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

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