Holy crap. Is July really here already?
Here’s something to read while treading cautiously.
We just witnessed a week of starting pitching that was as consistently poor as we’ve seen all year. Tateyama had arguably the best start of the week, giving up four earned runs off of 11 hits in six and two-thirds innings of work. But that game was against Yokohama, so he probably would have given up eight runs against a real team.
Masubuchi, Akagawa, Roman, and Muranaka all gave up five earned runs in their starts, and Akagawa and Muranaka didn’t even make it through five innings. Hell, Akagawa didn’t even make it past the third!
But fortunately the hitting has improved lately, and what better way to unfurl all of the details for you than with a review of the recent SOW polling.
Swallow of the Week
You may recall that we had two polls up last week due to a backlog of voting. Here are the candidates and results from Week 12 (June 13th-17th) and Week 13 (June 20th-24th).
These guys were the top performers (copied from this Snapshot):
Wladimir Balentien (RF) – Coco only had two hits in week 12, but they were both bombs that decided games in Tokyo’s favor. He won the game with a three run bomb in the 9th inning against Tohoku on the 13th, and then he did the same thing on the 17th up in Sapporo against the Fighters. Both games were decided by a single run. Coco was 2-13 at the plate with two homers, six RBI, and five walks.
Tony Barnette (P) – Barnette pitched in all four games that week, and he came away with three saves for his efforts. He pitched a total of three innings, gave up just one hit, struck out three, walked one, and didn’t allow a run to cross home plate. Those three saves kept him in second place in the Central with 16.
Shingo Kawabata (SS) – Shingo had a solid week on offense with a 6-17 performance (.353 average) including a triple on Saturday.
Shinya Miyamoto (3B) – Shinya was on fire during the first half of week 12′s northern tour. He was 5-5 with an RBI on the 13th, and he followed that up with a 2-3 day at the plate the following evening. He didn’t get on base when the team was up in Hokkaido, but he still let the team in average (.438) with a 7-16 week at the plate. All seven of those hits were singles.
And here’s how the community voted:
|Wladimir Balentien (RF)||27||46|
|Tony Barnette (P)||15||25|
|Shinya Miyamoto (3B)||11||19|
|Shingo Kawabata (SS)||6||10|
Congratulations, Coco! That’s SOW win number three for Tokyo’s lovable right fielder.
And here are the top performers from two weeks ago:
Katsuki Akagawa (P) – Akagawa put together another quality start on Friday. He threw 121 pitches over seven innings of five hit, two run baseball. He struck out five while walking just one batter.
Wladimir Balentien (RF) – Balentien gets another nomination thanks to his 3-15 performance at the plate. All three hits were homers which accounted for six RBI. He deserves a large chunk of the credit for Tokyo’s win on Friday up in Nagano, and he added two walks and an HBP for good measure. Coco has five hits over the past eight games, and all five of them have been home runs.
Masanori Ishikawa (P) – He scattered six hits over eight innings on Sunday afternoon while striking out six and walking two (one intentional). Unfortunately, two of those hits were solo homers, but two earned runs over eight innings and 125 pitches is not too shabby at all.
Lastings Milledge (OF) – Milledge was 5-16 at the plate while splitting time in left and center. He drew two walks and put together his best offensive game on Sunday at Tokyo Dome when he was 3-5 with a solo homer.
And here’s what the Tsubamegun community had to say. 59 people voted in both the Week 12 and Week 13 polls:
|Wladimir Balentien (RF)||26||44|
|Lastings Milledge (LF/CF)||18||31|
|Katsuki Akagawa (P)||8||14|
|Masanori Ishikawa (P)||7||12|
So for the first time in the history of SOW, we have a player winning back-to-back votes. Coco, we salute you. We hope to see your name among the top performers each and every week moving forward.
And finally we arrive at the five games played last week.
In case you need a recap, here are the game reports:
The team’s starters are allowing a hefty amount of runs these days, but fortunately the bullpen is mostly holding strong, and the offense has picked its game up a bit compared to the past few weeks.
Here are last week’s top performers:
Wladimir Balentien (RF) — Coco got pitched around like crazy last week (eight walks, yo), but he was 6-13 when he saw something tempting to swing at. He had two more homers this week, seven RBI, and one HBP. Balentien hit safely in all five games last week and has hit two homers each week for three weeks straight.
Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (1B) — After last week’s dismal output (1-18 at the plate), Fludge came back in a big way. He was 8-19 at the plate this past week with three doubles (all on Wednesday!) and five RBI. Slash line: .421/.500/.579. Hatakeyama posted three multi-hit games last week including a 4-4 performance on Wednesday.
Ryo Hidaka (P) — The bullpen’s best southpaw appeared in all five games last week and is now in second place in the Central League with 34 appearances (Yomiuri’s Yamaguchi is first with 35 and Barnette is tied for fifth with 32). He threw 57 pitches over 4.1 innings, allowed one run (earned) off of three hits and two walks, struck out three, and earned two hold points along the way.
Shingo Kawabata (SS) — Tokyo’s shortstop seems to be re-finding his groove lately, and he had a good week at the plate for the Swallows. He had the second most hits on the team last week with a 9-22 tally that was good enough for 11 total bases and vitals that read thusly: .409/.435/.500. Kawabata had four two-hit games last week, and he’s in currently in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak.
Lastings Milledge (LF/CF) — Milledge had a team-high 10 hits last week while going 10-23 at the plate. Two of his 10 hits were doubles, and he added three RBI and two walks. He also had an amazing diving grab in center field to help keep Hanshin off the board late in the game on Friday night. Slash line: .435/.480/.522. Milledge posted three multi-hit games last week, including three-hit games on Wednesday and Sunday. He hit safely in all five games last week and is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak.
That’s the most crowded the poll has ever looked. Good luck making a choice!
Tony Barnette (P) — Barnette earned two saves from three appearances last week. He averaged just over 11 pitches per inning and allowed only one hit, no walks, and struck out three.
Hiroyasu Tanaka (2B) — Always a class act on defense, Tanaka was 5-20 at the plate including his gigantic three run homer on Sunday that tipped the game once and for all in Tokyo’s favor. He had two multi-hit games last week.
Katsuki Akagawa (P) — After a couple of strong starts, the lefty expended 66 pitches in only three innings of work on Friday. He gave up five earned runs off of seven hits (one homer) and two walks. He struck out one. Miraculously, he escaped the loss after Tokyo’s offense was able to overcome the five run deficit and win the game 7-6.
But we’ve got more good news for you! In addition to the top half of the order creating tons of runs, a bunch of Tokyo Swallows were voted into the All-Star series that takes place later this month.
After fans were done with their ballot-box stuffing campaigns, only Shinya Miyamoto (3B) had a spot on the Central League roster. It will be Shinya’s seventh All-Star appearance. The players picked him as well which meant that he was one of only five players that were the top selection for their position by both the fans and players. The other four were Shinnosuke Abe (Yomiuri – C), Keiichi Hirano (Hanshin – 2B), Hisayoshi Chono (Yomiuri – OF), and Yoshinobu Takahashi (wait what?).
But then the Swallows got voted in en masse when it was time for the manager’s choices. Ryoji Aikawa (C) will make his fifth appearance, Katsuki Akagawa (P) and Tony Barnette (P) their first, Shohei Tateyama (P) his fourth, and Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (1B) and Wladimir Balentin (RF) their second.
Congratulations to everyone who has been rightfully honored (except for Yoshinobu Takahashi, more on that in a bit) for their performances during the first half of this season!
And Tokyo’s skipper, Junji Ogawa, will be in the dugout as one of the assistant coaches due to the team’s second place finish in the Central League last year.
That’s nearly Tokyo’s entire starting lineup in the series (Friday July 20th at Kyocera Dome; Saturday July 21st in Matsuyama; Monday July 23rd in Morioka)…
…save for three very conspicuous absences.
And here is a list of three of the most underrated players in the Central League at the moment:
Hiroyasu Tanaka (2B) — .230/.330/.301 with team highs in Tak bunts (15) and sac flies (3). He’s also tied for the lead with Miyamoto in HBP (4). Of the three players listed here, Tanaka is the longest shot by a number of criteria, but like everyone in the lineup (save Balentien) it’s taken him a while to warm up. But he’s starting to regain his mojo, and I have no problem trading an All-Star appearance for an in-form Beavis come October.
Shingo Kawabata (SS) — His season has been shortened by a back injury, so he has 72 fewer at-bats than team leader, Milledge, but Kawabata has started to re-find his old form. Hitting .284/.323/.342 through 190 at-bats, Kawabata has 54 hits and 23 RBI. And while he’s still in the process of regaining his power (no homers yet), he has recorded seven doubles and two triples so far this year.
Lastings Milledge (OF) — Milledge is currently hitting .275/.347/.412. That’s 72 hits (12 doubles, 8 homers), 108 total bases, five steals, 28 walks, and two HBP. And it seems like he’s just beginning to get it going at the plate. Add to that plus-defense with a plus-arm, and you’ve got not only a team leader but one of the better players in the entire league.
By comparison, Yomiuri’s Yoshinobu Takahashi (RF) somehow got voted in on both the fan and player ballots. The fan ballot is easy to understand because Giants fans are generally some of the least-informed baseball fans on the planet, plus there’s a lot of them, but I don’t quite get the player vote on this one. Takahashi has done little more than find a way to stay on the active roster for most of the first half of the season.
In case you’re wondering, the failed second-coming of Hideki Matsui also happens to be one of Japan’s most fragile citizens, and he doesn’t produce a whole lot even when he’s relatively healthy (like this year).
But even in a good year, Takahashi is hitting .231/.311/.325 with 49 hits, 14 RBI, and 69 total bases. That’s pretty weak for a “power” hitter if you ask me. Our second baseman, Tanaka, has 52 hits, 21 RBI, and 68 total bases over the same span of time.
So someone please explain to me how Takahashi won on both ballots.
We won’t even bother comparing Takahashi to Milledge because that would just be way too embarrassing for Yomiuri’s perennial under-achiever.
But there’s a silver lining here. Takahashi’s All-Star selection means that Hara can’t bench him for very long while he’s healthy, and in turn that will likely allow Takahashi to continue taking playing time away from a younger player with significantly more upside. We’ll take any little advantage we can get from those jerks. And just like Dave and I predicted, they’re now in first place. Bastards.
Well anyway, maybe we should have a party for Tanaka, Kawabata, and Milledge. While everyone else is enjoying the limelight on tour with NPB’s finest, we can all get pissed together while honoring the top third of our lineup. Who’s up for a top third party?
Tony Barnette receives extra props this month for winning the JA Zennoh Go Go Award (Wedge Up) for June. He was the top reliever in the Central League last month with seven save points. Points are calculated from mix of saves, relief wins, and holds. Check Yakyu Baka for a rundown of the calculations and here for a Japanese explanation of the honor bestowed on Tokyo’s closer.
Excellent work, Tony! We hope, for your sake, that the wedge up reference has nothing to do with the prize itself.
The biggest news here is what happened to number 12. You may recall that Chang-Yong Lim was taken off the active roster on the 23rd due to elbow pain. Well he’s officially done for the season as it was reported that he’s going to have surgery to repair the problem. The question now is if we’ll ever see Lim pitch another game for the Swallows.
In other ups-and-downs, Noguchi (IF) was dropped to the farm team on the 25th of June, and Masubuchi was promoted the following day. On the 30th, Hirai (P) was dropped in favor of Roman (P) who was the starting pitcher the very same day.
Muranaka, Ishikawa, Yamamoto, Masubuchi, Tateyama, Barnette, Hidaka, Akagawa, Roman, Shoda, Oshimoto, Fernandes
Aikawa, Kawamoto, Nakamura
Kawabata, Miyamoto, Tanaka, Fujimoto, Hatakeyama, Miwa, Morioka
Hiyane, Fukuchi, Balentien, Miyade, Jun Matsui, Milledge
*28 of 28 spots filled.
From the Farm
The mini birds continued their losing ways during Week 14. The team posted a 2-4 record after three away games against Saitama in which they got swept, and a modest resurgence against Yomiuri in hostile territory where they won two of the games over the weekend.
Shichijo gave up six earned runs on Tuesday (6/26) to help us all fret a bit more about the lack of backup our starting rotation has at the moment. However, on the bright side, Kyuko and Matsuoka both looked sharp in their relief appearances that day. Shichijo took the loss and is now 1-3 with a 6.18 ERA. Tokyo lost 5-6.
The birds got whupped harder on the 27th. It was a 2-7 final score with Yuichi providing both RBI. Sato had another two-hit game while starting in center, but there wasn’t a whole lot else to be happy about.
The sweep was completed on Thursday (6/28) when a Yuichi error at first allowed the go-ahead run to reach base in the bottom of the ninth. Three batters later, the Lions had induced an error at third as well, and an Ishikawa single ended the game 2-3 in Saitama’s favor.
Tokyo finally got a win when they traveled to Yomiuri territory the following day. Rookie ikusei player, Takeaki Tokuyama, threw six innings of shutout baseball on only 66 pitches while winning his first farm team win and improving his ERA to 1.29 over five appearances. He scattered three hits while striking out two and walking none in one of the best performances by a Tokyo mini-Swallow starter so far this year. Matsui allowed a run in relief in the bottom of the ninth to make it interesting, but the birds had already built a three-run lead thanks to some clutch hitting by Yuhei and Yuichi. 3-1 Tokyo.
Kato started on Saturday and actually had a decent day on the mound. He pitched five innings and only allowed a single run on five hits. However, he didn’t factor into the decision as Yamagishi allowed two runs in the seventh (his second inning on the mound), and Kyuko gave up a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to second year ikusei utility player, Marumo. 2-3 Final.
But like their top team counterparts, the minor league Swallows team began July with a ‘W’. Nakazawa pitched a complete game (!) and got the win, just his second of the year. He experienced a bit of a wobble in the ninth when he allowed a two run homer to Ogasawara, but by that point his offense had already put up seven runs, including four in top of the eighth.
The offensive standout was undoubtedly Yuhei who was 4-5 at the plate with a double, solo homer, and two RBI. Tokyo won 7-3.
Around the Central League
The first place Giants (yes, they finally overtook the Dragons) were 5-1 last week. They won two of the three games they played in Hiroshima before sweeping second place Chunichi at Tokyo Dome over the weekend. Their 38-24-6 record puts them one game ahead of Chunichi with a .613 winning percentage and +66 run differential.
The second place Dragons were 3-3 last week. They started off by sweeping the visiting Tigers before having the same done to them at Tokyo Dome. Their 36-24-10 record has them one game out of first and 4.5 games ahead of your Tokyo Swallows.
The third place Tokyo Swallows were 4-1 last week as they added some distance between themselves and the fourth place Hanshin Tigers. They won both of their games in Okinawa against the Yokohama Baystars before a day off on Thursday and their weekend series against Hanshin which they took two games to one. The starting pitching was as bad as it’s been, but the offense was better than ever. The offense’s newfound swagger, teamed with a solid bullpen, meant that the birds were able to win four games last week. Tokyo’s opponents averaged nearly 5.5 runs per game last week, mostly off of our starters who rarely made it past the fifth inning. But it didn’t matter as Tokyo offense averaged 7.5 runs over those five games. The team’s 33-30-4 record has them 4.5 games behind second place Chunichi. Tokyo’s run differential has shrunk to just -6, and the team’s 227 total runs are second only to first place Yomiuri (234). However, the team’s 233 runs allowed are second worst in the Central League, just 16 runs better than Yokohama in last place (249).
The fourth place Tigers were 1-5 last week. They started the week by getting handled by Chunichi in Nagoya, and then couldn’t hold onto two of the three leads that they put together at Jingu last weekend. Their 29-34-8 record is good enough for fourth place and four games behind Tokyo. They’re currently just a half game ahead of Hiroshima after their loss in Matsuyama tonite. They currently have a -6 run differential.
The fifth place Carp were 3-3 last week. They won the opener and then dropped the next two at home against the first place Giants, and then they took two of three from the Baystars when they came to town over the weekend. Their 29-35-6 record has them just half of a game behind the Tigers and 6.5 games ahead of Yokoama. Their .229 team batting average is currently the worst in the league, and they have a -27 run differential.
The sixth place Baystars were 1-4 last week. They lost both of their home-away-from-home games in Okinawa to the Tokyo Swallows before losing the Friday and Sunday games against the Carp in Hiroshima last weekend. Their 21-40-5 record has them right where they pretty much always are. They currently have a -67 run differential.
The Week Ahead
This evening’s game against Chunichi got piddled out, but there are five more games scheduled this week.
7/4 vs Chunichi (at Jingu) – 6PM
7/5 vs Chunichi (at Jingu) – 6PM
7/6 at Hiroshima (at Mazda Stadium) – 6PM
7/7 at Hiroshima (at Mazda Stadium) – 2PM
7/8 at Hiroshima (at Mazda Stadium) – 1:30PM
That’s it for this week’s edition of the Snapshot. If you made it this far, then thanks for joining us for the entire ride. I think this edition set a record as far as word counts go. I’ll try and keep it shorter and sweeter next time, I promise.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash my hair.