vs. Giants – July 18-20 – Still Winless vs. Rabbits at Koshien

The first two-game winning streak in six weeks was a positive way to enter the all-star break, but could the team propel themselves to have a proper winning streak, though? The team’s best through 87 games was just three, achieved only once. The team would host the second place Giants to start the final portion of the season. So far on the year at Koshien against the Giants, the team has failed to send its fans home in good spirits. Could they finally start to give the fans their money’s worth?

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Game 88 – Monday 7/18: The Tigers’ kryptonite of 2015 has come back. Fortunately for Hanshin, he has been injured for much of the year and is not the pitcher he once was. Unfortunately for the Tigers, too many of them still remember the difficulties Miles Mikolas gave us last year. The team, however, did get chances to break the game open. Mauro Gomez hit a two-out double in the bottom of the second, but on Shun Takayama‘s subsequent single, he got thrown out at home to end the inning. The first run of the game was scored when Taiga Egoshi bunted to get first base, stole second, and scored on a towering Fumihito Haraguchi fly to left that got carried by the wind and found the turf. In the bottom of the fifth, with Takayama on second (another stolen base!) he made a base running error on a ground ball to third, and took himself out of scoring position as he got run down between the bases. Starter Randy Messenger mowed through the Giants order through five innings and looked as good as he has through the last two months. The top of the sixth started with a leadoff triple and he looked to be clearly out of the inning after two strikeouts and a grounder to first, but Gomez (who dove to stop the ball) bobbled it and his throw to Messenger at the base was a little too high. Runner safe, run scores. Tie game. It remained knotted through eight, and in the ninth, Rafael Dolis came in to give the home boys a chance for a walk off. A leadoff single had the crowd groaning, The subsequent grounder to short had the crowd in fits as Takashi Toritani gently fielded it and underhand tossed to second – NOT IN TIME – making this an even tougher scenario. Dolis caught the pinch runner (on second) too far off the bag, creating a run down between the bases, but it was poorly executed and instead of nailing the head runner, we only managed to get the guy at first. With two outs and that runner on second, Tiger-killer Shinnosuke Abe reached for and poked a ball through the right side of the infield. Lead surrendered. Three up and three down in the bottom of the ninth and the game was over. (Note: Egoshi ripped a pitch just a few feet foul down the left field line that could have tied the game had it not bent too far left.) Final Score: Giants 2, Tigers 1. Team Record: 37-48-3. LP: Dolis (3-2)

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Game 89 – Tuesday 7/19: This one, in my opinion, was over after the top of the second. The Tigers failed to capitalize on a Tsuyoshi Nishioka leadoff double (he did not even advance) in the bottom of the first, while the Giants punished starter Atsushi Nohmi in the next frame and the one after, slapping three 2-RBI doubles in that short span, putting the Cats behind a half dozen early in the game. Haraguchi hit a solo blast in the bottom of the fifth, but the bats whiffed and watched strikes go by the entire sixth and seventh, snuffing out any hopes of a comeback. Final Score: Giants 6, Tigers 1. Team Record: 37-49-3. LP: Nohmi (5-8)

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Game 90 – Wednesday 7/20: Despite losing to Taguchi earlier in the season at Koshien, the Tigers bats have found ways to hit him of late. Unfortunately, they did not remember that hitting only matters when it leads to runs being scored. The bases were juiced (I cringe every time this scenario comes up now) but no one scored for the Cats in the bottom of the first. The Giants opened the scoring in the top of the second as starter Koyo Aoyagi failed to haul in a throw at first, which scored a runner. The Tigers got the run back in the bottom of the frame, as Nishioka brought home Masahiro Nakatani with a double single to left. (While rounding first, Nishioka collapsed to the ground. It was later determined that his left achilles tendon ruptured as he was running.) Two leadoff walks in the third were blown by a double play and a strikeout. Two base runners in the fourth were negated with another double play. Bases juiced again in the bottom of the fifth with just one out. Double play, inning over. Fumiya Hojoh has now had 5 guys in scoring position in 3 at bats and gotten us nothing. Sadly, that was the momentum shift. The Giants cranked out 4 runs in the top of the sixth thanks to a Garrett Jones 3-run tater off shaky lefty Akifumi Takahashi, and this one was all but over. Just a Keisuke Kanoh pinch hit home run with an out in the bottom of the ninth to give the remaining foolish faithful fans something to cheer about. Swept. Again. At. Home. Final Score: Giants 6, Tigers 2. Team Record: 37-50-3. LP: Aoyagi (2-2)

Series Notes: As mentioned on Episode 39 of the podcast, catcher Taichi Okazaki broke a bone in his left hand and had successful surgery during the all-star break. Taking his place on the roster is 2015 second round pick Seishiro Sakamoto, who made his debut behind the plate on Tuesday. He and Nohmi took a beating and were both swapped out in the third inning… Speaking of which, reliever Ryoma Matsuda made his long-awaited season debut as well, subbing in for Nohmi and pitching 2 1/3 innings of shutout ball. He was used on the farm as a starter, but is unlikely to get any starts on the top squad… Lefty Daiki Enokida was given his first trip down to the farm on Tuesday. He was replaced by Hiroya Shimamoto, who gave up a run on two hits in mop-up duties on Wednesday… The Tigers extend their home losing streak to 7 games, dating back to June 28 vs. BayStars… For those who have the courage to do so, here are the standings. We can thank the BayStars for beating up on the Swallows, otherwise we’d be misery without company.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.