Sunday, September 30, 2012

Closing Time?

Only three regular season games left for Chunichi and, as far as I know, Takagi hasn't declared who his closer will be for the postseason.  The closer position has been an ongoing question mark since the All-Star break when long-time closer, Hitoki Iwase, was removed from that role.  Since that time Daisuke Yamai has been used as the closer on most occasions, though Iwase has had a few save opportunities late in the season as well.  Jorge Sosa has four saves this year and is who I suggested to be the closer earlier in year when this whole issue arose.  Rookie Shinji Tajima is another option, he leads the team in holds with 30.  Now Takuya Asao is back in the bullpen after returning last month from a strained/inflamed rotator cuff, so Takagi has even one more option to go to.
I was pretty surprised that Yamai was chosen to be the main closer for the second half of the season, he's been a starter most of his career and though he's had outstanding moments, his career has also been very inconsistent.  Yet he's been up to the challange and kept the job by pitching well, I believe he's converted every one of his save opportunities.  Still I don't think he's our best option for closing out postseason games this year.  If I were the manager, and under the condition that he's fully healthy, I think now is the time to name Takuya Asao the closer. 
Asao has been the closer-in-waiting for a couple years now, but happened to be on injured reserve when Iwase finally faltered.  Asao seems to be healthy, he pitched multiple innings last night (unfortunately I wasn't able to see them because the poster shut off the feed after the Dragons' 11-run 5th inning), and he's pitched well since returning to ichi-gun.  His stuff looked to be close to what it was before the injury when I saw him pitch a couple weeks ago.  He's also pitched in a lot of tense, postseason situations and of course he's an excellent pitcher with a good fastball and breaking pitches.  An added long-term benefit would be that as the closer he would generally only be called on in save situations.  Over the last few years, he's been called on a lot in various situations to keep the lead or keep games close.  He's been overused and that's something that needs to change.  He'll turn 28 this month (even though he looks 18) and should still have many quality years left.  So let's make him the closer now and see if he can match Iwase's Hall of Fame career. 

Week in Review: Sep. 25 - Sep. 30

Chunichi played their final true series this week and began their make-up game schedule.  The week started with DeNA visiting the Nagoya Dome for a forgettable 3-game series, which the BayStars won 2-0-1.  The make-up schedule began Saturday and will run until October 5th.  Chunichi has 5 make-up games in total, with games against DeNA, Hanshin, Hiroshima and Yakult. 
The Dragons played their make-up with Yakult on Saturday at Jingu in a bit of a Climax preview.  Kawakami had a solid outing, and he Muto, Mise and Iwase combined for the shutout.
Chunichi smoked the BayStars on Sunday 13-2, powered mainly be a 11-run 5th inning.  Most of the damage was done against Yokohama's I.C Wang.

In other news:
  • The Climax Series is set for October 13-15 at the Nagoya Dome.  Fortunately for those in the Pacific Time Zone, the weekend games (13th & 14th) will start at 2 PM Japan Time, so they'll be on at 10 PM here.  Hopefully Chunichi can wrap it up in just those two games.
  • Sounds like the Dragons are planning to offer contracts for at least 2013 to Tony Blanco, Enyelbert Soto and Jorge Sosa.  A no-brainer for all of those guys.
  • Reports are saying that Masafumi Hirai, Takashi Ogasawara and Maximo Nelson will not be offered contracts for 2013.  Hirai is an older player now and has had a decent career, but hasn't pitched all that well since 2010.  Chunichi has plenty of solid relief pitchers and Hirai was unlikely to work his way back up the depth chart.  Ogasawara struggled in his opportunity at ichi-gun this year and hasn't pitched much at ichi-gun since 2009.  He's a lefty and has some success in the past, I think there is a chance another NPB team will take a look at him.  I hate to see Maximo go, but it's understandable with the injuries he's had this year and the uncertainty over when he would be ready to pitch next year.  I always liked how he held the ball so loose and kinda let his arm dangle, you could tell he had a whip just by looking at him, even though he was so skinny.  I'll also never forget how he tried to enter Japan with live ammo in his bag, and got suspended for several months.
  • Ryuya Ogawa made his first-career start last Thursday against Yokohama.  He gave up two earned runs over four innings and took the loss, also the first in his career.
  • Rakuten kept their playoff hopes alive with a win Saturday against Softbank, pulling to within 2.5 games of the Hawks.  The Eagles have eight games left to play so they still a have slim chance.  I'd like to see them pull it off.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Catching Up: Sep. 10 - Sep. 24

Just returned from an unexpected and unfortunate trip to Japan, and will leave out the details. 
I did manage to have a bit of fun and watch some baseball despite the circumstances, including a trip to Nagoya for a ni-gun game.  I will have a post on that some time soon.

Quite a lot of significant news concerning the Dragons happened since I last posted:
  • Yomiuri clinched the CL regular-season championship last week ending Chunichi's streak of two consecutive.
  • The Dragons locked up second place in the CL, giving them home-field advantage in the first round of the Climax.
  • Yakult took control of the race for third place and now lead Hiroshima by 6.5 games.
  • Probably the most important happening, was when Kazuki Yoshimi injured the elbow in his throwing arm during a game.  The injury will almost certainly prevent him from pitching in the upcoming Climax Series, totally altering the Dragons' chances for a return to the Japan Series.  Without Yoshimi, the Dragons main starting options will be Soto and Yamauchi for sure and some combination of Kawakami, Iwata, Yamamoto and Nakata.  Junki Ito pitched well in his first ichi-gun start of the year, he and Yudai Ono are also options but have far less experience than the other starters listed.  So a tough road gets even tougher, but don't count the Dragons out yet, they've pulled off some unexpected things in the past and have competed well against the Giants all year.  Of course they will have to get past Yakult first, which won't be easy either.
  • Masa Yamamoto had two consecutive successful starts and may have won himself an opportunity to start one of the Climax Series games.  He may also be used in relief instead, honestly I would feel more comfortable with him being used in some kind of relief role.
  • 19 year-old rookie Kentaro Nishikawa made his ichi-gun starting debut on Sep. 23rd against Hanshin.  He gave up only one run on one hit, a solo HR to Takashi Toritani, over 5 innings of work.
  • Kosuke Fukudome's destination for next season has been in the news frequently, with Hanshin, Chunichi and Yokohama listed as the teams most likely to acquire him.  Chunichi has stated that they aren't willing to overpay to get him and hope that he will choose to return for some reason other than money.  I have a feeling that he will end up in Hanshin, they are desperate to get better, and will probably do what it takes monetarily to get him.  They are also closer to competing than Yokohama, and Fukudome has some ties to Osaka.  I definitely wouldn't be opposed to Kosuke returning to Chunichi.  The Dragons need to get younger, but right field is still an unresolved position.  Fukudome could be given an opportunity there until one of the younger players proves they can do better.  It is questionable how much Fukudome will produce when back in the NPB, he hasn't played everyday the last few years and the NPB introduced the new ball during his absence, so it's unlikely he will produce like he did when he was an MVP in Japan, that's part of the reason Chunichi won't overpay.  If I had to choose though, my first hope would be that Ryosuke Hirata will take the offseason more seriously this year and be in shape and ready to be a quality everyday outfielder next year.   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week in Review: September 4 - September 9

The Dragons won 3 and lost 3 this week and despite the .500 week they actually put a bit more distance between themselves and both the Carp and the Swallows.  Chunichi's magic number for locking up second place must be around 10 games now with 20 more games to go.
Chunichi played well against the Carp this week winning two out of three games.  They knocked Nomura out of Tuesday's game early, while Yoshimi cruised to another complete game and a 10-3 Dragons victory.  The Dragons dropped the second game of the series 2-1.  Kan Otake, the Carp pitcher who has given Chunichi the most trouble this season, was pitching a shutout into the 8th before he was removed because of a blister on his finger.  The Dragons managed a rally against the Hiroshima closer but fell short in the end.  Chunichi beat Hiroshima on Thursday 3-0 behind a 1st inning 2-run HR from Tony Blanco and very solid outing from Kenichi Nakata.
Hanshin came to Nagoya for the weekend series and the Tigers pitchers brought their "A" game.  Though Chunichi managed one win in the series, 1-0 on Friday, the Dragons scored only the 1 run and had 10 total hits over the three games.  On Saturday the Chunichi seemed especially baffled by Atsushi Nomi's breaking pitches.  He had 8 strikeouts over 8 innings (including Blanco's golden sombrero) and Dragons hitters chased or check-swung time after time at balls well out of the strike zone.
  • Injuries at the catching position: Tanishige didn't play this week with hamstring issues and Kohei Oda was injured during Saturday's game when he was hit in the face by a thrown ball from the outfield in a successful attempt to stretch a single into a double.  Oda remained on the field for several minutes and was later taken to the hospital for stitches.  Sounds like he will be okay going forward, no mention of a concussion, a very unlucky play.
  • Masa Yamamoto was pretty decent in his start, pitching 5 1/3 scoreless innings.  He was taken out in the 6th when it looked like Hanshin might get a run against him, Takagi knew there wasn't any room for error with the way Chunichi was hitting against Nomi, otherwise Yamamoto may have been allowed to go a little deeper into the game.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Week in Review: August 28 - September 3

This was likely the week that the Dragons fell out of the race for the CL title.  Though they won the series against the Giants away from home, they were winless on their trip to Jingu while at the same time Yomiuri was sweeping the BayStars at home over the weekend.  Now the Giants magic number is down to 19 and the Dragons are 8.5 games back with only 24 to play.  At this point it would take a hell of a miracle for them to get back into first place.  That said, it's probably time to take a look at who the Dragons will likely be playing in the Climax Series.  The Carp and Swallows are realistically the only two teams in the hunt for the third and final playoff spot.  Right now Hiroshima holds a one game lead over Yakult in the standings and it seems like both teams have been within a game or two of each other for a while now, so that is something that will probably continue. 
So far this season Chunichi has owned the Carp, with an 11-4-2 record and has even beaten their ace Kenta Maeda a couple times, though they haven't had a ton of success against him lately.  The Dragons have also fared well against the Carp's other top pitcher Yusuke Nomura, Nomura is 0-2 against the Dragons so far this year.  Despite Chunichi's success, if these teams were to meet in the playoffs, it would probably be a very low scoring series that would be decided by only a couple of timely plays.
The Swallows are a completely different story, they are the only Central League team that Chunichi currently has a losing record against, 7-13-3.  For some reason Yakult has given the Dragons a hard time the last few years, though Chunichi has been able to beat the Swallows when they've faced off in the playoffs. 
Chunichi will be at home this week, starting with one of their potential playoff foes, Hiroshima.  The first game will matchup Kazuki Yoshimi vs. Yusuke Nomura, two pitchers that would surely start a game in the Climax Stage 1, should these two teams meet.  The Dragons will then host Hanshin for a three-game weekend series.  Last week may have taken some of the drama out of the last few weeks of the season, but the Dragons still have plenty of things to iron out in order to be ready for a playoff run.
  • Tony Blanco was 7 for 22 with 6 RBIs in his first week back.
  • Takehiro Donoue and Yusuke Matsui, both right-handed hitters, each started three games in right field this week.  Both players hit well, Donoue 6 for 10 with 2 RBIs, Matsui 5 for 12 with 2 RBIs, but it sounds like Takagi was not a fan of Matsui's defence (from
  • The bullpen continued to be less than lockdown in the Yakult series: Yamai made a mess and then Iwase allowed the tying run to score in the 9th of Friday's tie.  Jorge Sosa walked 3 and gave up 3 runs in 2/3 of an inning Saturday, easily his worst outing of the year.  Shinji Tajima allowed Yakult to walkoff with a game-winning, 2-out double on Sunday.  These will be the guys Chunichi will be counting on the most when the playoffs come, so hopefully they can get back on track.
  • Chunichi was shutout by Kyohei Muranaka of Yakult for the second time in two weeks.