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

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

Series Recap – June 2-4, 2015

It was a beautiful night for a baseball game on Tuesday as the Tigers hosted the Chiba Lotte Marines.

 After finally reaching the .500 mark for the first time since early April, the Tigers proceeded to fall right back into mediocrity with two straight blowout losses to the Saitama Seibu Lions, ending May with a 12-13 record, and only staying in third thanks to even worse play (or luck?) from the Dragons, Swallows and Carp. How would the team do with 6 straight home games against Pacific League opponents this week? The first set was against the Chiba Lotte Marines, who held a similar record to the Tigers heading into this one.

“Stone-faced Buddha” Oh tries to regain his composure after a nightmarish ninth on Tuesday.

Game 1: I was once again able to take in a game at the stadium, and once again witnessed Minoru Iwata pitching like his true self: giving up his share of hits and walks, but escaping most of his jams unscathed. This one was no different, though the first run of the game went against him in part because Ryota Imanari muffed a ground ball that should have started a double play. The Tigers retaliated with runs in the second and third frames, coming off the bats of Hayata Itoh and Mauro Gomez, but Iwata allowed the Marines to tie it up in the top of the 4th, as leadoff hitter Luis Cruz hit a rocket to the left field stands. The game remained knotted until the seventh, when the Tigers mounted a rally (one that should have gotten them more than one run). Hiroki Uemoto came through in the clutch with the potential game-winner. Then, the ninth happened. (Click here for a fuller report/commentary.) Heartbreak at Koshien, as the Tigers dropped the first game, falling to 3 games below .500 and tied for fourth in the CL. Final Score: Marines 6, Tigers 3.

What are you so happy about and who are you running from, Tori?

What are you so happy about and who are you running from, Tori?

Game 2: The man with the huge scoreless innings streak was set to put an end to the Tigers’ slide in this one. Shintaro Fujinami had gone 26 straight innings without allowing a single run, and extended it another six in this game, while striking out 11 more batters to extend his CL lead to 81 strikeouts. And the Tigers bats came out angry and ready to give the team a lead that even the worst relief corps could not surrender. Gomez started the party with a 2-run home run in the first, then Fujinami himself knocked in a run in the second. Kosuke Fukudome added to the fun in the third and fifth, then Itoh in the same frame, and even Matt Murton joined the party in the sixth. By the time the “lucky 7th” had come around, the game was a joke. Eight Tigers runs to nothing for the Marines, and Fujinami still going strong. Then the unthinkable happened. A misplayed single to right (where Itoh had moved to replace Fukudome) led to three bases, then a strikeout later, a poorly fielded grounder by Uemoto scored the Marines’ first run. Still, Fujinami got the second out without allowing another run, and the fans were ready for the balloon release. But hit followed hit after hit, and relievers replaced relievers, and the crushing blow came off Imae’s bat: a 3-run home run against Ryoma Matsuda, tying the score at 8. Fans and players alike were deflated, as were the balloons, released in frustration for the second straight night. No scoring over the next three innings (held tight by relievers Shinobu Fukuhara and Seung-hwan Oh), and in the bottom of the 10th, things still looked bad for the Tigers. The bottom of the order was due up. But Shunsuke led off with a double and advanced to third after a Keisuke Kanoh walk and a Katsuhiko Saka pinch hit single. With just one out, captain Takashi Toritani was due up, and he made no mistake and wasted no time: a deep fly to left easily scored Shunsuke, and the team narrowly avoided heartbreak for the second straight night. Final Score: Tigers 9, Marines 8.

Egoshi and Iwasada showed us tonight that the kids are alright.

Egoshi and Iwasada showed us tonight that the kids are alright.

Game 3: I’m sure I was not the only fan who was nervous about this one. Young 2013 first draft pick Yuta Iwasada (he of the 11.57 ERA so far on the year) was going up against the team that had already scored 14 runs in this series. However, right from the start he held them in check. In fact, he threw 6 2/3 shutout innings and left the game with a 1-0 lead, thanks to a second inning Taiga Egoshi RBI triple that was centimeters from being a home run. Pinch hitter Yamato managed to bunt hit to left field in the seventh, after which Toritani walked and Uemoto hit a ball to deep left center, scoring the two baserunners. That was all the scoring in this one, as the combination of Yuya Andoh, Kazuya Takamiya, Fukuhara and Oh closed the door the rest of the way. Final Score: Tigers 3, Marines 0.

Series Notes: Before the first game of the series, it was announced that former closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who had been released by the Texas Rangers, would not re-sign with the Tigers. Instead, he would play ball near his hometown in Kochi Prefecture in the Independent League. Incidentally, Fujikawa holds the team record for longest scoreless streak at 47 2/3 innings. Fujinami is sixth in club history with his 32… Itoh injured his left thumb in the second game, and is set to go on the disabled list. Ryota Arai played third base on the farm on June 4, and should rejoin the team for the next series. Kentaro Sekimoto (who has as many hits as beanings this year) also hit the DL with a wounded left oblique muscle… Somehow the Pacific League feasted on Central League teams this week, and the Tigers were able to make some breathing room for themselves in the standings. Imagine if they had won on Tuesday! Here are the current standings:

15-6-4 Standings

Series Recap – May 22-24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the current Central League standings.

15-5-24 Standings

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

2015 Season Preview, Part 3: Starting Pitchers

Up next in our four-part series about the Tigers and the upcoming 2015 season is the pitching staff. Click here to see the infield analysis and here for the outfield. The series will wrap up with a look at the intriguing puzzle pieced together with the relievers. OK here we go! The first four starters are set in stone, but who’s got the inside track on the other two slots?

Atsushi Nohmi

"Just have to practice."

“Just have to practice.”

We start by looking at the most experienced member of the starting corps. Last year was largely a forgettable one for the former “staff ace.” At age 35, his best years might be behind him, but his second half numbers from last year (3.07 ERA after June) show that perhaps he’s still got something left in the tank. Last year broke a string of 5 consecutive seasons with an ERA under 2.70, and he barely finished below 4 because of a shaky first half. Entering the first year of a new 3-year contract, Nohmi will look to keep his status as an upper-tier starter for the 2015 Tigers, despite the three pitchers “behind” him having had more success last year.

Randy Messenger

Messenger does an interview with Mr. Kawafuji, whose English is awful. Looks like they had fun, though!

Messenger does an interview with Mr. Kawato, whose English is awful. Looks like they had fun, though!

Since joining the club in 2010, the man has found his groove, getting better with each season. Despite major league offers in the 2013 offseason, Messenger elected to return to the Tigers for three more years. The first year of that contract proved to be his best in Japan, as he racked up a league-high 13 wins and 226 strikeouts while logging 208 ⅓ innings, a team high. While he had a few slip-ups here and there, he came through when needed the most, even going as high as 149 pitches in one outing. In what turned out to be the final game of the season, Big Mess kept the team in the game until his final pitch, his 134th of the game, yielded the lone run. Despite worries of offseason weight gain, this is one workhorse the team can count on for 200+ IP, 200+ K and over a dozen wins. Who knows, he could become the second foreigner ever to win the Eiji Sawamura Award. The other? Tigers legend Gene Bacque (1964).

Minoru Iwata

Minoru Iwata is well known for his charity work in the Kansai area.

Minoru Iwata is well known for his charity work in the Kansai area.

Of the “Big 4” Iwata received the least run support from his mates, and by a long shot. Despite the best ERA among starters (2.54), he also only received an average of 2.89 runs support (per 9 innings), as evidenced by his 9-8 record in 22 starts. (By comparison, Messenger and Nohmi got over 4 runs support and Fujinami got nearly 6!) Still, 2014 was a breakout season for the 31-year old, and his confidence appears to have carried over to this season. His lower body is stronger than before and surely he also wants to prove that he can keep up with the best on this staff. Look for another solid (and perhaps under-appreciated) season from the occasionally bearded one.

Shintaro Fujinami

"It's a player's free choice. If I ever become that good, we can talk about it." -- Fujinami on playing in the majors

“It’s a player’s free choice. If I ever become that good, we can talk about it.”
— Fujinami on playing in the majors

Much coveted out of high school and still just 20 years old, the young phenom has lived up to all the hype but still has room for growth. He became just the second pitcher in team history (after legend Yutaka Enatsu, 1968) to record double digits in wins in his first two years out of high school. He has also drawn favorable comparisons to Texas Ranger ace Yu Darvish, and the numbers after two seasons are quite similar. Furthermore, those same Texas Rangers are said to be scouting Fujinami despite his being 7 years away from free agent eligibility. What makes him great? He’s got a strong fastball (average 151.2 km/h – 94 mph) and six other pitches in his arsenal to back it up. That will leave any batter guessing what is coming. Fujinami did, however, show a disturbing trend in 2014 of allowing too many runs too early (43 in 75 IP in the first three innings of his starts). Whatever the issue, he needs to get his head in the game right from the start. If he does, the sky is the limit for this young man.

The Rest

As many of us know, the Tigers (and much of NPB) tend to use a six-man pitching rotation, occasionally skipping the last man and giving their aces extra starts in key games. The first four spots will almost definitely go to the men mentioned above, but who deserves spots 5 & 6? Let’s look at some of the candidates. If they are not mentioned here, it likely means they will be in the next report on the relievers.

Suguru Iwazaki

The rookie lefty made several starts with the big team last year between stints in Naruohama. He impressed many by recording five wins despite being a sixth-round pick.

Kazuyuki Kaneda

Another very young pitcher who had moments of greatness and other moments of ineptness. He has come on strong so far this spring, but it will take more than that to cement his place in the rotation.

Yuta Iwasada

Last year’s (2013) first round pick started a few games and pitched some relief, but never really found success in either role. His spring is also off to a rocky start, as he gave up 3 ER in 3 IP against the Korean Samsung squad. Scouts also say he needs a lot of work.

Hiroaki Saiuchi

Saiuchi is perhaps better suited to the long relief role, but did start a few games last year. Consistency is a big problem so far in his short career.

Yuya Yokoyama

The team’s #1 pick this year (2014) has started the year slowly, injuring his clavicle joint before training even started, but there is still hope he can contribute at some point. If anything, he may get called up later in the year, and April seems doubtful at this point.

Overall Prognosis

The failed attempt to land free agent Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko leaves a gap in the rotation. The front four should all record double digit win totals, but the rotation after that looks shaky at best. The Tigers really have to hope for some pleasant surprises out of a few young developing players. Who knows, a fifth solid starter could blossom this year! (Other prospects include Takumi Akiyama, Hiroya Shimamoto, Shoya Yamamoto, Daiki Enokida etc.) If not, though, we could see the rotation shortened to five, especially if the race for the pennant is tight.

Monthly Hanshin Tigers – February Edition

IMG_3911It’s here! I just got my hands on the newest Monthly Hanshin Tigers magazine. Yamato’s the cover boy and this issue features a lengthy interview with him. Here is a brief table of contents.

  • Close up Interview – Yamato
  • Another side view – Yamato
  • Current observations – The 2015 Race
  • Introducing… Kentaro Kuwahara
  • Players’ Note – Koya Shimamoto’s 5th Year
  • Memories of 1985 – Katsuo Hirata
  • Tigers’ Farm Report
  • According to His Teammates – Yuta Iwasada
  • Tigers’ Data Analysis – Hitters
  • The Truth About… Sen’ichi Hoshino
  • Wada Manager Room

Want to get an English version (full or abbreviated) of any of this? Let me know in the comment section!

Tigers on Social Media

As camp is set to open tomorrow morning, I thought this might be a good time to make a list of players on either Facebook or Twitter. Not as many players are as active (publicly, that is) on social media as you might think. Here are the ones I am currently following. If you know of any others, let me know. Clicking on the capture will lead you to the player’s page/feed.

Matt Murton – Twitter (English) *He also has a Japanese one that someone just translates all his tweets for him. I’m pretty sure it’s official.*

MurtonTwitter

Mauro Gomez – Twitter (mostly Spanish)

GomezTwitter

Takashi Toritani – Facebook

ToritaniFB

Tsuyoshi Nishioka – Facebook (run by an administrator but Tsuyoshi sometimes posts too)

NishiokaFB

Ryota Imanari – Facebook

ImanariFB

Naoto Tsuru – Facebook

TsuruFB

Ryutaro Umeno – Facebook

UmenoFB

Ryutaro Umeno – Twitter

UmenoTwitter

Ryoma Matsuda – Twitter

MatsudaTwitter

Yuta Iwasada – Twitter

IwasadaTwitter

Weekly Update – September 8-14, 2014

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

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

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

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

September 8 Week

September 14 Standings

Here are the stat lines for our import players.

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

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

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

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

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

The Streak is Over! Tigers Win!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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