You see in the media that this is the halfway point of the season, even though the next game is game 91 for Our Marines, 54 games left in the season. It must be the “halfway” point and I’ve missed the punctuation.
The curse of the hat – over. The next time I wore it to a game we won. But after that win, hoo boy, it’s been a not-so-good time. The offense has been largely ineffective, at least not consistently ineffective (Lotte has been shut out 4 times this month). The pitching has been complete feast-or-famine (given up 6 or more runs 5 times this month, given up 2 or less 7 times). But you know what? Here we stand in late July only 2 games out of first. Now that is not bad at all.
The pitching is the biggest cause for concern down the stretch. As of this writing only two starters have over 100 innings on the year, Naruse and Shunsuke, and Shunsuke has been the best of the two all year. After that in terms of innings pitched it’s Murphy (more on him in a minute), Ohmine (who can’t stay in ichi-gun) and Karakawa (the Baby-Faced Killer, who hasn’t played in over two months). When your number 5 innings pitched guy hasn’t pitched in half the season you know you’ve had some injury problems.
The three best pitchers have been Kobayshi out of the pen, Shunsuke (markedly better by any metric this year than the last two years), and the surprising Murphy. Murphy didn’t make his first start until May when he went 5 in a victory over Daiei. He’s made 10 starts in total and has a decision in all 10 – a lovely 8-2 record on the year. He actually won the first 6 starts and got beat up in the 7th. The 8th (also a loss) was a bit of a fluke – he gave up a big HR to Seibu’s Nakajima and just implode over the next few batters. I mention this not to criticize, but to emphasize these are the only two games he’s started this year that were less than completely awesome. In the last two starts he’s gone 17 out of a possible 18 innings, stuck out 16 with only 9 total hits and one earned run – total. He’s going tonight against Seibu to start the “second half” and I am totally stoked.
We’ve signed a new foreign pitcher from the Pirates organization named Hayden Penn – I don’t have so much info on him other than he’s got a mid-90s fastball and is still young (26). He’s not listed on the Marines site yet but he does have a page on Yahoo already. I hope he can give us some good starts, especially while Ono and Karakawa are still out.
I am ever more convinced the offensive doldrums are caused by a lack of Ogino (Ta-Ka-Shi!). Pre-knee-injury Lotte offense was a juggernaut, a well-oiled machine that mowed over everyone and carried the team into first. Since the Ogino injury the team has struggled to make waves on the basepaths. Sure, they will still occasionally put up a ton of hits and double digit runs but it’s mostly a power game, not a small ball game now. Tsuyoshi is having a fantastic offensive year – still – but he’s not the sort of disruptive baserunner that Ogino is. Okada has come around a bit after that brutal June he had but he still doesn’t get on very much (.235 OBP!!!). Iguchi tailed off rather dramatically – not so bad as last year but really far below where he was earlier in the year, though in the last week or so he’s been tearing the cover off the ball again. Tae Kyun has been in a big slump the past few weeks, but he seems to do that a lot so I am not too worried.
The big point of the critical talk is that the team has had a not so great two month stretch but still is in easy striking distance of first. You’ve gotta figure with key pitchers coming back soon (we should see both Ono and Karakawa back soon, and Corey has filled in nicely since coming back to ichi-gun) and the return of Ogino next month we should be well-positioned for a nice run.
The “second half” starts tonight at Seibu Dome! I can’t wait!