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.