|

Checking out Seibu’s early glory run

by Stephen Ellsesser

The E-List could fill a few thimbles with Japanese baseball knowledge, but not enough to be pompous. And now it is time to put the List’s first serving of humble pie on the table.

News photo
Hideaki Wakui

Documented only in the List’s internal monologue (try wrapping your mind around that one) was this bold preseason prediction now laid forth, bare and unabridged: The Seibu Lions are headed for heartbreak city this season.

Make that were. Now riding an eight-game winning streak, the Lions are showing early on that they are far more than Daisuke Matsuzaka and Fumiya Nishiguchi, who struck fear into the hearts of Lions fans by falling flat on his face Opening Day.

Nishiguchi has since recovered, and if he keeps it up, his ERA (5.40) may come back down into the troposphere.

Matsuzaka (1-1, 11 strikeouts, 1.20 ERA) is just fine, but 19-year-old Hideaki Wakui (3-0, 20 strikeouts, 1.64 ERA) is trying to move to the head of the class.

Since Opening Day, Seibu has been following Wakui’s lead, thanks in part to the rotation.

The Lions took a while to get pretty, but like the girl in chemistry class once the braces and goggles came off, they’ve never looked better.

Seibu is in just the second season since winning its last Japan Series, but the List mostly disregarded the past when formulating a preseason Pacific League forecast.

Here’s the Seibu two-step.

The Lions lost probably the best setup man in Shinji Mori to the posting system before four-time All-Star closer Kiyoshi Toyoda trotted off to the greener synthetic pastures of Tokyo Dome to play for Yomiuri after last season.

No matter how pretty the front end of the rotation is, without bad (and the List means good) men in the ‘pen, leads vanish into thin air.

Bullpen gutted, strike one.

Enter another rising star, Chikara Onodera. With five saves in eight appearances, he is looking good and sending Toyoda out of fans’ memory banks, so hold that one.

Seibu rumbled, tumbled, stumbled into the playoffs last season with a sub-.500 record before being swept by Chiba Lotte (OK, so the List has to consider the past just a little).

Good pitching (see above) kept them in the game, but it wasn’t anything the Marines didn’t have, and in a longer series, Lotte would have shown it was a better team, likely in more dramatic fashion.

The List scratches its head about half the stinking Pa League getting a ticket and bento for the bus ride to Playoff City (in a six-team league, a league championship series is enough; can I get an Amen?), but right now, List contribution to PL policy is more of a grassroots (read: nonexistent) kind of thing.

News photo

Ginjiro Sumitani

So yeah, Seibu couldn’t manage a winning record last season and was treated to a prompt dismissal from a postseason the List would have preferred not seeing it make. (Not to hate on the Lions — especially Matsuzaka-san — but no one like to see the gimped-up prizefighter limp into the ring in a fight where the champ stands about as much chance as Asashoryu’s high-noon bowl of rice.)

Semi-exposure as a team on the way down before bullpen gutting, strike two, inasmuch as the past can cast shadows.

But that third strike hasn’t come. Not the way Seibu’s hitters are playing.

In the lineup, ain’t nothin’ but a G-thang, more so since the days of Dr. Dre. And not gaijin with a capital “G,” although Alex Cabrera is contributing.

The head-turners are 18-year-old catcher Ginjiro Sumitani and third-year outfielder G.G. Sato.

Ginjiro, guaranteed to become a household name before the kid has to shave every day, could do a little better with his batting average (.195), but you can’t argue against his 10 RBIs on the season and two-homer game against Softbank.

When he catches Wakui, the two are younger than innings ironman Tomoaki Kanemoto combined. Congrats to the Central League MVP from the List, by the way, and may Kanemoto find the Julio Franco fountain of youth to continue the streak. But yeah, Seibu’s sporting the youth movement hardcore.

Seibu’s first round draft pick this year out of Heian High School, Ginjiro was hailed as the second coming of Kenji Jojima after homering in four of five games in the Kyoto Prefecture tournament last season, although he surely isn’t there yet.

Get the average up, and the List will phone Mariners scout Ted Heid.

But back on the G-Train.

Sato is batting .431 with 14 RBIs and three home runs, solid numbers for any man, machine or Lion.

News photoG. G. Sato

There’s no “G” in Kazuhiro Wada, but with the way he is playing, it doesn’t matter.

Wada seems to have emerged from his Team Japan role of ineffective graybeard (hitless in just two games), packing power and further sending home the point that he still has enough life day-to-day and plenty of pop in his bat to shake up the Pacific League.

Wada is batting .326 with a team-high 15 RBIs to go with his three homers. Perhaps he can show Kanemoto the way to Franco’s fountain, although at age 33, Wada’s not that old.

These guys coming out of the woodwork and helping Seibu set the Pa League’s early season clip is stunning to the List, even more than the Hawks’ swoon. With Sunday’s tie, Softbank is winless in five games, a disctinction usually reserved for Tohoku Rakuten.

The Fighters had a chance to break into first place, a half-game back before being swept by Seibu, but the Lions punched ‘em right in the kisser, evaporating the plan (for any Mike Tyson fans out there).

Should be interesting to see how long Seibu keeps on winning.


MEANWHILE IN CHIBA, the Marines got back on track with Rakuten’s help last weekend.

Especially after Friday’s 13-0 loss to the Eagles (!), it really was looking not good for Lotte, but closing out the weekend with a pair of wins was an obvious necessity.

Winning just two games out of nine is not good (in fact, the antithesis of good), but the best part for the champs and the Hawks is that it’s way too early for anything to be binding. There is a long way to go, and by the time the postseason comes back around, one bit of List sage will be on-point: Count on the Marines to be there in the playoffs, and not as spectators.


ENTERING THIS WEEK’S series with the Giants, the Hiroshima Carp have not allowed a run in 20 innings, dating back to the final two innings of a series-opening loss to Yakult on Friday.

Hiroki Kuroda takes the hill Tuesday at Tokyo Dome, and with the staff ace recovered from his World Baseball Classic ding-up, the Carp have a decent chance to build on the total, in the List’s (mostly worthless … most worthy? … *grin*) estimation.

There are too many reasons the List wants to see the Carp succeed, but none bigger than the anagram rule: The Team in Hiroshima Plays Like a Pile of Steaming Carp, Whatever That Means, No Matter What. (And yes, the anagram rule needs to be upscale. And bold. And in lights, but we do have some limitations.)


SEND WORDS — cross or otherwise — and brownies to the E-List at stephen@japantimes.co.jp