Friday, October 16, 2015

Chunichi Ends Mediocre Season on a Positive Note, Eliminate Hiroshima from Playoff Hunt and Avoid Last Place

The 2015 season ended for the Dragons as their third straight losing year.  They got off to a decent start, but began to slide after the end of Interleague play.  The bats were fairly solid, though the home run power was lacking.  Starting pitching was decent, but not spectacular, Chunichi finished third in the Central League in team ERA and Yudai Ono's performance was strong and Shunta Wakamatsu was a nice surprise.  Had the Dragons had any semblance of a bullpen I think they could have competed for a playoff spot in a very mediocre Central League this year.  Instead they fell to the bottom of a pack of average to bad baseball teams. 

Despite being a bottom-feeder this year the Dragons did have a couple of things to play for in the last week of the season.  They were playing to avoid last place and were able to do so. DeNA fell below the Dragons as the Baystars ended their season winning only one of their last seven games while Chunichi finished 3-3 in their last six games. The Dragons now have played 19 seasons since their last sixth place finish. Finishing fifth isn't much to be excited about, but it's so much better than last place.  Last place just sucks, plain and simple, and in the NPB it doesn't even get you the first pick in the draft. 

After the Dragons had "clinched" fifth place earlier in the week they played their final game of the season in Hiroshima in a game with playoff implications.  The Carp were tied for third and their final game against Chunichi was a de facto one-game playoff, if they won they would continue to the Climax Series, if not their season was over.  Masa Yamamoto started for Chunichi and ceremonially retired the first batter in what would be his last game prior to retirement.  Kenta Maeda started for Hiroshima in what may be his last game for the Carp, if he goes to MLB next year.  The game played out much like a playoff game, Maeda and Yudai Ono, who took over for Yamamoto, locked into a pitchers' duel and the game remained 0-0 into the 8th inning when Chunichi scored 4 against Hiroshima's bullpen.  Shunta Wakamatsu who had taken over for the Dragons in the seventh inning finished the game and picked up the win.  While Chunichi's season was over either way, they played like it meant something, maybe that experience will mean something for some of the younger players down the road.

Looking forward to next season, Motonobu Tanishige will be back as manager.  Hopefully he can do something to get more consistency out of the team next year.  Prolonged late-season losing streaks have sunk the team the last two years.  Finding someone who can close a freakin' game should be priority number one.  I think Yamai should remain in the bullpen next year, while he struggled as as a starter this year, he did perform pretty well as a reliever and has been one at times in the past.  More pop in the lineup and more starting pitching is always welcome, but as always their probably won't be much available on the free agent market.  Chunichi's foreign players: Luna, Hernandez, Nanita and Valdes did well this year and I think will be back, and it sounds like Drew Naylor will be back as well, so I don't know that much will change in the foreign lineup.  If the Dragons are to improve it will likely have to be done with the players they already have.  Some veterans are retiring and it will be up to the youngsters to step up if the Dragons are to succeed in 2016.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dragons Bid Farewell to Yamamoto, Wada, Ogasawara and Tanishige (As a Player)

Over the last few weeks several Dragons from the over-40 crowd have announced their retirements, including long-time Dragons Masa Yamamoto, Kazuhiro Wada and Motonobu Tanishige.

Yamamoto, the oldest of the group, was unable to contribute much this year though continues to set records each time he pitches due to his age.  News reports suggest that he will make his final appearance in Chunichi's final game this week.  Yamamoto made his NPB debut back in 1986 and was a consistent member Chunichi's rotation from the late 80's until 2008.  He's pitched infrequently for the last several years with varying degrees of success.  He will be remembered as a Dragons' legend and is one of my favorite Dragons players.

Wada, who I believe should be a future Hall-of-Famer, will retire at the age of 43 after 10 years with the Lions and 8 years with the Dragons.  He is the newest member of the meikyukai, reaching 2000 hits this summer.  He finishes his career still being a productive offensive player, and as one of the more consistent and clutch performers in recent Dragons history.  He grew up in Gifu and had always hoped to be a Dragon.  His dream became a reality when he signed as free agent prior to the 2008 NPB season.  He immediately replaced the production of the departed Kosuke Fukudome and has been one Chunichi's best hitters since.  He will be missed.

Tanishige, Chunichi's current player/manager, will retire as a player but continue in his role as manager.  He is currently under contract for two more years as a manager.  He played in a limited role as a player this year, but finished offensively on a high note, posting his highest batting average since 1999.  He was supposed to play a limited role last year as well but was forced into action by the ineffectiveness of Chunichi's other catchers.  He's had amazing longevity as a catcher, and a very impressive career.  He's also a member of the Meikyukai, due mainly to his longevity, but to do so as a catcher is still extremely impressive.  Hopefully with a focus only on managing he can get the Dragons turned around next year.

Ogasawara joined the Dragons only two years ago after long stints with Nippon Ham and Yomiuri.  He's been an extraordinary pinch-hitter in those two years, matching his average career numbers in batting average and on-base percentage as a pinch-hitter, something not easy to do.  He's an NPB legend based on what he did for other teams, but was certainly a useful player for the Dragons in his role.