Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Counting the Days 'til Baseball Season Starts

I'm a little worried about the Tokyo Swallows' prospects this season, but I won't let that get me down. Baseball season is finally in sight!

Sometimes I wonder how I survive for nearly half the year without it.

Anyway, in recent news: Guttormson (the guy responsible for the no-hitter pictured on the scoreboard below) is gone, Ishii Hirotoshi took a massive pay cut (that's what you get for injuring yourself while representing your country), and Aoki Norichika scooped up all the money that Ishii lost (40 million yen from Ishii's wallet plus an extra 32 because he's good).

I still believe that we need to get rid of our pitching coaches, but I haven't really heard anyone out there who agrees with me. Just for the record, however, I will bitch a little bit more right now: the Tokyo Swallows are loaded with talent young and old, and the team ran out of excuses (last season) for why they were so inconsistent. The coaching staff has to take some of that blame.

And a quick cheap shot: doesn't it cause anyone in the league to scratch their heads that the last two teams to win the Japan Series (Chiba LotteChiba Lotte, 2005; Hokkaido Nippon Ham, 2006) were those that had foreign pitching coaches in the bullpen?

I'm not saying that we need to import pitching coaches, but I am arguing that we need better ones. Surely Furuta, an excellent catcher in his own right, would recognize that the best is not being gleaned from the arms warming up near the right field foul pole.

Laying all the blame on the pitching isn't fair, but it sure is easy. We will, of course, need steady contributions from a number of young position players as well. In 2006, however, hitting was not a weakness. With the departure of Iwamura Akinori to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a little bit of shuffling is going to have to take place, but most of the big bats are still in the lineup.

Will this be the year that Shiroishi finally repays the faith in him showed by two managers over the past several years (he's 33 and still allowed to play varsity ball)? Will any of the new Waseda products (not including Aoki, he's good) prove that they deserve a spot in the starting nine? Will Miyamoto and Furuta be able to stay injury-free long enough to coax the team into the playoffs?

And that may be the one ray of hope for this year--the playoffs. The Central League has finally given in and admitted that the Pacific League got it right when they kept the playoff system going. That means the top three from the Central League will have a shot at the Japan Series, and I'm reasonably confident that the Tokyo Swallows, despite all the griping that went on earlier in this post, will be one of those three teams.

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