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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

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Buff luck: Tomotaka Sakaguchi's injury against the Giants last Thursday was typical of the Orix Buffaloes' bad fortune this season. KYODO

SPORTS SCOPE

Sakaguchi injury latest blow for underperforming Buffaloes


Tomotaka Sakaguchi separated his shoulder making a catch, and the run still scored.

Jason Coskrey

It's one of the cruelest ironies of a play that could impact what's already been a tough season for the Orix Buffaloes.

Had the speedy four-time Golden Glove-winning center fielder's momentum not taken him forward so forcefully after an impressive catch on the move — with a Yomiuri Giants runner on third — he wouldn't have hit the ground so awkwardly or been carried off on a stretcher after a few painful minutes of writhing on the Tokyo Dome surface. He would've simply made the out and (probably) prevented the run from scoring. Had he gotten to the ball late, the run would've scored, but Sakaguchi would presumably still be in good health.

It's partially because he's a such a good fielder that things unfolded the way they did. That's just the way the season has been for the Buffaloes. Even when something goes right, the end result is inexorably flawed.

Sakaguchi's injury on Thursday (he may miss several weeks) was just the latest blow. The Buffaloes took a pair of games from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows over the weekend, but have lost six of their last nine and are bringing up the rear in the Pacific League. To be fair, Orix wasn't doing so hot with Sakaguchi, but losing one of your top players isn't going to help get things on track.

What's frustrating for Buffaloes fans, and probably the team itself, is Orix should be better. This is a team with some talented pitchers and a few good position players that should be playing better.

Adding insult to injury, Orix (which finished fourth in 2011) is seeing last season's cellar-dwellers, the Chiba Lotte Marines, sitting pretty in first place, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (fifth last year) staying afloat in third — even without ace Masahiro Tanaka.

Injuries have played a big role in Orix's slow start, as has just plain old bad luck, but the current state of affairs is hardly new.

The Buffaloes have finished outside the top three each year since their formation in 2005, the exception being 2008's partially spite-fueled run to second place under Daijiro Oishi after manager Terry Collins quit midseason.

There have been misses on draft days, in free agency, on the farm, and not a good enough performance in the manager's chair. Even when the roster was flush with talent (2009, 2011 particularly), Orix finished in the B-Class.

The franchise needs to figure out how to get out of its own way long enough to foster the type of success the Marines are currently enjoying.

It's only May and too early to start abandoning ship, but nothing in the team's recent history inspires much confidence.

There were no smiles and little small talk as the players filed out of Tokyo Dome after losing to the Giants Thursday. Frustration was evident on their faces as they quietly trudged through the hallway, the funk of another loss hanging thick in the air.

A run scoring on Sakaguchi's injury is emblematic of the Buffaloes' trouble taking a step forward without first taking two steps back.

A two-game sweep of the Swallows over the weekend was a good start, but the Buffaloes have to build upon it and figure out how to put their best foot forward during the remainder of the year.



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