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.