Sports: How Asian players performed in US baseball’s first half
With the second half of the baseball season starting this weekend, here’s a look at how some Asian or Asian ancestry players have fared over the first half and what some storylines are for the rest of the season.
Giants Left Fielder Nori Aoki: In his first season with the Giants, Aoki was playing very well. In 67 games, he was hitting .317, had an OBP of .383, a slugging percentage of .385 and had two home runs and 19 RBIs. He was going to make the All-Star game either as a starter or a reserve; on June 16 he was in third place in the fan vote to start in the outfield. However, his season unfortunately took a downturn when he was hit by a pitch on June 20 against the Dodgers in the top of the first inning. It turned out he unfortunately got a small fracture in his right fibula and was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 24. He just started running and taking batting practice, though, so perhaps he can return sometime in August. The Giants are 46-43 and 4.5 games out of first place and could use his offense back at the top of the lineup to help make a run for the postseason.
Blue Jays Second Baseman Munenori Kawasaki: He is in his third season with the Blue Jays, but he has only played 12 games this season. Prior to the season he resigned with the team on a minor league contract, and he did not appear in a major league game until May 22 when rookie second baseman Devon Travis was placed on the 15-day disabled list. He played second in that weekend series, starting two games, and going 1-for-5 with a walk. The rest of his first half would continue this back-and-forth between the majors and minors. He was sent back down to Triple-A on May 25, but recalled May 31 when utility player Steve Tolleson was placed on the disabled list. He only had seven plate appearances, appearing in six games and going 2-for-6 with two doubles, two runs scored, one RBI and one walk. He went back down June 10 and then came back up June 19 and then went back down June 26. It is not new for him to bounce between the minors and majors; he only appeared in 82 games last season and 96 in 2013. However, with Travis healthy again and backup infielder Ryan Goins on the roster to take up most of the utility infield work, it does not appear Kawasaki will come back up unless another injury occurs.
Red Sox Relievers Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara: Tazawa and Uehara are the two best relievers the Red Sox have, and they are both having good seasons again. Tazawa has appeared in 39 games, pitching 38.1 innings and is 1-3 with a 2.58 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and 40 strikeouts. He is 11th in the league with 14 holds and is 16th among all relievers with 0.9 WAR. Although his ERA is strong, it could actually be much lower because it ballooned after he gave up four runs against the Blue Jays on June 12 without recording an out. Before the game it was 1.33, and after it shot up to 2.51. Uehara is 12th in the league with 22 saves and has a 2.45 ERA, an 0.88 WHIP, 37 strikeouts and six walks in 33 innings pitched, and is eighth among all relievers with 1.2 WAR. Although he has been having a solid season as the team’s closer, he has been almost unhittable in his last 10 appearances. In the last 10 innings he’s pitched, he’s only given up 2 hits, walked none and struck out 11. In the two weeks since June 26, his ERA has gone down from 3.52 to 2.45 and he has gotten eight saves. He is only the sixth pitcher in MLB history to have a 20-save season after turning 40. Overall, the Boston bullpen is 23rd in the league with a 3.89 ERA, so at 6.5 games out of first place the team will probably look to add some more relievers.
Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki: Ichiro is currently in his 15th major league season, but it is overall his worst. It is not surprising, though, because at age 41 he is well past his prime, and he is actually playing a lot. He has appeared in all but five of the Marlins’ 89 games this season. In most instances it is as a pinch hitter, but he has played the field in 46 games: 24 in left, 15 in right and seven in center. He is hitting .253 with a .597 OPS, both the lowest numbers in his career, and he has one home run, 11 RBI and -0.8 WAR. His numbers were not quite as low for much of the season, as he was hitting .294 with a .689 OPS on June 18, but he then went hitless in 29 at-bats until breaking the streak July 8 against the Red Sox. He will most likely continue to get more starts in right field because of the injury to Giancarlo Stanton, who is not expected back for another four to six weeks. The biggest question Ichiro has to face is whether he will come back for another year because he currently has 2,891 hits, and with a decent end to the season he should be able to get to 3,000 by the end of 2016 if he decides to come back.
Rangers right fielder Shin-Soo Choo: Choo is in the midst of another disappointing season with the Rangers. He is hitting .221 with a .689 OPS (both career lows), 11 home runs, 38 RBIs, 84 strikeouts and -0.1 WAR. His numbers last year were a .242 average, a .714 OPS, 13 home runs and 40 RBI and 0.1 WAR. He will end up with more home runs and RBIs this season, but these are not the numbers the Rangers expected when they gave Choo a seven-year, $130 million contract prior to 2014. There are currently rumors that he might be traded, but as Fox Sports points out it will be difficult because he is still owed $102 million on his contract. His numbers versus righties are much better than against lefties, though, as his average is .260 and his OPS is .812 compared with .155 and .473, respectively. A team in need of a left-handed batter could try to get him, but the Rangers would have to pay much of his remaining contract and perhaps give up some other prospects in order to convince a team to take him.
Pirates Third Baseman Jung-ho Kang: In his first season with the Pirates, Kang has had a relatively good season so far. He is hitting .268 with a .732 OPS, four home runs, 29 RBIs and has 1.5 WAR. He has played 22 games at shortstop and 46 games at third, but because of Josh Harrison’s thumb injury, Kang has taken over as the everyday third baseman until Harrison returns sometime in late August or early September. Kang’s season can be split into two halves. Prior to June 1 he was hitting .291 with a .363 OBP and a .436 slugging percentage, but after June 1 until July 5 he was hitting .216 with a .296 OBP and a .273 slugging percentage. As the everyday starter at third now, the Pirates will hope that Kang starts to heat up and plays more like he did during the first two months of the season. If his last seven game are any indication, it is possible Kang is heading in that direction. Since Harrison went on the disabled list he has hit .346 with a .452 OBP and .538 slugging percentage.
Pirates utility player Travis Ishikawa: Since being acquired off waivers by the Pirates on July 5, Ishikawa has appeared in all seven Pirates games since then. In the first three games against the Padres, he appeared as a pinch hitter, striking out, flying out and then walking. In his fourth game against the Cardinals, he had a pinch-hit double and then played left field. He then started in left field, going 0-for-2 with one walk, and then he pinch hit in his sixth game and played first and then pinch hit in the seventh game. This will be how Ishikawa plays the rest of the season; he will most likely be the main pinch hitter off the bench, and he will get some playing time in left and at first.
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