Monday, December 1, 2014

Take Me Out to the Yakyu


<a target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/s/?_encoding=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&field-keywords=take%20me%20out%20to%20the%20yakyu&linkCode=ur2&tag=fromsmaltowni-20&url=search-alias%3Daps&linkId=Y3HKATC2HNNWB5OQ">take me out to the yakyu</a><img src="https://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=fromsmaltowni-20&l=ur2&o=1" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />
Came across this book the other day at the library. It's an award-winning childrens' book written and illustrated by Aaron Meshon. The book gives a fun comparison of baseball and the baseball experience in the states and in Japan. It's completely full of colorful artwork and has a Japanese-English Baseball Dictionary in the back. I definitely recommend it, good holiday gift, I will be giving one. And by the way, in his bio he says he saw his first NPB game in Nagoya and his dog is named Chubu, so I'm thinking he's a Dragons fan. Happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Upcoming Free Agency

Lots of NPB free agency rumors out there right now as the period for free agents to declare themselves is now open.  Eligible players with free agency options still have several days to declare so at this point it's still unclear who exactly will be available to sign.

After missing the last two post-seasons Chunichi should be a player in the free agent market, but based on recent history they probably won't be much of one.  The Dragons have obvious needs at catcher, middle infield and starting pitching and there are some potentially useful players out there.

Lets take a look at their options at the following positions:

Catcher:
This may be Chunichi's greatest need, but unfortunately it looks like the two most promising catchers eligible for free agency will be remaining with their current teams.  Motohiro Shima would be a great pick up, he's a good all-around player and from the Chubu region.  Unfortunately he has chosen to remain with Rakuten.  Ginjiro Sumitani of the Lions was another potential target, though his offensive numbers are nothing special, he probably would have been upgrade for the Dragons.  He was linked to the Dragons in several articles during the season, but in the end he chose to remain with Seibu for at least one more season.

Middle Infield:
There are a few potential difference makers out there.  Hiroyuki Nakajima, Kensuke Tanaka, Yuichi Honda, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Eishin Soyogi could all be on the market.  If I could have my choice I'd take Tanaka or Nishioka.  Tanaka is just a pro in every way, he'd look great as the two hitter in Chunichi's lineup and at second base every day.  Sounds likely though that he will be returning to the Fighters for the upcoming season.  Nishioka is one of the youngest of the group and though he's coming off of a tough injury, he has already re-acclimated himself to the NPB and had some success in 2013.  Nakajima will likely be expensive and may not be what he once was, I highly doubt Honda will exercise his option and I've never really been a fan of Soyogi though he's coming off of a couple solid seasons and I doubt he'll be leaving the Carp.

Starting Pitching:
Chunichi's first order of business in free agency was to lock up Daisuke Yamai who earned his free agent option for the first time after last season.  Yamai, coming off of his best season, will be staying with the Dragons and at a reasonable price.  Some interesting potential free agent starting pitchers are Chihiro Kaneko, Yoshihisa Naruse, Atsushi Nomi and Hiroki Kuroda.   The Dragons haven't been linked to any of these other starters so it's probably a long shot for them to go get any of them.  If they have a chance at any of them it's probably Naruse, he's going to end up somewhere.

UPDATE:
Yakyubaka has posted a list of the players who have filed for free agency, linked here.
Ryoji Aikawa has filed and would be a nice pick up.  He's 38, so not a long term option, but could be a useful catching option for a couple years.  None of the domestic infield options I listed filed, like usual, a very limited NPB free agent class.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Some Mildly Surpising Names on Chunichi's Senryokugai List

Over the last week or so yakyubaka has been posting each teams' players who will not be offered contracts for next season, at least at this time.  It's always seems strange to me that these are released prior to the end of the season.  The teams that are still alive in the playoffs now each have a handful of guys that are like dead men walking going into the biggest games of the season.  I guess it could have a motivating effect on those guys given they get a chance in the playoffs, but sadly that is not an issue for Chunichi this year as they failed to make the playoffs for a second straight season.

On October 1st Chunichi officially announced the following players will not be back:

Takehiro Tsuji
Kosi Inoue
Kento Yachi
Kohei Oda
Daisuke Tanaka
Ryoji Nakata
Yuto Morikoshi
Shingo Ito
Takehiro Donoue
Sang-Hoon Song

Kohei Oda is not a surprise as he's been a career backup at catcher who has managed to have a 17 year NPB career despite never getting more than 95 plate appearances in a season.  Though he has never been on the field much he has had some memorable playoff hits and has contributed at times when given a chance.  He's definitely been a good bench guy, but at 37 years old he probably knew that his time could be running out.

The two names that I was most surprised to see were Takehiro Donoue and Ryoji Nakata.  Both are under 30 years old and had solid years at ni-gun.  Nakata has yet to develop the power that Chunichi had probably hoped when they drafted him; only two home runs at ni-gun this year, but slugged .423.  He's currently pretty deep on the depth chart at the positions he can play and struggles with weight problems, but at 26 years old I still had hope for him.  Takehiro Donoue is a little older at 29 years old, but has shown some ability to hit at the ichi-gun level.  He was a guy that I had hoped would get more playing time a couple years ago.  I think that it could be a bit of a mistake to let him go though Hirata seemingly has looked down the right-field position and Fujii is now the go-to fourth outfielder.  Still, guys get hurt and Wada probably doesn't have more than a year or two left.  Donoue gives you a little depth, I can't understand why they are letting him go.  I wouldn't be surpised at all if both of these guys are picked up by other teams.





Friday, August 29, 2014

Dragons Streaking the Wrong Way: Dreadful August Puts Them Out of Contention

It's been a rough month for the Dragons.  Chunichi is currently 7-18 in August with only two more games to play.  What was shaping up to be a five team race for the Central League playoffs has turned to an undramatic three team race with Yomiuri, Hanshin and Hiroshima separating themselves from Chunichi and Yokohama over the course of the month.  Chunichi's uncharacteristic lack of pitching depth has come back to haunt them as they've given up six runs or more in 11 of their losses this month.  That's not going to get it done and so they are left to hope for next year.

Chunichi's talent level isn't that far (if at all) behind teams like Hanshin and Hiroshima so there is hope for next year.  The Dragons didn't get a ton out of their foreign players this year except for Hector Luna, while the Tigers and Carp have gotten quite a bit, so there is room to improve there.  Chunichi's young pitchers may do better next year with more seasoning and with better health and a little luck they could be back in the playoffs.  Unfortunately though 2014 will not be their year.  Fortunately though for me, as this has been a backwards, flip-flopped year, while my favorite NPB teams Chunichi and Rakuten are near or at the bottom, my two favorite MLB teams the Mariners and Royals are now contenders after years of mediocre play.  I guess a guy can't have it all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Justin.tv Says Goodbye

Justin.tv has unfortunately been shut down.
It's been a great resource and allowed me to enjoy Japanese baseball in a way I would never have guessed years ago when my in-laws were still sending/bringing us VHS and DVD recordings of games.
It has also been the best, easiest place to find recorded playoff games the last few years.
But now it's gone and there are alternatives out there, Reddit NPB is a good resource for finding games.

Update: Where the heck am I going to watch college football games?  Go Dawgs!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dragons Trade Kyohei Iwasaki to Orix for Taiki Mitsumata

In one the few trade deadline moves Chunichi sent Kyohei Iwasaki to Orix in exchange for Taiki Mitsumata.  I don't know a ton about Orix's roster, but I imagine this was a move to add a little depth to their middle infield as it doesn't appear to be a move that would improve Chunichi's playoff chances, at least for this season. 

Iwasaki is 28-years old and wasn't seeing much time with the ichi-gun team this year.  He had less than 100 plate appearance at ichi-gun in his career with the Dragons.  He's a bit of a light hitter and hasn't had much success as a hitter in his ni-gun career either, though he did have a fairly high OBP this year.  I'm sure Orix is looking to add him for his defense and hoping he'll at least be able to get on base at a reasonable rate.  I don't know if they are planning to use him much, maybe for late-inning defense.

Though this looks to be minor trade, Mitsumata could eventually turn out to be an interesting player.  He is only 22-years old and was a 2nd-round draft pick of the Buffaloes out high school in 2010.  So far he's been about a .230ish hitter in ni-gun and has had limited opportunities at ichi-gun.  He showed power in high school hitting double-digit home runs in his final year at Shutoku HS.  He's not likely to give Chunichi much this year, but he's young and still has time to improve.

For the time being I'm liking this trade.  I think Mitsumata has a chance to be a better player than Iwasaki is or will be and hopefully can be a future middle-infield piece for the Dragons.  Chunichi needs more middle-infield prospects, it's kind of a weakness right now as they've had to sign a foreigner to play shortstop, pretty uncommon, and have an aging second-baseman.  So far the prospects they have haven't stepped up and though Shuhei Takahashi is looking promising right now he's probably more of a corner infielder than a middle-infielder long-term.  This hopefully will end up being a trade that benefits both teams, Orix in the short-term and Chunichi in the long-term.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

PSSBL Game at Safeco Field




















I was very fortunate to be able to participate in a charity baseball game put on by the league I play in for the benefit of the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington.  It was a great experience in one of my favorite places in the world and I'm glad I was able to share it with my family and some great guys and benefiting a great cause.

Please visit the Make-a-Wish website to see some of the stories of children who have benefited from the organization and the effect it's had on these children and their families.

Also a very, very cool story here about 18-year old Xander Bailey's wish to become a pro soccer player and his day as a Seattle Sounder, put together by Make-a-Wish and Sounders FC.

CL Race Tightens Up

With Yomiuri on a semi-skid, Hiroshima treading water, Chunichi playing pretty good ball and Hanshin playing really good ball the Central League race has tightened up considerably.  All four teams are now within 4.5 games of each other and could probably end up finishing in any order 1-4. 

Chunichi has been a little banged up, but are starting to get their players back.  Yoshimi has returned and started a couple games, Araki is back and Luna and Hirata should be joining the ichi-gun team within the next couple weeks.  In the meantime their replacements have been chipping in and Shuhei Takahashi has joined the big club. 

The Dragons will face the Carp in six of their next nine games, important games in what is currently a battle for third and fourth in the standings. 

Also, congratulations to Hitoki Iwase who increased his NPB all-time record for saves by picking up save No.400 in Chunichi's victory Saturday over Yomiuri.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dragons Pull Even For Third Place

Thanks to an excellent performance by Daisuke Yamai, Chunichi was able to defeat Hanshin yesterday and move into a tie for third place with the Tigers.  The Dragons scored a run in the 8th to break a 1-1 tie and Yamai and Iwase were able to escape jams in the bottom of the 8th and 9th innings to preserve the victory. 

Chunichi had been stuck in 4th place since nearly the start of the season, but the Cental League has been tightening up.  Interleague play was good to the Dragons as they gained ground against Hanshin and Hiroshima.  Hopefully Chunichi can keep it up and make the Central League race interesting down the stretch, the season is almost half over already.  Hiroshima has been coming back down to earth so 2nd place isn't out of the question. 

Asao is back, and pitching well, and Yoshimi could be back as soon as next month.  That should help.  Hirata is banged up now, hopefully he won't be out for long.  Anderson Hernandez has gotten hot and given the team a boost as Naomichi Donoue has slumped back to the bench.  Outside of Yomiuri, all of the Central League teams have flaws so really any of the other teams could find themselves playing in the Climax Series. 

The Dragons are making a run, get fired up Dragons fans! 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

One Month In

The Dragons currently sit in 4th place after the first five weeks of the season.  At this point the Central League's top three teams are bunched within a few games of each other and bottom three teams are bunched together with about 5 games separating the two groups.  There is still a long way to go though and 5 games doesn't mean much at this point.

So far the offence has been stronger than it's been for several years, but the regulation ball has been traveling well this year and that probably has a lot to do with it.  Still Oshima and even Araki have been doing well at the top of the lineup and Luna and Hirata have hit very well in the 3-4 spots.  Morino and Wada have been contributing, especially of late.  Ogasawara has hit well in his role and Naomichi Donoue and Masato Matsui were hitting well, but have slumped lately.

Both Luna and Wada are near the top of the league with 7 home runs and 27 RBI each, but outside of those two they comparatively haven't hit for a ton of power and currently rank last in the league in home runs and 5th in runs scored. Their runs scored numbers aren't that far from the pack though, only Hanshin and Yakult have scored a lot more runs than Chunichi so far.

Though they rank third in the Central in runs allowed, run prevention seems to be what's holding the Dragons back.  I can't imagine Chunichi hitting much better than they have so far, but I could definitely see some improvement in their pitching and defense.  For the Dragons to be playoff contenders they will have be one of the top pitching staffs, which is what they've been in the past.  So far Daisuke Yamai has been the only consistent starter.  They have gotten some surprise contributions from Kenta Asakura, Yudai Kawai and Tatsuro Hamada, but they will need more consistency from Yudai Ono, Daniel Cabrera and a healthy Kaz Yoshimi for Chunichi to stay in the race.  The bullpen has been pretty good so far, except for a few blowups.  I've been impressed with Daisuke Sobue the few times I've seen him as well as some of the other young bullpen arms.  Outside of Wada in left field there is no reason why the Dragons shouldn't be a solid defensive team, I don't know what their overall defensive numbers are (or any source in English that would show them), but they've definitely had some sorry moments. 

Going forward Chunichi needs to continue hitting at their current level, get some more consistency from their starting pitching and keep looking to improve their foreign players roster, they have three foreign spots that they've gotten almost no production from.  If they can do any of that they can certainly stay in the race for the long run.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Isobe Max vs. Takashi Skylarks

Back in February I was able to attend my eldest neice's Little League Championship Game.  We originally had planned to go to a Chunichi open-sen game that day but the Max's game ended up falling on the same day. 
Isobe finished the regular season in a three-way tie for first with the Skylarks and another team and so there was a three team round robin tiebreaker scheduled.  Each team played the other once with the champion being the team that gave up the fewest runs over the two games.  The Max lost their morning game 2-1 and the Skylarks had won there previous game putting Isobe in a position where if they won the final game by three runs or more they would win the championship.
The final game moved quickly as neither team was able to score, Isobe had more scoring chances but couldn't cash in.  The score remained 0-0 into the sixth inning (of a seven inning game).  Things didn't look good for the Max who had to score at least 3, but then things got worse, the Skylarks got men on base and Isobe brought their infield and outfield in to try and prevent any runs from scoring.  That strategy didn't work out as the Skylark popped three consecutive hits over the drawn-in outfielders' heads leading to a 4-0 lead.  The Max rallied in the top of 7th scoring two runs with two outs, but fell short 4-2 finishing in third place.
It was a fun game and I'm glad I was able to go, the Max plays year round and every time I've gone to Japan I've been able to practice with them or help with practice dating back to 2007.  Now my nephew is going to High School (Toyota) and it won't be long until my neices are too old for Little League too.  I will definitely miss hanging with the Max.  Go Isobe!

Pre-game

 

The younger Max team cheering on the older kids


video

video

video
 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Congratulations to Toyokawa High School Baseball!

Nice run by Toyokawa HS at the Spring Koshien.
Yakyubaka has all the scores.
They won three games in their first Koshien appearance.
Finally losing in the semifinals to Osaka's Riseisha in a very entertaining game.
Toyokawa trailed Riseisha 6-2 going into the bottom of 8th inning of their final game.
Toyokawa then dramatically scored 5 runs, all with 2 outs to take a 7-6 lead into the 9th.
Riseisha responded with a lead off home run to tie the game.
The game continued to the 10th, but Toyokawa ran out of pitching and Riseisha took advantage, winning the game and moving on to the final.
Congratulations Toyokawa, way to rep for the Toyokawa/Toyohashi area!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

2014 Dragons Fan Club Jersey

We took a family vacation to Japan in February and visited Aichi, Shizuoka and did some sight seeing in Tokyo, including Tokyo Disneyland.  I'm finally getting around to sharing some things from the trip.  First up is this year's official fan club jersey given to me by my brother and sister-in-law.




 



















As you can see in the second photo it's got a pretty cool new logo, at least not a logo I've seen.  I'd definitely like to see more of this guy.  Sorry Shaolon, you can stay as a mascot, but your days as a minimalist/ambiguous team logo may be numbered.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Opening Day Lineup Announced

The Opening Day lineup for Friday night's game against the Carp has been anounced. 
It's been posted by yakyubaka and Nikkan Sports.

Here is the lineup and my thoughts on it:

CF Yohei Oshima - He's had a good preseason and it's once again his job to lose.  I don't think he will.

2B Masahiro Araki - I've seen enough of Araki, but he's been with the team for a long time.  Let him start the first game then sit him on the bench the rest of the season.

3B Hector Luna - Hopefully he can get off to a hot start like he did last year.

RF Ryosuke Hirata - He's earned his spot.

1B Masahiko Morino - Michihiro Ogasawara and Alexis Gomez are other options, but Morino is the logical choice.  Gomez didn't show enough in the preseason and Ogasawara will probably be in more of a pinch-hitting role.  I think Morino will get most of the time at first at least to start the season.

LF Kazuhiro Wada - Still crushing the ball at the age of 41, hit .382 for the preseason. 

SS Anderson Hernandez - Veteran player, seems to do things the right way in the field.  Too early to tell how useful he'll be at the plate.  I'd like to see him at second and Naomichi Donoue at short in the early season.  Donoue has a much higher upside than Araki though he hasn't put it together at the plate yet.  Hopefully Shuhei Takahashi will be in the mix sooner rather than later as well.

C Motonobu Tanishige - Like he would sit himself on Opening Night.

P Kenshin Kawakami - A bit of surpise pick as Yudai Ono looked like he'd pitched his way into this start.  I like the choice though, Kawakami has done a lot for the Dragons and I wouldn't be surprised if this was his last season.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2014 Outlook

About two weeks to go until Opening Day and the start of a new season.  Chunichi will be looking to "Start it Again" with a new front office and coaching staff after a disappointing season last year.  They will be starting off on a bit of a bad foot with the news of Kaz Yoshimi not being ready until mid-season (hopefully) and more arm problems for Takuya Asao.  Hector Luna though is back from injury and the Dragons have added some other veteran foreign players in an effort shore up some holes, including the loss of long-time Dragon Hirokazu Ibata. 

On paper it doesn't look like Chunichi will likely be one of the top contenders in the Central.  They will probably need some breaks to fall their way to even end up in playoff position, but they do still have some top players and if they can stay healthier than last year they have a chance to do some damage.  Here are my predicted standings for 2014:

Yomiuri Giants - The Giants will again be the team to beat.  They were the most complete team in the NPB last year, though they were cut down by the trio of Tanaka, Norimoto and Mima in the Japan Series.  Yomiuri's stars are still mostly in their prime and they gained more over the offseason by signing top free agents Kan Otake and Yasuyuki Kataoka than they lost in Dennis Houton and Ryota Wakiya.  If anyone other than Yomiuri wins the regular season title I would be very, very surprised.

Hanshin Tigers - Hanshin has some holes, but they were pretty solid last year.  Their starting pitching sets them apart from the teams below them, though Hiroshima is close.  Over the offseason they lost Jason Strandridge and Yasutomo Kubo, but were able to re-sign Randy Messenger.  Messenger together with starters Atsushi Nomi and Shintaro Fujinami make for a formidable 1-2-3 punch.  The Tigers also signed Korean pitcher Seung-Hwan Oh to bolster their bullpen.  Matt Murton led the offense last year which has some good hitters, but not a lot of power.  All together they look like the second-best team in the Central.

Here's where things get tougher to predict:

Chunichi Dragons - I think Chunichi has the talent to take third this year even starting the season with some key injuries.  They seemed a little dysfunctional last year under manager Morimichi Takagi, hopefully that will change this year under Tanishige and Mori.  Their lineup should produce reasonably well with Luna and Morino at the infield corners and Hirata, who looks like he's figured things out, and Wada in the corner outfield positions.  If Oshima can bounce back to the All-Star-type level he's capable of in centerfield it would make for a pretty strong outfield.  It remains to be seen how much the Dragons will get out of Shuhei Takahashi and newcomer Alexis Gomez.  Anderson Hernandez may get a lot of playing time in the middle infield if Takahashi doesn't look like he's ready for ichi-gun to start the season.
While the offense and the bullpen should be ok, the starting pitching could be what gets the Dragons off to a bad start.  With Yoshimi out, Yudai Ono will be looked to as the No. 1 starter, and he has looked it so far in the pre-season.  Behind him youngster Toshiya Okada, who pitched well out of the bullpen last year, will transition to a rotation that includes Daniel Cabrera, Daisuke Yamai, Kenshin Kawakami, Soma Yamauchi and potentially Masa Yamamoto.  Each of those guys has had success in the NPB, but there is a lot of unpredictability there.

Yokohama BayStars - DeNA is probably the hardest team to read.  They've been bad for so long that it's hard to expect much from them, but on paper they are starting look competitive.  Their biggest problem in the previous years has been starting pitching, but over the offseason they picked up some interesting pieces.  They've added Yasutomo Kubo, Hisanori Takahashi and foreigner Guillermo Moscoso to the mix of Daisuke Miura, Kazuki Mishima and Shugo Fujii.  Though a couple of those guys are getting older it looks a lot better then the ni-gun quality pitchers they been rolling out for years.  Adding free-agent Aarom Baldiris at third should boost an already decent offense with Tony Blanco, Takehiro Ishikawa, Hitoshi Tamura, Takayuki Kajitani, Tatsuhiko Kinjo and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. 

Hiroshima Carp - The Carp lost a big part of their starting rotation in Kan Otake over the offseason, they will hope to replace him with draft picks Daichi Osera and Allen Kuri.  The two rookies will join a strong top half of the rotation made up of ace Kenta Maeda, Bryan Bullington and Yusuke Nomura.  Hiroshima's lineup is still weak, but got stronger with last year's mid-season pick-up of Kila Ka'aihue.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Carp finished as high as second or third place, but a lot of their success will depend on their very young starting rotation with the two rookies and even Nomura is only a third-year player who was not as sharp last year as he was in his first year. 

Tokyo Yakult Swallows - Outside of Wladimir Balentien and Yasuhiro Ogawa the Swallows didn't have much go right last year and this year isn't starting much better.  Shohei Tateyama, who missed almost all of last season with an arm injury, won't be ready to go to start the season.  First-round draft pick Toshihiro Sugiura has a torn ligament in his elbow and Wladimir Balentien has been dealing with serious personal issues.  They did pick up former MLB pitcher Chris Narveson, who could help and they still have Lastings Milledge who could bounce back after an off year, but it seems unlikely that Yakult will be in the top three this year. 



Saturday, February 1, 2014

Matt Clark Signs with the NY Mets

Matt Clark, Chunichi's main first baseman last year, signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets yesterday.  The contract also includes an invitation to spring training.  Clark had an okay year for Chunichi in 2013 and certainly provided the power threat that their lineup needed, but things never entirely clicked.  He struggled to make contact at times and ended up one of the league leaders in k's. 

Clark came to the Dragons from the San Diego Padres organization where he was putting up impressive numbers in AAA.  Despite his success, his path to the majors appeared to be blocked by other prospects.  He now joins the Mets who's current first basemen include Ike Davis and Lucas Duda.  Davis was a first-round draft pick, but has underachieved so far in the majors to this point.  Still Davis will probably be given the greatest opportunity to win the first base job.  It may be a bit of a long shot that Clark will make the major league roster, but stranger things have happened.  He's got some serious power, so he may impress.  Even if he doesn't make the roster and I hope he does, I think he will at least stick in their organization and will hopefully get other opportunities down the road.  

Here's a blast from last spring:

 
 
You can also see a compilation of all of his 2013 home runs here