Friday, March 31, 2017

Opening Day Roster Annouced; starter predictions and more!

Good morning everyone! Well...everyone where it's morning.

My apologies for not covering the Spring Training games in more depth. Work and family have had my hands full the past few weeks. I really even shouldn't be doing this, but I've found a skerrick of time to give you the heads up on the opening day roster.

Here's how we're shaping up:

Pitchers: Shinji Tajima, Hitoki Iwase, Katsuki Matayoshi, Toshiya Okada, Yudai Ono, Daisuke Sobue, Takuya Asao, Takuya Mitsuma, Jordan Norberto

Catchers: Masato Matsui, Takuya Kinoshita, Shota Sugiyama

Infielders: Masahiro Araki, Shun Ishikawa, Issei Endo, Alexander Guerrero, Hayato Mizowaki, Yota Kyoda, Kyohei Kamezawa, Naomichi Donoue

Outfielders: Atsushi Fujii, Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Takahito Kudo, Dayan Viciedo


First of all, the starting pitchers, let's consider them. Yudai Ono is locked in for a start on Friday night barring injury or some sort of weird minds gamesy swap. Matayoshi has been all but given the all clear to be a starter this year and I see him taking the mound on Saturday with Jordan Norberto taking honors on Sunday. The next 3 pitchers in the rotation will be announced at a later date. My hunch is that we will see one of Araujo, Yoshimi and Wakamatsu take the next round of games. I could however be wrong. The fact that one foreign player spot can still be filled makes me think that Araujo might be used in a starting role against Hiroshima mid-week next week. Yoshimi and Wakamatsu are the others that have been in the mix as Shinnosuke Ogasawara and Yuya Yanagi are recovering from injuries. I expect the two young guns to be given a fair few starts once they're back to normal.
Catcher Suigiyama and starting day pitcher Ono debate tactics in Spring training.

Bullpen arms are what you'd expect minus Jorge Rondon but my guess is that Asao and Okada will be the set-uppers while Tajima closes. Sobue could be used in a set-up role too but I guess that will depend on the context of the game. Whilst I love Iwase, I'm not sure I'd want to use him in a clutch situation at the very moment. He's back to some semblance of himself but again, I think he'll be used based on the situation of the game. Having Asao back is a huge plus however as just his presence will intimidate batters. He can hit over 150 km/h, has a mean slider, forkball and a good palm-ball. If he can get back to 75% of his MVP year in 2011, the bullpen master will have returned.
Asao could be a massive addition to the bullpen.

As for catchers, this will be an interesting one as Sugiyama had the best OBP out of any Dragon last season and Kinoshita has shown in pre-season and on the farm last year that he's no slouch with the bat either. Both are good catchers but I can see Sugiyama getting the nod for starting day given his experience in the NPB and his experience catching Ono.

The infield will be an interesting one, but I don't think we'll see much change from last year. We'll still see Araki and Donoue in the middle with Viciedo on first. Given Shuhei Takahashi's absence, it looks as though Alex Guerrero the new boy, will be on third. Mizowaki and Kyoda I can see coming on as defensive replacements for either or as pinch-runners. Kyoda has been pro-active on the base paths with steals and while Mizowaki is no slouch running the bases, he's been in good nick with the bat. Kyoda also is the only player from the 2016 Draft Class on the starting day roster.
I'm not sure Kamezawa needs to be there but he might be a defensive replacement for Guerrero late in the game.
Mizowaki at second and Kyoda at short could be the Dragons future middle infield

In the outfield I don't think we'll see much change either. The only big thing will be the re-trained Issei Endo in left field. Coaches have been really impressed with his conversion from the infield. He seems to have the movement in the field down to a point where he'd being judged to be as good as Oshima. The only thing that might let him down is throwing power, but that's why Fujii is available off the bench. Oshima and Hirata will be mainstays at center-field and right-field respectively throughout the season as long as they're healthy. Both signed bumper contracts in the off-season and both have been good performers for the Dragons for the most part the last few seasons.

Batting Line-Up

I think the team will shape up a little something like this:

1. Yohei Oshima
2. Masahiro Araki
3. Alex Guerrero
4. Dayan Viciedo
5. Ryosuke Hirata
6. Issei Endo
7. Naomichi Donoue
8. Shota Sugiyama
9. Yudai Ono

Naomichi might swap with Endo but I don't think we'll see much change from this line-up unless Kyoda or Mizowaki somehow starts of Araki or Naomichi in which case it will be just a straight swap.

Lastly, just as a note; while Endo is listed as an infielder and Viciedo as an outfielder that's just how they were registered with the NPB when they first started with the Dragons. They'll play outfield and infield respectively.

I for one am really pumped up for the new season. Really happy to see some new faces and I'm a bit more optimistic about this season. We may not make the top 3 again, but I do expect to see plenty of progress.

Make sure to tune in tomorrow night (JST) as Yudai Ono pitches against Miles Mikolas at the Tokyo Dome in the season opener!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Spring Training is Out

Well, it's just a little over a  month since my last post and not quite a month since the Dragons started their Spring training sessions in Okinawa. We're out of camp now and there have been a lot of good things coming out of it. I'm always optimistic around this time of the year without really any good cause, but the murmurings out of camps are positive. We're into the "Open League" (オープン戦) games with the Dragons recently taking a win and a loss against the Fighters, but let's just have a quick run over what's happened in camp.

The Good

You can't go past Alex Guerrero when talking about the good things coming out of Dragons camp. The man has been on fire in practice games launching dongs and hitting plenty of RBIs. Mori has slotted him in the order at number 3 in most of the games he's played in fielding at either 2nd base, 3rd, LF or DH. The fact he's been at 3 for all the games and not someone like Hirata is a bit of a big statement for me. It looks to me like any success for the Dragons this year will be heavily hinged on what the Cuban slugger can do in the most important slot in the line-up. With Guerrero, Viciedo and Hirata in clean-up, there are plenty more homeruns in this team than there has been in the last couple of years. The only point of concern, pointed out by Chunichi OB, Tatsuhiko Kimata in a radio interview is that Guerrero seems to only be getting hits with balls low on the outside. Has apparently failed to register a hit from inside course deliveries.

Running rule over the rookies in camp another big, but pleasant surprise is the emergence of Yota Kyoda. The number two pick at the draft has been starting a lot of practice games and will provide very good competition for middle infield spots. He hasn't been slugging dingers out of the park, but his batting has been tidy so far and his defence is supposedly quite tidy. Very good range, very good glove. We'll see what happens to him. The other big surprise is the emergence of Hayato Mizowaki another slap-hitter fighting for a spot in the middle. He's much in the same mold as Kyoda being a nippy runner with a half decent bat and a good glove. He impressed a lot during the Asian Winter series in Taiwan late last year, and it looks as though that form is set to carry over. Certainly a outside contender, but he'll surely get some time on the field this year.

Running the rule over the pitching and Shota Suzuki has been used extensively and has looked promising in his outings so far. He was used most recently against the Baystars where he threw down 3 innings for one earned run and 2 hits. Not too bad. Previously against the Hanwha Eagles, Suzuki was in rare form taking three batters down in a row with Ks to mark an impressive performance. Suzuki will surely see a lot more time in the first team this year and he along with Ryosuke Nomura have a lot to prove in 2017.

Other good news of players on the come back trail Takuya Asao has had two shut out outings in relief for the second team. Asao's return to the first team bullpen would be a major plus for the team that already looks pretty stacked with Rondon, Araujo, Okada and Tajima taking up spots. The 2011 Central League MVP will be doing his best to make his comeback as soon as possible.

The Results

Here are the results and information regarding the practice games played so far. Unfortunately I mentioned in my last post that the Dragons would be using their ustream account but unfortunately all streaming has been done through their official Facebook page. The games often do not coincide with the airing times on Facebook, so you may have to search for a JSports (or Gaora, etc) stream if you want to catch any more games this pre-season.

I'll just list the first team games. We could get into farm results, but there isn't a whole lot of information available.

Chunichi Dragons 18 - 1 Hanwha Eagles
SP:Suzuki 2IP 0ER 3SO                  Endo 4-4, Hirata 6-3
                                                    HR: Guerrero x 2 (1st, 4th), Abe (4th),
                                                    Endo (6th), Ishioka (7th)

Needless to say that Dragons steamrolled their Korean foes with 5 homeruns being registered on the way to a monster win. Guerrero started with a solo homer in the 1st and the runs kept piling on. Hanwha's only run of the game came late on against Takuya Mitsuma. Endo went 4-4 including 2 RBIs and a homer while Hirata went 6-3 including 1 RBI.



Chunichi Dragons 5 - 0 Kia Tigers
SP: Matayoshi 2IP 0ER 2SO          Endo 4-2, Hirata 5-2

Matayoshi's first start in pre-season was a winning one as the Dragons strolled through a fairly easy 5-0 win against Kia. Kinoshita drove in the opening runs while Hirata and co finished up the Tigers pitching. Yanagi threw down 2 in relief with 3 strikeouts to state his credentials.



Chunichi Dragons 3 - 2 DeNA Baystars
SP: Suzuki 3IP 0ER 2SO              Hirata 3-2, Guerrero 3-2

The first match against NPB opposition got off to a good start as Guerrero and Hirata both drove in a run each in the 1st inning to get things started. DeNA would claw one back in the second off an error before the Dragons extended their lead in the 4th through Hirata once more. The Baystars would get one in the 6th off Nomura to keep things interesting but a combination of Fuku, Mitsuma and Sato closed out a win.



Chunichi Dragons 4 - 1 Rakuten Eagles
SP: Ono 2IP 0ER 2SO                     Guerrero 2-2, Imae 2-2
WP: Oguma 2IP 1ER 2SO              HR: Guerrero (3-run, 3rd inning)

Dragons struck in the first inning through Guerrero as he scored Oshima. The Eagles would strike back in the 3rd through Imae, but a 3-run dinger off Chia Hao Sung to Guerrero sealed what would become a 4-1 win to the Dragons. Wakamatsu, Yanagi, Okada and Tajima appeared in relief to run down the innings.



Chunichi Dragons 8 - 2 Nexen Heroes
SP: Yoshimi 2IP 0ER

Unfortunately I can't find detailed info here, but the Dragons took to the game with aplomb. Furumoto opened things with a sac fly while Kinoshita, Donoue, Shuhei and Yusuke Matsui all chipped in with RBIs. Hitoki Iwase took one inning in relief giving up a run while Yamai and Valdes kept things scoreless. Jordan Norberto took the final innings and gave up a single run but closed out an 8-2 victory. (Apologies, I didn't find extensive batting stats for this one)


Chunichi Dragons 4 - 1 Hiroshima Carp
SP: Matayoshi 4IP 1ER 2SO               Endo 2-4
WP: Oguma 3IP 0ER 2SO                

Hiroshima took an early lead in the third inning, but Oguma, Fukutani and Suzuki kept the side scoreless while Endo, Kinoshita and Takahashi knocked in 4 for the Dragons.
(I couldn't find an appropriate highlights package, sorry)

Chunichi Dragons 0 - 2 Nippon Ham Fighters
SP: Suzuki 5IP 2ER 2SO                         Kamezawa 2-2
WB: Takanashi 3IP 0ER 4SO

Rookie of the year, Hirotoshi Takanashi pitched 3 scoreless innings following Takayuki Kato's scoreless 3 against the Dragons to dry up confidence after Keisuke Moriyama's 2RBI double in the 4th. Oshima, Donoue and Ishioka were the only batters to take the veneer off Takanashi and Kato's performance. Yudai Ono and Shunta Wakamatsu both had a run-out against the Fighters with Ono completing just the one inning while Wakamatsu took charge of the 7th and 8th.


Chunichi Dragons 5-1 Nippon Ham Fighters
SP: Yanagi 1IP 1ER                             Guerrero 3-4, Viciedo 2-4, Kinoshita 2-4
                                                         HR: Guerrero (1st inning)

It was the Alex Guerrero show once more as the Cuban took a liking to an inside course pitch from an rare poor showing from Kohei Arihara, launching the 2015 rookie of the year into the left stands to notch a 3 run homerun. Kinoshita would knock in another to end the first inning 4-0 to the good. The Fighters would immediately peg one back in the bottom of the 1st against a nervous looking Yanagi as Laird drilled home Nakashima. Takuya Mitsuma pitched well following Yanagi showing off his shuuto to good effect while Salomon Rondon broke a Chunichi speed record clocking 159km/h beating the previous efforts of Tsuyoshi Yoda, Takuya Asao and Koji Fukutani who have all been clocked at 157km/h. Guerrero would knock in the final RBI of the game in the 7th while Kasahara and Tajima closed out.



The team started off with a bang and it was made very clear that NPB teams are significantly better than their KBO opponents. The positives from the results however is that the Dragons downed  NPB teams in 4 out of 5 of their outings which of course a good sign moving forward. My main concern however is the over-reliance on Alex Guerrero who for example drove in all 4 runs against the Eagles and has otherwise just been knocking in all the runs.This is what the cynic in me says, that we might struggle to fire if he doesn't. Last year's line-up failures are still very fresh in my memory and while Guerrero is going to be a massive boon for the team, I really do wonder how well the guys around him can support him when he has predictable lapses in form. Good positive is that the team hasn't let go over more than a couple of runs so, so defensively looking alright but it is still early days.

A great start to the year so far with plenty to be excited about! I will be going back to Japan in March for business and while I won't unfortunately be able to get to any Dragons games, I'm in Osaka around the right time for the Hanshin v Buffaloes Open League game at the Kyocera Dome. Should be fun.

Until next time, Doraho!