For all of the noise that's surrounded the Yokohama BayStars recently — namely people taking swipes at the manager and closer Yasuaki Yamasaki's troubles — the team is keeping its head above water.
The BayStars are coming off a solid week, having taken two of three against the first-place Yomiuri Giants and then finishing with a tie, a win and a loss against the Hanshin Tigers over the weekend.
Last week actually saw quite a few performances that should give manager Alex Ramirez something to smile about moving forward.
On paper, Shinichi Onuki had the toughest pitching assignment last week, facing the Giants at Tokyo Dome on Thursday.
He responded by holding the Kyojin to one run over six innings.
"I was just focusing on trying to keep the ball down while I was pitching," he said afterward.
The 26-year-old has been solid lately, allowing just two earned runs in his last 21 innings.
Taiga Kamichatani followed him to the mound on Friday at Koshien Stadium, allowing three runs in six innings in a tie against the Tigers in his second start of the year.
Shota Imanaga, the club's top pitcher, then allowed two runs over seven innings in a win on Saturday.
Kentaro Taira took the loss in his start Sunday, but allowed just a pair of runs over seven innings in the 3-1 defeat.
"Taira pitched really well," Ramirez was quoted as saying by Nikkan Sports. "The lineup did their best as well, sometimes you hit and sometimes you don't."
Taira has been a hard-luck case this year, with just two wins despite a 1.99 ERA in seven starts.
"He's pitched great every time out," Ramirez told Sports Nippon.
Toshiro Miyazaki was one of the leading figures at the plate, finishing his week with seven hits, two home runs and four RBIs. Takayuki Kajitani was also solid, going 9-for-27 with three homers.
Yokohama really had the bats going on Saturday, hitting five homers to back Imanaga.
At the top of the league, slugger Kazuma Okamoto continued to help push the Giants forward last week. Okamoto went deep three times — including a grand slam on Saturday — to bring his NPB-leading total to 14.
The team, meanwhile, started the week by losing two of three against the BayStars and then reversing that against the Carp over the weekend.
The second-place Tokyo Yakult Swallows had an ugly week on the mound on paper, allowing 29 runs in six games. But the Birds gave up 20 of them in one-sitting, getting run out of their own park in a 20-5 loss to the Tigers on July 28.
Yakult bounced back, though, holding Hanshin to one run over the next two games — both wins. The Swallows didn't have a great weekend, however, losing twice and tying once against the Chunichi Dragons.
Elsewhere, the Tigers cooled off a bit, finishing 2-3-1 in their six games, while the Dragons were 3-1-2 and the Carp 2-3-1.
In the Pacific League, the finale of the six-game set between the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Seibu Lions was postponed after the Hawks' Yuya Hasegawa tested positive for COVID-19.
Hasegawa was taken off the active roster on July 7 and hasn't been in contact with the top-team players and coaches, but the game was called off as a precautionary measure.
On the field, the Hawks won four of five, with Yuki Yanagita once again playing a big role.
Yanagita was 7-for-16 at the plate with a homer and a pair of RBIs in the series. The star outfielder also drew five walks and scored six runs.
Just more of the same from a player who is batting.378 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in 38 games.
In the final game of the series on Saturday, pitcher Shuta Ishikawa continued his solid start to the year with a one-hit shutout. He struck out 13 and walked just two batters.
Ishikawa is becoming a weapon for SoftBank.
In six starts, he's 4-0 with a 2.39 ERA in 37⅔ innings. He's thrown five straight quality starts and has three double-digit strikeout outings in that span.
The second-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, meanwhile, split a six-game series against the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Among the positives was Stefen Romero, who hit a pair of homers in the finale on Sunday to go with the two he sent over the fence earlier in the series. He had 10 hits and 10 RBIs in total.
The second game of the series featured former Marines pitcher Hideaki Wakui allowing just a pair of runs over seven innings in a win.
Rakuten added Wakui in a trade over the offseason and — while early — it's looking like a shrewd move. The righty is 5-0 with a 2.89 ERA in six starts. In the game he didn't win, he struck out 10 and allowed two runs — one earned while pitching into the seventh.
The other PL series was a five-game set between the clubs at the bottom of the standings. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters came out on top in that one, winning four games against the Orix Buffaloes.
The next man up: was Kazuki Mishima.
With regular BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki struggling, Mishima took the reins last week.
The eighth-year vet picked up his first career save against the Giants on Wednesday, got another on Thursday and preserved a tie in the top of the 10th (the final inning under this year's rules) against the Tigers on Friday.
It remains to be seen what ultimately happens with Yokohama's bullpen shakeup — Yamasaki picked up a three holds with 2⅔ scoreless frames this week — but in the short term, Mishima has stepped up.
The streak is over: for Lions pitcher Zach Neal.
After a run of 13 straight winning decisions, the Seibu hurler finally tasted defeat, allowing five runs over six innings against the Hawks on Friday.
Neal fell one win short of tying the mark for most consecutive winning decisions by a foreign pitcher.
Kenji Akashi gave the Hawks the lead with a homer in the sixth and the SoftBank bullpen held off the Lions rest of the way.
Before Friday, Neal had lost just once in 23 NPB starts and was 14-1 in Japan.
Neal is 2-1 with a 4.46 ERA in seven outings this season.
Have a grand old time: Justin Bour and Jerry Sands.
The Tigers teammates powered a 20-run explosion with a pair of grand slams against the Swallows on Tuesday night.
They're the first Tigers teammates to hit grand slams in the same game since Kenji Johjima and Matt Murton in 2010.
The last time a pair of non-Japanese players hit grand slams in the same game was 1978, when Adrian Garrett and Jim Lyttle did it for the Carp, according to Nikkan Sports.
It was a good week for: Kodai Umetsu.
The cruelty of statistics left the Dragon starter with nothing to show from a superb showing Sunday afternoon.
Facing the Swallows, Umetsu went the distance and then some, throwing 10 scoreless innings — with nine strikeouts, five hits and two walks — in a scoreless tie. It was an effort more than worthy of a check in the win column.
It was a bad week for: The Yakult pitchers.
Really, it was just one bad night, but five pitchers combined to give up a week's worth of runs in that 20-5 loss to Hanshin on Tuesday.
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