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

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!

Season Turned Around?

15-5-24 Standings

Central League Standings 5/24

The Hanshin Tigers were seven games out of first place on May 24. Their record was a dismal 21-25, and they were heading into the interleague mini-season, one which has never been kind to them. With the first-place Yomiuri Giants as defending interleague champs, their lead over the Tigers could have easily reached double digits in three weeks (18 games). Instead, the unthinkable happened.

The Tigers went 10-8, which was the best record by a CL team, as the rest of the league got humiliated by the PL to the tune of a 34-53-3 record. The Giants won only 7, and the second place Baystars managed just 3 wins and a tie. Just one game after league play resumed, no CL team had a record above .500, and the Tigers were tied for first. They are still undefeated (5-0-1) since the break, and hold a 2-game lead atop the standings.

15-6-28 Standings

CL Standings 6/28

The greatest factor in the team’s turnaround has been its bats. While still in the cellar for team BA (.236) they are closer to the pack than they were a few weeks ago (.225). They are also finally not the weakest team in the CL, as their 39 team HRs are two ahead of Chunichi and just two fewer than the Giants. We already paid tribute to Kosuke Fukudome a few days ago, and he proceeded to hit his 12th jack the next day. Mauro Gomez followed that up with his 9th, making the pair the first in 28 years of Tigers ball to hit back-to-back bombs in back-to-back games. (Mayumi and Bass did it in 1987.)

Murton's first HR of the year came on Saturday, June 20 in the bottom of the 2nd inning.

Murton’s first HR of the year came on Saturday, June 20 in the bottom of the 2nd inning.

Today we want to focus on the turnaround of another key player: Matt Murton. We have followed his story closely here as well (see here and here). He got benched at the end of interleague play and received plenty of bad press as he was batting .243 with no home runs through 55 games. Since league play resumed on June 20, he has gone 11-for-23 (.478) with two home runs in six games. His average now (.264) is still well below his career average in Japan (.317 heading into this season) but is steadily climbing up, thanks to 3 straight multi-hit games. This six-game stretch is the best we have seen out of Murton all year and shows promise of the return of the redheaded hitting machine we all know and love.

Just a few days later, on Thursday, June 24, he hit his second bomb. The man is on a roll!

Just a few days later, on Wednesday, June 24, he hit his second bomb. The man is on a roll!

What has helped him turn his season around? Here are some of the possible explanations:

perezmug1) His benching and the team’s acquisition of Nelson Perez. It may or may not be coincidence that Murton’s turn around started right around when the team finally found another foreign left fielder. Incidentally, Perez made an error in his first game, going hitless in four at bats. Since then he has settled in a little better, going 8-for-20 in five games. (No home runs yet, but 3 doubles despite a boatload of strikeouts.) Could Matt have felt some pressure that his job was at stake? Did that light a fire under him? Doubtful. He is a professional, and has always been known as one who strives for excellence at all times. It seems unlikely that a guy from independent ball would scare a seasoned veteran into hitting the ball more.

2) His 100-minute talk with Wada and the coaches on a rainy day before league play resumed. It sounds like he was really passionate while talking to them, reminding the staff that he just loves baseball so much. He did most of the talking while the coaches mostly listened, reports say. The rest of the team had long since left the facilities but he kept on going, perhaps releasing some much built up steam. This is definitely a factor worth considering. Coaches and management agreed that he was overthinking things. This could be true, as analysts compiled data showing that he was swinging at just 60% of the strikes he was seeing, as compared with a 69% mark last season. Maybe now he’s getting a better look at the ball and swinging more aggressively at the right pitches.

murtonhotzone2014

How he did in 2014

3) More aggressive hitting. Last season, he batted .394 (54-137) when putting the first pitch of the at-bat in play. He has done so much less this year (.154), and has gone 1 for 4 (.250) on first-pitch-in-play situations during his 6-game hitting streak. His homers this year have come in hitters’ counts (3 balls, 1 strike vs. Swallows, 1 ball, no strikes vs. Carp), which indicates to me that he is zoned in a lot more during those situations. (On the season, he is 5 for 8 when the count is 3-1 and 8 for 20 when the count is 1-0). Let’s hope he can bring back the aggressiveness that led to his league-best .338 average from a year ago!

4) He met an English Tigers blogger in the days leading up to his hitting streak. Yes, that must be it. Couldn’t be coincidence, could it. By the way, the team is 6-0-1 since that day.

Here’s a GIF of Matt making an excellent play in left. Move over, Yamato!

The Tigers go on the road to face the Swallows for three, then head to Yokohama for three more before playing a “home” game (in Okayama) next Tuesday and finally return to Koshien on July 8th to finish that series against the Dragons. It will be interesting to see what the standings look like at that point, as the next series on their plates after that is a road set against their eternal rivals, the Giants. Let’s keep things going, Tigers! We always believed in you, Matt! See you at the ‘Bucks again sometime!

By the way, I don’t want to jinx anyone but so far Murton is 13-for-19 (.684) against tonight’s Swallows starter in his career! Hope to see more fireworks!

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.”

Series Recap – June 2-4, 2015

It was a beautiful night for a baseball game on Tuesday as the Tigers hosted the Chiba Lotte Marines.

 After finally reaching the .500 mark for the first time since early April, the Tigers proceeded to fall right back into mediocrity with two straight blowout losses to the Saitama Seibu Lions, ending May with a 12-13 record, and only staying in third thanks to even worse play (or luck?) from the Dragons, Swallows and Carp. How would the team do with 6 straight home games against Pacific League opponents this week? The first set was against the Chiba Lotte Marines, who held a similar record to the Tigers heading into this one.

“Stone-faced Buddha” Oh tries to regain his composure after a nightmarish ninth on Tuesday.

Game 1: I was once again able to take in a game at the stadium, and once again witnessed Minoru Iwata pitching like his true self: giving up his share of hits and walks, but escaping most of his jams unscathed. This one was no different, though the first run of the game went against him in part because Ryota Imanari muffed a ground ball that should have started a double play. The Tigers retaliated with runs in the second and third frames, coming off the bats of Hayata Itoh and Mauro Gomez, but Iwata allowed the Marines to tie it up in the top of the 4th, as leadoff hitter Luis Cruz hit a rocket to the left field stands. The game remained knotted until the seventh, when the Tigers mounted a rally (one that should have gotten them more than one run). Hiroki Uemoto came through in the clutch with the potential game-winner. Then, the ninth happened. (Click here for a fuller report/commentary.) Heartbreak at Koshien, as the Tigers dropped the first game, falling to 3 games below .500 and tied for fourth in the CL. Final Score: Marines 6, Tigers 3.

What are you so happy about and who are you running from, Tori?

What are you so happy about and who are you running from, Tori?

Game 2: The man with the huge scoreless innings streak was set to put an end to the Tigers’ slide in this one. Shintaro Fujinami had gone 26 straight innings without allowing a single run, and extended it another six in this game, while striking out 11 more batters to extend his CL lead to 81 strikeouts. And the Tigers bats came out angry and ready to give the team a lead that even the worst relief corps could not surrender. Gomez started the party with a 2-run home run in the first, then Fujinami himself knocked in a run in the second. Kosuke Fukudome added to the fun in the third and fifth, then Itoh in the same frame, and even Matt Murton joined the party in the sixth. By the time the “lucky 7th” had come around, the game was a joke. Eight Tigers runs to nothing for the Marines, and Fujinami still going strong. Then the unthinkable happened. A misplayed single to right (where Itoh had moved to replace Fukudome) led to three bases, then a strikeout later, a poorly fielded grounder by Uemoto scored the Marines’ first run. Still, Fujinami got the second out without allowing another run, and the fans were ready for the balloon release. But hit followed hit after hit, and relievers replaced relievers, and the crushing blow came off Imae’s bat: a 3-run home run against Ryoma Matsuda, tying the score at 8. Fans and players alike were deflated, as were the balloons, released in frustration for the second straight night. No scoring over the next three innings (held tight by relievers Shinobu Fukuhara and Seung-hwan Oh), and in the bottom of the 10th, things still looked bad for the Tigers. The bottom of the order was due up. But Shunsuke led off with a double and advanced to third after a Keisuke Kanoh walk and a Katsuhiko Saka pinch hit single. With just one out, captain Takashi Toritani was due up, and he made no mistake and wasted no time: a deep fly to left easily scored Shunsuke, and the team narrowly avoided heartbreak for the second straight night. Final Score: Tigers 9, Marines 8.

Egoshi and Iwasada showed us tonight that the kids are alright.

Egoshi and Iwasada showed us tonight that the kids are alright.

Game 3: I’m sure I was not the only fan who was nervous about this one. Young 2013 first draft pick Yuta Iwasada (he of the 11.57 ERA so far on the year) was going up against the team that had already scored 14 runs in this series. However, right from the start he held them in check. In fact, he threw 6 2/3 shutout innings and left the game with a 1-0 lead, thanks to a second inning Taiga Egoshi RBI triple that was centimeters from being a home run. Pinch hitter Yamato managed to bunt hit to left field in the seventh, after which Toritani walked and Uemoto hit a ball to deep left center, scoring the two baserunners. That was all the scoring in this one, as the combination of Yuya Andoh, Kazuya Takamiya, Fukuhara and Oh closed the door the rest of the way. Final Score: Tigers 3, Marines 0.

Series Notes: Before the first game of the series, it was announced that former closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who had been released by the Texas Rangers, would not re-sign with the Tigers. Instead, he would play ball near his hometown in Kochi Prefecture in the Independent League. Incidentally, Fujikawa holds the team record for longest scoreless streak at 47 2/3 innings. Fujinami is sixth in club history with his 32… Itoh injured his left thumb in the second game, and is set to go on the disabled list. Ryota Arai played third base on the farm on June 4, and should rejoin the team for the next series. Kentaro Sekimoto (who has as many hits as beanings this year) also hit the DL with a wounded left oblique muscle… Somehow the Pacific League feasted on Central League teams this week, and the Tigers were able to make some breathing room for themselves in the standings. Imagine if they had won on Tuesday! Here are the current standings:

15-6-4 Standings

Series Recap: May 26-28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15-5-28 Standings

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

Series Recap – May 22-24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the current Central League standings.

15-5-24 Standings

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

Series Recap – May 19-21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15-5-21 Standings

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

Series Recap – May 15-17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15-5-17 Standings

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

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

torihitthird

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

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

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

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