game report

Opening Series: 28-30 March 2014, Lotte vs Softbank

2014 Slogan So it has begun. Our Marines are off and running this 2014 NPB season – a season filled with high hopes of a PL flag, if not an NPB title – and they are getting it started in the home of arguably our biggest rival, Softbank. A good start would be a very welcome sight.

Game 1 (28 Mar) - Lotte Loses 11-5 (click to expand)

Lotte: Yoshihisa Naruse vs Hawks: Tadashi Settsu

By Steve Novosel This season opening battle of aces absoultely did not live up to expectations as a slack Lefty Ace Naruse got hammered (with lots of help by a sloppy D) 11-5 to kick off the 2014 season. That, as they say, could have gone better.

I’d like to assess blame to Naruse for this one – and he was by no means good, hanging a lot of pitches, never getting above 132 km/h (80mph), getting beat for 12 hits and 5 runs in under 5 innings of work – but honestly, it wasn’t even mostly his fault. To my eyes pretty much every one of the first 5 Daiei runs scored this game came as a result of not only ineffective pitching but some shockingly lax D. One must hope that this was a function of the first game on the road, with lofty expectations sitting on the shoulder, watching every single move.

But I digress. Here’s the box score from the NPB official site.

The only real bright spots on the evening were:

1) Iguchi – he looked fabulous at the plate with a pair of doubles and a single in his old Fukuoka haunt. That’s quality.

2) Kakunaka – he made an awesome early catch smashing into the right field wall to rob Imamiya of a hit. He also went 2-4 with a pair of doubles at the plate. Not much evidence of the worrying open-sen slump tonight.

3) Daichi – showing the leadership of his new captaincy, Daichi drove in 3 runs with a double and a sac fly, as well as making a lovely stab at an Imamiya liner to save some 5th inning runs.

4) Otani – extricated Naruse from a 5th inning jam, and sent down the side in hitless fashion in the 6th for good measure.

5) Aaand that’s it. The rest was not at all good.

Though there was but one official Lotte error on the night, there were several other crucial mishaps that allowed Daiei to pile on when Naruse should have been able to escape from an inning. Look, it’s the first game, it surely would have been great to win this one but it is no national tragedy that we did not. As I mentioned on Twitter after the game, Our Marines will just go 143-1 this season rather than the 144-0 we all thought they would.

Game 2 (29 Mar) - Lotte Loses 5-2 (click to expand)

Lotte: Yuki Karakawa vs Hawks: Kenichi Nakata

By Craig Roberts The second game of the year was not quite unlike the season opener, as the Hawks hit parade continued its march straight through Saturday afternoon.

The Baby Faced Killer watches Itoh-kantoku make his way to the mound.
The Baby Faced Killer watches Itoh-kantoku make his way to the mound.
On a semi-positive note, we did manage to halve last night’s deficit, and Karakawa had a decent pitching performance through the first five innings. It was the new look heart of the Hawks lineup comprised of Uchikawa, Lee Dae-Ho and Hasegawa that made the difference in this game, combining for eight hits between the three of them. For the second straight game a four run SoftBank inning proved too much for Our Marines to overcome. The aforementioned 3-4-5 hitters contributed much of the damage in the four run sixth, chasing Karakawa from the game in the process.

Going into the bottom of the sixth, Lotte was fresh off a two run top frame which put them out front 2-1. A Kiyota leadoff walk and Nemoto sac bunt put Iguchi in position to place an RBI single on one hop into center for the first run. Kakunaka then knocked Iguchi home with a rolling double through the left-center gap. Chiba did have some chances earlier in the game, but two untimely double plays kept them off the board. The first was a strike-‘em-out-throw-‘em-out double play to end the first, a botched hit-and-run with Aja Inoue at the plate and Iguchi thrown out at third. Saburo came up with runners on first and second and one out in the fourth, but promptly ended the inning hitting into a 6-4-3 double play.

Karakawa was strong through the first five innings, giving up only one run. A 1-4-3 double play prevented any runs from scoring after the first two SoftBank batters reached in the second inning. A potential double play ball could have also left Karakawa unscathed in the 4th inning, but a bobble by Cruz at third base eliminated any chance to get two to end the inning. As a result of the bobble, the runner reached second with the only play being at first. Two hits later, and the runner eventually scored on a Matsuda single to right.

One of the runs charged to Karakawa came after Matsunaga took the mound in relief. Matsunaga threw his first eight pitches of the season for balls, first loading the bases and subsequently forcing a man home. Matsunaga then recorded three straight outs to escape. One bright spot did come from the bullpen, and that was rookie Syohei Yoshihara’s perfect 7th and 8th innings shutting down the heart of the Hawks lineup with the game still in reach. In the end though, the Marines bats produced only one base runner in innings seven through nine, totaling only five hits for the game.

Game 3 (30 Mar) - Lotte Loses 3-2 (click to expand)

Lotte: Ayumu Ishikawa vs Hawks: Brian Wolfe

By Steve Novosel Here's the good part: Lotte pitching was much better today, and this one was tight all day. And the bad: still not as good as Hawks pitching, and Our Marines lost yet again, this time 3-2. That's a series sweep to start the season, folks.

I summarized this series rather succinctly on Twitter:

Yes, we were terrorized by the middle of the lineup, with arguably the best hitter in Japan, Uchikawa, dealing the death blow in the bottom of the 8th, a leadoff homer on the third offering of the inning by Carlos Rosa.

Let’s rewind a bit.

Today’s starter was our rookie #1 draft pick, Ishikawa, and his battery mate was our #2 draft pick, Yoshida1. After a pair of quick outs to start the first, Ishikawa got himself in a big jam with a walk, single, and another walk before blasting a fastball past Matsuda – a great, confidence-buiding pitch.

1I love the confidence in using 4 rookies all weekend – Aja, of course (though he was not in the lineup today) and as Craig mentioned Yoshihara yesterday. The strategy didn’t work out this series but I love the idea.

Ishikawa was solid in the second, giving up a 2-out single to Honda only to see Yoshida cut the speedstar down when trying to steal. In the third, however, Ishikawa got himself in a situation that really could have blown up badly. With one out, Imamiya crushed a deep liner high off the left field fence. It was ruled a homer originally but overturned on video replay (which it should have been – I thought it was pretty obviously off the fence when I saw it live). Uchikawa knocked a single with the next pitch, and while trying to hold him on first Iguchi misplayed a pickoff throw, allowing Imamiya to score anyway. Yikes. Hasegawa would later follow with another single, Uchikawa would score and those unearned runs woud make it 2-0 Hawks.

Our Marines got one of the runs right back, though, as Iguchi doubled in the next frame and was driven in by a timely single up the middle off the bat of BRAZ – 2-1 Hawks. In the 5th, newcomer Luis Cruz smacked a shot in the same place as Imamiya’s but longer, it’s a 2-2 tie game!

The Hawks 5th featured a wonderful double play/rundown where literally everyone except Saburo in left rushed in to help – Twitterer @pmt_emomak captured the following screencap:

Ishikawa motored along until getting in trouble in the 6th – with a runner on third and two outs Itoh-kantoku went to the pen for Matsunaga, who issued one walk before getting Tsuruoka to end the threat. Matsunaga would stay in for the 7th and finish that frame in perfect fashion on only 8 pitches – great stuff. As for Ishikawa, his line was 5 2/3 IP, 8 hits, 2 walks, 2 Ks, and no earned runs. Not a great outing, but pretty damn decent.

Carlos Rosa took over for Matsunaga in the 8th, but you already know how that went. The Men of Chiba tried to get something going on offense in the 7th and 9th innings but in both cases double plays erased the chance.

Not good.

A three game sweep – and it was the first time Our Marines have lost the first three games of the season since 2002 – certainly deflates the high flying attitude we had going into this season, but it’s only the first three games. The next 6 are at home vs Seibu and Nippon Ham, so it’s a good opportunity to get the first wins of the campaign at home in front of the Chiba faithful.

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