There was only one game scheduled on Thursday, the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, as the Rakuten Eagles, based in the heart of the disaster area, beat the Lotte Marine 8-5 in an otherwise unremarkable game in Shizuoka.
Let the kids play
More eyes were focused on this weekend’s games, when highly-touted right-hander Roki Sasaki is expected to pitch for the Marines on Friday in his first game as a pro, against the Chunichi Dragons, where another player who has yet to a darn thing as a pro was getting all excited.
Akira Neo, a highly touted prospect who has produced no offensive numbers worth talking about in two minor league seasons since Chunichi took him in the first round out of high school, called it a dream matchup, Sponichi Annex reports.
“I’ve only seen him on TV, but he is a special pitcher,” said Neo. “I want to swing well and hit whatever he throws.”
Hawks get help
Elsewhere, the SoftBank Hawks are anticipating the return of three of their biggest offensive producers, manager Kimiyasu Kudo said, according to Hochi Shimbun.
Cubans Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial are slated to join first team for the first time this spring, while Yuki Yanagita returns from the team’s rehab group.
Giants sign 2 Dominican amateurs
The Yomiuri Giants have made their signings of 16-year-old shortstop Jose De la Cruz and outfielder Julian Tima to their developmental roster. The Giants tried out the Dominican youngsters from the Moreno Academy in November 2019 and again in March 2020, full-count reports.
According to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas on Feb. 23, the Giants paid Tima a $675,000 signing bonus, and lured the shortstop De la Cruz with a $500,000 offer.
NPB’s developmental contracts will require the Giants to add the youngsters to their 70-man roster by Nov. 31, 2023 or release them. But even at the extreme bottom end of Nippon Professional Baseball, developmental players will earn $21,000 a year — more than Triple-A players who have not been added to an MLB 40-man roster.
The SoftBank Hawks took a 14-game home winning streak in Japan Series games into Tuesday’s Game 3 against the Yomiuri Giants and extended it 15 with a 4-0 combined one-hit victory.
The Hawks have now won 11 straight series games after starting the 2018 series against the Hiroshima Carp 0-1-1. The Giants have lost eight straight, one shy of the series record nine straight they lost from 1958 to 1961,
Akira Nakamura, whose eight career Climax Series home runs tie him with a bunch of real home run hitters, hit Angel Sanchez’s worst pitch of the game through three innings, opening the scoring with a two-run, two-out, third-inning home run.
Nakamura, made it 3-0 in the seventh with an RBI single off reliever Yuhei Takahashi, who hit the first batter he faced and was charged with a run when Kan Otake surrendered an RBI single to Yurisbel Gracial.
That was enough for Matt Moore who pitched well and somehow managed to not surrender a hit through seven scoreless innings in which two runners walked and two reached on errors.
For the first time in the series, a Giants starting pitcher came out very sharp. Sanchez hit his spots, expanded the zone away to right handers with his cutter and threw some superb splitters and for the most part kept the Hawks from barreling up his mistakes. He survived a hard-hit first-inning single from Yuki Yanagita but an infield single and a hanging splitter to Nakamura gave away the lead.
Moore was not quite as crisp and seemed to have some trouble getting low strikes called, but he was helped out by some good fielding from his teammates — despite an ugly attempted rundown in the first inning. A big play at third base by Nobuhiro Matsuda turned a hard-hit ball into a force at second after Moore walked the leadoff man in the fifth.
Moore looked vulnerable in the sixth, after his own error allowed the leadoff runner to reach. He fell behind and two fastballs down the middle were hit to center field. Hayato Sakamoto, who’d barely failed to get all of a fat fastball in the fourth came to the plate.
After a meeting on the mound to make sure everyone was on the same page, the lefty unleashed his best fastballs of the game to start off Sakamoto before striking him out with offspeed pitches.
The Hawks held Sanchez’s feet to the fire sixth, when Nakamura, back in his groove after an uncharacteristically undisciplined first at-bat, drew a leadoff walk. Giants manager Tatsunori Hara issued an intentional walk to set up a double play against the hardest team to double up in Japanese baseball history, but got out of it when second baseman Naoki Yoshikawa speared a grounder headed for right and one or more runs.
The Hawks knocked Sanchez out in the seventh. With a single and a sacrifice and three lefties coming to the plate, the Giants went to lefty Yuhei Takanashi and things went downhill. Takanashi hit a batter, gave up Nakamura’s single. With one out, Kan Otake faced Yurisbel Gracial and gave up a single before the Giants finally got out of the inning.
Livan Moinelo opened with a strikeout and then worked around a one-out walk and a hit batsman by striking out two more. Yuito Mori allowed Yoshihiro Maru’s two-out single up the middle to keep the Giants from joining the 2007 Nippon Ham Fighters as the only Japan Series no-hit victims.
Wednesday’s Game 4 will put Tsuyoshi Wada in position to win his second straight Series clinching game. Wada, however, is the last Hawks pitcher to lose at home in the series, having dropped Game 6 in 2011 before he went to the majors and went through Tommy John surgery.
The Giants, who for some reason put their second best starter this season, Shosei Togo, in the bullpen, will start right-hander Seishu Hatake on Wednesday.
Game 3 starting pitcher profiles:
A pair of 30-something first-year imports get the starting assignments. The Hawks go with lefty Matt Moore, who suffered a hamstring injury early in the season that limited him to 78 innings.
Threw his fastball 61.3 percent of the time, the second highest figure for any pitcher with 70-plus innings behind the Hanshin Tigers’ Shintaro Fujinami. Moore also throws his changeup and–like every Hawks pitcher–a curve of some sort. Moore’s curve averaged 127.7 kph this year according to Delta Graphs, that’s third fastest this season behind Sanchez (129.8) and Nippon Ham’s Nick Martinez (131.3).
Among pitchers who threw their change at least 10 percent of the time, Delta Graphs valued Moore’s as being the second most effective behind far-and-away 2020 leader Yuki Nishi. Moore was in fairly elite company this year with his swing and miss rate of 11.6 percent.
Sanchez is only in his first year in Japan, but had good success with the SK Wyverns in KBO the past two seasons. Sanchez’s big pitch is his splitter, which he threw 21.8 percent of the time. He threw his cutter and curve a little less often.
Sanchez is good at getting guys to chase, which as I must have mentioned somewhere, seems to be the Giants’ team philosophy, but is not overly good at missing bats, which can be problematic against a hard-hitting team that makes good adjustments.
Setting the record straight
On Sunday, Nippon Professional Baseball announced that Yurisbel Gracial had tied a Japan Series record by scoring in nine consecutive games. On Monday, the body issued a correction, noting that the record is 12 games, set by former Hankyu Braves middle infielder Toshizo Sakamoto from 1968 Game 3 to 1971 Game 2.
Right-hander Shuta Ishikawa allowed two runs over 5-1/3 innings as the SoftBank Hawks’ wiped out the Yomiuri Giants13-2 in Sunday’s Game 2 of the Japan Series to take a 2-0 series lead.
The win at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome extended SoftBank’s record postseason winning streak to 14 games and extended their record for Japan Series wins to 10.
Yurisbel Gracial, the 2019 series MVP scored three runs and drove in two with his first home run of the series, while Cuban compatriot Alfredo Despaigne iced the game with a seventh-inning grand slam.
The Giants broke up the shutout in the bottom of the fifth, when Zelous Wheeler, who drove in Yomiuri’s run in Saturday’s 5-1 loss, hit a two-run home run.
Ishikawa allowed four hits, a walk and hit a batter while striking out seven, but left after allowing back-to-back one-out singles in the sixth with SoftBank leading 7-2. Lefty Shinya Kayama struck out Yoshihiro Maru and submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi loaded the bases with a walk before striking out Hiroyuki Nakajima to end the inning without a run scoring.
Yuki Yanagita, whose RBI double opened the scoring in SoftBank’s three-run first against lefty Nobutaka Imamura, singled and scored on Gracial’s two-run third-inning homer and walked ahead of Despaigne’s slam.
No team had scored 12 runs in a game since Game 2 of the 2010 series, when the trickery of Lotte Marines manager Norifumi Nishimura backfired in a one-sided loss.
Nishimura tried to fool the Chunichi Dragons into thinking Bill Murphy would not start by keeping him out in the outfield during pregame practice instead of having come in early. Murphy never got into a rhythm and allowed seven runs in 1-1/3 innings.
The last time a team scored 13 runs was the Daiei Hawks’ 13-0 win over the Hanshin Tigers in Game 2 of the 2003 series.
Ryoya Kurihara introduced himself in a big way to the Japan Series on Saturday with a homer, two doubles, and four RBIs in Game 1. And that was just his first three at-bats. Kurihara’s offensive explosion carried SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga to a 5-1 win.
The 24-year-old SoftBank Hawks outfielder, who entered the season with 57 plate appearances, became a regular slammed a two-run homer off Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano in the second, doubled and was thrown out at the plate in the fourth, and belted a two-run double in the sixth.
Senga delivered a prototypical outing. His fastball hummed and often jumped, while his split and slider were unpredictable. The Giants hitters did a good job of fouling off the fastball and laying off his secondary pitches.
Hiroyuki Nakajima and Naoki Nishikawa both hammered splitters that failed to tumble and drove them to the wall in the fifth inning but both balls were caught.
Sugano was also pretty close to his season norms as he tried to stay just out of the strike zone and get people to chase, and did get some weak swings on the corners but also fell behind hitters, and gave up his share of hard-hit balls.
The Giants went to rookie Shosei Togo in the seventh, while Senga stayed in to work the home half as his pitch count crossed the 100-mark.
Hawks leadoff man Ukyo Shuto made it 5-0 in the eighth, by drawing a walk off lefty Yuki Takahashi, stealing second and scoring on an Akira Nakamura single.
The Hawks entered the series with the longest postseason winning streak in NPB history, 12 games dating back to Game 2 of the 2019 PL Climax Series first stage. They also set an NPB record by winning their ninth straight series game, dating back to Game 3 of the 2018 series.
The Giants entered having lost five straight series games, their last win coming against Masahiro Tanaka in Game 6 of the 2013 series, his final start in Japan, although he came in to save Game 7.
Livan Moinelo dazzled the Giants with his fastball and curve, striking out three in the eighth before closer Yuito Mori did his usual thing, loading the bases and allowing a run before closing it out.
The game’s attendance of 16,489 — restricted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic — was the series first under 20,000 since Game 8 of the 1986 affair, when 16,828 attended a Monday afternoon game when the teams finished the first seven games tied 3-3-1.
In the kind of snit Yomiuri is famous for, its TV network cut away the game’s only live broadcast for commercials instead of airing Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo’s postgame interview. This is reminiscent of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s coverage of Game 6 of the 1996 series.
That year, every newspaper in Japan had a front page photo of Ichiro Suzuki and the Orix BlueWave celebrating their Japan Series championship, except Japan’s top financial paper, the Nikkei Shimbun and the Yomiuri, whose team lost.
With one big exception, another unbelievably home run from the amazing Yuki Yanagita, the Lotte Marines swung the bat better in their 3-3 loss in Saturday’s first game of the Pacific League Climax Series to the SoftBank Hawks.
Hawks ace Kodai Senga gave up three runs, the first two on decent second-inning pitches that resulted in a single and a Hisanori Yasuda home run. He gave up another in the third when he paid for mistakes to Tatsuhiro Tamura and Takashi Ogino. The Marines have done well all year to adjust to the Hawks and prepare for them, and this one looked it was going to be another one of those days.
Mima, too, made mistakes, probably more than Senga, but got away with them in the first inning, but not in the sixth, when the Hawks tied it on an error.
The Hawks should have scored a run in the first, but Ogino robbed them of a leadoff single before they loaded the bases with one out and ended it on a double play. Yanagita cut the lead in the fourth to 2-1 with a home run over the wall in center off an improbably low pitch.
Mima then got out of a jam in the fifth. Shortstop Yudai Fujioka tried to barehand a chopper and whiffed. The ball rolled toward left, and Taisei Makihara reached on a leadoff infield double. A walk on a dubious 3-2 pitch put two on, but Takuya Kai struck out foul bunting pitches out of the zone. With two out and two in scoring position, Akira Nakamura appeared to be the victim of makeup calls from the ump. He took a dubious 3-1 strike and another on 3-2 to end it.
The end for Mima came in the sixth. Yanagita and Yurisbel Gracial singled off mistakes and a sacrifice put the tying run in scoring position. Alfredo Despaigne singled off Taiki Tojo, and Makihara chopped one to second with Gracial at third. Second baseman Shogo Nakamura looked the lead runner back, tagged Despaigne for the second out, and threw to first, where Seiya Inoue dropped the ball.
Gracial, broke for home as Nakamura threw, and Inoue’s drop allowed him to score the tying run as he slid in head-first.
Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 eighth and got the win in relief after Hirokazu Sawamura surrendered the lead in the home half on two walks and two infield singles. Takuya Kai hit another chopper to Fujikoka, who fielded it but couldn’t nail the runner at first.
“Hey. A hit is a hit,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.
Yuito Mori then did the honors in the ninth with another 1-2-3 inning.
The Climax Series gives the league champs a one-win advantage in the final stage, while the home team wins all tie (games are tied after 12 innings), and all games are played at the higher-seeded team’s park. This year’s PL series was cut from two stages to one, with the final stage reduced from six games to four. The Hawks’ one-win advantage means they have a 2-0 lead and should the game be tied after the top of the 12th inning on Sunday, the series will be over.
There’s a lot to be said for foreplay
The series, as I’ve written before is closer to foreplay than climax, since it follows the pennant race, and only serves to pick a league’s team to the the Japan Series, where Nippon Professional Baseball’s championship is decided.
The Central League which looks on fun and a good time as some kind of threat to the purity of the game, used the pandemic as an excuse to get rid of its foreplay series, I mean CS, in a kind of return to the 2004-2006 seasons when the PL teams were playing meaningful postseason games and the CL champs were playing with themselves in intrasquad games.
Ramirez goes out with win against Giants
Alex Ramirez, who won both of his CL MVP awards with the Yomiuri Giants, finished his managing term with the DeNA BayStars with a 5-4 come-from-behind win at Yokohama Stadium against his former team.
Ramirez received flowers and hugs from his former Giants skipper, Tatsunori Hara, who urged him to make a comeback, “I told him to get back in the game.”
Active roster moves 11/14/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/24
The SoftBank Hawks inched closer to their first Pacific League pennant in three years on Sunday, when a seven-run eighth inning lifted them to an 11-4 win over the Rakuten Eagles at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
Leadoff man Ukyo Shuto energized the Hawks attack with a double, a triple, two singles, three steals, three runs and two RBIs.
Both starters, the Eagles’ Ryota Takinaka and the Hawks’ Tsuyoshi Wada looked really good at times, but both were too inconsistent. Neither made it through the fifth inning, which ended in a 4-4 tie after D.J. Johnson surrendered two runs in the fifth.
The only consolation in Johnson’s outing was the lone out he recorded, when Yuki Yanagita’s bat broke and landed at the edge of the outfield on his groundout to first.
Nobuhiro Matsuda’s leadoff walk in the eighth started the winning rally, and pinch-hitter Kenji Akashi’s one-out double plated a pinch-runner with the go-ahead run off Kazuhisa Makita (1-2).
Livan Moinelo (2-2), SoftBank’ fifth pitcher, earned the win in relief, while Cuban compatriot Yurisbel Gracial had a pair of RBI singles.
The win moved the Hawks 5-1/2 games ahead of the Lotte Marines, 5-2 losers in Chiba to the Nippon Ham Fighters, and 11 games ahead of the Eagles, who are struggling to reach the PL playoffs, limited this year to two teams.
Arihara repels Marines
Kohei Arihara (7-8) allowed a run over seven innings, and the Nippon Ham Fighters scored four fifth-inning runs off Manabu Mima (9-4) in their 5-2 win over the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Kotaro Kiyomiya walked twice and scored twice for the Fighters, while Shingo Usami and Kensuke Kondo each drove in two.
Teenager Miyagi impresses in loss
Nineteen-year-old lefty Hiroya Miyagi suffered a three-run second-inning hiccup in an otherwise solid six-inning starting debut for the Orix Buffaloes in a 3-2 loss to the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Seibu Lions leadoff hitter Yuji Kaneko chased a 1-2 pitch just before it bounced and lined it to left with an Ichiro-caliber swing for a two-run single.
Sosuke Genda hit the next pitch, a high straight fastball into left to complete the damage. Miyagi (0-1) then retired the last 13 batters he faced before leaving after six.
“I allowed runs when I left pitches up,” Miyagi said, showing he has already mastered the Japanese excuse to the media that every bad pitch is “up.”
“After I gave up the two-run single, I had to shut them down, and I have to address that (one pitch that actually was up).”
Miyagi was taken in the first round of last year’s autumn draft although he was actually Orix’s third pick after they lost draft-day lotteries for slugging high school third baseman Takaya Ishikawa (Chunichi) and corporate league lefty Ryusei Kawano (Nippon Ham).
“He pitched plenty well,” Buffaloes acting manager Satoshi Nakajima said. “He’s going to contribute to wins.”
The Buffaloes nearly came back in the ninth, when Lions closer Tatsushi Masuda allowed one run and got the last two outs with tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first. Masuda earned his 28th save, while Wataru Matsumoto (5-5) earned the win after allowing a run over six innings.
Kajitani KOs Giants
Takayuki Kajitani’s seventh-inning grand slam brought the DeNA BayStars from behind and his two-run eighth-inning blast turned the game into a rout in a 10-6 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Yokohama Stadium.
Kajitani’s two home runs give him 19 for the season, two shy of the career-high 21 he hit in 2017.
It was the second-straight come-from behind win for the BayStars.
Despite their loss, the Giants retained their 11-game lead over the Chunichi Dragons, while their magic number to clinch their second straight pennant dropped to seven.
Tigers survive Murakami onslaught
Munetaka Murakami hit his 23rd home run, hit three doubles and drove in all of the Yakult Swallows’ runs but it wasn’t enough as the Hanshin Tigers scored early and often against Yasuhiro Ogawa (9-6) to outlast the visitors 6-5 at Koshien Stadium.
Justin Bour capped a four-run Tigers first with his a two-run homer, his 17th, while Jon Edwards worked a scoreless inning of relief for the Tigers. Closer Robert Suarez allowed a run in the ninth but held on for his 21st save when Murakami was unable to score on Akihisa Nishida’s two-out single.
Scott McGough worked a scoreless eighth for the Swallows.
Carp emerge from bullpen hell
After surrendering four late runs in each of their previous two games, the Hiroshima Carp bullpen locked out the Chunichi Dragons in a 5-0 win at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium behind a three-run Seiya Suzuki homer and a pair of Ryoma Nishikawa solo shots.
Yuta Nakamura (3-2) allowed seven hits, two walks and hit a batter but pitched out of four tight spots in his seven innings to earn the win. Makoto Kemna worked the eighth to protect a 4-0 lead and Geronimo Franzua worked around a pair of singles in the ninth.
Active roster moves 10/18/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/28