Swallows Lose Two Straight, Widespread Panic in Tokyo

Hatakeyama didn't have his best game.
I'm gonna go ahead and use a mulligan. I earlier called for Kazuhiro Hatakeyama to be the left fielder. Junji Ogawa heard my cry and obliged. Boy did I mess that one up. Hatakeyama blew the game in the first inning, by allowing what should have been a routine flyout to fall next to his pathetic body, which had clumsily tried to dive for a ball which he had over pursued (video after the jump). This allowed the Tigers to command an early lead, and they never looked back.


What is the Best Lineup?

Someone want to send this lineup to Ogawa-san?
So we finally lost a game. Now it's time to panic and decide how we can go undefeated for the rest of the year. Let's start with the lineup. Hopefully Junji Ogawa has caught wind of my verbal attack on Iihara and decides to sit him, at least for the time being. If he is going to continue to play him, why not move him down in the order to relieve some of the pressure. Hitting 7th will have a positive impact on everybody. He has less pressure on him, and the Swallows don't have a black hole in the middle of the order. I like Iihara, he just shouldn't be sniffing the third position in the batting order. Who should then? Here's what I would like the lineup to be:

1. Norichika Aoki, CF- Great table setter. I'd like to see him run more, maybe when his hamstring is 100% we will see that. He's also been taking a lot of meaty pitches, don't know if that is a result of batting leadoff or whether he's just not seeing the ball.

2. Hiroyasu Tanaka, 2B - He's been amazing in this position. His bunting has been flawless and he's hitting .340.

 Hit the jump for the rest.

Hanshin Tigers-4 Yakult Swallows-1

This guy...sucks.
Well the unbeaten run is over. And I'm going to blame it on this ^ guy. Does he deserve it? Probably not. But there is very little he could have done worse, save crashing into Aoki in center and sending him to the hospital. Another hitless day, another double play that ended a potential rally, there's nothing that this guy can't do, as long as it hurts the team. I had to lead the recap somehow, and venting about Yasushi Iihara seemed appropriate enough.


Series Preview: Hanshin Tigers 4/29-5/1

Koshien legend Yoshinori Sato...too bad he's not pitching this series.
Three times we took the field against the Yomiuri Giants. Three times we walked off as the victors. Three times at roughly 8am (when the games end here on the east coast) I was too excited to go back to sleep. Don't ask me if we're actually this good, because I'm not prepared to answer. I can say it's been pretty damn fun.

The fun continues at 5am EST against another high profile NPB team, the Hanshin Tigers. I marked these two series as a big test for us, and halfway through, we've passed with flying colors. Hanshin has not played particularly well this year, but they are always dangerous. Their bats are going to wake up at some point, and with the bottom of our rotation set to take the hill in the series, it could very well happen in the next few games. Takahiro Arai and Shunsuke are carrying their offense with amazing batting averages, but every other player is having a miserable time at the plate. Their pitching, while nothing to write home about, has not been atrocious. The Tigers as a team, have been very average to this point in the season. They are ranked 3rd in pitching and 4th in the CL in pitching and hitting, respectively.

The importance of playing in Koshien cannot be overestimated. It will be the first hostile environment that the Swallows play in this year, and it will be interesting to see how they react.

3 Players to watch:

Shunsuke Fujikawa, CF: The 24 year old who goes by "Shunsuke" is hitting .381 so far. He is also known for being caught stealing while the ancient artifact Tomoaki Kanemoto was at the plate. Since Kanemoto wasn't credited with an at-bat and he didn't take the field, his consecutive games streak was broken. I was never a fan of Kanemoto so I like Shunsuke by default.

Arai, 3B: Hitting .353 and having a さよなら hit to boot, Arai has been a bright spot on a mostly anemic offense.

Kyuji Fujikawa, CP: He only has three saves, but everyone knows and fears this man for good reason. Behind his intimidating intro music is an even more intimidating face. No but really, his fastball is actually really, really intimidating. If they get a lead late, it will be tough to come back.

The Swallows didn't miss a beat, even after the day off earlier in the week. They continue to play great defense, pitch spectacularly, and get timely hit after timely hit. If they can keep this up, they will get out of Koshien holding their brooms. However, this is no place to get complacent. With a Tiger's offense that can blow up at any time, they must be especially careful. Playing on the road isn't fun either.

Prediction: Predicting 2 out of 3 last time seemed to work out pretty well so let's stick with that formula. Also, Yasushi Iihara gets a hit...? Uhh...right.

© 2011, copyright Julian Jowise

Around the NPB - 4/28/11

 Central League

Hiroshima Carp-5 Hanshin Tigers-1

-as good as the Swallows are playing, Hiroshima are still just one game back.

Chunichi Dragons-4 Yokohama Baystars-0

 Pacific League

Orix Buffaloes-2 Chiba Lotte Marines-1

-one of those once in a blue moon plays when Aaron Baldiris's ball is hit foul down the first base line and somehow rolls fair.

 -The Buffs finally pull out a victory on the bat of Hirotoshi Kitagawa.

 © 2011, copyright Julian Jowise

Yakult Swallows-4 Yomiuri Giants-0

His walk up music is TI's "Whatever You Like"...nuff said.
After yesterday's four and half hour marathon, today's two hour and forty minute contest seemed even shorter than it was. I have no one but Shohei Tateyama to thank. Tateyama cruised through the Giants lineup, mowing down 10.


Yakult Swallows-4 Yomiuri Giants-1

It's a bomber plane, it's Timothy McVeigh, it's......Wladimir Balentien!!

Wladimir Balentien can drop bombs like a F-22 Fighter Jet. He dropped two today and the Swallows extended their unbeaten streak to 10 on the arms of some strong pitching.

Yoshinori Sato struggled early, allowing multiple runners in the first two innings. In the second, the Giants capitalized, using a squeeze play to get Hisayoshi Kamei in (give them credit for an exciting play). 1-0 Giants.

Their lead didn't last long. Kazuhiro Hatakeyama took the second pitch he saw from Tetsuya Utsumi deep to left-center for a no-doubt homer. Balentien, not to be outdone, hit an even more impressive homerun to left field. It was absolutely crushed and nearly left the park. Alex Ramirez watched it sail over his head and didn't move from his position, that's how far and fast the ball got out. 2-1 swallows.


Why the NPB is Better Than the MLB vol. 2: Video Games

The blueprint of great a great baseball game.
No, I don't really think a better video game makes a league better...I do feel like reviewing the game and making it known to more American fans though! I think we can skip ahead to crowning The Show as the best MLB game. If you disagree with this presumption please make it through a season of the 2K Sports offering without having an absolutely bizarre glitch impede your progress. Moving on, Remember what you felt playing Grand Theft Auto in 3D after playing the original 2D versions? Not to say the original GTAs were bad; the new versions were just that much better. More of the same here. MLB 11 is a very good game. Enjoyable to play, presentation is unbelievably good, and it is the best baseball game with MLB players (probably a huge deal for some of you). Despite this, PYS is still the best baseball video game on the market.

You already have a PS3, and since it's region-free, you can play Japanese games on it. Before I go any further I'd like to thank Muka and Vern over at spiritstranslation.com. They translate the game so non-Japanese speakers can enjoy everything that the game has to offer. They also gave me permission to use screenshots from their site to enhance this post. More on that site later.

Around the NPB - 4/26/11

 Pacific League
 Chiba Lotte Marines-6 Orix Buffaloes-0 

       -No one on the Buffaloes is hitting above .300.

 Nippon Ham Fighters-3 Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks-2
      -Yu Darvish went 8 innings and got the win.

Rakuten Golden Eagles-2 Seibu Lions-0

-Hisashi Iwakuma with 13 K's and a complete game shutout.

Yakult Swallows-7 Yomiuri Giants-1

I do not like Shun Tohno. I didn't like his smug smile after striking out Wladimir Balentien, and I didn't like his smug smile after the ump called a ball on a borderline pitch. So when he imploded in the seventh inning, I could not help but smile. Smugly.

The game started out poorly enough. The baseball gods smote me after saying Hayato Sakamoto was a "tolerable" Giant. He smacked a 3-2 pitch into the left field seats and the Giants enjoyed a 1 run handicap from the get-go. 1-0 Giants.


Why the NPB is Better Than the MLB vol. 1: The Fans/Atmosphere

courtesy of sethskim
courtesy of Boston.com

You tell me which picture makes you excited to go to a game...
Ah, the cliched controversial blog post. To quickly quell any confusion, I don't think a team of the best NPB players could beat the best players in the MLB on a consistent basis as verified by the Major League Baseball Japan All Star Series (a mouthful, I know). As evidenced by the World Baseball Classic, however, Japan is superior to every country when it comes to winning games as a nation. This is not necessarily a reflection of talent or skill, rather, it displays the importance that Japan places on the team game and the passion that they have for the sport. More on the team aspect in another post.

Fans are a special group of people. They put a great deal of effort into following their favorite team and cheering them to victory, or so goes the trite phrase. The fact is, many American fans spend half the game booing their own players. The other half is spent booing the opposing team. Unless you use the Yogi Berra method of mathematics this leaves little time to support the team and "will" them to victory. Don't get me started on other sports that display even less class within the fan base.

                                                                   You said it Wayne!

In this way aren't all fans fair weather fans? When the team wins or the player performs well, they cheer loudly and talk about how devoted they are to the team and how much it means to them that they are excelling. Observe that same fan at the game after a few losses and they are booing with all their might. I've heard all the arguments; the fans pay...


Series Preview: Yomiuri Giants 4/26-4/28

You are a bad man, a very bad man. courtesy of ocregister
Tatsunori Hara and the Yomiuri Giants will meet the Yakult Swallows in Shizuoka for a three game series starting tomorrow. Hara has been quoted as saying that his favorite activities include "burning ants with magnifying glasses" and "bringing immense sadness to a large group of people." Starting tomorrow, he will try to enjoy the the latter of his favorite activites by trying to stop the Swallows 8 game unbeaten run. The Giants are fresh off of a four day break so they will be fresh and ready to go. The Swallows enjoyed a day off today before they start a series that will be a useful benchmark in determining how accurate their first place ranking is. The Giants are rested, the Swallows have momentum. Hit the jump for the analysis.

Around the NPB - 4/24/11

 Pacific League

Orix Buffaloes-5 Seibu Lions-3



Central League

Yokohama-3 Hanshin-1
Kanemoto popping out in the ninth. courtesy of Daily Sports Online

Yakult Swallows-8 Hiroshima Carp-3

Going....Going....Gone!!! courtesy of 47News.com
 This was the best kind of game. The Swallows took an early lead, gave it up, got it back, then pounded the Carp into submission. And for a game with 11 runs, it was over in 3 hours. Great stuff.

In the fourth, after two quick outs, the Swallows loaded the bases. Captain clutch, Shinya Miyamoto, came through with a line drive single to right field that drove in two. I have yet to see Miyamoto have  a bad at-bat this season. The 40 year old third basemen is a top notch leader and the best situational hitter I have seen in this young season. In a crucial at-bat he is the player I want at the plate. After him, my preferences lie with Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Norichika Aoki.


Yakult Swallows - 6 Hiroshima Carp - 6

Not pictured: Hiroshima player's devastated faces after blowing a five run lead.
Shun Takaichi made his first start of the season; hopefully it is his last until he learns to keep the ball down. His final line: 2 1/3 IP, 14 batters faced, 7 hits allowed, 6 ER. Flat out awful. 

The bullpen was key to the Swallows clawing back to steal a tie in this one, so not all the pitching was atrocious. While they allowed baserunners, Takehiko Oshimoto, Tony Barnette, Kenichi Matsuoka, and Chong-Yong Lim didn't let up a single run. This allowed the Swallows to stay within striking distance for the whole game.


Around the NPB - 4/22/11

 Central League

Hanshin - 4  Yokohama - 3 
さよならツーベース  from Takahiro Arai.

Pacific League

Seibu - 0 Orix - 2
Chan Ho Park pitched 7 scoreless innings.

Nippon Ham - 4 Rakuten - 3
9th inning rally by the Fighters to move into first place in the Pacific League.

© 2011, copyright Julian Jowise

Japanese Baseball Terms Glossary

To better express the Japanese game, I will use basic Japanese baseball terms from time to time. 

Is this necessary? Absolutely.

Many of the terms I list here are used exclusively in the Japanese broadcasts and as you see from the translations, they make perfect sense. I will give a literal translation followed by a description. Here goes:

ゴロ - "roll on the ground" - Any ground ball.

ファインプレイ - "fine play" - Great play in the field.

かっ飛ばせ(かっとばせ) - "send it flying" - A phrase used in conjunction with a player's         name in almost every cheer.

タイムリ - "timely" - Any RBI hit is called a timely hit.

空振り(からぶり)- "empty swing" - Swing and a miss. Used in conjunction with 空振り三 (からぶりさんしん), which is to strike out swinging.

インコース - "in-course" - A pitch on the inside part of the plate.

アウトコース - "out-course" - A pitch on the outside part of the plate.

ゲットツー - "get two" - Double play. 

さよなら - "goodbye" - Any walk-off is described by saying さよなら followed by the event (さよならhomerun).

ピンチ - "pinch" - This is the Japanese version of a jam.

ストレート - "straight" - A fastball, the pitcher's most basic pitch.

more after the jump

Yakult Swallows-5 Hiroshima Carp-0

Don't look now but the Swallows are a half-game out of first and their pitchers have combined to throw 30 straight scoreless innings. In fact, the three straight shutouts that they have thrown is a franchise first.

The star of the game was clearly Hitoshi Yamamoto, the 22 year old pitcher who displayed some nasty pitches on his way to 7.0 innings pitched, 2 hits allowed, and 6 strikeouts, along with 2 walks. The eight and ninth inning were a breeze as Kenichi Matsuoka pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Lim Chang-Yong needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side in a performance that made us forget his blown save against Yokohama 2 series ago.

Yamamoto is vying for a spot in the rotation. photo courtesy of Mainichijp

The Plan

 I have delusions of grandeur for this blog. I envision waking up and seeing thousands of hits on what started out as a modest student-run baseball blog. As far off the mark as my vision may be, I do hope that this blog can be a way for me to express my adulation of Japanese baseball and namely, the Swallows.

I intend to write:
1. post-game recaps for every game featuring video highlights.
2. series previews, and occasionally game previews.
3. "Around the League" segments which feature news and notes from around the NPB.
4. opinion pieces on the sport in general.
5. whatever else comes to my mind.

A little about myself:
Full disclosure, my reasons for creating this blog are not entirely altruistic. I am a student at the University of Miami and as the internship and job search proceeds, I find that writing samples are often advantageous.

I am half-Japanese; my mom is from Osaka (my favorite Pacific League team is the Orix Buffaloes for this reason). I have been to Japan twice, and have attended three baseball games during my time there. Immediately taken by the atmosphere and quality of play, I have continued my passion for the Japanese game stateside.

The games are generally from 1 a.m. or 5 a.m. depending on whether it's a day or night game. Staying up late, or waking up early, are not easy to fit into my busy class schedule, however, entirely necessary. Living in Japan time is no easy task, and I often find myself jet-lagged throughout the day, notably in the middle of long lecture classes. You are the benefactor of my tumbling grades.

© 2011, copyright Julian Jowise

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