Matsuzaka Watch: Episode 25At stake in the final regular season start of Matsuzaka's season was the Pacific Division crown. If Seibu had won and Nippon Ham lost, the Lions would edge the Fighters by percentage points in the final margin. Who would you rather have on the mound than Daisuke Matsuzaka? How did he fare in this high pressure situation?
The answer is......terribly. In an unfortunate turn of events, Matsuzaka saved his worst for last. Over the course of the entire season the young ace had tossed 2 clunkers in his 24 previous starts. One start was also a two-thirds of an inning affair that ended thanks to a tight groin. 24 previous starts, 2 stinkers and a minor injury. His last loss was on August 2nd against these same Lotte Marines. In that game he gave up 3 runs over 8 innings, so lack of offense was to blame. The loss before that was two starts earlier on July 15th....also against Lotte. In that outing he gave up 1 run over 8.2 innings, so again lack of run support. Going back further, we find a loss on June 2nd against the Yomiuri Giants in which he gave up 4 runs, 3 earned, over 6. Finally, Matsuzaka coughed up a game in his first start of the season, against SoftBank, when he gave up 1 run over 8.
As you can see the 4 games he lost before tonight we all stellar performances. Only an 11 hit, 7 run (5 earned) outing against Yokohama looked worse than tonight. His other stinker was a 4.1 inning, 4 run job that was cut short before he had a chance to recover. Let's get to the grizzly details.
5 innings, 6 runs (all earned), 7 hits, 2 walks, 2 hit batsmen and only 3 strikeouts.
Ouch. Way to come up small in a big spot Daisuke. The game began well as Matsuzaka struck out the first two batters and induced a weak grounder to short for a fast 1-2-3 first. He then followed with an equally impressive 1-2-3 second on a grounder to third, a lazy flyball, and a pop out to third in foul territory. That's when the fairy tale ends. In the third inning 2005 Japan Series MVP Toshiaki Imae led off the inning with a line drive single to left. One out later Matsuzaka hit centerfielder Akira Otsuka, a .244 #9 hitter. Leadoff man, and WBC standout, Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled on a line drive to center and the inning was set up. Bases loaded, one out and the heart of the order coming to the plate. The rest of the inning went:
Kazuya Fukuura - groundball single to left scoring 2
Tomoya Satozaki (WBC Best 9 Catcher) - walk
Benny Agbayani - bases loaded walk scoring 1
Shouichi Omatsu - infield single to second scoring 1
As fast as can be, Seibu and Matsuzaka were in a 4-0 hole. His control was noticeably absent as he was behind every hitter in the sequence. In the fourth, Daisuke's control was back and he only allowed a little bloop single with no further damage. 4-0 is a blemish on his statistical record and a difficult blow to a Seibu team watching Nippon Ham with the lead on the scoreboard, but a good Matsuzaka closing the Marines down the rest of the way would give the offense a chance.
It was not to be tonight. After getting the leadoff man, Fukuura, to pop out to third, Matsuzaka hit his second man of the night. Tomoya Satozaki has been a Matsuzaka killer all year after catching him in the World Baseball Classic and while he didn't get a hit in this situation, he took advantage of the wildness that Daisuke displayed and got on base. It appeared as though Seibu would get out of the jam as Agbayani flew out for the second out of the inning, but a line drive double to center by Omatsu and a groundball single up the middle by Imae put 2 runs on the board and sealed the deal for Matsuzaka and the Lions.
It was only the 2nd and 3rd batters of the year he's hit, I believe. Last season he hit 10 batters, but his control has been very good this year. I suppose the regression to the mean occurred at the most inopportune moment. Nippon Ham now sits in 1st and can clinch with a win or a tie tomorrow. Let's take a look at the season stats and put them into perspective:
It would have been nice to see Matsuzaka finish his final regular season in Japan with a sub-2.00 ERA, but 2.13 isn't too shabby. Since the start of the 2003 season, Matsuzaka has an ERA of 2.50 and a WHIP of 1.067 over 741.1 innings pitched. During that 4 year period he has struck out 768 batters, which amounts to a 9.32 K/9 ratio. His 4 year K/BB ratio is a stellar 4.09. This year it stands at 6.06 even with the final flop.
Next up is some kind of playoff appearance. If Seibu gets a bye, Matsuzka will pitch once before any potential Japan Series. If Nippon Ham earns the bye tomorrow, you'll see Matsuzaka pitch in the opening series with SoftBank before any further starts down the road. One playoff start is assured, with a potential 3 or 4 should the Lions reach the Japan Series and go 7. Only the games on the field will decide it at this point. I will continue to cover the playoffs game by game here. Each Seibu game has some bearing on Matsuzaka's future, so whether he takes the mound or not, I'll be there to cover the story.
I will also revise the links in the right hand column. You will see a link to each of his 2006 starts, plus some additional links to important metrics-based projections that I've done and so on. Until the playoffs then.....Go Lions.