8/23/09 — Yomiuri (Home)

August 23rd, 2009

Tokyo Yakult Swallows cap

Yomiuri Giants 2

Tokyo Yakult Swallows 1

Streak: Lost 2    Last 5: WLWLL

(Jingu Stadium)

After Friday’s rather fortunate win, and last night’s thorough drubbing, the Tokyo Swallows looked to win its first three-game series of the month against crosstown rival, Yomiuri.

But in the end, Tokyo gave this game away, and what they learned was a couple of very hard but important lessons.

"Mianhaeyo, Masanori-shi." (tran. "I'm sorry, Masanori.")

Lesson number one: Lim needs a break.

Lesson number two: Don’t ever swing when Kroon is pitching because he can rarely find the strike zone. Actually, I think we learned this lesson years ago, but everyone forgets it as soon as they step into the batter’s box.

Tonight’s starting lineup:

1. Fukuchi (LF)
2. Kawashima (SS)
3. Aoki (CF)
4. Hatakeyama (1B)
5. Iihara (RF)
6. Tanaka (2B)
7. Yoshimoto (3B)
8. Aikawa (C)
9. Ishikawa (P)

Alright, here’s what you need to know. Ishikawa (9-6, 3.51) had a great game. He pitched eight innings of five hit, no run baseball. He also recorded two strikeouts and didn’t give up a single walk. He definitely deserved to win this game.

And maybe he would have if he had been left in the game for a little longer. While that would have been a risky move to say the least, it couldn’t have been much worse than what ended up happening.

Lim blew his third save opportunity of the month. The first two times the team came back and won the game and he ended up with wins in both cases. This time he got the loss that he deserved.

In the top of the ninth, Tokyo was ahead one to nothing, and Lim came to the mound to grab those last three outs. The first batter he faced, Wakiya, smacked a single to right. The next batter up, Ramirez, drove one into left to put runners on first and second with no outs.

Lim got a few questionable calls here and there, he was scraping the underbelly of the strike zone as he normally does, but what came next was largely of his own doing.

He walked the next three batters he faced. 2-1 Yomiuri.

And that was it. Matsuoka had to come in to get the last two outs for him. Lim’s ERA has tripled over the last week and now sits at 1.31.

Kroon came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth, and everyone just flailed away as normal. Guiel was the only batter who stayed in control, and he eventually got beaned on the foot. Yes, that’s how bad Kroon’s control of his heater and forkball are.

Ishikawa had one of his best outings of the season.I can understand swinging once just to keep him honest, but we’ve seen Kroon walk the bases full numerous times, so why can’t people keep the bat on their shoulders?! Tanaka, Shida, and Noguchi struck out swinging at junk in the dirt to end the game.

Tokyo’s lone run came in the fourth with two outs. Fukuchi, staring at his second rbi opportunity of the evening, came through with a single to right that scored Aikawa from second base. Tonight was Fukuchi’s fourth multi-hit game in a row.

But that was all that the home fans had to cheer about. The number of stranded runners was again annoying, and Aoki and Fukuchi both got thrown out trying to steal second.

A little bit more about the Lim debacle: he’s now made 48 appearances in 2009. He made 54 last season. I think it’s safe to say that he’s been overused.

And another thing–if Kawashima was hitting so well that he was moved from eighth up to second in the batting order, then why is he being asked to bunt so often? Additionally, it’s no secret that Aoki (third in the lineup) isn’t our best hitter with runners in scoring position, so wouldn’t it be wiser to just let the law of averages do its work and watch Keizo continue to collect base hits?

Tellingly, now that Tanaka is down in the bottom half of the lineup and doesn’t have to bunt as often anymore, his batting average and OBP are climbing quickly.

So the birds lost yet another series, and they dropped another game behind the only two decent teams in the Central League right now, Chunichi and Yomiuri.

The Swallows travel to Hiroshima for a three game series starting on Tuesday before returning to Jingu for a series against the second-place Dragons (Fri-Sat).

About Christopher Pellegrini

Christopher is a budding sabermetrician and long-time supporter of Tokyo's more lovable team, the Swallows. He has publicly volunteered, several times, that he plans to buy the team at some point in the future. When he finally runs the joint, it is likely that he will fine any player who swings at the first pitch or sac bunts (unless it's a pitcher, of course). Follow him on Twitter: @chrispellegrini

  • Daigo

    Poor Ishikawa! He almost got the win, almost…

  • Rob

    Lim did pitch poorly, but I have to give this one to Takada for using Lim in a meaningless situation Friday. Not that Lim would be tired from that, but any time you give the other team more at-bats against your closer you’re hurting yourself.

    I think Ochiai has drilled the Dragons on taking a more disciplined approach to Kroon (and Fujikawa and Igarashi, all basically the same pitcher). But even without word from the manager, you’d think someone would have noticed by now: a) he has two pitches; b) he only gets near the strike zone on the first pitch or when he’s behind in the count.

    • Rob,
      Well said.

      Yomiuri did get an extra look at him on Friday, and yet again it wasn’t a save opportunity.

      And I agree that it looks like they’ve figured him out.

  • Zakk

    Nice site here, been reading it for a while even though I cant say I am a Yakult “fan”. I think its great that people are starting to discuss their favorite teams and support Japanse baseball no matter what team they like. I was at Jingu on Saturday, hadnt been to your stadium recently so was good to come catch a game.

    As far as Lim, closers are pretty much required to be perfect.
    For the most part Lim has been that, so guess you gotta live with the recent stuff. Even the best closers have that rough 2 week period or so in the season where things get away from them a little. I think he will be fine, he is just in that period now.

    I know what you guys are saying, but isnt that the sign of a great pitcher, to be able to throw something that is not a strike and still get people to swing at it? It looks like a strike coming in, but its bouncing on the ground (or hitting you in the foot, oops) by time you have a chance to swing. Undisciplined hitting or hella pitching? jury is out on that one.

    • Zakk,
      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for your reasoned comment.

      I hope and certainly believe that Lim will be able to regain control of what’s going on, but I’m already having flashbacks of 2008 when he started so strongly, plateaued, and then became more and more like one of our backup relievers toward the end of the season. At least that’s how I remember 2008. Does anyone remember any differently?

      You make a good point about effective pitchers getting hitters to swing at stuff they shouldn’t, and that is certainly a large chunk of Fujikawa, Kroon, Igarashi, and Lim’s success. They all throw hard, so batters have almost no time to react, and they end up making bad decisions at the plate.

      But we’re now in an era where camera footage from all manner of angles is available and scouting reports are ridiculously detailed. When the hitters stop swinging, then the pitcher needs to start throwing strikes, and some hitters get hit hard when they do that. Lim definitely looks like he’s in the middle of that type of situation right now. Kroon routinely finds himself dealing with that as well.

      I just wish that our hitters would stop swinging against Kroon as the Giants did with Lim last night.

      But anyway, I’ll stop dwelling on that because I know that nobody’s listening.

      Zakk, hat’s your take on closers being overused? Do you think it’s acceptable to frequently put your closer, a guy who is supposed to be perfect as you say, in games where the team has a five or six run lead?

      And don’t worry, we won’t get defensive if you say something rude about Tokyo’s manager (or Yomiuri’s).

    • Rob

      Glad you could make it out!
      I agree – good pitching is getting guys out or letting them get themselves out, taking advantage of your strengths and the other guy’s weakness.
      I’m much more cheesed at our lack of discipline or preparation than at Kroon’s success.

  • Zakk

    Hey guys,

    Only time I would put in a closer in a non-save situation is if he hasnt worked in more than 4-5 games. Other than that, over the course of the year most closers on decent teams have around 35-40 chances which is more than 25% of a team’s games in NPB. I think that is enough work by itself once you add in a few tie games that they pitch trying to hold it down until their team can score and get a sayonara win.

    I think even putting the closer in with a 5 run lead pisses the other team off, and the Giants (unlike the Baystars for example) are strong enough to actually DO something about it when they feel slighted. so that is why Lim got hit with 2 runs on Friday and then by Sunday no one was even scared of him. The Swallows on the other hand hadnt seen Kroon much, just 1 batter on Saturday so was harder for them to get a read on what he was doing.

    I actually liked Hara-kantoku when he was a player, so I give him a pass…..although sometimes I wonder if I am the only one noticing trends about what ALWAYS happens in certain situations. (One pitcher always sucks with inherited runners but is fine if he comes with no one on base, another guy hates tie games, another doesnt do well with a certain catcher, etc) Seems they would pick up on those things and not put those people in those situations that they dont excel in?

    Hey look at the bright side, you guys are going to Climax series and will have a shot at knocking off the Dragons (more than likely) in a best 2 out of 3, arent you doing pretty well against them?

  • My lord, what has happened.

    When I departed back to the UK at the beginning of August the Swallows were around 3 games outside of first place, and now upon my return they’re over 10 games back!

    Not won a series in August and if it wasn’t for the sheer ineptitude of the other three teams in the league then that playoff spot would be disappearing into the distance. As it stands now it’s still ours to lose but we need to wake up and find that first-half of 2009 form (or at least some kind of form) again before it’s too late.

    I glanced at the score of this game online in the 9th, and when I saw that Lim had let two men on I feared for what would happen next, especially given his troubles in his totally unnecessary appearance on Friday. I was going to switch on the TV at that point but I didn’t want to ruin my evening, and it looks like I was right not to do so!

    Away at Hiroshima next before a home series with the Dragons, two teams we’ve done pretty well against this year, pre-August at least.

    Oh, and we need D’Antona back. Quick smart.

  • Mac

    David – completely agree with your comments, but consider yourself lucky…

    I was at work on Sunday – it hit 1800 and I started following the game on Yahoo. 1900 came and the cricket started in England. So obviously no work was being done. The Swallows went 1-0 up and I thought to myself “I’ll head to Jingu to catch the last three innings so that I can be there to catch my first win against the Kutabare this year”.

    Traumatic is the word to describe what ensued. It was almost like Lim had been put on to throw the game… it couldn’t have been better choreographed.

    A few more games like this and the Hanshin will be fancying their chances…

    • Mac

      Sounds absolutely positively traumatising to say the least.

      At least England won the cricket eh.

      Unless you’re of the Australian persuasion in which case that may be a contender for worst sporting day ever.

  • Christopher

    Yes Tigers are fancying their chances – the graphs are being printed in the Daily Sports showing the ever decreasing gap between the two sides. I personally believe you guys will hold out but you do have to pull your socks up.

    • Only Tigers fans would need a graph to explain to them the decreasing gap. But I guess as most of them can’t read then it is a necessity.

      (I jest)

      Hopefully Tokyo will enter tonight’s game with their socks firmly pulled up.