Full Text] Is this year’s “Abe Giants” really strong? Special Read】Abe’s Giants are really strong this year? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Full Text] Is this year’s “Abe Giants” really strong? Special Read】Abe’s Giants are really strong this year?

The pitching staff, which had been in a state of "collapse," has rallied, and the use of young players has been successful!

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Shinnosuke Abe (45), manager, advocates a laid-back baseball style, perhaps to get rid of the “sporty” atmosphere. He is sometimes ridiculed for his baseball style, which relies heavily on bunting.

Something is different about this year’s Giants.

Last season, the Hanshin Tigers won the Japanese championship for the first time in 38 years. Their eternal rivals, the Giants, were languishing in the B class. While the Giants had the league’s top batting average and home runs, their pitching staff was a drag, with a team batting average of 3.39, the second-worst in the league. In particular, the team’s relief defense ratio was the lowest at 3.81, and no matter how many runs the team scored, it kept getting turned around in the late innings, causing the fans in Tokyo Dome to sigh more and more.

What about this year?

Shinnosuke Abe (45) was promoted from head coach to manager, replacing Tatsunori Hara (65), who stepped down as manager to take responsibility for the team’s poor performance. The team aggressively reinforced its pitching staff through trades and the draft, releasing Adam Walker (32) and others who had not had the opportunity to pitch, and acquiring Rei Takahashi (28) and Keisuke Izumi (27).

The leadership, which had been derided by some as a “cabinet of friends,” was also renewed. Hara’s loyal subjects such as Daisuke Motoki (52) and Dave Okubo (57) took off their uniforms, and Kenji Yano (43) became the new hitting coach and Toshiya Sugiuchi (43) and Tetsuya Utsumi (41) became the new pitching coaches. By aggressively replacing blood, the team appealed both inside and outside the organization to “get rid of the harassment. Such team reforms have been successful, and the Giants have been strong from the start of the season. Instead of the hit-and-run baseball of last season, they are winning more games defensively with their solid defense and pitching, and are competing with Chunichi, which is also doing well, for the top spot,” said Mr. A, a sports newspaper desk clerk.

(Mr. A, a desk clerk of a sports newspaper) Is this season’s smooth start a prelude to regaining the No. 1 position in Japan, which has eluded the Giants for 12 years, or is it just another spring camellia? Are the new Giants strong? Is Abe a great general? FRIDAY interviewed team officials, professional baseball alumni, and reporters who cover the players up close and personal.

The Giants are strong this year!

Tomoya Satozaki, a former Lotte baseball pundit who ranked the Giants first in his rankings predictions on his YouTube channel, immediately responded, “The Giants were strong last year,” he said.

Last year, the Giants were plagued by the inability of their key infielders, Hayato Sakamoto (35) and guardian god Ose (24). This year, however, they have succeeded in fixing Sakamoto at third, and Taisei has regained his pitching ability. If they can function, they are not the kind of team that would be in the B class in the first place. This year, our young players who are growing are also playing well, and there are many positive factors to judge.”

Right: Pitcher Rei Takahashi (28), a submariner transferred from SoftBank. Left: Masaya Hagio, outfielder (23), a second-year Keio boy whose skillful hitting is appealing. His batting form is based on that of Seiya Suzuki, who plays for the Cubs.
Third baseman Hayato Sakamoto (35) converted to third in the middle of last season to reduce the burden on his body. He is still a strong hitter and is aiming for a total of 3,000 hits.
Osei, Pitcher (24): He had a bad year last year due to injury and fatigue from the WBC, but this season he has been pitching like a demon. His hardball with a unique trajectory is a threat!
Pitching Coach Tetsuya Utsumi (41): Appointed as pitching coach this season. I want to lead the team to the championship and lift up the manager, who was my wife when I won the best battery award.

Concern is the lack of long-hitting power

On the other hand, some Giants alumni are predicting a similarly tough battle as last year. Takashi Nishimoto, who predicted a fourth-place finish and said in an interview with his old friend and rival Taku Egawa (68) that “last place is a possibility,” gives a loving whip to his juniors.

It is true that we have a better lineup than last year, but whether or not it fits together is another story. I am particularly worried about the long-hitting ability. With the departure of Sho Nakata (34) and Walker, we have fewer fielders who can hit double-digit homers.
Currently, Makoto Kadowaki (23), who is in his second year as a fixed shortstop to replace Sakamoto, often plays the No. 3 position, but he is a player whose agility and skill are more important than his long-ball hitting ability. It is undeniable that he is inferior to other teams’ No. 3 hitters. It would be easier for him to bat first, second, or lower in the order, and he would be a perfect fit for the No. 3 spot if he could get Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (32, DeNA), who was rumored to be returning from the majors, to play there. …… The key will be how well the young outfielders, including rookie Shunsuke Sasaki (24) and second-year player Masaya Hagio (23), can hit.

Although their predictions are diametrically opposed, both managers cited the “success of young players” as a key point. Indeed, this season, in addition to Kadowaki, Sasaki, and Hagio, manager Abe is using players in their early 20s more aggressively than ever before, such as draft pick Yuta Izumiguchi (24), who will start the season with the first team.

Abe is rumored to be a power harasser because of his strict coaching during his time as manager of the second team, and the younger players were scared of him even before he took over. However, during the camp, he told the pitchers, “If you’re going to give up four balls, just hit it right down the middle.” He also advised rookie Sasaki to “hit a ground ball to shortstop” and “Strikeouts are perfectly acceptable” during red and white games. He also actively communicated with the players by moving around the field and benches. I had often heard that Mr. Hara’s position in the team was so high that the younger players were atrophied, so I thought, ‘The Giants have changed, too. It seems to be similar to the relationship between managers and players during the first Hara administration in 2002,” said Mr. B, a Giants reporter for a sports newspaper.

Ironically, it was that trouble that made the Giants fans so upset that it played a role in the youngsters’ breakthrough.

Rougned Odor, 30, an outfielder from the Padres who is a candidate for the cleanup position because of his long-ball hitting ability, refused to play with the second team and returned to Japan before the season opener. From the perspective of the team’s executives, this is a major blunder, but it has increased the competition for the three outfielder slots. The fierce competition among Sasaki, Hagio, Rui Okoye (26), and veterans Yoshihiro Maru (35) and Takayuki Kajitani (35) has brought a good sense of tension to the team,” said C, a baseball team official.

While the outfielders are replaced on a daily basis, the infielders are firmly fixed.

Kadowaki has been playing shortstop since the latter half of last year, which has allowed the team to concentrate on hitting by moving Sakamoto, who plays fifth, to the less burdensome position of third and Kazuma Okamoto (27), who plays fourth, to first. Okamoto is the league’s triple crown winner as of April 15. Naoki Yoshikawa (29) at second has not improved his hitting, but his defensive skills are superb. Even if someone misses a game due to injury, the utility player Izumiguchi is there to provide peace of mind. Right now, the Giants’ infield is one of the most solid among the 12 teams,” said Mr. D, who is in charge of the Giants in a sports newspaper.

The competition for catcher, which last year was almost fixed at Takuzo Oshiro (31), has also been rekindled. Veteran Seiji Kobayashi (34), who took a big pay cut this season from 100 million yen to 30 million yen (both estimates), has been on fire.

Mr. Hara, who considered a catcher’s batting ability important, put more emphasis on Oshiro, who is a good hitter, and he seemed to see Kobayashi as a solid defensive catcher. However, even though Mr. Abe was himself a catcher who could hit, he valued Kobayashi’s lead, shoulders, and leadership even if he could not hit at all. Or perhaps it is correct to say that he does not value Oshiro as much as Mr. Hara does (laugh).
In any case, there will be more cases like the April 12-14 game against Hiroshima, where Kobayashi will be used as a starter depending on his matchup with the pitcher, and Ogi will be called upon to bat in place of him in the late innings of the game. The team also has promising players such as Shinnosuke Yamase (22), a former apprentice from his days as manager of the second team, and Yukinori Kishida (27), a mood-maker who is known for his punchy hitting, which adds depth to the lineup.

Shunsuke Sasaki, outfielder, 24, is the first rookie in 28 years since Toshihisa Nishi (52) to be named No. 1 for the season opener. Can he keep his spot for a year?
Rougned Odor (30), already retired, was a candidate for the main axis of the Giants with concerns about his long-hitting ability, but unexpectedly returned to Japan before the season opener. He has become a very disturbing foreigner.
Kazuma Okamoto, first baseman (27) Okamoto has actually been the captain since ’23, and is the No. 4 player. He is not an eloquent type, but he leads the team with his powerful home runs.

The pros and cons of Abe’s leadership

However, not everything is going well. The new manager’s “careful management” has sometimes been criticized.

He has been criticized for his cautious approach. “Even though he doesn’t have the ability to hit a long ball, he still seems to be too rigid,” said Abe, “forcing Maru to bunt to third base or signaling Maru to bunt with one out in the ninth. It’s good that they’re winning now, but if they continue to attack passively when they start to lose, the team’s morale will suffer,” said another Giants alumnus, Mr. E.

Still, the pitching staff, which had been derided as being in a “pitching wreck” state, has been revitalized by new pitching staff members.

I didn’t think Takahashi, who came from Softbank in the trade with Walker, was such a good pitcher. In 19 innings pitched in three games since the season opener, he has allowed only one earned run and four earned runs, and his control, which had been said to be an issue, has not been a problem. In addition to ace Shoyuki Togo (24) and Iori Yamazaki (25), who recorded double-digit wins last season, Tomoyuki Sugano (34), who has struggled with injuries in recent years and has been in poor form, is also in good form, as are Foster Griffin (28) and Yoander Mendez (29), who were active last season. If Kenshin Hotta (22) and Yuji Akahoshi (24) can join them, the starting rotation will be even more complete,” said Mr. F on the baseball desk of a sports newspaper.

The DRA rookie of the year added depth to the relief lineup, which had been a problem.

Yuho Nishidate (22) has established himself as the man of the seventh inning, which is a big factor. His characteristic super-quick pitching technique would be difficult to deal with at first sight. Kota Nakagawa (30) was originally supposed to enter in the following 8th inning, but he was struck down consecutively in the opening inning due to knee pain and was struck from the roster.
However, Alberto Baldonado (31) has been playing well in his place, and his guardian god, Tase, has been hitting 160 km/h. The winning formula of Nishidate (right) in the 7th inning, Baldonado (left) in the 8th inning, and Tase (right) in the 9th inning was completed. This will make it difficult for the bullpen to become exhausted by machine-gun relays,” said Mr. B.

In the past, the Giants had a winning formula of Daisuke Ochi (40) in right, Tetsuya Yamaguchi (40) in left, and Mark Kroon (51) in right, who were called the God of Wind and Thunder. For manager Abe, who led the team, the completion of the new winning formula must have been a deeply moving moment. Once a winning pattern is established, the team will be able to expand its tactical options, such as using the oddball southpaw Yuhei Takanashi (31) as a one-point hitter against the hard left-handed hitters.

The development of young fielders and the reform of the pitching staff, which was on the verge of collapse. One would have thought that manager Abe would have accomplished all of this in one fell swoop, but behind the scenes, he had an excellent pitching and hitting strategist.

Chief pitching coach Sugiuchi’s policy of developing the pitchers’ strengths without overthinking while training them physically has been successful. The pitching staff under Mr. Hara was tense, for better or worse. Whenever a pitcher gave himself up on four pitches or hit by an opposite-field pitch, the manager would come from the bench with a very serious look on his face and ask to be replaced, and only a few bold pitchers such as Yamazaki, who was suspected of refusing to be replaced (later he explained that it was a misunderstanding), were able to perform well. I don’t feel that kind of atmosphere from the bench now. Whether it is good or bad, Mr. Abe respects the policy of coaches Sugiuchi and Utsumi to let the players play freely.

Leading the fielding staff is Tomohiro NIOKA, 47, head coach and chief hitting coach.

Tomohiro NIOKA, 47, the head and chief hitting coach, is the leader of the fielding staff. Since he was the farm manager last year, he understands promising young players, and it is said that it was Mr. Nioka who recommended Hagio to the first team. The players have realized that he is a key man, and some of the players in the 1.5-gun are bracing themselves, saying, “If Mr. Nioka lets me down, I’ll go to ……. It seems that hitting coach Yano is taking care of these troubled young players. On the other hand, it is said that Mr. Nioka’s authority is so great that it is difficult for Masumi Kuwata, 56, who was promoted to manager of the second team this year, to pass his recommendation. ……

Pitchers, fielders, and coaches. The combination of experience and youth of each of the pitchers, fielders, and coaches has made the Giants really strong this year. If they continue at this pace, they should be able to achieve their long-cherished goal of regaining the top spot in Japan.

Yuyo Nishidate (22), a DRA1 rookie who has established himself as a reliever, dazzles opposing batters with his 150+ km/h fastball and unique quick throws to all pitches.
Alberto Baldonado (31), a pitcher from Panama, is nicknamed “Baldy. He was used as a substitute for the ineffective Nakagawa, but now he is “the man of the 8th inning” in both name and reality.
Tomohiro NIOKA, head coach and chief hitting coach (47). Even after becoming a leader, the scandal still leaves a strong impression on fans.
Masumi Kuwata (56) Kuwata was effectively ousted by the Hara administration when they clashed over his coaching policy. He is still trying to distance himself from the new manager. ……?

From “FRIDAY,” May 3, 2024 issue

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