The Monday Review #2

Welcome to the Monday Review, in which we’ll look back at the week that was and look ahead to the week that will be. We hope a recurring weekly review column will help readers identify some trends that can’t be covered in a single game report. We’re still trying to work out the format, so let us know what you’d like to see in the comments.

After going 5-0-1 the week before the Swallows go 4-2 last week with a sweep of the Giants at “home” in Shizuoka and a 1-2 series loss at Koshien against the Tigers. While many of us were disappointed to see our undefeated streak end with consecutive losses to the Tigers, but a 4-2 record for the week is nothing to get too disappointed about. The Swallows’ sit a top the Central League with a record of 10-5-2.

Not Forgotten: Prior to his start on Wednesday, Yoshinori learned that his high school battery mate, Izumi Saito was confirmed dead. Saito, who was one year Yoshinori’s senior at Sendai Ikuei High School, was missing since being washed away by tsunami on March 11. Saito caught Yoshinori during the 2006 Summer Koeshien tournament. While his start was cut short by a long rain delay, Yoshinori pitched 5 strong innings against the Giants and was awarded the win. Yoshinori dedicated the win to his friend and former teammate and a game ball was sent to the Saito family. A Yoshinori-signed baseball was placed in Saito’s coffin. With the season moving forward smoothly it may be easy to lose sight of the suffering and tragedy that is still ongoing in the Tohoku region.

Rotation Issues: Muranaka lasted just 14 pitches after returning from injury. Muranaka was taken off the active roster again with a right flank injury, and is now expected to be out for at least 4 weeks. The Swallows will be playing 5 game weeks through May and July, which means that the Swallows will probably go with a 5-man rotation. Ishikawa, Yoshinori, Tateyama, and Masubuchi are obviously going to keep their spots in the rotation. However with Hitoshi Yamamoto, who made a couple of starts this season, taken off the active roster on Saturday it is unclear who the Swallows will use as a fifth starter. Possible starters include Masato Nakazawa who was discussed as a rotation candidate during the off season, Swallows 2010 second round draft pick Shichijo, and Kosuke Matsui who relieved Muranaka on Sunday. Matsui’s also left Sunday’s game with an injury and the team has not commented on his status, but given that he remains on the roster his injury is probably not too serious. Tony Barnette is probably also on the table, but he has been playing a valuable role as a setup ace (basically Masubuchi’s role from last year) that I’d be hesitant to move him into the rotation.

Balen-time: Wladimir Balentien had a hell of a week this week going 5-for-16 with 6 walks, 5 strikeouts, and 1 sac fly. The amazing thing was that all 5 hits were home runs. The super surge in home runs vaulted Balentien to the top of the CL home run leader board with 8 homers. At the current pace, Balentien would hit 67 homeruns, which would obliterate the NPB single season home run record. The real test for Balentien will be if he can continue to be patient at the plate as pitchers  increasingly throw junk his way.

Quo Vadimus: This week the Swallows will face the Dragons in a 3 day game series at Jingu, before heading off to face the Carp in a 2 game series at Matsuyama. The Dragons were struggling when the Swallows swept them at Jingu 2 weeks ago. But the Dragons picked up their game last week, going 5-1 including taking 2 games from the surprisingly strong Carp. With their strong performance the Dragons have clawed back to a .500 record, and is third in the league. The Dragons sport the lowest team ERA (2.35), and lowest team batting average (.205) in the Central League. Data Stadium is projecting the return of Dragon’s lefty ace Wei-Yin Chen in Game 1. Appropriate, as Game 1 will be Pink Lady day at Jingu and the Swallows will be countering with their own lefty ace Ishikawa. Ishikawa will be playing for his 100th career NPB win. Yoshimi and Nakata are probable starters for the other two games.

The Carp have been one of the early surprises of the Central League this season being a close second in the league table behind the Swallows. Despite having a league low 6 home runs, the Carp have managed to score a league-high 73 runs. Combined with their slightly above average pitching, the Carp have ridden their unexpected offensive surge to their early success. The Swallows won 2 and tied 1 at Hiroshima earlier in the season. It is possible that the Birds will hit the Carp’s strongest starters in hot import Bryan Bullington (3 W 1.98 ERA) and last year’s Sawamura winner Kenta Maeda. Although so far this season Maeda hasn’t yet shown the dominant pitching he showed last year.

This week will also probably feature the oft discussed Whitesell/Hatakeyama starting lineup which debuted on Saturday against the Tigers. The lack of defensive range in the outfield may hurt low strikeout pitchers like Ishikawa, who rely on the defense to get outs. Expect a lot of mid to late game substitutions involving players like Iihara and Takeuchi to spell Hatakeyama and Whitesell.

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he's not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • I like how Josh keeps finding ways to get on base, and once Aoki gets his timing back, the current lineup should produce a fair few runs.

    I’m worried about the rotation, but at the same time I’m reasonably content that at least three of our starters are pitching reasonably well at the same time. Hopefully one or two guys step up!

  • Kozo

    Mikinori Katoh was called up today. He may be a candidate to start on Sunday.