Friday, March 30, 2012

Game 1 Recap

Box Score

Starting Lineup:

Masahiro Araki 2B
Yohei Oshima CF
Masahiko Morino 3B
Takeshi Yamasaki 1B
Kazuhiro Wada LF
Hirokazu Ibata SS
Ryosuke Hirata RF
Motonobu Tanishige C
Kazuki Yoshimi P

Great start to the season!  Yoshimi had a perfect game through 7 innings before giving up 2 runs in the 8th.  By then Chunichi had a semi-comfortable lead.  Iwase came in and shut the door in the 9th, allowing only one baserunner and struck out Kenta Kurihara to end the game.. 

  • As expected, Ibata returned to shortstop and Araki returned to 2B. 
  • Yamasaki started at 1B, Blanco had a pinch-hit appearance in the 8th.  I figured Yamasaki would get the opening day start, it will be interesting to see how the 1B-battle proceeds.  I would like to see Blanco get about 3/4 of the starts there.
  • No appearance by Shuhei Takahashi
Three stars:
Yoshimi - 8 IP, 2 ER, 5 K, 0 BB
Hirata  - 2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R
Ibata - 3/4, RBI
Honorable Mention: Yamasaki - 2/4, 2B, R

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Opening Day!

Game 1 is finally here, it will be Kazuki Yoshimi vs. Kenta Meada and the Hiroshima Carp.
Excellent pitching matchup, with these two heavyweights and normally an advantage to the pitchers early in the season, I wouldn't expect much offense in this one.
Go get 'em boys!

There will probably be some games showing on

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Looking Back at Chunichi's No. 1 Picks

Newspapers are reporting that Shuhei Takahashi will make the ichi-gun squad to start the season.  If Takahashi does start the season at ichi-gun he would be the team's first high school draft-pick to start his rookie season at ichi-gun since Kazuyoshi Tatsunami did it in 1988. 

On that note, lets take a look at the progress of the Dragons' previous No. 1 Picks back to the 2000 draft.

2010 - Yudai Ono - A left-handed pitcher drafted out of Bukkyo University.  Ono had a rough 4 innings at ichi-gun last year.  He also started 9 games at ni-gun and finished the year there with a 4.84 ERA.  He is only 23 years old this year, so he has plenty of time to develop yet. 

2009 - Toshiya Okada - Okada has a pretty similar story to Ono, he's a lefty pitcher.  He was drafted from Chiben Wakayama High School and is 20 years old.  He has pitched two years at ni-gun, but entirely as a reliever.  Okada had quite a bit more success in 2011, but is probably a year or two away from being an ichi-gun regular.

2008 - Kei Nomoto -  A left-handed hitting outfielder, 27 years old.  Nomoto wasn't drafted coming out of college and played for two seasons in the Industrial Leagues for Nippon Express.  He made the ichi-gun team in his first spring camp and debuted on Opening Day 2009.  He has remained primarily at ichi-gun since and played in as many as 118 games there in 2010.  He's had some good moments and key hits, but plenty of missed opportunities as well.  So far he just hasn't hit well enough to be a full-time starter at one of the outfield spots, but many of the other Dragons hitters have struggled as well so he is likely to have some more opportunities coming.  He's getting close to being too old to be a prospect and may never win a job as an every-day player, but for now he is a useful option off the bench or a platoon lefty, with still the chance that things will "click" for him and will turn into a solid starter.

2007 High School Draft - Kazuyuki Asasaka - Asasaka was drafted as a right-handed pitcher out of Urawa Gakuin H.S.  He pitched in ni-gun until 2010 and had a pretty sucessful 2009 season there.  But after a tough 2010 he was switched to outfield.  He is currently listed as an outfielder on the Dragons' Development Squad Roster.  At this point it looks like a long shot that he will be a significant contributor at the ichi-gun level.

2007 College/Independent Draft - Soma Yamauchi - A right-handed pitcher drafted from Meijo University.  Yamauchi has 22 career starts at ichi-gun in his career and 17 over the last 2 years.  His ERA was 1.73 last year over 62 1/3 innings.  He's 26 years old and projected to start the year in the starting rotation.  He's shown a lot of promise so far and this may be the year that he can establish himself as one of the main contributors on the team.

2006 High School Draft - Naomichi Donoue - The younger of the Donoue brothers is a 23-year old infielder.  He's played quite a bit over the last two years filling in for the Dragons' elderly infielders, mainly Ibata.  He played a lot last year as a late inning defensive replacement at third base.  He's been a useful backup and can play SS, 2B and 3B.  He hasn't put it together yet with the bat, but he is clearly in Chunichi's future plans.  My guess is the switch of Ibata back to shortstop and Araki back to 2B means that they are looking for Donoue to take over the shortstop position in the near future.

2006 College/Independent Draft - Daisuke Tanaka - Tanaka is a 27-year old catcher drafted out of Toyo University.  He hasn't had much of a chance yet at ichi-gun, and hasn't hit much at either level.  I not sure what the future will be for the Dragons at the catcher position.  The top two catchers for this year are over 35 and none of the catching prospects have really done much to wrestle any playing time away from either of the older guys.

2005 High School Draft - Ryosuke Hirata - Hirata is a 24-year old outfielder.  Last year was his first full year at ichi-gun.  He had a nice season, comparatively to the rest of the team, and has cemented himself as the starting right fielder.  He can also play some center-field and looks to be one of better younger players on the team.  His first career home run in 2008 was a walk-off, and that may have been a sign of things to come as he had multiple walk-off dingers and some very clutch moments last year.  The only things I see that could hold him back are his swing is little long and he seems to miss some pitches he should be able to cover.  I also saw him in a interview over the offseason and he was looking a little chunky, but he was able to lose most of the weight before coming back to training camp.  All in all, he looks like a promising player moving forward.

2005 College/Independent Draft - Kazuki Yoshimi - Yoshimi is a 27-year old righty pitcher and has been an excellent performer over the last four years.  With the loss of Chen over the offseason, he is now the clear ace of the pitching staff.

2004 - Tatsumi Higuchi - Higuchi was drafted in his late 20's from the Japan Railways industrial team.  He pitched several years at ni-gun before retiring, but never pitched for the ichi-gun squad.

2003 - Hiroki Nakagawa - Nakagawa was a outfielder for the Dragons up until this past offseason.  He only had 33 career ichi-gun at-bats in his career.  He will be joining the ni-gun coaching staff for 2012.

2002 - Ryosuke Morioka - Morioka is currently a reserve infielder for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.  He left the Dragons after the 2008 season.  He hit .256 with 0 HR and 0 RBIs over 52 games last season. 

2001 - Akihiro Maeda - Maeda is catcher on the Dragons roster.  He's 28 years old now and has only 34 plate appearances at the ichi-gun level.  He hit well last year at ni-gun last year in 22 games and will likely be on the ichi-gun bench for this season.

2000 - Atsushi Nakazato - Nakazato was a righty relief pitcher for Chunichi until 2009.  He didn't pitch much or have a lot of success at the ichi-gun level.  In 2010 he went to Yomiuri and pitched a few innings for them.  He had a servicable season for Yomiuri's ni-gun team in 2011, but was never brought back to ichi-gun.  He was not given a contract for the upcoming season and will join Yomiuri's coaching staff.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kenichi Nakata & Kenta Asakura

Kenichi Nakata
Two guys that I didn't even mention in my 2012 Outlook post who have been getting their fair share of opportunities in camp are Kenichi Nakata and Kenta Asakura.  Both are right-handed pitchers who were drafted very highly.  Nakata was a second-round pick in 2004 and Asakura was a first-rounder back in 1999.  They are within a year apart in age, as Asakura was drafted out of high school, while Nakata was drafted out of college. 

There has been a lot of similarities in their career paths as well.  Both had considerable success as young players and both have been burdened by numerous injuries and poor performances over the last few years.  They have also each had appearances in multiple Japan Series's with mixed results, ranging from dominance to disaster for each of them. 

Asakura's career has been a bit more up and down than Nakata's, with higher highs and lower lows.  He was one the CL's top pitchers in 2002 and 2006, with some leaner injury-filled years sandwiched in between.  He was solid in 2007 and 2008 and okay over 150+ innings in 2009.  Since then his performance has fallen off a cliff and he spent most of his time in ni-gun last year.  He was successful last year in ni-gun, but has flopped with an ERA of over 6.00 during his ichi-gun opportunities over the last two years.

Nakata's has been the more consistent of the two, but his best seasons don't quite compare to Asakura's best years.  Nakata, however, has been a much better strikeout pitcher and has averaged nearly a strikeout an inning over his career.  He had a good year in 2010, though I never really had as much confidence in him as I probably should have that season.  I was very surprised and dismayed when Ochiai sent him out for the pivotal Game 5 of the 2010 Japan Series, especially after he hadn't pitched in real game in over a month.  Nakata gave up 8 earned runs over 5 innings and took the loss in that game.  That choice was one of only a few gripes I ever had with Ochiai.  Last year Nakata was only able to pitch in around 50 innings between both ichi-gun and ni-gun.  He wasn't awful at ichi-gun and actually didn't give up a single run over 20 innings in ni-gun.

Kenta Asakura

Both guys have been at ichi-gun camp this spring and have participated in several of the exhibition games.  Nakata has fared better than Asakura in those games and it sounds like Takagi may be counting on him more than I anticipated.  Nakata has shown some good fastball velocity in camp with reports him throwing up to 149 km/h, but he has had mechanics issues as well.  It is hard to say how much time Asakura will spend at ichi-gun this year.  It seems like he may be running out of chances, though under-performing players do tend to hang around a lot longer on NPB clubs as compared to the MLB system. 

If one or both of these guys can get it together and have a nice season it could really give Chunichi a lift, as they are already having injury issues in their starting rotation.  I'm not expecting a whole lot from either player, but it looks like there will be more opportunites for each of them and I hope they will make the most out of those opportunities.  Hopefully their prior injuries haven't taken too much out their arms and 2012 will be their year to shine again.  There is hope for Nakata especially, as his velocity seems fine.  We will find out soon enough as Opening Day is just over a week away and reports have said that Takagi is planning to start Nakata in one of the games against Yokohama in the second series of the year.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Katsu Burger

For those that are fans of Tonkatsu (like myself) or those that enjoy a tasty burger (also like myself); Seattle now has a restaurant that provides a combination of both.  Katsu Burger is located at 6538 4th Ave South, only about 3.5 miles south of Safeco Field.
It's a small place with only a few tables, but with a very unique and delicious menu.  The food is pretty much what you would find at an American drive-in, but just about everthing has a Japanese twist.  All of their burgers/sandwiches are served "katsu style," deep-fried with panko coating.  They have ground beef, pork cutlet, and chicken.  For fries you have the choice of curry or nori seasoning, with traditional salted also available.  They also had some Asian inspired flavors for their milkshakes. 

Prices aren't cheap, but are pretty standard for burger joints around here.  Most of the burgers were in the $5-8 range and all of the servings were big.  So accounting for the taste and the size, the price was well worth it.

Definitely check this place out before heading over to a M's game or if you happen to be spending some time in Seattle.

The Spread

Wasabi Burger

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tom Selleck's Dragons Batting Helmet Still Exists

Was reading yesterday and saw a brief note regarding the Dragons.  Apparently a reader of uni-watch that works on the set of the American TV show Modern Family found the batting helmet Tom Selleck (Jack Elliot) wore in the movie Mr. Baseball.  They took a quick photo of the helmet and sent it to the blogger.  A link to the photo can be found in the "Uni Watch News Ticker" at the bottom of this page.  The helmet has Jack Elliot's number 54 on the brim and appears to be the same helmet seen on the left.  From the photo it looks like the helmet has been hanging out in a closet or box with a bunch of other props from other sports-related shows or movies.  Something like that clearly deserves a more dignified storage place, like in a display somewhere.  At least it still exists and hopefully this discovery will lead to it being placed somewhere where it can be preserved.  Somehow I doubt that will happen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Couple Things

  • According to Nikkan Sports, Chunichi isn't expecting Maximo Nelson or Enyelbert Soto to be in the starting rotation to start the season due to injury.  Apparently Soto's calf has healed, but he has been slowed more recently by a bad back.  Soto's injury seems to be less serious than Nelson's.
  • Here is a nice breakdown of the coming and going players from  It isn't all that big of a list, but it's interesting to see where some of the lower-profile players ended up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Congrats to the Max!!

Over the weekend the Isobe Max, my niece's little league team, won the Toyohashi City title!  The tournament began way back in January and included over thirty teams.  The Max defeated Yoshidagata 8-4 in the final game to take home the 'ship.  Gold medals were awarded to each of the Max players.  The Max has placed before, they won bronze medals a few years ago when my nephew was on the team, but this was their first 1st place finish.  Way to go Max!!!

Friday, March 2, 2012

2012 Outlook

Projected Depth Chart (this is my best guess, nothing official):
Underlined = New to the team this year

Starting Rotation:
(1) Kazuki Yoshimi
(2) Maximo Nelson (currently injured)
(3) Enyelbert Soto
(4) Kenshin Kawakami
(5) Yudai Kawai
(6) These guys will probably all get some starts: Masa Yamamoto, Soma Yamauchi, Junki Ito, Daisuke Yamai, Jorge Sosa

Main Relievers:
Hitoki Iwase
Takuya Asao
Masafumi Hirai
Masato Kobayashi
Akinobu Shimizu
Yoshihiro Suzuki

Everyday Players:
(C) Motonobu Tanishige
(1B) Tony Blanco
(2B) Masahiro Araki
(3B) Masahiko Morino
(SS) Hirokazu Ibata
(LF) Kazuhiro Wada
(CF) Yohei Oshima
(RF) Ryosuke Hirata

Other Contributors:
(1B) Takeshi Yamasaki
(2B-3B) Naomichi Donoue
(1B-3B) Ryoji Nakata
(OF) Takehiro Donoue
(OF) Hidenori Kuramoto
(OF) Kei Nomoto
(INF-OF) Victor Diaz

The whole rotation, except for Kazuki Yoshimi
Masahiko Morino
Kazahiro Wada
Ryosuke Hirata
Naomichi Donoue
Victor Diaz

Opening day is approaching and it looks like Chunichi's roster is pretty much set.  As usual there hasn't been much turnover on the Dragons roster or throughout the Central League, with Yomiuri and DeNA making the biggest moves.  2012 marks the beginning of the Morimichi Takagi era as manager, and as much as I hated seeing Ochiai go, I've chosen to keep a positive outlook for the upcoming season and won't criticize the new guy until he has at least managed a few games. 

If the 2012 squad is going to have success they will have to follow the same formula as last year's team, which means winning a lot of low-scoring games.  How the season goes will likely be determined by the teams starting rotation.  With Iwase and Asao back, Chunichi has two of the best relievers around to lock-down the late innings.  So it will be up to the starters to get games to those guys with the lead.  Chunichi could end up having one of the best rotations in the CL again by the end of the season, but with the loss of Wei-Ying Chen to the MLB and Maximo Nelson for potentially a while to injury the Dragons will need other guys to step up.  Fortunately they have a legit ace in Kazuki Yoshimi, promising young pitchers Junki Ito and Soma Yamauchi as well as, hopefully, a full year of Enyelbert Soto, who was dominant last year over 78 innings (1.73 ERA, 59 SO, 19 BB).  The return of Kenshin Kawakami, if he is healthy, and newcomer Jorge Sosa could give the rotation a boost as well.

2012 will likely start with the same lineup as last year, which was historically bad.  There is some hope that veterans will bounce back after a tough 2011 and hopefully some of the younger guys will continue to improve.  I expect Masahiko Morino to bounce back a bit from last year; his 2011 batting average dropped by nearly 100 points from the previous year.  Likely the new NPB ball attributed to his decline, but I would expect him to be back to at least a .275, 10 HR, 70 RBI year for 2012.  I don't know that Kazuhiro Wada will be able to have the same bounce back at his age and he may lose playing time, possibly to newcomer Victor Diaz, as the season progresses.  Tony Blanco returns on a one-year contract, and despite whining from management about his production he has been pretty consistent for the Dragons, if he can stay healthy, he should put up at least .260, 25 HR, 80 RBI.  Ryosuke Hirata burst onto the scene early last year with some clutch hitting and continued on to what would normally be a pretty mediocre year, but for last year's Dragons was about the best on the team.  Hopefully he can build on his success from last year and be even better this year.  Naomichi Donoue is another young guy that could be on doorstep of being a major contributor,  hopefully he will start hitting and force himself into one of the middle infield positions and take away some innings from one of the currently light-hitting combo of Mashiro Araki and Hirokazu Ibata.  So there is some hope for improvement over last year, but the strength of the team will still be pitching by a wide margin.

I'm not expecting another 1st place season this year, not that I or anyone expected them to finish first or go to the Japan Series last year.  This years team will probably still have the same flaws as the 2011 team, but since Yomiuri has been the only CL team to actually add any significant talent over the offseason, Chunichi should be in the hunt again for a postseason spot.  Really the whole Central League is up for grabs, I could see anyone aside from the Bay Stars taking first.  Yomiuri looks like the best on paper, but in sports that doesn't always get you very far (e.g. 2011 Philadelpia Eagles).  The four other teams seem to be at around the same talent level and could probably finish in any order.  Here is my projected CL standings for 2012:

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