Sunday, May 29, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons vs Baystars @Hamamatsu & Toyohashi, May 24th & 25th; Regional agony, one Kajitani away from victory

Another series against the Baystars would take place out in the countryside catchments of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka and Toyohashi in eastern Aichi.

Toyohashi Ballpark
Hamamatsu Ballpark

In the first matchup in Hamamatsu, Yu Sato, who got his first win over the ‘Star in the Dragons last visit to Yokohama would be looking to repeat some magic over the experienced Moscoso.

The game would also mark the first call-up for draftee #1 Shinnosuke Ogasawara who has spent most of the season so far starting in the 2-gun. 

Kuramoto would be the first to break the silence in the 2nd inning while Yamashita batted in a second RBI soon after. Lopes struck a single in the 5th to send one home while the Dragons mustered a reply in the bottom of the same through a Tani sac-fly that allowed Issei Endo to come home to score. Viciedo then got on top of a Moscoso pitch to send Araki in to make it 2-3. Now one away from equalizing, Hirata’s double moved the Dragons score past the ‘stars to take the lead at 4-3. Yokohama would however stay toe to toe with the Dragons though as they evened things up in the 5th through a Kuramoto single. Now searching for the decisive winner it would be, who else but Kei Nomoto who popped up with another RBI as a pinch-hitter to give the Dragons a lead in the bottom of the 6th. Yokohama’s Lopes however was having none of it and restored parity in the 7th with a solo homer, 5-6.

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The game’s winning run would come in somewhat cruel circumstances however as a Viciedo fumble from a Kuwahara hit allowed Shirasaki to run in to score and but DeNA in front. The Baystars relievers successfully then put the breaks on the Dragons line-up as they snuffled 6 outs in a row in the final two innings.

Another close loss where the relievers were tested. Ogawa kept things honest after Sato was relieved in the 3rd, but Fuku let one go while Matayoshi arguably threw away the tie with his 2 conceded runs. The reliever was relegated to the 2nd team after the game to think about what he has done and work on getting back to form. Suda was awarded the win for the Baystars on the night while Gifu-born Tomoya Mikami grabbed a hold with Yamasaki claiming his 11th save of the season.

One positive did come out of the game, as Doara completed his back flip to the applause of the fans.

Toyohashi would be the next venue on the road tour. Toyohashi isn’t in itself awfully well known, but one of its favourite sons, a certain Atsushi Fujii, always turns it on when the team visits. Fujii played a decisive role in the last two games played in his home town and particularly shined in the 2014 fixture with a walk-off homerun. Would he be able to do it again? Well, he’d have to do it from the bench with Nanita, Ohshima and Hirata the preferred outfield three.

Takuya Kinoshita would make his debut on the starting roster as the 2015 draft pick got to see what it was like in the big leagues.

Wakamatsu and Ishida would be the starters. Wakamatsu has been the Dragons most successful pitcher this season, but with batters now seemingly more comfortable with the pitcher’s change-up(from what I can see, most batters tend to be waiting for it) he hasn’t had the best run of late.

The catcher Tobashira would be the first to strike as he scored Kuramoto in the top of the 2nd. Kajitani, carrying Yokohama to victory after victory since his return, hit a solo homer into the stands in the 3rd to make it 0-2.

Ishikawa’s double in the 4th would then push the scores to 0-3 as the Dragons struggled to make an impact on the game. A reply would come in the 7th, but not off a Dragons bat, as a wild pitch from Ishida allowed Tetsuya Tani to score and make things a more respectable 1-3. 

Fujii would make his appearance in the 8th, but there would be no hometown magic today as the veteran struck out to end the inning and most hope of a comeback.
Ishida was outstanding

The final nail in the coffin would come in the 9th with Koji Fukutani pitching as Kuwahara launched a solo homer into the stands to make it 1-4 on the night. With the game all but over and done with, Yamasaki was called on and rightfully put the Dragons out of their misery.

Nothing to write home about but certainly the words “there’s no place like home” have a nice ring to them. Only 5 hits were mustered today, barely acceptable, but credit needs to go to the Baystars for pitching well. Wakamatsu took his 3rd consecutive loss totalling 3 losses in all for the season. Something’s not working and I have a feeling he’s going to have to work on another breaking ball if we’re going to see something change. There were rumours he was working on a sinker in off-season but as far as I know we haven’t seen it yet.

Not a great couple of games, but we’re still early in the season. It was just a pity we couldn’t give those fans that can’t come out to watch baseball all that often something happy to go home with. At least they got to see Doara flip successfully twice in a row.

NB: Apologies for having no gifs of the Kuwahara and Kajitani homeruns. I can't find any footage I can lift and the gifs don't seems to exist on nanJ or the other 2-channel baseball forums. The best I can get is this daily wrap-up of homers on NicoNicoDouga. You will need an account to watch it. The Kajtani homerun is at about 7 minutes with Kuwahara's shortly after.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons vs Giants @Nagoya, May 20th – 22nd; Donoue on a winner, Ohshima going to town

After a disappointing romp in Osaka, the Dragons came back to Nagoya for another round of the “Mr Baseball Classic” against the Yomiuri Giants. The Dragons have the better of the record so far in the 6 battles having taken 4 wins a draw and a loss, including a sweep of Giants at the Tokyo Dome.

 Raul Valdes would come up against Giants ace, Tomoyuki Sugano for the start of the series on Friday and both pitchers would keep things awfully quiet. Valdes had a scare in the 5th inning as he loaded up the bases with no outs. The veteran would however keep his nerve as he dismissed Kobayashi, Sugano and Chono in succession. The Cuban would then pitch out a full, scoreless 9-innings, but unluckily for the Dragons, so would Sugano and Mathieson. With the tie locked at 0-0 extra innings were to be relied on to dig out a result and in the 11th inning it would be the Giants to break through as with runners on 2nd and 3rd, Fukutani threw a wild pitch to see the first run of the game. A terrible way to concede. Ohta would then add another to the inning before the chance to counter was given to the Dragons. Sawamura however kept his nerve and made the save to end the game at 0-2 to the Giants.

 This loss made it 3 in a row for the Dragons, and three very close games at that. Araki was the man with the bat today as he hit 3 and Ricardo Nanita contributed with 2. Valdes fanned 11 batters, walking 2 and conceding 8 hits in a remarkable 9 innings where he was very unlucky to not get the win. Scott Mathieson would end the game as winning pitcher, while the loss was handed to Fukutani; his first of the season.

 Game 8 against the Giants this season would prove to be much better reading for Dragons fans. Jordan Norberto, who debuted as a starter the last time the Giants came to Nagoya, would start while Nobutaka Imamura, winless in two against the Dragons, approached the mound for the Yomiuri faithful.

Naomichi Donoue would be the man to get things started as he hit a solo homer into the left stands to get the Dragons underway.

 The Giants replied in kind however through Ohta who hit his second homerun at the Nagoya Dome this season to even things up.

 Luis Cruz then threatened to take the game away as his solo homer into the right stands took the lead for the Giants in the top of the 7th.

 However in the bottom of the same inning, Kei Nomoto would once again make a telling contribution as his sac-fly allowed Hirata to get home to make things 2-2. With bases loaded, Tani took to the task and his single gave the Dragons the lead for the second time of the day. Yamaguchi was now brought in for the Giants, but it was to be too late as a rhythm was found with the bat. Ohshima and Viciedo helped stretch the winning scoreline to 5-2. Fuku now replaced Jordan at the mound and it would be to the advantage of the Giants Shinnosuke Shegenobu hit a single RBI off the youngster. His withdrawal for Fukutani wouldn’t stop Hayato Sakamoto hitting another RBI to move them within a point of equalizing. In the bottom of the 8th though, Atsushi Fujii would help to crush Tokyo hopes as his RBI opened the gap to two again at 6-4. The indomitable Shinji Tajima was tossed the rock to close out the game, and the record holder did his job superbly, keeping the Giants out of the hunt and ending the game with a 6-4 win.

Jordan got his 3rd win of the season as Araki rocketed away with another 3 hits to his name. The Kumamoto native must be looking to get those 2000 career hits this year! The second of the infield pairing, Donoue also made a telling contribution with his homer and a hit.

Taking a moment to talk about Kei Nomoto however, the 31 year old has been in great form as a pinch-hitter as is currently averaging .364. Not bad. Certainly doing what Fukuda and Morino couldn’t do earlier in the season.

Sunday night’s clash would be another good one for the Dragons (and one I had the opportunity to laud over one of my co-workers) as Kazuki Yoshimi went looking for his first win.(I believe I made a mistake in a previous report regarding this, my apologies) while Takagi went in search of his 4th.

 Luis Cruz would be the one to take the leadership role as he steered Chono home to open the scores in the 3rd. It would take until the bottom of the 4th for the Dragons to have their revenge as Ohshima slapped his second homer of the season into the right stand

. Donoue would also help add to the score and get the Dragons in front with his single that allowed Nanita to score. Nanita would then turn provider in the 6th as a poor throw from Garrett Jones allowed Ohshima to score. The mayhem would continue, with Donoue being the root of it, as he hit two home with bases loaded to blow the score out to 5-1.

 That would prove to be enough for the Dragons to get their win as Hiroto Fuku closed out the game to secure Chunichi’s 6th win against the Giants this season. If only we could play them every week! Yoshimi claimed his first win of the season (apologies for claiming this in an earlier game, I was wrong) while Donoue’s 3 RBIs solidified his growing status among Dragons fans as the man for the short-stop role and lower-order hitter.

 Two great wins strung together to overcome the 3 straight (but close) losses. A great compliment to the team and well, it’s always good to beat the Giants in any case. I worl in Tokyo and it’s always nice to be able to gloat a little in the office.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons vs Tigers @Koshien, May 17th – 19th; Close but no cigar

After what we can call a fairly “meh” series in terms of results against the Carp it was now time to switch focus to another dosey-doe with the Tigers.

The first game would be a show of youth against experience with Yu Sato lining up against Randy Messenger. Sato would be hoping to build on his first career win against the Baystars.

The Dragons would be the one to set the wheels rolling and in a spectacular way. On a full-count in his first at-bat of the evening, Ryosuke Hirata pulled a ball into the left stands to bring up his 5th homer of the season.

Already close to half of his total last season (11). Haraguchi would however come back to haunt the dragons in the 2nd as he evened things up while Takayama pushed the scored into Hanshin’s favour at 3-1. Hirata would be at the centre of good things again in the 8th as his hit brought the Dragons back within reaching distance. Pinch-hitting specialist, Kei Nomoto would then step-up to put the Dragons on an even footing with a timely single in the 9th to even the scores at 3-3.  That wouldn’t be the end of the fun however, as with bases loaded, Atsushi Fujii was given the chance to put the Dragons in front and the switch-hitter obliged with a sac-fly into left field. Some mayhem ensued as Endo was then found out at second to end the inning. Koji Fukutani was in the heat-seat once more for the bottom of the 9th but he was able to keep the Tigers quiet and seal a close 3-4 win in the picturesque Koshien stadium.

Donoue and Hirata were the key men with the bat as the captain snagged two RBIs while Donoue racked up 2 hits. Tajima took home winning honours for his scoreless inning while Dolis for the Tigers took the loss.

The game would also be marked by the 25th consecutive game where Shinji Tajima remained scoreless. A magnificent milestone for the relief pitcher as he set a new Central league record. Tajima has been in top form and has shown experience and verve where his partner, Matayoshi hasn’t.

Up next, the game would feature another youth vs experience battle on the mound as a winless Daisuke Yamai took on Hanshin’s 22 yo. Yuya Yokoyama.

Haraguchi would continue his haranguing form against the Dragons as his RBI sent Itayama home in the bottom of the 2nd. The Dragons would reply in the 4th when Nanita helped send Hirata home to even things up at 1-1. The lead wouldn’t last long however as in the bottom of the same inning, Yamai loaded up the bases. A wild pitch was followed by a dead ball against Yamato that clearly showed the veteran is struggling with his control.  Toritani would however hit a sac-fly to allow a single runner home to reclaim the lead at 2-1. The Tigers furthered their lead in the 5th with a solo homer from Gomez which would prove to be Yamai’s last inning of the night.

The Dragons wouldn’t go out without a whimper though as in the top of the 8th with Fujii and Araki on base, Hirata hit a single to move Chunichi within a run of evening the tables. With runners in promising positions and Viciedo and Nanita to come, there was hope of a come-back, but it was to be for naught as both fell victim to Yuya Ando. That would prove to be the end of the scoring as Fujikawa was brought in by the Tigers to make the save and claim an important win.

Yamai’s inability to do anything of use has to ring alarm bells. How many losses is he going to have to get before Tanishige decides to get rid of him? I know injuries are bad, but surely there has to be someone that will do a better job? Games with Yamai starting are all but a default loss at present.

Hirata was the main man with the bat as he snaffled an RBI and two walks for his trouble. Apart from the captain, there were minimal contributions across the board with most of the top order taking a hit.

The last game of the series was to be another close encounter of the baseball kind as Shintaro Fujinami faced off again Shunta Wakamatsu .  

Yamai found himself de-registered from the team for the first time this season, while catcher Takuma Kato was brought in to bolster the catching stocks.

Scoring would start in the 1st with the big Cuban, Dayan Viciedo helping Ohshima home to open the scores at 1-0. Fujinami’s control was clearly lacking as he walked Donoue and threw a wild pitch to allow Hirata to score to extend Chunichi’s lead. The lead however would be taken away from the Dragons in the bottom of the 6th as Toritani and Fukudome hit a single and a double respectively to put the scores at 2-2.  In the bottom of the 9th with extra inning looming, Matayoshi was given the ball to replace Fuku after the latter saw Fukudome off, but it was to a be a folly of a decision as the pitcher loaded up the bases and allowed a single to Haraguchi to end the game with a walk-off win to the Tigers.

A game of much finer margins that was probably, unfortunately, lost at the death thanks to some off colour clutch pitching. Viciedo did his job and how as he claimed 3 hits and a walk in his 4 at-bats while Sugiyama as well contributed two hits a walk plus a sac-hit to end a very productive game.

A win combined with two close losses away from home isn’t the worst way to end the week. The Dragons had their chances to win in the last two games but simply couldn’t produce at the right moments. Up next await the Giants; let’s see what we can do against them. 

On a bit of side news, former Dragons slugger, Matt Clark has made the trip back to Japan to play for the Orix Buffaloes for the rest of the season. I wish him all the best. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons vs Carp @Nagoya, May 13th – 15th; Yoshimi's first win, Viciedo shows off his dongs

The Hiroshima Carp have been somewhat of a bogey side for the Dragons so far this season, and it would be no different in this series as the unappetising fish stated their playoff credentials in a heated 3 battles at the Nagoya dome.

The first game of the series saw Hiroshima’s Toda up against Raul Valdes.
The Dragons would be on top early as the big man from Cuba, Dayan Viciedo, knocked his 12th homer of the season into the stands to claim an early 2-0 lead.

 The Carp would however respond in kind in the 4th innings with a 2-run dong from Kokuya to even things up.

Chunichi would however reclaim the lead in the 7th inning as Nomoto, pinch-hitting for Tani, squeezed in a two-base hit to send Katsura home to score to make it 3-2. The Dragons continued to lead going in to the 9th inning but a double given up to the veteran, Arai saw the scores equalled and Fukutani blowing his save. Going into extra innings, Matayoshi was charged with keeping the Carp at bay but after wild pitch brought Nishikawa to 3rd base with 2 outs, a rare Donoue fumble from a Tanaka hit allowed the Carp to take the lead, 3-4. Matayoshi was then withdrawn for Okada, but the lefty couldn’t stop Maru from raking two bases to put the Carp 3 runs to the good at 3-6.  The Dragons would attempt to fight back in the bottom of the 10th, but their valiant efforts would be for naught as Nakasaki kept his nerve to close out the game.
A disappointing game that was lost to the relief pitchers. Fukutani continues to show inconsistency and is not the stone-wall closer he has the potential to be just yet.  Matayoshi’s 2nd loss of the season is a bit of a worry too as the always reliable one-two punch of he and Tajima has looked a little shakier lately, at least the Matayoshi half has anyway.

On Saturday , the onus was on the Dragons to bounce back after a poor start to the series. Jordan Norberto started things off for Chunichi while Akitake Okada started for the Carp.
Ohshima would be the one to open the scores in the 3rd inning as his hit through centre allowed runners on second and third to come home to score to make it 2-0. The Carp would then strike back through a double from Kikuchi and a single from Suzuki to equalize the scores in the 4th. The Carp the took the lead through a double from Kokuya to put the Carp into a 2-4 lead. Maru extended the Carp lead with a sac-fly in the top of the 7th but single from Nomoto in the bottom of the inning gave the Dragons hope of turning the tide, Subsequent hits from Ohshima and Araki in the same inning evened up the scores at 5-5 to mark a sold Chunichi comeback and in the top of the 8th, Viciedo would seal a great come from behind win with a solo homerun.

Tajima walked away from the game with his first win of the season while Fukutani claimed the save to cap off a wonderful turn-around. Ohshima was the batter to put his name in lights as his 3 RBIs from 2 hits proved to be the most productive results from the line-up. Kei Nomoto made it two RBIs in two against the Carp as a pinch-hitter, proving to be a good option in the “Tatsunami” role.

The final game, a lovely Sunday afternoon in Nagoya would be the decider to see who would grab the series win. Charged with the duties of bringing home the bacon for their sides was Kazuki Yoshimi for the Dragons and Kyouhei Nakamura for the Carp.

Suzuki opened the scored in the 2nd with a 1-run double while Abe added to his good work shortly after with a sac-fly to put the Carp 0-2 up. Araki’s double would get the Dragons going in the 3rd  while Ryosuke Hirata put the Dragons into the lead as his hit sent Ohshima and Araki home to score, 3-2.  Abe would reply in the top of the 4th as he scored Brad Eldred to even up the scores.  Unfortunately for the Dragons and Carp faithful, try as they might, neither side was able to one-up the other even after extra innings. A 3-3 draw was the result  on the night, but the Dragons can perhaps consider themselves lucky as the Carp out-hit them by double.

Yoshimi was left searching for his first win of the year while no batter in particular stood out of the marathon 12 innings. Viciedo was however kept very quiet he went 5/0 to end the night with no contribution with the bat whatsoever.

A pretty "ehhhh" series but overall the batting still needs addressing. Yoshimi getting his first one of the year was the highlight along with Viciedo's two dongs. Still, have to take the good with the bad and at least the series wasn't lost.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons vs Baystars @Yokohama, May 10th – 12th;Tsutsugo on fire, Yamai remains ill

Before we get into the meat, here are the potatoes. Dayan Viciedo claimed the first monthly MVP award over a host of good competitors. Great stuff from the big man.

Following the sweep of the Giants, the Dragons found themselves still in Kanto as they took on the Baystars in Yokohama. A surprise starting berth awaited 2015 #2 draft pick, Yu Sato whom to my knowledge has been mostly used as a long reliever in the 2-gun. Nonetheless, Sato joined the ever changing “starting rotation” to get his first go in the bigs.  Moscoso started on the mound for the Baystars to start off the weekly round of games.

The scoring would start early with Hirata sending Ohshima home after a cracking single to draw first blood. DeNA would strike back in the 2nd however as Hirata’s Samurai Japan team-mate, Tsutsugo whacked a solo homer to even things at 1-1.

Hirata would once again pull on his RBI gloves in the third however, powering home Ohshima into score once again to retake the lead, 1-2. A frenetic to and fro would follow but be broken when Nanita and Hernandez got to base, taking advantage following a Donoue sac fly to extend the lead to 1-3. Nanita fortuitously added to the score as a fumble from Kajitani in the outfield allowed what should have been a single to turn into a double allowing Viciedo to score, 1-4. Hernandez went to town on the next pitch as he sent one flying into the stands to record a 2-run homer and blow out the score to 1-6.

Young Tanaka of DeNA was left shellshocked having conceded 3 in very quick succession.  The Baystars would leave proceedings with a bit of bite as Shirasaki hit a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the 8th with Tsutsugo nailing his second homer of the night in the 9th to end things at 3-6. 

Sato claimed his first professional win on his debut. In fact, he is the first rookie since a certain 18 year old by the name of Kenshin Kawakami to get his first pro win in his first appearance. Hopefully he can go on to emulate the former Braves pitcher.  Ohshima was my man of the match however as he scored twice and managed 3 hits in 5 ABs. Has certainly been performing well of late.

Game two of the series would not have quite the highs and lows of the first unfortunately. Daisuke Yamai, still searching for his first win of the season took starting duties today while Kenta Ishida started from the ‘stars.
Scores were opened in the 2nd inning as a Tsutsugo triple was followed by a Lopes sac-fly to open the scores at 1-0. Yamai continued in typical 2016 Yamai style, and in the 5th inning, with the bases loaded, a wild pitch allowed Shirasaki to score to extend the lead to 2-0. Try as they might the Dragons batting line-up just couldn’t find the kick that propelled them against the Giants and the game fizzed out into a 2-0 win for Yokohama.  Nanita and Hernandez were kept dead quiet as Ohshima, Hirata, Viciedo and Donoue were the only ones to register hits on the day. Nanita marked an end to his 20 game streak of hits as well.
As for more bad, Daisuke Yamai lost his 10th game in a row as a starter…surely something has to give.

The last game of the series started off slowly but quickly accelerated to provide great entertainment. Yohei Ohshima was the first to get on base after facing 14 pitches where he finally got a walk out of Sunada. An Araki hit and another walk to Hirata followed to load the bases which allowed Viciedo to take control as he hit two home to take the lead for the Dragons, 0-2. A single from Donoue in the same inning took the Dragons to a good early lead, 0-3. The Baystars wouldn’ take it lying down as a double from Kajitani followed by a single from Tsutsugo put DeNA back in contention at 2-3.  The scores would remain the same until the 6th Sunada once again loaded up the bases but it was Ohshima to be the main man as his hit to second stranded Wakamatsu, but allowed Donoue to score, 2-4. Araki’s following single would again increase the lead to make it 2-5. It would however be another instant reply from the ‘stars as Otosaka, pinch-hitting for Shirasaki, hit a double to put one on the scorecard, 3-5. Shimozono would then make things even on the night with a 2 run home, 5-5.

 It would however end in heartbreak in extra innings for the Dragons as Kuramoto, with bases loaded, hit a single to score Kajitani and claim a walk-off win for the Baystars. A tale of bad luck and a lack of nerve in the final moments for Matayoshi as he gave up 2 hits and 2 walks in the final inning.  Yamasaki ended as the winning pitcher for Yokohama having pitched a single inning.
Araki gets the plaudits in the last game with his 4 hits including an RBI. The veteran is in great nick and may well bring up his 2000 hits this season at his current pace. 

A series loss against the cellar dwellers coming off a fantastic sweep of the Giants goes to show what the Dragons are made of really. We’re not a dominant team but on our day we’re as good as anyone else. Unfortunately there may not be enough good days this season to see us to the play-offs but on current value there’s more there than there was at the beginning of the season. Injuries to starting pitchers will however be a strong spine to the opening quarter of the season narrative.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons vs Giants @Tokyo Dome, May 5th-8th; Viciedo: destroyer of worlds, Naomichi to the rescue

A week behind at the moment, farm stuff is on hold indefinitely while I catch up. 

The Dragons took on Yomiuri Giants, in what I am now choosing to dub the “Mr Baseball Classic,” for three whopper games at the Tokyo Dome. Somewhat mixed feeling for Dragons fans as the Giants have the potential to punish, the Dragons line-up hasn’t been firing and our away form hasn’t been too hot. I certainly wasn’t expecting much out of the series but who knows. It’s baseball and in the current state of the Central League, there’s really no such thing as an upset as all the teams are pretty inconsistent and no one team is showing any particular dominance so far this season.

Game 34 of the season would see Shunta Wakamatsu up against the young Jun Hasegawa for the first face off at the Tokyo dome this season between the two teams.

Takeshi Kaneko would come in for the injured Ryosuke Oguma for the only team change.

The opening blow would come off the bat of Soichiro Tateoka in the third as he drove home Seiji Kobayashi two make it 1-0 to the Giants. Hasegawa’s first outing of the season looked to be progressing until the Dragons made their comeback in 5th inning as a Hirata sac-fly allowed Ohshima to come home to score, 1-1. Ricardo Nanita would push the Dragons into a winning position with a hit into the right sending Masahiro Araki into score, 1-2. With that Makoto Tahara was brought in to relieve for Hasegawa and his first contribution to the game was an awful baulk to third which allowed Viciedo to trot home to open the deficit to 1-3. Truly absent minded. Hernandez would make things worse for Tahara as he hit for two bases sending Nanita home to make it 1-4.  Sakamoto would do his best to bring things back with his solo homer in the 6th.

However another Hirata hit would put Araki into score to keep the difference at three, 2-5. Hernandez would continue his run of RBIs to send his captain and Viciedo into score making it 2-7 on the night. A big win!

Hernandez hit 3 RBIs today to certainly stake his claim over the likes of Masahiko Morino and Tetsuya Tani for the spot at third-base. The only thing that will count against him is the foreign player limit of four on the roster. Araki absolutely raked as he hit four in five at-bats. Stunning from the veteran chasing his 2000th career hit. Hirata was the man of the moment though as he came through at important intervals to claim two RBIs with Ricardo Nanita claiming the final scoring hit.

Game 35 would see a return to the mound for Drew Naylor while Imamura, the pitcher responsible for the Giants loss against the Dragons in Nagoya earlier this season, would be Naylor’s rival on the night.

The night would start off on a sour note for Chunichi as, after one strikeout,  Naylor was withdrawn from the mound after suffering from some elbow soreness. Not great for the starting rotation when you include Oguma’s injury against the Tigers. Hiroto Fuku was brought on for long-relief duties  and had one scary moment against Sakamoto, as Fuku’s pitch was sent clanging into the fence and luckily not over it. Fuku however stayed calm and fanned Garett Jones to end the inning.

Scoring started for the Dragons at the top of the second as Viciedo opened his shoulders inhis first plate appearance of the night and swiftly sent Imamura’s pitch over the fence for a solo homer and the first run of the game, 0-1. 

The party would continue for the Dragons attack as Katsura’s hit loaded the bases allowing the unlikely hero, Fuku, to bat home his first pro-RBI, 0-2. Imamura’s wayward pitching continued against Ohshima as a walk bumped in another run before  Hirata hit home two to make it 0-5. With the batting line-up now coming full circle, Viciedo stepped up, addressed the situation, and with runners on 1st and 3rd, dispatched another pitch over the fence to claim a 3-run homer! 

His second, in the same inning, in a consecutive at-bat! Crazy scenes!  Hayato Sakamoto would claim one back through a solo homer in the 4th.

That would be all she wrote as the Dragons ran out 1-8 winners.

Viciedo was the man on the night to make a massive difference. 4 RBIs, two homeruns in 4 plate appearances. El Tank has been rolling along very nicely. Big wraps too for young Fuku who ran out as winning pitcher as well as achieving  his first RBI in pro-ball. Another big win against the Giants, as good as it gets really. The injury to Naylor isn’t the best, but neither have his performances been in honesty.  It will be interesting to see who fills the 6’5” peg in the starting rotation.

Game 36 would see the return of former Bluejay, Raul Valdes to the starter’s mound for his first appearance of the season. I must admit I was thinking the 38 year old would be lucky to make any type of appearance this year. Injuries have helped. Hayato Takagi would start for the Giants to try and claim his 3rd win of the season.

Yuu Satoh and Valdes were the only two addition to the squad while Drew Naylor's injury saw him de-registered from the roster for the time being.

The Dragons would be the ones to start the party as Naomichi Donoue launched one into the right stand to grab a solo homer. 

Araki would take advantage of Valdes’ surprise good contact and send the Cuban pitcher home to score in the 5th. Hirata would then oblige Ohshima as his sac-fly allowed the number 8 speedster to score and make it 0-3. Donoue would however be in the midst of things again in the 6th as he sent Nanita and Hernandez home with timely single to make it 0-5. Kataoka hit back in the bottom of the inning with a 2-run homer into the left stand.

It would be Donoue again, with the bases loaded, hitting a high Mathieson pitch into the outfield  to send 3 home and make it 2-8. Hirata would continue the damage in the 8th inning with a 3-run homer off Yamaguchi to firmly rub the salt into the wounds of the Giants to make it 2-11

The Giants would take a liking to Takeshi Kaneko in the 9th though as Kamei hit a 2-run homerun to make it 4-11.

The last laugh would be had by Kaneko however who closed out the game with no further loss.

You can take nothing away from Naomichi Donoue today as his performance with the bat was nothing short of outstanding. He claimed a personal best of 6 RBIs on the night while his captain, Ryosuke Hirata picked up 4.  A season high of 17 hits marked a stark contrast to the batting line-up that failed to show up against Carp and the Tigers.  Valdes also marked his return with a well-earned win where his unique throwing style picked up 7 strikeouts giving up 2 earned runs.

Three great wins for the Dragons and the first sweep of the Giants at the Tokyo Dome since 2006 when the Dragons won the Central League with a team studded with the likes of Tyrone Woods, Masahiko Morino and a certain Masahiro Araki (who is now 86 hits away from the magic 2000).  Not much of an omen really with the up and down form of this team, but certainly a refreshing change in the breeze to send a buoyant Dragons into the day break with 3 big wins under their belt. The win would send the Dragons top of the league, but as Tanishige mentioned “there’s still about 100 games left…”

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons v Tigers @Nagoya Dome, May 3rd - May 5th; WHERE HAS THE BATTING GONE?

Today’s post will be the beginning of my new condensed series so I can keep updating you without it taking huge chunks of time out of my life. Let me know if there’s something missing that you’d like to see added. Comment on this page or tweet at me @chunichisoul

Alright Dragons fans, it’s time for a recap of the Golden Week series against the Hanshin Tigers at the Nagoya dome! The Golden Week is a series of public holidays conveniently linked together to give people a bit of time off in May. The games against Hanshin were perfectly lined up with the week which meant earlier play times for all/most to enjoy.

Game 30 of the season was a doozy. Would the Dragons continue their good run against the Tigers or would it all come undone with the loss of Shuhei Takahashi?

In the first inning a wild pitch from Jordan allowed Yamato to reach home to open up the score for Hanshin, 0-1. However, the Dragons would reply immediately as Hirata leveled up the scores with a single to send Ohshima home to make it 1-1. Tetsuya Tani then squared one up to hit right as he sent Hirata home to take the lead, 2-1. Haraguchi would level things up with a sac fly in the 4th, but a solo homer from Katsura in the 5th inning combined with a double from Ohshima in the 7th would give the Dragons an opening win to the series, 4-2.

Filthy bat flipping Iori. FILTHY.

That would be the end of the scoring and the game as the Dragons closed out as 4-2 winners. A second win and another tidy performance from Jordan Norberto who keeps showing great poise as a starter striking out 6 in his 7 innings.  Shinji Tajima grabbed a hold and Koji Fukutani claimed another save. Questions will be asked of Shintaro Fujinami’s performance however as he probably should be doing better.

Game 31 would see another sporadic appearance from elusive starter Kazuki Yoshimi. The Dragons starting rotation has been anything but concrete since the start of the season but the reg – dereg cycle that Yoshimi is stuck in is a bit dizzying. Tetsuya Tani started at third base again following Shuhei’s injury and the Tigers fronted up  Yuya Yokoyama to start things off. Neither pitcher had a win leading into this game it was to be a race to see who would get things going.

Yoshimi in for Jordan would be the only change ahead of this game.

The Tigers would get things underway in the 4th inning as Central League RBI leader Mauro Gomez’s single gave the Tigers a 0-1 lead.  Yutaro Itayama added another to the score as he put Fukudome home. Haraguchi would rub more than a fair share of salt into the wounds  as with Itayama and Gomez on base, Yoshimi’s pitch was abruptly dispatched into the bleachers for a 3-run homer, his first as a pro; 0-5 on the scoreboard.

The flurry continued In the 5th as Gomez was at it again getting two RBIs this time to make things 0-7. Not good reading for Dragons fans! Yoshimi was rightfully withdrawn following his poor showing for Ryuya Ogawa. Another pitcher change however would inspire more scoring as Hiroto Fuku gave up RBIs to Hojoh and Haraguchi to put the game beyond all doubt at 9-0. Haraguchi was at his best while Yoshimi was at his worst in a poor, one sided loss to the Tigers. 

The Dragons only managed 3 hits in this game (Araki with two of them) and looked absolutely dire at times with the bat. Credit to the Tigers pitchers for doing the job (17 hits!) as they completely  destroyed us on the day.  It was Yoshimi’s first loss in 2 years (a lot of it has been out injured) and 6 years since conceding 5 runs in a single inning in what was an uncharacteristic performance from a man that has notched 20 win seasons.  

The game was also marked by a second consecutive no-hitter from Dayan Viciedo, but the big man wasn’t in the worrying mood following the game as he is happy with how he’s swinging.

Game 32 was to be another one not to write home about for the Dragons as the batting line-up once again failed to launch.

Hernandez was promoted for the error-prone Masahiko Morino and Yoshimi was also de-regged from the team to end the changes to the squad.

Ryosuke Oguma and Randy Messenger would start on the mound for their respective teams but it was the former who would be ruled out early on as he went down with injury. Haraguchi returned a pitch right at Oguma and struck him on the right forearm. Looks like it stings.

The most positive highlight for the Dragons would come early, as Nanita pulled of a worldy to keep Hanshin out of the game.

Hanshin wouldn’t really do much better with the bat today but they did it when it mattered in the 7th inning when Daisuke Yamai was put into the stands by a Yamato home solo homer to put the scores at 1-0 where the game would end.

 The only real positive to come out of the game today was that Nanita continues his fantastic form with the bat as he got another safe hit away. Yamai’s 4th loss already this season does for damning reading and Oguma’s injury adds to an increasingly long list of players with niggles and pains.

It wasn’t to be a very golden week for Dragons fans, but the Tigers did deserved to win the last two games. One win was all we could come away with and it left the Dragons on an even .500 winning percentage safely sitting in 4th place.

In other news Yudai Ohno is back in training following his elbow discomfort with the hope of making a comeback this month. With Oguma now out as well and Yoshimi still being used sparingly, the starting stocks are looking a little bare as the Dragons look for someone with a reliable arm.

Writer's Update

Hi guys,

Just letting you know that I haven't forgotten about the blog.  I am implementing a new style of reports that I'm still tinkering with and with the birth of my first child, I've been a bit wrapped up with the family side of things.

Another reason for my, ahem, lack of productivity was due to my office cracking down a bit on non-work related browsing so I haven't been able to get things up quite as often as I'd like.

Here's my work plan for you just to let you know how when the reports will go up until I catch up to the current Baystars series.

Starting today (Japanese Time)

Wednesday: Dragons v Hanshin Tigers Report
Thursday: Babe Ruth Cup (2-Gun) Report
Friday: Dragons v Yomiuri Giants Report

That's what I'm aiming for at the moment. I may be able to get things done a bit quicker, but I don't want to stretch myself just yet. Most posts will be up in the evening (JST).

Thanks for your understanding. I'll hopefully be back on track by sometime next week.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons v Carp @Mazda Stadium, April 29th - May 1st; We don't Mazda stadium, oh no, we loathe it.

It was another 3 games in Hiroshima this weekend after a series win against the Baystars during the week. The previous trip to visit the Carp in Hiroshima was a bit of a disaster with a rain delay protecting the Dragons from the sweep, but the same luxury wouldn't be on offer this time around as the weather was looking good over Western Japanese skies as 3 games were up for grabs. The Carp have been in somewhat spectacular form of late with the batters producing a fair share of runs. Ryosuke Kikuchi has been at the heart of the batting while Maru and Arai have been making headlines as well, the latter mostly for his passing 2000 career hits in the midweek fixtures against the Yakult Swallows.

Shuta Wakamatsu was up to the mound for another start in Hiroshima after being somewhat unsuccessful in his last bout while Hiroki Yokoyama started on the mound for the Carp.

The main squad change for the Dragons was the departure of the misfiring Fukuda for the on-fire Kei Nomoto who was finally rewarded for his superb run in the 2-gun team where he is averaging over .400

Game 27 started off well for the Dragons in the top of the 2nd as a walk to Viciedo brought with it a rally of singles from Nanita and Hirata. With bases loaded Donoue hit a sac fly into right field to allow Viciedo to score to make it 1-0. Scoring would continue through Katsura who hit a single to let Nanita score to make it 2-0. Wakamatsu's attempt at a bunt would however end in agony as he bunted into a double play to end the inning.

It would take until the 4th inning for the Carp to be inspired into a counter-attack. Kikuchi was fanned by Wakamatsu but 3 straight walks to Maru, Matsuyama and Eldred loaded up the bases to put the in-form Seiya Suzuki up to the plate. A hit to centre allowed the the Carp to get back on level terms as Maru and Matsuyama ran home to make it 2-2. Abe took the 4th walk of the inning to load up the bases again but Wakamatsu escaped as he fanned Ishihara and induced Yokoyama into a ground out.

The Carp would pile on the pain in the following inning. Tanaka grounded out at second while Kikuchi hit a triple to stand on third. Maru then allowed his team-mate to get in to home with a single to take the lead for the first time of the day. Matsuyama then stepped up and hit a double into right-field sending Maru home to make it 4-2. It would end the night for Wakamatsu and bring Matayoshi in to stem the tide. But the side-arm would give up a double to Suzuki to turn the game on its head and establish a 4-run lead, 6-2.

At the top of the 6th, there would be some positives for the the Dragons as Takahashi was given a walk to start the inning. Up was brought Viciedo who hit a big dinger in the backscreen to give the Dragons some hope at 6-4.

Nanita's following hit would end the night for Yokoyama who was replace by Imamura. Hirata hit a single to join Nanita and a bunt from Donoue set the two up on 2nd and 3rd base. Morino was brought on to pinch-hit for Katsura and the veteran milked a walk to load the bases. A chance was now given to the in-form Nomoto to pinch-hit for Matayoshi but the form wouldn't convert over this time as the worst possible outcome was achieved as Nomoto grounded into a double-play to end the inning.

It would prove to be a costly miss for the Dragons as in the 6th, with Okada coming in for Matayoshi. The inning would start with the removal of Kikuchi and Tanaka but a walk to Maru stopped the succession of outs. Matsuyama then stepped up with a double to allow Maru to score, 7-4. Further damage was inflicted by Eldred who hit a single to get Matsuyama home and make it 8-4. Seiya Suzuki otherwise in fine form, fell victim to Okada with a fly out to end the 6th.

The damage would increase in the 7th as Abe got on base and was bunted to 2nd by Ishihara. Arai came in to pinch-hit but ground out at short but allowed Abe to get into an easy scoring position at 3rd. At 2 outs, Okada's pitch got the better of his catcher and allowed Abe to score, 9-4.

The rest of inning passed without incident aside from a notable triple from Ohshima in the 9th but a Kamezawa fly to the catcher ended the game at 9-4. Another pretty devastating loss to the Carp in Hiroshima. There were chances to get back into the game after going down early, but the Carp were just too good with the bat today in their home environment. Suzuki and Matsuyama were particularly devastating.

Game 28 of the season would be spell out a first appearance for Junki Ito who was in line for a start against the Giants in Kyushu before the earthquakes ensured the games would be called off. With his de-registration following that game it was reported that he wasn't in the best of moods. That kind of showed when he pitched in the 2-gun as he gave up a 3-run homer to Hikaru Ito in an 11-4 loss to Orix. I was personally surprised he was given a chance on the back of that performance, but perhaps it was a promise that needed to be fulfilled. The youngster would however be up against former Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda in what would be a David and Goliath like battle.

Ito pitched well in his first 3 innings, well at least as well as the score can suggest, but the opening innings was marred by an injury to golden boy, Shuhei Takahashi. A particularly hard pitch in the 4th rattled Shuhei's bat and also managed to fracture a bone in his right hand ending his participation in the game early. He is set to go under the knife on the 6th of May, and young slugger is optimistic that he will be back "in 2 weeks." That seems unlikely, but it has opened the way for Masahiko Morino who was subbed in after Takahashi's injury.

It was to be an untimely injury as it spurred the Carp into life. Matsuyama's ground out was followed by a Brad Eldred solo donger to open the scores at 1-0.

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 Suzuki would make way to base care of a poor throw from Morino at third bringing Abe to the fore. Abe then hit a timely two-base hit to ensure Suzuki would score to make it 2-0. Ishihara could not continue the scoring as he ground out at third and Kuroda played all around Ito to strike out and end the inning.

The Dragons crept back in the top of the fifth. Nanita and Hirata were unreliable this time around as they both fell victim to Kuroda but a single from Donoue allowed Sugiyama to approach the plate. The catcher has been very good in this pinch situations and his following two base hit allowed Donoue to score to put the scores at 2-1. Ito, the pitcher in a hitters situation was unable to help out Sugiyama at second as he ground out to a sinking pitch.

Just as you thought the Dragons were working a way back into, the Carp taketh away. In the bottom of the fifth Ito gave up singles to Tanaka and Kikuchi brought Maru to the plate. The skillful outfielder took one look at a dodgy Ito pitch and sent the following one into the crowd for a three-run homerun, 5-1.

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Matsuyama would then fly-out before Eldred took advantage of a Donoue fumble to get onto 1st base. It wouldn't matter in the end as consecutive fly-outs to Suzuki and Abe ended things.

The game was getting harder and harder to watch for Dragons fans an after the 6th inning, one couldn't be blamed for turning off the telly. With Matayoshi now replacing Ito, he took two quick outs to get rid of Ishihara and Kuroda. Tanaka and Kikuchi would repeat what they did in the 5th to put runners on first and second. Maru would then repeat the exact same thing he did in the previous innings by sending a ball into the right-hand stands to make it 8-1 with a consecutive 3-run homer.

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Matsuyama would thankfully ground out to end things but what a disaster for the Dragons.

The Chunichi boys would start things positively in the top of the 7th as Hirata doubled to begin things. Donoue tried to get things moving but his grounder to second base only allowed his captain to 3rd. Now with Sugiyama at the plate, the catcher did what he does best as he smacked another single to make it 8-2. Fujii pinch-hit for Matayoshi but unsurprisingly failed to contribute while a grounder to first spelled the end of Ohshima and the innings.

To add insult to injury the Carp would continue their assault as they took a liking to Hiroto Fuku in the 8th. Ishihara would fall early, but hit into left from Tobayashi, which was then fumbled by Nanita, allowed the Carp man to second. Tanaka picked up his third hit of the night and scored Tobayashi to make it 9-2. Kikuchi couldn't make the most of things this time as he ground out in the infield. Fuku made sure then not to give Maru a third consecutive homer as he hit the Carp man to move runners to 1st and 2nd. Akamatsu's hit however would send Tanaka on his way home to put the score into double digits at 10-2. Arai would then pile on the misery with a double, sending both Maru and Akamatsu into the sheds, 12-2. Just, ugh.

Dragons would try to limit the damage in the 9th as Hirata doubled and Sugiyama was walked, but Fujii couldn't make the difference as the game ended at 12-2. A pretty bad loss. Hirata's two doubles and Sugiyama's two singles were about the only thing to write home about and with Takahashi set to be out for a semi lengthy period, the darkness seemed to be setting.

Game 29, the last of the series, had the objective of nothing more than avoiding the sweep.

Shingo Takeyama, a catcher and Ryuya Ogawa were added to the team to replace the injured Shuhei and the shell-shocked Ito.

Aussie Drew Naylor started this game (there's a really good interview with Drew on the JapaneseBaseball podcast here) with 28 year old Yuya Fukui starting for the Carp.

First blood would be drawn by the Carp in the bottom of the first. Tanaka would be walked to start things while Kikuchi bunted him to 2nd. Maru would then again be allowed to walk while a fumble from Morino at third allowed Arai to move to load the bases. Naylor would take down Matsuyama with a strikout, but a walk to Suzuki meant that the Carp would take the lead 1-0 after Tanaka trickled into base. Naylor would be able to fan Abe however to end the inning.

The Dragons started their counter-attack in the third as Naylor started things off with a double. A high and straight one at Ohshima saw the outfielder grounded out at second while Naylor moved to third. Kamezawa then came into bat and his timely double put Naylor home to even the scores up at 1-1. Morino struck out to put two outs on the board but that wouldn't worry Viciedo as he doubled to send Kamezawa home to make it 1-2. Nanita would then ground out to end the innings.

Just to let all know, as it is golden week in Japan, I have just a few drinks to go with a BBQ, so the report may get more interesting or less coherent as we go from here. Let's see what happens!

The Carp struck back in the third inning. A walk to Kikuchi would start things while Maru would get to base at the expense of his team-mate to move to first. He would however steal second to make up for any ground lost. Arai would take another walk while Matsuyama's grounder would get Maru to third but have Arai out at second. Suzuki's single however would get the scores to 2-2 and a poor throw from Ohshima ensured runners on 2nd and 3rd however Abe was unable to make anything of it as the inning ended.

The Dragons would rally once more at the top of the 4th as Hirata started things off with a walk. Donoue singled, but after a fumble from Suzuki in right field Hirata was able to make it home to allow the Dragons to take the lead at 2-3. A hit from Sugiyama plus a bunt from Naylor would put runners on 2nd and 3rd but Ohshima couldn't make the most of it. Kamezawa loaded the bases with a walk but Morino could only fly-out to end the inning.

Chunichi extended their lead in the 5th as Viciedo and Nanita got onto base to start things. Hirata's double would send Viciedo home to make it 2-4 to the Dragons. This enforced a change for the Carp as Fukui was withdrawn for Toda. Toda however could not prevent Donoue's triple as he sent two home to put the Dragons 2-6 to the good. Toda would keep his nerve however and see out the rest of the inning.

The bottom of the fifith would break my and many Dragons hearts. Two outs would start the inning as Kikuchi and Maru ground out but the last out would remain elusive as Arai got on to base followed by Matsuyama. With Suzuki now up to bat, you wouldn't blame anyone for walking him, but on a 1-0 count he hit a single to make it 3-6. Abe continued things for the Carp as he hit two home to make it 5-6. Naylor now just hanging on gave a hit to Aizawa before Eldred was brought on to pinch-hit for Toda. The American slugger was to be judge, jury an executioner as he struck a powerful three-run homerun to take the lead for the Carp and leave a frustrated and broken Naylor to think about what could have been.
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The Australian pitcher gave an almighty yell when bat connected with ball and one could only feel sorry for him as the ball sailed over the fence to take the lead for the carp at 8-6.

Maru would return to inflict the pain in the 6th inning as after another Morino fumble, Kikuchi took to 1st base while Maru threw the bat and made another homerun to send the scores to 10-6.
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Relatively deflated, the Dragons made back one run in the final inning as Hirata made a single followed by Donoue's out. Nomoto would hit as a pinch-hitter for Sugiyama to put runners on 1st and 2nd while Fujii sent Hirata home to make it 10-7. Tani would try his best to make the most of the situation but flew out to end the game.

3 very bad losses in Hiroshima and really there can be no excuse. The Dragons were over powered in all games and didn't pitch well enough in the tiny Mazda stadium. While they were able to muster 16 hit to the Carp's 10 in the final game, it wasn't when it counted and the homeruns given up to Maru and Eldred really hurt efforts to get back into the game.

Takahashi's injury will also be a big talking point out of these games and with Morino making two errors in his starting debut this year, there will be question marks as to who can fill in there long-time. My hope is to see Donoue move to 3rd with Tani or Hernanez at short-stop. Ishikawa has been the main third-baseman for the 2-gun team, but he is far from good enough for the first-team at the moment.

Starting pitchers are also a worry as none of the three did well enough. Wakamatsu has it in him but I am worried about Naylor. I think the Aussie can be very, very good on his day, but his control and reading of the batters could be better. He may well still be settling in in Japan but if you look at someone like Jordan, you have to wonder how much that really counts. I want him to do well, but I'm worried he can't succeed outside of the Nagoya dome and Jingu at this rate. The Junki Ito experiment was one that had to be done, but well, the less said the better. He's still young though and has a spot in the starting rotation of the second team.

Bring on the Tigers for the next round of games over the Golden Week!

NB: Due to time constraints and the imminent birth of my first child, I will be trying out a much more condensed and less time-consuming method of match reports. It currently takes me about 3 hours to get one of these up and running with all the gifs. I want to continue this blog, so making it more concise is the best I can do. I hope you guys don't mind the new format.