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:

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