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 9-11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15-6-11 Standings

2015 Season Preview, Part 4: Relief Pitchers

Our four-part series about the Tigers and the upcoming 2015 season concludes today with a look at the relievers as a whole. Click here for infield analysis, here for the outfield and here for the starting pitchers. The relief squad is a complicated group, as it includes men who might get the occasional spot start, but also sees the most shuffling (between the farm and the top team) during the year. I will list several players and their tendencies and attributes, but this is by no means a thorough look at every hurler on the team. As spring training goes on, more players will stand out while others might fade off. OK, let’s get to it. We start with a look at our closer!

Seung-hwan Oh

ohdeliveryThe Korean veteran closer made his presence felt in Japan. Last season his fastball induced a swinging strike rate of 15.2% while yielding a batting average of .147. Right. Players swung and missed more frequently than they recorded hits off his fastball. That’s almost unheard of! When he did get hit, as is the case with closers, it often cost the team a win, but his saves rate (39 of 46) is still quite high and the team is hoping he will add a sinker or forkball to the repertoire this spring. Having this weapon in his arsenal will only make him stronger and more intimidating to opposing hitters in 2015. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Oh has expressed an interest in testing his skills in the majors in 2016 (and is already being scouted), so this will likely be his final year with the club.

Shinobu Fukuhara

The elder statesman of the club, Fukuhara also pushes his fastball (around 70% of his pitches) more than any other. It is not nearly as effective as Oh’s, but still he managed to hold down the fort most of the time. At 38 years old, the senior should definitely be used more selectively to conserve his energy and keep his numbers down. As can be imagined, he fared much worse when pitching on consecutive days than when given at least a day’s rest. He’s made 50+ appearances in four straight seasons, but that streak will have to come to an end soon, preferably in 2015.

fukuharaandoh

Yuya Andoh

Another longtime veteran, Andoh saw his numbers spike in 2014 much like Fukuhara’s did. His fastball got tagged pretty badly, and he really did not have any one pitch that could get him out of trouble. His strength comes in his control, and he led the league with the lowest “errant pitch” rate (2.5%). Andoh has also thrown in 50+ games several seasons in a row, and at 37, could stand to be used more sparingly as well. Perhaps giving him and Fukuhara alternating turns down in Naruohama would help conserve them both for the postseason.

Kazuya Takamiya

Mostly used as a situational reliever in 2014, but showed his worth by getting the team out of countless jams, especially against lefty hitters. Takamiya made Giants’ cleanup hitter Shinnosuke Abe look plain foolish in the postseason, but also posted a perfect ERA against the Dragons and Carp in the regular season. A good spring will get him more innings and put him in a more prominent role in 2015.

Naoto Tsuru

Tsuru made a few starts last season and was brought in as a reliever as well. It is difficult to know what his role will be in the future, but he needs a strong spring to make himself a more important part of the puzzle.

Ryoma Matsuda

Could Ryoma Matsuda be the closer of the future?

Could Ryoma Matsuda be the closer of the future?

After two injury-plagued seasons, the youngster has vowed to remain healthy in 2015 and bring his A-game. He’s got an overpowering fastball and is not afraid to use it, and he could pick up the bulk of the work that opens up as Fukuhara and Andoh wind down their careers. With a little more experience and success, he could be a candidate to close for the team in 2016.

The Others

Longing for the JFK days...

Longing for the JFK days…

There are a bunch of other names that shall remain just names on this list for the time being. Some played a little last year (Kazuya Tsutsui, Tatsuya Kojima, Kosuke Katoh, Yutaka Tamaki) while others are just trying to make their big league debut (Kojiro Tanabo, Kazuya Itoh, Hiroya Shimamoto, etc.).

Overall Prognosis

I wish I could say the relief is set and that the team’s leads will all be safe, but reality is that this group is quite unstable. We hope Oh will continue to provide rock-solid ninth inning performances and that the old guys have one last good season in them. We hope Matsuda stays healthy and develops into a lights-out set up man or even closer. We hope Takamiya takes on a bigger role and excels as the best lefty reliever on the team. We hope some of the others step up and blossom into great professionals. Unfortunately, all of these things have to work together for the season to be a success. If last season is any indication, fans will be white-knuckled all season long. Here’s to hoping this group develops into a strength.

Tigers on Social Media

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

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

MurtonTwitter

Mauro Gomez – Twitter (mostly Spanish)

GomezTwitter

Takashi Toritani – Facebook

ToritaniFB

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

NishiokaFB

Ryota Imanari – Facebook

ImanariFB

Naoto Tsuru – Facebook

TsuruFB

Ryutaro Umeno – Facebook

UmenoFB

Ryutaro Umeno – Twitter

UmenoTwitter

Ryoma Matsuda – Twitter

MatsudaTwitter

Yuta Iwasada – Twitter

IwasadaTwitter