9/10/09 – Hiroshima (Home)

September 10th, 2009

Hiroshima Carp logoTokyo Yakult Swallows cap

Hiroshima Toyo Carp 3

Tokyo Yakult Swallows 2

Streak: Lost 5     Last : LLLLL

(Jingu Stadium)

You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried. The Swallows took a 2-0 lead into the 9th inning off the back of an excellent start from Hiromitsu Takagi. But wouldn’t you just know it, they would end up on the rough end of a 3-2 loss.

With Tokyo at their lowest ebb of the season so far, Takada had his most major re-jig of the lineup so far in ’09:

  1. Takeuchi (LF)
  2. Morioka (SS)
  3. Aoki (CF)
  4. D’Antona (1B)
  5. Guiel (RF)
  6. Miyamoto (3B)
  7. Tanaka (2B)
  8. Kawamoto (C)
  9. Takagi (P)

With the regular starting rotation now consisting of only the duo of Tateyama and Ishikawa, Takagi was called on to start after making five fairly promising appearances from the bullpen this year. Plus he beaned a Giant in the head last week so he’s good in my book.

He pitched an excellent seven innings of shutout baseball tonight, giving up just five hits while striking out three and walking one. He left the game with a 2-0 lead which should have landed him with his first pro-win, but of course he didn’t end up figuring in the decision. His ERA now sits at 1.00.

Takagi’s only major jam came in the 2nd, as a walk and two hits loaded the bases for Kura. But the catcher hit a line drive that was caught by Morioka, who threw to second for a 6-4 double play. He let a man get to second in each of the 6th and 7th innings but that was as dicey as it got for him.

Tokyo faced a quality starter in the Carp’s Ohtake. Tokyo got men on first and second in the first but strikeouts for D’Antona and Guiel ended the inning. In the 3rd they got a man to second, but Aoki grounded out to first to end it there. They got Guiel to third in the 4th but a Tanaka strikeout left him stranded. In the 5th Kawamoto got to second but strikeouts from Takeuchi and Morioka left him there.

Just as it looked like it would be another one of those nights, Aoki led off the 6th with a shot that hit the left foul pole for 1-0 Tokyo. It was his 13th homer of the year. Aoki punched the air as it hit the pole, and it looked like it may give the team the jolt back to life that they needed. D’Antona then singled and was replaced by the quick-footed Fukuchi. Guiel flew out for out number one, then Miyamoto grounded out to second, allowing Fukuchi to move to second. Next man up Tanaka stabbed one straight up the middle for a single, Fukuchi absolutely motored around the turn at third, beating the throw home while Tanaka advanced to second, 2-0 Tokyo. Kawamoto struck out to end the inning, but it seemed that the tide was starting to turn in the Swallows’ favour. Little did they know it would turn out to be one of those nights in the end after all.

In the top of the 8th, Lee (3.23) took to the mound in relief of Takagai. He looked rough as he walked the leadoff man, and just about managed to strikeout Higashide with the runner stealing second in the process. In came Yoshikawa (0.00). He faced the pinch-hitting Shima, who hit one deep to centre which initially looked like it may go out of the park, but Aoki took it for out number two. Phillips was struck out looking and then Tokyo was three outs from it’s first win in a week.

Yokoyama made short work of the middle of the Swallows order in the 8th and it was on to the 9th with Matsuoka taking the mound for Tokyo. The same Matsuoka who gave up a 9th inning three-run game winning homer against the Carp on Tuesday. It was his 49th appearance of the year, and he’s clearly looked tired for a while, but with Igarashi and Lim both on the DL the threadbare bullpen didn’t have too many better options left in it (though Takada really should have left the in-form Yoshikawa on the mound).

Matsuoka gave up a single to Kurihara to open the inning, then a walk to McClain. Amaya the struck out looking before Suenaga took to the plate. The same Suenaga who had hit just one homer so far this season and just six in his career as a whole. Well, of course the Swallows can do no right at the moment and the Carp no wrong, and so he hit the ball over the rightfield wall and it was 3-2 Hiroshima.

F*ck this shit.

Nakagawa allowed a walk in the 9th and the runner would make it to second, but he got Hatakeyama to ground out for the final out of the game (for his 30th save) and it was 3-2 Final.

For the second night in a row Tokyo had only managed five hits, but with a great start from Takagi and (eventually) some timely hitting from the bats, this was another deserved victory that wasn’t. But with Hanshin losing tonight, both they and Hiroshima are now just 1.5 games out of third. The momentum/luck does seem to be with Hiroshima at the moment though.

From here Tokyo travel to Nagoya for possibly another sweep or at the very least their 12th series loss on the trot. It doesn’t make a genius to figure out that Tokyo won’t be in 3rd place come the end of play on Sunday.

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD'S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto

  • Fabian

    I suggest raising the Takada count for sending Matsuoka to the mound in the 9th. He’s clearly overused, blew it on Tuesday and with Yoshikawa being perfect so far, it’s just plain out wrong to let him pitch the 9th. Yoshikawa only threw 5 pitches to get his 2 Outs in the 8th, so why not keep him in there?

    • Good point well made, and correct on all points.

      TAKADA COUNT: 12

      I was considering it but this last week has numbed my senses so much that I almost felt sorry for Takada when Suenaga’s shot went over the fence. Almost.

  • Fabian’s absolutely right. He’s been overused big time. He definitely needs a rest.

    I’m a bit late, I know, but I second the motion to raise the Takada Count.

  • Jingu Bleacher Bum

    If there’s only one good thing that you might be able to get out of this, it’s that we get to see how the baseball gods develop new and exciting ways to make the Swallows fall from third place. Seriously, the powers that be couldn’t be anymore obvious after what we saw in tonights game…..

    • It is resembling a rather bad joke at the moment.

  • oh, what a humiliating way to lose. not sure whether yesterday’s 0-9 would’ve been better, but i was there today. sigh.

  • christopher

    I would say that while your kantoku is not the sharpest needle in the pin cushion you’re going a bit too easy on the players. Takada has done what he can with meagre material but your players need to show a bit more responsibility and commitment. This is currently where the problem lies – not the manager. You shouldn’t be losing to second rate teams in this manner and it isn’t the fault of the kantoku this time.

    • I hear your point.

      But to be fair, the players did do their bit tonight to earn a victory, with only Mastuoka really at fault. Though as others have stated above, he probably shouldn’t have been in the game at all, and that responsibility lies with Takada.

      If you’ve been paying attention this week you’ll have noticed that the Takada count has not been invoked at any point in the string of losses (and a draw) as his decisions didn’t seriously affect the outcome of the games (in the opinion of this fan anyway). ie it was the players who didn’t perform, and we haven’t said otherwise.

      Anyway, I don’t really know why I’m responding to you as you’re only contradicting what you said a mere two weeks ago after a previous loss to the “second-rate” Carp:

      This is kind of like the Tigers last season and you have to blame Takada for this. It is the job of the management team to keep the players focused and going forward.

      Either way, if they’re second-rate then it’s a battle of three second-rate teams for that 3rd place (well, make that two as I think we may well be done).

  • Zakk

    As a casual observer, I just have to say that the last month or so has been really brutal for you guys. But I also really think that you guys will be fine and hold on to the 3rd spot.

    Dont get upset with me but your team just isnt as good as you were playing prior to August. Bullpen was near perfect and everything was falling into place, that cant happen over the course of a whole season. So on the positive side, you also arent as bad as you are playing now. This is just a levelling out of how things should be over the course of the season for a “good” but not “great” team.

    The only problem I see is that now its Tigers vs. Baystars for next 3 games and Baystars invent a new way to lose to the Tigers every time they play, so you can chalk up 2 or 3 Tiger victories for this weekend. But once that is over, you guys have a lot of games left against Yokohama and losing so much to them will even out too, so I definitely see a Climax Series in you guys future, good luck and keep the faith 🙂

  • flick

    There were a couple of other Takada misses I think in this game. Like why didn’t he put someone in for Kawamoto, who is batting in the lower 100s in the all to important 9th? He still had Iihara and others on the bench at that point. Also, the overt love Takada shows for Keizo is becomming annoying.
    Man, the Swallows fans on the yahoo gamecast were brutal last night. I thought you guys were pretty tough on the kantoku, but these guys were looking for blood. Sadly Matsuken and Keizo were both scapegoated as well.

  • Zakk,
    I like your optimism. Last year Tokyo won a bunch of games toward the end against the Baystars after being humiliated by them during the regular season. That may well happen again.

    But it seems that our bullpen has very little left in the tank after a preseason and April through August of overuse.

    It’s has been, and probably will be, difficult to hold on to leads unless Takada lets Yoshikawa quickly move into the closer’s role. If he didn’t figure that out after his fourth consecutive perfect appearance last night, then we may be in trouble. Regardless, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the bullpen changes over the next 10 days.

    But you’re right. This is often how the season levels itself out. Hopefully the pendulum starts swinging back the other way this weekend.

  • Zakk

    Yeah well at least you have your own destiny in your hands. The main problem that I see is that 6 of the last 8 games the Tigers have is against you guys so that has the potential to let them make up ground really quickly. On the good side 5 of those 6 are at Jingu. So you do a decent job and get 4 of those 6 and you should be fine.

    As far as the Carp, depends how this weekend vs Giants goes, they lose 2 out of 3 I think they wont be bothering you much longer. Not enough head to head to head games left between you and them, plus 4 more times they and the Tigers take turns beating each other while you are hopefully winning the same night.

    Good luck anyway, interested to see how this all turns out.

  • christopher

    Whilst you can blame your kantoku for a lot of this you need to start to factor in the players behaviour and responsibility. You cannot say the players have performed to the best of their ability. Takada has done what he can to shake things up but no one is trying. Both Tigers and Swallows are playing under themselves but the difference is that the Tigers have players who are still trying DESPITE the kantoku. This is what the Swallows don’t have and what you guys need to focus on. Your kantoku isn’t going to rescue you but your players can still do so – if they are prepared to make the effort.

  • CAL,
    We understand what you’re saying. We really do.

    Quick question: have you looked at individual player stats (Tokyo) from the end of the first half of the season and compared them with how the players are performing now?

    If you’re referring to offense, most players on the team are playing at, or above, where they were during the first half of the season (with the exception of D’Antona whose numbers have dipped slightly in the week or so since he came back from injury).

    Same level: Miyamoto, Kawashima, Guiel, Iihara, and Hatakeyama.

    Even better: Aoki and Tanaka.

    Only Aikawa and Fukuchi’s offensive stats over the last seven weeks support your generalization. Although, in Aikawa’s favor, we are happy that he has stopped hitting into double plays. A very nice improvement indeed!

    If you are referring to pitching, then your opinion may have a bit more traction because it’s more of a mixed bag. There are a few guys who seem to get overwhelmed/lose heart quickly in the heat of the battle (Muranaka, Ichiba, Kawashima, et al.), and that’s not very helpful. Those guys, not coincidentally, are now all on the farm team.

    At the same time, several of our relievers are already near or in excess of last season’s numbers in terms of game appearances. They have been used all season whether the team is five runs up or five runs down. That, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is a problem (dare I say that Atchison fits this description). In a nutshell: velocity is down, sliders have lost a couple inches of break, and legs aren’t as sturdy as they were. They’re tired.

    One can, absolutely, place some of the blame on the pitchers themselves, but we’ve been saying on this site for months that guys were in the process of being overused and would soon be burned out. Now that prediction has been validated by lots of late inning losses and a rapidly disintegrating bullpen.

    Drops in performance by overused pitchers is a common occurrence in baseball, and one that managers should seek to avoid. Nevertheless, this happens to several teams each year–one could argue that Hanshin is of that crowd again this season.

    The overuse of pitchers, which has been a very large concern of mine over the years (and one of the reasons that I can sympathize with skeptics of Nomura’s “genius”), is generally not something that the players themselves have any control over. That responsibility, and the attendant culpability when things go awry, falls directly at the feet of the management.

    Could the offense help things out by putting more runs on the board, building sizable leads, and therefore keeping the overused pitchers on the bench in the bullpen? Yes, of course.

    But I would argue that it’s hard to score a lot of runs (oh, how I miss the days of the big inning!) when the team is constantly bunting and playing for one run at a time.

    And it’s nearly impossible to rack up home runs, the heart and soul of the big inning, when you have decided not to start one of the team’s sluggers because there’s a left-handed pitcher on the mound, and you have a hunch that he doesn’t get on base versus southpaws (a hunch, by the way, that is not supported by any empirical evidence). Again, that’s the management’s call.

    Before the injuries to Miyamoto and D’Antona (which had nothing to do with overuse), and before the bands began to wear thin in the bodies of Igarashi, Matsuoka, and Lim, the team was playing well in spite of the manager. The quality was there, and there was a winning attitude on the team.

    But things have changed quite a bit since then. The business-end of the bullpen is now completely gone. It appears that Takada overlooked, or simply ignored, the intense burden carried by Lim during the WBC. Unfortunately, this has helped hasten the revelation of the scope and durability of the management’s ineptitude, and his continued errors in judgment have cost the team chances at winning several games. The offense, which is still playing about as well now as it was back in July (although averaging slightly fewer runs per game), is having a hard time compensating for the damage brought on by a gradual accumulation of game-by-game managerial miscues.

    While the effort and dedication of certain individuals on certain evenings may be called into question, and we make sure to highlight player lows as well as highs on this site, it’s probably not fair to start saying all of a sudden that the players are letting the team down.

    If the bullpen were healthy again, then the team would likely once again rise above the anchor-like influence of the manager. To the dismay of many a Tokyo fan, that is obviously not about to happen.

    In my view, the Tokyo Swallows are now simply weathering the long-gathering storm brought on by how Mr. Takada likes to play the game of baseball. It appears likely that the team will continue to suffer for a while longer as the consequences of the aforementioned buildup of errors continues to fuel the present deluge of poor results. I’m sure you can see some of the merit in this argument.

    And one final note: we understand that you will likely be commenting on this site more frequently in the coming weeks as the Tigers make a run at the playoffs, but I’d like to kindly ask you to consider the tone of your remarks.

    Rather than your established routine of asserting your authority by telling us how we should think, or claiming that we have misunderstood something, it might be more conducive to conversation if you simply offer your ideas and thoughts.

    After all, I think you’d agree that we would not be very welcome at your website if we showed up and told you that your analysis of the day-to-day running of the Hanshin baseball club was inaccurate or lacking in depth.

    • Jack

      Here, here, Pellegrini!

      CAL, what Mr. Pellegrini is being too polite to say is that perhaps you should actually read the posts on which you comment and actually read the comments to which you reply.

      I’m sure you’re a nice guy in person, you do come across as seeking first to argue and second to engage in a discussion, if at all.

      Finally, it’s okay to not know everything, but it is not okay to assert authority when you’re bluffing. Relax, man. No need to get your dander up.

      Pellegrini, why let this guy get under your skin? Why reply?

    • Rob

      Heh – “we are happy that he (Aikawa) has stopped hitting into double plays” – this made me laugh – thanks.

  • christopher

    Yes but despite the stats – your team is loosing badly. The stats are not telling the whole story and it isn’t just a pitching failure that’s causing you problems. It’s easy to blame the manager and to consider him the source of all your problems and to be sure he is a big factor. However, he is not the only factor and the players performance needs to be considered and by this I mean the actual lack of effort. Batting for average is all very well but it doesn’t win games. What are your players doing to win games? You need to think about this more than anything else as that is the real key.

  • [sigh]

  • Christopher

    Sorry for the paucity of the last reply but I only had time to dash off a quick reply. Your analysis is very good but it rather fails to factor in the fact that Takada took the Swallows to third place and had a good lead over the fourth place team. Now of course the players are also responsible for this and we can say that Swallows were functioning effectively. However if, as you say Takada was 0ver-pitching people then the question arises – why? Because he wants to – or because he only has a limited amount of resources. Which would be the most likely explanation? Now if Lim carried an intense burden in the WBC whose fault was it? Takada’s? I would submit that it wasn’t him at all but the Korean manager. Should Takada have stopped using Lim and given up on some of the victories Swallows won due to Lim’s efforts?

    Management is about tough decisions and using your resources to the best ability. Takada knows he doesn’t have so many big hitters and so he is forced to rely on the bunt. There is also a cultural aspect here – this is what Japanese managers do, get used to it. It is also what a lot of Japanese fans expect. I personally agree with you 100% about the bunt but Japanese baseball is different. ONe can praise if the manager goes against the grain but one can’t really criticize if he doesn’t. Only when there is a general realisation that this is a stupid move most of the time will it stop. So the situation is this Takada’s tactics took Swallows to third but in doing so burned out the players. Well, one has to say that he did the best he could considering his limitations and the resources at his disposal. Or not only is Takada failing but the players are also failing. I’m actually writing from experience with Tigers meltdown last year. Okada did over-pitch some of his pitchers but the players also failed. What I am seeing is exactly the same thing now, players are beginnig to fail and focus more on their personal averages and personal concerns but not to play for the team. Quite simply the
    Swallows meltdown is too extensive to blame just on the manager. An appreciation of scale is useful here.

    Please do stop by and make derogatory comments about Tigers management (and even players). There’s enough material there for all of us. I don’t tolerate abusive comments and praise of Ishikawa though (the latter is just a little foible of mine).