Friday, December 20, 2013

Hector Luna of Las Aguilas Cibaenas

The Dragons' Hector Luna is currently playing for the Aguilas (Eagles) in the Domincan Winter League has been doing pretty well so far.  You can see his stats here.  Luna is coming off of a knee injury that ended his 2013 season prematurely.  He appears to be healthy now and hopefully can do some damage for the Dragons in 2014.  ESPN3 has a replay of the Aguilas vs. the Leones from December 12th here, Luna is in the starting lineup hitting in the middle of the order.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Meticulous Metric of Baseball Team Names

Plants & Animals > Animals > Mythical Creatures > Chunichi Dragons is the taxonomy of the Dragons' team name according the baseball team name poster created by the Pop Chart Lab.  You can see the poster here.  They have some other good ones as well, probably my favorite of them all is the Fantastical Fictive Beer poster, but there are some other good ones too, plus another couple of baseball related ones.  Originally saw the link to Pop Chart Lab on the Uni-Watch Holiday Gift Guide.  Happy holidays!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dragons Menko & Cards

We just got a printer with a scanner a few days ago and I thought I would share some of the Japanese cards I have.  I don't have a big collection of Japanese cards, nor American cards anymore either.  I downsized my collection of MLB cards a couple years ago, but kept the ones of players who had played in Japan as well as Mariners ones and some other players I like.  The Japanese cards I have are either menko cards given to me by my in-laws or ones I've bought when I visited Japan.

These menko cards are from the 70's and look to be from a promotion by Pepsi.  At the bottom of each of the cards is the name of a soft drink. 

According to wikipedia Ron Woods has a son named Tyrone, but I don't believe that it's the same Tyrone Woods that played for Chunichi, at least I've never heard that it was.

The next two are a menko card of Tatsuhiko Kimata and a Calbee card of Takayoshi Nakao.  The menko card is probably from the 70's and the Nakao card would be from the 80's.  Kimata was Chunichi's starting catcher from 1965 to 1981.  Nakao was his successor and Chunichi's regular catcher until 1988.

And here are some more contemporary cards that I have:

Friday, November 29, 2013

My Proposed New Uniforms for the Fighters

Baseball's over for the year and even the Asia (Eastern Hemisphere) Series is finished.  I thoroughly enjoyed Rakuten's run and I'm very happy for Hoshino to finally taste a championship and for Tanaka and Norimoto, who left everything they had on the field. 

But now it's time to think about next year, free agency, new foreign players and new posting rules.

Something that would be nice for next year would be new uniforms for Nippon Ham.  I've never been a fan of the Fighters' asymmetrical uniforms, though their current ones are slightly better than the previous ones.  So I've sketched up something I would prefer.

One thing I like about their current home uniforms is that they have more of the blue color that they use.  I would make that blue a main color as well as bring back orange, which was once one of their main colors.  These are pretty simple, the alternate is a pullover and based on the 80's jersey with gold instead of yellow.  The pants that go with the alternate would have piping on only one side, a memorial to the asymmetrical uniform period.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tanishige Named New Manager, Ochiai Returns as GM

It's been nearly a month now since Motonobu Tanishige was announced as the new player/manager of the Dragons.  When I first heard the news I was surprised, then a little disappointed, then finally okay with it.  I do think that Tanishige will be fine manager, he's probably seen everything that can be seen in Japanese Baseball as a catcher for twenty-five years and counting.  Still the player/manager thing is weird, it doesn't seem like the best possible scenario.  It's hard to say if management is really high on Tanishige and expecting him to transition into the full-time manager for the next decade or if they are just looking for a place holder.

It will be interesting to see how things work in the upcoming season.  Tanishige played in 130 games last year, but will he still be the main catcher now that he's also the manager?  There isn't currently a viable option at catcher to replace him, though there may be a couple free agent options.  If Tanishige continues as the main catcher he will have to rely on his assistant coaches quite a bit, which may not be a bad thing, but we shall see.  In Tanishige's press conference he mentioned that he will emphasize the defensive aspects of the game, which makes sense with him being a catcher and also fits with the skills of the current roster and the philosophy that led to the Dragons' success over the last decade.  Under Tanishige, Chunichi's "boring" style of baseball is likely to continue, but if it wins games I'm all for it. 

In what seems like a synchronous move with Tanishige's promotion, Hiromitsu Ochiai was named the new General Manager.  This is a move I like a whole lot, even if he isn't exactly a general manager, as has been rumored.  I believe that Ochiai is commited to winning and I think that will help in any role that he's given.  I know he's not afraid to make tough choices, and that will be important as the team begins a transition away from it's current veteran roster.  He has a lot of experience with this team and though he's had disagreements with upper management in the past, the fact that he's back already shows they have confidence in him, even though they don't always agree.  I think that will be a positive moving forward.  I believe Ochiai is the right guy for the job.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Takeshi Yamasaki Hangs Up His Spikes

Takeshi Yamasaki, at 44 years old, has now officially retired after 25 years of professional baseball.  He played his final game for the Dragons last Saturday in Chunichi's final game of the season.  The team did several ceremonial things for his last game, as can be seen in these photosYakyubaka has the details of the event including an English translation of his retirement speech.  Japanese Baseball Cards also has a nice write-up about Yamasaki's career.

Though he had already moved on from the Dragons when I began following Japanese baseball, I've been a fan of his.  There's a lot to like, at least for me, he's from Aichi and went to Aikodai Meiden, he's got the big slowpitch softball swing and even drives a lamborghini.  He also authored one of my father-in-laws favorite Dragons' moments:

A walkoff home run from 1999 bringing Chunichi's magic number to five.  They eventually held off the Giants and went to the Japan Series that year for the first time since 1988.

He wasn't the most consistent player, but his at-bats were always must-see, he wasn't going to be cheated and a prolific home run could be on the way.  I'm glad he could go out as a Dragon.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

2013: What Went Wrong

Today's the last game of the season for Chunichi who will finish the season in 4th place with their first losing season in over a decade.  Depending on how the last game goes they will lose either 23 or 24 more games than last season.  That's a significant difference, especially for team with nearly the same roster, so let's take a look at that factors that added up to a very mediocre season:


Every team has injuries, and Chunichi had their fair share last year and was able to maintain, but major injuries to the team's best players this year had a clear impact on their their record.  The Dragons lost their ace, Kazuki Yoshimi, early in the season.  He pitched in only 36+ innings prior to opting for season-ending arm surgery and the innings he did pitch were negatively impacted by his worsening elbow injury.
Takuya Asao, arguably the team's best reliever and go-to guy to get an out in clutch late-inning situations wasn't available for the first half of the season.  During that time the bullpen was a mess, with several players including last year's rookie stud, Shinji Tajima, struggling to get outs and the Dragons lost a bunch of close games because of it.  In the past the bullpen was the strength of the team, bailing out an average to below-average offense.
Chunichi lost league leading hitter Hector Luna for the second half of the season due to a knee injury and like Yoshimi his play was starting to be affected by the injury prior to calling it quits for the season.
The Dragons were also without the services of useful starting pitchers like Kenshin Kawakami, Soma Yamauchi and Junki Ito for the majority of the season.

Top of the Batting Order

Yohei Oshima took a step back this year.  He was an all-star last year and great all-around player.  In 2012 he hit .310 with a .376 OBP as the full-time leadoff hitter.  This year his defense was still good but he struggled at the plate hitting only .249 with a .307 OBP.  He eventually lost his job to Atsushi Fujii, but got it back when Fujii got hurt. 
Hirokazu Ibata's production dropped significantly this year as well.  He was unable to carry his hot hitting in the WBC to the NPB regular season and his participation in the WBC may have had a negative impact on his year as he battled nagging injuries all season.  His BA dropped by .048 and his OBP dropped by .033 points in 2013.

The Bullpen

As mentioned previously the bullpen was a mess early in the season.  It was one of the main contributing factors to the Dragons digging themselves a hole in the first month.  It was failure by committee as it seemed like no one could get the lead to Iwase in the ninth.  Tajima struggled horribly and Mutoh, Yamai and the rest did as well.  Kenichi Nakata was eventually converted to a reliever and did well in that that role.  When he stabilized the bullpen the Dragons were finally able to crawl out of the cellar.  As the season went on the bullpen got stronger.  Asao returned, foreigner Warner Madrigal was added and Hitoki Iwase was solid all year long.  At the end of the year the bullpen was a strength of the team again but a lot of the Dragons lack of success this year can be attributed to how many games the bullpen kicked early in the season.

The Overall Pitching Staff / The New Ball

Chunichi's Team ERA rose for the second straight year from 2.46 in 2011 to 2.58 in 2012 to 3.82 this year.  A lot of that has to do with the injuries and the new ball, but the Dragons ERA didn't rise proportionally with the rest of the Central League.  They led the CL in Team ERA in 2011, were second in 2012 and are fourth this year.  Overall they just haven't pitched that well this and that's what the Dragons prior success has been based on.  It's possible that the new ball affected them more than other teams, as most of their starters pitch to contact, but I don't really like that argument.  I think it was something that all of the NPB pitchers had to deal with this year.  I would say that the injuries had a bigger impact on where they ranked, but it will be interesting to see how they do next year.  I'm pretty sure the league won't secretly introduce another new ball again next year.

Offensive Production at First Base?

Most will probably say that Chunichi shouldn't have let Tony Blanco go last offseason, and that is probably true but I don't really see that as a major factor in the difference in success of last year and this year.  Had Matt Clark done more damage at the plate it may have helped to change Chunichi's fortunes this year, but in the end they got about the same production from Clark that they got from the combination of Blanco and Morino last year.  If you look at Clark's numbers this year he hit .238 with 14 doubles, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 49 BB and 130 SO in 467 plate appearances.  Last year Blanco was injured for a portion of the season and had only 359 plate appearances, but if you add 108 of Morino's plate appearance and prorate Morino's numbers you get .249, 15 doubles, 25 HR, 76 RBI, 51 BB and 99 SO for the combo.  Clark did strike out more often than the Blanco/Morino combo, but the production is about the same.  This comparison doesn't account for this year's juiced ball but I still don't think it would be a dramatic difference.  Chunichi should still look to get more from the position next year.

The Old Guys?

Did age catch up to the Dragons' veteran players this year.  Ibata did take a step back and Araki hasn't been any good in a while, but most of the other vets had solid years.  At least about as good or better than last year.

Kazuhiro Wada 2013 .275, 21 2B, 18 HR, 76 RBI, .371 OBP, .435 SLG
Wada 2012 .285, 32 2B, 9 HR, 63 RBI, .370 OBP, .409 SLG

Motonobu Tanishige 2013 .217, 12 2B, 6 HR, 34 RBI, .306 OBP, .296 SLG
Tanishige 2012 .228, 14 2B, 5 HR, 32 RBI, .324 OBP, .303 SLG
He's a career .241 hitter and still good defensively.

Masahiko Morino 2013 .287, 20 2B, 16 HR, 51 RBI, .369 OBP,  .463 SLG
Morino 2012 .249, 23 2B, 6 HR, 50 RBI, .327 OBP, .348 SLG

Hitoki Iwase 2013 ERA 1.86, 36 SV, 0.513 BB/SO
Iwase 2012 ERA 2.29, 33 SV, 0.433 BB/SO

You could make a case that the hitters should have done even better with the new ball, but these are still solid numbers and Iwase's numbers were better when they should have gotten worse.

The Manager?

It's hard to say much about what's really going on in a team's clubhouse, but there did appear to be some rifts this year between Takagi and some of his players.  This being Takagi's last year may have also had some impact.  I do give Takagi some credit, though I'm happy to see a new manager coming in.  He wasn't dealt a full hand this year and in some cases was able to tinker with things and find some success.  It was far from a great season, but Chunichi was at least in the race until the final week.

The Positives

While the season overall was unsuccessful there were some positives.  After getting off too a slow start Ryosuke Hirata came back to have his best season yet.  He seemed to square up more good fastballs this year and looks like he could become a full-time corner outfielder moving forward. 
Shuhei Takahashi is looking like he's closer to becoming a regular though he's still very young.  He's looking more comfortable and had some big hits, but is still understandably inconsistant. 
Masahiko Morino's bat showed some life with the switch to the juiced ball, he also showed he could be a capable second baseman. 
Atsushi Fujii did well with more playing time and looked like he may be a bit more than just a late inning defensive replacement.
Daniel Cabrera did pretty well, he certainly didn't walk as many guys as I thought he would.  The team hasn't decided yet whether he will be back for next year.
Yudai Ono in the rotation and Toshiya Okada in the bullpen were both solid this year and can hopefully improve on that next year.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chunichi Drops First Game of Hiroshima Series, Playoff Chances Near Zero

With last night's 5-3 loss to Hiroshima the Dragons are now 5 1/2 games behind the Carp with seven games left to play.  After failing to make up much ground this past weekend, only one game in the standings, it was already reaching "needing a miracle" territory for the Dragons.  Last night's loss was the next to last nail in the 2013 season coffin. 

Chunichi had Kawakami on the mound for the game and he pitched well, leaving the game with a 3-2 Dragons lead after six.  The Carp took the lead in the top of the 7th with some clutch hitting off of Mise and Asao.  The Hiroshima bullpen held the lead from there.

It would take an all-time collapse now by Hiroshima for the Dragons to make the playoffs and that's not going to happen.  Hiroshima is playing some good ball right now, right when they needed to.  They may even make it to .500 by the end of the season, maybe for the first time all season.  If they do make it into the playoffs, hopefully they will at least knock off Hanshin and Yomiuri in the Climax.  They don't the same talent as those teams, but with good pitching they have a chance, the Dragons have shown that over the past several years.

I'll at least be rooting for Rakuten this year.  They are the Pacific League team I pull for and have a good shot to do some damage.  They're a lot better than the last time they made the playoffs with the 41 year old "zombie corpse" (per the Eagles blog) of Takeshi Yamasaki as one of their main players.  He did hit 39 homers that year though, plus three more in the playoffs.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Chunichi Up Against the Ropes

The chances of Chunichi keeping their postseason steak going are starting to look slim, but they still have opportunities to fight back into a playoff spot.  With eleven games left Chunichi is chasing Hiroshima by 5.5 games.  Definitely a big hill to climb, but fortunately the Dragons will be playing a weaker opponent this weekend in Yokohama while Hiroshima will facing Yomiuri in Tokyo.  Also, four of Chunichi's final 11 will be against the Carp including a series starting Tuesday at the Nagoya Dome.  So this next six game stretch will be Chunichi's best opportunity to make up ground.  If they aren't within a game or two of Hiroshima by next Friday you can stick a fork in 'em, but I'm holding out hope that the Dragons can make a run.  Momentum isn't currently on Chunichi's side, as they've been playing about .500 ball this month while Hiroshima has gone 11-4 this September.  Still if the Dragons can close the gap and apply some pressure, they are by far a more playoff-hardened group than the Carp who only have a handful of guys who have played in a professional postseason game.  It won't be easy, but it's not over, stay fired up Dragons fans!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Coming Down the Stretch... Chunichi @ Hiroshima Carp, Sep. 3 - 5

Chunichi and Hiroshima, each with 25 games left in the season, will face off this week in a three game series that starts tomorrow night.  Hiroshima currently holds a two game lead over the Dragons for third place and for the final berth to the playoffs in the Central League.  The two teams will play one more head-to-head series at the end of month, but this upcoming series may have a huge impact on which of these teams advances to the playoffs. 

I don't think Chunichi can afford to lose this series, they definitely can't afford to be swept.  Asking a team that's been winning only 44% of their games to make up three or five games over the final twenty-two is probably too much.  On the other hand if the Dragons could sweep or take two of three things could be very interesting down the stretch. 

Winning this series won't be easy for Chunichi, they'll be in playing at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima and though Chunichi has been a better road team than a home team this year I assume the Hiroshima fans will be in force to support a team on the verge of making the playoffs after a very, very long drought.  Hiroshima will also be throwing two of their best pitchers, Kenta Maeda is scheduled for Game 1 and he's obviously having a great season.  In the past Chunichi has done moderately well against Maeda but this season he's been dominant.  Kan Otake will likely pitch in one of the other two games.  Otake always seems to do better against Chunichi than he does against the rest of the league, so he'll be tough.  Kyohei Nakamura may get the other start for Hiroshima, it would be his turn, but they also may go with someone else because of magnitude of this series.

It looks like Chunichi will counter Hiroshima's starters with Kenichi Nakata, Yudai Ono and Kenshin Kawakami.  Nakata had a rough start last time out against Yakult.  Hopefully he can bounce back, he's been a key contributor this year.  Ono's been on a good streak, but will be pitching on less than a week's rest.  Kawakami's pitched well in his two starts since returning from injury though he hasn't gone deep into games, but with how well Chunichi's bullpen has been going they shouldn't need him to.

Both teams are evenly matched so the series, and in turn the season, could be turned either way by just a play or two.  The first game looks like a tough match-up, but if Chunchi can keep it close and make it a battle of the bullpens they could win it.  The second match-up is a coin flip and Chunichi probably has a slight advantage in the third game.  I think the Dragons can take two out of three and keep things interesting, but we shall see.  It's getting to be that time of the season, so let's get fired up Dragons fans!!!   

Thursday, July 25, 2013

2013 to be Morimichi Takagi's Final Year as Chunichi Manager

It's looking even more official now that this will be Morimichi Takagi's last year with the Dragons.  Yakyubaka's recent post links to some reports as well as listing some of Takagi's potential replacements.  This being Takagi's last year has been rumored since before the season started, and moving onto a new manager for 2014 makes a lot of sense for both sides.  Takagi's had a decent and interesting run so far, but his style is likely wearing on the players by this point and at his age he's probably better off leaving the demands of being a professional manager.

Here's a rundown of who's being discussed for the job:

Ken Macha - Pennsylvania native, former major leaguer and former Dragons clean-up hitter in the early 1980s.  Macha also managed six years in the major leagues including four successful seasons with the Oakland A's and two mediocre seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Kazuhiko Ushijima - Former Dragons closer in the early to mid 1980's and five-time NPB All-Star.  He was part of a trade that sent him to Lotte and Hiromitsu Ochiai to Chunichi.  Was the manager of the Yokohama BayStars in 2005 and 2006.

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami - Mr. Dragon, a Dragons legend and member of the Meikyukai.  Assistant coach of the 2013 Team Japan at the World Baseball Classic.

Kazuki Inoue - Long-time Dragons outfielder and current Chunichi hitting coach. 

Motonobu Tanishige - Current Dragons catcher

I'm rooting for either Tatsunami or Inoue.  I think listing Tanishige as a candidate is a stretch, though I wouldn't be surprised to see him become the manager of an NPB team at some point.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Daisuke Yamai No-Hits the Baystars!

On Friday night Daisuke Yamai recorded his first career no-hitter in a 9-0 Chunichi win over Yokohama.  The Dragons jumped out to a 7-run lead in the first prior to Yamai even taking the mound.  Yamai then proceeded to mow down Yokohama's hitters, the first nine in order until a 4th inning walk toTakehiro Ishikawa.  Yamai finished the game with 4 walks and 3 strikeouts, the Dragons defense commited no errors and no Yokohama runner got any farther than first base.  Yamai cruised through the first six innings without giving up any hard hit balls (at least that I recall).  He wasn't striking out many guys but his breaking ball was producing a lot of weak grounders including two double-plays.  After the sixth Yokohama began to hit the ball more squarely and Yamai dodged a few bullets along the way.  Takagi brought Morino and Fujii  in early as defensive replacements to help preserve the no-hitter.  Both players made major contributions as Morino made a nice diving stop on a grounder in the 7th and Fujii overcame a stumble to snag a well hit ball in the 8th, Fujii as well as Ohshima covered a lot of outfield ground in the late innings tracking down deep balls hit by Blanco, Shirasaki and Ramirez.  With two outs in the 9th Yamai fielded a bounding groundball headed towards first base and underhanded to Morino at the bag to record the final out, just getting the speedy Kensuke Uchimura and making himself the 77th NPB pitcher to record a no-hitter.

I can't think of a more deserving pitcher than Yamai to get a no-hitter.  Looking back at Yamai's start in Game 5 of the 2007 Japan Series, in which Daisuke had a perfect game going through 8 innings but was then pulled in favor of closer Hitoki Iwase in what turned out to be the clinching game for Chunichi.  I still agree with then-manager Ochiai's decision, but it was still an unfortunate circumstance for Yamai who came so close to the record books and was left to wonder what would have happened had he come out for the 9th inning.  Now, thanks to his performance Friday night, he and everyone else who follows Japanese baseball knows that he has what takes to finish off a no-hitter.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dragons Ink Hector Luna to Contract Extension

Roughly a week ago Chunichi and third-baseman Hector Luna came to agreement on a contract extension.  The deal adds an additonal two years to Luna's current contract and has a club option for a third year.  Extending Luna makes a lot of sense, not only because he's leading the NPB in hitting, but because he's a capable third-baseman leaving first base open for other foreign players. 

Luna's signing is interesting because it seems to show a change in team philosophy concerning foreign players, at least in this instance.  Over the last near-decade that I've followed the Dragons their management has been unwilling to do multi-year contracts with foreign players, even productive players and fan favorites like Tyrone Woods and Tony Blanco.  I'm not sure if Luna's production alone led to his extension at this time or if the consequences of not re-signing Blanco over the last offseason had something to do with it.  Blanco has been a beast this year for Yokohama, currently hitting .341 with 23 HR and 62 RBI, but I don't think too many people expected him to hit quite that well.  I certainly wasn't expecting that from Blanco, I was a little more than 50-50 in favor of re-signing him because he'd had trouble staying healthy the last couple years and hadn't produced as much as when he first came to Chunichi.  I was also curious to see what other foreign first-basemen could be acquired.  I'm not sure what exactly has led to Blanco's success this year, likely a combination of a fresh environment, the "new" NPB ball and Yokohama's stadium, but in hindsight Chunichi looks pretty bad for letting him go.  Clearly the Dragons didn't want to let Luna get away in free agency and fortunately Luna was interested sticking around.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kazuki Yoshimi Done for the Year

It's about official now that Kaz Yoshimi will need reconstructive elbow surgery which will likely require a year or more of rehabilitation.  The news was posted today on yakyubaka and newspaper reports state that the surgery will occur early next month.  Many pitchers these days return from elbow surgery as strong or stronger than before the injury so Yoshimi, at 28 years old, should have many more seasons left in his arm should his recovery go as expected.

The loss of Yoshimi for the season is a major blow to Chunichi's chances of being a serious contender in the Central.  The Dragons still have a good chance to make a run at a playoff spot and still have a capable pitching staff, but Yoshimi is a on a different level than the rest of Chunichi's staff.  When healthy I'd put him up there with any pitcher in Japan, maybe not stuff-wise but with his ability to get outs and in big situations.  That's something that Chunichi can't live without should they be fortunate enough to make the playoffs.

So far this season Chunichi's pitching hasn't been on par with what its been the last several years.  The bullpen in particular has struggled, but the coaches have juggled things and come up with some, at least short-term, fixes.  One of those moves has been moving Kenichi Nakata to the bullpen where he's a done a solid job.  Nakata's move to the pen though thins Chunichi's starting pitching options even further.  They'll now be missing Yoshimi and have been missing Kenshin Kawakami who's been MIA all season, I assume due to injury, but I haven't seen any details why.  That leaves Soma Yamauchi, Yudai Ohno, Bradley Bergesen, Daniel Cabrera, and Shinji Iwata as the other main starters.  Yamamoto, Asakura and others will likely fill in the last spot.  As far as those first five guys go, they've all had some success now in the NPB, but also had some ups and downs.  Hopefully it will be mostly ups as the season continues, because it will be up to them to keep Chunichi's postseason streak going.  I think they can do it, the bullpen may be a different story though, but of course it all would have looked so much more promising with Kaz Yoshimi as the team's number one.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sunday Night's Game vs. Softbank to be Broadcasted on UStream

Chunichi vs. Softbank May 19th, 6PM JST will be shown on Chunichi's Official UStream.

And here's the rest of the upcoming schedule for UStream Games as shown on their page:

May 25 6PM JST vs. Lions
May 28 6PM JST vs. Marines
June 8 6PM JST vs. Hawks
June 12 6PM JST vs. Lions
May 16 1PM JST vs. Marines (9PM PST, I'll likely be watching this one)
August 20 6PM JST vs. Carp
September 17 6PM JST vs. Giants

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hitoki Iwase Saves his 350th Game

Chunichi closer and all-time NPB leader in saves, Hitoki Iwase, collected his 350th save in last night's 6-3 victory over Yakult.  Iwase has been Chunichi's closer since 2004 and over his career has had five seasons with 40 or more saves and saved more than 30 games in each of his last eight seasons.

Here are some other upcoming Chunichi milestones to watch out for:

Motonobu Tanishige needs 12 more hits to reach Meikyukai status with 2,000 career hits.

Each time Masa Yamamoto pitches he extends his oldest pitcher in the CL record and has a chance to extent his NPB oldest pitcher to start and win a game record.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

What to do with Masahiko Morino?

Masahiko Morino has been Chunichi's starting third baseman the last several years and has started most of the games at first base so far this year.  Early in his career he played outfield and as recently as 2010 was one of the Dragons' main offensive contributors, part of the big 3 along with Tony Blanco and Kazuhiro Wada.  Maybe it's his age, he's 34 now, but it seems more like he hasn't been the same player since the new NPB ball was released in 2011.  He's hit below .250 the last couple years without a lot of power as he's had under 30 total extra-base hits in each of the last two years.  Morino is still a solid corner infield defender and until this year his role has been well defined as there hasn't been a better player on the roster to displace him.  But it looks like that changed with two of Chunichi's foreign player acquisitions this past offseason.

Over the winter Chunichi signed corner infielder Hector Luna and first baseman Matt Clark.  Luna has been given the third base job to start the season and so far has done well.  With Luna at third Morino has been moved to first and Clark has mainly been a pinch-hitter.  The problem is that Clark has a much higher offensive upside than Morino.  That was clear last night as Clark seemed to square up about everything he swung at, including a HR, a single to center that he hit right on the screws and two hard hit breaking balls that we pulled foul down the line.  The difference in pop is significant because Chunichi doesn't have a lot of it in their lineup.  The main question about Clark is how much trouble he'll have making contact, but Morino has been somewhat prone to strikeouts as well.  So it's pretty clear that Clark needs to be given a shot to start at first in the very near future and I'm fairly sure that Takagi will give him that shot as he did with Blanco eventually starting over Yamasaki last year.

So what to do with Morino, can he still play outfield?  That is questionable, and probably not the best idea with a 40-year old Wada already in left field.  Can Morino play second base?  Very unlikely, though I'd prefer to have his bat in the lineup over Araki's.  Unfortunately Morino's best spot right now is probably pinch-hitter and maybe late-inning defensive replacement, defending on if he or Clark is a better defender.  I'd like to have Morino's bat in the lineup over some of the other guys Chunichi has, but we've all been waiting a long time for him to get back on track offensively and right now there isn't really a good spot for him.  It's time for him to be a reserve and prepare for his next opportunity to be a regular, should one come.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Saturday's Game to be Broadcasted on UStream

Saturday's game, Chunichi vs. Yokohama, will be shown on the Dragons' Official UStream.
Gametime is 2 PM Japan Time or 10 PM PST.

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 Outlook

The 2013 season is upon us, Opening Day being this Friday, and I'm looking forward to a very competitive season.  The Central League should be more competive than in past years as lower division teams have done more to help themselves, while upper division teams have remained mostly the same.  Again Yomiuri looks to be the dominant favorite, but below them the teams could finish in almost any order.  Here's how I see things playing out:

1)  Yomiuri Giants - Just like last year the Giants just have too much talent.  Unlike last year, they haven't made many big offseason moves.  With an already established core, it's unlikely they will get off to as slow a start as last year when they finished the first month in last place then roared back to pass the Dragons.  Some of their players are slowing down like Takahashi, Ogasawara and potentially Abe, but other players like Sakamoto and Chono are just reaching their prime.  Also Yomiuri's 2012 foreign players didn't meet expectations and they've brought in a new crop to replace them, which includes former Mariner Jose Lopez, and could make the team even better.

2)  Chunichi Dragons - The Dragons totally revamped their foreign players roster, but otherwise are very nearly the same team as last year.  Yakyubaka has a handy additions/subtractions chart.  Chunichi struggled throughout the preseason and finished dead-last in the standings.  I don't see that having much bearing on the upcoming season, but it's been a little surprising to see how poorly some of the young pitchers have fared.  The Dragons will be counting on some of these young guys as their rotation is not as deep as it's been.  The bullpen could be a little shaky as well depending on how healthy Takuya Asao is this year and if Hitoki Iwase can rebound from a tough 2012.  The new foreign players are looking good so far and could really give the team a boost, but there are also a lot of question marks and the Dragons could easily finish anywhere from 2nd to 5th in the league.

3)  Yakult Swallows - Yakult hardly made a move this offseason, bringing in only veteran infielder Aki Iwamura and reliever Taiyo Fujita.  Neither of these moves will likely help much.  On the other hand they didn't lose much either, aside from reliever Chang-Yong Lim who signed with the Chicago Cubs.  The Swallows will hope for a better year from Kazuhiro Hatekeyama to supplement Lastings Milledge and Wladimir Balentien in the lineup and more consistency from their starting rotation.  Yakult has some holes, but should be about as good as last year.

4)  Hanshin Tigers - The Tigers are a team that has done some things to try to improve over last year's dismal season.  The headline moves being the acquisition of former major leaguers Kosuke Fukudome and Tsuyoshi Nishioka.  With the addition of those two players Hanshin should have a dangerous lineup, but their pitching may be what limits them from bumping either Chunichi or Yakult out of a playoff spot.  If the pitching is good though, I could see Hanshin finishing as high as 2nd. 

5)  Hiroshima Carp - Last year I was thinking that the Carp may be moving in the right direction with how strong their starting rotation was becoming, but they don't appear to have added any difference-making bats to their very weak lineup over the offseason.  Kenta Kurihara will be back, though he's already fighting injuries,  Hiroshima will be relying on Kurihara, Dobayashi, Eldred and newcomer Fred Lewis to provide some run support for their stellar rotation.  I'm not sure that's enough to get them higher than 5th in the division.

6)  Yokohama Baystars - Yokohama has added some talent this year and should be more competitive.  With the combination of Alex Ramirez, Tony Blanco, Nyger Morgan and Norihiro Nakamura they at least have a lot of personality.  I'd like to see them do well, but I think they still have a long way to go.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Team Japan's Hiro, Ibata Named to All-WBC Team

The 2013 All-World Baseball Classic Team was released after the completion of the tournament last week. Chunichi shortstop Hirokazu Ibata was one of only two Japanese players named to the team.  Ibata was named best designated hitter and Hiroshima pitcher Kenta Maeda was also selected as one of three pitchers.

Ibata was not originally expected to be a starting player for this year's team, but after coming through with a clutch RBI pinch-hit in Japan's first game against Brazil and a nice game at the plate in his first start (Japan's third game) manager Yamamoto decided to stick with Ibata's hot bat.  From then on Ibata started every game, mainly at DH, and continued to rack up the hits.  His final totals included 10 hits in 18 AB (a .556 average), with 6 runs scored, 4 RBIs and 5 walks.  Ibata also continued to be clutch knocking in the game-tying run in the 9th inning of a second-round game against Chinese Taipei and getting Japan on the board by knocking in their only run against Puerto Rico in the 3-1 loss that eliminated Japan from the tournament.

A truly exceptional and unexpected performance by Ibata, hopefully he can carry the momentum into the season, which is now less than a week away.

The rest of the All-WBC team can be seen here, as posted on yakyubaka.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The 1974 Dragons, Giant Killers!

I recently watched a short NHK documentary on the final weeks of the 1974 season and how the Dragons held off Yomiuri to win the Central and break the Giants stranglehold on the CL of 9 straight league titles.  The documentary featured interviews with then-pitcher Senichi Hoshino, 2nd baseman Morimichi Takagi and catcher Tatsuhiko Kimata

The account begins with the Dragons having a substantial lead over Yomiuri, but with the pressure mounting Chunichi's bats go cold and Yomiuri closes in.  With seven games to play Chunichi's magic number is 4.  The remaining schedule includes three games against Yakult in Tokyo, followed by a doubleheader against Taiyo and two final road games against the Giants.  Chunichi's players desperately want to clinch the league title prior to the series against Yomiuri.  The Giants at that time were seen as unbeatable and for the most part were unbeatable, they were coming off of not only the nine straight league titles but 9 straight Japan Series Championships as well, and other teams had crumbled facing the same pressure that Chunichi was facing as recently as the previous year. 

The Yakult series started off poorly for Chunichi as they lost the first two games in low-scoring contests.  Fortunately, Yomiuri lost one of their games during that stretch to bring Chunichi's magic number to 3.  Going into the following game confidence in the Dragons' dugout was getting low and sank even further as Yakult jumped out to an early lead.  In the 5th inning with Chunichi still trailing Kimata, hitting seventh in the order, stepped to the plate with runners on base.  As Kimata stood in the batters box the Yakult catcher notified him that his knees were shaking.  Kimata realized at that point just how nervous he was, but stepped back into the box and slapped a game-tying single through the right side.  Later on Yakult added a run and took a 3-2 lead into the top of the 9th.  In the ninth Kimata again came to the plate and again he succeeded, hitting a one-out double to left.  Kimata advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, bringing Takagi to the plate with two outs.  Takagi swung at the first pitch sending a hard grounder past the third baseman and sending Kimata home with the tying run.

Going to the bottom of the inning there was some dissagrement with the Dragons' coaches over who should pitch the final frame.  Hoshino, the Dragons' ace starter who was due to pitch the next day, as well as their main reliever were in the bullpen.  The manager decided to go with Hoshino, who said that he was feeling the pressure as well, but was surprised at the quality of his warmup pitches in the bullpen.  He took the hill for the ninth, and in his words pitched the best inning of his career, striking out two batters and inducing a weak groundout to preserve the tie.

With the magic number now at two the pressure seemed to fade away and the team's confidence returned.  They felt that they would win both games against Taiyo the next day and wrap up the title, which is exactly what happened.  The Dragons won both games easily with Hoshino pitching eight innings in one of them. 

When the Dragons returned to Nagoya a huge parade was held, reportedly attended by what amounted to half of the population of Nagoya.  Chunichi lost to Lotte in the Japan Series that year in six games, but control in the Central League had shifted and Yomiuri's reign of dominance came to an end.  Yomiuri appeared in only 5 of the next 15 Japan Series with only one Japan Series Championship over that period.  Prior to that they had appeared in 19 of the first 24 Japan Series with 15 championships.

You can see the video here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

NPB Team Websites in English

Just happened to be looking at some of the official team websites and noticed that a few teams have English pages, unfortunately Chunichi is not one of them.  You can find links to all of the team websites from this page.

The three teams below have English pages:

Yakult Swallows - Just some basic information here

Orix Buffaloes - Orix's site actually has it's own automatic translator which converts the text on most pages to English

Softbank Hawks - Quite a bit here, including info about the online goods shop which will even ship to the U.S.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New Red Uniform is Out

The red "moedra" uniform that had been rumored was released last week and looks exactly how I expected it would.  That isn't a bad thing, I actually like it a lot.  It's just a red version of the home uniform with the navy piping flipped to white.  They probably could have have had a little more fun with the design, but at least they didn't screw up a good thing.  The Chunichi players should be fired up to wear these bad boys!  More info here

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tatsuro Iwasaki to join Rakuten

Over the weekend Chunichi's front office made the decision to deal Tatsuro Iwasaki to the Golden Eagles for cash considerations. I haven't seen it reported as to how much money will be headed to Chunichi, but it's unlikely that it will be very much.  Yakyubaka has a post on the move.  Iwasaki has been with the Dragons since 2006 when he was a 5th-round draft pick, selected from ENEOS of the industrial leagues.  Iwasaki is a very skilled middle-infielder, but he's 28 now and hasn't hit much at either NPB level.  I'm guessing that Rakuten is looking at him as either a late-inning defensive player or ni-gun filler.  Hopefully he can be a useful role player for the Eagles, as they look to have a pretty competitive team this year.

Friday, March 1, 2013

2013 WBC Predictions

Just hours away from the WBC kickoff featuring Chinese Taipei and Austrailia in Taiwan.  I've been looking forward to the WBC for a while, and I'm really hoping for a good showing from the USA.  I'm also hoping for another Japan vs. USA matchup with a USA win to restore some of the bragging rights in my household.  Based on how the bracket sets up both the U.S. and Japan would have to make it to the final four to enable them to face off, and I'm not sure either team has what it takes to make it that far.  The field in general seems a little less talented than in 2009 with a lot of stars choosing not to play, but a lot of good players will still be there and because it's early in the year and guys won't be in mid-season form the tournament should be fairly unpredictable as it was in 2009.

In the spirit of the upcoming NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, here's my WBC bracket:

Advancing from Pool A: Japan & Cuba (to Pool 1)
Advancing from Pool B: Korea & Chinese Taipei (to Pool 1)
Advancing from Pool C: D.R. & Venezuela (to Pool 2)
Advancing from Pool D: USA & Mexico (to Pool 2)

Advancing from Pool 1: Cuba & Korea
Advancing from Pool 2: Venezuela & USA

Championship Game: Venezuela vs. Korea

Update: Wow, I could not have done much worse, about the only thing I predicted right is that it would be unpredictable.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hirokazu Ibata to Represent Japan at the WBC

Hirokazu Ibata was the only Dragon selected for the final Team Japan roster this week.  Dragons Kazuki Yoshimi, Takuya Asao, Daisuke Yamai and Yohei Oshima participated in preliminary workouts but will not be on the team.  Injuries contributed to Yoshimi, Asao and Oshima not being selected (Yoshimi actually withdrew).
Ibata is a good choice for a reserve infielder, he's got a lot of experience and is excellent defensively.  He's spent significant time at shortshop and second base, plus he could play the other infield positions in a pinch.  I don't anticipate him playing a whole lot based on the talent on the roster, but congratulations to him for making the team, it will be his first time playing in a WBC tournament.
Congratulations as well to the Seattle Mariners who will be playing the tournament, Michael Saunders (Canada), Alex Liddi (Italy) and Oliver Perez (Mexico).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Spring Training on USTREAM

The Dragons official USTREAM page (see link on the right) has been showing a ton of video from Chunichi's spring practices in Okinawa.  They are also broadcasting the preseason games!  I watched a portion of yesterday's game against Hanshin.  Chunichi lost 15-11, in a game where none of their regulars played.  Shuhei Takahashi and Ryosuke Hirata were the big names in the lineup and the Dragons' young pitchers were hit hard.  The Dragons fought back late to make what was a 13-4 game 13-11 going into the 9th, but Hanshin was able to get two more in the top of the 9th and closed out the Dragons in the bottom of the inning.  Yakyubaka has some more notes on the game.

Here's a portion of the schedule for preseason games:

2/16 vs. Hanshin (Replay is available on USTREAM)
2/17 13:00 (JST) vs Kia
2/22 13:00 (JST) vs Kia
2/23 13:00 (JST) vs. Lotte
2/24 13:00 (JST) vs. Orix
The rest of the schedule is here on the Dragons website.

They aren't currently listing which games will be broadcasted, but I imagine at least the games at their home stadium will be.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Red Uniform Sketch

I saw on yakyubaka about a week ago that Chunichi is thinking about/planning to have red alternate uniforms this year.  The design of the red uniforms has yet to be released, but I'm behind the idea even though it's probably a little early for them to do alternates, since their new uniform set just came out last year.  I'm also thankful that they settled on red, rather than yellow or green which was apparently discussed.  Of course there is always the chance they will break those out in 2014.

I'm not sure when the new uni's will be released, but in the meantime I've come up with a design of what I'm hoping they will look something like.

Red vest & 3-color cap

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dragons Sign Matt Clark

According to several reports and his own twitter account, Matt Clark, a Padres farmhand will be a Chunichi Dragon in the very near future.  Clark is a first baseman and has played some outfield.  He's 26 years old and has spent the last two years with the AAA Tuscon Padres.  He's never appeared in a major league game, but his minor league numbers are solid.  Had the Padres not had so many other 1B prospects he probably would have gotten a look in the majors, he has attended major league spring training.  It sounds like he's most known for his power and for being somewhat strikeout-prone, but his overall batting average and on-base percentage numbers look plenty good.  Here's a video about him from last year:

It's been reported that former Dragon and current professional hitting coach Alonzo Powell may be involved with the acquisition.  According to yakyubaka Powell has also been invited to be a special instructor at the Dragons' Spring Camp, something that could help with Clark's acclimation to Japan.  Clark is a little younger than most foreign players who come to the NPB and may still have a shot at the majors should he succeed in Japan, so he's got a lot to play for.  As far as how he would fit on the Dragons, if he can do for Chunichi what he's done for the Tuscon Padres the last two years, he will fill the power bat, first base hole that was left by Tony Blanco's move to Yokohama.  From what I've been reading, he sounds like a good guy and ready to go wherever baseball leads him.  I'm excited to see what he can do in 2013.

Here's a link to an interview with Clark from last year here.

Update: The deal is official