 100 on the season. In order to do that, they would need to steal 7 every 10 games. At this stage of the season (64 games in) they have just 22, which puts them on pace for just 49 all year. Just half of Wada’s goal! Brutal, wouldn’t you say? Speaking of brutal, the Tigers’ batting average in interleague (.235) was the lowest among the 12 teams, and the team had…

5 of their 6 qualified hitters (who got enough at bats) in the bottom third of league standings. Only Takashi Toritani (.296) was able to finish in the top half (31st out of 68 hitters), and while everyone has been so worried about Matt Murton (.230), our slugger Mauro Gomez hit a skinny .209 and “healthy” Ryota Imanari singled his way to a .204 average. He did not have a single extra-base hit in 49 at bats. The Tigers bats really only showed life in two games: their 9-8 nail-biter against Lotte and the final game, an 11-4 blowout. In fact, the Tigers played in…

6 blowouts, winning just that one. They lost 2-9 and 4-9 to the Lions, 0-5 to the Hawks, and 1-15 and 1-10 to the Buffaloes. In the 6 blowout games, the team’s run differential was -33. They went 1-5 in those ones. In the other 12 games, the team went 9-3, but the run differential was just +10. Interestingly, all of their blowout losses came on the road, where they lost…

7 of their 9 games. Was it the DH-rule that threw them off? Possibly. Well, it at least accounts for their meagre 17 runs (1.89 per game) versus 42 at Koshien (4.67 per). It could also account for the ridiculous amount of runs they gave up. The starters were worse on the road, without a doubt. The lone road wins came in Messenger’s shutdown of the Lions and Shintaro Fujinami‘s relative containing of the Hawks. Awful starts by the youngens (Yuya Yokoyama and Yuta Iwasada) aside, Atsushi Nohmi was a mess on the road, and Minoru Iwata was much less effective away from Koshien, where the team recorded…

8 home wins in 9 games. The lone loss was a blip on closer Seung-hwan Oh‘s record, and despite what his critics say, he is an elite closer. He allowed 4 runs in one inning to blow the opener against the Lotte Marines on June 2nd, but after that he threw six innings of shutout ball, striking out 9 and allowing just 2 baserunners. Before the meltdown, he also had 4 shutout innings (5 baserunners) and 6 strikeouts. That makes 10 innings, 7 baserunners (0.70 WHIP), no runs allowed, 15 strikeouts in 8 appearances. I’ll take one bad outing to go along with those incredible numbers any day. His home run to Kakunaka was one of 18 the team gave up in 18 games, as opposed to just…

9 hit by their own players. Of those, Gomez hit 3, Kosuke Fukudome hit 3, and one each was hit by Hiroki Uemoto, Toritani and Keisuke Kanoh. That’s it. Nothing for Murton, Imanari, the center field platoon, or the catchers. Cause for alarm? I would say so, especially in light of the 5 straight games in which the hitters got…

10 or more strikeouts (June 10-14). Last season one of the Tigers’ strengths was its walks-to-strikeouts ratio. This year it seems like everyone is swinging and missing (or just looking at strike 3) a lot more than in years past. Gomez is second in the league in K’s, Murton has more than usual, keen-eyed Fukudome has been seen frowning at umps more than ever as well. This does not take into account Imanari’s strikeout spree, either!


The team now has 79 games left to figure out how to start winning consistently, or at least how to get on a roll. They have signed Nelson Perez in hopes of either waking Murton up or getting more power and production out of left field. They have also announced that “Sunday Shin-chan” Fujinami will pitch Sundays from now on, as his 2013 Sunday record (9-3) could help improve the 2015 Tigers’ Sunday blues (4-8). The overall record has hovered near the .500 mark for over 2 weeks and has not been 2 games over water since April 4, when they were 5-3. Fans can talk all they want about how they are “just 2 games out of first” but we all know the Giants will pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and even if DeNA continues its plummet (3-14-1 in interleague, worst since the mini-series started in 2005) , you know the Hiroshima Carp are primed to make a charge. Starters Kenta Maeda, Kris Johnson and Hiroki Kuroda give them a chance on most nights, and their bats are starting to show signs of life, too. The Swallows have also had spells of great pitching and great hitting, just not at the same time. If they do, they will also contend for the playoffs.

There are only three teams allowed to the dance, and the Tigers have paid enough lip service to fans about winning the pennant in the team’s 80th anniversary season. It’s time to start winning and make a move, men!

Can the team live up to the slogan at last?

Can the team live up to the slogan at last?