The Saitama Seibu Lions went 1-5 against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Orix Buffaloes combined for the week. They dropped to 5th place in the Pacific League standings behind the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles and are only three games in front of Orix.
In Game 1 against the Marines at QVC Marine Field, it would be Takayuki Kishi facing our old friend Hideaki Wakui in a classic matchup of ace starters. Kishi would blink first on a two out single from Tatsuhiro in the 2nd inning.
The Lions answered back in the fourth after an initial rally. With runners on the corners, Shogo Akiyama grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and the Marines conceded the run to tie it. It would remain a deadlock as both pitchers went at least eight innings. Kishi had two houdini moments, including two runners on and one out, getting two pinch hitters to follow in the 7th as well as a double play in the bottom of the 8th from Ikuhiro Kiyota with the bases loaded.
Seibu’s best chance against Wakui was in the top of the 9th with two on and one out for Akiyama, batting third for the fourth consecutive game. He would strike out where the same result would come from Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura shortly after.
Esmerling Vasquez had a clean bottom of the 9th inning to force extra innings. After the Lions failed to score in the 10th off Naoya Masuda, it would be Tatsushi Masuda taking the bottom frame. He ended up walking Tadahito Iguchi to start the frame and couldn’t recover. After a groundout to move a pinch runner to second, the Lions chose to pitch around Alfredo Despaigne to face Yamaico Navarro. It would backfire as Navarro had a clean gapper with the outfield playing in and the Lions would have their third sayonara loss of the season.
With this being a pitcher’s duel, it was an unfortunate outcome for the Lions, but it wasn’t a brutal loss just because it was in walkoff fashion. Kishi looked fine despite showing some signs of fatigue late, but his performance gave the Lions a chance.
The call that still is puzzling for some is how Akiyama is batting third with Yuji Kaneko as the leadoff hitter. Lots of “what could’ve been”, but it is what it is.
Marines 2, Lions 1 (10 innings)
-Tomoya Mori came in to pinch hit for Ginjiro Sumitani in the top of the 10th inning. He lined out in where the ball was hit on the button, but right at Navarro.
In Game 2, it would be a Ryota Sekiya facing Felipe Paulino in the battle of first year pitchers in NPB. First blood went to the Lions in the top of the 2nd inning, where they had two on and no one out. Ernesto Mejia would hit a deep line drive to right field that could’ve been caught, but the ball was dropped by Kiyota and Okawari-kun scored from second.
Chiba equalized in the bottom of the 3rd, where after Shogo Nakamura reached base on a slow roller, Paulino took an ill-advised throw to second base on the bunt attempt which created runners on the corners and no outs. Takuya Takahama would hit into a 4-6-3 double play and like the previous game, the Lions conceded the run to tie it at 1-1.
The 4th inning would have some scoring both ways as Mejia hit a sacrifice fly to score Okawari-kun from third base giving the Lions a lead again. They added another run with back to back singles from Naoto Watanabe and Ginjiro Sumitani to double the lead. In the bottom frame,
Paulino’s control would struggle in the 4th after walking Despaigne and Navarro reaching base on a single with no outs. A sacrifice fly from Daichi Suzuki would bring the Marines within one run and there would be two on for Kiyota. In the end a failed hit and run resulted in strikeout and pickoff from Sumitani as the Lions retained the lead.
The Lions stranded the bases when they were loaded in the top of the 5th, where Asamura struck out and Mejia grounded out. After cruising through the 5th and 6th, Norio Tanabe chose to leave Paulino in for the 7th.
Coming in as a defensive sub, Takashi Ogino would get a one out double to create a chance. Shohei Kato would tie the game on a two-out single. Kei Hosoya would then triple off the LF wall and the Marines went ahead 4-3 off Shota Takekuma. Katsuya Kakunaka then singled home Hosoya making it 5-3.
The Lions wouldn’t score and lose their second straight game after Naoya Masuda and Yuji Nishino nearly blew it in the 9th. Takumi Kuriyama would hit a gapper with bring the Lions within 1. But with a runner on third, Okawari-kun hit an infield fly and Asamura grounded out to put the full on tease.
This game was all on Tanabe for leaving in Paulino when he shouldn’t have. With the Lions playing 9 straight games, the coaching staff most likely wanted to save the bullpen if possible, but Paulino was already struggling with control later and was fortunate to get out of the 6th inning. Like in the past, he was one out away from nearly being vindicated.
Marines 5, Lions 4
For Game 3, Kona Takahashi faced Yuki Karakawa in a battle of pitchers remembered for their high school careers. Despite the recent struggles of both starters, this was mostly a pitcher’s duel. Kona Takahashi would give up two solo home runs to Shogo Nakamura in the third and Takashi Ogino in the sixth making it 2-0.
Karakawa gave the Lions minimal chances through seven innings, where their only notable one was two on with two and Shogo Akiyama would groundout in the 5th.
Even in the 6th, Asamura had a single with a runner on 1st, but tried advancing to 2nd on a throw which led to an inning ending play. The bottom of the 7th would have S. Nakamura hit a gapper for another run and Chiba’s lead of 3-0 looked impossible.
The top of the 8th showed some life with the leadoff runners reaching base. Okawari-kun put the Lions on the board after the Marines took out Karakawa and it took 7.1 innings to finally score a run off him. After a throwing error led to runners on second and third, an RBI groundout from Asamura put the Lions within one.
With Ken Togame pitching in the bottom of the 8th, he failed to get a shutdown inning after Yamaico Navarro hit a grounder past the infield and the Marines took a 4-2 lead into the 9th.
There was plenty of room for drama with runners on the corners and no one out against Nishino. Watanabe singled to bring the Lions within one again with the tying run on third. However, pinch runner Daichi Mizuguchi was foolish enough to try scoring on a ground ball and was the first out to ruin momentum. After Kuriyama advanced two runners to second and third, Akiyama was up as the 3-spot hitter for the 6th straight game.
To the disappointment of Lions fans, Akiyama hit a comebacker and the game would result in another one run loss, let alone a sweep in QVC.
The one blame we can obviously make is the shift of Akiyama batting third, a position he shouldn’t be at. Togame’s poor run continues and it’s hurt the team that another winnable games is in the loss column. It’s also disappointing the Lions didn’t score more off Karakawa, waiting until the 8th inning to finally break the shutout.
Marines 4, Lions 3
In Game 1 against Orix, it was Andy Van Hekken taking on Nobuyoshi Yamada. Both pitchers wouldn’t last longer than four innings, allowing at least four runs a piece.
Masahiro Nishino would hit a solo HR to begin the game in the first, but the Lions answered back with an RBI double from Mori in the bottom half of the frame. Kohei Suzuki would break the tie in the top of the 3rd with a two-out RBI single.
After recording the first out in the top of the fourth, Van Hekken’s day would be done as he would load the bases with three consecutive hits. Ken Togame would enter and get a groundout to start, but with two outs, an RBI single on the first pitch to Kenya Wakatsuki made it 4-1.
Ernesto Mejia would hit his 25th HR of the year in the bottom of the 4th. A sacrifice fly from Akiyama made it a one run game. Mori would hit a two-run HR in the bottom of the 5th to give the Lions the lead for good. Okawari-kun padded the lead with a solo HR for his 12th of the year.
The top of the 6th wouldn’t come without a scare from Togame. Wakatsuki couldn’t replicate his success with the bases loaded with an infield fly. Nishino would then groundout and end the threat.
Asamura would also send one deep for the fourth Lions HR of the game in the bottom of the 7th. Vasquez would walk two batters in the top of the 8th, but Takekuma cleaned up the mess recording two outs. In the bottom of the 8th, Kaneko would sacrifice bunt, but it would lead to a throwing error by pitcher Ken Akama, having Kyohei Nagae score from second base.
After an initial scare to begin the top of the 9th, Masuda would shut the door with two strikeouts and a flyout, ending a three game skid.
Lions 8, Buffaloes 4
-The Lions started Tomoya Mori for the first time in 7 games in RF. He batted third while Kaneko was 9th and Akiyama was the leadoff hitter.
-Kyohei Nagae once again started at SS.
-Shogo Noda came in for the 7th inning and recorded a double play, facing only three batters with eight pitches.
-Van Hekken was deactivated after the game for infielder Nien Ting Wu. This was Wu’s second callup to the ichi-gun team.
In Game 2 against Orix, Ryoma Nogami faced Takahiro Matsuba seeking his first win in nearly three months. With Nishino getting a leadoff double, Yoshio Itoi would bring him home on a single in the first inning.
The Lions immediately squandered an early two on, nobody out chance in the bottom of the frame where Mori struck out, Okawari-kun flew out and Asamura grounded out. Itoi would hit a solo HR in the top of the third to make it 2-0.
Both pitchers were on cruise control until the 7th, where Nogami reached trouble having runners on the corners and one out. Ryoichi Adachi would try a safety squeeze, but the ball bounced to Nogami and he prevented a run coming home leading to a groundout. Noda came in to pitch to Itoi as lefty one out specialist. Norio Tanabe’s faith was rewarded with a strikeout as Itoi was caught looking and keeping the game withing striking distance.
Offense just wasn’t there for the Lions as they couldn’t hit off Matsuba the entire game. Outside of the first inning, they had no one past first base as Matsuba went 7.2 innings. Nogami did his job again, but ended up with the loss in a decent effort going 6.2 innings.
The 8th and 9th innings were all too familiar with a single in each frame, but nothing more and the Lions would be shutout for the 5th time this season. There were hittable pitches on the day, but the Lions either hit it to the warning track or just short of the walls. One ball was caught when Itoi leaped at the wall and Mejia got under it for what could have been extra bases.
Buffaloes 2, Lions 0
-Ryoma Nogami was taken off the roster due to the All-Star break coming up. He won’t be eligible until July 20. C.C. Lee was brought up in his place.
For Game 3, Brandon Dickson took on Shinsaburo Tawata for the rubber match of the series. Mejia kicked off the scoring shortly after a leadoff walk to Asamura. He took a home run deep to left-centerfield and gave the Lions an early 2-0 lead.
Orix would get a run back off a two-out RBI double from Itoi, who had a superb series. Tawata’s control would later suffer in the top of the 4th, where he hit a batter and had a wild pitch for runners on the corners. A safety squeeze would tie it as Brian Bogusevic would be safe at the plate on a play that wasn’t close.
The bottom of the 4th was one of the ultimate backbreakers. After Asamura was on 3rd and Mejia walked to go to 1st, Nien Ting Wu, making his ichi-gun debut was up. He hit a grounder to 1st, but Asamura was out trying to advance going home and Mejia was tagged out trying to go to third while hoping the infielders were distracted at Asamura.
This double play ruined all momentum even after Sumitani singled and Kaneko walked to load the bases. Akiyama struck out looking to give Orix the epic Houdini.
Tawata would then struggle in the fifth inning where he allowed two hits and Sumitani’s throwout saved a run. Takahiro Okada would then hit a two-out double and score on consecutive wild pitches from Tawata to break the tie at 3-2.
The Lions would strand the tying run in scoring position for three consecutive innings in the 5th, 6th and 7th. It would only bite for the top of the 8th with Esmerling Vasquez in. He gave up a leadoff double followed by a single. A run would score off a comebacker and the play at the plate was not in time. He would later load the bases and hit Wakatsuki for another run.
Hirotaka Koishi couldn’t clean up the mess as he allowed all inherited runners to score with a sacrifice fly and multiple base hits. Eventually, it would be 8-2 in the 8th inning to put it all away.
Buffaloes 8, Lions 2
-Nien Ting Wu had one error and one single for his first career ichi-gun game.
The games this week reflected a last place team. No clutch hitting, questionable base running, poor defense and every little mistake adding up. There’s no life right now without Kazuhisa Makita nor Yusei Kikuchi. We can’t even fall back on both of those players being out as the reason they’re not winning.
This is becoming a large train wreck and it feels like there’s no end in sight. They’re averaging one win a week and still haven’t recovered from the walkoff loss in Hiroshima. So many losses have made them 4-17 in their last 21 games, let alone not winning a series in four weeks.
There is one series left before the All-Star break, in a battle for 4th place, but it’s possible this team has mailed it in without care. We can only hope to see progress as the season goes along, but it’s not looking good.
Originally posted on Graveyard Baseball
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