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Marines need power bat to aid chase for Pa League crown

by Jason Coskrey

The Chiba Lotte Marines have done just fine without a real power hitter in their lineup for most of the season.

With slugger Josh Whitesell limited to just 24 games, manager Tsutomu Ito’s squad has come up with clutch hits, scraped together just enough runs at opportune times, and bought into ‘Itonomics’ in order to small-ball their way to the top of the Pacific League standings.

There is, as always, room for improvement. Just because the Marines have come this far without a major power threat in the lineup, doesn’t mean the team couldn’t use a bit more firepower to support their quest to bring the pennant back to Chiba for the first time since 2005.

That’s why over the past several days the Marines have been linked to both the Yokohama BayStars’ Alex Ramirez and free agent slugger Manny Ramirez, who is fresh off a stint playing in Taiwan.

Outside the realm of rumor and speculation, however, comes the signing of former Hanshin Tigers infielder Craig Brazell, who, in theory at least, could provide the Marines with the bat they’ve been craving.

Brazell was one of the top sluggers in Japan in 2010, finishing second only to Alex Ramirez with 47 home runs while driving in 117 runs and slugging .902. His numbers didn’t survive the transition to the standardized ball and in his final two seasons with Hanshin the Montgomery, Alabama, native hit .263 with 28 home runs and 112 RBIs in 218 games.

Because most players suffered big dips in power under the new ball, it’s entirely possible Brazell will trend toward his 2010 numbers with the bump hitters got due to NPB’s clandestine tinkering with the official ball over the offseason.

Even half Brazell’s 2010 output would upgrade Lotte’s lineup. The Marines hit 126 homers as a team in 2010 and saw that total drop to 46 in 2011 — Seibu Lions slugger Takeya Nakamura finished with 48 that season. Tadahito Iguchi led the team with 11 homers last year and was the only Marine in double digits.

Iguchi is leading the way again this season with 14 home runs for Lotte, which is second-to-last in the PL with 41.

The Marines going out and signing Brazell should put the rest of the PL on notice that the leaders are not going to stand on ceremony. They’re going to go out and actively chase the pennant.

The Marines’ spot at the top is a tenuous one, with the second-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (two games back) and third-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (another half-game behind Softbank) both finding their bearings during the interleague campaign and looking primed to keep the Marines’ feet held firmly to the fire. Moreover, the fourth-place Seibu Lions are just four games out of the top spot.

Lotte started strong last season only to fall apart after the All-Star break and slumped to a fifth-place finish. They’ve scratched and clawed their way to the top this season, and are banking on some good old-fashioned muscle to help keep them in a position of power the rest of the way.