Sunday, March 16, 2014

Looking at the draw - Quadrant 1

So, the draw has been completed and the road to Koushien has been established.  How does it look for the 32 contestants?  We'll go quadrant by quadrant in order of schedule.

Quadrant 1
Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima) vs. Iwakuni (Yamaguchi)
Despite the fact that Iwakuni won the Chuugoku Super-regionals, they may have their hands full right off the bat against Kamimura Gakuen.  In the super-regional final and in the opening Meiji Jingu game ace Yanagawa Takehiro struggled to keep the opponents off the bases, but did manage to prevent them from scoring.  The same couldn't be said against eventual winners Okinawa Shougaku, though that wasn't all his fault.

The bigger problem will be their offense.  Despite being able to beat up on weaker competition in-prefecture, they still carried a low batting average, and worse yet do not really hit for power.  But this being their first game, they may be able to give their best challenge to the Kyushu semi-finalists.

Hitting is not one of Kamimura Gakuen's problems as the team averaged more than 10 hits per game - even in their 5-1 loss to Misato Kougyou, and 4 of their batters averaged over 0.400.

Instead it is their pitching that is called into question.  Ace Azuma Michihiro seems stable enough, as his numbers seem solid.  But in the latter stages of the super-regional he would be paired with reliever Oomura who was a bit less reliable.  It would be one thing if Oomura was like Maebashi Ikuei's backup Kitagawa who didn't do anything but record in-play outs, but Oomura gives up walks which kinda throws that strategy out of the window.

Still, being the first game and getting the longest amount of rest before their next game, Azuma probably can go the full 9 if necessary.

The impetus will be on Iwakuni to prove that they can hang with Kamimura Gakuen.

Fukuchiyama Seibi (Kyoto) vs. Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku (Yamanashi)
The second game of opening day almost looks like a copy of the first except that this time it's Fukuchiyama Seibi that has power issues at the plate while Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku has the better offense on paper.

The difference for Seibi is that in their final 4 games they played against more well-known competition - Ritsumeikan Uji, Ryuukokudai Heian, PL Gakuen and Houtoku Gakuen.  That alone could easily explain the lower numbers at the plate.

Ace Ishihara Takeji will be tasked to keep his team in games which they try to scrap out some run support.  He'll certainly be up to the task early, but if they continue advancing it may get more difficult to hold the opposition down.

As for Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku, what I'm not sure I get is that ace Yamaguchi Daisuke keeps opponents off the scoreboard, but the peripherals don't necessarily suggest that it's sustainable (he has one of the worst walk rates of the pitchers in the field).  His relief staff is no better in that respect either - with perhaps the exception of their 1B Uehara Susumu...

Rule of thumb is good pitching beats good hitting, and I think that Seibi might be on the right side of things here.

Riseisha (Osaka) vs. Koyamadai (Tokyo)
How unfortunate for Koyamadai that Riseisha winds up drawing them for their first game. Not exactly how you'd want your first game ever at Koushien to go.

Ace Itou Yuusuke has been up to the task before, facing 3rd-tier teams such as Horikoshi and Nichidai Buzan as well as defeating Waseda Jitsugyou before he fell short against Toukaidai Takanawadai.  However, there are some issues.  His high K totals were somewhat inflated against some of the weaker teams they faced as against Toukaidai Takanawadai and Soujitsu they were more pedestrian.  His walk rates were also worse against the same teams, suggesting that there is a lower ceiling in his abilities.

Offensively the team is slightly-below average, showing little pop in the bat though they try to make it up by patience at the plate and some speed on the basepaths.  Still, their quarterfinal placing feels about right.

And this could be a big problem versus Riseisha.  They reached the semifinals when they decided to rest their ace and lost a barn-burner vs eventual winners Ryuukokudai Heian.  The strong offensive numbers are a bit inflated with some beatdowns early (including one against a rebuilding Osaka Touin), and an easier schedule in the super-regionals - but the offense seems to be more legitimate and they are certainly not afraid of working counts and drawing the walk.

Ace Mizota Yuuto has stellar numbers, posting an ERA below 1 and a WHIP just a tick over 1.  There are some chinks in the armor in the super-regionals where he had control issues over PL Gakuen and Sanda Shousei.  However, given their competition in the first round here, I figure Koyamadai will slot in somewhere around their early super-regional opponents, which means they should have the upper hand in this matchup.

Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaido) vs. Souseikan (Nagasaki)
The last matchup in this quadrant pits the Hokkaido champs against the Meiji Jingu bid.

Komadai Tomakomai won a weaker Hokkaido Super-Regional.  Quite a few 3rd tier schools advanced deep into the tournament allowing Komadai Tomakomai to advance.  2nd year Itou Hiromi actually pitched the majority of the innings despite Tachibana Shou wearing the ace jersey (seniority, I bet).  However, his peripherals decline as he reached the end of the super-regionals.  Same goes for Sasaki-kantoku's other choice for the duo on the mound Kikuchi Shouta.  And in an apparent down year, it wouldn't bode well for the former back-to-back champs.

What makes the news even more dour is that they're facing Souseikan, who on the surface boasts the best ERA of all teams, giving up just 5 runs in 7 games of work - never giving up more than 1 run in any game!  That's unprecented no matter how you look at it!  Yes, you have to account that only 2 of those games were against notable teams - one of which was against Hasami (who already is known as offense-starved), and the other against Misato Kougyou (where they lost 1-0), so there should be some regression, but it's still impressive.

While ace number Washizaki Jyun started off pitching for Souseikan, it was actually #10 Hirawatari Yuuki who was sent to the mound when it really mattered.  He is generally stingy with the walks, and while he can strikeout batters, his 5 against Misato Kougyou probably is more closer to his actual potential.

The offense put out some impressive totals in their games leading up to Misato Kougyou, but they were done on a modest batting average.  They did so by making their hits count as about a third of their hits went for extra bases.  Leadoff batter Hiraguchi Fumiya and cleanup (#3) batter Makino Shinya account for 5 of their 9 triples and 8 of their 12 stolen bases - though half of those SB's came in their first game...

There should be some caution to Souseikan given the complete blackout on offense versus Misato Kougyou suggesting that perhaps they're more of an above-average team.  One game does not a solid decision make, and the fact that Misato Kougyou scored only 1 run is promising.  Until they prove otherwise, which to be honest means in all likelihood bowing out with a loss, they get some benefit of the doubt.

First Round predictions
  • Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima) def. Iwakuni (Yamaguchi)
  • Fukuchiyama Seibi (Kyoto) def. Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku (Yamanashi)
  • Riseisha (Osaka) def. Koyamadai (Tokyo)
  • Souseikan (Nagasaki) def. Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaido)
This is a well-rounded quadrant, and should come up with some interesting games as the rounds progress.

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