A Modest Proposal

Drastic Times Call for What?

Drastic Measures! Yes! Who said that?

I did. Now, I don’t know the game of baseball the way the experts do. I’ve never been a player (beyond age 13) and I’ve never been a coach (beyond assistant-coaching a girls’ team way back in the day). But I do know a few things.

1) Good teams don’t have this many losing streaks. Did you know the Tigers have lost 3 or more straight games SEVEN times already this year? Fortunately they have had nearly that many winning streaks (6) as well. Still, too many skids mean that there is simply no way they can win the pennant.

2) Their road record is abominable. As of today’s action, the team is a brutal 12-25-1 on the road. Their home record is a strong 24-12-0, though, which puts them just a game under .500 on the year. But there’s something about batting first that brings this team to its knees too often.

3) They’ve lost way more blow outs than they’ve won. If we count a 4+ run win as a blowout, the team has won just 5 of those all year, while losing an amazing 19. Perhaps the mark of a good team is one that wins close games though. But in one-run games, they are just 13-12, which really is not amazing (nor is it lucky, I suppose). The bottom line: they give up way too many runs and score way too few.

Seung-hwan Oh got lit up on Friday night, allowing 4 hits and only recording an out on a sac bunt as the team lost a walk-off, 4-3. It was the 10,000th game in team history.

Seung-hwan Oh got lit up on Friday night, allowing 4 hits and only recording an out on a sac bunt as the team lost a walk-off, 4-3. It was the 10,000th game in team history.

4) They blow leads like no other team. I don’t have full numbers, but Seung-hwan Oh has blown 4 games already this year. He blew 6 all of last year. His ERA in the last 31 days is a mediocre 4.70 despite giving up runs in just 3 of 13 appearances. He is not the lone reliever who has coughed up leads and lost games, though. In the past month, Shinobu Fukuhara has done it twice and Yuya Andoh has done it once as well. The starters have had terrible outings and the rest of the middle relievers have given up their share of runs, too.

With these things in mind, I propose the following:

If things do not improve in July, send our closer down to the farm and let him learn a new pitch or two, so he can stop serving up beach balls to our opponents late in games. Call up newcomer Nelson Perez to fill the foreigner quota. And here’s some of my logic for waiting.

Let's see if this guy makes our park look small with his big bat. Bring him up!

Let’s see if this guy makes our park look small with his big bat. Bring him up!

The Tigers play 14 of their next 19 at home. Their home record is decent. Bringing Perez in to play center field at vast Koshien would be a baptism by fire… he’s not a natural center fielder anyways. So you wait until August 4, when the team plays the entire month away from Koshien. Then you either put Perez or Kosuke Fukudome in center, where our team has had awful production all year. Now the batting lineup features 3 foreigners and has no real easy outs, other than pitcher (and catcher, unless Ryutaro Umeno gets more playing time). You could also make manager Wada drool by starting an alternating left-right lineup: Toritani L – Uemoto R – Fukudome L – Gomez R – Perez L – Murton R – Imanari L – catcher R – pitcher.

The Tigers sorely lack power, and while Perez is still unproven, perhaps this month would be enough to prepare him for the bigs. (Mind you, through 5 games he is hitting .368 for the farm team.) He apparently said Koshien Stadium was a “small park” but of course talk is cheap. He does boast good power, and even if he does not live up to his own hype, his presence could give opposing pitchers one more big bat to worry about. The long August “road of death” (all games away from Koshien until the 29th) would be a little more bearable if the team started making some noise with their bats.

No matter how you look at it, this team will not win the pennant as it is now. It needs a catalyst of some sort, and in my opinion, it can only come from the batters, who need to wake out of their season-long slumber. Sacrificing Oh would take a lot of guts on the team’s part, but if they sent Randy Messenger down for his 5.88 ERA through 6 weeks… why not do the same thing to your closer? What’s the worst that could happen? Someone else comes in and blows games? For the record, Messenger has come back on fire, lowering his ERA to 3.30 in 6 starts since being recalled.

Once again I say, bump the closer down, bring up the young Dominican to “add a little spice” to the lineup.

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

Monthly Tigers Magazine – June 2015

2015juneposter

The June edition hit the stands on Monday, but I decided it was time to become a subscriber instead of buying it at the newsstand every week. So mine arrived last night. It came with five player cards: Atsushi Nohmi, Yuya Andoh, Kentaro Sekimoto, Matt Murton and legendary catcher Koichi Tabuchi. Each of the next 5 issues will come with 5 more cards. Looking forward to reading this issue, as it has a lot of really interesting features!

Here is the table of contents for this issue:

  • Opening feature: Ultra Golden Week @ Koshien
  • Close-up Interview: Minoru Iwata
  • Another Side View: Iwata
  • Pinstripe Report: Searching for Ways to Move Up
  • Tigers’ Diary: Randy Bass
  • Players’ Note: Ryutaro Umeno
  • Best Nine in Tigers’ History (as chosen by Tigers OB)
  • Pop’N Talk – Travis Mikihisa Samura
  • Tigers Farm Report
  • Take Care of my Son – Koki Moriya
  • Tigers Data Analysis
  • Short Q & A – Yuya Yokoyama
  • Teammates Talk About – Akihito Fujii
  • Advice Column – Katsuo Hirata

Once again, if any of these really interest you and you’d like an English translation (or summary), let me know! I can’t promise anything but I’ll do what I can!

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 12-14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15-5-14 Standings

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

Series Recap – May 4-6, 2015

tigersdragonsmay2015The weather during Golden Week was perfect, and the Tigers had a golden opportunity to do two things: end their two-game losing streak and win over a lot more young fans. Prior to games, children were invited to make cardboard Tigers “kabuto” (warrior helmets), and players even joined them on Tuesday. Facing the fourth place Chunichi Dragons also meant that a sweep would move the Tigers into at least fourth place in the Central League standings. Could the yellow-clad home squad give their fans something to cheer about during the national holiday season? Here is a brief look at the three game set.

Game 1: I will not come to starter Randy Messenger‘s defense, as much as I love the guy. The Dragons were all over him right from the start, even though nothing was hit with authority until the fourth inning. Through four innings, Messenger gave up 11 hits and six runs. Not that the bleeding stopped when the relievers took over. Hiroya Shimamoto was one of the lone bright spots, pitching two shutout innings. However, adding insult to injury were the seventh (1 run allowed by Kazuhito Futagami) and the ninth (two runs given up by Ryoma Matsuda). For their part, the Tigers managed just two singles through eight innings and four hits overall. Two of these, including an RBI double in the ninth, came off the bat of Kosuke Fukudome. This was not the start the Tigers wanted to their Golden Week series, especially after back-to-back losses to the Giants last weekend. Final Score: Dragons 9, Tigers 2.

Starter Minoru Iwata "helped his own cause" (overused cliche of the century when it comes to pitchers) with a bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning of Tuesday's game.

Starter Minoru Iwata “helped his own cause” (overused cliche of the century when it comes to pitchers) with a bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s game.

Game 2: It seems starter Minoru Iwata can’t buy a run from his Tigers teammates. Last season his average run support per nine innings was a mere 2.85 (so despite his sparkling 2.54 ERA, he finished 2014 with a 9-8 record), and this year heading into this game, it was just 2.57 per nine, so even with a 2.92 ERA before the game, he had just one win on the season. This game was no different than most Iwata starts this season. Until the sixth inning, that is. Both teams scored in the opening frame, with Mauro Gomez providing the key hit for the Tigers. After that, the game settled down as neither team put a runner past second base through five. As the home side of the sixth came around and the Tigers hitters loaded the bases (Matt Murton, Hayata Itoh hits followed by a Ryutaro Umeno walk), an interesting choice presented itself to manager Yutaka Wada. With two outs, do you bring in a pinch hitter to spell Iwata at the plate, or keep him in and hope he can do something at the plate and then keep up his stellar pitching performance? Surprisingly, Wada opted for the latter, and it paid off. Iwata cleared the bases with a triple, giving him a 4-1 lead to work with. He went one more inning, giving up a run in the seventh, but that was it for the Dragons. The Tigers hit two more triples (Takashi Toritani in the 7th and Umeno in the 8th) but did not add any insurance runs. Still, Iwata picked up his second win of the season, thanks to his own bat. Final Score: Tigers 4, Dragons 2.

Ryota snapped out of his season-long funk on Wednesday with this 8th-inning pinch hit home run. But the best was yet to come! (Details below)

Ryota snapped out of his season-long funk on Wednesday with this 8th-inning pinch hit home run (video). But the best was yet to come! (Details below)

Game 3: The Tigers’ bats remained silent once again in the rubber match, as Suguru Iwazaki made his first start in nearly three weeks. Both pitchers kept the bats at bay for the most part, but a few missed pitches cost our young southpaw and the Dragons put up single runs i the third and sixth innings. The Tigers had a few chances, including runners on first and third with just one out in the first inning, but a Gomez double play ended that threat. In the sixth, with Hiroki Uemoto on first (and running), Toritani’s drive to left center was cut off and Uemoto was easily thrown out at home, and the Tigers remained down 2-0. Pinch hitter Ryota Arai made it 2-1 with a solo blast in the bottom of the eighth, leaving the Tigers down a run with just three outs to go. In the ninth, Uemoto and Toritani quickly bowed out, and it looked like this one would end badly for the home team, but drama is what the Tigers do best. Gomez hit one up the middle, then Fukudome, Murton and pinch hitter Kentaro Sekimoto coaxed walks out of the Dragons relievers, tying the game at 2. Somehow, the order had come back around to Ryota, who took two quick strikes, and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, lunged at a low pitch, getting enough of it to clear the infield and bringing Fukudome home. Final Score: Tigers 3, Dragons 2.

Series Notes: Gomez extended his hitting streak to seven games with a single in the bottom of the ninth of Wednesday’s game. Of his eight hits during the streak, seven were singles… Iwata said heading into his sixth inning at bat that he thought to himself, “If I can get a hit here, surely I’ll be the hero!” He sure was!… Ryota joins his older brother, former Tiger Takahiro, in the Golden Week heroes’ circle. “Oniichan” had 5 RBIs on Tuesday as the Carp smoked the Giants 13-2… The Tigers host the Hiroshima Carp over the weekend. They will play a 3-game series against each Central League team before interleague play begins at the end of this month. Here a look at the CL standings after Wednesday’s action:

15-5-6 Standings

Miniseries Recap – April 25-26, 2015

No need to sound the alarm just yet, Tigers fans! Toritani to the rescue! His 3 RBIs on Sunday represented his first in over a week.

No need to sound the alarm just yet, Tigers fans! Toritani to the rescue! His 3 RBIs on Sunday represented his first in over a week.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” — A Tale of Two Cities

How better to describe the last two games but to say that two different teams showed up each day. For each team.

The Tigers spent their weekend in Hiroshima, facing the last place Carp in a two-game series. The first game could not have gone worse for the Tigers, while the second game could not have gone much better.

The Tigers got pounced on early and often as the Carp walked all over the pinstripes on Saturday.

The Tigers got pounced on early and often as the Carp walked all over the pinstripes on Saturday.

Game 1: The Tigers started young ace Shintaro Fujinami against the Carp’s veteran hurler Hiroki Kuroda. Right from the beginning, Fujinami’s control was off, as was his pitch choice, as the Carp jumped on him for three hits and a run. He nearly plunked Kuroda with a couple of brushback pitches in the second, which caused both benches to clear and the Tigers to lose their composure. A fielding error by Mauro Gomez (who had been fighting a fever) brought home a run, and two more errors (a bobbled pop-up by Tsuyoshi Nishioka and a throwing error by Ryutaro Umeno) brought more runs across the plate for the home team. Then after Fujinami left the game, the relievers (Hiroya Shimamoto and Kazuyuki Kaneda) gave up bases-clearing triples in the sixth, and the Carp bats, which had been silent much of the season, came to life. The Tigers’ lone bright spot was spot starter Hayata Itoh, who recorded three hits including a 2-run home run in the top of the sixth. Final Score: Carp 11, Tigers 3.

A huge sixth inning on Sunday started with a Murton (right) RBI and was capped off with Gomez's RBI double.

A huge sixth inning on Sunday started with a Murton RBI and was capped off with Gomez’s RBI double.

Game 2: Once again, Atsushi Nohmi was led by veteran catcher Akihito Fujii, and the two combined for an excellent performance. Nohmi scattered six hits (all singles) and threw a complete game shut-out. The Tigers piled up ten hits and ten walks, and put up six runs in the sixth inning on RBI hits by Matt Murton, Takashi Toritani and Gomez, plus a bases-loaded walk drawn by Nishioka. The Carp only once had a runner in scoring position, and never put more than one man on base in a single inning. The Tigers, on the other hand, had at least two baserunners in six of the nine innings. Could this be a sign that the Tigers’ bats are coming to life? Final Score: Tigers 6, Carp 0.

Series Notes: Nishioka drew four walks in today’s game… Murton has now hit safely in three straight games, including three hits today for his first modasho of the season. Kosuke Fukudome also recorded three hits on the day… This was the first game all season that the Tigers won by more than three runs. In other words, closer Seung-hwan Oh stayed on the bench for a win for the first time this season out of ten wins… Toritani hit a foul ball in the fifth inning that set off a fire alarm at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium. The game was halted for several minutes… Former Tiger Takahiro Arai reached base safely four times (2 hits, 2 walks) on Saturday and twice more (both hits) on Sunday. He finished the series 4-for-7 (.571)… Murton is hitting .417 (5-for-12) in the three games since moving down to the six slot. It will be interesting to see if they keep him there or move him back up to his customary spot (fifth) in the order… Rookie Taiga Egoshi made his return to the team (and the starting lineup) on Sunday, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts… The Tigers host first place Yakult Swallows early this week at Koshien, and then play a short two-game series at Tokyo Dome against the Giants on the weekend. This is a much-needed chance to gain some ground in the standings. 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.

Series Recap – April 7-9, 2015

Baystars1

Game 1: No runs until the 6th.

Baystars2

Game 2: No runs until the 5th.

Baystars3

Game 3: No runs until the 8th.

If you decided to attend one of the first games at Koshien but were worried about showing up late, you needn’t have worried. The Tigers also failed to show up early. Often they failed to show up late, too. In all three games of their opening series on their home turf, the Tigers produced zero runs through the first four innings. In fact, they only scored in three innings all series and nearly half of their runs scored came on one error. Obviously it was not a good series for the Tigers, as they dropped three straight against the up-and-coming DeNA Baystars. Since winning their first three of the season, the Tigers have gone 2-7 and no aspect of their game has looked promising during this slide.

15-4-Baystars

Game 1: Although starter Atsushi Nohmi was only on the hook for 1 of the 5 runs scored against him, he was tagged for six hits and walked one through two innings, which put the Tigers in an early hole. On the whole, the Tigers pitchers combined to give up 17 hits and 8 runs, with only Fukuhara pitching a clean inning. Relievers Kaneda, Shimamoto and Takamiya allowed the ‘Stars to extend their lead back to 5 runs. The Tigers scored their runs on a Kosuke Fukudome solo home run in the sixth, which was followed later by a mishandled Hiroki Uemoto grounder to shortstop. On the whole, the Tigers scattered 9 hits and walked six times, but could not bring enough runners home to make this one close. Final Score: Baystars 8, Tigers 3.

Game 2: After a hot spring and a great first start, young Akira Iwamoto‘s magic ended here, as he allowed consecutive runs in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings before leaving with the team deep in a hole. It was one they would never come close to digging themselves out of, as their lone run came in the bottom of the fifth. Mauro Gomez broke out of his long slump with an RBI double, and even added another double later in the game, but the rest of the team was silent around him. They all combined for two hits – a Takashi Toritani leadoff double in the first and a Matt Murton single in the third. They drew seven walks in this one, so it was not a lack of baserunners, but again a lack of clutch hitting. Once again, rookie reliever Tsuyoshi Ishizaki looked shaky, allowing 2 runs in 1 1/3 innings. Final Score: Baystars 6, Tigers 1.

Game 3: Second-year pitcher Suguru Iwazaki hoped to bounce back after a shaky outing in Tokyo against the Swallows, especially with his parents in attendance. And he did a great job, holding the ‘Stars scoreless through seven, and left in the eighth with one out and runners on first and third. Fukuhara gave up back-to-back hits and the Baystars took a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the inning. A Shunsuke walk and Tsuyoshi Nishioka double gave the Tigers a golden opportunity to come back, but a Gomez grounder gave the Tigers their lone run of the inning. Final Score: Baystars 2, Tigers 1.

Even the last-place Hiroshima Carp are looking scary as they come to Koshien for the next series. They took two of three from the Giants and sit a game behind the Tigers (and Giants) in the standings. Amazingly, the three playoff teams from last season sit in the last three spots so far this year.

15-4-9 Standings

Other Notes: Murton broke the club record for most games played by a foreigner on Thursday, playing in his 704th game. The record was previously held by Willie Kirkland (1968-1973). This marks the second straight year Murton has taken a key team record. Last year he surpassed Randy Bass on the career hits list with 744… The Tigers’ team ERA is currently worst in the Central League (4.25), as is their batting average (.221). Many other Tigers analysts place some of the blame for the former on catcher Ryutaro Umeno, as he tends to call a rather simple and predictable game for the pitchers to throw. Umeno has played in all but one inning so far this season… Through 12 games, the Tigers have scored just 4 runs in the first three innings (36 total) of their matches. This means opposing starting pitchers have a 1.00 ERA against them in the early innings.