Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wayne Graczyk on the State of the Dragons

Wayne Graczyk of the The Japan Times did a nice article on the Dragons recently titled Aging Dragons Have Number of Question Marks for 2013.  In the piece Graczyk discusses the obstacles Chunichi will have to overcome in order to keep their steak of post-season appearances going.  Among the obstacles he brings up are the age of manager Morimichi Takagi, players Masa Yamamoto, Takeshi Yamasaki, Motonobu Tanishige and others.  He also discusses the migration of the Dragons' established foreign players to other teams.  Finally he mentions that 2013 will be a year of transition as it has already been announced that it will likely be Takagi's last year as manager and Graczyk predicts that Mr. Dragons, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, will become the manager in 2014.

I think Graczyk overstates the importance of contributions from Yamamoto and Yamasaki.  They provide some valuable depth, but Chunichi didn't need to rely on them much last year and shouldn't plan to do so this year, any contributions they give should be considered a bonus.  Tanishige, Wada, Ibata and Morino are, however, a different story.  The Dragons need Tanishige's presence and experience behind the plate, but they need him to be at least near average offensively, because their lineup doesn't project to be good enough to carry him.  Wada and Ibata both had very good years in 2012, but it's definitely uncertain whether they can repeat those performances again at their age.  Morino is not as old as the others, but he's been playing like he's been on the down-side of his career the last two seasons.  Frankly, Chunichi will need more from him offensively this year, and it's unclear if they will get it.

2013 will depend a lot on how the Dragons' younger players perform as much as on how the older ones do.  Graczyk mentions that Chunichi has some good young arms, without going into detail about who they are.  He also doesn't mention top infield prospect Shuhei Takahashi, who is likely to have an impact.  If young starters Junki Ito and Yudai Ohno perform well Chunichi should have a formidable rotation with them, Kaz Yoshimi, Kenshin Kawakami, Soma Yamauchi, Shinji Iwata and Kenichi Nakata.  The offense could get a big boost from S. Takahashi, who could take over at third base, and other younger players Takehiro and Naomichi Donoue, and Ryosuke Hirata.  All of those guys have shown promise at times.  The Dragons will need Yohei Ohshima to keep playing at a high level as well, and younger players Takuya Asao and Shinji Tajima will need to hold down the bullpen.

As for the foreign roster, Chunichi lost a lot of production this offseason with Blanco, Soto and Sosa signing elsewhere.  Replacing all of them in one offseason may not go well, but it's hard to say.  Foreign signings are always a crap shoot.

I'm interested to see how Tatsunami will do as manager, but for this year I don't have any concerns with whether Takagi can do the job.  He did a commendable job last year getting Chunichi to the brink of the Japan Series despite being completely under-manned for the playoffs.  So while Graczyk is very right in stating that Chunichi does have a lot of question marks; there are also a lot of good reasons why they should be in the top half of the Central League once again in 2013.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mizuno Speed Trainer 4


G4
 I'm generally a fan of Mizuno shoes and products, but wanted to pass along my dissapointment with the Mizuno Speed Trainer 4's.  I bought a pair of the G3 Speed Trainers back in around 2008 and they are still in good shape even though they've been used a lot.  I was excited to buy the 4's and ordered a pair recently from an online baseball supplies store.  They look great in the pictures, but for some reason they only ever show one side.  When I got my pair I realized why.  They don't have a full-sized, stiched on logo like on the outside.  The inside of the shoe is basically blank with a little "painted-on" logo, maybe an inch by inch in size.  The material of the shoe also seemed kind of cheap and they didn't feel very comfortable when I put them on.  They were very, very light in weight, so I'll give them that, but overall they seem pretty cheap and chintzy, not a very good effort from Mizuno. I exchanged the pair I had bought for a new BBCOR bat, so I haven't really field tested them, but I don't recommend them unless they are real cheap.  Had I seen them in the store, rather than online, I would not have bought them.

Here's my old pair of the G3 version and a pair of practice/turf shoes I got in Japan.  I'm very happy with both of these.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chunichi signs Daniel Cabrera

Earlier this week the Dragons signed former MLB pitcher Daniel Cabrera to a one-year contract for not a lot of money, reportedly $450,000 US plus a signing bonus of $200,000 US.  Cabrera last appeared in the majors in 2009 and spent last year at AAA.  He's a big dude, 6' 7" and 225 lbs, and a power pitcher who at least in the past could throw in the upper 90's MPH without much effort.  I remember him from his time with the Baltimore Orioles.  He's always been considered a project, a guy with the tools to be successful, but who still needed to refine his game.  The Orioles eventually gave up on waiting for him overcome his inconsistancy and control problems and let him go after the 2008 season.  He's been bouncing around the minors with moderate success since then. 

There isn't much risk with this move for Chunichi, but it is sort of a questionable move to sign him at all.  Over 11 years of professional baseball, Cabrera has yet to gain control over his arsenal of pitches, so it's hard to believe that is something that will change this year.  He may show some flashes of dominance, he should be able to overpower most NPB hitters, he was even able to do so in MLB, but overall he's never been consistent enough to relied upon when it matters and that's what NPB teams expect from their foreign players.  I wish him the best in his Dragons career, but I won't be expecting a lot from him as a pitcher and I definitely won't be expecting anything from him as a hitter, he's never recorded a hit in his entire professional career.  His batting skills can be witnessed in this video.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Foreign Players Roster Reload

The Dragons look like they have decided to start over with their foreign players roster by allowing Tony Blanco, Enyelbert Soto and Jorge Sosa to become free agents last week.  Chunichi had already cut Maximo Nelson loose prior to that.  All of the players listed were major contributors to the team, but Blanco, Soto and Nelson had flaws as well.  Jorge Sosa was excellent in his sole season with the Dragons but it's been reported that he was interested in moving on and wasn't entirely pleased with his role last year.  Nelson wasn't able to help the team much last year due to injury, he pitched only 11+ innings, and it's unclear when he will be healthy again, so it's understandable why the Dragons let him go.  Soto has been a top-of-the-rotation starter when he's been healthy, but he hasn't been healthy all that often, including during the last two postseasons.  Tony Blanco has had injury problems as well, but he's played well, and has provided the only true power bat in Chunichi's lineup the last couple years.  On the negative side Blanco has also struck out quite a bit and his production has gone down since his first year, mainly due to injuries.  I'd would have liked for Chunichi to have re-signed Soto and Blanco and they still might, but at this point it's looking unlikely.

With Blanco, Soto, Sosa and Nelson out of the picture Chunichi has some work to do this offseason.  Their main holes are first base, third base and the outfield.  It also never hurts to have more pitching, as was evidenced at the end of last season when nearly the entire rotation went down to injury.  Looking at available free agents (Gen posted a list on yakyubaka) there aren't a lot of impact players available.  Kosuke Fukudome isn't on the list but is available though it's likely he'll have better offers.  I could dream about Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka joining Chunichi, but there's about a 0.001% chance of that happening.  Each should find a MLB team to give them a chance, plus I'm not sure exactly how much either of them would help.

So far Chunichi has signed Hector Luna and "Big Bad" Brad Bergesen.  Both players have multiple seasons of MLB experience and I think should be good pick-ups.  Luna has played all over the field, both infield and outfield, but he hasn't shown a ton of pop, so I think he would be suited well for 2nd, some 3rd and possibly RF.  He's listed as 6'1" and 190 pounds, but he looks at a little heavier in his more recent pictures.  I'm hoping he can still be useful in multiple positions, because if they mean for him to be strictly a first-baseman things may not go well.  Brad Bergesen is a 27-year old right-handed pitcher formerly of the Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks.  He's not really a hard thrower, which is a bit unusual for imports, but he's had some success as a major leaguer so he should have a good chance in the NPB.  Luna and Bergesen join Victor Diaz, the only import holdover from last year as Sang-Hoon Song was moved to Ikusei status, and so Chunichi still has some available slots to fill.  They absolutely need to bring in a slugging first-baseman who can battle with Luna, Diaz and Masahiko Morino for time there.  Hopefully Shuhei Takahashi will take over at third, but Luna and obviously Morino are options there as well.  I'd like to see the Dragons pick up another pitcher that's capable of starting as well as being a relief option.  I feel good about Chunichi's young starters and the bullpen, even if Iwase can't return to form, but it would be good to get someone, along with Bergesen, that can fill either spot depending on what is needed.

The offseason is still young, but with some of the bigger names having already signed, it will be interesting to see what the Dragons come up with over the next month or two. 

    

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ohshima and Blanco Named to Best 9

Congratulations to Yohei Ohshima and Tony Blanco who were named to the Central League's Best 9.  It was Ohshima's first nomination and Blanco's second.  Ohshima was second in the voting amoung outfielders, only 17 votes behind Yomiuri's Hisayoshi Chono, and is currently working out and playing with Team Japan.  It hasn't been determined yet if Ohshima will be selected to play for Japan in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.  Blanco is currently a free agent and hoping to get a multi-year deal from a NPB team.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sep. 22, 2012 Ni-Gun Dragons vs. Carp

When I was in Japan for a week in September we were able to make it to Nagoya for a ni-gun game.  The ichi-gun squad was out of town and I had been wanting to go to a ni-gun game anyway, mainly because they play at the old Nagoya stadium and because baseball is better outdoors.  Nagoya Kyujo opened in 1948 and was the home of the Dragons until 1997 when they moved to Nagoya Dome.  It was renovated in 2010 to make it more useful for ni-gun purposes, at that time they removed a majority of the seating and constructed a multi-story indoor practice center out near left field. 

The day we went was a Saturday and happened to be the last ni-gun game of the season, so there was a good-sized crowd.  The crowd seemed bigger than the recorded 2,290 as the seats in the section behind home plate were entirely full and the bleachers along the third-base side were mostly full.  The stadium itself had the feeling of being pretty old, the seating seemed to be much older than 2010 and concessions and merchandise were very limited.  Still it was a fun place to see a game, even with the weather being as hot and humid as it was.

There wasn't any reserved seating and we were only a little early, but we were still able to find seats for my wife, my daughter and myself about two-thirds of the way up behind the tunnel on the first-base side.  The Dragons had a very recognizable lineup that day with Takeshi Yamasaki, Shuhei Takahashi, Tatsuro Iwasaki and Atsushi Fujii all starting and Kenichi Nakata on the mound for a pre-playoffs tune-up.  As the game went on it became pretty clear that it was a ni-gun game as the defensive play was very inconsistant.  Takahashi made a nice play charging a ball in the first, but later missed on a play that he should have been able to make.  Both teams had some communication issues, including when Dragons right-fielder Shingo Ito collided with second-baseman Shigeo Yanagida on what should have been an easy pop out.  While there was plenty to laugh about, there was also plenty to cheer about.  Iwasaki made some fine plays and Satoshi Kato answered Hiroshima's 3-run (1 ER) 3rd-inning with a booming home run out to left field.  Kato then hit another, almost identical, home run in the 5th.  The two home runs were his first and second as a professional.  Chunichi was down 4-2 in the 7th when Yanagida tied the game with two-run home run, but the rally wasn't over.  The Dragons took the lead on yet another unearned run when Ryoji Nakata (AKA bu-chan) became my wife's favorite Dragon by legging out an RBI triple.  It was probably the highlight of the game, we were all surprised at how fast the big guy got around the bases and he beat the relay from right field by a good margin.  The Carp made it interesting in the 9th, but Chunichi was able to hang on for the 6-5 victory.

Being the last game of the season ni-gun manager Suzuki made a speech and thanked the fans for their support.  After that a number of the players came out and signed autographs.  I'm not much of an autograph hound, but my neices who are members of the Dragons' fan club and so can get into ni-gun games for free said that the players were more accessable there and they had been able to get some autographs before.  I had a ball that I was hoping  Fujii would sign, since he's from Toyohashi where my in-laws live, but he's kind of a popular ni-gun player and had hit third in the lineup that day so he had a big crowd of autograph seekers.  I still tried, but he and the other guys got called away to practice before it was my turn.  I told my wife that it was no big deal, but she was dissapointed for me, which was nice of her.  She said we should wait around outside the stadium to see if any players would come, but I wasn't really interested.  After leaving the stadium we headed over to the park across the street so my daugher could swing and run around before the train ride.  We hung out there for a bit, I watched some of a rec softball game which was happening on the field at the park while she played, then we headed off towards the train station.  As we passed the indoor practice building we noticed that there was a small group forming near the fence.  Apparently someone had convinced former Dragon outfielder/first-baseman and current coach Yonetoshi Kawamata to come outside.  One of the guys said that he was a friend of Kawamata's and had called him outside and then the crowd had formed.  Anyways, we hit him up for an autograph and so didn't leave empty handed.  Looking at his stats Kawamata had a long career with Chunichi and even led the Central League in sacrifice flies in 1986.

Box Score

Some historical photos of the stadium from wikipedia:


And Photos from our visit:




Pre-Game Warmup

Takahashi At Bat

Post-Game Speech

Kawamata Obliges our Request


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hidenori Kuramoto Calls it a Career


This is kind of old news, but Hidenori chose to retire from playing at the end of the season after the Dragons did not offer him a contract for 2013.  The Dragons did, however, offer him a job as an assistant coach, which he chose to accept rather than trying to catch on with another NPB team or another pro team somewhere else in the world.  He is currently listed as the ni-gun outfield and baserunning coach and has been working with the team during fall camp.

Hidenori's career with Chunichi spanned fourteen years, with ichi-gun appearances in twelve of those years.  He was never really a full-time player due to his hitting, he finished with a .236 career average, but was a good athlete and a skilled defender and baserunner.  Those skills kept him on the team as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement allowing him to appear in 884 games for the Dragons.  He'll be remembered for his spectacular plays in the outfield, some can be seen in this video (highlights start at 1:25):

  
Gen from yakyubaka translated his retirement interview which had this fantastic quote:

"I was a Dragons fan the day I was born.  It was like being a superhero on a TV program and fighting enemies every day."

With his love for the game and text-book outfield play he should make a great coach!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Keep up on the Hot Stove Talk

It's the time of the year when rumors fly. Not much has happened yet in the way of free-agent signings, but there is plenty of talk and that's often more interesting than what eventually results.  Here's a few things that are out there:
  • The BayStars would like to aquire most Chunichi's foreign players: Blanco, Soto and Sosa
  • Hisashi Iwakuma got a two-year deal with an option for a third from the Seattle Mariners.
  • The L.A. Dodgers submitted the highest bid for Korean (Hanwha Eagles) pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu at nearly $26 million.
The two websites I check most frequently for hot stove updates and rumors are yakyubaka for NPB/Asia and MLB Trade Rumors for MLB.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dragons and Nagoya Gear now available at Ebbets Field Flannels

Lots of good stuff put up over the last week on the Japanese Baseball Card blog, including an interesting post on uniform history and some links to new NPB items at Seattle's own Ebbets Field Flannels.  Two of the new items include a 1966 Dragons T-Shirt and a very slick 1937 Nagoya Baseball Club Flannel, which is currently the flannel of the week.  Here is a photo of a former Nagoya player wearing the 1938 version, which looks about the same, from mimflyer's Flickr collection.
EFF has now done something for each of the Central League franchises, but it looks like some of the items aren't available any more, like the cool Sankei Atoms cap they used to have.  So these Dragons items may not last forever, but custom orders for flannels and caps are available.
This summer I was able to see a whole team outfitted by EFF, the PSSBL Cascade Orioles, who were playing after our game, had EFF make them St. Louis Browns uniforms and hats.
The uniforms they had made were polyester instead of flannel, for breathablilty, but the lettering was done in felt and the hats were in the classic style, plus they had brown striped stirrups to complete the look.  I didn't want to ask how much they cost, but they did look damn good.
Here's a picture I found on the Orioles' team facebook:



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dragons Draft Koji Fukutani with First Pick

The NPB draft took place today and Chunichi selected pitcher Koji Fukutani out of Keio University with their first pick.  They were the only team to select him in the first round and so, unlike last year, no lottery was necessary.  Chunichi's other picks are below:

2nd - Tatsuro Hamada, Pitcher, Aikodai Meiden H.S.
3rd - Takero Furumoto, OF, Ryukoku University
4th - Shota Sugiyama, C/1B, Waseda University
5th - Hayato Mizowaki, IF, Kyushu Gakuin H.S.
6th - Koshi Inoue, Pitcher, City Light Okayama (IL)
7th - Shunta Wakamatsu, Pitcher, Yusei H.S.

For a list of all the picks and some insight on some of the players chosen, especially the college ones, see Marinerds, etc.  
The Japanese Baseball Cards blog also has a post on the draft which shows cards for Koji Fukutani and Shota Sugiyama.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dragons let Giants off the Hook, Lose in 7 (Really 6)

Chunichi couldn't capitalize on a 3-1 series lead in their Final Stage match up with Yomiuri and were eliminated after a 4-2 loss last Monday.  The Dragons were nearly the first non-first seed team to advance to the Japan Series since the extra advantages were given to the regular season champ in 2008.
I wouldn't say that the Dragons choked in this series, the Giants were the better team from the second month of the season on and I'm sure Yomiuri was a little rusty early in the series after not having played real games for a couple weeks.  Still the Dragons had a real opportunity after winning Game 4, but were never able to put full pressure on the Giants as Yomiuri jumped out to early 2nd inning leads in Game 5, 6 and 7.  The Dragons' best opportunity to take the series was in Game 6, when Tony Blanco tied the game late with a two-run home run.  It looked like the game was destined for extra innings, but Hitoki Iwase was brought in to pitch the bottom of the 9th and was unable to get anyone out.  If anyone choked it would have to be Iwase, he looked like he was aiming more than throwing and left some very hittable pitches up over the plate and the Giants took advantage, an unacceptable performance for someone with his experience.
Chunichi really missed having Yoshimi, there's no doubt in my mind that had he been available to pitch in any of the final three games, he would have been able to close out the series.  Neither team was at full strength as Yomiuri was without one of their aces, Toshiya Sugiuchi, while Chunichi was without Yoshimi, Enyelbert Soto, Kenichi Nakata and also Soma Yamauchi was knocked out of Game 6 fairly early when he was hit by a batted ball.  Without those any of those guys it probably would have been hard for Chunichi to beat Nippon Ham had they advanced, but it would have been fun to see them try.  Without their main starters Takagi went with youngsters Yudai Ono and Junki Ito in Games 2 and 3 three and both came through with great performances, especially under the circumstances.  Takagi went with Ito in Game 7, which would have been my choice, hoping talent would win out over experience, but Ito gave up four straight hits to start the 2nd inning and Yomiuri held control of the game from there.
It was a tough way to end the season, after starting the series with very little hope, then having things progress to where the chances of moving on were so good only to have them slip away.  It just wasn't meant to be, but it was a memorable series, both teams showed a lot of heart (hate to say that about Yomiuri) and Chunichi's young pitchers gained some valuable experience, so maybe next year will be a year when Chunichi can hang another banner.

Go Fighters!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Dragons Move On!

Chunichi escaped the first stage of the Climax Series with a 4-1 victory Monday ending Yakult's season.  Despite scoring only 3 runs in the entire 3-game series Yakult had the Dragons on the ropes in Game 3 leading 1-0 in the 8th inning of the final and deciding game.  That's when Chunichi loaded the bases on a double and two subsequent walks.  With one out Yakult brought in their closer Tony Barnette, who had gone two innings to get the save in Game 2 the night before, to face Tony Blanco.  Barnette quickly put himself in a bad spot, throwing three straight balls.  Unwilling to pitch around Blanco at all, Barnette challenged Blanco with a 3-0 fastball straight across the heart of the plate, Blanco was ready and swinging 3-0 and unleashed a huge swing but was unable to connect.  At 3-1 Barnette again came with his best fastball in nearly the exact same location, this time Blanco did not miss, he connected with a soaring, no-doubter, grand slam to left giving Chunichi the lead that they would not give up.     
As expected, the Chunichi-Yakult series was hard-fought and the outcome was in doubt until the final innings. Chunichi wasn't able to get any runs across against Yakult's starters Tateyama in Game 2 and Muranaka in Game 3, which wasn't unexpected as they struggled against them in the regular season.  They were, however, able get men on base and get into Yakult's bullpen in both games, giving themselves a chance.  Chunichi's bullpen outpitched Yakult's all series, giving up only 1 run to Yakult's 8.  One thing that was surprising was how Chunichi's undermanned rotation shut down Yakult's hitters, giving up just two runs in the three games.  Kenichi Nakata and Soma Yamauchi pitched well in their starts and Masa Yamamoto walked a tightrope for three innings, but gave up only one run, keeping Chunichi in the game.  Wladimir Balentien had a huge series for Yakult, but the rest of their lineup really struggled against the Dragons' pitching and in the end Chunichi's offense provided just enough to move on to face Yomiuri.
The Final Stage against Yomiuri starts Wednesday.  Chunichi will be without yet another starter for the series, as Kenichi Nakata's shoulder is not right.  The deck is stacked against the Dragons in so many ways for this series, the playoff format, starting pitching injuries and of course, the Giants are loaded with talent.  So it's going to take something close to a miracle for Chunichi to pull this off, the bullpen will have to pitch a lot and continue be great, they'll have to get something from one of their young starters and two or three other guys in their lineup will have to step it up and help Ohshima and Wada out.  It all starts tomorrow,  get fired up Dragons fans!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chunichi Takes Game 1 of CS

   Impressive first game of the postseason for the Dragons as they outplayed Yakult in all phases of the game leading to a 6-1 victory. 
   Kenichi Nakata got the start which was a bit of a surprise, but he proved it to be the right decision.  Nakata has good velocity on his fastball, but not a lot of movement on it, so he has to locate it well to be successful and that is exactly what he did in Game 1.  He was able to throw a lot of first-pitch strikes on the outside corner and was able to tie up a few hitters by going inside and up out of the zone as well.  I only saw him make one mistake, which was to Lastings Millidge, but Millidge didn't get all of it and flew out to left field.  In the end Nakata went 5 scoreless innings and got the win.  He also hit a rocket over Yakult's third baseman in the 3rd inning for a double in his only at-bat.
   Kazuhiro Wada was the main hitting star for Chunichi, he started the scoring with a 2-run homer in the 4th and later had an RBI hit in the Dragons 3-run 7th.  Wada and Yohei Ohshima each had three hits.  Ohshima also showed off his wheels with aggressive baserunning on a couple occasions.  He turned what looked like a routine single into a double in the 5th and later in the game advanced from first to third on a base hit into left field. 
   Shinji Tajima releaved Nakata and cruised through the 6th, though he was a bit wild and threw quite a few pitches.  He returned to the mound in the 7th and CL HR King Wladimir Balentien led off the inning by seriously turning around one his fastballs sending it deep to left-center for a solo home run.  I'm not sure if that HR shook up Tajima or if he just didn't have his control for this game, but he then walked two of the next three hitters making things tense in what was then still a 3-1 game.  Fortunatly, Asao was able to come in and clean up the mess by getting the final two outs without anyone scoring.
   Jorge Sosa had control problems of his own in the 8th when he loaded the bases on two walks and a hit.  Daisuke Yamai came in at that point to close the door and pitched a perfect 9th.  He got the save even though it was a 6-1 lead, because he had entered the game with the bases loaded.  I'm not sure if that means he's the team's closer for the postseason or not, but he looked good tonight.
   Here's a few other notes from the game:
  • I was surprised by a couple other lineup moves aside from the start by Nakata.  Morino batted third and Wada batted fifth.  I kind of like Wada at the 3rd spot but it didn't really matter in this game because both positions came up multiple times with opportunities to drive runs and Wada saw good pitches to hit.  Also, Takehiro Donoue was the starting rightfielder against a left-handed starting pitcher.  I was surprised by this, though I think it's good because he's been the best hitter this year out of Chunichi's rightfielders.  He looked pretty bad in his first at-bat against the lefty Ishikawa, but came up against a righty reliever in his next at-bat and smoked an RBI base hit to left.
  • Hidenori looked like he was pretty pumped up when he got his chance to play in the field, knowing these will be his last games as a pro player.  When he got a routing fly in left he tried to throw behind the runner at second, it was a good throw and the runner had to dive to get back.
  • The umps were wearing their hats from the Great Central throwback games.  Not sure why, but not a bad thing.
  • Hiromitsu Ochiai was one of the color commentators for the game on J-Sports.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pitching Lineup for Climax

Yakyubaka linked to a Sports Hochi article today which listed Chunichi's likely starters for the upcoming Climax Series to be Kenshin Kawakami, Kenichi Nakata and Soma Yamauchi.  Moving forward without the team's two best starters this year, Kaz Yoshimi and Enyelbert Soto due to injury, is not exactly what the Dragons or their fans were planning on a few weeks ago when looking ahead to this first-round matchup.  Still this group, with a combined 2.64 ERA this year, should still give Chunichi a chance to move on to Round 2.  In comparison, Yakult's team ERA this year was 3.35 and aside from Shohei Tateyama they don't have another starter with an ERA under 3.00.  Unfortunately they do have lefty Kyohei Muranaka who absolutely owned the Dragons the last two times he faced them throwing shutouts both times. 
Chunichi's big pitching advantage is pretty much gone at this point, at least as far as the starters, but it's still close.  The Dragons do probably still have the edge in the bullpen and do have home field advantage, which was a major factor for them in the regular season.  Yakult has the more imposing lineup and Lastings Milledge will probably be back in some capacity.  Everything is pointing to a very competitive series and hopefully Chunichi will survive in the end.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Closing Time?

Only three regular season games left for Chunichi and, as far as I know, Takagi hasn't declared who his closer will be for the postseason.  The closer position has been an ongoing question mark since the All-Star break when long-time closer, Hitoki Iwase, was removed from that role.  Since that time Daisuke Yamai has been used as the closer on most occasions, though Iwase has had a few save opportunities late in the season as well.  Jorge Sosa has four saves this year and is who I suggested to be the closer earlier in year when this whole issue arose.  Rookie Shinji Tajima is another option, he leads the team in holds with 30.  Now Takuya Asao is back in the bullpen after returning last month from a strained/inflamed rotator cuff, so Takagi has even one more option to go to.
I was pretty surprised that Yamai was chosen to be the main closer for the second half of the season, he's been a starter most of his career and though he's had outstanding moments, his career has also been very inconsistent.  Yet he's been up to the challange and kept the job by pitching well, I believe he's converted every one of his save opportunities.  Still I don't think he's our best option for closing out postseason games this year.  If I were the manager, and under the condition that he's fully healthy, I think now is the time to name Takuya Asao the closer. 
Asao has been the closer-in-waiting for a couple years now, but happened to be on injured reserve when Iwase finally faltered.  Asao seems to be healthy, he pitched multiple innings last night (unfortunately I wasn't able to see them because the justin.tv poster shut off the feed after the Dragons' 11-run 5th inning), and he's pitched well since returning to ichi-gun.  His stuff looked to be close to what it was before the injury when I saw him pitch a couple weeks ago.  He's also pitched in a lot of tense, postseason situations and of course he's an excellent pitcher with a good fastball and breaking pitches.  An added long-term benefit would be that as the closer he would generally only be called on in save situations.  Over the last few years, he's been called on a lot in various situations to keep the lead or keep games close.  He's been overused and that's something that needs to change.  He'll turn 28 this month (even though he looks 18) and should still have many quality years left.  So let's make him the closer now and see if he can match Iwase's Hall of Fame career. 

Week in Review: Sep. 25 - Sep. 30

Chunichi played their final true series this week and began their make-up game schedule.  The week started with DeNA visiting the Nagoya Dome for a forgettable 3-game series, which the BayStars won 2-0-1.  The make-up schedule began Saturday and will run until October 5th.  Chunichi has 5 make-up games in total, with games against DeNA, Hanshin, Hiroshima and Yakult. 
The Dragons played their make-up with Yakult on Saturday at Jingu in a bit of a Climax preview.  Kawakami had a solid outing, and he Muto, Mise and Iwase combined for the shutout.
Chunichi smoked the BayStars on Sunday 13-2, powered mainly be a 11-run 5th inning.  Most of the damage was done against Yokohama's I.C Wang.

In other news:
  • The Climax Series is set for October 13-15 at the Nagoya Dome.  Fortunately for those in the Pacific Time Zone, the weekend games (13th & 14th) will start at 2 PM Japan Time, so they'll be on at 10 PM here.  Hopefully Chunichi can wrap it up in just those two games.
  • Sounds like the Dragons are planning to offer contracts for at least 2013 to Tony Blanco, Enyelbert Soto and Jorge Sosa.  A no-brainer for all of those guys.
  • Reports are saying that Masafumi Hirai, Takashi Ogasawara and Maximo Nelson will not be offered contracts for 2013.  Hirai is an older player now and has had a decent career, but hasn't pitched all that well since 2010.  Chunichi has plenty of solid relief pitchers and Hirai was unlikely to work his way back up the depth chart.  Ogasawara struggled in his opportunity at ichi-gun this year and hasn't pitched much at ichi-gun since 2009.  He's a lefty and has some success in the past, I think there is a chance another NPB team will take a look at him.  I hate to see Maximo go, but it's understandable with the injuries he's had this year and the uncertainty over when he would be ready to pitch next year.  I always liked how he held the ball so loose and kinda let his arm dangle, you could tell he had a whip just by looking at him, even though he was so skinny.  I'll also never forget how he tried to enter Japan with live ammo in his bag, and got suspended for several months.
  • Ryuya Ogawa made his first-career start last Thursday against Yokohama.  He gave up two earned runs over four innings and took the loss, also the first in his career.
  • Rakuten kept their playoff hopes alive with a win Saturday against Softbank, pulling to within 2.5 games of the Hawks.  The Eagles have eight games left to play so they still a have slim chance.  I'd like to see them pull it off.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Catching Up: Sep. 10 - Sep. 24

Just returned from an unexpected and unfortunate trip to Japan, and will leave out the details. 
I did manage to have a bit of fun and watch some baseball despite the circumstances, including a trip to Nagoya for a ni-gun game.  I will have a post on that some time soon.

Quite a lot of significant news concerning the Dragons happened since I last posted:
  • Yomiuri clinched the CL regular-season championship last week ending Chunichi's streak of two consecutive.
  • The Dragons locked up second place in the CL, giving them home-field advantage in the first round of the Climax.
  • Yakult took control of the race for third place and now lead Hiroshima by 6.5 games.
  • Probably the most important happening, was when Kazuki Yoshimi injured the elbow in his throwing arm during a game.  The injury will almost certainly prevent him from pitching in the upcoming Climax Series, totally altering the Dragons' chances for a return to the Japan Series.  Without Yoshimi, the Dragons main starting options will be Soto and Yamauchi for sure and some combination of Kawakami, Iwata, Yamamoto and Nakata.  Junki Ito pitched well in his first ichi-gun start of the year, he and Yudai Ono are also options but have far less experience than the other starters listed.  So a tough road gets even tougher, but don't count the Dragons out yet, they've pulled off some unexpected things in the past and have competed well against the Giants all year.  Of course they will have to get past Yakult first, which won't be easy either.
  • Masa Yamamoto had two consecutive successful starts and may have won himself an opportunity to start one of the Climax Series games.  He may also be used in relief instead, honestly I would feel more comfortable with him being used in some kind of relief role.
  • 19 year-old rookie Kentaro Nishikawa made his ichi-gun starting debut on Sep. 23rd against Hanshin.  He gave up only one run on one hit, a solo HR to Takashi Toritani, over 5 innings of work.
  • Kosuke Fukudome's destination for next season has been in the news frequently, with Hanshin, Chunichi and Yokohama listed as the teams most likely to acquire him.  Chunichi has stated that they aren't willing to overpay to get him and hope that he will choose to return for some reason other than money.  I have a feeling that he will end up in Hanshin, they are desperate to get better, and will probably do what it takes monetarily to get him.  They are also closer to competing than Yokohama, and Fukudome has some ties to Osaka.  I definitely wouldn't be opposed to Kosuke returning to Chunichi.  The Dragons need to get younger, but right field is still an unresolved position.  Fukudome could be given an opportunity there until one of the younger players proves they can do better.  It is questionable how much Fukudome will produce when back in the NPB, he hasn't played everyday the last few years and the NPB introduced the new ball during his absence, so it's unlikely he will produce like he did when he was an MVP in Japan, that's part of the reason Chunichi won't overpay.  If I had to choose though, my first hope would be that Ryosuke Hirata will take the offseason more seriously this year and be in shape and ready to be a quality everyday outfielder next year.   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week in Review: September 4 - September 9

The Dragons won 3 and lost 3 this week and despite the .500 week they actually put a bit more distance between themselves and both the Carp and the Swallows.  Chunichi's magic number for locking up second place must be around 10 games now with 20 more games to go.
Chunichi played well against the Carp this week winning two out of three games.  They knocked Nomura out of Tuesday's game early, while Yoshimi cruised to another complete game and a 10-3 Dragons victory.  The Dragons dropped the second game of the series 2-1.  Kan Otake, the Carp pitcher who has given Chunichi the most trouble this season, was pitching a shutout into the 8th before he was removed because of a blister on his finger.  The Dragons managed a rally against the Hiroshima closer but fell short in the end.  Chunichi beat Hiroshima on Thursday 3-0 behind a 1st inning 2-run HR from Tony Blanco and very solid outing from Kenichi Nakata.
Hanshin came to Nagoya for the weekend series and the Tigers pitchers brought their "A" game.  Though Chunichi managed one win in the series, 1-0 on Friday, the Dragons scored only the 1 run and had 10 total hits over the three games.  On Saturday the Chunichi seemed especially baffled by Atsushi Nomi's breaking pitches.  He had 8 strikeouts over 8 innings (including Blanco's golden sombrero) and Dragons hitters chased or check-swung time after time at balls well out of the strike zone.
  • Injuries at the catching position: Tanishige didn't play this week with hamstring issues and Kohei Oda was injured during Saturday's game when he was hit in the face by a thrown ball from the outfield in a successful attempt to stretch a single into a double.  Oda remained on the field for several minutes and was later taken to the hospital for stitches.  Sounds like he will be okay going forward, no mention of a concussion, a very unlucky play.
  • Masa Yamamoto was pretty decent in his start, pitching 5 1/3 scoreless innings.  He was taken out in the 6th when it looked like Hanshin might get a run against him, Takagi knew there wasn't any room for error with the way Chunichi was hitting against Nomi, otherwise Yamamoto may have been allowed to go a little deeper into the game.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Week in Review: August 28 - September 3

This was likely the week that the Dragons fell out of the race for the CL title.  Though they won the series against the Giants away from home, they were winless on their trip to Jingu while at the same time Yomiuri was sweeping the BayStars at home over the weekend.  Now the Giants magic number is down to 19 and the Dragons are 8.5 games back with only 24 to play.  At this point it would take a hell of a miracle for them to get back into first place.  That said, it's probably time to take a look at who the Dragons will likely be playing in the Climax Series.  The Carp and Swallows are realistically the only two teams in the hunt for the third and final playoff spot.  Right now Hiroshima holds a one game lead over Yakult in the standings and it seems like both teams have been within a game or two of each other for a while now, so that is something that will probably continue. 
So far this season Chunichi has owned the Carp, with an 11-4-2 record and has even beaten their ace Kenta Maeda a couple times, though they haven't had a ton of success against him lately.  The Dragons have also fared well against the Carp's other top pitcher Yusuke Nomura, Nomura is 0-2 against the Dragons so far this year.  Despite Chunichi's success, if these teams were to meet in the playoffs, it would probably be a very low scoring series that would be decided by only a couple of timely plays.
The Swallows are a completely different story, they are the only Central League team that Chunichi currently has a losing record against, 7-13-3.  For some reason Yakult has given the Dragons a hard time the last few years, though Chunichi has been able to beat the Swallows when they've faced off in the playoffs. 
Chunichi will be at home this week, starting with one of their potential playoff foes, Hiroshima.  The first game will matchup Kazuki Yoshimi vs. Yusuke Nomura, two pitchers that would surely start a game in the Climax Stage 1, should these two teams meet.  The Dragons will then host Hanshin for a three-game weekend series.  Last week may have taken some of the drama out of the last few weeks of the season, but the Dragons still have plenty of things to iron out in order to be ready for a playoff run.
  • Tony Blanco was 7 for 22 with 6 RBIs in his first week back.
  • Takehiro Donoue and Yusuke Matsui, both right-handed hitters, each started three games in right field this week.  Both players hit well, Donoue 6 for 10 with 2 RBIs, Matsui 5 for 12 with 2 RBIs, but it sounds like Takagi was not a fan of Matsui's defence (from yakyubaka.com).
  • The bullpen continued to be less than lockdown in the Yakult series: Yamai made a mess and then Iwase allowed the tying run to score in the 9th of Friday's tie.  Jorge Sosa walked 3 and gave up 3 runs in 2/3 of an inning Saturday, easily his worst outing of the year.  Shinji Tajima allowed Yakult to walkoff with a game-winning, 2-out double on Sunday.  These will be the guys Chunichi will be counting on the most when the playoffs come, so hopefully they can get back on track.
  • Chunichi was shutout by Kyohei Muranaka of Yakult for the second time in two weeks.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blanco is Back!

Big Tony was back in the lineup last night against the Giants.  He played most of the game at first, batted cleanup and went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI's.  He's recovered sooner than I expected so should have plenty of time to get into a groove by the playoffs, if he isn't in one already.  Two more big games against Yomiuri, a golden opportunity for Chunichi to really get back into the hunt.  Get fired up Dragons fans!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Week in Review: August 21 - August 27

A .500 week that started out more promising as Chunichi took two out of three games from Hanshin and the first game of three against Yakult.  Then the bats fell silent and the Dragons were shut out in consecutive games, falling to 3-3 for the week. 
  • Tony Blanco is getting closer to rejoining the team.  He made a pinch-hit appearance in a ni-gun game Friday.  If things continue to go well he could join the team at some point during the coming week.
  • Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase shared duty as the closer this week.  Yamai got the save in the first game of the Tigers series.  Iwase saved the second game of that series and the first of the Yakult series (the last two save opportunities for the team).  Yamai has been perfect in his chances to save games this year, but has allowed a lot of base runners in his last few appearances as closer. 
  • I was able to watch both Saturday and Sunday's games on justin.tv and enjoyed the Great Central throwback uniforms, the umpires' hats (reminiscent of the Pittsburgh Pirates pillbox caps) were a nice touch as well. 
  • Saturday's game featured Shinji Iwata vs. Shohei Tateyama.  Iwata pitched great giving up only two hits and two walks over eight innings, his downfall though was his two hit batters, both on breaking balls that slipped from his hand.  The lone run scored against him came after he hit Lastings Milledge, who then advanced to third on a single and scored on a sac fly.  Tateyama was outstanding as well throwing a complete game shutout, the Dragons had some chances against him, but couldn't keep from hitting groundballs at the Yakult shortshop. 
  • Both pitchers in Sunday's game were perfect through three innings.  Yamauchi ran into trouble in the 4th; giving up two runs.  Kyohei Muranaka lost his perfect game bid in the 4th as well, when he walked Wada, but he didn't give up a hit until the 7th when Yusuke Matsui blooped a ball to center.  Ibata had the only other Dragons hit in the 8th, but he, nor any of the other Chunichi baserunner was able to reach as far as second base that night.  A dominant performance by Muranaka, the second shutout of his career.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Week in Review: August 13 - August 20

Another solid week for the team, winning both home series 2-1.  Winning the series against Yomiuri was especially important, keeping them within reaching distance.  Chunichi still the plays the Giants 6 times this season, with 3 coming at Nagoya Dome.  All of the games against DeNA were close, two decided by one run and the other ending in extra innings.
  • Iwase returned to ichi-gun and got the hold Saturday by pitching a scoreless 8th inning.  Yamai made things interesting in the 9th of that game giving up two runs and allowing the tying run to reach scoring position before getting a game-ending double play.  So far Yamai has been perfect in converting save opportunities.
  • Yoshimi threw another shutout in his start against Yomiuri.  He allowed only 1 earned run on 6 hits and only one walk.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Week in Review: August 6 - August 12

Chunichi stayed hot to start the week, sweeping Hiroshima in a three-game home series.  With the three wins the Dragons put some distance between themselves and the 3rd-place Carp and inched closer to securing a spot in the playoffs.  Chunichi had the day off on Friday prior to two games against the BayStars in Kofu and Matsumoto.  The Dragons' fortunes then turned as DeNA got their offense going and spanked the Dragons in back to back games by the scores of 9-2 and 10-6.  The bullpen struggled in both games and Chunichi actually gave up a 6-5 lead late on Sunday.  Shinji Tajima suffered his first loss of the season in that game. 
The Dragons play all six games this coming week at home, starting with three against Yomiuri, followed by three more against DeNA.
  • Former Dragons player and current ni-gun pitching coach Mitsuo Inaba passed away suddenly on August 11th due to a brain hemorrhage, he was 63 years old.  Yakyubaka has more details.  Also a memorial post from Japanese Baseball Cards.
  • Takuya Asao, rehabbing from his injury, pitched an inning at ni-gun August 12 against the Carp.  He picked up the save in the game and gave up no runs despite giving up a hit and walking two batters.
  • Enyelbert Soto was forced to leave his start early against the Carp after experiencing pain in his hamstring.  He has since been taken off of the active roster, but I doubt he will miss too much time. 
  • Maximo Nelson struggled in his relief appearance Saturday night.  He gave up 3 earned runs on two hits and two walks while only recording one out.  He could probably use some time down down at ni-gun to get things in order.  He hasn't been able to get into much of a routine so far this season with all of his injury problems.
  • Shuhei Takahashi, an alum of Tokai Daiguaku Kofu High School, homered in the Dragons game against DeNA at Kofu.  It looks like Kofu must have a very small stadium as the game attendance that night was only 8.970.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Week in Review: July 31 - August 5

HUGE statement made this week by the Dragons.  I had some concerns about how their trip to Tokyo would go and thought that they might lose contact with Yomiuri in the race, but was hopeful that at least they wouldn't lose much ground.  Instead they won both series' and they actually made up a couple games in the standings. 
The week began at the Tokyo Dome with a 2-0 victory powered by a strong performance by Yudai Ono and the bullpen, Hitoki Iwase got the save.  The second game of the series ended in a 2-2 tie after Yomiuri scored an unearned run off of Iwase in the 9th.  The Dragons came back to win the third game 3-2, erasing a 9th inning 1-run deficit with a Masahiko Morino RBI double and a bases loaded HBP of pinch-hitter Shigeo Yanagida.  Daisuke Yamai got the save in that one, his first of the season.
Maximo Nelson got the start for the first game of the Yakult series.  It was his first of the season, and only his second ichi-gun appearance this year.  He's missed most of the season with injury.  Maximo was chased after a bad 4th inning where he gave up 5 runs and Yakult went on to win that game 9-2.  Chunichi pulled away late in the second game at Jingu winning 8-4, it was their first win at Jingu this year in their 7th try.  The Dragons won the final game of the series 4-2, holding the Swallows scoreless after the first inning.  Yamauchi out-dueled Tateyama and Yamai picked up another save.   
All together it was a 4-1-1 week bringing the Dragons back to within 4 1/2 games of the Giants.  With a favorable schedule and a lot of home games coming up over the next couple weeks Chunichi should be in contention for another CL championship until the bitter end.
  • About the only cloud hanging over last week was the situation with Hitoki Iwase.  After giving up the lead in the Giants tie, and likely after some conversation with the coaches, he apparently asked to be removed from the ichi-gun roster.  He reported to ni-gun and and also underwent some medical examinations, all of which were reported as negative.  I'm not sure what will happen with Iwase, he's currently the NPB's all-time leader in saves, but he may not get another shot as Chunichi's closer.  The Dragons have a lot of other options: Sosa, Tajima and they are currently going with Yamai.  Plus Takuya Asao was always thought to be the closer-in-waiting and he may be back later in the season.  If one of the other guys has good success closing out games, I don't think Iwase will get another shot this year.  Takagi needs to find someone he has confidence in as the closer by the time the playoffs arrive.
  • Morino was a star at the plate this week: 7/23 6 RBI, one game-winning RBI and a game-tying RBI in the 9th of a game.  
  • Ibata and Ohshima each had monster games this weekend.  On Saturday Ibata was 3 for 3 with a HR, 3 runs scored and two BB.  On Sunday Ohshima was 5 for 5 with 4 runs scored (all 4 of the game for Chunichi), now that's being a leadoff hitter!   
  • Interesting choice by Takagi to go with Yamai as the closer, though it looked like the right one this week.  Yamai recorded two saves this week and finished another game without giving up any runs.  Yamai has pitched beautifully this year out of the bullpen, but has been somewhat inconsistent over his career.  Tajima has been great as well, but as a rookie, he probably isn't the right guy for the closer spot just yet.  Jorge Sosa is the guy I would have gone with, he did get an opportunity a couple weeks ago and did blow one save in two chances, still he has been overpowering and it was the first run he's given up this year, in 44 innings.  At this point there is basically no evidence that Sosa is hittable at the NPB level and he had moments of dominance in the MLB years ago.  I would think that that would be pretty intimidating to opposing NPB hitters in the 9th.  Now that Yamai has been chosen though, I think they should stick with him as long as he's having success. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Week in Review: July 25 - July 30

A nice home stand for Chunichi to start the second half of the season.  The Dragons swept a quick two-game series against Hanshin and got a split with Yakult 1-1-1.  All of the games were played at the Nagoya Dome. 
The coming week will be an important barometer for the team as they head out on the road, where they have struggled, to play against Yomiuri and Yakult.
  • Jorge Sosa was used as the closer in two situations last week.  He got a save in the one of the Hanshin games, then gave up his first run of the season against Yakult on Friday losing Chunichi's lead in the game which later ended in a tie.
  • Maximo Nelson is back on the active roster.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Checking in on my Pre-Season Predictions

With 60 games left in the regular season the Dragons have a very good shot at making the playoffs for the 7th straight year.  They've been better than I expected, leading the Central League for a majority of the first half.  Chunichi has struggled some of late, especially on the road, but still the rotation has been good (2nd in the CL in ERA) and the offense has had more punch than I was expecting.  The team has been dealing with a lot of injuries, which was expected with have such a veteran team.  Yoshimi, Morino, Asao, Kawakami, Araki, Blanco, Tajima, Soto and Nelson have all missed significant time.  Blanco is still out for another month or two and his injury could be a critical factor in the Dragons position in the playoff race.  Morimichi Takagi has done a pretty nice job so far as the manager, but we are at the point of the season where he will really have to earn his money, managing the injury situations and fatigue of a long season.  Lets take a look at some of the players I labeled as x-factors coming into the season:

X-factors:
The whole rotation, except for Kazuki Yoshimi:

Overall the rotation has been great, due to injuries quite a few guys have gotten starts, the guys below have gotten the majority of them.

Shinji Iwata - He was brought up early in the season has consistently given quality innings.  He hasn't won a lot lately due to a lack of run support, but has continued to pitch well.  He's been a bit of a surprise and young guy who taken advantage an opportunity.  He should be in the rotation to rest of the way, though I'm not sure if he would be called on in the playoffs.

Yudai Kawai - Kawai has been up and down this year.  He's been skipped in the rotation a few times and I don't think Takagi knows what he will get from him right now.

Kenshin Kawakami - He's missed most of the season because of injury, but has been good when he's pitched. He's a veteran and was a star, so I'm sure he'll be called on to pitch whenever he is able.

Kenichi Nakata - He pitched very well early in the season, but has struggled lately.  His overall numbers are still good and he leads the team in strikeouts.

Takashi Ogasawara - He was brought up near mid-season and made five starts.  Things didn't go all that well in most of his starts and he was sent back down to ni-gun.

Masa Yamamoto - He did well to start the season by began to be hit hard as the season progressed.  He may get some spot starts down the stretch, but we may not see much of him.

Soma Yamauchi - He's been solid and a border-line all-star.  He's pitched to contact, only has 34 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings, but been successful in getting outs.

Going forward the rotation looks to be Yoshimi, Kawakami, Nakata, Soto, Iwata and Yamauchi.  That group should do well, if healthy, and be one of the better rotations in the CL.

Masahiko Morino - He's had some clutch hits and had a lot of game-winning RBIs early in the year prior to missing some time with injury.  Overall, though, he has struggled and has only 9 extra-base hits.  He was even dropped in the batting order for a while.  The Dragons need more from him if they are going to overtake the Giants.

Kazahiro Wada - He's been the most consistant hitter on the team.  His OBP is .360 and SLG is .411, way better than last year, he already has almost as many hits this year as he had all of last year.  He was moved to the 3-hole a couple months ago and has been hitting cleanup lately after Blanco's injury.  Hopefully he can keep hitting he's been a big part of Chunichi's success so far this year.

Ryosuke Hirata - He's been a little disappointing.  He's hit 8 home runs, the second most on the team, but he hasn't gotten on base enough and has been losing playing time lately.

Naomichi Donoue - He's filled in well defensively, but has been pretty mediocre at the plate.  Still a very useful player but not playing well enough to win a starting job on the infield.

Victor Diaz - He has been a non-factor, hasn't played much and hasn't done much in his few opportunities.

The Dragons have definitely hit better this year over last, though the offense has slowed down lately.  They are third in the Central in batting average, although they are fifth in runs scored, still that has been good enough and should continue to be good enough going forward considering how good their pitching is.  Yohei Ohshima has been a good top of the order hitter and Hirokazu Ibata has been getting on base alot as well.  Blanco's injury will hurt, but I think Chunichi will hold their position in the standings, the other the teams behind them all have flaws as well.

Here's what I projected and how things have gone up to now:

2012 Projected Central League Standings:               
Yomiuri Giants                                                         
Yakult Swallows                                                      
Chunichi Dragons                                                    
Hiroshima Carp                                                      
Hanshin Tigers                                                         
DeNA Bay Stars

Current Standings:
(1) Yomiuri
(2) Chunichi
(3) Hiroshima (tied)
(3) Yakult (tied)
(5) Hanshin
(6) DeNA

Not a ton of surprises so far, Yomiuri took a while to get things figured out, but baseball has a long season and they easily overcame a bad first month.  Chunichi has been a little better than I expected and Yakult and Hanshin have been worse.  Yakult's pitching has been worse than I would have thought and while they have hit well, they haven't hit consistently enough.  Hanshin had a really bad two week stretch that hurt them, but they seem to be a team that consistently under-performs their talent level, this season is no exception.  Hiroshima has been the biggest surprise to me; they have made up ground lately in the standings despite catastrophic injuries.  It would be nice to see them stay in contention, they have some good pitching, but their lineup is weak and they've lost some of their best hitters for the season.  DeNA has been out of it since almost Game 1, but any of the other teams could still make the playoffs, should be fun to see how things play out.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Your 2012 All-Stars


It's time for the 2012 All-Star Series and Chunichi has several representatives:

Hitoki Iwase
2.75 ERA, 36 IP, 10 BB, 17 SO, 27 SV
The NPB's all-time saves leader is having another solid season.  He is currently leading the NPB in saves for the 2012 season.  He's struggled a bit lately, blowing two out of his last three save opportunities, but up until that point Iwase had been very reliable.  Certainly deserving of another All-Star invitation.

Motonobu Tanishige
.250 AVG, .323 SLG, .361 OBP, 1 HR, 21 RBI
The veteran makes it as one of the back-up catchers.  He isn't the biggest offensive threat, and never really has been in his career, but he is a capable hitter and aside from Shinnosuke Abe there aren't any prolific hitting catchers in the CL.  Tanishige brings a lot of leadership and catching experience and is still a very good defender, even at his age, definitely an All-Star in my book.

Tony Blanco
.266 AVG, .542 SLG, .359 OBP, 16 HR, 42 RBI
Blanco put up great power numbers over the first half of the season.  Unfortunately, his hand was broken by a HBP a couple weeks ago and he will not be participating in the All-Star Series.  He was selected to be an All-Star by the player vote.

Masahiro Araki
.248 AVG, .314 SLG, .274 OBP, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 31 R
Araki is having a pretty mediocre season so far, but the CL doesn't have any above average second basemen right now to choose from.  He is listed as a back-up infielder, but is only one of two second basemen on the roster.  Araki currently has an OBP of under .300, pretty bad for anyone, pretty awful for a leadoff hitter.  If he is truly a back-up infielder then there would plenty more deserving infielders out there, Hirokazu Ibata comes to mind and he played 2B last year, but Araki probably is in the top 2 second basemen if that is the reason why he was chosen.

Kazuhiro Wada
.280 AVG, .411 SLG, .360 OBP, 6 HR, 37 RBI
Wada has returned to form this year and been the most consistent hitter in the Dragons lineup.  He's carried the team during parts of the season and had a bunch of sayonara hits as well.  Wada was selected to the All-Star team by the players' vote.

Yohei Ohshima
.288 AVG, .359 SLG, .352 OBP, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 39 R
I've always thought that Ohshima had the potential to be a nice player, but it has taken until now for him to hit consistently.  He's currently leading the team in runs scored and is 6th in the Central League in batting average.  His center field defence is excellent as well.  If he continues to play the way he did during the first half of the season he should become the Dragons' everyday leadoff hitter.  It's his first All-Star game and he was also selected by the players.

Shinji Tajima
0.46 ERA, 39 IP, 8 BB, 28 SO, 11 HLD
As you can see by his numbers Tajima has been almost unhittable in his rookie season.  He's shared the role of setup man and been a very important part of the bullpen, stepping up big in the wake of Takuya Asao's injury.  Tajima was named to the team by Takagi as an alternate for the injured Daiki Enokida.

Other Chunich players that should/could have made it:

Jorge Sosa
0.00 ERA, 39 IP, 7 BB, 34 SO, 1 SV, 10 HLD

Kazuki Yoshimi
2.25 ERA, 72 IP, 8 BB, 36 SO

Soma Yamauchi
2.44 ERA, 88 2/3 IP, 16 BB, 34 SO

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Week in Review: July 9 - July 15

Lots of changes this week due to last week's injuries and the manager's dissatisfaction with certain players, yet Chunichi fought their way to a 2-3-1 record for the week.  All of the games were low scoring and the outcome of any of the games could have gone either way. 
The Dragons visited Koshien to start the week and took one of the three games there against Hanshin.  They lost the first game of that series 1-0; squandering a 7 inning, 1 run performance from Yoshimi and were unable to score despite collecting 11 hits.  They hung on to an early lead to win the next game 2-1 and lost the series finale 4-1. 
Chunichi then returned home for a compelling series against Yomiuri.  The first game ended in a 1-1 tie after Tanishige singled home Kazuhiro Wada in the 9th off of Yomiuri's fireballer Scott Mathieson.  The Dragons lost the second game of the series when Shinnosuke Abe, pinch-hitting, knocked a full count fastball for a 2-RBI double in the 9th causing Iwase to blow a save opportunity and leading to a 2-1 Giants victory.  Yoshimi got his second start of the week Sunday and pitched brilliantly helping the Dragons win the third game of the series 3-1 and creating a 1-1-1 series split.
  • Takeshi Yamasaki got most of the starts this week at first base and came up big in the weekend series against the Giants going 4/10 with a home run and 3 RBI, which is a pretty big contribution since Chunichi only scored 5 runs in the whole series.  He also nearly had another RBI Sunday, but the baserunner advancing on his hit was thrown out at the plate.  His first HR of the season came Saturday and was the lone run of the game for Chunichi, yet was nearly enough to win the game.  His timely 2-RBI double broke a 1-1 tie on Sunday and was the game-winning hit.  All of this offense coincidentally came right after I suggested that Takagi play other players at first, but at this point they should try to ride Yamasaki's hot streak and slowpitch softball-style swing during the upcoming series against Hiroshima, he can get some rest during the All-Star break.
  • There was a complete overhaul of the starting rotation this with only Yoshimi remaining in the rotation from the week before.  The starting pitchers for the week were, in order: Yoshimi, Yudai Ono, Masa Yamamoto, Kawakami, Soto, and Yoshimi again.  Yamamoto was brought up to ichi-gun prior to his start and then sent back down to ni-gun the day after it.  Soto took a no-hitter into the 6th inning on Saturday in his first start of the year.
  • In place of the injured Masahiro Araki, Ryosuke Hirata was put in the leadoff spot for several games this week and had some success.  Yohei Ohshima hit leadoff in Sunday's game and was 1/3 and scored a run.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Aftermath of the Tony Blanco Injury

The Dragons will likely be losing a lot of offensive production over the next couple months due to Tony Blanco's broken hand.  It sounds like there is a good chance that Blanco will be able to return in time for the playoffs, but Takagi will have to come up with some short-term solutions to keep Chunichi in the hunt for a league championship and playoff home-field advantage. 
He does have several options, and I'm sure he will probably try out all of them especially if nothing pans out immediately.  The two most obvious choices would be to try to milk as much offense out of the elderly Takeshi Yamasaki as possible or moving Masahiko Morino over to first base.  So far Yamasaki has been Takagi's choice, but he hasn't gotten much from him in the first few games.  Moving Morino over means that Shuhei Takahashi and Naomichi Donoue would get most of the time a third.  That's complicated even more by Araki's hamstring injury, as Donoue is also the best candidate to fill in at second.  So putting Morino at 1B would force Takahashi to play everyday for now, and he doesn't look to be ready for that role yet.
Other options include Victor Diaz, who is now up with the ichi-gun and has played infield in the minor leagues, playing Naomichi Donoue at first and Iwasaki at 2B, Nobumasa Fukuda who as played about everywhere else on the field.
An option that would make a lot of sense offensively would be to throw Takehiro Donoue out there, he was originally a first baseman before being moved to the outfield.  T. Donoue doesn't really have a place in the outfield right now and has swung the bat well in limited time, so it would be worth a shot.
We will see what Takagi goes with, so far while I haven't really liked a lot of Takagi's comments in interviews, he does seem to make pretty solid decisions as far as playing time.
Until Masahiro Araki comes back which could be a couple more weeks or more, hamstring injuries seem to linger, I would keep Naomichi Donoue at 2B, Morino at 3B, and do a bit of a platoon with T. Donoue and Diaz at first to see if one can play themselves into the job.  Yamasaki would remain as the veteran bat on the bench.  Then once or twice a week I would play Morino at 1B and Takahashi at 3B.  One thing is for sure, this team would be in serious trouble if they had another injury on the infield right now.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Week in Review: July 2 - July 8

It has been a tale of two Dragons teams lately, a good team at the Nagoya Dome and a bad one anywhere else.  That pattern continued this week.  The week began, mercifully, with a rainout of the first game of a three game series at Jingu Stadium against Yakult.  The Swallows went on to pound the Dragons in the two following contests, scoring 12 runs in each of the two games. 
Then the Dragons returned home and returned to playing some winning baseball with a sweep of the Baystars.  Obviously, Yokohama is a team that Chunichi should be beating, but two of the wins didn't come easily.  Both Friday's and Sunday's games required 10th inning sayonara hits.  Wada provided a walkoff home run for a 1-0 victory on Friday and Atsushi Fujii came through with a game-winning base hit on Sunday.  With the sweep the Dragons are now an unbeaten, 14-0-3, in their last 17 at the Nagoya Dome.  Meanwhile, they have lost 5 in a row on the road and have lost 11 of their last 13 true away games. 
They now play nine straight games leading up the All-Star Break, 3 in Osaka against Hanshin, 3 at home against Yomiuri and 3 at Hiroshima before the six day break.  Here are some notes from the week:
  • Tough news as Tony Blanco's hand was broken when he was hit by a pitch in one of the weekend games.  His hand has been placed in a cast and it sounds like he will be out for an extended period of time, potentially several months.  Masahiko Morino will likely be getting a majority of the playing time at 1B with Naomichi Donoue and Shuhei Takahashi filling in at third.
  • Masa Yamamoto and Kenshin Kawakami are now back with the ichi-gun team.
  • Shinji Tajima returned to ichi-gun from his injury and pitched a scoreless inning on Sunday.
  • Soma Yamauchi returned to form Sunday, pitching seven innings giving up one earned run and five hits.  It should be taken into consideration that it was against the Baystars, but still I think he's back on track and easily could have been named an All-Star this year.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Week in Review: June 25 - July 1

A bittersweet week for the Dragons.  The week began with a home sweep of Hanshin, but ended with three straight losses to the Giants at Tokyo Dome.  With the sweep Yomiuri passed the Dragons in the standings.  Chunichi now stands in 2nd place 4.5 games ahead of the Swallows. 
According to some news articles Takagi was very frustrated with the starting pitchers in the Yomiuri series, Yamauchi in particular.  Nakata was pulled after 4 innings in the first game, though he only gave up 2 runs.  Ogasawara incredibly lasted 6 innings in the second game after giving up 4 runs without recording an out in the 1st inning.  In the third game Yamauchi couldn't find his control walking 4 in 1+ inning, giving up 3 runs, but only 1 hit.  It was Yamauchi's second bad outing in a row and Takagi's comments made it sound like he may be considering other options in the rotation.  While I agree that, fortunately, Chunichi does have a lot of starting pitching options there is no doubt that Yamauchi should remain in the rotation.  I was surprised that, after sticking with Ogasawara on Saturday, he didn't allow Yamauchi to work through his control issues in Sunday.  Yamauchi has been one of Chunichi's best starters up until his last couple starts and deserves more confidence from his manager than he's getting.
If I were the manager; the rotation would be Yoshimi, Yamauchi, Iwata, Nakata, Kawai and I would replace Ogasawara with Soto.  Soto is a lefty as well as Ogasawara and is a clear upgrade, the bullpen has plenty of talent, they don't need Soto down there.  When Kawakami is ready I would probably let him take Kawai or Iwata's spot. 
Chunichi will remain in Tokyo for their next series, this time against the Swallows, and hopefully the results will be better, Yoshimi will be starting the first game and that should help.
  • Kazuki Yoshimi had another brilliant start against Hanshin and looks to be back at full strength.
  • Takuya Asao pitched in a ni-gun game and may be ready for the second half of the season.
  • The following players were named to the All-Star team: Hitoki Iwase, Motonobu Tanishige, Tony Blanco, Masahiro Araki, Kasuhiro Wada, Yohei Ohshima

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dragons Official USTREAM

I just added a new link in the "Where to Watch NPB Games" section to the right.  The Dragons have their own USTREAM page, you can find it hereUSTREAM looks to be an equivalent to Justin.tv, a place where anyone can show live video or keep stored, previously recorded videos.  The Dragons' page contains a significant amount of highlights and also shows a few games live.  The next live game they will be showing is this week, June 26th, against the Hanshin Tigers.  That appears to be the last live game they will show for a while, but it's still a good place to check out game highlights.

Week In Review: June 18 - June 24


The Dragons in Toyama (Dragons Official Photo Blog)
This week was a short week as the Dragons played only two games.  The majority of the week was saved for make-up games of inter-league games that were rained out.  Chunichi wasn't involved in any inter-league games that were rained out and so were able to enjoy five straight days off. 
The two games this week were played against Hiroshima in Toyama and Kanazawa with Chunichi being the home team in both.
The Dragons dropped the first game of the series 3-1.  Chunichi wasn't able to get much going offensively against the Carps' ace Kenta Maeda and trailed a majority of the game.  Chukyodai Chukyo product Shota Dobayshi of the Carp had a homer in the game off of starter Kenichi Nakata.
Chunichi hung on to win the second game of the series 5-4.  The bullpen held the Carp scoreless after Soma Yamauchi was pulled in the 4th inning.  Tony Blanco and Ryosuke Hirata homered in that game.
Here are a couple additional notes from this week:

  • Shuhei Takahashi has been practicing in the outfield.  He also played a ni-gun game in right field on June 20th.
  • Kosuke Fukudome was designated for assignment earlier this week by the Chicago White Sox.  Rumors are that his return to Japan is imminent, so far Yokohama has shown the most interest in him in the media.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Great Central Throwbacks: Round 2

The Great Central turn-back-the-clock series will return for a second year.  YakyuBaka has a very thorough article, as always, with details and pictures of the uniforms.  The Dragons will be wearing their 1974-1986 era home uniforms for two August series' against Yakult.  The Swallows will be wearing their 1978 uniform, and it appears that both teams will be wearing home uniforms, kind of weird, but at least both sets are from the same era unlike the other games Yomiuri (1981) vs. Yokohama (1998) and Hanshin (1937) vs. Hiroshima (1975). 
Really like the that they are doing this again and hope they continue to do it.  I do think though that they should pick a year e.g. 1974 and have every team use that year's uniforms to make things more authentic.  I also realize that not all of the teams date back to the 30s, but there are ways around that, as teams could use whatever team was local at that time, it's done frequently in MLB and would add even more variety. 
As for the choice of the 1974 Dragons uniform, it's not my favorite of theirs, but I do like it, and definitely prefer the home version over the road.

Week in Review: June 11 - June 17

Last week was the final week of inter-league play.  The Dragons finished up with 12-8-4 record against the Pacific League teams, good enough for 4th, behind Yomiuri, Nippon Ham and Lotte.  The Central League was much more competive this year and win-loss totals were pretty even between the leagues.  Chunichi was 3-2 last week with 3 wins against Nippon Ham and Orix sandwiched around a pretty awful series against Softbank, a team that struggled in inter-league play.  The bats remained quiet, but were good enough to pull out some close games and make it a another winning week. 
The week started with another sayonara win, Hirokazu Ibata came through with an 11th inning RBI single to give the Dragons a 1-0 win over the Fighters.  Iwata, Yamai, Sosa and Muto combined for the shutout.
Chunichi then traveled to Fukuoka for a two-game series with the Hawks and ended up leaving town with more losses than runs scored.  The Dragons dropped the first game 1-0 with Kenichi Nakata pitching an 8-inning complete game.  He's been pitching well, but hasn't been much run support of late.  Chunichi got hammered in the second game of the series, losing 8-0.
The week ended with two close wins at the Kyocera Dome against Orix.  Masahiro Araki had the big hit in the first game, a 2-RBI triple in the top of the 11th and Iwase held the lead for a 4-2 victory.  In the second game Kazuki Yoshimi returned for his first start in more than a month and provided 8 innings of 1-run pitching and Shuhei Takahashi hit his first career home run breaking a 1-1 tie in the 8th.  The final score was 3-2.
  • Shinji Tajima was taken of the active roster mid-week with an arm soreness issue.
  • Tony Blanco's game-tying home run on Saturday at the Kyocera Dome was a serious blast.  It looked like it made all the way up to the Dragons' cheering section in left field above the luxury boxes and well above the outfield wall.
  • No games this week until Saturday when the CL season resumes against Hiroshima in Toyama.
  • Masa Yamamoto is still 5th in the All-Star voting for starting pitchers though he was demoted several weeks ago and hasn't returned to ichi-gun.  I'm a little curious what will happen if he makes the team, I assume he will accept.  There some other components for picking All-Stars beyond the fan vote, so we will see if he does make it, it will be pretty funny if he does.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Week in Review: June 4 - June 10

Chunichi was swept by Seibu to start the week, extending their losing streak to 4 games and allowing Yomiuri to pass them in the standings.  The Dragons then bounced back to sweep Rakuten and finished the week by scratching across a 9th-inning run for a 1-1 tie against Nippon Ham on Sunday.  The 3-game unbeaten streak allowed Chunichi to reclaim the CL lead and they currently hold 1-game led over the Giants.  The offense didn't put up a lot of runs this week, but there were some clutch moments.
  • Kazuhiro Wada hit a 2-run walkoff home run to be Rakuten 3-2 on Friday night.
  • Solid ni-gun performances this past week for Kazuki Yoshimi and Kenshin Kawakami.  Both are working their way back from injury.  Yoshimi threw 3 scoreless innings and Kawakami threw 6 scoreless in his start.