Marines Sizzle to Start the Season

It has been close to a decade (2010) since the Chibba Lotte Marines won a Japan Series. Not a lot of people expected them to contend for the playoffs this season. They are proving those experts wrong. After losing their opener against the Softbank Hawks the Marines have nailed losses on eight straight opponents since then.

Yesterday they beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-5. Brandon Laird hit a solo homerun in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 5-5 tie. Jay Jackson put an exclamation point to the win by striking out the side for his first save. The normal closer Naoya Masuda was not available since he had pitched in two consecutive games.

Brandon Laird has led this team on offense. He has hit .344 with his Pacific League leading 5 homeruns (tied with two other players). Those five homeruns have only led to 8 RBIs, but that is enough to lead the team. His eight runs scored also leads the team.

The other foreign player Leonys Martin is second on the team in runs scored (6). He has so far fallen short of expectations with a batting average of just .233. Only one of his seven hits have gone for extra bases (a double).

There are two Japanese players who are also helping with the offense. Seiya Inoue (.375, 1, 7) and Takashi Ogino (.361, 0, 2) are both in the top five in hitting. Inoue is second on the team in RBIs, despite hitting four less homeruns than Laird. Ogino is tops on the team in stolen bases (5).

The pitching, especially in the bullpen is where the team shines. Masuda is their closer with three saves and two holds. He has whiffed seven of the 19 hitters he has faced and has yet to give up a run in his five innings of work. Two foreign pitchers act as the setup men. Frank Hermann (2-0, 0.000) has two wins and three holds in his five appearances. Jackson (5.40 ERA) has one save and two holds in his five appearances. Hermann last year pitched for Rakuten while Jackson pitched for Hiroshima. Both signed with the Marines as free agents to stabilize the bullpen.

Atsuki Taneichi (0-0, 1.38) has been a pleasant surprise in the rotation. Last year was his breakout season (8-2, 3.24) in his second season in the NPB. The only runs he has given up in his two starts are two solo shots. Daiki Iwashita pitched 5.2 shutout innings in his lone start this season. Manabu Mima (1-0, 3.00) was another free agent signed out of Rakuten. Last year he won eight games for the Golden Eagles but the Marines expect him to add a veteran presence on the mound..

So far the Marines are marching in step as they lead the Pacific League. Whether they can keep their lead is up to the Hawks, Eagles and Lions, the three favorites to contend for first place in the Pacific.

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