Mini-Series Recap – July 28-29, 2015

With the Road Trip of Death looming and a quick series in Nagoya on tap, the Tigers needed to sneak in a couple of road wins before coming home for one last Koshien Ultra Summer series. They were facing the last place Chunichi Dragons with just one problem: a history of losing at Nagoya Dome. Could they come home 3 games over .500? Let’s look at the games one by one.

Rare for a mid-reliever to get "Hero of the Night" but Andoh was clutch on Tuesday night.

Rare for a mid-reliever to get “Hero of the Night” but Andoh was clutch on Tuesday night.

Game 1: This one started poorly for the Tigers, both at the dish and in the field. They failed to put anyone on base in the first two innings, and starter Minoru Iwata surrendered a two-run home run in the bottom of the second. However, the floodgates opened in a huge way for the visitors in the top of the third. Taiga Egoshi walked, and five hits later (RBIs by Hiroki Uemoto, Kosuke Fukudome and two by Matt Murton) he was back at the plate again, and this time he knocked in two more runs. A two run deficit became a four run lead in just an inning. However, after a few calm innings, Iwata struggled again in the fifth and sixth, giving up a run in each frame and not completing the sixth. He left with the bases loaded and two outs. Fortunately, reliever Yuya Andoh managed to strike out their batter, getting out of that inning and then holding fort in the seventh as well. For the Tigers’ bats’ part, they did not record another hit the rest of the way – but their six run explosion held up as the “winning combo” relievers – Shinobu Fukuhara and Seung-hwan Oh – pitched clean innings to preserve the win. Final Score: Tigers 6, Dragons 4.

No Tigers fan is tired of seeing this: Taiga the Tiger hitting the long ball once again on Wednesday!

No Tigers fan is tired of seeing this: Taiga the Tiger hitting the long ball once again on Wednesday!

Game 2: Each pitcher surrendered a lead off hit in the first, but neither team scored. The Tigers opened the scoring in the third as Uemoto grounded out to second but broke up a double play, scoring Kazunari Tsuruoka from third. For his part, starter Atsushi Nohmi threw three great innings, but unraveled in the fourth. A leadoff double was followed by an infield single. With runners in the corners he induced a pop foul to third, giving hope for a scoreless fourth, but threw his next pitch wild, scoring a run. One out later (would have been an inning ending double play were it not for the WP), an RBI single gave the Dragons a 2-1 lead. Things stayed fairly calm in the middle innings, but the rookie of the week(s), Egoshi, hit a solo blast in the top of the 7th to tie the game at 2. Taiga the Tiger wasn’t done there, though. Murton drew a leadoff walk in the ninth, and two batters later, Egoshi hit a first-pitch double to left center, giving the Tigers the lead once again. Oh took the mound in the ninth for the second straight night, earning another save while allowing a two-out single. Final Score: Tigers 3, Swallows 2.

Series Notes: Mauro Gomez’s 16-game hitting streak ended on Tuesday as the slugger went 0-4. He followed it up with another hitless (0-3, HBP) night on Wednesday… Egoshi has started seven straight games now and appears to have won the center field position, at least for now. His average is still well below the Mendoza Line, but he has a lot of multi-base hits in his limited playing time so far this year. The team needs more “power hitting” so his low average can be swallowed a lot more easily because he makes his hits count… Iwata’s win on Tuesday was his first since the last game of interleague play, when he threw 140 pitches to beat the Nippon Ham Fighters… A few key moves in the seventh may have cost the Tigers a run or two. Cold-hitting Ryota Arai was left in against a right-handed pitcher instead of bringing in Ryota Imanari. A runner on for Egoshi would have meant a lead for the Tigers. Then with two outs, instead of pinch-hitting for Nohmi, they took an easy third out, leaving him in for the bottom of the inning. Perhaps Wada thought he would need his pinch hitters later in the game, but then he subbed Arai out for Imanari on defense in the seventh anyways… Tigers have Thursday off but the other Central League teams play, so standings will be updated after those games. Check here for full standings. (For now, they remain tied for first with the Swallows, three games above .500.)

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 7-9, 2015

Most signs pointed to the Tigers having a good series this week. They were riding a 6-game winning streak at Muskat Stadium (Kurashiki, Okayama, where Tuesday’s game was held) and a 9-game winning streak at Koshien (where they played Wednesday and Thursday). They also had a two-game winning streak, sat in first place and were facing the last-place Chunichi Dragons. Their cleanup hitters were clicking (.346, .405 and .379 since league play resumed). However, they were also facing some young strong pitchers in the first two games, and were trotting out their two struggling veterans. Let’s see how this series played out in a game-by-game summary.

"There goes my chance at winning!" Another poor show of support for Iwata on Tuesday.

“There goes my chance at winning!” Another poor show of support for Iwata on Tuesday.

Game 1: Starter Minoru Iwata has not been himself since he was given the task of shutting down the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the last game of interleague play on June 16*. Fortunately he came out strong in this one, allowing just one run (on a sac fly) over 7 innings. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that was all the Dragons needed as our guys could not bring anyone home in this one. A huge chance in the second (runners on 2nd & 3rd with no outs) was nullified by a double play on a base running miscue. The Dragons added two more insurance runs off Hiroaki Saiuchi late. Final Score: Dragons 3, Tigers 0.

Sorry, guys. Nohmi looks back, WAY back as Luna admires his first inning home run.

Sorry, guys. Nohmi looks back, WAY back as Luna admires his first inning home run.

Game 2: Speaking of struggling starters, Atsushi Nohmi came into this one having not won a game since June 24 and not impressing in any of his losses. He started this one off on the wrong foot as well, giving up a monstrous 2-run home run in the first frame. The Tigers struggled at the plate again in this one, registering just three hits in the first six innings. The Dragons tagged three more on Nohmi before he left (ego-) bruised up midway through the sixth. The lone solace and offense from the Tigers came in the bottom of the 7th, when Matt Murton took the first pitch deep to left center. Other opportunities presented themselves but in two cases, line drives right to their infielders ended rallies. Tuesday the Muscat streak ended, Wednesday the Koshien streak was over, too. Final Score: Dragons 5, Tigers 1.

Wild pitch! Murton avoids it, catcher misses it, Tigers win it.

Wild pitch! Murton avoids it, catcher misses it, Tigers win it.

Game 3: So the team needed a big night out of Takumi Akiyama to avoid a sweep. This was his first start of the year, and while he has shown potential in his time with the club, he just has not produced good numbers since his debut in 2010. In this one he looked good early on, and got a lot of help from his fielders. Through five, he had allowed no runs, while Murton drove in Hiroki Uemoto in the first, and Mauro Gomez hit another towering blast in the fifth to give the young starter a decent lead. Unfortunately, he did almost exactly what Shoya Yamamoto had done a few days prior. In his final inning, he lost whatever he had going, giving up two runs. Fortunately he got out of the sixth with a tie, and the game remained knotted until extra innings. In the 11th, Uemoto led off with a walk, then was (yawn) predictably bunted over to second by (yawn) Yamato. Pinch hitter Keisuke Kanoh also walked, as did Gomez, loading the bases for Murton. Talk about your funny finishes. The first pitch to our redhead (who got 3 hits today) was wild, and Uemoto came home to end it. Final Score: Tigers 3, Dragons 2.

Series Notes: *On June 16, despite an 11-2 lead after 8 innings, the team had Iwata take the mound in the ninth. Was it his request? I have no idea, but managers need to take responsibility for their careless overuse of pitchers’ arms. He threw 140 pitches and allowed 2 runs in the 9th that game, and struggled in 3 starts after that… Tuesday’s shutout loss was the Tigers’ eighth of the year. It is tied for worst in the Central… The Tigers have now had an incredible six games end in walk-offs against the Dragons this season. They’ve been on the winning side in four of these. One ended with a hit-by-pitch (March 28 – Kentaro Sekimoto), one was tied with a bases-loaded walk (May 6 – Ryota Arai had the game winning hit after that), and Thursday’s game ended on a wild pitch.

Here are the CL standings after tonight’s game.

15-7-9 Standings

Series Recap – July 3-5, 2015

I got a phone call on Saturday morning from Tigers legend Gene Bacque. The day after the team played in its 10,000th regular season game, he wanted to tell me that he was the pitcher in the team’s 3000th ever game. It was August 15, 1963 (3 days after his 26th birthday) and the team beat the Kokutetsu Swallows 4-2 in Tokyo. The team again put a foreigner on the mound for its memorial game on Friday night, this time in Yokohama against the DeNA Baystars. Riding a 3 game losing streak, could Randy Messenger lead them out of the mini-slump?

Oh NO! Our closer got roughed up yet again on Friday night.

Oh NO! Our closer got roughed up yet again on Friday night.

Game 1: For eight innings, he did just that. Messenger pitched brilliantly, allowing just 5 hits and one unearned run, striking out a dozen guys while walking just two. He left the game after 142 pitches and a 3-1 lead, thanks to a 2-run single by Yamato and a solo home run by Takashi Toritani. The Baystars pressed, especially in the eighth (when the lone run scored after Toritani’s errant throw to first allowed a 1-out runner to advance to second. The inning would have ended before Tsutsugoh’s RBI double were it not for the error. Still, with a 3-1 lead and closer Seung-hwan Oh entering the game, fans were confident that victory was ours. Guess again. Oh gave up a single, then a 2-run home run, then another single, a sacrifice bunt and a walk-off double. Tigers fans and players left the stadium in shock as the 10,000th game in team history ended about as poorly as even the most pessimistic followers could imagine. Final Score: Baystars 4, Tigers 3.

The man's bat just won't stop crushing balls. Baystars pitchers got a double dose of Fukudome's resurgence on Saturday.

The man’s bat just won’t stop crushing balls. Baystars pitchers got a double dose of Fukudome’s resurgence on Saturday.

Game 2: The last time Oh had blown a save, the team took the field the next game and staked their starter a 8-0 lead. (We won’t mention what happened next.) Hiroki Uemoto made it look like they would do the same on this day, his 29th birthday. He took the first pitch to deep left, giving the team a 1-0 lead (GIF here). It stayed that way until the 4th, when Kosuke Fukudome continued his hot season with a solo jack of his own. Toritani bumped the lead even higher in the 5th with an RBI single through the right side of the infield. Just before starter Shoya Yamamoto left the game after 5 innings, the Baystars managed a 2-spot, but he still left with the lead. Before any other Tigers pitcher could take the mound, though, Fukudome struck again, extending the team’s lead to 6-2 with a 3-run blast. However, with the Tigers’ relief squad, 4 runs is not always enough. The ‘Stars scratched and clawed their way back into this one with two in the sixth (off Ryoma Matsuda) and one in the eighth (Shinobu Fukuhara). Matt Murton brought the lead back up to 2 with an RBI double in the top of the last frame, and it’s a good thing he did, as Oh gave up a solo shot in the ninth (to the same guy who got him on Friday). Fortunately, the comeback ended there. The losing streak was over at last! Final Score: Tigers 7, Baystars 6.

With his bat, too! Shintaro has RBIs in two straight starts now. His double in the second inning opened the scoring in this one.

With his bat, too! Shintaro has RBIs in two straight starts now. His double in the second inning opened the scoring in this one.

Game 3: “Sunday Shin-chan” (Shintaro Fujinami) was looking for his sixth straight victory of the year and seventh overall, and he played like he wanted it. Not only did he strike out a dozen in eight innings of work, but he also got the team’s first RBI in the second inning. The whole team contributed in this one. Mauro Gomez hit a monster shot to left in the third (GIF here), Uemoto cleared the bases in the sixth, Murton brought Gomez home in the seventh and Toritani scored Murton as well, and then Fukudome brought another run home (though it was called an error, so no hit or RBI for him today) in the eighth. Kazuya Tsutsui made his season debut, striking out the side to cap the game off in style. Final Score: Tigers 8, Baystars 1.

History was made on Friday night, as every team in the Central League was below .500 for the first time ever. This was made possible by their annihilation at the hands of the Pacific League during interleague play. Any way you look at it, the Central will finish the year with a combined 17 game below .500 mark. On Friday, the top 5 teams combined for 8 of those, and the last-place Dragons had the other 9. The Tigers find themselves back in first at the end of the week, thanks to a Giants tie and the Carp taking care of the first-place Swallows (who are now in 4th). The Baystars are a season-worst 4 games below the surface. Here are the current CL standings. See how the PL looks here.

15-7-5 Standings

The Tigers open the upcoming week with a game in Okayama on Tuesday against the Dragons, then two at Koshien to finish the series. They travel back to Tokyo to end the week against their rivals, the Yomiuri Giants. GO TIGERS!

Toritani and His Streak – CL Scouts Chime In

The original article can be read here 元の記事はこちら

Toritani was selected by his peers to play in the 2015 All-Star Game later this month.

Toritani was selected by his peers to play in the 2015 All-Star Game later this month.

Hanshin infielder Takashi Toritani (34) was the lone Tiger selected to the 2015 Mazda All-Star Game (July 17 – Tokyo Dome; July 18 – Mazda Stadium) by both fans and players alike. He was dropped to 7th in the batting order for the first time in 5 years on June 28th against DeNA (at Koshien) because of the effects of a hit-by-pitch, but manager Yutaka Wada (52) made it clear that he would continue to use the shortstop. He’s showing himself worthy of the title of Iron Man as he continues his consecutive games (and innings) streak, but other clubs “welcome” him to keep it up…

On the 29th, a day off for the players, Toritani said about being selected to the All-Star Game by his peers, “It’s an honor to be chosen by the players for the second straight year. I hope to go out there and play well and not embarrass myself or the athletes who so kindly voted for me.” After getting drilled in the back with a pitch on the 21st against Yakult, he was moved down to 7th in the order for the DeNA match on the 28th. He’s also been dealing with a nagging sore right oblique since the season began, as well as general fatigue and wear and tear. It looked as though his streak was in jeopardy, but he emphatically said, “I’m OK. Until management tells me I have to sit, I intend to play every game.” Wada added, “Time heals all wounds. He’ll likely move up in the order in time. After all, he is a top-of-the-order hitter. He’ll be in there,” indicating that he will keep Toritani in the starting lineup.

As of June 29, Toritani ranked third in league history with 1536 straight games played and sixth with 502 complete games in succession. Both of these marks are top among shortstops. Through it all, other clubs are grinning from ear to ear. One scout said, “We welcome the idea of Toritani and Wada insisting on him playing every inning of every game. His range on defense has clearly decreased recently. His errors have increased but he’s also made a lot of mistakes that do not show up in the record books. I know management wants to keep using him because he’s got a good bat, but we’re grateful for his present defensive skills.”

Tigers' Ironmen Tomoaki Kanemoto (2003-2012) and Takashi Toritani (2004-present).

Tigers’ Ironmen Tomoaki Kanemoto (2003-2012) and Takashi Toritani (2004-present).

Last year, Toritani was charged with just 5 errors. Already this year after 70 games (as of June 29) he already has 4 (editor’s note: he picked up his 5th on July 3rd), prompting another team’s scout to say, “Hanshin has Murton in left and Uemoto at second, which puts a huge burden on Toritani to play sound defense. Even moreso because he’s playing at less than 100% right now. Wada might be worried that if he pulls Toritani before he sets the record, he will ‘age quickly’ like Kanemoto did and then retire prematurely. But that (way of thinking) works to our advantage.”

Toritani’s always saying, “I know I’ll have to give up playing shortstop when someone better than me comes along. Until then I want to play in every game. I insist on it.” Clearly he wants to make the other teams eat their words.

Series Recap – June 30-July 2, 2015

It must have been getting lonely at the top. The Hanshin Tigers were the lone Central League team with a winning record heading into the last series of June, and they were riding a 7-game undefeated streak that stretched back to the middle of the month. Their best hitters were heating up, and their starters were getting the job done. This was the team fans were waiting to see all season! Could they keep it up as they started the summer with a 6-game road trip to the Kanto area?

Iwata joined Iwazaki as

Iwata joined Iwazaki as “kuyashii” (frustrated) pitchers who couldn’t get the job done. He would be joined a day later by fellow Iwa, Yuta Iwasada. Are they all told to use that same word when they can’t get through six innings?

Game 1: The big story was whether or not ironman Takashi Toritani was alright. After getting beaned in the back last week, his health was in question and his slump at the plate prompted Wada to slide him down the order to seventh. He responded with four hits in four at-bats, including opening the score in the 4th inning with a 2-run double off the left-center wall. His final hit of the game was an infield hit down the right field line. He beat the throw to first, but because of poor defense by the Swallows, a third Tigers run crossed the plate, tying the score with less than two innings to go. Starter Minoru Iwata continued to struggle with control and concentration at the plate, particularly the third time through the opponents’ order, and he was pulled before he could complete the sixth. He allowed 3 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their most consistent reliever to date, Shinobu Fukuhara, fell apart and could not keep the game tied in the bottom of the eighth. He immediately put himself in a bad place by allowing a leadoff hit, a stolen base and a walk. One out later, he allowed two more hits, and was lucky to get out of the inning with just a one-run deficit, as two Swallows baserunners got tagged out on the base paths. The Tigers could not mount a rally in the ninth, and their winning streak came to an end. Final Score: Swallows 4, Tigers 3.

Game 2: For the first time since June 13th, the Tigers were forced to use one of their “fringe starters” as Yuta Iwasada took the mound. The 2013 1st round pick has been trying to prove himself capable and ready to join the rotation permanently, but struggled in the third inning of this one, giving up three runs and leaving the rest of the work to a shaky bullpen. Youngster Hiroaki Saiuchi, who pitched 2 2/3 innings of clean ball against Hiroshima to preserve a tie last week, looked to do the same here but instead lost his control in the fifth. Kazuya Takamiya also proved Wada’s lefty-vs-lefty theory wrong on this night, and after six innings of work, the birds had put six runs on the board. For the Tigers’ part, Matt Murton continued his stellar play with a solo shot in the second, and also made a brilliant catch at the wall later in the game. Starting catcher Ryutaro Umeno tied the game at 3 in the fifth with a 2-run blast, but it was all for naught. Down 6-3 late, pinch hitter Ryota Imanari singled but had his work negated by a Keisuke Kanoh double play. This was followed by a Mauro Gomez home run (his 10th on the year) but since it was just a solo shot, the team remained down two. In the ninth, Ryota Arai reached base on an error, and pinch hitter (what?) Kosuke Fukudome nearly justified his recent deification with a deep blast that barely missed tying the game. With runners on second and third and just one out, the team had a legitimate chance to tie the game, even win it, but a Katsuhiko Saka grounder to the mound and a Kohei Shibata fly out ended the game. Final Score: Swallows 6, Tigers 4.

(Not from Thursday's game.) Not sure what possessed Wada to put Imanari in the leadoff slot. My guess is the whole team was deflated when they saw the starting lineup (not Imanari's fault - he's been hitting well lately).

(Not from Thursday’s game.) Not sure what possessed Wada to put Imanari in the leadoff slot. My guess is the whole team was deflated when they saw the starting lineup (not Imanari’s fault – he’s been hitting well lately).

Game 3: Where Wednesday called for a righty-heavy lineup (the Swallows started a lefty), Thursday begged Wada to do the opposite. He trotted out six lefties to face a right-handed pitcher, even giving Imanari the leadoff role, and putting Fumiya Araki in the two-slot (benching Hiroki Uemoto after his poor fielding and hitting on Wednesday). Toritani stayed down in sixth, and Shibata got the start in center, batting seventh. Certainly a very different lineup than the ones that had recorded nine or more hits in nine straight games. It showed, as the team generated just five hits (three from the recently dependable cleanup hitters), and the pitching staff once again got pounded, completing the sweep in style. Atsushi Nohmi lasted just 4 innings, taxing the bullpen even further, and Hiroya Shimamoto allowed 5 runs in the eighth, ensuring him a spot on the farm team from tomorrow. Final Score: Swallows 10, Tigers 1.

And with that, the Yakult Swallows find themselves in first. Four different teams have occupied the top spot now since the end of May, and once again no Central League team is over the .500 mark. Here are the current standings.

15-7-2 Standings

Here’s to you, #8!

fukudomecard

It is fitting that the star of the Tigers’ eighth straight home win is number eight, Kosuke Fukudome. The 38-year old had a game for the ages on Saturday, not only reaching base every time up, but scoring on every occasion as well. The Tigers won 5-3, and we could spend some time looking at the other guys who contributed to the win (Randy Messenger‘s gutsy performance despite a costly error, questionable calls and weak hits that somehow turned into runs; Mauro Gomez‘s 2 RBIs including a late home run that piggybacked on Fukudome’s; Yamato‘s amazing catch in center that was reminiscent of his Nippon Series work last season). You can see GIFs of much of the action here. But let’s focus on what the veteran ex-Dragon, ex-Cub, ex-Indian did to essentially win the game on his own.

After two quick and easy outs to start the first, Fukudome battled his way on base, earning a walk. This gave resurgent cleanup hitter Gomez a chance to bring him home on a deep ball to right-center (video here). The crucial first run of the game went to the Tigers thanks to #8’s keen eye and strong base running.

In the fourth, Baystars pitcher blooped a ball to right, which “the Dome” charged, threw hard to second and induced the ever-so-rare “fielder’s choice to right.” It didn’t prevent a run from scoring on the play, but it helped Messenger get out of a tough inning.

He then led off the bottom of the inning with a stand-up triple (his third of the year after recording none in his first two years with the club). The two imports both grounded out to pitcher, and fans feared another leadoff triple by the PL-graduate would be wasted, until Hiroki Uemoto (a.k.a. Lethal Uepon) punched a ball through the infield (video here). The deficit was cut in half, and the Tigers needed just one more run to even things up.

fukudomehomerun

Who else should be the one to provide the bat but Dome-san? His 10th home run of the year in the sixth was a solo shot, and sent the crowd into a frenzy. (GIF here)

But not as much as his next one, which went to an even deeper part of the stadium, and put the team up a run. (GIF here) It was his first multi-home run game in 8 years, and gave him a final line of: 3 AB, 3 H, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R. Plus one outfield assist. You want clutch? Listen to this: of his 11 bombs on the year, 2 have been the first run scored in the game, 3 have tied the game, 1 broke a tie, 1 reversed the lead, and 1 was a walkoff. Since moving into third in the hitting order, he is 13-for-27 (.481) with 3 HR and 6 RBI.

fukudomehero150627

Here is a translation of the hero interview. Did I mention that I love his curtness and frankness? Curt and Frank would be proud. (video here)

ーTell us how you’re feeling right now.
“Quite frankly I’m happy. Yeah.”

ーFirst, your game-tying home run. You were the leadoff hitter that inning. Can you take us back to what you were thinking at the time?
“What was happening then? I dunno, I think I just went in hoping to get on base.”

ーAnd how did the connection feel?
“It felt great, but the ball in my previous at bat was held in the park by the head winds, so I didn’t think this one had a chance, either.”

ーHow would you rate your condition these days?
“Well, better than usual, I reckon.”

ーHow did you prepare for your at-bat when you hit the go-ahead home run?
“We already had two outs on us that inning, and I might be overstating things but I went in thinking home run.”

ーHow did that one feel?
“Better than the first one.”

ーIt’s your first double-digit home run season since joining the Tigers, and your first in a long time. How does that sound to you?
“Yeah, it took me awhile to get back there.”

ーYou’ve been on a real roll since batting third in the order. How do you like that slot?
“It’s good.”

ーYou scored four runs today, meaning you ran a lot as well.
“I’m ready for a good leg massage tonight.”

ーOn defense you made a great play on (DeNA pitcher) Inoh’s hit, showing great focus in right as well.
“One of the team’s defining characteristics is creating momentum with sound fielding. It all starts there.”

ーThe team is now undefeated in six. How do you feel about the momentum the team has built?
“I think we’ve got some good flow going.”

ーThe team sits atop the standings. How does it feel to play good ball while on top?
“It’s fun!”

ーAbout tomorrow’s game…
“We had some great support from all you fans today, and we’ll do our best to keep things going in tomorrow’s game.”

Coming Soon to a Stadium Near You…

I know these are far from perfect but I’m thinking of doing a cleaner copy of these and turning them into a T-shirt. Any buyers if I make them?

Sorry Gomez looks like the Hulk and I couldn't quite get the yellow color just right. I'll work on it...

Sorry Gomez looks like the Hulk and I couldn’t quite get the yellow color just right. I’ll work on it…

UeponBack

I might make Uemoto’s name bigger and possibly just in English. Should I add profile information (b-day, etc.)?

Mini-Series Recap – June 20-21, 2015

TigersSwallowsJune2015“Forget interleague play. Move on and play better,” they said. Despite the harsh words spoken by coaches, players and fans alike, the Tigers finished the mini-season with a 10-8 record, good for best among Central League teams, and putting them close enough to the top of the CL standings despite being 2 games over par (under .500, that is). As league play resumed with a two-game set against the Yakult Swallows, and then two more on the road against the Hiroshima Carp, the Tigers shortened their rotation and hoped to take at least 3 of 4. At the halfway point, how have they fared?

Messenger lifts Uemoto (maybe half Randy's weight dripping wet) as they celebrate the team's win. The two were named co-heroes of the game.

Messenger lifts Uemoto (maybe half Randy’s weight dripping wet) as they celebrate the team’s win. The two were named co-heroes of the game.

Game 1: This was the day many have been waiting for. At long last, 254 at bats into his season, Matt Murton has finally hit his first home run. (Video of his bomb here.) It came in the bottom of the second, and he followed it up with another hit in the fourth, giving many hope that his extra practice sessions on days off has helped him find his groove. He was not the only foreigner to come up big on this day, as Mauro Gomez also hit a pair of RBI singles. Starter Randy Messenger fought off the Swallows despite not bringing his A+ game (it was, say, A- on this day), allowing just a run in seven innings pitched (six hits, five walks, seven strikeouts). Seung-hwan Oh shut the door and set the fat lady singing after his 10-pitch shutout ninth inning. Final Score: Tigers 4, Swallows 1.

Is it just me, or are most of Fukudome's home runs solo shots? Still, happy to see him hit his 9th of the year in Sunday's game.

Is it just me, or are most of Fukudome’s home runs solo shots? Still, happy to see him hit his 9th of the year in Sunday’s game.

Game 2: If Saturday was a party for the foreigners, Sunday was one for the natives. Ryota Imanari opened the scoring with a seeing-eye single to right. After a couple of runs against starter Shintaro Fujinami in the fourth, the Tigers roared back in the sixth, with a Kosuke Fukudome solo shot (his 9th on the year) and then a bases-loaded 2-RBI double by pinch hitter Keisuke Kanoh. The Tigers never looked back, and their Korean closer once again sent the visitors packing on just 12 pitches. Lotsa game highlights here. Final Score: Tigers 4, Swallows 2.

Series Notes: Murton’s home run came on a 3-1 count and landed somewhat deep in the left field stands. Said the man, “At last I got it. I’m glad I was able to put us on the board so early in the first game back after interleague play.” Indeed, fans welcomed the long ball… Hiroki Uemoto had a great series, driving in one, stealing a base and plating twice in the opener, and getting three hits in the second game… “Sixth foreigner” Nelson Perez made his farm debut on Saturday, committing an error in the first inning before going 0-for-4 (2 strikeouts) in a less-than-stellar debut. “I’m still not in 100% game shape,” the Dominican explained, “I didn’t get any rest all week”… Messenger’s shutout streak ended at 27 in the 4th inning of Saturday’s game. It is the second longest of the year by a Tigers pitcher (Fujinami went 32) and left him just short of the club record by a foreign pitcher. That mark still belongs to legend Gene Bacque at 34. Still, Messenger has lowered his ERA from 5.88 when he got shipped down to the farm, to 3.71 now… The Tigers now find themselves in second place, just a half game out of first, thanks to a prolonged slump by the Giants and Baystars. However, just 3.5 games separate the top from the bottom in the Central, leaving everyone in contention. Here are the standings as of the end of play on June 21:

15-6-21 Standings