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?

Series Recap – June 9-11, 2015

While the interleague mini-season has gone the Tigers’ way on most nights, they would face their biggest challenge in the early part of the week: a 3-game series against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, in the same dome where they dropped three straight to end last postseason. They beat two great Fighters pitchers to finish up last week, but how would they combat the arms, and even more troubling, the bats, of the defending champions? Let’s dive into it!

Iwata's pitch count rose and rose until he ran out of gas midway through the fifth.

Iwata’s pitch count rose and rose until he ran out of gas midway through the fifth.

Game 1: Maybe Minoru Iwata just needed me to be in attendance. I was able to watch his last two starts, and they were strong enough that the team should have won both. He really didn’t have it on this night, though, as he got knocked out midway through the fifth, having surrendered 10 hits and 2 walks on 119 pitches. The damage: 4 runs and a deficit the Tigers were not up to the challenge of overcoming. Coming off a 4-game winning streak and having renewed the hopes of their fans, the bats went stone cold against a dominant Kenji Ohtonari. They managed just 4 hits all night, including one extra base hit, and grounded into two double plays to negate half of their baserunners. While they did not strike out much, they also did not walk at all, something uncharacteristic of this team of selective hitters. The streak was over, and the days of sitting above .500 were limited to two. Final Score: Hawks 5, Tigers 0.

Fujinami roars as he pitches his way out of a jam in the seventh.

Fujinami roars as he pitches his way out of a jam in the seventh.

Game 2: Maybe good Wednesday starts after embarrassing Tuesday losses are becoming the norm. And maybe late game collapses as well. The Tigers staked starting pitcher Shintaro Fujinami a 5-1 lead after the top of the 5th, including home runs by Kosuke Fukudome and Takashi Toritani, and a near-home run (which ended up being a 2-run double) by Mauro Gomez. Fujinami gave up a 2-run blast to Matsuda in the bottom of the fifth, but the Tigers got a golden chance to get back at least one in the sixth, as Fukudome led off with a triple (again, mere centimeters from clearing the fence) to right center. Unfortunately, the batters that followed could not bring him the last 27 meters home. Fujinami gave up another run in the sixth, and felt them knocking on the door again in the seventh, with runners on 1st and 2nd, and none other than Matsuda at the dish with two outs. But our young ace bore down and got the strikeout, escaping the danger of another epic 7th inning collapse. The ninth inning brought a little more drama, but not in the same way as Tigers fans have grown accustomed to. Instead, this one was historic in nature. Closer Seung-hwan Oh had disposed of the first two hitters without issue, but had to face Nakamura for the final out. Some of you will remember him as the batter who lashed a 3-run walk off HR to right to end Game 4 of last year’s Nippon Series against this same pitcher. This time, however, Oh got the better of him, inducing a strikeout on a low sinker. The Tigers were back above .500 again! Final Score: Tigers 5, Hawks 4.

Keisuke Kanoh started as DH and proved to be a worthy starter, hitting his first home run of the season in the second inning of Thursday's game.

Keisuke Kanoh started as DH and proved to be a worthy starter, hitting his first home run of the season in the second inning of Thursday’s game.

Game 3: Maybe the Tigers are just meant to be a minimal team that gets by with “just enough.” Through seven innings they looked almost as lifeless as they did on Tuesday (just two hits, both by Keisuke Kanoh including his first home run of the year). They did draw five walks, mind you. Starter Yuta Iwasada was shaky and gave up three runs in five innings, and with just six outs left, the Tigers looked ready to pack their bags and leave Fukuoka. But then they led off the eighth with back-to-back singles, then an out, then a walk to load the bases. Mr. Clutch, Fukudome, brought in two runners with a huge hit, and the game was knotted at three. It stayed that way through two outs in the bottom of the 11th, when their Matsuda hit a walk-off homerun (his third longball of the series) off Yuya Andoh. Game over, Tigers back at .500. Final Score: Hawks 5, Tigers 3.

Series Notes: Wednesday’s win was the Tigers’ first at Yafuoku Dome since May 24, 2014… These teams were atop the Interleague standings heading into the series and remained there when it ended. With just 3 games left (4 for some, including the Tigers) the pinstripes are guaranteed just their fifth interleague season in the black since its inception in 2005… Fukudome and Toritani have homered in the same game twice now this season. The last one was in Yokohama on May 22. The Tigers went on to lose that one 6-5 after opening a 5-0 lead… Talks of finding a replacement for slumping import Matt Murton cooled off, and so did the redhead. He went hitless (0-10, 1 walk and 9 grounders including 2 double plays) in the series, and now needs a strong series against the Buffaloes to restore management’s faith in him… Reliever Naoto Tsuru made his season debut on Tuesday in relief, throwing 1 2/3 innings of shutout ball. Perhaps he finally has something meaningful to update his Facebook page with… The Tigers end their interleague schedule with 3 at Kyocera Dome against the last-place Buffaloes. They will, however, likely face defending Sawamura Award winner Chihiro Kaneko in one of those games. Then on Tuesday, June 16, they close out their Pacific League battles at home against the Fighters. Here are the CL standings after Thursday’s play.

15-6-11 Standings

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…

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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 Game 5 – SoftBank Hawks NPB Champions!

NipponSGame5Graphic

The heartbreak continues for Hanshin Tigers fans. A strong showing against the Yomiuri Giants and a brilliantly played Game 1 had fans hoping for the team’s first Nippon Series title since 1985. Instead, the SoftBank Hawks (particularly their pitching) silenced the Tigers and their fans, winning four straight while only allowing 4 runs in 37 innings in those games.

Tonight featured yet another battle of the pitchers. Hawks starter Tadashi Settsu had his curveball spinning just right and threw six shutout innings, striking out seven Tigers and inducing 8 ground outs. Randy Messenger pitched his heart out, getting out of jam after jam, with help from two outstanding catches by centerfielder Yamato. Despite throwing over 115 pitches, he was trotted out for the bottom of the eighth. He managed to get two outs and was a strike away from getting out of yet another jam, but Matsuda managed to punch one through the infield, scoring Yanagita easily from third base. The score after eight innings: 1-0 Hawks.

NipponSeriesGame5c

The ninth inning was not without its drama and controversy, though. Closer Dennis Sarfate walked Uemoto on four pitches before striking out Toritani. Gomez also took for bad pitches and walked to first, and Fukudome battled back from a 1-2 count to also walk. The bases were then loaded for designated hitter Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Any hit to the outfield would have tied the game. Unfortunately, he grounded out to first. The throw home was an easy second out, but the throw from the catcher to first caromed off Nishioka’s back, and he seemingly made it safely to first. Pinch runner Tagami scampered around third and beat the relay home, and it looked like a tie game. However, the umpires were quick to call baserunner interference on Nishioka, saying he was running inside the base path. You decide. (Full video of the play below.)

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The Hawks were relieved, throwing hats in the air and charging the mound in celebration. The game was over, though Tigers manager Yutaka Wada ran out to protest the call (to no avail, naturally).

Earlier in the game, too, there seemed to be several calls in the Hawks’ favor. Murton attempted to steal second base in the third inning on what looked like a hit-and-run plan. He was called out and protested loudly and angrily, saying he was not tagged. Replays were inconclusive but he did appear to have a case. Uemoto subsequently got to first, attempted to steal as well, and was thrown out.

I will not say the umpires decided the series. They definitely made a questionable final call, and even seemed to lean towards the Hawks in many ball-strike calls, check swing calls and others. However, the Tigers’ silent bats were ultimately what did them in. Perhaps we need to credit the starting four pitchers who completely shut down the Tiger Nine: Takeda in Game 2, Ohtonari in Game 3, Higashihama (reliever) in Game 4 and Settsu in Game 5. Congratulations to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on their sixth “Nippon ichi” and their first in three years. What a fitting end to the career of manager Koji Akiyama.

NipponSeriesGame5f

It was a disappointing end to a thrilling season, though. The Tigers played their hearts out this year, sometimes thrilling fans, sometimes driving them nuts. Their incredible sweep of the Giants will be talked about for many years to come, and the way this series ended will also be a conversation topic for some time as well. In all, I applaud the organization, its staff and players. Well done, Tigers! Let’s take it all in 2015!

The final play of the 2014 season:

Game highlights, including two fine catches by Yamato and great pitching by Messenger:

Nippon Series Game 4 – SoftBank Win in Extras, Go Up 3-1

NipponSGame4Graphic

In a must-win situation, the Tigers mustered a mere four hits all night. With a huge chance to take the lead and tie the series at two, their RBI King grounded into a double play. With the game on the line in the bottom of the tenth, their Saves King gave up a 3-run walk-off home run. Akira Nakamura and the SoftBank Hawks won 5-2 in extra innings to push the Tigers to the brink of elimination.

The Tigers needed to avoid what they had done in their previous two games: giving up an early lead and not hitting in the first three innings. With Minoru Iwata (2.54 ERA on the season, 7 strong innings against the Giants) on the mound, the first part of the equation seemed like it would be solved. But whether or not the Tigers would solve Hawks starter Kenichi Nakata, especially after struggling mightily against Shota Takeda and Kenji Ohtonari in Games 2 & 3, was a concern.

Unfortunately, Iwata fell into the same hole as Nohmi and Fujinami did before him, giving up a leadoff double to Yanagita, then making a bad decision on Akashi’s bunt, resulting in two runners on base without a single out. He then walked the next batter, making things even worse. A strikeout later, he was a double play away from escaping the jam. Unfortunately, Matsuda drove a ball to left, scoring two. The team would face an early deficit in yet another game. The next batter also got a hit, but thanks to yet another incredible defensive play by centerfielder Yamato, the runner at the plate was thrown out, and one strikeout later, the Tigers came back up to bat for the second.

However, through three innings, the Tigers failed to find their bats (getting just one hit). This was not all bad news, as Nakata struggled badly with his control in the first and third. He walked the bases loaded with two outs in the first, and did so again in the third with one out. It was at this time that the Tigers managed to tie the game off a Matt Murton sacrifice fly and a Kosuke Fukudome single. His failed attempt to turn it into a double ended the inning.

MurtonNipponSGame4

Matt Murton gets brushed back by a pitch.

Iwata struggled again in the bottom of the third, allowing two base runners, but escaped without allowing another run. The Hawks brought in relief early, in the form of youngster Nao Higashihama. He held down the fort in the middle three frames, allowing just one hit and two walks, striking out three. Fortunately for the Tigers, the Hawks also failed to get anything going in the bottom of those frames, and the score remained 2-2 through six.

To the surprise of many, Iwata came out in the bottom of the seventh with the score tied. He had already thrown 109 pitches, and it would have been easy to replace him. He gave up a leadoff double down the left field line, but got out of the inning safely after inducing two grounders, intentionally walking Uchikawa and striking out Honda. Despite Iwata’s strong and courageous outing, the Tigers simply could not put runs on the board, and he left the game with the score tied at 2.

Game4outNakamura’s walk-off home run in the 10th came after six straight scoreless innings. Tigers reliever Yuya Andoh, who had pitched a clean ninth, allowed a leadoff walk before a misplayed sacrifice bunt by Fujii put runners on first and second. (Update: Newspapers show a still shot of the runner actually being out at second.) He was pulled with one out. Closer Seung-hwan Oh got one out and appeared to be close to bailing Andoh out when the Pacific League hits leader took a 1-2 fastball for a long ride over the right field wall, just left of the foul pole.

The Hawks are now one victory away from winning the Nippon Series for the first time in three years. They will put Tadashi Settsu on the mound, while the Tigers will try to bring the series back to Koshien as Randy Messenger takes to the mound. Nothing is impossible, and the series is not over yet. Win or lose, Tigers Pride! GO TIGERS!

Nippon Series Game 3 – Ohtonari Dominates, Hawks Take 2-1 Series Lead

Graphic courtesy of Mr. Zornoff (see bottom right link). Used with permission.

Graphic courtesy of Mr. Zornoff (see bottom right link). Used with permission.

“I wanna hold them as close to zero as I can.” — 20-year old Tigers’ starter Shintaro Fujinami, before the game. Unfortunately, the day off and change in venue did nothing to alter the outcome of Game 3. Like Atsushi Nohmi did in Game 2, Fujinami surrendered an early run and the Tigers bats never found themselves as Hawks starter Kenji Ohtonari threw seven innings of 3-hit ball, leading his team to a 5-1 win. The SoftBank Hawks now lead the series 2-1 and play the next two games in their home stadium.

Once again, two pitches was all it took for the Hawks to put a man on base. Yuki Yanagita hit a double and was brought home by Seiichi Uchikawa’s bat two men later. Fortunately for Fujinami, he escaped the inning without allowing any more damage, despite giving up one more hit to slugger Dae-Ho Lee.

Yoshimura runs all the way from second, scoring on a Fujinami wild pitch, making the score 2-0 in the 4th.

Yoshimura runs all the way from second, scoring on a Fujinami wild pitch, making the score 2-0 in the 4th.

As the game wore on, it became painfully clear that the Hawks had all the momentum they needed, putting at least one man on base in each of the first four innings. Meanwhile, the Tigers managed just 2 runners in the first six innings, one of whom (Kosuke Fukudome‘s walk) was nullified by a Ryota Arai (DH) double play. The floodgates burst open in the bottom of the sixth, as the Hawks’ lead ballooned from 2 runs to 5 while they chased two pitchers (Fujinami and reliever Kazuya Takamiya) and battered another (Yuya Andoh).

Again in the seventh, the Tigers got a runner on (Hiroki Uemoto), only to hit into another double play (Takashi Toritani). Yet another man (Mauro Gomez) reached base but the team could not cash in on their chance.

In a somewhat surprising move, the Tigers brought youngster Hiroaki Saiuchi into the game for the bottom of the seventh, and he pitched two shutout innings, allowing just one hit. Unfortunately for the Tigers, time and at-bats were running out as they managed nothing in the eighth, and sent two more batters to the dugout sheepishly in the ninth.

Toritani singles against Sarfate to score Uemoto in the 9th. Photo taken from Sanspo.com

Toritani singles against Sarfate to score Uemoto in the 9th. Photo taken from Sanspo.com

Finally with two outs, the bats showed some signs of life. Uemoto got another hit, this time taking two bases, giving the team its first real scoring chance. Toritani made no mistake, flaring a single to center, and breaking the Hawks’ shutout against their strong closer Dennis Sarfate. In the end, though, the veteran got the final out, inducing a weak pop-up to center from Gomez. Game over. Tigers lose, 5-1.

The series continues tomorrow in Fukuoka, with the Tigers bringing lefty Minoru Iwata to the mound. The Hawks are likely to respond with Kenichi Nakata. It is a must-win for the Tigers, as tying the series at 2 gives them home field advantage again. Let’s look for the men in pinstripes to make a strong comeback tomorrow evening. GO TIGERS!

 

Nippon Series Game 2 – The Hawks Claw Back

Courtesy of Fernando Zornoff at Cargo Collective. Used with permission.

Courtesy of Fernando Zornoff at Cargo Collective. Used with permission.

In October, everything has been coming up Tigers. They won their last game of the regular season on October 1, watched the Carp hand second place to them by losing their final game, won their best-of-3 against those same Carp despite scoring just one run in 21 innings, and then swept the Giants in their own barn. They also took Game 1 with relative ease, scoring 6 runs off their former teammate Jason Standridge, despite being shut out by him earlier in the year.

With Atsushi Nohmi on the mound, the game got off to a rough start. A leadoff single by Yanagita was followed by a sacrifice bunt and an RBI single by Seiichi Uchikawa. Before two outs could be recorded, the Tigers were in the hole. Somehow, Nohmi kept his pitch count low despite giving up three hits in the first three innings. In the fourth, Korean slugger Dae-Ho Lee smashed a ball over the left field fence, giving the Hawks a 2-0 lead.

Photo taken from Sponichi Annex.

Photo taken from Sponichi Annex.

Meanwhile, the Tigers bats fell silent. Through 5 2/3 innings, starting pitcher Shota Takeda was perfect. It took a Keisuke Kanoh pinch-hit single to break the perfect game. This was followed by a Tsuyoshi Nishioka RBI double to right, and the score was close and hopes ran high. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were unable to cash in as Uemoto feebly grounded out to second base. They got opportunities in each of the final three innings, but could not bring the tying run across the plate. Takashi Toritani, who had two hits in the game, was caught stealing in the seventh, Uemoto flied out to center in the eighth with runners on first and second, and the combination of Gomez, Murton and Fukudome failed to capitalize on a leadoff hit by Toritani.

The final result is a 2-1 loss for the Tigers and a tied series heading off to Fukuoka. Tomorrow is a travel day and Game 3 starts at 6:30pm on Tuesday, at YafuOku Dome. Let’s hope the Tigers, who were limited to just 5 hits in this one, can find their bats against (perhaps) Kenji Ohtonari. The Tigers are putting their hopes in young ace Shintaro Fujinami. Let’s GO TIGERS! Steal one back in Game 3!

Blogger’s Note: I personally would not have gone with Nohmi in Game 2. He did not have a great season and struggled mightily against the Giants in his last outing. He allowed 10 baserunners in 5 innings in that one, and although he only allowed six in six innings tonight, he struggled right from the start, giving up two hits and a run in his first five pitches. My lone explanation for not starting Minoru Iwata instead would be that he is a poor hitter, and starting him when the DH rule is in place, i.e. at YafuOku Dome, was the logical choice. Still, I would have liked to have seen him on the mound tonight. Not that Nohmi’s results were that poor, mind you… his game ERA was 3.00… the team simply did not generate any offence.

Nippon Series Game 1 – Tigers Roar!

NipponSGame1Graphic

Graphic created by http://cargocollective.com/fzornoff Used with permission. Thank you!

History was made at Koshien Stadium tonight. For the first time ever, two foreigners were named starting pitchers of Game 1 of the Nippon Series. This one was supposed to be a low-scoring battle between Randy Messenger and Jason Standridge. Both had great seasons, and Standridge even shut out the Tigers at Koshien earlier this year. It turns out, another foreigner stole the show as this one had more offence than many expected.

Both pitchers looked dominant early, and this one looked like it could be a repeat of the Tigers-Carp series. Through three innings plus the top of the fourth, there were only two hits recorded. Standridge got beaten by his buddy Matt Murton, and Messenger allowed a bloop single to Imamiya.

Then things opened up in the 4th. Hiroki Uemoto opened the inning with a single, making up for his error in the bottom of the previous frame. Two batters later, Central League RBI champ Mauro Gomez came up and smoked the first pitch he saw to deep left, bringing Uemoto home easily. That first run had the crowd ecstatic, but that was merely the run that broke open the floodgates.

Murton got the best of his buddy Standridge, driving in 2 in the fifth. Photo taken from Sanspo.com

Murton got the best of his buddy Standridge, driving in 2 in the fifth. Photo taken from Sanspo.com

In the next inning, with two runners on, Standridge was starting to lose his control. He walked Toritani, loading the bases for the most dangerous hitter in Japan. Gomez struck again, this time sending a ball back between short and third, scoring two. Murton avenged his fourth-inning strikeout, sending a ball to the deepest part of center field, bringing Toritani and Gomez home. Standridge left, but that was not the end of it. Kosuke Fukudome singled, and the Tigers built up a 6-0 lead.

With just twelve outs left in them, the Hawks started to mount a little comeback. Messenger got in a little trouble as he allowed three singles in the top of the sixth. A sacrifice fly brought in SoftBank’s first run, and the first walk for the visitors loaded the bases back up again. Fortunately the damage was limited to that. Then in the seventh, a leadoff double (which looked foul but went off Nishioka‘s glove) was followed by a sacrifice and a single, but Messenger settled down to get the next two runners and the score was 6-2 after 7.

Messenger lets out a shout as he escapes a jam in the 7th.

Messenger lets out a shout as he escapes a jam in the 7th.

That was all for either side, as no one put a man on base in the last two frames. Shinobu Fukuhara pitched a clean eighth, and Seung-hwan Oh closed things off in the ninth, ending it with a strikeout. Great game all-around.

NipponSGame1

Word has it that tomorrow’s starters will be Atsushi Nohmi for the Tigers and Shota Takeda for the Hawks. This is still unconfirmed so we’ll have to wait until game day to find out for sure. Let’s see what happens in Game 2… same time, same place! GO TIGERS!

Nippon Series Preview: Tigers vs. Hawks

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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

Article Translation – Murton to Standridge: “Throw it in the zone!”

The original article can be found here 元の記事はこちら by Yusuke Abe

MurtonvsStandridgeRing the bell already! Hanshin outfielder Matt Murton (33) revealed on the 21st that he and SoftBank pitcher Jason Standridge (35) have been duking it out over the ‘Net. There’s a good chance the former Tiger righty will start Game 1 on the 25th. The Tigers lost their game against him in inter-league play, but this time they’re ready! Meanwhile, SoftBank hurler Kenji Ohtonari (29) says he has been studying up on Hanshin infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka (30) as he prepares his strategy for the Japan Series.

The war of words started with a congratulatory message. The fingers pressing the smartphone keys are heating up! Murton vs. Standridge. As the Tiger faithful’s anticipation has grown, so too has the exchange.

Murton: “Congrats.”

Yesterday on the 20th, that was the “warning shot” telegram sent to Standridge as his team advanced to the Japan Series. Since the days when they were both donning the pinstripes, the two have been friends both on and off the field. Talks turned to the Koshien game on June 9th. The Tigers tasted defeat as Standridge held them to 3 hits in a complete-game shutout. Even the front office, who released him due to the 4-foreigner limit rule felt humiliation that night. Murton himself went 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts. He got burned by Standridge’s outside curveball – a pitch that starts as a strike but ends up a ball.

Standridge: “You keep swinging at that pitch, so I keep throwing it. I’ll keep throwing it and you’ll keep missing!”

Murton: “I dare you to throw one in the strike zone!”

When it comes to baseball, these two are serious to a fault. It’s a clash of the titans. Come to think of it, this started back on March 4th as the teams played an exhibition game at Yafuoku Dome. Stan provoked him saying, “I’m gonna throw right at your backs!” To which Murton replied, “If you do, I’ll take you down outside after the game!” They prodded each other on over the phone.

“He threw some good pitches in inter-league play. The cutter and stuff. But we’ll win the Japan Series. We’re headed to the top.”

Murton was emphatic. In the Climax Series (CS) the team broke out with 5 wins and a tie. He alluded to the Royals, who advanced to the World Series without losing a single playoff game, their first WS in 29 years.

“The last time we won it all was 1985, was it? Same as the Royals, then. They’re gonna win theirs. We gotta do the same.”

He used to dream of being a world champion. He liked the late Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett, who had 2304 career hits. He won the batting title, RBI crown and the World Series in 1991. He was also enthusiastic about charity work, something Murton holds in common with him.

In Game 4 of the CS Final Stage against the Giants, Murton opened the scoring with a 3-run home run in the first. “I’ve stayed in Japan longer this year than in years past. I gotta do what I gotta do to win the Japan Series.” The “battle off the field” (by text message) is over. All that’s left to do is win it on the field.

StandridgevsMurtonA little about Standridge’s CG vs. Tigers

On June 9 of this year at Koshien during inter-league play, Standridge was named the starting pitcher against the team he had played with for 4 years. In the 4th inning with one out and runners on first and second, he struck out Murton and Gomez in succession, held the Tigers bats to 3 hits and earned a complete game victory (6-0). Used to the confines of Koshien, he smirked, saying, “It felt like a home game.” As he conducted the hero interview, Tigers fans could be heard saying, “Come back, Standridge!”