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    2008-09 AL Season Review

    Posted by simon c on 2009 April 9日 Thursday

    I’m currently lacking both the brain cells and the time to do this properly, so the 2008-09 Asia League Ice Hockey season will be reviewed in bullet point style.

    • Nippon Paper Cranes reign supreme again! Asia League power house returns to the top after fighting through 3 rounds of playoffs, and going the full 7 in both the semi and finals. The Cranes last won the trophy 2 seasons ago, so it was a short absence from the top.
    • Seibu Prince Rabbits fold. The tin foil hat says that this is part of Seibu Group’s attempt to rid of Tsutsumi colours (including the baseball team’s uniform colour, literally). There’s hope of the team being resurrected as an independent pro club team as seen in an earlier post on this blog.
    • Anyang Halla is back, but High1 falls back. Anyang Halla added quality imports, got its sniper Song Dong-Hwan back from 2 years of military service (he didn’t miss a beat, being 4th in league scoring 3 seasons ago as well as this past season), and rookies who immediately contributed by finishing top 10 in scoring (Kim Ki-Sung and Park Woo-Sang who were just from universities drafted in the offseason). High1 was 2nd in the 2007-08 regular season, but fell down to 5th place and immediately got swept in the first round play in against the Cranes. 1st to 4th this year was a complete toss up, but then there was a big gap to High1 in 4th. High1 will be looking to climb back up to the top half of the table next season, and especially not to finish the season below their Korean rivals Halla.
    • The bottom of the table was occupied by the usual suspects, the Nikko Ice Bucks and the Chinese entry, the China Sharks. But things were upside down this past season with the Sharks crawling out of the basement thanks in large part to Wade Flaherty’s Herculian efforts (he won the Best Goalie Award) and kicked the troubled Bucks down into the basement. 
    • Since there were no double digit blowouts like in previous seasons when teams could run up the score on Chinese teams, finally for the first time, stats in the Asia League is actually quite credible (no need to sift through strength of schedule, opponents, and run a query). So let’s take a look at the scoring board:
    • 0809_al_scoring
    • High powered offence of Halla has 5  players ranked in the top 11, including a rookie in Kim Ki-Sung, and sniper Song Dong-Hwan who returned to the league after missing the last 2 seasons due to mandatory military service for all Korean adult males (except big time celebrities and sports figures it seems, if they can win exemptions or wiggle their way out). There are many of the usual suspects on the list including Suzuki and Prpic of Seibu, but who knows what their future holds for now. And Chris Yule showed his former team that he was still an offensive force. 
    • Additionally, defenceman Jon Awe (AHL 12+17=29) finished on top of scoring for defencemen ahead of Asia League and national team vet Aaron Keller (OJI 5+19=24) and AL sophomore Richard Rochefort (SPR 7+17=24), and Halla’s other import Brad Fast (7+27 = 34) ranked high in league scoring, prompting an unprecedented move by an AL team when Anyang Halla re-signed all their imports to multi-year deals with scoring leader Brock Radunski signing a 3-year contract and the others to 2-years.
    • This was in part prompted by Halla’s awesome offence as they became the first non-Japanese team to win the regular season (and were one win away from becoming the first non-Japanese team in the playoff finals). The awesome Halla offence racked up 150 goals in 36 games for a very impressive 4.17 G/G with and converted astonishing 38% of their power play chances for 54 goals. I’m sure Halla is glad to have their offence intact for next season, as they were only a win away from reaching the finals.
    • While all other teams allowed 95 goals or more, the finally nicknamed Oji Eagles impressively only let in 77 goals, and were also 2nd in the league in both the power play and the penalty kill.
    • Finally, since Deanna brought her big camera with her to game 7 of the finals, we have some good pictures of the final game for the Seibu Prince Rabbits.

    (Photos courtesy of Deanna)

    Cranes celebrate first goal of the game by Darcy Mitani.

    186-goalscored

    Seibu Prince Rabbits and Japan national team captain Takahito Suzuki who almost singlehandedly won the championship for Seibu, scoring the game winner with 45 seconds left in game 6, then both of Seibu’s goals in game 7.

    037-suzuki1

    Cranes goalie Hisashi Ishikawa, the playoff MVP, who unbelievably stopped 54 of 56 shots for the game 7 victory.

    284-ishikawa

    Cranes with the Asia League trophy, congratulations!! (and let’s hope there are at least 7 teams in the league again next season..)

    460-trophy

    more photos after this break:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion, statistics, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    2008 CL season review and playoff preview

    Posted by simon c on 2008 October 16日 Thursday

    The Central League concluded their 2008 regular season recently and is gearing up for its Climax Series playoffs which will start this Saturday the 18th as Hanshin hosts Chunichi for the best of 3 series at their home away from home, the Kyocera Dome Osaka, because their venerable Koshien Stadium is undergoing renovations that could not have been rescheduled. What, did the Koshien brass think that the Tigers were not going to host any postseason games this year?

    Anyways, the Pacific League has completed the first round of its playoffs with the 3rd place Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters earning a clean 2 game sweep over the 2008 miracle team, the Orix Buffaloes, in the very same Osaka Dome. The pitching and defence minded Fighters are built for the postseason where run scoring is at a premium. The Fighters won game 1 behind a strong 1 run (unearned) 14K complete game performance in the 4-1 win by their dominant ace, Yu Darvish. The Buffs managed 9 hits in the game, but 5 of them were of the infield variety. Game 2 featured a strong performance by starter Shugo Fujii and the bats came alive for an easy 7-2 win. Through the quirk of scheduling (probably to maximize weekend dates) the Fighters get to throw Darvish out there in one of the first two games of the PL final against the Saitama Seibu Lions which starts tomorrow, Friday the 17th, and possibly have him pitch the deciding game 6 on the 23rd if necessary. That’ll be a tough hurdle for the Lions to clear, despite starting the best of 7 series off with a 1-0 advantage and playing all games at home.

    Back to the CL for the regular season recap and playoff preview.

    1. Yomiuri Giants

    84-57-3 (.596)

    RS-RA: 631-532

    The all star team that was supposed to win the CL pennant did manage to achieve the feat in the waning days of the season, through a combination of a dominating second half of the season and the monumental Hanshin collapse (more on that later). Signing highly prized free agents Alex Ramirez (144GP 600PA 319/373/617 with 45 HR 125RBI), Seth Greisinger (31GS 206IP 3.06ERA 17-9), and Marc Kroon (61G 61IP 2.21ERA 41SV) from their poorer CL cousins turned out to be an absolute bonanza as Kroon had no injury problems and Rami-chan’s 2007 revival wasn’t a fluke. Well, these were gambles that the richest NPB club could afford to take. The Giants have an import conundrum as Lee Seung-Yeop came on hot coming back from the Olympic where he played hero with 7HR and 18RBI in September (including homering in 3 straight at bats against the lowly BayStars). But their pitcher from downunder Adrian Burnside had a decent season as well when given the opportunity as he had 3.48ERA in 75IP. Teams are allowed to carry 4 imports on the active roster, and the Giants will host the winner of the Hanshin-Chunichi series starting on the 22nd.

    After it was all said and done, Michihiro Ogasawara (310/381/573 with 36HR) and catcher Shinnosuke Abe (271/350/502) had their usual productive seasons, and while Tetsuya Utsumi (184.1IP 2.73ERA) had yet another strong season and MLB bound Koji Uehara had a strong second half to make his record a respectable 3.81ERA in 89.2IP after a disasterous start to the season, Hisanori Takahashi returned to his pre-2007 form with 4.13ERA in 122IP and Hiroshi Kisanuki had similar numbers with 4.14ERA in 74IP. The Giants should prove to be a formidable opponent for either winner of the first round, as the team will be right at home in the homer-happy Tokyo Dome.

    2. Hanshin Tigers

    82-59-3 (.582)

    RS-RA: 578 – 521

    The Tigers held the Central League until the 141st game of the 144 game regular season, at one point holding a 13 game lead over the Giants in the summer, but allowed Yomiuri to win the league in the 143rd game of the year completing the greatest choke of Central League history (previous record was the 1996 Giants overcoming a 11.5 game deficit to take the league crown). The Hanshin batters Kanemoto, Akahoshi, and Arai held the top 3 spots in CL OBP rankings with Toritani in 8th at the beginning of summer. But at the end of the season only Akahoshi and Kanemoto kept their spots in the top 10 with 3rd and 6th respectively, Arai and Toritani had just fallen out of the top 10, but Kentaro Sekimoto at .364 in 14th just below the former two means that this team should still know how to get on base and not make outs.

    The team is driven by a trio of 40 year olds in Tomoaki “Aniki” Kanemoto (307/392/527, 62XBH 108RBI), Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (2.99ERA 162.1IP 11-6, most IP on the team), and catcher Akihiro Yano. The Tigers seemed to lose steam midway through the season when key cogs Yano, Arai, and Fujikawa were lost to the Olympic team in Beijing. But not being able to revive the team when these players returned after the Games was just sad. The vaunted reliever trio of JFK was less effective this season, perhaps showing the effects of their age and work over the past several seasons, with Jeff Williams (3.09ERA 55.1IP) and Tomoyuki Kubota (3.16ERA 85.1IP) more hittable than usual and only Kyuji Fujikawa (0.67ERA 67.2IP 38SV) posting his usual numbers. The emergence of Ryo Watanabe (2.67ERA 67.1IP) should take some of the load off the trio and the bullpen will be a key component in the playoffs as Tigers starters don’t go deep into games (as seen by Shimoyanagi’s 162.1IP being the team leader). The team will have to return to an earlier form of getting on base and shutdown bullpen to pull off some success in the postseason against defending Japan Series champs Chunichi and the red hot Giants.

    3. Chunichi Dragons

    71-68-5 (.511)

    RS-RA: 535 – 556

    The defending Japan Series champions had to fight the upstart Hiroshima Carp hard at the end of the season to squeak into the playoffs. The Dragons were battling for the CL pennant until they quickly lost steam with the Olympics where the team lost NPB-high 4 players to Beijing in Araki, Morino, Kawakami, and Iwase, the latter blowing up badly as he was left in or brought into games he shouldn’t have been on the way to Japan’s 4th place finish. The Dragons have a great ace in Kenshin Kawakami (2.30ERA 117.1IP) and Masa Yamamoto had a revival season with 3.16ERA over team high 133.2IP. Closer Hitoki Iwase (2.94ERA 49IP 36SV) has become more hittable over the past two seasons and this may be a key difference with Hanshin.

    4. Hiroshima Carp

    69-70-5 (.496)

    RS-RA: 537 – 569

    Marty Brown’s little team that could almost snatched a playoff spot away from Chunichi but just fell short by 2 games in their final season at the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium. The new Hiroshima stadium that will open next spring looks to be a beauty of a ballpark in the NPB filled with characterless multipurpose domes. The Carp were carried on the back of new import Colby Lewis (2.68ERA 178IP 15-8, 2nd in CL ERA and wins despite being on a losing team) and Kenta Kurihara continues to grow as an offensive force (2008 – 904OPS, 2007 – 873, 2006 – 837) but the team is in serious need other offensive parts to fill out the lineup. Yeah, it’s nice that Higashide hit 310, but he can’t draw walks or hit for power (678 OPS).

    5. Tokyo Yakult Swallows

    66-74-4 (.471)

    RS-RA: 583 – 569

    The birds underperformed their Pythagorean expectations (based on RS-RA) despite having a capable bullpen stocked with Lim Chang-Yong (3.00ERA 51IP 33SV though it seems the league figured out how to hit the funky submariner as the season went along because he was unhittable early in the season), setup men Kenichi Matsuoka (1.39ERA 71.1IP), Takehiko Oshimoto (3.34ERA 72.2IP), and oft-injured Ryota Igarashi (2.47ERA 43.2IP). The emergence of Masanori Ishikawa (2.68ERA 195IP 12-10, after 3 seasons of 4+ ERA) as the staff ace was a bright spot of the pitching staff. On the hitting side, Norichika Aoki replicated his 2007 season with 347/413/529 further cementing his position as one of the best Japanese hitters. The emergence of Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (279/364/406) and Kazuki Fukuchi (320/366/449) as dependable bats is promising. And there is talk that Aaron Guiel will return to the Swallows next year after a miserable injury-riddled season (200/306/396), his age (36) is a worrying factor though for a three true outcomes (strikeout, homerun, walk) type player like him.

    6. Yokohama BayStars

    48-94-2 (.338)

    RS-RA: 552 – 706

    The miserable season for Yokohama came to a thankful end, but not before the BayStars managed to become the only team to surrender over 700 runs this season. The only bright spots on the team were hitters Shuichi Murata who won the CL homerun title with 46 roundtrippers (though 29 were hit in his bandbox of a home park Yokohama Stadium), and the breakout season by Seiichi Uchikawa (378/416/540) who became only the 10th player in NPB history to finish the season with a batting average north of .370, can he be the second coming of Norichika Aoki?

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

     
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