Sunday, April 29, 2012

Week in Review: April 23 - 29

Lots more great pitching this week, a bunch of close games and a 2-2-1 record for the week.  The Dragons were unable to come up with a win at Jingu early in the week against the Swallows.  Yakult has been the team that has given Chunichi the most trouble so far this season.  Chunichi has a 1-4-1 record against them so far this year.  The Dragons, unsurprisingly, faired better against the BayStars, taking the first two games of the series, with one yet to be played Monday at the Nagoya Dome.
  • Shinji Iwata capped off a week of solid starting pitching performances with 7 innings of 2-hit ball and 12 strikeouts against Yokohama on Sunday.
  • Lots of injury news: Masahiko Morino is currently out with back/oblique muscle issues.  Takeshi Yamasaki and Kei Nomoto have been missing time while suffering from the flu.  Kenshin Kawakami and Maximo Nelson have looked good in rehab work and should be returning to ichi-gun soon.  Nelson's velocity was hitting 150km in a ni-gun relief outing this week. 
  • Tony Blanco and Victor Diaz were recalled from ni-gun to replace Yamasaki and Nomoto.  Blanco had a hit in each of the first three games he played this week, including a home run against Yokohama.  No hits on Sunday, but he hit the ball hard twice, walked and struck out in his four plate appearances.
  • Shuhei Takahashi was recalled and is expected to see some time at third while Morino is out.  He had a pinch-hit appearance on Sunday and walked on four pitches.
  • Shinji Tajima's scoreless innings streak is now at 18.  Jorge Sosa, also in the pen, has yet to give up a run in 9 innings of work.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 21, 2012: Mariners vs. White Sox

Last Saturday seemed like the perfect day to go to a M's game.   It was a beautiful, sunny day and uncommonly warm for April in Seattle.  Still a little chilly in the shade, but when the sun reached where we were sitting in the bleachers at around the 4th inning, with family and a friend along side and a Manny's in hand, things couldn't have been any better.

I had hoped that Fukudome would be in the lineup for the White Sox, and it seemed possible that he would be with a righty on the mound for the M's and it being a day game after a night game.  Yet, he never made an appearance, I'm not even positive Kosuke was there, he may have been enjoying Kirin and fried chicken in the clubhouse for all I know.  Munenori Kawasaki, was however, starting at shortshop for the Mariners and made a nice play in the 5th to throw out Alex Rios from the hole.  I didn't think he had the arm to pull off that play.

Obviously, the story of the day was the Sox's starter, Phil Humber.  He was mowing down the M's hitters from the start and using very few pitches to do so.  Around the 4th inning we started discussing how he had put down the M's lineup in order were trying to predict who it would be to break his perfect run.  I was thinking that it would happen in the 4th inning with the top of order coming up.  They had a couple of hard hit balls that inning, but Rios tracked down a drive from Dustin Ackley and the M's again went down in order. 

As the game continued to the 7th it started to actually feel like Humber was going pull off a no-hitter, maybe even a perfect game and that didn't appeal me in the slightest.  I may have been in the wrong, but I was rooting my damnedest for the M's to break it up.  Other fans at the stadium didn't feel that way, many began to root for Humber as he continued to be perfect into the 8th.  The 8th looked like our last good chance for a hit, as Michael Saunders, Miguel Olivo and Kawasaki were due up in the 9th.  Humber retired the 8th with ease, could this really be happening?  I didn't want to see my favorite team embarrassed like this.

The Sox got another run in the top of 9th to extend their lead to 4-0 and then the game flipped to the bottom of the 9th.  Saunders struck out to lead it off, then John Jaso came up as a pinch-hitter for Olivo.  He put up a decent fight, but sent a routine fly to right.  That brought up the M's final chance, Brendan Ryan pinch-hitting for Kawasaki.  The whole place was tense, most of the stadium was with Humber now and the pressure was on Ryan.  He got ahead in the count, then fouled a pitch to make it 2-2.  The next pitch was close, but outside and called a ball.  So it came down to a full count.  I can't remember if Ryan fouled a pitch first, but with a full count and the perfect game on the line Humber came with a slider several feet outside and in the dirt.  Ryan's bat barely came off he shoulder, but the home plate ump rang him up and while he was arguing the catcher threw him out at first.  I couldn't believe it, I was so pissed, the first thought through my mind was I just watched my team suffer the ultimate baseball embarrassment and I can't even enjoy it as a historic moment, because it isn't even a legit perfect game.

I got over it pretty quick, like I usually do, and now the M's are on a win streak so I guess it wasn't too devastating for them.  I still kind of wish it hadn't happened, but it did and I guess I'm lucky, not too many people have watched a perfect game live, and it's something I can always share with my family.  That's one of the great things about baseball, you never know what crazy thing might happen at any game you go to or watch.

There's a compilation of all the outs from the game in the Videos section here.  It's interesting that he had almost all strikeouts and flyball outs after the first inning.  I guess that says something about the Mariners' power or pitching in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.  Also, Kawasaki tried to get on with a bunt in the 6th, it's debatable whether that's a cheap move or not.

Brendan Ryan steps to plate in the 9th

Monday, April 23, 2012

Week in Review: April 16 - 22

The Dragons are currently riding a 5 game winning streak.  They won the final two of three against Yomiuri and swept the Carp in Hiroshima for 5-1 record this week.  The win streak has propelled them back into first place in the CL, currently a game ahead of Yakult, their next opponent.  The series begins tonight at Jingu Stadium.
  • Masa Yamamoto pitched another gem on Sunday, just a day after losing his father.  He is now leading the league in ERA.  He did not get a win in the game, but the Dragons pulled out the win in the 9th on an RBI double from Yohei Oshima.
  • The bats were alive this week.  Nice week for Hirata and Wada has been on a tear as well.  Wada's now leading the CL in batting average and 2nd in on-base percentage, along with 11 RBIs.
  • Shinji Tajima extended his scoreless innings streak to 16 and has still yet to give up a run in his ichi-gun career.
  • I caught Saturday's game against Hiroshima on  Shinji Iwata picked up the win and the Dragons broke open a close game in the 7th with 3 runs and won 6 to 1.  Chunichi has yet to lose to the Carp this year, they are currently 5-0-1.
  • My wife found some replays of recent NPB games, including some Chunichi games on  It's a Chinese website, so it's pretty hard to navigate unless you know Chinese, she gets around the site by copying and pasting Chinese words into the search box.  Youku/Soku has a lot of Japanese TV shows as well.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Week in Review April 8 - 15

With a couple wins this weekend over Hanshin, the Dragons salvaged what would have been a tough week.  Since last Sunday when Chunichi dropped a game against Yakult, the Dragons tied one and lost two at the Tokyo Dome, then won two out of three against the Tigers in Osaka.  Totaling a 2-4-1 record over that span.  Here are some highlights:
  • The offense struggled during the team's winless streak, scoring only 6 total runs in their 5 losses.
  • Pitching remained solid over the last week.  Chunichi's current team ERA stands at 1.80, still tops in all of the NPB.
  • Rookie Shinji Tajima picked up his first career win.  He pitched 4 scoreless innings on Saturday against Hanshin after Yadai Kawai was yanked early.  Kawai gave up 3 runs (2 ER) over two innings after the Dragons' offense had spotted him a 6-0 lead in the top of the 1st.  Kawai did contribute a RBI single to the 1st inning rally.
  • Masa Yamamoto became the oldest pitcher to ever start and win a NPB game.  It was a very deserving victory as Yamamoto pitched 8 scoreless innings Sunday against the Tigers.  He cruised through the first seven innings on less than 80 pitches, then escaped a jam in the 8th by getting a flyball for the third out with men on base.  Iwase pitched a scoreless 9th to preserve the win.
  • Tony Blanco and Victor Diaz were sent down to ni-gun.  Blanco struggled after earning his way back into the starting lineup.  Thursday was an especially bad day for him, 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.  After the two strikeouts, he apparently told coaches he wasn't seeing the ball well and asked to be taken out of the game.  He was taken off the active roster the next day.  I've been getting a little frustrated with how Blanco has been jerked around over the last couple years.  After two very solid years in 2009 & 2010, Blanco had an injury-riddled season in 2011.  Yet he was still was one of the better hitters on the team down the stretch and in the playoffs last year.  The griping about his play and trips to ni-gun are nothing new, they go back to the last regime and even to 2010.  Blanco could be a good player again for this team, but every game and slump he has is over analyzed and somehow the coaches can't understand why he seems nervous.  He clearly was never a favorite of Takagi from the start, as the manager basically said Blanco was inferior to Yamasaki in camp.  Blanco isn't the future at 1st for the Dragons, Morino probably is as soon as Shuhei Takahashi is ready to take over 3rd.  I just hope Blanco isn't too mentally beaten down to be productive when Yamasaki  breaks down from over use, most likely in the near future.  Both Blanco and Diaz have gotten off to solid starts at the plate in ni-gun.
  • Kenshin Kawakami is still having problems with his back, it doesn't sound like he will be available for at least a couple more weeks.
  • Shuhei Takahashi has been getting a chance to play every day in ni-gun.  So far he's hit .240 with 6 hits, 2 doubles and 2 RBIs over 7 games.
  • Former Dragon Wei-Yin Chen got his first start for the Baltimore Orioles.  He went 5 and 2/3 innings giving up 4 runs (2 earned) and received a no-decision against the Yankees.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Masahiro Yamamoto

The big lefty has got it going to start the season.  He had another good start the other night, allowing only 1 run and 3 hits over 6 innings.  That follows his first start of the season, which I was able to see on, where he pitched 5 innings of shutout ball.  At 46 years old, turning 47 in August, he isn't going to be able to go deep into games, but he's still throwing quality innings and you gotta love watching his old school wind-up.

This may be Masa's last season, he's said in the past that he only wants to continue pitching for as long he can be successful.  The funny thing is that after coming back from period of injuries in 2009 and early 2010 he has been really good, when available, and I think if they limit his innings he may be able to hold up over the course of the season.

Yamamoto may also have a chance this year to become the oldest pitcher to record a win in NPB history.  The current record is set at forty-six years and 8 months, so Masa has a couple months to go before he will be eligible to break it.  Though Yamamoto has pitched well in both of his starts this year he has recieved two no-decisions so far.  Masa left the game with a 1-0 lead in his first start, but Takuya Asao had a rare blown hold opportunity in the 8th and the game ended in a tie.  Chunichi was unable to score while Yamamoto was on the hill on the April 8th, but rallied to tie later in the game, before losing in extra innings. 

Whether or not Yamamoto goes on to set any more records he has already left quite a mark on Dragons history.  He's been with the team since 1983, when he was a 5th-round draft pick.  He's pitched over 150 innings for the team 14 times, has over 200 career wins and is 50 games over .500 in his career.  Never the most dominant pitcher, he has always been consistantly solid.  From 1989 to 2004 he posted an ERA of over 4.00 only one time.  While he's had a hard time staying healthy over the last few years and many others lump him into a group of players who are hanging on too long.  I would rather appreciate the few starts he has left, especially as he continues to get guys out.  From the classic windup to the history and craftiness he takes with him when he climbs the mound, I definitely still get a lot of enjoyment from him still being on the team.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Week + in Review: 3/30-4/7

The season could not have started much better, historically dominant pitching and solid hitting translated to a 5-1-1 record over the first nine days of the season.  Here are some highlights:
  • The Dragons shut out their opponents 4 times in the first 6 games and have only given up 6 total runs in the 7 games so far.
  • They currently lead the Cental League in team batting average (.258) and team ERA (0.84 Wow!)
  • The middle of the order (Morino, Wada, Hirata) is producing.  Morino has 6 RBI already including some clutch game-winning RBIs.
  • Araki and Ibata have been getting on base a lot. .384 OBP for Araki and an even .500 OBP for Ibata.
  • Blanco is banging on the door for more playing time with 3 H, 1 HR and 3 RBI in only 9 plate appearances.  Apparently Takagi is thinking of bringing Blanco into games earlier, around the 5th inning as defensive replacement.  That still doesn't make any sense to me, when you can have Blanco in all game, then you can use Yamasaki as a pinch hitter as well.  Morino is your defensive replacement at first anyway.
  • The rotation for the first go-round was Yoshimi, Kawakami, Yamamoto, Nakata, Yamauchi.
  • Starting pitching was good in every game up until last night when Kawakami was forced to leave the game in the first inning with a back injury.  The bullpen has been good as well.  Shinji Tajima, pitching in long relief, has yet to give up a run over 7 innings and Iwase has 3 saves and given up only one baserunner over 4 innings.
  • Maximo Nelson and Enyelbert Soto may be back as soon as May.  Soto has already pitched an inning at ni-gun.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ebbets Field Flannels

I stopped by the Ebbets Field Flannels retail store in Seattle last week.  I've known about them for several years, but never knew they were a Seattle company until recently.  A few months ago I was alerted to the fact that they were making NPB uniforms and shirts by a post on the Japanese Baseball Cards blog.  Then, soon after I happened to drive by their store location, not knowing that they had a store, much less one 20 minutes from my house.  It was closed at that time, but I was pretty stunned and happily surprised.

The store is only open on weekdays so I had to wait a while for the chance to go there.  Fortunately last week I had to drop off some things at the Seattle Building Dept. and was able stop in on my lunch break.  The store looked like it had nearly everything that can be bought on their website.  Lots of Uniforms, t-shirts, hockey sweaters, jackets, and a ton of caps.  As for NPB gear, they have some stuff for Hanshin, Hiroshima,Yomiuri and the Taiyo Whales (now the BayStars) and Sankei Atoms (Yakult Swallows).  It can all be viewed and purchased on their website.  The guy at the store also mentioned that they are now making Taiyo Whales uniforms, though they are not up on the website yet.  I of course suggested that they make some Chunichi gear.  He said that it was something that they had already discussed, but it didn't sound like there was anything in the works yet.  Right now the Dragons are the only Central League team that they don't have something for, plus Chunichi has had some good looks, so hopefully they will choose to make up some gear.

Here is a signed uniform they had on display.  It's a replica of the fictitious New York Knights from the Natural and is signed by Wilford Brimley.  Brimley was the manager of the Knights in that movie.  He is also known for his work in The Thing, Cocoon and Quaker Oats commercials. 

Definitely check out their website.  It's like a virtual museum.  Some of my favorites are the Taiyo and Hiroshima gear, the Mudville 9 cap, Portland Beavers gear and Seattle Totems sweater.