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

Mini-Series Recap – July 14 & 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series Recap – July 10-12, 2015

夢はつぶれる、未来はつぶれる ぼくとわたしの大きな夢は いつもの負けで いつもの阪神… 阪神!

Yume wa tsubureru, mirai wa tsubureru   Boku to watashi no o-kina yume wa  Itsumo no make de, itsumo no Hanshin… HANSHIN!

(My dreams have been squashed, my future is squashed. Your big dreams and mine, always losers, always Hanshin… HANSHIN!)

Coming into this series, the boys were rocking a 3-6 record since June 30 and were riding a 4-game losing streak at Tokyo Dome. Let’s look quickly at how this series against the hated Giants went down.

“We might actually come back and win this one!”
“Nah, you’re just pulling my leg aren’t you?”

Game 1: The game started off well enough, with Kosuke Fukudome brought Shunsuke home on a sacrifice fly in the first, giving starter Randy Messenger a one-run lead before he threw a single pitch. Unfortunately that lead disappeared in the second with the Giants putting up a two-spot, and the lead further increased with two more runs in the sixth. Messenger ended the night giving up six hits, six walks and striking out five in six innings of work. The Tigers scored one more in the seventh on a Kentaro Sekimoto grounder. No RBI hits in this game for the Tigers. Final Score: Giants 4, Tigers 2.

Fujinami couldn't get his leg up on the competition in this one. A rare bad outing from the team's

Fujinami couldn’t get his leg up on the competition in this one. A rare bad outing from the team’s “future ace.”

Game 2: This team just has a knack for losing by huge margins. Starter Shintaro Fujinami followed yesterday’s 8-walk game with 7 (if you count hit batsmen) of his own in 5 2/3 innings, as he gave up a season-worst 7 runs and struck out five. He allowed 14 guys to reach base, and Ryoma Matsuda got tagged badly as well, resulting in a brutal loss yet again. The lone bright spot was Fukudome’s solo blast to deep right in the 4th inning when the game was still close. Matt Murton‘s sacrifice fly RBI in the sixth gave the team a little hope, but that was dashed in the bottom of the inning. Final Damage: Giants 11, Tigers 2.

How this guy's got that much spring in his legs, I have no idea. Fukudome lays out to make a key out in the ninth inning.

How this guy’s got that much spring in his legs, I have no idea. Fukudome lays out to make a key out in the ninth inning.

Game 3: To avoid the sweep, Minoru Iwata would have to be at his best, as the Giants brought their ace (Tomoyuki Sugano) to the mound. Our lefty was going on 4 days’ rest for the first time all year, and while he pitched well against the Dragons on Tuesday, he was pretty awful in his three starts before that. But he held in strong against the surging Evil Empire, allowing just 1 run in five innings. For their part, the Tigers got on the scoreboard first in this one, with Fukudome recording an RBI in his third straight. The game remained tied until the eighth, when the visitors got the better of Canadian reliever Scott Mathieson. A Murton double was followed by four straight hits/walks, then a sacrifice fly. Another 9th inning home run allowed by closer Seung-hwan Oh put everyone on the edge of their seats to end this one, but the Tigers held on. Final Score: Tigers 4, Giants 2.

Here are the standings after all the action on Sunday.

15-7-12 Standings

The Tigers have just two more games before the All-Star Game: a two-game home stand against the Carp. I’ll be at one of them and look forward to the team being over .500 heading into the break. GO TIGERS!

Tigers 1, Buffaloes 15 – The Rant

buffaloes15tigers1

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

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

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

28. Takashi Toritani: .302 (.200)

49. Kosuke Fukudome: .242 (.222)

53. Matt Murton: .231 (.000)

57. Hiroki Uemoto: .222 (.118)

60. Mauro Gomez: .207 (.125)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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 – April 28-30, 2015

When it rains, it pours. And when it shines, it blazes. The Tigers went all of April without winning a single series, following a season sweep of the Dragons to start the season. And now they have found a way to sweep another series and crawl to within a game of .500. The winning streak is now at four, and the gap between them and the rest of the league has been significantly narrowed. The players look happier, the fans are happier, and Golden Week is just around the corner. Let’s have a quick look at what went down at Koshien over the past three days:

Taiga Egoshi launches a Naruse offering into the left field stands for a 3-0 Tigers lead. It was his first career home run.

Taiga Egoshi launches a Naruse offering into the left field stands for a 3-0 Tigers lead. It was his first career home run.

Game 1: The upstart Swallows brought newly acquired pitcher Yoshihisa Naruse to the mound against the Tigers’ star import Randy Messenger. This one was determined solely by the long ball, as the Tigers opened the scoring in the second inning with a three-run blast from rookie outfielder Taiga Egoshi. Prior to his at bat, veterans Kosuke Fukudome and Matt Murton set the table nicely, and on the second pitch he faced, Egoshi made no mistake, driving the ball well over the fence in left center. These three hits represented the extent of the Tigers’ offense, and the rest was left up to Messenger and the relief squad. Despite giving up a fair number of hits and baserunners, the only damage against Messenger was a solo blast in the seventh, one that just missed landing in the glove of a leaping Murton. Final Score: Tigers 3, Swallows 1.

A win at last! Minoru Iwata celebrates victory with Matt Murton on the heroes' podium after Wednesday's 3-1 triumph. It was Iwata's first win of the season despite his consistency right from the start.

A win at last! Minoru Iwata celebrates victory with Matt Murton on the heroes’ podium after Wednesday’s 3-1 triumph. It was Iwata’s first win of the season despite his consistency right from the start.

Game 2: How would lefty Minoru Iwata follow up last week’s outing? Perfect through six against the Baystars, the Tigers’ #1 philanthropist was actually quite generous this time around, scattering 10 hits over seven innings. Fortunately for him, none of these came around to score, and he left the game lined up to be the winning pitcher yet again, as the Tigers staked him a 3-0 lead as they had done for Messenger the night before. This time it was the result of some timely hitting from their cleanup hitters Mauro Gomez and Murton. They jumped on Swallows starter Ishiyama early with two runs in the first, then combined for another run in the sixth when Murton drove in Gomez, who had advanced to third base on a pass ball and a wild pitch. Again the relievers held down the fort, but not without a little drama as veteran Yuya Andoh loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth. Fortunately he was bailed out by Kazuya Takamiya and Shinobu Fukuhara, and closer Seung-hwan Oh came in to finish things off in the ninth for the second straight night. Final Score: Tigers 3, Swallows 1.

Hiroki Uemoto was the hero of the night, knocking in three runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Hiroki Uemoto was the hero of the night, knocking in three runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Game 3: For the first time in the series, the Tigers trailed. Starter Akira Iwamoto gave up a single run in the third inning, but just two innings later, Hayata Itoh doubled home Murton, who was on first base after a walk. The score remained tied for two more innings, but in the seventh the Tigers bats came to life. This, however, was not without its drama as well. A leadoff triple by Fukudome made it look like the lead was guaranteed, but a sharp grounder by Murton and a pinch-hit strikeout by Keisuke Kanoh left things in doubt. Fortunately, the third straight pinch hitter of the inning, Shunsuke, walked to load up the bases. The steadily improving Hiroki Uemoto came up to the dish and quickly slashed a double to left field, clearing the bases. Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed that up with an RBI single, and the game was suddenly a blowout. The relievers (who had been holding down the fort since the start of the sixth) took care of the rest, ensuring the Swallows never put up a crooked number all series. Final Score: Tigers 5, Swallows 1.

Series Notes: As mentioned in a previous article, closer Oh now holds the team record for most career saves (48) by an import player. Until this series started, the record belonged to the much beloved Jeff Williams… Three foreigners have established club marks or league marks this season. Early in the campaign, Murton played in his 703rd career game with the team, most by a foreigner. Last week, Messenger broke the CL record for most double-digit strikeout performances by a foreigner (12). Can Gomez set a club record this season, too?… While Murton has found his way out of a bad slump, it looks like Takashi Toritani has started one of his own. His defense was outstanding all series, but he has now gone 11 at bats without a hit, and is just .250 on the year… Egoshi’s game-winning home run on his first career bomb was the first for the Tigers since Akinobu Okada accomplished the same feat back in 1980…

Here are the current standings:

15-4-30 Standings

Up next for the Tigers after Friday off: a two-game weekend series at the EGG against the Yomiuri Giants. A sweep there would extend the winning streak from 4 to 6, and bring them above .500 for the first time since the beginning of April. GO TIGERS!

The Game I Saw – Tigers 2, Giants 0?

The view from the right field stands last night. Though distant, it sure was a beautiful night to be at Koshien Stadium!

The view from the right field stands last night. Though distant, it sure was a beautiful night to be at Koshien Stadium! The Tigers lost 3-2 despite a pretty good night all around.

The Hanshin Tigers game I saw last night was one of total dominance for the home team. Starter Randy Messenger pitched 6 innings of 4-hit, 10-strikeout shutout ball while the hitters put up two runs in the 4th inning. The relievers (Kaneda, Takamiya, Shimamoto, Matsuda and Ishizaki) cobbled together two more innings of shutout ball as well. The Giants pressed at times for runs but could not bring anyone home.

Unfortunately for the team and its fans, this was the “game I saw” and does not count the first inning, one I spent lining up for a special fan club gift, in which the Giants rallied for three runs before anyone realized the game had started. So the final score was 3-2 Giants, despite the misleading headline.

I will not throw anyone under the bus, but I do have to say that so far this year (not just last night), Matt Murton has been a shadow of the man he was last season, not to mention the other four seasons preceding it. His four plate appearances went: groundout to pitcher, groundout to second, groundout to second, walk. He has grounded out too many times to count (OK, it’s been 10 so far in 16 at bats this week) and just is not hitting the ball well at all. I love the guy and do not place the blame on him for any of the team’s losses… but they definitely need the Murton of 2010-2014 to show up. I’m sure he is more aware of this than anyone else.

On the bright side, Kosuke Fukudome has found his game this year, and actually leads the Central League in OBP among Japanese players so far. Mauro Gomez seems to be hitting the ball better as well, albeit he now has a 15-game homer-less drought going. Hiroki Uemoto definitely looks more comfortable in the leadoff slot than he did batting second or seventh, as well. Ryutaro Umeno is hitting the ball much better than he did last year, striking out way less frequently and spraying the ball all over the outfield, too. There are a lot of positives the team can carry out of the recent funk.

Once Murton picks up his pace and the team finds a solid center field option (Yamato has struggled mightily, Shunsuke is a decent place holder but not likely the answer, and Hayata Itoh and Taiga Egoshi still need to mature as hitters and especially as fielders), the Tigers should be able to right the ship. Hang on tight, Tigers fans… the wins will start to pile up soon, and not just the ones that start in the second inning like it did for me last night!

Series Recap – April 14-16, 2015

Nishioka pumps his fist after driving home the winning run in Game 3. The Tigers bounced back from back-to-back walkoff losses with 6 runs, their highest total of the month.

Nishioka pumps his fist after driving home the winning run in Game 3. The Tigers bounced back from back-to-back walkoff losses with 6 runs, their highest total of the month.

Despite winning the series finale against the Carp on Sunday, the Tigers were in no place to get complacent. In fact, they juggled their roster and order throughout this series in hopes of generating more offense and breaking out of their losing skid. They brought in Shunsuke, Keisuke Kanoh and Hayata Itoh as starting outfielders and even put Hiroki Uemoto back in the leadoff spot for game 3.

15-4-Dragons

Game 1: For the second straight game, the Tigers open up a lead (something they have struggled to do this season) and cough it up. To his surprise, catcher Ryutaro Umeno hit a solo home run in the third inning to give the team a 1-0 lead. Starter Minoru Iwata‘s lone bad inning was the fourth, when he started the inning with a walk and two hits to tie the game. The ensuing double play brought home another run and the Tigers found themselves back in familiar territory, down 2-1. Time ran out on Iwata as he again pitched fairly well but would not factor into the decision, as the Tigers could only manage one run after he was pulled for a pinch hitter. He was replaced after the seventh with the score tied 2-2 (back-to-back pinch hits by Kanoh and Kentaro Sekimoto). The team brought out 3-game winner Ryoma Matsuda to pitch the eighth and ninth, and unfortunately he could not hold down the fort, as the Dragons pushed him around for two hits including a walk-off single to end the game. Final Score: Dragons 3, Tigers 2

The odds caught up to reliever Ryoma Matsuda, who won 2 relief games against the Dragons earlier in the year. He was the victim of two straight walk-off losses in this series.

The odds caught up to reliever Ryoma Matsuda, who won 2 relief games against the Dragons earlier in the year. He was the victim of two straight walk-off losses in this series.

Game 2: Young starter Akira Iwamoto hoped to bounce back from a mediocre outing in his last one, and on paper it looks like he did. He threw 5 2/3 innings and just one earned run against, however, the leadoff hitter got on base in every inning and he allowed a total of 10 hits (and plunked a guy as well), so perhaps he was lucky to leave just a run down. The Tigers bats were not too bad either, but they never created any scoring chances until Takashi Toritani doubled in a run in the eighth. Unfortunately the rally ended with a Matt Murton double play (more on that later) and the game went into the ninth tied 1-1. As Japanese managers like to do, the team brought Matsuda in to the exact same situation he blew the night before. This is supposed to show the pitcher that the team has confidence in him and that he can overcome tough situations like that. Unfortunately the results were the same as the previous night, as the Dragons pushed the winning run across the plate to end the game. Final Score: Dragons 2, Tigers 1

Matt Murton takes exception to an outside strike 2 called against him in the eighth inning of Wednesday's game. As is typical in Kansai, the media was all over this story after the game.

Matt Murton takes exception to an outside strike 2 called against him in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game. After nearly being ejected, he grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Game 3: Someone or something lit a fire under the Tigers’ bats. The first inning started with six straight baserunners, including consecutive RBI singles by Mauro Gomez, Murton and Kosuke Fukudome. Umeno added an RBI on a groundout and the Dragons found themselves down 4 before they swung a bat. Fortunately for them, the third boulder (Suguru Iwazaki) was not at his best, and they managed to chase him before the end of the 4th by tying the game up. The usually unreliable relievers held down the fort for the game’s final 5 1/3 innings and the Tigers scored in the sixth and eighth innings (Umeno touched home on hits by Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Toritani, respectively) and Seung-hwan Oh closed the game out. Final Score: Tigers 6, Dragons 4

The Giants have heated up and the Tigers are a distant fifth place, but could make that ground up with a sweep of the Giants this weekend at Koshien. Here are the current standings.

15-4-15 Standings

Series Notes: The team demoted outfielder Taiga Egoshi and promoted Itoh on Tuesday, then de-activated Iwamoto and activated Yuya Andoh before Thursday’s game. With just four games next week, Iwamoto will not need to make a start again until the end of the month at the earliest… The Dragons won three straight walk-off games (and have five on the month) including their extra-innings victory Sunday over the Baystars. It set a club record and was the first time the Tigers lost back-to-back walk-offs since 2011… The Tigers fell to four games below .500 on Wednesday for the first time in April since 2001. They were the first Central League team to 10 losses (tying with the Carp) for the first time since 1997… The Tigers amassed a season-high 13 hits in Thursday’s win. Their high for runs is 10, also against the Dragons back on March 29.