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Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2011 Chiba Lotte Marines

Really, I do still exist. This blog has been adrift somewhere between the afterglow of the stunning run to the 2010 Nippon Series title, the disaster in Tohoku (and Kanto), and the first 36 games of the 2011 season. I’ve been quiet far too long!

I haven’t taken so many pictures yet this year due to most off the games being at night, but I will add some a bit later.

Let me give you a quick rundown of the season so far:

-In the middle of interleague play Lotte is sitting in 4th behind Daiei, Nippon Ham, and (grr) Seibu.

-The pitching has been fantastic; with Karakawa leading the league in ERA, Naruse having another great year (he SHOULD be leading the league in ERA except for a bum scorer in Seibu Dome – more on that in a bit), the bullpen being solid if not rock solid (especially Uchi, Itoh, and Yabuta).

-The offense has been, well, it’s, um…. OK, how to put this. Stinky.

-Injuries have decimated the starting ranks with 5 players on the starting roster currently out. That’s Ogino (starting at SS), Saburo (RF), Kim Tae Kyun (1B), Hayden Penn (SP) and Bill Murphy (SP). It’s unknown how long Bill Murphy will be out with his hamstring injury, but Ogino is out at least a month after another surgery on his knee, Penn’s been out since his first (great) start of the year with an elbow injury, and both KTK and Saburo have missed close to half the season already.

Good Revelations

Shota Ishimine (first round draft pick in October) has been a really nice addition – no power yet but plenty of speed, great defense, and patience at the plate.

Okada parlayed his end of the season excellence into the starting CF gig and has both hit and defended well.

Ogino got the start at SS and proved to be even more lethal on the basepaths this years than last year (14 SB in 23 games), though his defense has been spotty and he’s now injured.

The Baby-Faced Killer has turned into a great pitcher like I hoped – he’s had only one poor start this year (the first against Rakuten), has gone 7+ in every start but the first and a complete 9 in 3 starts, and has two games with more than 10 Ks.

Iguchi has been killing the league again. 2nd in BA at .358, leading in RBI with 32, way way way leading in walks with 28, and has continued to play great defense at almost 37 years old.

Bad revelations

Fukuura got old in a hurry. He’s striking out at a bad clip and after a fairly hot start is hitting .210-ish. Hopefully it’s just a slump.

Ohmatsu hasn’t been able to hit anything this year. He actually spent a few weeks in ni-gun to get his swing back.

Satozaki has been brilliant behind the plate but really, really limited offensively. 1 HR, 29Ks, a .231 BA and only 8 RBIs. Personally I think he’s played too much – he’s played every inning this year! Is that a good idea for a 35 year old catcher?

Shunsuke has not been very good for most of the year, though his last two starts have been pretty good. He’s got a 4.90 ERA and only 33 IP in 7 starts…

Best Player

Apologies to Karakawa and Iguchi, but it’s definitely Naruse. The lefty can make his case as the best pitcher in the Pacific League this year. He’s only 10th in ERA, but as I mentioned before 3 of his 12 earned runs shouldn’t have counted as a fielding error by Ogino on out three in Seibu Dome was ruled… well, I don’t know what it was ruled but it wasn’t an error, and Naruse let 4 runners score after that failed out three. Take the first three out and he leads the league in ERA. With them he still leads the league in WHIP (0.79!), is second in K/9 (9.80), second in walks allowed (3), second in IP (56). He took a loss in a game he only gave up 2 runs (on a 2 run shot by the terrifying Murata of Yokohama) and still struck out 9, and the previous start he got a no decision after going 9, giving up 1 run (a solo shot by Rakuten’s Yamazaki), and striking out 11. He’s 4-2 but really should be 6-1.

Best Game

No questions about this one. The March 11 earthquake had caused so much disruption not just in Tohoku but even in Chiba, with extensive damage to the streets, sidewalks, and parking lots around Chiba Marine (Now QVC Marine Field). Originally our season opener was scheduled for 25 March in Sendai – clearly playing that game was an impossibility (and in fact Rakuten couldn’t play their first legitimate home game until a month later) and all NPB games were shifted to start after 12 April.

Lotte opened the season at home on 12 April against the visiting Eagles and proceeded to play their first 9 home games as weekday day games to conserve power. Quite honestly I was in no mood to watch baseball anyway, it was pretty hard for I guess everyone to think of fun in such a time.

I finally went to my first game on 29 April against Daiei – it was a weekday game as well but the start of Golden Week. It felt good to attend and get things back a little closer to normal. The first road game I went to this season was Seibu’s home opener on 3 May over Golden Week. They of course had the same problem as us so they played their “home” games at a variety of road stadiums. We played three of our April midweek games against the Lions, sweeping all three. Last time we played Seibu at Seibu was the 2010 Climax Series – two come from behind victories later we were dancing and screaming and Seibu fans were quite literally crying in their seats.

Seibu wanted revenge. We wanted to beat the hell out of them again – it’s fun, after all, and we are GOOD at it. Naruse and Wakui were the starters, sempai vs kohai, a rematch of game 1 of the Climax Series. We invaded the stadium in force as usual, but Seibu fans were good and rowdy after the Lions scored the first 4 runs after the aforementioned non-error by Ogino. Lotte scraped out a run off an RBI single by Saburo in the 5th, but Seibu answered right back in the bottom of the inning. In the 6th Satozaki, Kiyota, and Okada got on to load the bases, and Ogino drew a bases loaded walk off Wakui to make it 5-2. Iguchi came to the plate, we were getting LOUD. Iguchi pounces on a 1-0 pitch and smacks it into the Seibu ouendan – a grand slam, and a 6-5 lead!

In the 6th Satozaki joined the fun with a solo shot of his own to left to make it a 7-5 game. Okada and Ogino both reached with one out bringing up Iguchi – and he pasted another shot, this time to center and scoring another three runs! It was an amazing display of power by Iguchi and a great comeback by Our Marines. The game finished at 10-5 and Lotte fandom was content again.

There’s tons of reasons to be optimistic. Our pitching is solid, the young players are getting a great opportunity to gain some experience, and our starting lineup will eventually return to health. Daiei is killing the rest of the league now but of course that won’t last the whole season (we were doing the same at one point last year) – the character of this team was proven time and again last year in the biggest games, so I have every reason to believe we’ll finish this season strong.

It’s good to have baseball back.

3 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2011 Chiba Lotte Marines”

  1. I second that! All of that! Well, I mean, I second Westbay’s comment, and that Naruse is awesome, and that Shota Ishimine was a damn good draft pick.

    I know the spring was nuts but I hope to get back to Japan a bit this fall and we better get together for a game or whatever then!

    I’d love to see some photos of what the area around Chiba Marine Stadium looks like now, to be honest.

  2. Thanks! It’s good to be back to writing. I’ve been at most of the games for the past month but it’s only recently started to feel like normal life again.

    I’m going to write a dedicated Ishimine post soon – he’s just amazingly cool to me. He made the slickest little over the shoulder snag of a deep liner during last night’s crap fest. It looked absolutely effortless. In the past couple of weeks he’s made so many tricky catches.

    I wish I had thought to take some pictures around the stadium during the rain this weekend – there’s a destroyed area of ground by the 2005 championship monument that turned into Lake Lotte. It’s all roped off, which is a good thing as it looks you could break through the brick there really easily by walking there.

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