Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dragons Draft Koji Fukutani with First Pick

The NPB draft took place today and Chunichi selected pitcher Koji Fukutani out of Keio University with their first pick.  They were the only team to select him in the first round and so, unlike last year, no lottery was necessary.  Chunichi's other picks are below:

2nd - Tatsuro Hamada, Pitcher, Aikodai Meiden H.S.
3rd - Takero Furumoto, OF, Ryukoku University
4th - Shota Sugiyama, C/1B, Waseda University
5th - Hayato Mizowaki, IF, Kyushu Gakuin H.S.
6th - Koshi Inoue, Pitcher, City Light Okayama (IL)
7th - Shunta Wakamatsu, Pitcher, Yusei H.S.

For a list of all the picks and some insight on some of the players chosen, especially the college ones, see Marinerds, etc.  
The Japanese Baseball Cards blog also has a post on the draft which shows cards for Koji Fukutani and Shota Sugiyama.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dragons let Giants off the Hook, Lose in 7 (Really 6)

Chunichi couldn't capitalize on a 3-1 series lead in their Final Stage match up with Yomiuri and were eliminated after a 4-2 loss last Monday.  The Dragons were nearly the first non-first seed team to advance to the Japan Series since the extra advantages were given to the regular season champ in 2008.
I wouldn't say that the Dragons choked in this series, the Giants were the better team from the second month of the season on and I'm sure Yomiuri was a little rusty early in the series after not having played real games for a couple weeks.  Still the Dragons had a real opportunity after winning Game 4, but were never able to put full pressure on the Giants as Yomiuri jumped out to early 2nd inning leads in Game 5, 6 and 7.  The Dragons' best opportunity to take the series was in Game 6, when Tony Blanco tied the game late with a two-run home run.  It looked like the game was destined for extra innings, but Hitoki Iwase was brought in to pitch the bottom of the 9th and was unable to get anyone out.  If anyone choked it would have to be Iwase, he looked like he was aiming more than throwing and left some very hittable pitches up over the plate and the Giants took advantage, an unacceptable performance for someone with his experience.
Chunichi really missed having Yoshimi, there's no doubt in my mind that had he been available to pitch in any of the final three games, he would have been able to close out the series.  Neither team was at full strength as Yomiuri was without one of their aces, Toshiya Sugiuchi, while Chunichi was without Yoshimi, Enyelbert Soto, Kenichi Nakata and also Soma Yamauchi was knocked out of Game 6 fairly early when he was hit by a batted ball.  Without those any of those guys it probably would have been hard for Chunichi to beat Nippon Ham had they advanced, but it would have been fun to see them try.  Without their main starters Takagi went with youngsters Yudai Ono and Junki Ito in Games 2 and 3 three and both came through with great performances, especially under the circumstances.  Takagi went with Ito in Game 7, which would have been my choice, hoping talent would win out over experience, but Ito gave up four straight hits to start the 2nd inning and Yomiuri held control of the game from there.
It was a tough way to end the season, after starting the series with very little hope, then having things progress to where the chances of moving on were so good only to have them slip away.  It just wasn't meant to be, but it was a memorable series, both teams showed a lot of heart (hate to say that about Yomiuri) and Chunichi's young pitchers gained some valuable experience, so maybe next year will be a year when Chunichi can hang another banner.

Go Fighters!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Dragons Move On!

Chunichi escaped the first stage of the Climax Series with a 4-1 victory Monday ending Yakult's season.  Despite scoring only 3 runs in the entire 3-game series Yakult had the Dragons on the ropes in Game 3 leading 1-0 in the 8th inning of the final and deciding game.  That's when Chunichi loaded the bases on a double and two subsequent walks.  With one out Yakult brought in their closer Tony Barnette, who had gone two innings to get the save in Game 2 the night before, to face Tony Blanco.  Barnette quickly put himself in a bad spot, throwing three straight balls.  Unwilling to pitch around Blanco at all, Barnette challenged Blanco with a 3-0 fastball straight across the heart of the plate, Blanco was ready and swinging 3-0 and unleashed a huge swing but was unable to connect.  At 3-1 Barnette again came with his best fastball in nearly the exact same location, this time Blanco did not miss, he connected with a soaring, no-doubter, grand slam to left giving Chunichi the lead that they would not give up.     
As expected, the Chunichi-Yakult series was hard-fought and the outcome was in doubt until the final innings. Chunichi wasn't able to get any runs across against Yakult's starters Tateyama in Game 2 and Muranaka in Game 3, which wasn't unexpected as they struggled against them in the regular season.  They were, however, able get men on base and get into Yakult's bullpen in both games, giving themselves a chance.  Chunichi's bullpen outpitched Yakult's all series, giving up only 1 run to Yakult's 8.  One thing that was surprising was how Chunichi's undermanned rotation shut down Yakult's hitters, giving up just two runs in the three games.  Kenichi Nakata and Soma Yamauchi pitched well in their starts and Masa Yamamoto walked a tightrope for three innings, but gave up only one run, keeping Chunichi in the game.  Wladimir Balentien had a huge series for Yakult, but the rest of their lineup really struggled against the Dragons' pitching and in the end Chunichi's offense provided just enough to move on to face Yomiuri.
The Final Stage against Yomiuri starts Wednesday.  Chunichi will be without yet another starter for the series, as Kenichi Nakata's shoulder is not right.  The deck is stacked against the Dragons in so many ways for this series, the playoff format, starting pitching injuries and of course, the Giants are loaded with talent.  So it's going to take something close to a miracle for Chunichi to pull this off, the bullpen will have to pitch a lot and continue be great, they'll have to get something from one of their young starters and two or three other guys in their lineup will have to step it up and help Ohshima and Wada out.  It all starts tomorrow,  get fired up Dragons fans!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chunichi Takes Game 1 of CS

   Impressive first game of the postseason for the Dragons as they outplayed Yakult in all phases of the game leading to a 6-1 victory. 
   Kenichi Nakata got the start which was a bit of a surprise, but he proved it to be the right decision.  Nakata has good velocity on his fastball, but not a lot of movement on it, so he has to locate it well to be successful and that is exactly what he did in Game 1.  He was able to throw a lot of first-pitch strikes on the outside corner and was able to tie up a few hitters by going inside and up out of the zone as well.  I only saw him make one mistake, which was to Lastings Millidge, but Millidge didn't get all of it and flew out to left field.  In the end Nakata went 5 scoreless innings and got the win.  He also hit a rocket over Yakult's third baseman in the 3rd inning for a double in his only at-bat.
   Kazuhiro Wada was the main hitting star for Chunichi, he started the scoring with a 2-run homer in the 4th and later had an RBI hit in the Dragons 3-run 7th.  Wada and Yohei Ohshima each had three hits.  Ohshima also showed off his wheels with aggressive baserunning on a couple occasions.  He turned what looked like a routine single into a double in the 5th and later in the game advanced from first to third on a base hit into left field. 
   Shinji Tajima releaved Nakata and cruised through the 6th, though he was a bit wild and threw quite a few pitches.  He returned to the mound in the 7th and CL HR King Wladimir Balentien led off the inning by seriously turning around one his fastballs sending it deep to left-center for a solo home run.  I'm not sure if that HR shook up Tajima or if he just didn't have his control for this game, but he then walked two of the next three hitters making things tense in what was then still a 3-1 game.  Fortunatly, Asao was able to come in and clean up the mess by getting the final two outs without anyone scoring.
   Jorge Sosa had control problems of his own in the 8th when he loaded the bases on two walks and a hit.  Daisuke Yamai came in at that point to close the door and pitched a perfect 9th.  He got the save even though it was a 6-1 lead, because he had entered the game with the bases loaded.  I'm not sure if that means he's the team's closer for the postseason or not, but he looked good tonight.
   Here's a few other notes from the game:
  • I was surprised by a couple other lineup moves aside from the start by Nakata.  Morino batted third and Wada batted fifth.  I kind of like Wada at the 3rd spot but it didn't really matter in this game because both positions came up multiple times with opportunities to drive runs and Wada saw good pitches to hit.  Also, Takehiro Donoue was the starting rightfielder against a left-handed starting pitcher.  I was surprised by this, though I think it's good because he's been the best hitter this year out of Chunichi's rightfielders.  He looked pretty bad in his first at-bat against the lefty Ishikawa, but came up against a righty reliever in his next at-bat and smoked an RBI base hit to left.
  • Hidenori looked like he was pretty pumped up when he got his chance to play in the field, knowing these will be his last games as a pro player.  When he got a routing fly in left he tried to throw behind the runner at second, it was a good throw and the runner had to dive to get back.
  • The umps were wearing their hats from the Great Central throwback games.  Not sure why, but not a bad thing.
  • Hiromitsu Ochiai was one of the color commentators for the game on J-Sports.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pitching Lineup for Climax

Yakyubaka linked to a Sports Hochi article today which listed Chunichi's likely starters for the upcoming Climax Series to be Kenshin Kawakami, Kenichi Nakata and Soma Yamauchi.  Moving forward without the team's two best starters this year, Kaz Yoshimi and Enyelbert Soto due to injury, is not exactly what the Dragons or their fans were planning on a few weeks ago when looking ahead to this first-round matchup.  Still this group, with a combined 2.64 ERA this year, should still give Chunichi a chance to move on to Round 2.  In comparison, Yakult's team ERA this year was 3.35 and aside from Shohei Tateyama they don't have another starter with an ERA under 3.00.  Unfortunately they do have lefty Kyohei Muranaka who absolutely owned the Dragons the last two times he faced them throwing shutouts both times. 
Chunichi's big pitching advantage is pretty much gone at this point, at least as far as the starters, but it's still close.  The Dragons do probably still have the edge in the bullpen and do have home field advantage, which was a major factor for them in the regular season.  Yakult has the more imposing lineup and Lastings Milledge will probably be back in some capacity.  Everything is pointing to a very competitive series and hopefully Chunichi will survive in the end.