The Saitama Seibu Lions went 1-5 for the week against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. They even fell to 5th place in the Pacific League for a day with this skid.
Game 1 against the Fighters saw Takayuki Kishi start against Luis Mendoza. The Lions jumped out of the gate with a four-run 1st inning with a three-run HR from Ernesto Mejia. They’d continue to get on base and Kyohei Nagae hit a sacrifice fly.
The bottom of the frame was controversial, as Haruki Nishikawa reached base when the replay showed he was out. He would steal second and score on a bunt single + throwing error from Yuji Kaneko to make it 4-1. A base hit from Yoh cut the lead to 4-2. It wasn’t until the bottom of the third where Yoh hit a no-doubt solo HR to make it a one-run ballgame.
Mendoza would leave in the 6th inning, after walking Hotaka Yamakawa and an infield single to Nagae. With the final batter on first pitch, pinch hitter Yuji Onizaki would get a single and give the Lions some insurance to make it 5-3. With two outs, Yuji Kaneko (wearing bullpen catcher Yuta Arakawa’s jersey) would hit a huge gapper two score two more and make it 7-3.
The Fighters created drama in the bottom of the 7th. After allowing back to back leadoff hits, a deep sacrifice fly would make it 7-4. Then after Nishikawa grounded out, Takuya Nakashima hit a weak comebacker, but Kishi threw the ball away to right field and another run would score.
Kishi intentionally walked Daikan Yoh, who was already 3-3 on the day chasing a cycle and later pinch hitter Kenji Yano walked on five pitches. With the bases loaded and a full count after being ahead, Kishi allowed an RBI single to Kensuke Tanaka with two outs and the Fighters would tie the game with the crooked inning at 7-7. Brandon Laird would rope a single shortly after to make it 8-7.
The Lions bats were all but dead in the 8th and 9th innings as Chris Martin finished off the team. The tying run was on second base in the 8th, but Shogo Akiyama couldn’t bring it home.
Kishi was already at 100+ pitches by the 7th, but Tanabe made the irrational decision of trusting the ace, hoping he could get one more out, similar to how Kona Takahashi failed on Friday’s game in Gunma.
Overall, this game was beyond unwatachable once the 7th came due to the error by Kishi combined with the long frame. His velocity was obviously down late and the Fighters were able to foul off everything until the big pitch came.
Fighters 8, Lions 7
-Hideto Asamura was examined in Tokyo for his ankle injury and got a pinch hit appearance in the 8th inning.
-The Lions deactivated Daichi Mizuguchi and started him at 2B with Asamura’s injury. They also called up third-round draft pick Shogo Noda, deactivating Ryo Sakata and Yasuo Sano as the corresponding moves. Mizuguchi had his first career start and plate appearances, going 0-2 before being pinch hit for in the 6th.
In Game 2 against the Fighters, Felipe Paulino would make the start against Mitsuo Yoshikawa. And right away, the Fighters would strike with first blood, thanks to a frozen rope into left field from Daikan Yoh.
The Fighters would scratch another run off the Lions in the third, after the Lions would bring the infield in with Shohei Otani on third and Daikan Yoh on base thanks to consecutive singles. Norio Tanabe would play the infield in, but Kensuke Tanaka would hit it to just enough away from Asamura to allow Otani to beat the throw and give the Fighters a 2-0 lead. The damage probably should’ve been more, but Yuji Kaneko made a sensational catch that forced him to crash into the outfield wall and prevent Takumi Oshima from extra bases.
The Lions would have a big opportunity to answer in the fourth with runners at the corners and nobody out for Gin-chan. Gin-chan would ground to Brandon Laird at third and that would start a 5-4-3 double play, and shockingly, Hotaka Yamakawa did not race home after Laird threw to second, costing the Lions a run they so desperately needed.
The bottom of the order would take advantage of Paulino in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to a one out rally that included some questionable hanging breaking balls and poor fastball command that led to a one out walk and a one out single to Nakashima and Hiromi Oka, respectively. This would allow Nishikawa to cash in with a sacrifice fly and complete the scoring for the night.
From this point forward, the story would go to the Fighters bullpen who would combine for four innings of relief and earn Yoshikawa the win after his poor command didn’t allow to get an out beyond the 5th inning. Anthony Bass would provide two innings, Keisuke Tanimoto would provide one, and Chris Martin would nail down the save.
A poor game from the bats and a workman like start from Paulino would be the key talking points from this game. Paulino did enough to keep his team in the game, but it didn’t matter, because this is a game where the Lions would’ve had trouble scoring a run in 18 innings, let alone 9.
Fighter 3, Lions 0
In Game 3, an interesting pitching matchup would surface as the Lions looked to avoid the sweep in Sapporo. Andy Van Hekken would make the start for the Lions looking to prove that his success in the KBO can translate to NPB. For the Fighters, the handkerchief prince, Yuki Saito would get his first start of the 2016 season.
Both pitchers would not go deep enough to qualify for the win and the bullpens would decide the game, and both pitchers would leave the game with nearly identical pitching lines.
After Takumi Kuriyama’s chopping, 2-run single in the fourth off Saito, the game would stay in a 2-2 stalemate until the 7th.
Before that, the bottom of the 6th would be notable for the simple reason that the Lions were not the victim of an overturned review as a result of the home plate obstruction rule. The call came in question after Kenshi Sugiya hit one into the right-centerfield gap, the Fighters would wave Tanaka around third and the relay throw from Asamura would take Okada a little offline, but he was able to make the tag without obstructing runner and therefore making sure that Tanaka was a dead duck.
With the Lions looking to use Ken Togame in the same role that Kazuhisa Makita has held up until his recent injury. Togame would pitch relatively well until the aforementioned bottom of the 7th, and with the bases loaded, Kenuske Tanaka would provide more problems for the Lions and hit a bases clearing triple that would crush the Lions hearts and give the Fighters a commanding 5-2 lead after 7.
The Lions would again struggle to string any hits together against Fighters bullpen, but this time they would get something going against the closer, Chris Martin. Naoto Watanabe would start the top of the 9th with a leadoff single, then Uemoto would reach on a Brandon Laird error, giving the Lions runners on first and second with nobody out. Martin would get Kyohei Nagae to strike out and get the first out of the 9th, but Shogo Akiyama would hit a sharp single to center that would load the bases for Yuji Kaneko.
With Akiyama representing the tying run, Kaneko would ground out and the Fighters would take the out and allow Watanabe to score and make it a 5-3 game. That would be all the Lions would get, and with the tying run on second base, Tomoya Mori would ground out to Brandon Laird who made up for his bad error with a great play deep up the third base line to end the game and complete the sweep for the Fighters.
Another difficult loss, the Lions continued their struggles at the plate and the loss of Makita continues to haunt the team. Hideki Kuriyama’s squad reestablished their recent dominance over the Lions with this sweep and the Lions continue to scratch their collective heads.
Fighters 5, Lions 3
In Game 1 against the Eagles, it would be Takahiro Norimoto against Kona Takahashi. After 6 up and 6 down, Norimoto’s defense would hurt him in the third. He would fail to touch first base and Kyohei Nagae was safe with runners on the corners and one out.
Norimoto would then take an ill-advised pickoff attempt to first, which would score Naoto Watanabe from third for the first run of the game. Takumi Kuriyama would then single with two outs to plate Nagae making it 2-0.
Takahashi would struggle out of the gate with a lack of control, but the defense would bail him out through five innings. This included 6-3 lineout, 8-5 flyout and 6-4-3 groundout double plays. The bottom of the 1st was also shaky, where it took a base running blunder from Takero Okajima running him from third on a routine grounder.
The mistakes would catch up as Kona Takahashi wouldn’t escape the 6th inning. He allowed consecutive base hits and Zelous Wheeler would be hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count to load the bases with no outs. Ginji Akaminai would make him pay, with a bases clearing double and instantly, the Eagles would take a 3-2 lead with one swing.
In the top of the 7th, the Lions had a chance with runners on the corners and no outs, but Nagae would strike out and Tomoya Mori, coming in as a pinch hitter, grounded into a fielder’s choice. With Norimoto having a high pitch count and Kuriyama being struck on the foot to load the bases, Shogo Akiyama would strikeout on a pitch in the dirt and end the threat.
The tying run would be on second base again in the 8th against Kam Mickolio. But Watanabe struck out and Tatsuyuki Uemoto would flyout to squander the chance again.
Yuki Matsui shut the door after walking Mori. Akiyama looked like he could have pulled a deep gapper, but it stayed in the park and on the warning track to end it.
Takahashi’s poor game didn’t show until the 6th when it comes to runs. It was an ugly game where he could have allowed more, but the Lions bats also couldn’t get consecutive hits when they needed to.
Eagles 3, Lions 2
-Naoto Watanabe had a Modasho, earning three singles on the night.
-Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura returned for the first time in nearly two weeks.
In Game 2, it would be Ryoma Nogami facing Minabu Mima. The Lions would get off to a hot start with three runs in the second inning, thanks to a gapper from Watanabe and a single from Masatoshi Okada.
The bottom of the third is where everything unraveled. Asamura would be responsible for an error to create runners on the corners with one out. After nearly escaping the inning, and allowing a run, Nogami would give up a three run home run to Zelous Wheeler for a 4-3 lead.
The Lions would squander multiple chances in the game including two on with one out, but Akiyama struck out and Okawari-kun flew out to end the threat. Hirotaka Koishi would only make it worse. Kazuya Fujita would hit a gapper of his own and plate two more runs and Hiroaki Shimauchi added another making it 7-3.
Takumi Kuriyama would get an RBI single in the top of the 9th off Yuki Matsui, but it was too late. The Lions would lose their sixth straight and continue to go on a downward spiral.
Eagles, 7 Lions 5
In Game 3, it would be Kenji Tomura facing Shinsaburo Tawata in Sendai. It would be a brutal start for Tawata in the first, allowing three runs to begin the game including hits from Wheeler and Toshiaki Imae. Rakuten also pulled off a double steal to get the third run.
The Lions squandered early chances including a double play from Nagae with the bases loaded, but the fifth inning would bring some life. Akiyama and Okawari-kun would plate a run each and with the bases loaded, Watanabe would hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
Tawata would last only four innings which wasn’t bad, but he still struggled with his control and was fortunate to not allow more.
Shogo Noda would get two outs, but with a runner on third, the Lions sent Ken Togame into the game, where he struck out Wheeler to end the threat.
Togame had a scoreless 6th inning, but allowed a leadoff single to Toshihito Abe in the 7th. However, Shota Takekuma cleaned up the scare by striking out Okajima and Fujita flying out to left field.
Things would remain scoreless as the Lions failed to get runs off the poor Rakuten bullpen. The ninth inning became interesting as Akiyama hit a one out single and immediately stole second. Okawari-kun then sliced a ball into left field for a single and it scored Akiyama from 2nd to break the tie.
Playing his first game in eight days, Tatsushi Masuda shut the door in the 9th and earned his first save in two weeks. The Lions would snap a six game losing streak in the process and prevent being swept for two straight series.
Lions 4, Eagles 3
The Lions are currently 3-12 in their last 15 games dating back to the painful obstruction loss in Hiroshima. With another poor week in the books, the team is very close to shutting the door on the season and the Lions are currently too far behind for any spot of thinking about playoffs.
The Fighters have won 10 in a row and it doesn’t look like they’ll stop. The Lions rotation just isn’t there, but the bats are even worse in this stretch where runs aren’t coming. They can still get on base, but the recent development of Shogo Akiyama batting third is just too unusual, let alone benching Tomoya Mori for the whole series in Sendai.
At this point, we hope to see development of Tawata and Takahashi as the season goes along.
Wes Mills also contributed to this report.
Originally posted on Graveyard Baseball
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