The Seibu Lions are getting back to the basics.
The Lions had Japan’s top pitcher last season but faded to a fourth-place finish. This year they’re looking to slug their way back to the top, one run at a time.
“We need to be able to score runs,” outfielder Takumi Kuriyama said of the Lions’ key to success. “That’s really simple, but that’s what we really need to focus on. We need to score runs.”
That wasn’t a problem for slugger Takeya Nakamura, who hit 48 homers and drove in 122 runs last season. Hiroyuki Nakajima suffered a slight dropoff but still put up All-Star numbers, hitting .309 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs.k
Repeat seasons there, and a slight bump in the performances of G.G. Sato (.291, 25, 83) and Kuriyama (.267, 12, 57) would send the Lions’ offensive numbers into the stratosphere. Right where they were two seasons ago when the team won the Japan Series.
“Everybody already knows what to do,” Sato said. “So we just need to do it. Everyone needs to follow through.”
The team finished 5-6 this spring, scoring at least nine runs on three occasions.
“We’ve had some good games,” second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka said of the team’s preseason. “So far, I think things are going our way.”
The Lions are looking to keep the good times rolling when the season starts.
“We didn’t really get off to a good start last year,” Kuriyama said. “So we especially want to focus on April and May and get off to a better start.”
Despite their yearning for more offense, the Lions appear to be in good shape on the mound.
Seibu has a proven ace in reigning Sawamura Award winner Hideaki Wakui (16-6, 2.30 ERA) and a capable supporting cast in Takayuki Kishi (13-5, 3.26), Kazuyuki Hoashi (9-6, 3.59) and Kazuhisa Ishii (9-9, 4.29).
Making it that much harder for teams to mount a comeback if the Lions pounce early.
“It’s really important for us to score as much as possible early,” Kuriyama said. “In that respect, I think we’ve done pretty well during the spring.”