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John E. Gibson

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Limping Lions figure things can only get better

by John E. Gibson (Apr 22, 2012)

From the start of the season, the Saitama Seibu Lions have been limping like they have thorns in all four paws.

Heading into Saturday's games, they had scored the fewest runs of all 12 Japan Pro Baseball teams, their team batting average (.202) and the team ERA (3.90)--worst in the Pacific League.

With those numbers, it's no wonder they look as if they've taken up permanent residence in the PL cellar.

Their subpar record is unbefitting of a team many pundits picked to win the league title, but the players don't seem to be shaken.

"This kind of thing happens all the time during a season," slugger Takeya Nakamura told The Daily Yomiuri on Friday before the Lions blanked the Chiba Lotte Marines 1-0 at Chiba Marine Field.

"It's nothing but 15 games or so," added Nakamura, whose 49 homers and 116 RBIs were both tops in Japan last year.

Nakamura has just one longball so far, and Hiroyuki Nakajima--who was posted in the offseason but returned to the club after failing to reach an agreement with the New York Yankees--has one as well. In fact, the team has just four.

The Lions finished third in the PL last season and advanced past the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to reach the second stage of the PL Climax Series.

The eventual Japan Series-winning Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks snuffed them out in three games, but there were high hopes coming into the season.

The Lions, though, just aren't clicking at the moment.

"You know what it is, it's when we pitch well, we don't hit; and when we hit well, we give it up," said reliever Micheal Nakamura, who moved to Saitama in the offseason after three mostly farm-based seasons with the Yomiuri Giants.

"It's like I said, it's so early and this team--there's so much talent," said Nakamura, the former closer who collected 102 saves over four years with the Fighters.

First-year import Esteban German, who had a good spring but is hitting .186 in 13 games, said it has to improve for the Lions because things couldn't get worse.

"We've had a bad start. It has to change because we have a good team," he said. "I see how hard these guys work and I know what they're doing."

Despite the hard work, the wins haven't been coming, and frustration seemed to hit a boiling point after a 3-2 loss to the Fighters on Thursday.

The Lions had a one-run lead early, but blew a number of chances and couldn't convert opportunities created by four Nippon Ham errors.

Skipper Hisanobu Watanabe called his big-hitting duo in the heart of the order, saying, "We can't win if our third and fourth batters aren't hitting."

Another one of Watanabe's biggest headaches is trying to help his players manufacture runs, since the Lions aren't getting on base.

They are last in Japan in combined walks and hits with just 114. But no one is pointing fingers as the Lions plow ahead.

"The important thing is that we keep working hard together and keep playing," said No. 2 man Hideto Asamura.

"We haven't been able to hit with guys on base, and we aren't getting that first run on the board. Those are the areas that I feel are pushing things in the wrong direction.

"We're not playing all that badly and I think things will start to turn around for us. We just have to stick together and trust in each other."


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