Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Weekly Dragons Wrap: Crouching Dragon,Hidden Tiger; Payback time for Carp (16th May - 21st May)

A much more feel good vibe to this week as the Dragons matched the Tigers pound for pound in the first series at Koshien while the Dragons took out the brooms handling the league leaders, Hiroshima in front of the Nagoya faithful.

Game 38

Dragons 1 - 8 Tigers

WP: Takumi Akiyama 8IP 1ER 12SO                       Nakatani 3-2, Itoi 4-2
LP: Shota Suzuki 4 2/3IP 2ER 7SO                         Kyoda 4-3, Hirata 4-2
                                                                           HR: Nakatani (1st), Itoi (6th)

It was a strikeout festival at Koshien as both teams racked up a total 23 strikeouts between them. Nakatani would go to long in the first inning after a Viciedo fumble helped runners on base with one out to put the Tigers up 3-0.

Masahiro Araki would grab one back after scoring Kyoda but after Suzuki was withrawn after putting two runners on with one our remaining, Araujo loaded up the bases with a walk to give Itoi the chance to strike with a 3RBI double. Itoi would be the harbinger of death for the Dragons in the 6th as his 2-run homer put the Tigers out of sight at 8-1.

Try as the Dragons might to squeeze blood out of a stone but despite 6 hits a piece, it was the Tigers that got value out of their hit with 3 of 6 resulting in extra-base RBIs.

Game 39

Dragons 1 - 2 Tigers

WP: Marcos Mateo 1/3IP 0ER 0SO                     Haraguchi 2-1
LP: Raul Valdes 8IP 2ER 6SO                             Viciedo 4-2, Hirata 4-2
                                                                 HR: Haraguchi (5th)

The Dragons well out batted their opponents, but all it took was 3 hits from the Tigers to get the win despite 8 mustered by the Dragons. The Tigers would take the lead in the 5th through Haraguchi's solo homer.

Hirata's RBI in the 7th would get the teams back level but an 8th inning RBI double from Shun Takayama was unreturnable as the Dragons once again fell over when it was easier to stand up.

Raul Valdes marked his 9th quality start in a row since opening day. The man gets no support from his batting line-up when he pitches. He has a lone, single win to his name for his troubles.

Game 40

Dragons 2 - 1 Tigers

WP: Jordan Norberto 7 1/2IP 1ER 5SO                Araki 4-3
LP: Randy Messenger 8IP 2ER 12SO                    Haraguchi 3-2

Norberto would once again break another skid pitching a great outing to negate the effectiveness of Randy Messenger.

Nakatani would once again wreak havoc as his double gave the Tigers the lead in the 1st. It would take until the 5th for the Dragons to reply as a Kyoda at full flight manage to beat a throw in the infield to allow Masato Matsui to score. Ryosuke Hirata drove in the winning run in the 8th through a double to score Araki who picked up a modasho for his batting prowess on the evening.

The Dragons walked away with a win in the end but it certainly was a "what might have been" in the other two games which could have easily fallen the other way given some luck and perseverance.

Araki has show the Tigers he means business this season as he averages .400 against them despite having his highest whiff rate against them as well.

The league leading Carp would visit Nagoya and be given a lesson in humility as the Dragons claimed the sweep in revenge for their previous series away to Hiroshima 2 weeks previous.

Game 41

Carp 3 - 5 Dragons

WP: Yu Sato 1IP 0ER 1SO                              Hirata 2-2, Matsui 4-2
LP: Randy Jackson 2/3IP 2ER 1SO                  Kikuchi 4-3, Tanaka 4-2
                                                            HR: Guerrero (6th), Viciedo (10th)

Shinnosuke Ogaswara's second start of the year wouldn't result in a win for the 19 year old, but it would be a win for the team as the Dragons out-hit the Carp for the first time in a long time to claim back to back wins.

The home team took the lead in the second through Matsui and doubled their advantage through Matsui again in the 4th. Kikuchi and Ishihara would level things for the Carp in the 5th and 6th but Guerrero's 8th homer of the campaign in the bottom of the 6th would give the Dragons the lead once more.

It wasn't to last however as Kikuchi struck in the 9th to send the game into extras. Dayan Viciedo was to be the man of the moment however as his 2-run homer in the 10th sealed a walk-off win for the home side.

Game 42

Carp 1 - 2 Dragons

WP: Katsuki Matayoshi 7IP 1ER 3SO               Kamezawa 3-2, Fujii 3-2
LP: Aren Kuri 7IP 1ER 4SO                            Noma 3-1, Maru 3-1

Katsuki Matayoshi kept the Carp awfully quiet as he fished a win into existence on the back of a good batting display.

Atsushi Fujii would take the lead for the Dragons in the 2nd while Abe evened up things for the Carp in the 4th. It was however to be a Viciedo that broke the dead lock despite hitting into a double play to score Kamezawa.
The Dragons bullpen would hold strong as Mitsuma, Iwase and Tajima did their jobs to finish off a close win.

Game 43

Carp 4 - 7 Dragons

WP: Kazuki Yoshimi 5IP 1ER 2SO                Oshima 3-2, Viciedo 3-2
LP: Yuya Fukui 6IP 3ER 6SO                       Maru 5-3
                                                           HR: Tanaka (7th), Guerrero (8th)

Yuya Yanagi joined the first team for the first time this season replacing Yudai Ono but he was found not needed this time around as the Dragons held firm once more the claim a wonderful sweep over the Carp.

Viciedo would help grab the lead in the 1st before Seiya Suzuki returned fire in the 3rd. It was however to be Viciedo again who would push the Dragons into the lead in the third. A solo homer from Kosuke Tanaka would however prove to be an interruption.

However RBIs from Oshima and Viciedo put the Dragons on top once more.At 5-2 the Carp fought back through Abe and Nishikawa to put the Carp within one but Guerrero's blast followed by Kyoda's RBI single sealed an important win for the Dragons and finally give Kazuki Yoshimi his first win of the year.

This series was a fantastic moral boosting one that I hope teaches the rest of the Central League not to underestimate us. The bats have been hot this month and they are putting plenty together. With Viciedo and Guerrero starting to get it done at the plate, there's no end to what this side could accomplish with a bit more luck.

Weekly Dragons Wrap: Yokohama shuffle, Swallows in the countryside (9th May - 14th May)

The Dragons would be out in the countryside a few times this week as the first game against DeNA took place at the picturesque Nagaragawa stadium in Gifu city to Nagoya's north while a shortened two game season in Ehime's capital of Matsuyama with the Swallows capped another round of regional romping.
If the Dragons are to be anywhere near the right end of the table at the close of the season, these are the teams they really need to beat.

Game 33
Baystars 3 - 8 Dragons

WP: Shota Suzuki 5 2/3IP 2ER 9SO                                 Viciedo 4-3, Guerrero 3-2
LP: Haruhiro Hamaguchi 4IP 6ER 5SO                            Miyazaki 4-4, Tsutsugo 4-2
                                                                                    HR: Viciedo (3rd), Guerrero (4th)
                                                                                            Lopes (6th)

Shota Suzuki grabbed his first professional win as he showed how to take strikes in an impressive, albeit short, outing.
A Hamaguchi wild pitch in the 3rd allowed the Dragons to take the lead while Donoue and Oshima knocked in further runs to make 3-0. Viciedo then further added insult to injury as he slammed his 5th homer of the season to make it 5-0.

Alex Guerrero would continue his good form in the 4th, joining his Cuban comrade with a fence clearing thwack to put the home side up 6-0.

There would be return fire from the Baystars through former Seattle Mariners slugger, Jose Lopes as he hit a 2-run homer to give the Yokohama side hope and put an unfortunate footnote to Suzuki's fantastic start.

Hirata would add more in the 7th but it would be the 'Stars Miyazaki who added one more off the erratic pitching of Elvis Araujo, but the game was closed out by Junki Ito to mark a satisfying win.

An interesting omen to take from this win, in the last 10 years (I think it's 10) when the Dragons have won in Gifu they've gone on to finish either 1st or 2nd in the Central League. While that seems like a pipe dream, at least the mystical is on our side.

Game 34
Baystars 3 - 1 Dragons

WP: Kentaro Taira 5IP 1ER 3SO                                     Tsutsugo 3-1, Taira 2-1
LP: Shinnosuke Ogasawara 5IP 3ER 3SO                       Guerrero 3-2
                                                                                    HR: Tsutsugo (5th)

Shinnosuke Ogasawara made his long awaited return to the starters mound against his hometown team. It wasn't to be the most successful of outings, but it was yet another story of the batting line-up not backing up their guy in a low scoring game.

The 'Stars took the lead through a Kuramoto 2RBI single in the 4th and they further extended their lead in the 5th through a Tsutsugo homer.

The Dragons tried to get a look in through Kamezawa in the 7th through his sac-fly, but the line-up failed to rally under the pressure of the Yokohama bullpen.

"Walks will haunt" should be the theme of this game as the Dragons gave up 7 free bases in their 9 innings. The bats didn't perform either as only 4 of the line-up made meaningful contact, one being from the pinch-hitting Kudo. Nothing too inspiring.

Yudai Ono threw down a meaningless 9th inning supposedly in attempt to get him back into the swing of things for a return to the starting rotation, but I do wonder how fruitless this venture might be.

Game 35
Baystars 4-3 Dragons

WP: Joe Wieland 6IP 3ER 5SO                                   Tsutsugo 5-3, Kuramoto 4-2
LP: Toshiya Okada 1IP 2ER 1SO                                Viciedo 2-2, Kyoda 4-2
                                                                                HR: Lopes (1st), Kuramoto (7th)

Raul Valdes would return to the mound still searching for some reward for his efforts but he must have done something to someone in a past life as he was once left without any reward.

Jose Lopes would give the 'Stars a perfect start as his solo homer in the first inning of the game.

The Dragons would however get themselves in front in the 4th inning as with bases loaded, Viciedo stepped up to the plate and drove a single into left scoring two. Shuhei Takahashi would then follow up with his first RBI of the year from a sac-fly to put the Dragons 3-1 up.

It would all however come undone as with a change from Valdes to Okada, Toshihiko Kuramoto would take the latter for a trip over the fence to level the scores at 3-3.

With Lopes on 2nd, a Sugiyama misfield allowed the Venezuelan to advance to 3rd where he was scored by a Tsutsugo swipe to give the pride of Yokohama the lead.

While the Dragons would attempt to get back into the game, they failed once again to break the Baystars bullpen as a series loss was confirmed in the 9th inning.

A fairly disappointing series apart from the opening game win but I think the 'Stars are stronger than they were last year if you discount Tsutsugo's form. The pitching is harder to breakdown than it once was and the additions of Wieland and Patton in particular seem to have sured things up.
Viciedo continued his superb form as he is starting to strike a lot more often with RISP. A few more homers have been added to his repertoire alongside Alex Guerrero which has certainly added more excitement to the games.

A 2-game series over Saturday and Sunday in Shikoku's Ehime prefecture against the Swallows would be next up with the Dragons once again hoping to snap a streak and hopefully topple a fairly inconsistent Swallows line-up.

Game 36
Dragons 4 - 3 Swallows

WP: Elvis Araujo 1IP 0ER 1SO                                Viciedo 4-2, Guerrero 4-2
LP: Ryo Akiyoshi 1IP 3ER 0SO                                Balentien 3-2, Ogawa 4-2
                                                                            HR: Guerrero (3rd), Viciedo (9th)

8 powerful innings from Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa was not enough for the Swallows to plow through a win as the Dragons snatched a win at the death off the otherwise reliable Ryo Akiyoshi.

Keiji Obiki would open the scores in the second with a 2RBI single but the Swallows would be pegged back one through Alex Guerrero's 7th homer of the season in the third.

The trendy Tokyo team would extend their lead through Takeuchi in the 7th but a 3-run homer from Dayan Viciedo in the top of the 9th gave the Dragons a 4-3 lead where Shinji Tajima took save honors in a snatch and grab win.

Katsuki Matayoshi had another good shift as starter. Depsite giving up 10 hits he restricted the Swallows line-up to only 2 runs. Shinji Tajima continued his untarnished record against the Swallows as well having yet to concede a run in 5 games this year.

Game 37
Dragons 1 - 5 Swallows

WP: Ryo Akiyoshi 1IP 0ER 0SO                              Yuhei 4-2
LP: Yudai Ono 2/3 IP 4ER 1SO                                Kamezawa 3-2, Takahashi 3-2
                                                                             HR: Araki (9th)

It was to be almost a complete reversal on the previous game's result as it was Yudai Ono who threw away 8 well pitched innings of Kazuki Yoshimi's work.

The Dragons took the lead though an Oshima sac-fly in the first but the Swallows would even things up in the second through Nishiura. Both sides would keep each other honest throughout the later exchanges in the game with Yoshimi holding things together for the Dragons, and the Swallows bullpen doing their job. Going into the 9th with scores even, Yudai Ono was given a chance to take the game into extra innings but the wayward starter loaded up the bases with walks before giving up a walk-off grand slam to Takahiro Araki to end the game and crush any confidence anyone had about Ono being a starter.

Very much like the previous game, everything was decided with a last inning homer. Neither win was particular just, but it seems as though karma evened everything out in the end.

Two very closely fought games that could have easily gone a different way on both occasions.

Another "eh" kind of week in baseball from the boys in blue, but there seems to be a growing strength within this team as the dust settles around what kind of line-up the management is happy with. Sticking it out with Viciedo and Guerrero seems to be paying off while the patience shown with Yota Kyoda is also paying dividends as he slowly builds his batting average to put his best foot forward to be considered a ROTY candidate. If Kyoda does succeed in getting the award, he would be the first Dragons outfielder since his idol, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami who won the award in 1988.

Also, just for a bit of fun, there's a really talented artist on Twitter that's a Dragons fan. Here's one of the illustrations they produced for the series against the Swallows in Matsuyama. It features Doala, Tsubakuro, some local Ehime mascots and the Ehime Mandarin Pirates mascot, Mappy.

Weekly Dragons Wrap: Carp-tastrophe, Giants headache (1st May - 7th May)

The Dragons got swept by the domineering Hiroshima carp away from home at Mazda Zoom-Zoom stadium where we very rarely have a good day in recent years while one win was punctuated by two losses against the Giants in a couple of slightly closer contests.

Game 27

Dragons 2 - 5 Carp

WP: Yusuke Nomura 7IP 2ER 5SO                                Abe 3-2
LP: Shota Suzuki 4 2/3IP 1ER 4SO                                Kyoda 4-3, Viciedo 4-2

A disastrous 5th inning saw the momentum completely sucked away from the visitors as Hirata had put the Dragons in the lead in 4th. An basic catching error on an infield fly from Viciedo on what should have been the 3rd out ballooned into a 5 run massacre where consecutive hits to Arai, Abe and Ishihara made sure that the Carp maintained their excellent record. Masato Matsui would rake an RBI in the 7th but it wasn't enough to help the Dragons rally. 

Junki Ito made his first appearance of the season in relief hoping to appeal to Mori that he is good enough to be a starter this season if not a valuable bullpen arm. Mori apparently threatened to trade him in off season, so the Aichi native will be looking to ensure he can make it with the Dragons this year.

Game 28

Dragons 4 - 7 Carp

WP: Yuta Nakamura 5IP 3ER 3SO                                   Arai 4-3, Abe 5-3
LP: Kazuki Yoshimi 5 1/3IP 4ER 3SO                             Matsui 2-2, Kyoda 4-2
                                                                               HR: Arai (4th), Kyoda (5th) 
                                                                                       Aizawa (6th), Guerrero (9th)

It was dongers galore as the Carp once again came from behind to take the win over the Dragons on their home turf. RBIs to Hirata and Matsui kept put the Dragons in to an early lead at 2-0 but 2016 MVP, Takahiro Arai's 2-run homer saw the Carp back on terms in the bottom of the 4th.

Yota Kyoda's first professional homer put the Dragons back in the lead but it was to be short lived.

An error from Guerrero at 3rd allowed Tsubasa Aizawa to advance to second while the pinch hitting Amaya, fuelled by another Guerrero fumble, put Aizawa in to level the scores. Maru would put the Carp ahead 4-3 after driving in Amaya. Yoshimi was to be given one more inning to prove himself but a lead-off hit to Abe followed by a steal but the Dragons under pressure where Tsubasa Aizawa leveraged the situation and a Yoshimi pitch into the left stands to put a 3-run cushion between the Carp and reeling Dragons.

Hitoki Iwase would give up one more run to Brad Eldred in the bottom of the 7th, but apart from a consolation fence clearer from Guerrero it was to be another disappointing defeat. 

Masato Matsui has surprisingly found himself right back in the midst of the battle to be full-time catcher for the Dragons following his superb work with the bat. His calling from behind the plate still needs more time to assess, but in what I thought was going to be a two horse race from Kinoshita and Sugiyama, a dark horse has arisen to affront the status quo.

Game 29

Dragons 7 - 8 Carp

WP: Ryan Brasier 1IP 0ER 1SO                                      Aizawa 2-2, Abe 3-2
LP: Takuya Mitsuma 1IP 2ER 0SO                                 Guerrero 4-2, Oshima 5-2
                                                                                 HR: Guerrero (4th), Maru (4th),
                                                                                         Nishikawa (8th)

The indefatigable Carp line-up was on fire once again as their 14 base hits contributed to 8 runs on the board. While the Dragons were more economic nabbing 7 runs from their 7 total hits, it was the hit-machine Carp line-up that squeezed out a victory.  Shuhei Takahashi was quickly added to the team for this game following Guerrero's two errors at third base and he slotted right into the line-up following two grand slams in the past few days with the farm team in the Babe Ruth Cup.

In the 4th inning, the Dragons must have thought they were on their way to breaking their Carp hoodoo after a Viciedo sac-fly and a 3-run homer from Alex Guerrero put the Dragons 4 clear. 

A massive bottom of the 4th for the Carp returned all those runs as Maru's solo shot was followed up by RBIs from Aizawa, Nishikawa and Tanaka saw the scores levelled in quick fashion.

 The Carp would take the lead in the 6th through Abe's sac-fly but it was the pinch hitting Masataka Iryo getting a two base hit and scoring two that would swing the pendulum back the Dragons way at 5-6 to the visitors.The Carp returned fire immediately through Kosuke Tanaka, but an Oshima double once again put Chunichi in the lead. It would all however come undone in the 8th as the every trusty Takuya Mitsuma was taken the distance by Ryoma Nishikawa to even things up and gave up a double to Takahiro Arai to surrender the lead and a series white wash to the Carp.

A very disappointing series where Chunichi just could not hold onto a lead. The Carp batting line-up when on is indomitable. You cannot out hit this team at the moment. Getting swept is never fantastic, but when the Carp are this good it's hard not to just say, "bugger it," back your bags, and go home.

For the weekend, the Dragons would face off against their biggest rivals, the Yomiuri Giants. The Giants haven't reached the peak of their powers yet, but the dominant nature in which they won the opening series of the season sticks in the memory.

Game 30
Giants 3 - 2 Dragons

WP: Miles Mikolas 7IP 2ER 5SO                         Ishikawa 3-2
LP: Raul Valdes   7 1/3IP 3ER 5SO                      Kamezawa 4-2, Viciedo 4-2
                                                                        HR: Viciedo (4th)

Raul Valdes opened with another quality start but it wasn't enough to secure his second win of the season. Thanks to Shinnosuke Abe's fumble, the Dragons took the lead in the 1st and a Viciedo solo shot in the 2nd extended their advantage. 

Sakamoto would bring the Giants back into the game in the 5th and Yoshiyuki Kamei evened things up in the 8th with runners on first and third. Unfortunately the death blow would come from a brain explosion by Shota Sugiyama's whose misreading of a situation allowed a safety squeeze from Kobayashi to score Casey McGehee and take the lead. Arquimedes Caminero picked up his 9th save of the season to end the game. 

Game 31
Giants 6-1 Dragons

WP: Kazuto Taguchi 7IP 1ER 5SO                    McGehee 5-4, Chono 5-3
LP: Yudai Ono 5 2/3IP 3ER 6SO                       Fukuda 1-1
                                                                     HR: Sakamoto (1st)

Once again the Dragons pitcher got take for a ride as a Casey McGehee masterclass destroyed what little reputation Yudai Ono had left. 

Hayato Sakamoto took the lead for the Giants through a solo shot in the first.

Apart from Kyoda RBI in the 4th, it was all one-way traffic as McGehee piled on 3 RBIs to pile on the misery for Dragons fans at their home stadium. The only bright light was the return of left arm hurler Shinnosuke Ogasawara who pitched one inning in relief late in the game to mark his return from an elbow injury that sidelined him in Spring training. 

Another game where the Dragons were outmatched 14 hits to 7. McGehee also continue to haunt as he averages .353 with 8 RBIs against the heroes of Nagoya. 

Game 32

Giants 1 - 8 Dragons

WP: Jordan Norberto 7IP 0ER 5SO                         Viciedo 5-4, Donoue 5-2 
LP: Tetsuya Uchiumi 4IP 5ER 3SO                         Ishikawa 2-2
                                                                            HR: Guerrero (2nd), Viciedo (4th)

Alex Guerrero and Dayan Viciedo combined homers for the first time as they started showing form that resemble their reputation. 

Guerrero's 3-run dinger in the second set the Dragons on their way.

While Viciedo's solo shot in the 4th followed by Kinoshita's double set the boys in blue on a nice pedestal at 5-0. 

Viciedo would play a part in swiping in more runs in the 5th and 6th to put the Dragons in an unassailable 8-0 lead. The Giants would get one back against Tajima in the 9th but it would be all for nought as Jordan Norberto picked up his 2nd win of the season ended a 5 game skid and ultimately putting some smiles on a few faces.

Overall not two series to dwell on too much, but the season seems to be getting a bit that way. The good signs are that the Guerrero and Viciedo appear to be getting into a groove with their hitting and we're seeing a much larger contribution from them. Big sad faces for Raul Valdes though who keeps throwing quality stuff but never seems to get a return from the batting line-up when he pitches. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Weekly Dragons Wrap: Highs and lows with the Swallows; Tattles with the Tigers (26th April - 30th April)

The Dragons took on the Swallows in Nagoya and the Tigers at Koshien in two match-ups where Chunichi haven't looked out of depth this season. The Swallows look in trouble this year and there seem to be more than a few vulnerabilities that can be exploited with the Tigers. Two winnable series ahead. 

Another net win for the Dragons as they took the series against the Swallows. An extra innings loss in the 2nd game of the series was the only blight on a fairly positive series which saw some positive changes to personnel make a difference. Masato Matsui continued his first team stay as he has been outperforming Shota Sugiyama and Takuya Kinoshita, Kyohei Kamezawa continued his sustained run in the first team as well. 

Game 21

Swallows 2 - 4 Dragons

WP: Jordan Norberto 7 2/3 IP 2ER 9SO                              Guerrero 3-2, Matsui 3-2
LP: Hirofumi Yamanaka 7IP 4ER 1SO                                Yamada 4-2
                                                                                        HR: Guerrero (2nd), Matsui (6th)

In Toyohashi, Alex Guerrero who had been put on notice by Chunichi staff to pick up his game or take his bat and ball and head down to the farm put the Dragons in front in the 2nd inning through a 3-run homerun. 
Jordan Norberto kept throwing heat on the mound to keep the Swallows completely off balance as he whiffed 9 batters in his 7 and a bit innings. In contrast his opposite number only managed one strikeout against a Dragons lineup making a lot of contact. Masato Matsui would put the Dragons further ahead in the 6th with a solo shot; his second homer in pro ball and first since 2014. 
Tetsuto Yamada would ensure the Swallows would walk away with something as he drove in Sakaguchi and Araki in the top of the 8th, but safe pitching from Mitsuma to set up the save for Tajima ensured no further damaged was earned in a morale boosting win. 

Game 22

Swallows 8 - 7 Dragons

WP: Ryo Akiyoshi 2IP 0ER 2SO                                           Balentien 5-4, Yuhei 5-3
LP: Hitoki Iwase  1IP 2ER 0SO                                             Oshima 5-2
                                                                                       HR: Viciedo (4th), Obiki (8th)

Another Iwase relief inning, another loss as he gave up his 3rd loss of the season as this game went into extras following a late game implosion from the Dragons. 

The Dragons were sent well on the way as they took another early lead through Guerreros 2RBI single in the second inning. Yakult would even things up in the 4th through RBIs from Balentien and Yuhei Nakamura, but the lead was restored shortly after through a Viciedo solo shot. 
Now feeling encouraged, the Dragons put on another two runs in the 5th from a 2RBI single from Oshima set up by a lead-off double from Kamezawa and an Araki walk. Joe Buchanan was withdrawn shortly after as the American's season ERA was blown out by this start. 

More runs were to come as the Swallows put themselves within 2 of the home team through another Nakamura RBI in the 6th leading to Kazuki Yoshimi's withdrawal for Yu Sato. Sato and Mitsuma would get through their work but in the top of the 8th with Daisuke Sobue pitching, the former Toyota man gave up a 3-run homer to Keiji Obiki to level the scores. 
The Dragons failed to muster in the 9th and we would head into familiar territory with extra innings. It would take until the 11th inning before Iwase took to the mound and gave up two earned runs two Yuhei to put the Swallows ahead at 8-6. Kudo and Fujii would give fans hope of a turn around in the bottom of the inning as the latter scored the former, but it wasn't to be as Oshima's fly-out to centre ended the game at 8-7

Game 23

Swallows 0-2 Dragons

WP: Katsuki Matayoshi 7IP 0ER 3SO                                  Viciedo 3-1, Donoue 3-1
LP: Juri Hara 5IP 1ER 5SO                                                   Takeuchi 3-2

In stark contrast to the previous night's hit-fest, it would be a much meeker performance from both sides as Katsuki Matayoshi kept the Swallows in lock down for 7 well pitched innings. 

Another early start for the Dragons set the tone. Kamezawa's lead-off single, turned into a double by a Balentien fumble, followed by Araki's sac-bunt gave Oshima the perfect opportunity as he seized an RBI single. Viciedo was able to follow up to score Oshima to put the Dragons 2-0 up at the drop of a hat. 

Katsuki Matayoshi's "conversion" (he was a starter once upon a time...I know I keep banging on about that) proved even further dividends as the Okinawa native kept the explosive bats of the previous night well under wraps. Support from Mitsuma and Tajima ensured the lead was protected and another win sealed. Tajima claimed his 6th save of the season while Matayoshi took his second win in as many starts.

A largely positive series blighted only by the game that got away. What should have been a fairly easy win was taken away by some unfortunate relief pitching but you can't expect your pitchers to keep a clean slate every single game. Just a pity it coincided with a game where the bats produced relatively well!

Another week, another round against the Tigers, but this time in Hyogo prefecture at the historical Koshien stadium. Not to be as successful this time around. A battle would be won but the war ultimately lost to the tenacious Tigers.

Game 24

Dragons 0 - 6 Tigers

WP: Randy Messenger 7IP 0ER 6SO                               Uemoto 3-2, Campbell 4-2
LP: Yudai Ono 7IP 6ER 5SO                                            Viciedo 3-1
                                                                                    HR: Nakatani (5th)

It was all Tigers on Friday as Ono was shown how to pitch by Randy Messenger in a 6-0 shutout loss. The Tigers took the lead after a timely single from Campbell followed by a Hojo sac-fly put the Tigers 2-0 up. Masahiro Nakatani's solo homer in the 5th would see the Tigers further their lead while further maraudering from Uemoto and Itoi in the 7th saw Ono concede another 3 earned runs to earn him another rest on the pine.
Shota Suzuki, who made his first appearance in over a year, took out the bottom of the 8th inning, but it was to be the Tigers that would close out the game in style.

Game 25

Dragons 6 - 3 Tigers

WP: Takuya Mitsuma 1IP 0ER 1SO                                  Fujii 5-3, Oshima 4-2
LP:  Rafael Dolis 2/3IP 3ER 1SO                                      Uemoto 5-3
                                                                                      HR: Itoi (1st)

Aoyanagi v Valdes at Koshien on Saturday and both would give up 2 run first innings as the Dragons started off with a lead off hit from Kamezawa and a walk to Kyoda that allowed Hirata and Fujii to tap runs home. Itoi's homer in the bottom of the inning would essentially chalk off the good start to put the Tigers back on level terms. Oshima would put the Dragons back ahead in the 2nd while the Tigers would strike back in the following inning through Fumiya Hojo. With both bullpens holding on, it was left to the closers to see who could hold their nerve. Saves leader Rafael Dolis was rocked as he let off 4 hits and a walk in quick succession to see the Dragons take a 3-run lead. 

Tajima would once again take the 9th and it was the Chunichi closer that would claim the save and the third win of the season against the Tigers. 

Game 26

Dragons 2 - 3 Tigers

WP: Kentaro Kuwahara 1IP 0ER 1SO                               Itoi 4-3
LP: Daisuke Sobue 2IP 1ER                                               Araki 4-2, Oshima 5-2

A come from behind win for the Tigers as the Dragons took another early lead in the first through a Donoue RBI single on loaded bases and a Campbell error. Hanshin would be back on level terms in the third as Fukudome cleaned up with bases loaded to send two home. It would however be the Tigers that would take the initiative late in the game as Sobue loaded the bases to bring Hojo's hot bat to the plate and the Tigers short-stop would put his team ahead 3-2. 

Takahashi would then take up the ball for the Tigers in the 9th and keep his old side under control to seal a close win on home soil.

2 very interesting series with no obvious weaknesses exposed. Sobue's 2 losses sour things and I do hope he reassesses himself. He's a good arm to have in the bullpen, but hopefully he doesn't fall off the wagon. Lots of ups and downs this week but overall, we'll call it a draw. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Weekly Dragons Wrap: Tigers tamed, Baystars blueballed (18th April - 23rd April)

Two very interesting battles against teams I consider very beatable. The Tigers always put up memorable games and the Baystars I feel are the team we need to be beating to show we're making progress. The Dragons would claim their first series victory of the year against the Tigers as well as claiming their first win streak while a tie series against the Baystars would be the reward for a lack of depth to the team.

The first series of the week would be another home fixture this time against the Hanshin Tigers. I always enjoy our games against the Tigers and this was shaping up to be another intriguing contest. Citing Yoshio Itoi and Kosuke Fukudome's weaknesses against lefties, Mori announced that he would be putting up Raul Valdes, Jordan Norberto and Yudai Ono up in an attempt to nullify the Hanshin line-up. 

Game 15

Tigers 3 - 1 Dragons

WP: Yuta Iwasada 7 2/3IP 1ER 4SO                                    Itoi 4-3
LP: Hitoki Iwase  1IP 2ER 0SO                                           Oshima 3-2, Araki 4-2

The Tigers would be the first to take the lead as Yoshio Itoi scored Iwasada in the top of the 5th with a single into left field. The Dragons would however strike back immediately in the bottom of the inning as a poor pick up and throw from Iwasada followed by a fumble from Fumihito Haraguchi at first from a Sugiyama bunt allowed Kyoda to round the bases and score to even things up at 1-1. 
Valdes would last 7 innings before Iwase was brought in to pitch out the 8th. The veteran gave up consecutive hits; a single to Itoi and a double to Haraguchi. With runners on the 2nd and 3rd, Masahiro Nakatani's sac-fly was enough to regain the Tigers the lead. Pinch runner Fumiya Araki was taken down due to a grounder from Takashi Toritani, but a 2-base hit from Fumiya Hojo saw the Tigers extend their lead to 3-1. The Dragons would rally in the bottom of the 8th, but a determined Marcos Mateo got the Tigers out of a jam to end the inning. It was unfortunately the last chance the Dragons would have in the game as Rafael Dolis took down 3 batters in a row to claim the save and end the game for the Tigers. 

It's hard to not get frustrated with your foreign ring-ins when the batting isn't coming together. Guerrero and Viciedo combined to go 8-0 this game. Barely flattering when they're meant to be in the most pivotal spots in the line-up. Hirata hasn't been doing too much better but he still consistently gets hits albeit with a lesser frequency than desired. 

Following the game, Mori was under pressure to change things up but all we could see in the lead-up was a small roster chance where Koji Fukutani replaced Hayato Mizowaki. A reliever for a back-up infielder...not exactly earth shattering. 

Game 16

Tigers 3 - 4 Dragons

WP: Shinji Tajima 1IP 0ER 0SO                                      Oshima 4-4, Araki 4-3
LP: Ryoma Matsuda 1/3IP 0ER 0SO                                Toritani 2-2, Hojo 3-2

A grand shuffle to the personnel was in order as Guerrero was dropped from the line-up. Donoue took his place, but it was a much different looking order to what we have seen previously this season. The moy picante Yohei Oshima settled in at 3 while Kyoda took his place at the top of the order. Viciedo found himself batting 7th while Hirata took on the number 4 clean-up role. 

The game started in earnest as Araki found himself at third-base when Hirata sent a fly ball into left-field which saw the veteran toddle in to score to give the Dragons an early lead. Jordan Norberto in his first start of the season seemed to show a bit of  "mongrel" in his pitching, not giving the Tigers an inch and taking an aggressive approach. 

Norberto would however come undone in the 5th as he loaded up the bases with two outs on the board. One could point fingers at some questionable strike zone calling that led to the jam. The Dominican threw everything he could at Hiroki Uemoto to get the plucky infielder out, but a superb at-bat saw the Tigers pinch two runs and the lead for the first time.

Chunichi would however not be outdone as a lead off single from Araki and a follow-up by Yohei "Hit Machine" Oshima gave Hirata another chance to knock in the runs. He would unfortunately hit into a double play, but it would be enough to get the Dragons back on even terms. The tug of war would continue into the 8th at Takuya Mitsuma took the mound. The former Shikoku independent league pitcher gave up a lead-off double to Fukudome which set the tone for an unfortunate inning where the rookie gave up his first earned run of the season to Hojo to see the Tigers take the lead once more.

However, as things go in these games, the Dragons pulled themselves back into the action as Oshima's double in the bottom of the 8th leveled things up once again. Tajima would be brought in to take out the 9th inning which he did with aplomb and it was up to the bottom half of the order to get the Nagoya side a win in normal time. 

Naomichi Donoue would start things off with a lead-off double. The Tigers elected to walk Viciedo to 1st but a bunt from Kinoshita saw 2 runners move into scoring positions with one out on the board. Kamezawa would unfortunately fall to a short-fly leaving the result in the hands of the rookie, Yota Kyoda. The short-stop hit a grounder off former Dragon reliever Akifumi Takahashi to Takashi Toritani at 3rd who fumbled; Kyoda taking no chances took a dramatic head slide into first to be found safe and claim a 4-3 walk-off victory for the Dragons.
I must admit, this was the first time in a while I was able to watch a full game due to family commitments and it was wonderful. There was a lot to enjoy about this game and this is one of the reasons I like playing the Tigers. The games are close and I never feel we're outmatched. Good competitive baseball.

The interesting point to come out of this game is that, for one, Yohei Oshima has suddenly turned into Ichiro. He's hitting a lot. At the end of this game he was hitting .423 with an OPS of .958, leading the league. He has certainly turned up at the beginning of this season and I commend Mori for trying something new and sticking him in at 3 in the line-up again, something he tried last season to little effect. Perhaps the more surprising statistic is that Masahiro Araki has bumped his season average all the way up to .316. I was very worried about him at the beginning of the season but he, uh, likes playing the Tigers. Has gone 8-5 this series already. A hot Araki bat spells good news particularly if Oshima keeps performing behind him.

The game also marked the 16th straight game where a starter hasn't won a game. This has equaled the worst record in NPB history where the Taiyo Whales had the same start in 1969; but a win is a win. Maybe we can set a record for reliever wins.

Game 17

Tigers 2 - 5 Dragons

WP: Daisuke Sobue 1IP 0ER 0SO                                      Kamezawa 3-2, Hirata 4-2
LP:  Koyo Aoyanagi 6 2/3IP 3ER 6SO                               Haraguchi 4-2, Nakatani 4-2
                                                                                   HR: Hirata (7th), Viciedo (8th)

More firsts in this game as Viciedo smacked a goodun into the right stands while Daisuke Sobue picked up his first win in over 100 appearances, not to mention the night also marked the first time this year that the Dragons have achieved back-to-back wins as well as series win.

Yudai Ono started on the mound for the Dragons and looks to be continually improving from his opening day nightmare. The lefty put in a solid 6 innings shift but was to be the first pitcher of the evening to surrender the lead for his team as Fumihito Haraguchi slashed home Hojo in the 5th. The Dragons would return with gusto in the 7th as Hirata hit a lead-off homer to level the scores.

 It wasn't to end there as with bases loaded Yota Kyoda gave Chunichi a 2 run lead with a timely single into right field and on his birthday too! How nice.

In the top of the 8th Mitsuma had troubles getting his final out as he put the two 'Tanis on base. Hitoki Iwase was called on to take out lefty, Shun Takayama, but it wasn't to end well for the veteran as he gave up an RBI single to last year's rookie of the year to put the Tigers in touching distance. Pitching coach Shinichi Kondo had seen enough very quickly and pulled Iwase off the mound for Koji Fukutani who made his first appearance of the year who promptly took down the pinch hitting Ryota Arai. 

In the bottom of the 8th Akifumi Takahashi was able to dismiss Oshima and Fujii either side of a Hirata base hit, but the lefty was withdrawn for Marcos Mateo in the face of the right-handed Viciedo. The Cuban had no qualms showing off today as he sliced through the first pitch he was shown low and outside and launched his first homer of the season into the right stands proving once again how much he likes playing the Tigers. (Who can forget his debut series? 1,2,3

The reaction from the dugout was just as uplifting as the reaction from Viciedo himself. (Except for Guerrero maybe. What on earth was he thinking?)

Tajima doing his closing thing fanned two Tigers to end the innings and seal another confidence boosting Dragons win.

Viciedo breaking his duck this year is a big confidence booster to not only him but also the team. A bit of belief may have just returned. Hopefully this can get big Vic to rally and start showing more of that power that instilled fear into the hearts of NPB pitchers last season. Yota Kyoda continues to make headlines as he was involved in hitting the winning runs once again. The kid doesn't seem to hit a lot just yet, but he's getting them where its' important. He's probably one of the few Dragons where his BA is higher with RISP, albeit marginally. As far as I can tell, Oshima is the only other and Oshima currently leads the league in batting average with .400 over Shinnosuke Abe of the Giants (.373) and Brad Eldred of the Carp.(.364)

A good, confidence lifting series for the Dragons and hopefully something they can carry on with to lift themselves further up the table.

In other news, Yohei Oshima and Katsuki Matayoshi have been nominated for the March/April monthly MVP. Dayan Viciedo picked up the award for the same period last season for his dominating performances in the opening rounds.

To put a dampener on things however, the Dragons starters now have the worst winning start to a season ever in the NPB after going 17 games winless breaking the 16 game mark set by the 1969 Taiyo Whales.

The Dragons traveled to Yokohama for the first time this season without one of their three Kanagawa natives; Nobumasa Fukuda, Shuhei Takahashi and Shinnosuke Ogasawara for the first time in as long as I can remember. The 'Stars have been taking it steady this season with only one win on the Dragons; a series win here could see the boys in Ochiai blue take another step up the ladder into 4th...

Game 18

Dragons 2 - 2 Baystars
SP: Katsuki Matayoshi 7 2/3IP 1ER 6SO                              Oshima 5-3, Hirata 4-2
SP: Joe Wieland 8IP 1ER 9SO                                               Shirasaki 5-2, Kuwahara 5-2
                                                                                                HR: Hirata (9th)

Well we haven't had an extra innings game in a while so lets have another. For I think the 5th time this season, the Dragons were taken the distance. The Stars took the lead in the 2nd through a Kyoda error but Chunichi was back in the hunt shortly after in the 4th as Kyoda was scored off an RBI single from Hirata. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo would put Yokohama in the lead in the bottom of the 8th after he scored Takehiro Ishikawa, but a solo homerun from Hirata in the top of the 9th and a scoreless end to the frame ensured the game would go into extra innings once more.

Sobue, Iwase, Sato and Tajima all held on to keep the game in reach, but the Yokohama bullpen did just as well to shut out a Chunichi line-up that seems to may as well not have a bottom half to the lineup as no-one south of Hirata registered a hit.

Striking out is appearing to be more and more of an issue with the team. I've been noticing some fairly high strikeout numbers by opposing pitchers of late.

Game 19

Dragons 4 - 11

WP: Kenta Ishida 6IP 3ER 6SO                    Tsutsugo 4-2, Tobashira 4-2, Ishida 3-2
LP: Shunta Wakamatsu 3IP 7ER 0SO           Hirata 4-2
                                                       HR: Tobashira (2nd), Kuwahara (2nd), Kajitani (6th)

Wakamatsu had it handed to him on a platter as he took a battering from the Baystars who ran riot on the misfiring starter. The Dragons actually took the lead through Hirata in the first inning, but a 2nd inning deluge from the Stars, including homeruns from Yasutaka Tobashira and Masayuki Kuwahara put the Stars 5-1 to the good nice and early.

More neck strain for Wakamatsu was to come as he gave up a further two runs in the 3rd effectively ending his time on the mound for the evening. The Baystars still had blood in their nostrils as they soon went after Ryuya Ogawa who gave up an 2 RBI single with bases loaded to last year's homerun leader Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to put Yokohama out of sight at 9-1. The Dragons would attempt to crawl back into the game with a quiet 2 runs through Hirata and Toshiki Abe. That however wouldn't stop the 'Stars from ruining the party as Kajitani once again haunted Dragons fans by launching Fukutani the distance with a 2-run dinger. 
Thoroughly depressing, but the game wore on and Kyohei Kamezawa provided one last shining light in the 9th as he put one more on the board before Takuya Shindo closed out the game 11-4. 

Well. What can you say. I think all you can say for sure is that Wakamatsu's rookie year was a fluke and he hasn't changed enough about his pitching to warrant a continuous starting role. He's predictable. Batters can either sit on his occasional fastball or his change-up. He doesn't really have a lot of other stuff that troubles batters. However, in saying that, who would there be to replace him? Most of our starters are getting shelled on the farm. Shota Suzuki did have a good run out recently though, maybe a chance?

Game 20

Dragons 1 - 0 Baystars

WP: Raul Valdes 8IP OER 2SO                                  Araki 4-2
LP: Phil Klein 6IP 1ER 4SO                                      

Nobumasa Fukuda, a Yokohama native and Yokohama high school grad, would join the team for this game as Wakamatsu was promptly dropped from the team after his shellacking the previous day.

A sac-fly from Ryosuke Hirata in the 1st inning would be all she wrote for this game as both teams forgot how to hit.

Masahiro Araki was the only batter between either sides to register more than one hit with the final count be 6 Chunichi hits to 4 DeNA hit. Was the pitching good? It wasn't bad. Raul Valdes pitched 8 very good scoreless innings but only whiffed 2 batters. DeNA showed some good stuff but 1 run wins like this are always a bit...well...unsatisfying. Both teams showed a lot of what plagued them last year. Both had issues with misfiring lineups and it was present once again today. A win is a win is a win for the Dragons however as they avoided a series loss which is always a net positive. In the mean time, let's just enjoy some Kamezawa plays at third.

I think all we really learned from this series is, thank go we re-signed Oshima and Hirata and the ills of last year still remain with some poor Wakamatsu pitching and very little going on with the line-up. I feel as though the team is getting more hits overall these days, but just not putting them together. The curse of the winless starter was also broken by Valdes in the last game of the series. Just another unwanted record to add to the collection, but the distraction should be over now. Also with Hirata's sac-fly he has registered RBIs in 5 consecutive games, That little move into the number four role seems to be suiting him well. 

A much more optimistic outlook following these two series. Well, I guess that's what happens when you win more games than you lose. Both series providing ample entertainment but also highlighted some very dangerous pitfalls that are unlikely to desert the team too quickly. Inconsistent starting pitching and a misifiring line-up seem to be the hallmarks of the team this year...

Following this week, the Dragons drop back down to 6th on the table have momentarily overtaken the Swallows after beating the Tigers.