ASB – Report Card Time!

Yes, I’m a teacher, and while I don’t necessarily agree with the grading system, I do believe in evaluation. As we have a few days off here, I figure it’s time to look at how the team has performed up to this point. I’ll start with the position players today, then look at the starters and relievers tomorrow. Also, I’ll give the team a final grade and a few recommendations on how they can make that final push to the top. And away we go!

Fujii has had more playing time than the other C's. Does he deserve it?

Fujii has had more playing time than the other C’s. Does he deserve it?

Catchers: Sophomore Ryutaro Umeno (.232, 3 HR, .277 OBP) started most of the games at the start of the year, and while his bat improved from last season, his game-calling showed no improvement. He fell out of the circle of trust of some of the pitchers as well as coaches, and has found himself on the bench (or on the farm) the last two months. In his stead, Kazunari Tsuruoka (.197, 1 HR, .276 OBP) has come in and called games alright, and even had a couple of good games at the plate, but is still a liability with the stick. Akihito Fujii is the clear favorite for a few of the pitchers, but he is not as strong defensively as Tsuruoka, and his bat also leaves much to be desired (.192, 0 HR, .315 OBP). None of the three men are good enough to be the clear-cut head catcher, and there is no one on the farm ready to take the reins, either. We can only hope Umeno learns to call a game and can lead the team through the last two months of the year. Overall Grade: C-

Mauro has been adequate but not great so far...

Mauro has been adequate but not great so far…

Mauro Gomez: He has been quite inconsistent this year, having prolonged slumps but also lengthy streaks of great hitting. On the whole, his numbers are slightly below last year’s (26 HR, 109 RBI) pace: if he keeps up this season’s 12-45 pace, he’ll end up with around 20 home runs and 77 RBIs. His average (.282) is roughly the same as it was last year (.283), and his strikeout rate has remained the same (that is, awful – he’s got the second most in the CL). His play on defense has been unspectacular, though not worse than expected, and not overly detrimental to game outcomes. Let’s hope he can heat up a little more and at least match last year’s home run numbers, while knocking in roughly 90 runs. Overall Grade: B-

"Lethal Uepon" needs consistency and a bigger glove.

“Lethal Uepon” needs consistency and a bigger glove.

Hiroki Uemoto: Last season he started the year batting well over .300 and finished  .276 on the year. This year he has not gotten over .250 and has really looked lost at the plate on many occasions. However, he has stolen 14 bases (second in CL) and is facing a high number of pitches (sixteen pitches in one at bat – it ended in a walk). Also, he is leading the team by hitting .302 with runners in scoring position – earning himself the nickname “Lethal Uepon“. Another downside for Uemoto – his 10 errors are worst on the team. He has made some great plays in the field but also some blunders on harmless-looking plays. Overall Grade: C

Takashi Toritani: The captain returned to the team with one goal – to win the Central League pennant. His numbers do not reflect the hunger that burns in him, as he is hitting just .267 (4 HR, 24 RBI, 5 SB), which is considerably lower than last season’s numbers (.313, 8 HR, 73 RBI, 10 SB). He has been playing hurt and that has affected him at the dish and on the field, but he has his consecutive games streak at stake and refuses to rest. He already has six errors this year after having only 5 all of last season. I’ll be the first to admit I’m extra hard on the captain for putting individual accolades over what’s best for the team, so I’ll give him a little break here. He’s 34 and his range at SS will only get narrower, so perhaps a move to 3B in the offseason is in order. Overall Grade: B-

Third basemen: We’ve had two main guys at second – Tsuyoshi Nishioka had the job before going down with strained elbow ligaments. He started the year red hot but was cooling off in the weeks before his injury. Despite mediocre (I’m being nice again) play in the field, his dugout presence and aggressiveness at the plate are needed on this team, and we welcome him back when he’s ready! Ryota Imanari has taken the bulk of the playing time since returning from oblique injuries. He also started really strongly, then slumped for 10 days or so, hit well for another week and has since disappeared. Though his bat has not provided much help, his rock-solid play in the field is appreciated. He is also a good mood-maker, so he has replaced Nishioka in more ways than one. Overall Grade: C+

Murton's heating up! The team needs him more than ever...

Murton’s heating up! The team needs him more than ever…

Matt Murton: Where to begin? Ah, yes. The start. He got the game-winning RBI in the first game of the year, despite hitting 1-for-4, and he kept that .250 average through the first month of the year. His May was slightly worse (.242) and the media was having field days. The front office looked into better hired help, choosing a left fielder from the Baseball Challenge League, but right around the end of Interleague play, the “human hitting machine” heated up. He ended June with a .328 average on the month, and is hitting .320 so far in July. Not quite the .338 bar he set for himself last year, but coming along nicely. He is currently 12th in the league in batting average, and has started to hit the long ball as well (4 HR in the past 20 games), and his play in the field has also picked up some, although he has never really been considered an asset with his glove or arm. Overall Grade: C+

Now that his bunting has "gone foul" Yamato's lone sales point is his glove.

Now that his bunting has “gone foul” Yamato’s lone sales point is his glove.

Center Field: At first glance, this group is a disaster. Yamato plays incredible defense but has been awful at the dish (.195). Shunsuke is slightly worse in the field but slightly better with a bat in his hands (.217). Neither has a home run to his name yet, and only 2 SBs between the two of them. Hayata Itoh (.270, 2 HR) was doing alright until he went down with a thumb injury in early June. Taiga Egoshi (.095, 1 HR) has not shown consistency at the plate or in the field, despite the promise he showed in spring training. Kohei Shibata and Masahiro Nakatani have not gotten much playing time either, but there is probably a reason for it. (Wait… with our manager, “reason” takes on a whole new meaning.) Because of our manager’s strategy attempts, the center field of the day has often batted second and been expected to bunt. They have done this well at times, but several failed attempts have also resulted in free outs (sometimes two). I’m not sure what the answer is here, but I can’t imagine things getting worse if we let Egoshi or Nakatani learn the job on the fly. If not for this year’s sake, it will certainly make 2016 a better year. Overall Grade: D-

Only Dome-san has played better this season than last.

Only Dome-san has played better this season than last.

Kosuke Fukudome: At last, we get a high grade! Since returning from the majors in 2013, he has shown flashes of his old (that is, young) self, but never really putting together a full season. This year, his .275 average is 3rd on the team (and 14th in the league), his 15 HRs is his best since coming back, and is tied for 3rd in the league, and his 45 RBIs is tied for 4th in the CL. His defensive play has been exceptional for a man of his age, and his clutch play has saved the team from last place, literally. Overall Grade: A

Team Bats: The Tigers rank 11th of 12 teams in batting average (.240), 10th in home runs (50), last in stolen bases (30), last in average with runners in scoring position (.230) and 11th in runs scored (269 – the Eagles have 3 fewer runs in 2 fewer games). Hard to give this team a passing grade, and in fact, I have to lay it down right at the end. We’re awful. Forget park factors – the team has a great record at home, and is even hitting better at home (.242) than on the road (.238). Something’s got to give. There may be just half a game between them and the league leaders, but the numbers indicate that this team does not deserve to be in contention right now. Hopefully a strong end to July will give them the confidence they need to endure the “Road of Death” in August and then they can avoid their typical “September Slide”. Overall Grade: F

Any news is good news today…

Those of you who watched the game today probably wish you hadn’t. The Tigers got shellacked and are showing few signs of life in July. (More in the next series recap.)

I just “discovered” a Twitter account (mine is @thehanshintiger, follow me!) that reports on activity down at Naruohama, where the farm team plays and practices. Here are two tweets from today that deserve our attention. They might even lift our spirits a little!

Tsuyoshi Nishioka has resumed swinging a bat since July 7th. He has been on the disabled list with a right elbow injury. He went over his swing today at the indoor facility at Naruohama, and then worked on rehabbing afterwards. He aims to make a comeback and continues to train steadily.


 

Western League: Orix 8, Hanshin 2. New foreigner Perez was the only one on the team to record two hits off Yoshida, and now has an average of .368. It seems unlikely that he’ll get a promotion to the big club (due to the import limitation) but he’s busting his butt anyways.

Series Recap – June 5-8, 2015

While sweeping the Lotte Marines would have been ideal, winning the last two of the series was enough to give the Tigers a little momentum and confidence heading into the hardest part of the interleague schedule. They would host the first place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters over the weekend, and are scheduled to wrap up with two road series, one against the defending champions and the other against their cross-town rivals. The team with the worst batting average in Nippon pro baseball was slated to face two of the best pitchers in the Pacific right from the start – Shohei Ohtani and Mitsuo Yoshikawa. Would they be able to muster enough offense to keep the momentum going? Or would they sputter once again and fall back down in the standings?

Uemoto's raised hand is barely higher than Messenger's head! The two combined to give the Tigers a narrow victory on Saturday afternoon.

Uemoto’s raised hand is barely higher than Messenger’s head! The two combined to give the Tigers a narrow victory on Saturday afternoon.

Game 1: While they had their best pitcher going on Saturday (after Friday was rained out), we had our resurgent ace, Randy Messenger, to combat him. It truly was a pitching duel for the ages, as both hurlers recorded strikeout after strikeout, and blank inning after blank inning. The lone exception was in the fourth, when the Tigers managed three hits (Kohei Shibata, Matt Murton and an RBI single by Hiroki Uemoto), eking a run out after strikeouts by mashers Mauro Gomez and Kosuke Fukudome threatened to end the inning without a score. Ohtani was his usual self the rest of the way, going seven strong and allowing just the single run while striking out 11. However, our hero today was the big man, Messenger. He threw eight shutout innings, striking out eight and only allowing two runners to reach second base (one on his own fielding error in the fifth). In the hero interview (click here for audio), he made sure to give credit to his fielders – Gomez made a nice diving catch to record a double play in the 2nd, and Uemoto flipped the ball to first with his glove to nail the runner in time in the 6th. Closer Seung-hwan Oh came in to finish the game, and showed no signs of being rattled by last week’s nightmare. He struck out the side. The Tigers are back at .500! Final Score: Tigers 1, Fighters 0.

All nines on the heroes' podium on this day - Kanoh and Murton drove in 3 of the team's 4 runs.

All nines on the heroes’ podium on this day – Kanoh and Murton drove in 3 of the team’s 4 runs.

Game 2: Though he recorded a hit on Saturday, the talk of the press still surrounded Murton and rumors of signing a sixth foreigner and shipping Matt down to the farm. He came out on fire in this one, hitting a drive to right field in the first. He would score on a Gomez double, and the Tigers had an early lead once again. Starter Atsushi Nohmi gave up a home run in the second to the Fighters’ pipsqueak Oka, and the game was tied until the fifth. Once again, Murton came through, this time with a rare hit to left field, scoring Takashi Toritani. The Tigers accomplished a rare feat (for them), scoring in three consecutive innings, as pinch-hitter Keisuke Kanoh got a long-awaited RBI hit in the sixth, and Murton capped off his strong night with an RBI double to left (again!) in the seventh. Despite scares from the bullpen, Oh once again closed things down in the ninth with another clean inning, and the Tigers went over .500 for the first time since April 5th. Final Score: Tigers 4, Fighters 1.

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Game 3: Due to inclement weather today, this game will not be played until sometime next week (June 15-18).

Series Notes: Since allowing a hit in the top of the 10th against the Marines on June 3, Oh has mowed down 11 straight batters, 8 on strikeouts. He has 3 saves and a win on this Tigers 4-game win streak. In just 1.5 seasons with the team, he has racked up 55 saves and is now 4th all-time in team history. Apparently the “stone-faced Buddha” does not get rattled too easily… Messenger struck out Fighters pitcher Ohtani in all three of his plate appearances. The pitcher everyone anticipated seeing hit, failed to make any connection at all… The latest reports indicate that Ryota Arai is ready to join the team on Tuesday, and that Kentaro Sekimoto and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are doing what they can to rehabilitate. The former will likely be back much sooner than the latter. No timetable has beenset for either player, as of now… Despite having the worst batting average (.235) and second-worst ERA (3.59) in NPB over the course of the whole season, the Tigers have the 4th best average (.268) and top ERA (2.47) during interleague play. Perhaps they are heating up as summer comes along… The Pacific League has been flexing its muscle during this mini-season, going 35-32-3 so far, and will play the bulk of the interleague schedule at home. Owning the best record among CL teams has benefited the Tigers immensely in the standings, as seen below. They are actually just one strong series away from taking first place… The team will travel to Fukuoka tomorrow to play three games at Yafuoku Dome, then come back to Kansai and play three more at Kyocera Dome against host Orix Buffaloes. No more rainouts until regular league play resumes.

15-6-7 Standings

Series Recap: May 26-28, 2015

It was a beautiful day to be at the ballpark on Tuesday.

 This season has been one of streaks for the Tigers. Earlier, they went a whole month without stopping any losing streak at 1 or being stopped after just 1 win. Since that time, they have done the opposite, losing to DeNA, winning the middle match and losing the finale. Heading into the Interleague portion of the schedule, could they bounce back and start a new winning streak? Their opponents would be the equally mediocre Rakuten Eagles.

Iwata threw one of his better games of the year, going the distance and shutting out the Eagles on 3 hits, 4 walks and 10 strikeouts.

Iwata threw one of his better games of the year, going the distance and shutting out the Eagles on 3 hits, 4 walks and 10 strikeouts.

Game 1: The Tigers, though, continued another streak they had going, accomplishing something they had struggled with until just recently. In each of the three games against the Baystars, they put up at least one run in the first inning. They did the same thing when Takashi Toritani led off with a walk, was bunted over to second by (who else?) Yamato, and hit home by Kosuke Fukudome. (Side note: I must be a bringer of good luck to the former Cub/Indian, because in the four games I’ve attended that he played in, he has gone 6/11 with 2 HR and 6 RBI. The team is 3-1 in those games.)

Minoru Iwata was coming off his worst start of the year, as he got eaten alive by the Yomiuri Giants at home last week. In this one, despite poor control of his pitches (4 BB) he was able to keep the Eagles guessing all night (10 K). He didn’t give up a hit until the 5th inning, and only allowed two more the rest of the way. It was his first complete game shutout in 4 years.

The highlight for me, though, was Mauro Gomez‘s 2-run blast in the home half of the fifth (video here). Having already been walked twice, I’m sure he was anxious to just make connection with something… and he did. It was a full-count fork ball, low and outside but still within the strike zone. He crushed it, and although the ball never went much higher than 25 feet in the air, it carried quite easily over the wall in left-center.

 

As always, the atmosphere at Koshien Stadium was electric, despite a leaner attendance than the Tigers tend to get for their Central League opponents. Singing “Rokko Oroshi” with 30,000+ other fanatics is a great way to cap off the night, and of course everyone leaves a little happier when the men in pinstripes come out on top. Final Score: Tigers 3, Eagles 0.

This is becoming a pretty familiar site - Shintaro roars as he walks off the mound, shutting out his opponents yet again.

This is becoming a pretty familiar site – Shintaro roars as he walks off the mound, shutting out his opponents yet again.

Game 2: Let’s keep this one short, as the game did not feature a lot of action. There really were not even many scoring chances, as Manabu Mima held off the Tigers for 8 innings, while Shintaro Fujinami completed 10 innings of shutout ball (with 13 strikeouts) before being replaced in the bottom of the 10th by a pinch hitter. Seung-hwan Oh pitched a shutout 11th inning, and a Gomez single was followed up with a walk-off home run by Fukudome. Great pitching by the Tigers’ starters so far in this series, and just enough clutch hitting for the Tigers to open interleague play with two wins! Final Score: Tigers 2, Eagles 0.

Sometimes even Itoh can be clutch. The Tigers battled back from an early 3-0 deficit. How'd this one end? Read the rest of the article for the answer!

Sometimes even Itoh can be clutch. His 8th inning RBI brought the Tigers all the way back from an early 3-0 deficit. How’d this one end? Read the rest of the article for the answer!

Game 3: Tonight’s game would appear to be the last one for awhile for Mario Santiago, as the Tigers plan to send him down and call up Randy Messenger to start tomorrow’s game. Things got off to a rough start once again for the Puerto Rican, as he gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in the first, then served up a solo shot in the 5th. The Tigers were down 3-0 at that point, and had yet to register a hit when Santiago left the game. Then at last, the bats came to life. Toritani and Fumiya Araki singled, Matt Murton brought Toritani home on a sacrifice fly, and then Fukudome’s double helped Araki score from first. The Tigers went from looking hopeless and helpless to being down just a run. Another great chance presented itself in the seventh, but the team could not capitalize. Then in the eighth, Fukudome hit his second double of the night, and tied the game on a Hayata Itoh single to right. These scrappy Tigers are a fun team to watch, though they certainly do not win the easy way very often! The Tigers relievers (Ryoma Matsuda, Kazuya Takamiya, Oh and Shinobu Fukuhara) kept the Eagles at bay through the eleventh (though not without drama in extras), and the Tigers missed a golden chance in the ninth. In the bottom of the 11th, with the game pushing 4 3/4 hours, the unthinkable happened. With two outs, Araki singled (his sixth time on base on the night), and three straight walks brought home the winning run. The official game-winning RBI went to none other than Fukudome, who had an outstanding series. Final Score: Tigers 4, Eagles 3.

15-5-28 Standings

Series Notes: Murton picked up a modasho on Tuesday, getting three singles including an infield shot to third. He seems to have lost a step from seasons past, but still managed to leg one out… Tsuyoshi Nishioka‘s elbow injury (ligament damage) is much more serious than originally diagnosed. Some reports question whether or not he will return this season… Ryota Arai, on the other hand, hopes to return after the minimum 10 days on the disabled list. The swelling in his bruised knee is already subsiding, the team reports… Fujinami’s personal shutout streak is now at 26 innings. He’s got 4 complete games on the year, all coming in May, and his ERA for the month was 0.88 (and is 2.10 on the season). Someone’s starting to look like an ace again… Toritani is now riding a 7-game hitting streak. His average has climbed over .250 for the first time in weeks… Young 2012 first-round pick Fumiya Hojoh made the first plate appearance of his career in the fifth as a pinch hitter for Santiago. He popped up in foul territory to first base… Catcher Shinji Komiyama also had his first at-bat of the year in the eighth, and struck out with men on first and second and two outs… Infielder Yuto Morikoshi also stepped up to the dish for the first time in 2015. He popped up to short in the 10th.

Series Recap – May 22-24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the current Central League standings.

15-5-24 Standings

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

Series Recap – May 19-21, 2015

Every time the Yomiuri Giants come to town this season, the Tigers are offering some kind of special at Koshien Stadium. In celebration of the team’s 80th year, they are paying homage to all the magical moments between the two clubs, dubbing the series “Legends Day.” The question is, are the Tigers still producing legendary players? Would this series give birth to any legendary moments that will be talked about 20 years from now when the team celebrates its centennial? Let’s look at what went down these last three days!

This one did not go well for Iwata and the Tigers. Three straight innings giving up runs took the wind out their sails. They would go on to lose 8-0.

This one did not go well for Iwata and the Tigers. Three straight innings giving up runs took the wind out their sails. They would go on to lose 8-0.

Game 1: Two strong pitchers took the mound in this one, but only one would be left standing at the end. The other failed to make it through the fifth for the first time all year. Minoru Iwata got taken deep by Giants’ catcher Shinnosuke Abe in the second, and although that was all the offense the Giants would need on this night, they kept adding more. Three more came in the third after a rare Takashi Toritani error, one more in the fourth and two more off reliever Kentaro Kuwahara in the sixth. The Tigers, for their part, mustered just 4 hits (two of them doubles, mind you) but got nothing to show for it, as the Giants cruised to victory in this one, extending the Tigers’ losing streak to three. The  lineup shuffle did no good, as Matt Murton was unable to get things going from the leadoff spot, though Kosuke Fukudome got two hits in his return to the five-hole. Final Score: Giants 8, Tigers 0.

Shintaro Fujinami is starting to show his potential, going the distance for the third time in four starts.

Shintaro Fujinami is starting to show his potential, going the distance for the third time in four starts.

Game 2: The Tigers desperately needed to right the ship, so manager Wada once again shuffled the hitting order, even changing out one of his regulars. Toritani led off, Murton hit third (something I had long been waiting to see) and Fumiya Araki replaced Hiroki Uemoto at second base. Despite the changes, the Tigers still did not generate much offense. Murton led the way with three hits, and the lone Tigers run came in the sixth as Mauro Gomez singled to left, driving in Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The opportunity for more runs was there, with runners on first and second and no one out, but two strikeouts and a grounder later, the inning was over. Again the chance for insurance runs presented itself in the eighth, as Nishioka reached on an error, Murton singled and Uemoto pinch-ran and stole second. With runners on second and third and no one out, the chance to score was golden. However, Canadian reliever Scott Mathieson struck out Gomez, and after walking Fukudome, also rang up Yamato and induced an inning-ending pop fly to Kentaro Sekimoto. The story in this one, though, was hero Shintaro Fujinami, who pitched his first career complete game shutout. He allowed just two hits while striking out 10, throwing 137 pitches. He has now thrown complete games in 3 of his last 4 outings dating back to a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in Tokyo against these same Giants at the start of the month. Final Score: Tigers 1, Giants 0.

Rookie Yuya Yokoyama pitched well, going 7 innings and allowing just 6 hits and 1 run. He did not factor into the decision.

Rookie Yuya Yokoyama pitched well, going 7 innings and allowing just 6 hits and 1 run. He did not factor into the decision.

Game 3: Rookie Yuya Yokoyama made is grand debut with the hopes of helping his team to a second straight win and a first series win against their longtime rivals. The Giants had a strong first-year pitcher of their own on the mound, and the game was scoreless through five quick innings. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Yokoyama finally surrendered a run in the sixth after back-to-back doubles, and the Tigers still had just one hit through seven innings when our pitcher left the mound. In line for the loss, he could only sit and watch from the dugout. Kazuya Takamiya held fort in the eighth, and in the home half, finally something happened for the good guys. A leadoff Fukudome single chased their starter, and after another brilliant strategic sacrifice bunt by pinch bunter Shunsuke, a walk to Sekimoto (starting to sound familiar?), Keisuke Kanoh came to the plate. Last series, this same scenario occurred and the inning ended on a double play. This time, though, the small-ball approach actually worked, as Kanoh got plunked, Ryota Arai hit a sacrifice fly to bring the tying run home, and with runners on the corners, stone-cold Toritani came to the plate. He had struck out in his first three at bats, something very uncharacteristic of him. He made everything alright, though, with a scorching single to right, and the Tigers had the lead! Naturally, closer Seung-hwan Oh made things interesting, giving up two hits between outs, and with one man to go, there were runners on second and third. A called third strike ended the game, gave the Tigers their first series win against the Giants this year, and sent the balloons flying. Final Score: Tigers 2, Giants 1.

15-5-21 Standings

Series Notes: With an errant throw in the seventh inning of Game 1, Uemoto committed his NPB-worst 7th error on the year. “I’ll do better from now on,” he said… Fujinami leads all NPB pitchers with 4 complete games this season. His previous high was two in his sophomore season (last year). The young phenom is now 3-4 on the season with a sparkling 2.43 ERA… With the two wins to end the series, the Tigers have now gone an entire month either winning or losing in 2+ game chunks. Since April 22, their streaks have gone: 2L, 4W, 3L, 2W, 3L, 3W, 3L, 2W. Total: 11 wins, 11 losses… Before his game-winning hit, Toritani was hitless in his previous 12 at-bats and his average was down to .223 on the year… Since reaching double figures in hits in two straight games, the Tigers have gone 31-for-176 in 6 games (.176 average), scoring just 6 runs. Though they are 3-3 in those games, clearly the bats need to wake up if they are going to make a push for the playoffs… Just one series to go until the interleague portion of the schedule starts next Tuesday – a trip to Yokohama to face the league-leading Baystars. Projected starting pitchers: Mario Santiago, Atsushi Nohmi, Yuta Iwasada.

Series Recap – May 15-17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15-5-17 Standings

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

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

torihitthird

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

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

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

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

Article Translation – Announcer Announces Retirement

The original article can be seen here 元の記事はこちらです

Koshien Stadium’s “Nightingale Announcer” Kayo Mizutani’s Last Call

by Mayumi Doi

070615_1704~04

“Batting first, third baseman, Nishioka.” It seems like that beautiful voice and smooth cadence have been echoing throughout Koshien Stadium since ages ago. May 10th. That day marks the final day of working as “nightingale announcer” (uguisu jo) at Koshien Stadium for Kayo Mizutani.

“Just stay calm and don’t make any mistakes. This is just like any other day, I kept telling myself. If I didn’t, my voice would have betrayed me,” explained Mizutani, the woman with the beautiful voice, as the curtain fell on her 15-year career as Koshien Stadium announcer.

 

Life-Changing Announcement at Koshien

 

Mizutani hails from Ishikawa prefecture and was a clubhouse manager for her high school’s baseball club. One of her jobs was to announce during games, but she didn’t consider broadcasting as a career at the time. Rather, she felt like she had been forced to do it. She vaguely hoped to find a baseball-related job in the future, but announcing was not one of the options she had in mind.

But in her final year of high school just before the summer tournament, that fateful encounter took place. Once every three years, Ishikawa prefecture would invite the Koshien Stadium announcer to hold a short course. Mizutani, took part in it, but “I knew nothing of the depths and wonders of stadium announcing. But I was deeply moved: ‘That’s what it takes to be a Koshien Stadium announcer! Wow!'”

The announcer who conducted the course was none other than current director of stadium announcers Kayoko Yamasaki. And Mizutani, who until then “had no ideas about my future,” instantly made the decision to try to become a stadium announcer upon hearing Yamasaki’s voice in person.

She didn’t have the foggiest clue of how to become Koshien’s announcer, though. Her first thought was to get a part-time job at the stadium, which she did – finding work as a receptionist, a vendor, and so on. While working, she dropped the hint countless times that she wanted to find work in the field of announcing. “Unless there’s a vacancy it can’t happen. And we have nothing opening up anytime soon,” was the rejection she continued to hear.

Three years and two months into her time at Koshien, the time came. “There happened to be a vacancy, and I was granted an interview.” That was May 2001, and in June she found herself working in the announcing industry.

But this is a rare case. It’s not like there is a clear path laid out for part-timers at Koshien to become announcers. “The timing just happened to be right. I got really lucky,” Mizutani emphasizes. No doubt Mizutani’s passion came across and the baseball gods granted her wish to her.

 

The One Time My Mind Went Blank

 

Mizutani’s dreams had come true but she was not able to start announcing games right away. The first job given to new hirees is telephone answering and recording services. You know the recorded playback when you call Koshien Stadium? That one. Also they do announcements outside the stadium. Like when the stadium gates open, cautions, and other public service announcements.

Next is doing the announcements for offseason events at the stadium. For instance, doing in-game announcing for baseball clubs that rent out Koshien.

Then they move on to pro games, but just like the pros, they start on the farm. They pick up experience doing Western League games.

She started taking charge of high school baseball announcing at the national summer tournament, and finally made her big league debut on August 31, 2003. “I can remember it clearly even now. (Shinobu) Fukuhara made the start, knocked in a run himself and won the match. I’m pretty sure it was 4-1.” It was an unforgettable match for Mizutani.

Even more than what happened during the game, she remembers how she herself felt. “When I say I remember, I mean that I remember blanking out.” The fact is, games were much more difficult and complicated to announce back then. During the game you would have to announce sponsorships along with athletes’ achievements, like if the first hit was a home run, there would be announcements for “First Hit Award,” “First Run Award,” “First RBI Award” and “First Home Run Award” and the sponsoring products to introduce. How to put that all together would be up to the announcer and had to be done ad lib. The game is a living thing, and you don’t know what’s going to come at you when. You have to make shrewd and quick decisions.

But Mizutani seasoned her announcements with quick wit and got through it all without incident. “That was the first time I felt like I drew a blank.” But now it’s a good memory.

 

High School and Pro Baseball

highschoolbaseball

Koshien Stadium is both the home turf of the Hanshin Tigers and the sacred grounds of high school baseball. Is there a difference in how Mizutani announces them? This is what she had to say: “For baseball boys, the high school tournament might be seen as a ‘one shot deal’ and their ‘last chance,’ but it’s not a good idea to think about that too much. I’m usually the type to get emotional really easily so I try to keep level-headed and just make sure I don’t make a mistake with their names when I announce.”

On the other hand, “not making any mistakes with the pros is a given, so I try to use more variation in my announcements with them. Announcing the next batter, making public service announcements and giving warnings all have a different feel to them.” So fun announcements in a cheerful voice, and warnings with a tone that says, “Be careful!”

She also put full attention into improving her announcing techniques to make sure they were properly received by the crowd. “There are actually a lot of things to keep in mind when imparting information. Purposeful inflections, stretching out and shortening sentences, pauses. Putting a pause in front of something really important. Highs, lows, tightness, looseness. Even now I feel like there’s lots to think about.”

Always her own worst critic, Mizutani always reflects on her performance and says, “There’s not a single time I got it all 100% right.” We’re not talking about mistakes that the average person would pick up on, but “I didn’t use the right inflection on this person’s name.” Things only a person of her talent and level would pick up on.

Her master, Yamasaki couldn’t say enough kind things about Mizutani, whose awareness of what it means to be a pro included “looking things up beforehand, revising the script thoroughly and just being prepared. She was reliable for all these years and kept that same eagerness that she had right from the start.”

 

Fujinami Loved Her Announcing, Too

fujinamihighschool

Soon after Mizutani made her debut with the parent club, word in the baseball world was that “a big name freshman joined the Koshien staff.” Right from the start she gained a reputation for having a beautiful and clear voice. She also held hi standards for herself and worked hard to reach them.

So on the occasion that she heard someone say, “The announcing at Koshien is second to none,” she felt supreme joy as she thought to herself that she had successfully carried the torch passed on to her by previous Koshien announcers.

Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, “Koshien poster boy,” also has a special place in his heart for the announcing at Koshien. “Even before I started playing high school ball I would come to the stadium and hear her voice. It’s been a part of my life for a long time and has left a strong impression on me. That slow, orthodox delivery and sticking to the basics really appealed to me. The way they pump things up at other stadiums, that’s cool and all but I personally prefer Koshien announcers.” That style that Fujinami loves is the very style that Mizutani longed to emulate, then inherited, then worked hard to preserve.

Mizutani will be on maternity leave for the time being. “I’m really not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now but in my heart it feels like the announcing season in my life has been completed. That is how I approached these final days.” Now, she’s leaving the announcing to her subordinates. She also has an important message to impart to them: “When you’re broadcasting, I want you to do it with the confidence that you’re the best at what you’re doing. If you make a mistake, brush it off. I would be happy to hear that you take pride in what you do.”

It is sad to think that we will not be hearing Mizutani’s voice anymore, but as long as the next uguisu jo carry the spirit of Mizutani in them, announcements at Koshien Stadium will continue to add color to the game of baseball.

Series Recap – May 12-14, 2015

The last time the Hanshin Tigers had been swept two times in one season at Koshien was 2001. On May 11, they already matched that futility. They also became the first Central League team to reach 20 losses for the first time since 2001. They also had the game following their Koshien sweep rained out for the second straight series. Last time, they followed the day off with a 7-2 stinker to the last place Carp. Could they fare any better against the struggling Swallows at Jingu Stadium?

Murton collides with the catcher after the throw from right arrived. He was out and both benches cleared as the Swallows took objection to his "rough play" but cooler heads prevailed in the end.

Murton collides with the catcher after the throw from right arrived. He was out and both benches cleared as the Swallows took objection to his “rough play” but cooler heads prevailed in the end.

Game 1: On the mound to stop the bleeding was Minoru Iwata. Despite many Tigers media standing in Messenger, Nohmi or Fujinami’s camp as the staff ace, Iwata has led the team in ERA for much of the past season and some change. He kept up the strong pitching in this one, despite giving up several hits. His final line looks mediocre only because the relievers (namely Yuya Andoh) could not strand the runners they earned. Either way, the Tigers bats came to life, reaching double digits in hits for the first time in 12 games, and hitting two home runs (by Ryutaro Umeno in the third and Kosuke Fukudome in the 6th) for the first time in 33 games. They never trailed in this one, though each of their scoring innings were followed by the Swallows narrowing the gap. In the end, Seung-hwan Oh finished them off, despite giving up a leadoff home run. Goodbye, losing streak! Final Score: Tigers 7, Swallows 5.

Fujinami pitched a complete game for the win. His stat line: 9 IP, 8 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K on 113 pitches.

Fujinami pitched a complete game for the win. His stat line: 9 IP, 8 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K on 113 pitches.

Game 2: Tsuyoshi Nishioka wasted no time giving the Tigers an early lead, clubbing former Lotte teammate Yoshihisa Naruse’s fourth pitch over the left field wall (video here). Tigers starter Shintaro Fujinami pitched efficiently as well, but surrendered the tying run in the second inning on a solo home run. Fortunately for him, the bats came to work again tonight, and they reached double digits in hits and launched two home runs (the other was by catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka in the fifth) for the second consecutive game. The Tigers also achieved the rare feat (for them) of scoring runs in consecutive innings, as Yamato blooped a single to shallow right field, scoring Mauro Gomez and Matt Murton. And as we continue to speak of two consecutive games, Fukudome got caught in a run-down between second and third for the second straight night on that play. He is lucky the lead was three runs and that Fujinami brought his A game. He went the distance, shutting down the birdies the rest of the way for his first complete game victory of the year. Final Score: Tigers 4, Swallows 1.

The Tigers started the week 1.5 games deep in the cellar, and are now miraculously just a half game out of a playoff spot! This is because the DeNA Baystars swept the Chunichi Dragons and the Yomiuri Giants took two of three from the Hiroshima Carp. The first two slots in the Central are now quite separated from the bottom 4, which are quite clogged. Here are the standings:

15-5-14 Standings

From Friday, the Tigers will play three in Nagoya under the dome against the Dragons. New import Mario Santiago will make his debut on the mound as the Tigers hope to move even higher in the standings. Randy Messenger, who was demoted to the Western League for a tune-up, is scheduled to return to the team for their next series, a 3-gamer against the Giants at home next week. Over the weekend, it is possible for the Tigers to move into a tie for second or back down into sixth. They look like a different team out there (more confidence and energy), but we can only hope they can keep the momentum going through the weekend and until interleague play begins on May 26. Go TIGERS!

Tigers Fall to Last – The Rant (#2)

Before you get too hung up on my words, keep in mind I am a fan, and I love the Tigers. Take it with a grain of salt, please.

tigers0carp10

Last time I spoke harsh words about this club, they had just beaten the Yomiuri Giants 4-2 to extend their record to 5-2 and remain in first place in the Central League. At the time, things seemed to be going well, and a few readers said I should calm down, and that the season was still young and they were still sitting in first.

They have since gone 10-17, and now sit half a game behind the Hiroshima Carp for last place. I’m not going to say “I told you so” to anyone, but obviously this team was not as good as their record told us through 7 games, and perhaps the current 15-19 record is more indicative of how bad the team is compared with the rest of the league.

There are numbers that show just how bad the team is – their league-worst .227 batting average and 3.97 ERA the most obvious – but let’s look beyond digits and talk about other issues plaguing the team.

This face says it all: "I'm ready to be fired."

This face says it all: “I’m ready to be fired.”

First and most obvious is team management and coaching. Fans nationwide will agree that Yutaka Wada needs to be canned, and the sooner, the better. He has no personality and more often than not, states the obvious after games: “We need to hit better in clutch situations.” REALLY? Casual fans could tell me that! He puts up lofty goals at the start of the season like “We’re going to try to steal 100 bases as a team this year” but then calls for sacrifice bunts when his speedsters are on first. So far, the team has all of 11 stolen bases in 34 games – a pace of 46 for the season. For the record, that’s 9 fewer than last season, when the team finished dead last in the category. Wada has also tinkered with the lineup – 5 different men have played center field so far, and 3 different players have batted leadoff – but apparently none of that has brought about the desired results. Does Wada not have any other tricks up his sleeve besides the sacrifice bunt that leads nowhere? It has been proven that bunts are not the answer to better scoring! Time to move on, Wada.

You turned this double play, Takashi. But when are you going to captain the team to victory?

You turned this double play, Takashi. But when are you going to captain the team to victory?

Second, I will point the finger where no one else seems to dare – at the team captain, Takashi Toritani. This is the guy who wanted to try his luck in the majors this offseason but came crawling back to the team, mumbling something about wanting to win it all with the Tigers and helping the young guys experience a league championship – something he did in 2005 as a youngster. I say “crawling back” because he received no official offers from major league teams, and perhaps they knew what they were doing. After all, Tori does not boast much pop in his bat or speed, and at age 33 (for another month, anyway), will continue to lose defensive range with every passing month. The one thing he has going for him is his ironman streak, which reached 1,500 games today. That’s good for third in NPB history (behind Sachio Kinugasa and Tomoaki “Aniki” Kanemoto) and certainly is impressive, but at what expense does it come? He clearly is not playing well this year, and is perhaps doing more damage to the team right now than he is helping. Yes, he has hit a few balls well in recent days, but none have resulted in hits, and his average now sits at a paltry .235. He has made some fine defensive plays this year, but has also made a lot of mistakes, and cannot get to a lot of balls that he used to reach in his younger days. And how about that leadership? Who’s he talking to? Who’s he coaching or advising? Is he the one heading to the mound to talk to the pitcher after a big hit? Nope, that would be third baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Tori-san, when are you going to step up and LEAD the team? Perhaps you need to lay down your pride and sit out a game or two if you’re playing hurt. None of this “1試合でも多く続けられるように頑張ります” (I’ll do my best to be able to continue playing as many in a row as I can) nonsense! If you’re not doing your job, man up and step down! Help the next generation get some game experience and be able to replace you in a few years when you retire!

Third and finally, no one has stepped up. Last season, all 4 foreigners carried the team to second place and the Nippon Series. Without career years from Randy Messenger and Matt Murton and impressive first years from Mauro Gomez and Seung-hwan Oh, the team would not have made the playoffs. This year, Messenger and Murton have started out slowly, and Gomez has not found his power stroke yet. The problem is, the rest of the team has not stepped up at all! Only Nishioka has performed at a higher level than last year (which he missed most of due to injury). The rest – Hiroki Uemoto and Yamato in particular – have regressed! For this team to succeed, it needs the local boys to produce well and become the foundation of the team. Right now, no one of any nationality is taking the reins.

I never liked this slogan. Now that the team sits in last, it's kind of funny.

I never liked this slogan. Now that the team sits in last, it’s kind of funny.

Honestly, sitting in last place feels about right. No one is playing well, only twice all year has the team produced a convincing win (outscoring the opponent by 3 or more). On the other hand, they have lost by 3 or more runs an embarrassing twelve times! The pitchers are getting tagged for hit after hit. The Tigers have gone 10 straight games without reaching double-digits in hits, but in that span have given up double digits five times. This does not look like a team about to “Go for the Top as One”… but as a fan, I still hold out hope that at some point, they can turn things around and contend for the playoffs (and the pennant, and the Nippon Ichi) come October. Come on, Tigers!