Archive for August, 2020

Hawks on a Streak

Monday, August 31st, 2020

The Softbank Hawks have been the top team in the NPB, winning five of the last six Japan series. In the last six years it was only 2016 they failed to win it all. This season it appeared the Hawks would be in a three team battle with the Rakuten Golden Eagles and the Chibba Lotte Marines in the Pacific League. An eight game winning streak has changed that narrative and stretched the Hawks lead to three games.

Hawks superstar Yuki Yanagita has led the charge during the streak. He is currently second in the Pacific League in hitting (.352), leading in homeruns (20), runs scored (60) and walks (51) and is fourth in RBIs (50). He has slugged four homeruns and driven in ten during the streak. He could start in any outfield in the major leagues, but don’t expect the Hawks to post their most valuable player. At 31 his major league window is closing.

The return of Cuban stars Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial has fueled the offense, though at this time only Gracial has been hitting. In 12 games Gracial is batting .341 with two homeruns and 5 RBIs. Despaigne has only appeared in three games since his return and has yet to have an extra base hit, batting just .250.

Catcher Ryoya Kurihara is having a breakout season in his first opportunity to start. He is hitting .261, with 11 homeruns and 45 RBIs. Those 45 RBIs put him second on the team. Last year he only played in 32 games. He would be the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the Pacific League if he is still eligible.

Wladimir Balentien, who holds the NPB record for most homeruns in a season has been a big disappointment (.196, 9, 22). He was a big free agent signing for the Hawks this year and could lose playing time with the arrivals of Despaigne and Gracial. His contributions have been minimal.

Kodai Senga is normally the ace of the staff, but he has had a disappointing season by his standards (5-2, 3.67). The Hawks have been relying on Shuta Ishikawa (6-0, 2.36). Last year Shuta only appeared in two games after showing great promise his first two years. The season is still early, but he appears to be having a breakout season as well.

The bullpen is where the Hawks reign supreme, even without their ace closer Dennis Sarfarte the last three years. Yuito Mori has taken over the closers role with 37 and 35 saves the last two years. This year he has 17 saves with a 1.82 ERA. The top setup man in the NPB could be Cuban Livan Moinelo, who at one point had interest in playing in the major leagues. He has 24 holds and carries a 1.45 ERA. Last year and this year he has virtually been unhittable, striking out almost two batters per inning. His first two years in the NPB his results could be described as vanilla.

The Giants used to reign supreme in the NPB. Since the Hawks have won five of the last six NPB titles that reign appears to be over.

Manny Signs With Sydney in Australia

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

The 48 year old Manny Ramirez has appeared to sign with the Sydney Blue Sox in the Australian Baseball League. A couple weeks ago myworld posted that there was some buzz that he would be signing with the expansion team out of New Zealand. The Sydney Blue Sox appear to have gotten into the fray and beaten the Auckland Tuatara to the punch. The ABL begins December 18.

There are no details on the contract other than it is a one year contract. Manny will be a player coach and an ambassador to baseball in Australia. The last time Ramirez played any baseball was in 2017 when he played for an Independent League in Japan.

Monkeys May Miss the CPBL Playoffs

Friday, August 28th, 2020

When the team was called the LaMiga Monkeys they won the CPBL championship in five of their last six years. In 2016 the team failed to make the playoffs. With their new name and ownership group Rakuten, the Monkeys may not make the playoffs in 2020. After a fast start to the season the Monkeys finished second to the China Trust Brothers in the first half. In the second half they find themselves in last place.

In the CPBL they run two seasons. The winner of the first half and the winner of the second half play each in the playoffs. If a team wins both halves then the team with the second and third best record qualify for the playoffs, with the winner playing the team that won both halves. A team can also make the playoffs as a wild card team if they have an overall better record than the first and second half winners.

At this point, the Rakuten Monkeys would not make the playoffs. This would be a disappointment to the new ownership group that recently purchased the team, especially considering the success they have had the last six years.

Na Sung-bum on Fire for Dinos

Friday, August 28th, 2020

The NC Dinos Na Sung-bum is one of the hottest hitters in the KBO. He has hit homeruns in four consecutive games and has 5 homeruns and 12 RBIs in those four games. He is also 10 for 18 to raise his average to .326.

Na had been considering playing in the major leagues. A serious knee injury last year limited him to just 23 games. This year he is hitting .326 with 27 homeruns and 82 RBIs. The only down side with his numbers is his 35/102 walk to whiff ratio. The strikeout rate is the worse in his eight year KBO career.

The hot streak has put him number three in homeruns, but number one among Korean players. Mel Rojas Jr sits atop the leaderboard with 32 while Roberto Ramos is second at 28. Na is now second to Rojas Jr. in RBIs. Rojas Jr. has 87.

LG Twins Spring Training in Scottsdale

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

The San Francisco Giants will be leaving their spring training facility in Scottsdale for the Papago Sports Complex between the border of Scottsdale and Phoenix. Scottsdale is negotiating with the LG Twins of the KBO for use of those fields to replace the Giants, negotiating for a three year deal that would begin in 2021 and end in 2023. After 2023 there will be the possibility of two one year agreements.

The Twins have practiced in Phoenix in 2018. They have not confirmed this agreement and it is not known if any exhibition games have been scheduled for the site. But it would be good for Arizona residents to visit the Scottsdale facility to watch some Korean baseball.

Ex-Giant Casey Kelly is a pitcher for the LG Twins. Giant fans may not remember him because he did not pitch long for the Giants. It is also possible the LG Twins may not renew his contract for next year since signing contracts for returning players is not guaranteed. They also have 18 year old pitcher Lee Min-ho, who is one of the favorites to win the rookie of the year award.

Their top sluggers are ex-Atlanta Brave prospect Roberto Ramos, who has mashed 28 homeruns, second in the KBO. Ex-major leaguer Kim Hyun-soo is one of the top run producers with 20 homeruns and his 80 RBIs put him second in the league.

Palka Makes His First KBO Homerun Count

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

Daniel Palka was recently acquired by the Samsung Lions to take the place of injured Tyler Saladino. After a 14 day quarantine and some rehab appearances in the minor leagues Palka got to make his debut. He went 0 for 2 in his first game. In his second game he hit a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth to break a 3-3 tie and lead the Lions to a 4-3 win over the LG Twins.

The Lions are going to need a lot more production from Palka if they hope to return to the playoff race. They are currently 42-48-1, one of three teams with losing records in the KBO. While the SK Wyverns and the Hanwha Eagles have no hopes of making the playoffs the Lions have slim hopes.

The top five teams make the playoffs. Despite their record the Lions are just 6.5 games from that last playoff spot. A hot streak could put them back in the race, but they will still have to leap frog two teams, the Kia Tigers and the Lotte Giants and then surpass the fifth place KT Wiz to reach the final playoff spot.

Palka played two years with the Chicago White Sox. After hitting 27 homeruns in his rookie year in 2018 he slumped to a .107 batting average last year. The White Sox have a crowded outfield, especially with the promotion of Luis Roberts and released him late July so he could sign with the Lions. He has played for a number of different major league affiliations in the minors, showing impressive power but with an affinity for the swing and miss. A power surge from Palka could be good for the Lions playoff chances.

KBO Returns to No Fans

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

Korea reported an uptick in corona virus cases so the government has expanded social distancing guidelines. This also means no spectators at sporting events. The increase in corona virus cases equal to just over 300 on Saturday, still a far car from the number of cases in the United States, but it shows the seriousness the Koreans take the virus. It was the second straight day the number of new virus cases topped 300.

The South Korean government has put the country on a Level two, which means no fans at sporting events. If a Level three is reached all sports activities must be stopped. The KBO is focusing on completing the season and if an outbreak should impact the league they would take action to shorten the season. So the 144 game season could be shortened to 135 or 126.

The KBO is hurting financially without fans. At 25 percent fan capacity the teams were hoping to break even and were looking forward to that time when they could expand it to 50 percent. With this latest setback, that now does not appear possible. Since most of the KBO teams are owned by corporations, they are taking out bank loans to complete the season.

Japan to Broadcast Games in the United States

Friday, August 21st, 2020

The Pacific League is hoping to expose Japanese baseball to United States audiences. They have signed a contract with United States sports channel For the Fans, an alternate name for Eleven Sports Network in the United States, to televise 200 games for the remainder of the Nippon Professional Baseball season. Japan had hoped to get a contract with ESPN but the start of major league baseball season and the broadcast of KBO games filled the time slots for baseball.

The Japanese baseball market has not expanded globally, mainly because of the conservative nature of the Central League, which has the team favorites Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers. Without interleague play this year those television broadcasts will not include any games involving Central League teams, meaning their exposure to United States audiences will be absent.

The television exposure will hopefully make the Pacific League teams more popular with the global markets leading to increased opportunities for merchandise sales in the United States. The Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers would continue to lead the Japanese teams in selling merchandise to the Japanese market, but the Pacific League teams could surpass them in merchandise sales worldwide if they create a strong United States market to supplement their merchandise sales in the Japanese market.

Next on the agenda for the Pacific League would be a television market for Latin America.

Giants Shutout Tigers; Hawks Look to Cuban Reinforcements

Friday, August 21st, 2020

The Yomiuri Giants shut out the Hanshin Tigers in a three game series. It started with a 1-0 victory in the first game. Giant ace Tomoyuki Sugano improved his record to 8-0 with a complete game victory. It was his third shutout of the 2020 season. Giant slugger Kazuma Okamoto provided the only offense with a solo shot in the fourth inning, his 17th homer of the season.

The next day the Giants matched the record of Sugano with an 8-0 win over the Tigers. This time it was a bullpen by committee picking up the win, with Christopher Mercedes going just two innings followed by five different relievers to complete the shutout. Just like the first game the Tigers could only collect four hits against the six pitchers. Okamoto went deep again and Yoshihiro Maru clubbed his 11th homerun, a 3-run shot in the seventh to pace the offense.

The third game of the series saw Shosei Togo pitch 6.2 innings of shutout ball in the Giants 2-0 win over the Tigers. Three relievers followed to again limit the Tigers to four hits. Togo improved his record to 6-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.11. Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto drove in both runs to lead the Giants to victory.

The sweep by the Giants gives them a 4.5 game lead in the Central League. There .638 winning percentage is the best in the NPB.

Another league leader the Softbank Hawks may see the return of a couple Cuban reinforcements. The Hawks find themselves in a tie with the Chibba Lotte Marines for first place in the Pacific League with the Rakuten Golden Eagles just a half a game behind. The Hawks already have a pretty potent offense with Yuki Yanagita and Wladimir Balentien leading the charge. They may get an additional surge with the returns of Cubans Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne.

Both had to undergo a 14 day quarantine and then a minor league rehab assignment when they returned from Cuba. Because of the corona virus Cuba did not allow anyone to visit or leave Cuba in their fight against this virus. Gracial and Despaigne are now in Japan. Gracial is back with the Hawks after three games in the minor leagues. He has just two hits in his first 11 at bats. Despaigne is still in the minor leagues where he is hitting .267 with no extra base hits in six games.

Balentien has been struggling with the Hawks after leaving the Swallows as a free agent. He is hitting just .196, but has shown some power with his 9 homeruns. The Hawks were hoping for more. Japanese rules only allow four foreigners to each team’s roster. They have starter Rick Vandenhurk, who they can move up and down between starts. They also have Cuban reliever Livan Moinelo, who they can not move up and down from the roster so easily. So that means one of those offensive sluggers needs to be sent down when Vandenhurk is on the roster ready to pitch.

They also have the Braves first round pick Carter Stewart, who they signed as a free agent after the Braves could not sign him. He is 1-2 with a 2.91 ERA down on the farm. His 11 walks in just 21.2 innings shows he has some more work to do to find the plate.

Of course, have a surplus of talent is a nice luxury to have. Keeping them all happy will be the biggest challenge.

Without Tatis Not Breaking the Unwritten Rule History May Not Have Been Broken

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Major league baseball has many unwritten rules. If they were all written in a rule book it may balloon to the size of “War and Peace.” One of those unwritten rules is never try to run up the score and embarrass your opponent. A subset of that rule is do not swing at a 3-0 pitch when you are comfortably ahead, say by seven runs. Tatis swung at a 3-0 pitch and hit a grand slam homerun in a game the Padres were leading comfortably by seven runs. Machado had a pitch thrown behind him and Tatis got a lecture from his manager about breaking those unwritten rules.

The next day Will Myers followed with a grand slam homerun in a game the Padres would win. Manny Machado would hit a walk off grand slam on Thursday to give the Padres a grand slam in three consecutive games. Yesterday Eric Hosmer made history by hitting a grand slam, making the Padres the first team in major league baseball to hit a grand slam in four consecutive games.

If they hit another grand slam today that would make five consecutive games. If they do not hit a grand slam today then history would not have been broken if Tatis had not broken an unwritten rule. And with that grand slam by Tatis the Padres have raced to a 4 game winning streak.

Perhaps those unwritten rules need to be rewritten. Or revised, if someone can find where they are hidden.