Break open your ledger and put Rival Series Part 1 in the books with an emphatic WIN for Our Marines. After weeks of futility, that’s 2 series wins in the last 3, and of course the one that Chiba lost could easily have swung the other way. I must say, cautiously, that things are looking up.
What’s changed? Huff-n-Hustle’s hot hitting, yes, yes, but also the pitching has settled way, way down. The cliche is that pitching is 90% of baseball and while that’s certainly not the case, it is certainly the case that the fortunes of this 2014 squad are closely linked to the stability of the pitching staff. That might change a bit in this series as new Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne is fitted into a lovely Lotte uniform and is ready to destroy some concrete in the back wall of the outfield. Expectations could not be higher for his performance, and hopefully that power bat in the lineup can give the offense a boost for the times that the pitching needs some extra support.
Hamu: Masaru Nakamura (4-0, 3.23 ERA) @ Lotte: Ayumu Ishikawa (6-5 3.06 ERA)
Even though Ishikawa had some rough spots early – a pair of hits allowed in both the second and third innings – Goemon fought through to really get in his groove in the middle innings. Nishikawa recorded a two out double in the third inning, but Ishikawa struck out the next 4 batters and rang up 13 outs in a row, 7 of those by K. The last out of the 7th inning – an easy fly to right by Kondoh – left him at 93 pitches, ready to come out for the pen to finish it up. For some reason, that just didn’t happen, and the game completely fell apart.
With 10 LOB on the evening including a pair of prime chances to score a whole bunch of runs, you might be surprised to read that I think pitching was the big problem in this game. And let me be completely open with the reasons for that – it’s not necessarily the performances of the pitchers themselves (though Matsunaga and Ueno were not good) but the management of the pitchers. Let me give you what should have been Ishikawa’s final line:
7 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 10 K, 0 ER, 93 pitches.
Fantastic! And with 93 pitches, one would not expect him to go two more innings and finish this one (as Itoh has shown great willingness to go to the pen for the 9th inning in similar situations this year), so if that is the case why not let Masuda/Ohtani go for the 8th and Nishino finish the 9th? Surely those guys after a day off will be fresh and can hold the 2-0 lead?
Alas, that did not happen. In the 8th inning Ishikawa gave up three doubles to four batters, and by the time the pen was called in the game was tied. Two batter later, Hamu was smiling with a 4-2 lead. Grr.
Our Marines tied the game up in the bottom of the 8th (more on that and the rest of the Chiba scoring in a moment) but the management of the pen continued to be rather inexplicable. Masuda recorded the last two outs of the 8th inning on just three pitches, so in a tie game – potentially going to extras – Itoh decided to not keep him in and went to Nishino instead. Huh. And if that was not odd enough, Nishino got through the Fighters 9th in just 8 pitches, but in the 10th Itoh decided to change and go to Ohtani.
Look, absolutely nothing negative to say about any of those three guys – they are the bedrock of the pen – but isn’t that usage more than a little odd? Wouldn’t you expect to let Masuda go for the 9th, and even if that is not the case and you use Nishino for the 9th, after just 8 pitches wouldn’t you allow him to go out for the 10th? I’ve thought about this a lot – a lot – and I can’t understand it. There’s no matchup issue to consider either as all three pitchers are righties.
As is not surprising the needless overuse of pitchers came back to bite Lotte in the 12th as Ueno gave up what would eventually be the game winning two run homer. It didn’t have to be that way.
The offense was essentially doomed by a general lack of timely hitting. 3rd inning, bases loaded, one run in, no outs – Kakunaka flied out weakly and new slugger Despaigne lined out very unluckily into a double play. 8th inning – GREAT comeback to score 2 and tie the game, 2 outs, bases loaded – Fukuura grounds out to the pitcher. 9th inning, two out single – PR Hosoya thrown out stealing. 10th inning, one out single – inning ending DP. 11th inning, 2 out double – ground out to end the inning. See a pattern?
Perhaps you might say I am being hyper critical and certainly I am being that, but after this loss there are just 53 games left in the season, and Chiba is 5 games out of third (a stunning 14 out of first). If this team has a chance at going to the Climax Series, these mistakes need to stop, and consistent winning needs to start.
Game 1 digest from Pacific League TV
Game 1 Box Score in English
Hamu: Naoyuki Uwasawa (6-5, 3.30 ERA) @ Lotte: Takuya Furuya (7-2, 3.79 ERA)
No point in pointing fingers at anyone, that was just a mess all around. New Lefty Ace Furuya was all over the place – everywhere except in the strike zone, that is. Sure there was just one (what should have been unearned) run in the first, and none in the second, but in those two innings was 2 hits, 3 walks, and one man reaching base via a muffed bunt. 55 pitches, too.
Offense? Sure a nice timely double by Iguchi in the first plated Katoh and tied the game at 1-1, but there wasn’t much else to be found this evening. Here’s the total: 2 hits by Daichi (1 run scored), 2 hits by Iguchi (1 RBI), 2 hits by Imae (no impact). The second Lotte run scored via a ground out by newcomer Despaigne (who has not had a good first two games at all – the freak triple yesterday, yes, but a pile of Ks, 2 DPs, and no other hits). I suppose this means that Hamu starter (and Chiba native) Uwasawa was sharp, but watching it live seemed more like Lotte futility than Uwasawa dominance.
Hamu salted this one away early – a two run bomb by Nakata (Sho-o-o!) in the third gave them a 3-1 lead, and after the Despaigne RBI ground out tightened the game up a bit to 3-2, Obiki re-extended the lead to two runs with a timely single in the 5th (a solid Okada 9 liner that one hopped to Katoh – apparently Itoh thought it was a much easier catch as Katoh was pulled for Okada the next inning but I can assure you it would have been a very difficult catch for anyone).
Minami tried to keep things close but some sloppy D led to another unearned run plus a straight-up earned run in the 8th inning, thanks to a 2-run single by yesterday’s hero Nishikawa.
There ain’t a whole lot of rounds left in the chamber, folks. 52 games left and 6 games out of third is not really the easiest road to travel, for sure. It should go without saying that tomorrow’s ikemen battle (AKA The War of the Underperforming Yukis) is rather important.
Game 2 digest from Pacific League TV
Game 2 Box Score in English
Hamu: Yuki Saito (0-1, 5.11 ERA) @ Lotte: Yuki Karakawa (1-6, 6.59 ERA)
This game is already being spun in the press as Saito Yuki’s first win in over 2 years, and yes, yes it is that. (This is the same Saito Yuki who gave up 8 ER in 4 2/3 at ni-gun last week) I don’t think Saito looked very good at all, to be honest – and the 5 BBs he issued sort of indicates that as well. Look at how the first three innings went at the plate for Chiba:
Inning 1 – a pair of leadoff singles, followed by a strikeout and a GIDP.
Inning 2 – a leadoff Kakunaka HR (yay!) but then loaded the bases and bupkis.
Inning 3 – a leadoff single and a one out walk – inning ending GIDP.
Sounds more to me like tons of missed chances.
The funny thing is, The Baby Faced Killer was several steps beyond shaky in those same three innings (75 pitches!) but actually gave up no runs. Much like Goemon’s Tuesday start, Yuki should have been pulled much earlier than he was – 101 pitches, no runs after 5 – but he was left in to give up the go-ahead run on 3 straight hits in the 6th. I am sure I speak for many of us when I say I have no idea why he was allowed to go back out there for the 6th – sure the previous two frames were quite solid, but 101 pitches through 5, from a pitcher who does not have a good recent track record for quality work deep into his starts. It was a weird decision.
Once Saito left the game the mostly silent Lotte bats went completely silent – Cochito Cruz led off the 9th with a double but could not come home. PH Saburo watched the final strike sail by with Cruz standing on third.
-Newcomer Despaigne is struggling mightily. In 12 AB so far he has 6 Ks, 3 GIDP, and just the one hit in his first AB.
–Braz is off the roster indefinitely – he’s having hernia surgery in August, so who knows if/when he will return this season.
–Huff-n-Hustle didn’t play tonight after becoming ill – speculation was that it might be heat related but I haven’t seen any updates since.
-With his HBP in the third inning, Okada set the NPB record for most career ABs without a homer at 1770. As much as I love Okada, I can’t remember him even hitting one off the fence in his career. That’s OK, he’s great in other ways.
Game 3 digest from Pacific League TV
Game 3 Box Score in English