Tag Archive > Softbank Hawks

Game Notes: Nippon Series Games 6 & 7

» 21 November 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » 2 Comments

And so, my 12th season as an NPB fan has come to a close. Here’s how it happened:

Game 6 – Chunichi wins, 2-1:

  • Both starters, Kazuki Yoshimi and Tsuyoshi Wada, look tired. It’s been a long haul for them: like everyone else, they started camp in early February and experienced the delayed start to the season; but both also logged over 180 innings over the course of the year, plus three postseason starts each.
  • The guest commentator for game six? Yu Darvish. He didn’t really say anything interesting, at least not that I noticed.
  • Softbank started a better offensive lineup, with Hiroki Kokubo playing first base and Nobuhiko Matsunaka DHing. In the first two games at Yahoo Dome, Kokubo DHed while Shuhei Fukuda played first, with Matsunaka on the bench.
  • There was a great Softbank Hawks commercial with the Hawks players hitting line drives to each other.
  • Toru Hosokawa’s flyout in the third inning seemed like it would have been a home run with the old ball.
  • Chunichi got all of their offense out of the way in the first inning, courtesy of a two-run Kazuhiro Wada triple. After that, they never mounted much of a threat.
  • Softbank’s bats were equally lifeless, more so than in any game since their listless effort against Wei-Yin Chen in game one.
  • Four of the seven games resulted in a final score of 2-1.
  • I must admit… my notes are a little lacking from this one… so I must again turn to Michael Westbay’s write-up. Plus, he has a YouTube video of that commercial I mentioned.
Game 7 — read until the end:
  • Chunichi started Daisuke Yamai, the righty who pitched eight perfect innings in the decisive game five of the 2007 Nippon Series, only let closer Hitoki Iwase finish it off. Yamai only managed a third of a perfect inning this time, giving up a single to Yuichi Honda with one out in the first.
  • Softbank entrusted game seven to ace Toshiya Sugiuchi. Coincidentally, in September Sugiuchi took a no-hitter through six innings against Orix, but volunteered to leave the mound.
  • Like the game six starters, neither Yamai nor Sugiuchi scared anyone with their fastballs.
  • Critical point number one: bottom of the third. Softbank loaded the bases with Hitoshi Tamara singling, Yuya Hasegawa doubling on what was very nearly a great catch by Chunichi center fielder Yohei Oshima, and Katsuki Yamazaki walking on four straight bunt attempts. Hiromitsu Ochiai immediately went to his bullpen to play the matchup, bringing in lefty Masato Kobayashi to face Munenori Kawasaki and Honda, the Maximo Nelson to face righties Uchikawa and Kokubo. Kobayashi walked in a run, but got Honda, and Nelson induced a couple of lazy flyouts, so the strategy worked out pretty well. Hasegawa could have scored on Uchi’s flyout, but Softbank played it safe. Score: 1-0 Softbank.
  • Critical point number two: bottom of the fourth. Matsunaka drew a walk and Akiyama immediately took the bat out of one of his best hitter’s hands by having Matsuda bunt. After a Tamura line out, Chunichi pitched around Hasegawa for Yamazaki, and he made ‘em pay with a sharp single to right, scoring Matsunaka. Then Kawasaki ended the rally with a very good at bat that resulted in a line out to left field. Score: 2-0 Softbank.
  • Ryosuke Hirata had an atrocious stolen base attempt in the fourth, after reaching base on a chopper in Sugiuchi’s direction that took a bad bounce.
  • Critical point number three: top of the seventh. With one out, Tony Blanco bounced a grounder back up the middle for a single. Kazuhiro Wada struck out without much resistance, but Hirata drew a walk to give the Dragons a runner in scoring position for the first time in the game. Then Sugiuchi struck out Atsushi Fujii to end the threat. It would be Chunichi’s last of the year. Score: 2-0 Softbank.
  • Like the rest of the series, Chunichi’s lineup went down without a fight. They scattered four singles (one of which was a swinging bunt) and a couple walks. And the seventh was the only inning when two runners on at the same time, which was the only time they got as far as 2nd base. In general they had bad at bats and didn’t force Softbank’s defense to make tough plays.
  • One of Chunichi’s coaches seemed to be using an iPad or something similar during the game.
  • Cabrera again struck out in a pinch hitting appearance, off Takuya Asao. His only good swing was on a first pitch fastball. He fouled it off, and he knew he missed his pitch.
  • Critical point number four: bottom of the seventh. Cabrera struck out, Kawasaki walked, Honda bunted him over (great play by Asao), and Uchikawa singled him in. I think this was the only time in the series that Akiyama got his desired result with a bunt. Score: 3-0 Softbank.
  • Softbank did threaten again with two outs in the eighth, but nothing came of it.
  • Brian Falkenborg took a line drive off his wrist in the top of the ninth, but was okay. In his place, a relay of Masahiko Morifuku and Tadashi Settsu closed out the win.
  • Softbank owner Masayoshi Son handed what looked like money to the guy standing next to him. Akiyama shed tears, and was tossed seven times in a ceremonial douage.
  • And so it was that the Hawks took game seven 3-0, and thus the Nippon Series, their first Nippon-ichi in eight years and first under Softbank’s ownership.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Playoff Picks

» 28 October 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

While the MLB postseason is ready to come to what will certainly be a dramatic end, the NPB playoffs are just about to begin. The Climax Series opens for both leagues on Saturday, October 29 (JST), with the third place and second place finishers squaring off in the opening round. As a refresher, here is the format of the NPB postseason:

  • Climax Series, First Stage: best of three series between the second place and third place finishers.
  • Climax Series, Second Stage: best of seven series between the league champion (first place finisher) and the First Stage winner. The league champion is automatically credited with a one-win advantage.
  • Japan Series: best of seven series between the Central League Climax Series winner and Pacific League Climax Series winner.
And on to my picks…

Pacific League First Stage: Seibu vs Nippon Ham

I’m going to credit Nippon Ham with with an immediate win because of the presence of Yu Darvish, and then a second one because of their superior pitching and defense. Pick: Nippon Ham, 2-0. Key player: Yu Darvish.

Central League First Stage: Yomiuri vs Yakult

Though the Swallows and Giants finished a game apart in the standings, they went in opposite directions this season. Yakult got off to a hot start and faded down the stretch, while Yomiuri had to claw their way into contention after a sub-par start. Yakult won the season series 12-8-4, but Yomiuri has stronger pitching and most offensive threats overall. Pick Yomiuri, 2-1. Key player: Hisayoshi Chono.

Pacific League Second Stage: Nippon Ham vs Softbank

Softbank has every edge here: a deeper rotation, a better lineup, a 16-7-1 regular season record against Nippon Ham, more rest, and a one-game advantage for finishing first. Softbank has also been on their game recently against Nippon Ham, with an 8-1-1 record against the Fighters in September and October. Pick: Softbank 4-1. Key player: Seiichi Uchikawa.

Central League Second Stage: Yomiuri vs Chunichi

This is a close call. Yomiuri has a narrow regular season 12-10-2 edge over Chunichi, and both teams prevented runs this season at about the same pace. Chunichi lineup is weak, the worst in the CL this year, but they have been bullpen options than Yomiuri. So a series of close games probably favors Chunichi, and of course they have the rest and automatic wins advantages, plus the Ochiai destiny. My gut is saying Chunichi, but my brain is saying Yomiuri. Pick Chunichi 4-3. Key player: Takuya Asao.

Japan Series: Chunichi vs Softbank

Maybe it’s bland to predict a Japan Series between the two league champions, but that’s what I see. It’s probably equally bland to pick the more statistically dominant team to win as well… but it’s hard to pick against Softbank. They allowed 59 fewer runs than anyone else in Japan, with a 2.30 team ERA. Offensively they finished second overall to Seibu’s Okawari-kun-fueled lineup, but their 550 runs was 66 better than third place Yakult. Chunichi has enough pitching to keep the games close, but ultimately suffers with a big disadvantage at the plate.

Pick: Softbank 4-2. Key player: Tsuyoshi Wada (with wins in games two and six).

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

2011 Uniform Roundup, Volume 2

» 05 July 2011 » In npb » 5 Comments

Here is the much-anticipated followup to my earlier uniform roundup post.

 

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Remaking of the Hawks’ Rotation

» 10 June 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

Having just completed a four game season sweep of the Yomiuri Giants, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are playing unbelievably well right now. As of this date, they sit atop the Pacific League with a 32-11-3 (.744) record. They have basically buried their PL rivals (save for the Nippon Ham Fighters, who are 3 games behind in the standings) and it’s only early June.

How have they done it? With their excellent starting pitching, for the most part.

Good starting pitching has been the hallmark of the Hawks’ success over the past decade or so. But recent years haven’t been kind to former starters like Nagisa Arakaki and Kazumi Saitoh, and the Hawks have been forced to move on. Coming into 2011, they found themselves left with only Tsuyoshi Wada and Toshiya Sugiuchi as reliable names in the rotation.

Having given 19 and 20 starts last season to Kenji Otonari and Shinsuke Ogura respectively, the Hawks went in another direction this year. They moved 2009 Rookie of the Year Tadashi Settsu into the rotation full time, and it has worked splendidly. Even counting the 8 run drubbing he took over 4 1/3 innings in his first start on April 16th, he has performed to the tune of a 5-2 record with a 3.09 ERA.

D.J. Houlton has returned to his 2009 form after a rough campaign in 2010. The 5.70 ERA seems to be nothing but a memory as he is among the league leaders in ERA (1.84) and leads his team in wins (7), innings pitched (63 2/3), and shutouts (2).

20-year old Hiroki Yamada has shored up the back of the rotation nicely. He has already surpassed his innings pitched total from last year and has cut his walks in half, his runs allowed by 60% and dropped his ERA over 2.5 runs, all while maintaining his strikeout rate.

Even Sho Iwasaki has come out of nowhere to provide spot starts, so far going 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA in four starts.

All of this has added up to a stellar 2.12 team ERA. Though not to mitigate the importance of the contributions that players like Seiichi Uchikawa, Nobuhiro Matsuda, and others have made on the offensive side of the game this season, it’s been all about the pitching.

Yes, the new ball has been a factor in shaping these numbers. But the retooling of Softbank’s rotation has been nothing short of astounding. Just check their record.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Minor Notes: Tsujimoto, Shoda, Softbank

» 14 February 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

Alright, let me pass along a few notes on some minor leaguers while I’m getting over the writer’s block/analysis paralysis that’s keeping me from wrapping up the last three offseason reviews.

  • Former Hanshin Tiger and Nippon Ham Fighter Itsuki Shoda has officially signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox. The lefty has spent the last two seasons in Taiwan.
  • It’s a good time to be a former Hanshin Tiger, as Kento Tsujimoto has caught on with the Mets on a minor league deal. Tsujimoto made history a few years ago, when at age 15, he became the youngest player ever drafted in NPB history. According to Nikkan Sports he hit 94 on the gun in the indy leagues last year.
  • Softbank is working out four young players for possible ikusei contracts: outfielder Josh Short (2010 team: Lake County of the independent Northern League), infielder Landon Camp (San Angelo of the United League), outfielder Josh Roberts (Brisbane of the Australian Winter League), and outfielder Edgardo Baez (2A Harrisburg).
  • And as a bonus, the Orix Twitter feed is actually pretty good. Here’s a pic of a training schedule for their ni-gun pitchers.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , ,

Career Retrospective: Kazumi Saito

» 04 January 2011 » In npb » 7 Comments

After three years on the sidelines, the Softbank Hawks offered former ace Kazumi Saito a choice this offseason: an entry-level ikusei contract, or a coaching position with the team. Saito chose to continue his comeback as a coach, fittingly one responsible for injury rehabilitation. Today we take a look back at Saito’s career, who between injuries has had some dazzling performances.

Saito’s baseball journey began on the southern side of Kyoto, the city where he was born.  It was at Minami Kyoto High School where he became a pitcher and first caught the eye of baseball scouts. Despite being unable to lead his teams to an appearance at Koshien (the school has never been), he was tagged as a top professional prospect. The then-Fukuoka Daiei Hawks selected the young right-hander in the first round of the 1995 amateur draft.

Just shy of his 20th birthday, Saito was already pitching at the ichi-gun level. He made his Nippon Professional Baseball debut on October 5, 1997. Though he would appear in only one game at the level (a feat he also repeated during the 1998 and 1999 seasons), he had ascended staggeringly quickly through the pro ranks.  However it was also at this time that Saito began to experience shoulder problems, an unfortunate harbinger of things to come. Surgery was performed on his troublesome right shoulder for the first time in 1998, and coaches toyed with the idea of converting Saito to a position player.  Saito, however, was keen on remaining a pitcher.

His first full season came in 2000, when he reached a milestone of recording his first win at the major league level.  He used his unusual height (192cm) to his advantage, as well as the ability to throw a hard fastball in the 150’s (KPH), a sharp forkball, mixed with an excellent slider and curveball.  He finished 2000 with 5 wins against 2 losses and a 4.13 ERA.

His breakthrough season was delayed, however, when it came to light in 2001 that he would need additional surgery on his troublesome right shoulder. He was able to come back by the end of the 2002 season and regain some form of dominance that had led the Hawks to be so high on him.

2003 was the season when it all came together for Saito.  The numbers alone don’t do his season justice. After being called upon by then-manager Sadaharu Oh to become the team’s staff ace, the newly minted Opening Day starter responded with a 20-3 (.870), 2.83 ERA season. Saito didn’t lose a game until his 17th decision, becoming the first 20-game winner in the Pacific League in 18 years. He shared the Sawamura Award with Kei Igawa and helped his team to a Japan Series title, defeating Igawa’s Hanshin Tigers in an exciting seven games, though he was winless on the big stage.

As fruitful as 2003 was, what followed must have felt akin to running on ice for #66. After being so good, Saito posted an inexplicable 6.26 and even spent time at ni-gun in 2004 before shoulder pains popped back up in 2005. However, after being sidelined for the first month of the season, Saito rared back to his winning form, ripping off another furious streak of consecutive wins. This time it was 15 straight, exhibiting a penchant for control pitching (2.35 BB/9IP) and a healthy strikeout rate (7.39 K/9IP). He went 16-1 with a 2.92 ERA when it was all said and done, but maintained his reputation for underperforming in the postseason with a poor showing in the playoffs.

2006 was a pitching masterstroke for the ace. After skipping the inaugural World Baseball Classic, Saito tinkered with his windup (NPB placed new guidelines on pitchers prior to the start of the season) and was dominant. Once again making an Opening Day start, he beat the Chiba Lotte Marines and never looked back. The season featured a memorable near no-hitter against the Yomiuri Giants, too. On June 8th Saito faced the minimum 27 batters, allowing only an infield single to Ryota Wakiya and subsequently picking him off base. The dominance continued all summer long, as Saito’s 18-5, 1.75 record reflects. He walked only 46 men over 201 innings, striking out 205. He picked up almost every major postseason honor, save the MVP award, which went to Micihiro Ogasawara. This time Saito was brilliant in the playoffs, but it ended in heartbreak, as the Nippon Ham Fighters crushed his dreams of returning to the Japan Series in a fantastic 1-0 game to decide the pennant.

2007 was the last we have seen of Saito, sadly. Though he appeared in 12 games and the Climax Series, arm trouble persisted and rehabilitation was prescribed. In 2008 he had rotator cuff surgery hoping to be ready for 2009. It didn’t happen, though, and in early 2010 more surgery was performed. As of 2011, he remains with the team as a rehab coach, though not officially retired from pitching and still hoping to regain his form.

With a career 72-23 record, there is no question that he should be counted among the elite Pacific League pitchers of the 2000s.  But his career has been a roller coaster ride.  As evidence of this, he has only accrued 6 and a half years of service time in NPB, in a professional career that now has spanned 15 seasons.  It will be interesting to see if Saito can make it back to ichi-gun as a pitcher; at age 33 and with his injury history, the odds are certainly stacked against him. Does he have one more surprise left for his fans?

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , ,

NPB in English: Goodbye to 2010

» 29 December 2010 » In nichibei, npb » Comments Off

As 2010 draws to a close, here’s a look at what the blogs and newspapers are saying about NPB:

  • Our own Patrick Newman joins Gen Sueyoshi from Yaku Baka in offering some thoughts on where the league is headed. The interview comes courtesy of Tokyoswallows.com.
  • Gen also has news from the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, including Nobuhiko Matsunaka’s pay cut, the largest ever in Japanese baseball.
  • Amazin’ Avenue has a look back at Benny Agbayani’s career and finds out what he’s doing these days. Benny was one of my favorite players on both sides of the Pacific.
  • Jason Coskrey takes a look at Japan’s aging crop of closers and who may be in line to replace them.
  • Jim Allen, in his Daily Yomiuri column, gets Jim Small’s thoughts on the NPB/MLB relationship moving forward.
  • Lastly, Wayne Graczyk looks back at a 2010 season filled with moments to remember.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , ,

Let the Alternates Begin

» 21 May 2009 » In npb » 5 Comments

NPB teams typically use interleague play as an opportunity to bust out the alternative uniforms. Interleague started earlier this week, and this season is no exception.

The SoftBank Hawks introduced their third uniforms yesterday, and Sanspo has pics here and here. I think I prefer this to their normal third jersey, but I hope at some point they bring back the helmet the old Daiei Hawks wore in the late 80’s.

The only other team to have introduced their throwbacks so far this year is the Hanshin Tigers, who have sensibly opted to revive their 1985 Nippon-ichi uniforms. If you’ve been following Japanese baseball over the last few years, you are probably aware that Hanshin has a checked past when it comes to alternate jerseys: last year’s awful fade/airbrush design, 2007’s alternate logo and yellow pinstripes on black, and the earlier 70’s era throwabacks, which I kind of like.

Seibu has plans to wear 80’s-era throwbacks, and Yakult is going to dust off their old Kokutetsu Swallows design, but neither team has introduced the uniforms yet, so don’t bother with the links unless you’re interested in re-reading what I just wrote in Japanese.

My favorite recent throwback was last year’s Lotte Orions revival. I hope they use those again. Lotte has one of the best home uniforms in Japan, the classic black pinstripes on white. But their road and alt uniforms… not so much.

For more on Japanese baseball uniforms, check out the two posts that UniWatch ran last month. UniWatch produces so much content it’s almost a sensory overload, but they don’t miss a thing and it’s worth the read, especially when you can find something like this set of 1981 Chicago White Sox prototype uniforms.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , ,

Sadaharu Oh to Resign

» 23 September 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh is expected to announce his resignation as manager of the SoftBank Hawks following today’s game against Rakuten. I’ll have more details tomorrow morning (California time).

Oh has run the Hawks’ field operations for 14 years, an unusually long time for a manger in any league. Although his style is sometimes unorthodox, he made the Hawks perennial contenders and took Japan Series Championships in 1999 and 2003. After a prolonged slump, the Hawks uncharacteristically fallen to 5th place for the season.

Oh has battled health issues in recent years, most notably a bout with stomach cancer in 2006. Oh is widely considered to be the best player in Japanese baseball history, pounding 868 home runs in his distinguished career with the Yomiuri Giants.

Continue reading...

Tags: ,

NPB Bullet Points (2008/09/11)

» 11 September 2008 » In mlb, npb » 1 Comment

There’s been lots of news about Junichi Tazawa over the last day or two, but I could use a break for him so I’m going to write about other stuff. If you’re looking for info on Tazawa, check out the stuff I’ve posted over the last few days.

On to the bullet points…

English Articles:

Japanese Articles:

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,