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NPB Update, June 28 to July 04: Middle of the pack

We check in on our adopted NPB team, the Yakult Swallows.

Olympics: Tokyo City Views
Meiji Jingu Stadium
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As regular From Complex to Queens listeners know, we’ve decided to start following a NPB team in the absence of Mets baseball for the foreseeable future. We picked a team and will post updates on how they’re doing over in Japan. Why the Yakult Swallows?

  • The Swallows play in Tokyo, the largest city in Japan.
  • The Swallows are overshadowed by the other team that plays in Tokyo, which has had much more success over the years, the Yomiuri Giants.
  • For the first decade of their existence, the Swallows did not end a single season with a winning record.
  • Meiji Jingu Stadium opened in 1964, the same year as Shea Stadium.
  • The best player in team history was a pitcher.

Sounds like the Mets to me!

STANDINGS

June 28 (4-5)

Yomiuri Giants 12, Yakult Swallows 0 (BOX)

Yikes.

  • 1B Tomotaka Sakaguchi: 0-4, K
  • SS Naomichi Nishiura: 0-1
  • 2B Tetsuto Yamada: 1-3, BB, SB (3)
  • 2B Takeshi Miyamoto: 0-0
  • LF Norichika Aoki: 1-3, BB
  • LF-RF Daiki Watanabe: 0-0
  • 3B-1B Munetaka Murakami: 0-2, 2 BB, 1 K
  • RF Yuhei Takai: 1-4
  • CF Kotaro Yamasaki: 1-4
  • SS Alcides Escobar: 0-2
  • PH-C Yūdai Koga: 0-2
  • C Motohiro Shima: 0-2, 2 K
  • PH Akihisa Nishida: 0-1
  • LF Takahiro Araki: 0-1
  • P Naruki Terashima: 0-1
  • PH-SS-3B Taishi Hirooka: 1-3
  • LHP Hiroki Yamada: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, L (0-2)
  • LHP Naruki Terashima: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
  • RHP Kazuki Kondoh: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, HR
  • RHP Yugo Umeno: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
  • LHP Masato Nakazawa: 1.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, HR

June 29 (4-5)

NO GAME (SCHEDULE)

June 30 (4-5)

POSTPONED (RAIN)

July 01 (5-5)

Yakult Swallows 4, Hiroshima Toyo Carp 3 (BOX)

It was a back-and-forth game that saw the lead change hands a few times, but when the last out was recorded the Swallows had the lead, giving them their fifth win of the season and bringing them back to .500.

  • CF-LF Tomotaka Sakaguchi: 3-4, R, K
  • 2B Tetsuto Yamada: 0-4
  • LF Norichika Aoki: 0-4, R
  • 1B Munetaka Murakami: 1-3, R, 2 RBI, BB
  • 3B Naomichi Nishiura: 1-4, R, HR (2), 2 RBI, K, E (1)
  • RF Yuhei Takai: 1-3, BB, K
  • PR-RF Daiki Watanabe: 0-0
  • SS Alcides Escobar: 2-4
  • C Yūdai Koga: 0-2, HBP, PB
  • P Albert Suarez: 0-2
  • PH Takahiro Araki: 0-1
  • CF Tsuyoshi Ueda: 0-0
  • RHP Albert Suarez: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, HBP, W (2-0)
  • RHP Yugo Umeno: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, H (1)
  • RHP Noboru Shimizu: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, H (3)
  • RHP Scott McGough: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, H (3)
  • RHP Taichi Ishiyama: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, S (1)

July 02 (6-5)

Yakult Swallows 9, Hiroshima Toyo Carp 5 (BOX)

The Carp took an early lead, plating four runs off of Gabriel Ynoa in the top of the third, but the Swallows quickly got those runs back. In the bottom of the third, Akihisa Nishida hit a solo shot to put Yakult on the board, and in the fourth, they scored three more to tie the game at 4-4 apiece. The Carp took the lead once again in the sixth when they plated another run, but the Swallows matched that and tied it back up again in the seventh. In the bottom of the ninth, Tayler Scott walked Tomotaka Sakaguchi and gave up singles to Tetsuto Yamada and Norichika Aoki, bringing third baseman Munetaka Murakami to the plate with the bases loaded. The 20-year-old slugged, who led the team in home runs last season, did what he does best and walked off the game with a grand slam.

  • 1B Tomotaka Sakaguchi: 0-2, 3 BB
  • PR Daiki Watanabe: 0-0, R
  • 2B Tetsuto Yamada: 1-5, R
  • LF Norichika Aoki: 2-5, 2 R
  • 3B Munetaka Murakami: 2-4, 2 R, HR (3), 5 RBI, BB, K
  • SS Naomichi Nishiura: 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR (3, 4), 3 RBI, 2 K
  • CF Kotaro Yamasaki: 2-4, SB (1), CS (1)
  • RF Yuhei Takai: 0-4, 3 K
  • C Motohiro Shima: 0-1, K
  • P Tomoya Hoshi: 1-1
  • PH Takahiro Araki: 0-1
  • PH Takeshi Miyamoto: 0-1
  • PH-C Akihisa Nishida: 2-4, R, HR (1), RBI, K
  • RHP Gabriel Ynoa: 3.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
  • RHP Tomoya Hoshi: 3.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Yugo Umeno: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Scott McGough: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, H (4)
  • RHP Taichi Ishiyama: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, W (1-1)

July 03 (6-6)

Yokohama DeNA Baystars 5, Yakult Swallows 4 (BOX)

Neither team had a homer, but the Baystars were a lot more successful in stringing hits together than the Swallows. Yakult took the initial lead with a two run first, but the Baystars put up a four spot in the third. That lead wouldn’t last too long, as Yakult scored another two in the bottom of that same inning to tie things up at 4-4. The pivotal run came in the fifth, and the Yokohama bullpen was able to keep the Swallows off the board after going ahead.

  • CF Tomotaka Sakaguchi: 0-5, 2 K
  • 2B Tetsuto Yamada: 1-5, 3 K
  • LF Norichika Aoki: 1-3, 2 R, 2 BB
  • 1B Munetaka Murakami: 0-2, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K, E (1)
  • 3B Naomichi Nishiura: 1-3, RBI, BB, K
  • RF Kotaro Yamasaki: 2-4, 3 RBI, K
  • SS Alcides Escobar: 1-3, BB
  • C Motohiro Shima: 0-2, K
  • PH Takeshi Miyamoto: 1-1
  • PR Daiki Watanabe: 0-0
  • P Masanori Ishikawa: 0-2
  • PH Takahiro Araki: 0-1, K
  • PH-C Akihisa Nishida: 0-1
  • LHP Masanori Ishikawa: 3.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, WP, L (0-1)
  • RHP Kazuki Kondoh: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB
  • LHP Hiroki Hasegawa: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, WP
  • RHP Noboru Shimizu: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
  • LHP Naruki Terashima: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K

July 04 (7-6)

Yakult Swallows 10, Yokohama DeNA Baystars 8 (BOX)

Yokohama got on the board first, but the Swallows took the lead in the second and never looked back, putting up two spots in the second, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth. The Baystars didn’t roll over and kept the game competitive, but the Swallows pitching corps were able to come through in the end.

  • CF-LF Tomotaka Sakaguchi: 1-3, R, RBI, 2 BB
  • 2B Tetsuto Yamada: 0-4, 2 R, BB
  • LF Norichika Aoki: 2-4, 2 R, HR (2), 3 RBI
  • C Suguru Ino: 0-0
  • 1B Munetaka Murakami: 0-2, R, 2 BB, K
  • 3B-SS Naomichi Nishiura: 1-3, R, HR (5), 2 RBI, BB, K
  • RF-CF Kotaro Yamasaki: 0-3, R, RBI, K
  • C Akihisa Nishida: 1-3, BB
  • PR-LF Daiki Watanabe: 0-0, R
  • SS Alcides Escobar: 0-3, K
  • PH-3B Taishi Hirooka: 0-0
  • P Yasuhiro Ogawa: 0-2, K
  • PH Yuhei Takai: 1-1
  • PR-RF Tsuyoshi Ueda: 0-0, R, RBI
  • RHP Yasuhiro Ogawa: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, HBP, W (2-0)
  • RHP Yugo Umeno: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Scott McGough: 1.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Taichi Ishiyama: 1.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, HR

HITTER OF THE WEEK

Naomichi Nishiura

5-15, 1 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K, 0/0 SB

Born on April 10, 1991 in Nara, the capital city of Japan’s Nara Prefecture, Naomichi Nishiura attended Tenri High School, initially coming to the school as a catcher but converting into an infielder during his first year there. After graduating, he attended Hosei University, where he transitioned from initially being a bench player in his first year to being among the best infielders in the Japanese college circuit in his last. He was selected by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the second round of the 2013 NPB Draft and signed with the team.

Naomichi Nishiura entered the 2014 season as the Swallows’ starting shortstop. While he impressed on opening day, hitting a three-run homer in his first at-bat, he struggled over the course of the next few weeks and was demoted to the Swallows ni-gun team. While he struggled over the remainder of the 2014 season in the Eastern League, hitting .217/.308/.283 in 70 games, he was reportedly one of the hardest workers during autumn training camp and earned himself another shot thanks to the improvements he demonstrated. He spent the majority of the season on the ni-gun team because of the presence of newly signed veteran infielder Keiji Obiki, but Nishiura was given a chance and promoted down the stretch for the eventual 2015 Central League pennant winners, and hit .295/.340/.477 in 26 games.

Nishiura began the 2016 season on the ichi-gun team, but didn’t get much playing time, spending the majority of the first half on the bench. Starting in the second half, he got more regular playing time and hit a respectable .255/.317/.389 in 72 games with 9 home runs. His situation was very much the same in 2017, though he got more chances early on than later in the season. Appearing in 72 games once again, the 25-year-old hit a much less impressive .208/.288/.250 with 6 home runs.

In 2018, veteran Shingo Kawabata missed the start of the season due to a herniated disk, giving Nishiura and teammate Taishi Hirooka a chance to fight for the starting shortstop position. While Hirooka beat out Nishiura, he slumped badly at the start of the year, giving Nishiura additional chances. He eventually won the position for himself after he made some mechanical changes to his swing, adding a bit of power. In 138 total games, Nishiura hit .242/.309/.363 with 10 homers. The infielder was limited to just 44 games in 2019 because of various injuries and hit just .235/.288/.376 with 4 home runs as a result. His poor luck carried into 2020, and while he was not injured, he did not make the team out of spring training, eventually being added to the Swallows roster in late June.

Nishiura stands slightly open at the plate, holding his bat high, far from his body. He swings with both a toe tap and a leg kick. The infielder, who is a career .240 /.305/.368, is more regarded for his defense than his hitting, which is still very much a work in progress. On the field, he is a solid middle infielder, displaying solid range and a strong throwing arm.

PITCHER OF THE WEEK

Taichi Ishiyama

3.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, HR

Born on September 1, 1988 in Akita, the capital city of Japan’s Akita Prefecture, Ishiyama attended Kanaashi Agricultural High School. During his time there, the school did not once make any Spring or Summer Koshien tournaments, leading the Japanese government to invest heavily in investing in public schools in the Akita Prefecture in order to give them an opportunity to compete against private schools in the region. After graduating high school, the right-hander attended Tohoku Fukushi University. After graduating from college, he would go on to work for Yamaha, playing on their amateur team. In 2012, like many other teams, the Yakult Swallows selected Shintaro Fujinami with their first round draft selection. When Fujinami went to the Hanshin Tigers in the lottery, the Swallows selected Taichi Ishiyama with that pick.

In 2013, the 23-year-old pitcher made the ichi-gun team and spent the majority of the season on the Swallows, posting a 2.78 ERA in 58.1 innings, allowing 58 hits, walking 30, and striking out 59. In 2014, he began the year as a reliever but was transitioned into the starting rotation out of team need, starting about half of the 38 games he appeared in, posting a 4.42 ERA in 124.1 innings, allowing 127 hits, walking 48, and striking out 90. His 2015 season was very much the same, and he saw a little bit more success, posting a 3.64 ERA in 111.1 innings, allowing 118 hits, walking 38, and striking out 78. The right-hander injured his elbow in 2016, limiting him to just 16 games, but he returned in 2017 and looked good. Pitching exclusively as a reliever because of team need, he posted a 3.03 ERA in 68.1 innings, allowing 63 hits, walking 17, and striking out 76.

In 2018, the 29-year-old was made team closer when teammate Matt Carasiti started the season off injured. Ishiyama took the role and ran with it, saving 35 games and posting a 2.08 ERA in 73.2 innings with 63 hits allowed, 15 walks, and 62 strikeouts. He missed a bit of time in 2019 because of injuries, but was once again a solid closer, saving 10 games and posting a 2.73 ERA in 33.0 innings, allowing 30 hits, walking 8, and striking out 31.

The right-hander throws from a high-three-quarters arm slot, incorporating the classic leg lift hesitation hitch into his delivery. His fastball hovers around 90 MPH, topping out at 94 MPH. He complements the pitch with a slider, curveball, and forkball.

HITTER OF THE WEEK

June 14 to June 20: Tetsuto Yamada (3-8, 0 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 0 K, 1/1 SB)

June 21 to June 27: Tetsuto Yamada (6-24, 0 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 8 K, 1/1 SB)

June 28 to July 04: Naomichi Nishiura (5-15, 1 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K, 0/0 SB)

PITCHER OF THE WEEK

June 14 to June 20: Yasuhiro Ogawa (6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K)

June 21 to June 27: Hirotoshi Takanashi (7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K)

June 28 to July 04: Taichi Ishiyama (3.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, HR)