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Lotte @ Fighters, 16-18 May 2014

022 Series Preview:

Our Marines are 4-9 so far in May, as they head up north for a three game set in Sapporo. The roster changes and constant lineup tinkering have really ratcheted up this month, with the pre-game announcements accounting half the fun of following the team. It’s anyone’s guess which positions players will start this weekend, where they’ll be positioned, and in what spot they’ll bat in the lineup.

At least we have a grasp on the probable pitchers. Naruse, Fujioka, Ishikawa, in that order, should be taking the hill this weekend. The Fighters and Marines have recently switched places in the PL standings, with Nippon Ham taking over third place at the expense of Chiba Lotte, who now sit in 4th. I know it’s mid-May, but we’re just going to dig ourselves deeper down the PL ranks if we don’t start to turn things around this weekend.

Game 1 - Lotte LOSES 11-1 (Click to Expand)

Lotte: Yoshihisa Naruse (3-3. 3.26) @ Fighters: Masaru Nakamura (0-0. 11.25)

By: Craig Roberts Nothing to see here folks. Naruse, 5 innings pitched, 9 earned runs, 4 home runs allowed. It was 6-0 after the first inning, 9-1 after the second frame. We had 4 hits, the lone run coming on a Saburo 2nd inning solo shot. Need I say more?

No, not really. That’s two blowout loses in the row. I should add that Kimura pitched 3 innings of one run ball in his first appearance of the year. Nakamura threw a solid 7 innings for Nippon Ham, and the Fighters made a couple of nice plays in the field too…not that it factored much in the outcome. To quote Steve’s Love Marines twitter account, Naruse basically threw BP in those first two innings. That’s pretty much the story on our end.

Game 2 - Lotte LOSES 2x - 1 (Click to Expand)

Lotte: Takahiro Fujioka (2-1, 3.52) @ Fighters: Hiroshi Hirano (2-0, 3.03)

By: Craig Roberts Our Marines dropped their third straight game Saturday afternoon. After losing by a combined score of 18-2 in our last two games, we lost this one in sayonara fashion, going down 2-1 in the 11th. Fuijoka threw 5 2/3 of 1-run ball, with the bullpen contributing 4 2/3 of 1-run ball as well. Our offense could only answer with one run on 11 hits and 14 men on base. We had chances, but a lack of timely hitting and a couple of baserunning miscues held us to just one run for the third straight game.

Nippon Ham employed some extra help on Saturday

Nippon Ham employed some extra help on Saturday

The game started with a couple of missed opportunities on both ends. Okada and Kakunaka each hit singles to put two Marines on with 1 out in the first. The next two batters, Saburo and Imae, struck out to end the chance though. The Fighters almost had a run in the home half on a fly ball to center, but Okada nailed a very speedy Yoh Daikan on a tag up attempt play-at-the-plate for the 2nd and 3rd outs.

The Fighters scored the first run of the game on an Ohbiki single to make it 1-0 in the 2nd. Lotte finally responded in the 5th. Okada was on first base with two out and Saburo at the plate. Okada put himself into scoring position by swiping second so swiftly he didn’t even draw a throw. That set up Saburo, who hit a hard grounder between third and short and into left field. Okada scores, and Saburo is somehow thrown out heading back to first on a throw from home. Inning over, but tie game 1-1.

Fujioka was replaced by Uchi, leaving runners on the corners with 2 out in the 6th. After a walk to load ‘em up, Uchi got Sugiya to ground to 2nd to keep it tied at 1. Our Marines had another chance in the 7th, but failed to score a run for the third time in three chances with a runner a scoring position and 1-out or less.

Uchi stayed in for a scoreless 7th. Masuda worked around a leadoff walk for a scoreless 8th. Nishino struck out the side (the top of the Fighters lineup no less) on 10 pitches in the 9th. That sent this one to extras.

Okada led us off in the 10th with a single, but was thrown out attempting to steal second with one out to erase any real scoring chance. Carlos Rosa pitched a 1-2-3 bottom half to send it to the 11th.

Cruz made up for going 0 for his first 4 with a 2-out double to give us a chance in the 11th. Hosoya Kei followed with a chopper to third. The second bounce went under the 3rd basemen Kondoh’s glove, as Cruz rounded third and headed home. The first hop took such a high bounce though that the short stop Ohbiki, cleverly backing up his 3rd baseman, had time to get toward the line and cut the ball off from reaching left field. Cruz was stuck between home and third, and was eventually tagged out in a run down. 3 outs.

Matsunaga came in to pitch the 11th. With one out and no one on, he gave up a deep fly to left off that bat off Ohno. The ball cleared the wall and the Fighters celebrated in sayonara style. Game over 2-1 Ham.

Game notes:

-Fujioka: 5 2/3 IP, 103P, 8H, 4K, 3BB, 1 ER. He remained 2-1 in the no decision and lowered his ERA to 3.22.

-Okada had three singles for his first modasho of the year.

-Saburo had two hits and walk, and his 6 for his last 11. He raised his BA up to .330 – in only just over 70% of Lotte games played, thus disqualifying his from a spot among the top 5 averages in the PL.

Game 3 - Lotte WINS 4-3 (Click to Expand)

Lotte: Ayumu Ishikawa (3-2 3.40) @ Fighters: Luis Mendoza (2-5 3.22)

By Steve Novosel The first portion of the Pacific League 2014 season ended today with a rather stunning comeback win at Sapporo by Our Marines. Hey, I'm just as surprised as you are.

Rookie Ishikawa got the start again, and after getting lit up in his last two starts he was… acceptable. OK, so 9 hits is not really acceptable but by the statistical definition of Quality Start (6 IP, 3 ER or less) this fit the bill. More importantly, he kept a Chiba team that has been struggling mightily to score runs in the game.

Early Innings
Great start by the Chiba bats in this one, as the guys got to Hamu starter Luis Mendoza right off the bat. Super swift Okada reached via the infield single to lead off the game and was driven in via a 2-out Saburo double. Luis Cruz (batting in the 5th spot and starting at 3rd) brought Saburo home with a double down the right field line off his compatriot – an early 2-0 Chiba lead.

In his last game, Ishikawa was roughed up from the get-go, and by all indications it seemed he would go the same route on this day as after just 11 pitches and 3 straight hits, Hamu scored their first run to cut the lead to 2-1 Lotte. But Ishikawa got the next three batters in order to end the scoring threat.

In the bottom of the second, former Lotte fieldhand Satoken led off with a double and scored on a two-out infield hit by Nishikawa. It absolutely needs to be mentioned that if Cruz had been playing short instead of third, Nishikawa would have been out, but Daichi’s arm is not as strong as Cruz’s so Nishikawa beat the throw – tie game after two.

Middle Frames
For the most part, those two early runs were all the Men of Lotte would manage to scrape out versus the first year pitcher from Mexico. In fact, for Mendoza’s final 7 innings all Lotte could accomplish was an infield single (Kakunaka), reaching via an error (Cruz), and a “double” by Okada in the 8th (really, just very poor communication between Nakata/Yoh/Ohbiki) – none of those runners would score.

Ishikawa continued with what turned out to be a reasonable strategy of allowing the occasional hit but not any runs – he finished the afternoon with 9 hits as I mentioned, but no walks and 5 Ks, allowing just those 2 early runs1. The 77 pitches thrown is an eminently reasonable concession to the reality of Ishikawa being a bit exhausted – and 6 innings of work is plenty with the quality of the Lotte pen.

1The box score is actually pretty inscrutable for this one – look at the pair of doubles by Nakata and Kondoh in the 6th, yet no runs. How? Nakata was parked on second after his leadoff double – Miranda lofted a pop to Kakunaka in left, Kakunaka noticed Nakata sipping on an iced tea near second base but not actually on it, fired the ball in, tagged out. Not Sho’s finest hour.

screen cap via @the_hereford

screen cap via @the_hereford

Late Drama
Ohtani took over for Ishikawa and fired a 1-2-3 7th, and in fact 4-5 of the 8th for good measure before allowing a single to Nakata. Itoh went to the pen and brought in Saturday’s goat Matsunaga. Our second year lefty issued a pass to Miranda (not the worst thing) – Nakata raced to third after Yoshida allowed ball 4 to roll by. Light hitting Iiyama smashed a deep ball into the left/center gap – apparently something even Okada could not snag, Nakata in easily and the tie broken. 3-2 Hamu. Grrrrrr.

I tell ya I was feeling pretty down at this point, given the lack of offensive spark as of late (to this point, only 4 runs scored by Chiba total in the series). Mendoza was gone after 115 pitches, in came Masui to face Cruz. Second pitch from Masui – big fat jack to deep left by Cruz – and a 3-3 game! Wow, who could have seen that coming?

Masui is shaken – he walks Daichi on 4 pitches. He gets Nemoto to ground out, but Daichi’s able to advance. The injured Iguchi’s in to pinch hit for Yoshida – free pass. Crotta takes over for Masui. Imae hits a broken bat grounder – both Iguchi and Daichi advance, two out. Okada up. Okada has gutted his way to a pair of hits so far, it’s two outs now and who knows if there will ever be another good opportunity to score. It needs to happen now, but how? What tricks are there to play? A two out squeeze? YES, a TWO-OUT SQUEEZE – Okada JUST beats the throw to first, Daichi is SAFE and Chiba is ahead 4-3!

Wow!

Nishino’s in to close it, and Emura in for Yoshida. First batter is Kita – 6 pitch walk, hmm. Nakajima bunts Kita to second, and Nishikawa grounds him over to third. Two outs, this is where a closer earns his keep. Captian Ohbiki is the batter, and Nishino gets behind quickly 3-0. Strike one is looking, Ohbiki gets a bat on the ball to foul it for strike two, and Nishino drops a wonderfully placed fastball on the upper edge of the zone to punch out Ohbiki for strike three!

Obviously this is another bad series for Marines – the fifth one in a row dropped – but the sweep was avoided. Up next is the start of interleague play, and the first Kanto Battle as Yakult takes the Keiyo Line to QVC for game 1 on Tuesday.

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