Ah, the fun time of the year, right? We fans, resigned to our fate as a B Class team, get to enjoy the stress-free pleasures of meaningless September ball. But is it so stress-free when the team can’t seem to put any runs across the plate?
This is not an idle question. All year long the refrain has been “pitching, pitching, pitching” as the root cause of the 2014 Lotte malaise. But pitching doesn’t push runs across the plate, and this team has been shut out 14 times this year, 6 times in the past 23 days. That’s 20% of the team’s losses, and a stunning 11% of the games overall, including wins. Great pitching won’t fix any of that.
Fujioka’s been on the losing end of 2 of those 6 shutouts, and he gets the ball in game 1 at QVC. It’s the last 4 games of the season vs our Saitama rivals, let’s hope they are memorable ones.
Seibu: Takayuki Kishi (10-4, 2.88 ERA) @ Lotte: Takahiro Fujioka (6-9, 4.29 ERA)
24 innings – that’s how long it’s been since we’ve seen a Lotte run scored. And as someone who sat through the entirety of this drenched debacle, let me tell you – there wasn’t even a good chance at scoring a run tonight. In the very first inning, Seibu took a 3-0 lead thanks to an Asamura RBI single scoring Kuriyama. Oh, and a Fujioka throwing error on that same play. And a Despaigne fielding error on that same play. And an Okawari-kun homer right after. Egads.
You might remember Kishi from his May no hitter at QVC. He wasn’t going to get that tonight, but it was until the 4th inning that Chiba could record a hit. Sure, in the 3rd inning Chiba deposited two aboard via Kakunaka and Tamura walks, but Nemoto (inexplicably leading off/starting at first despite a .196/.252/.288 line this season) whipped out the ol GIDP to end the chance.
Seibu scored another in top 4 as Fujioka walked in a run during an increasingly torrential downpour (this is not an exaggeration – the outer bands of a new tropical storm lashed QVC all evening). In bottom 4 Daichi and Alfredo recorded hits but a Fukuura GIDP ended that chance.
Fujioka stayed in the game despite the sloppiness, the chill, the rain, the lack of support, and all common sense. There were two rain delays, one of a decent length (not sure of the official delay, I would guess close to 30m) and the one that ended the game. It wasn’t enough that his control was off (probably due to conditions) – no, the team decided to leave him out there for all 7 innings Seibu batted as punishment. That’s also not an exaggeration.
His final line – 6 1/3 IP, 7 runs (6 earned), 10 H, 5 BB. Wait for it – 140 pitches. In the cold rain. With a delay. Only reason he did not throw more was the game being called due to weather.
I don’t even have to complain about that sort of treatment of one of our better pitchers, do I?
For what it’s worth, Chiba now has the second worst record in Japan. Rakuten, currently the lowest, is just 0.5 games behind. Small steps now – let’s see some runs next game. Let’s try to stay out of the cellar, shall we?
On the plus side, both teams’ ouendan had a blast. We sang the fun Seibu Cody Ransom song with them. Great to see such a nice relationship continuing between these two passionate fan bases.
Game 1 Digest from Pacific League TV
Game 1 Box Score in English
Seibu: Kazuhisa Makita (6-9, 3.53 ERA) @ Lotte: Hideaki Wakui (6-11, 4.52 ERA)
It looked like Our Marines would smash that run scoring drought in the first inning vs Seibu starter Makita, as Shohei led off bottom 1 with an infield single, followed by 2-out walks by both Despaigne and Kakunaka (an OBP machine lately). But Gori struck out with the bases juiced to end that opportunity. AJA1 singled with one out in the second, but a Tamura GIDP prevented any joy. And with that play, the offensive drought deepened. The next three innings: 3 up, 3 down. By the end of the 5th inning Our Marines had logged 29 innings in a row without a run scoring, and it sure didn’t look likely that there would be one on this night.
1Aja got the start at first having just been recalled from ni-gun after basically 4 months in Urawa purgatory. For the season, he’s hit around .375 with 14 HR, a Fresh ASG MVP, an August Eastern League MVP… But precious few ichi-gun ABs. In related news, Our Marines are fighting to stay out of the NPB cellar.
On the flip side of the inning, Seibu bats kept singling off embattled Lotte starter Wakui but that’s it. Wakui ended up yielding 7 hits on the night (along with a pair of walks) but let me tell you – he actually looked really good for the second game in a row. With 7 hits, why would I say that? Well 5 of those 7 hits were poked straight up the middle, all were singles, none were hit particularly hard, and most importantly, Seibu would score no runs off any of them. 5 of them came in the first three innings2, but Wakui mixed 5 Ks in the middle of those hits to get himself out of jams.
I’m telling you, he looked good!
2I want to devote some time to this later in the year when I can put together some numbers, but it seems to me that a whole lot of the runs given up by Chiba pitchers this season have come either very early in the games or late in the starts. To my thinking, this points to poor pitcher management as a root cause of the pitching malaise (ie pitchers not being warmed up and not recognizing when pitchers are gassed.) More to come on that thought.
In the 6th, Our Marines finally scored a run. A run! A tiny, solitary run, and it came in the lamest possible fashion (Makita free pass to Imae with the bases loaded), but it’s a run! 1-0 LOTTE.
That one run would hold for a long time, all the way until Nishino took over for Wakui in the 9th. Nishino, in the discussion for the best closer in the PL this year, kind of imploded. A leadoff walk to Akiyama (on 5 pitches) followed by a sac bunt – in came rookie Mori to pinch hit for rookie Okada, and Mori just plumb blasted a shot to deepest center. Bizarro land in QVC – a great Wakui start and a Nishino implosion. More importantly, a 2-1 Seibu lead.
But in bottom 9, versus second year closer Takahashi, a strange thing happened: ANOTHER RUN, this one a giant blast by Imae to his favorite spot in left center! Takahashi has been wonderful all year for Seibu, but he gives up a key hit in the best possible spot for we fans of Lotte. Tie game, we’re going to extras!
In extras, the Lotte pitching was superb. Ohtani straight up murdered the Seibu lineup in the 10th, and Matsunaga had a decent 11th before getting changed for Masuda, who finished up the 11th on just one pitch. Doesn’t get much more efficient than that!
Bottom 11 – Kakunaka leads off with a single, Gori bunts him over leading to a Cruz IBB. That means it’s one out, and
Aja time NO it’s FUKUURA TIME! And on a 2-1 count, Seibu’s Masuda tosses a fastball over the plate – Fukuura drives it, it’s over Akiyama’s head SAYONARA!
Masuda defeats Masuda, Lotte beats the Kittykats, Imae and Fukuura are the heroes. In a tough season, hard to have a better September game that that, folks.
Game 2 Digest from Pacific League TV
Game 2 Box Score in English
Seibu: Yosuke Okamoto (2-5, 3.34 ERA) @ Lotte: Ayumu Ishikawa (7-7, 3.65 ERA)
Make no mistake, this was a top tier performance from Ishikawa, one of his better of the year. Ayumu really only made one mistake on the night – a pitch left over the plate that mostly light hitting catcher Ginjiro smashed into the left field stands. A huge mistake for sure, especially as it tied the game at one run a piece, but the only one one on the night.
His final line: 7 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 1 run, 9 Ks. Ace-like!
Our Marines got on the board in the first thanks to an RBI single to right off the bat of cleanup hitter Despaigne, scoring Okada easily. Despite 7 hits off Seibu starter Okamoto in the first 5 innings, that was the only run plated, and it seemed that after the Ginjiro dinger the great Ishikawa start might be wasted.
But no! Fast forward to bottom 6 – Singles by Daichi and Imae put runners on the corners with two outs. Cochito Cruz at the plate – he mashed a shot to DEEP left, easily good enough for three runs and a 4-1 Lotte lead! That’s Cruz’s team leading 16th, good enough for 9th in the league.
You’ll notice that the final score is not 4-1, but 4-3, and a reasonable person would conclude there might have been some trouble with the closing of this game. And there was! Probably because ‘it was decided’ that our reliable closer Nishino would not be used (apparently because our dear leader did not like the mood in the pen), and the combination of Matsunaga and Masuda gave up a pair in top 9 (both charged to Matsunaga). And honestly, we were reeeeealy lucky the game wasn’t tied in the 9th, as the 2-run double by Kuriyama came extremely close to clearing the center field fence. Nevertheless, it’s a win for Goemon and Lotte and a save for Masuda.
Game 3 Digest from Pacific League TV
Game 3 Box Score in English
Seibu: Yusei Kikuchi (4-9, 3.63 ERA)@ Lotte: Yuta Ohmine (2-3, 3.74 ERA)
The game will be made up on 1 October.