Posted by simon c on 2008 October 16日 Thursday
The Central League concluded their 2008 regular season recently and is gearing up for its Climax Series playoffs which will start this Saturday the 18th as Hanshin hosts Chunichi for the best of 3 series at their home away from home, the Kyocera Dome Osaka, because their venerable Koshien Stadium is undergoing renovations that could not have been rescheduled. What, did the Koshien brass think that the Tigers were not going to host any postseason games this year?
Anyways, the Pacific League has completed the first round of its playoffs with the 3rd place Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters earning a clean 2 game sweep over the 2008 miracle team, the Orix Buffaloes, in the very same Osaka Dome. The pitching and defence minded Fighters are built for the postseason where run scoring is at a premium. The Fighters won game 1 behind a strong 1 run (unearned) 14K complete game performance in the 4-1 win by their dominant ace, Yu Darvish. The Buffs managed 9 hits in the game, but 5 of them were of the infield variety. Game 2 featured a strong performance by starter Shugo Fujii and the bats came alive for an easy 7-2 win. Through the quirk of scheduling (probably to maximize weekend dates) the Fighters get to throw Darvish out there in one of the first two games of the PL final against the Saitama Seibu Lions which starts tomorrow, Friday the 17th, and possibly have him pitch the deciding game 6 on the 23rd if necessary. That’ll be a tough hurdle for the Lions to clear, despite starting the best of 7 series off with a 1-0 advantage and playing all games at home.
Back to the CL for the regular season recap and playoff preview.
1. Yomiuri Giants
The all star team that was supposed to win the CL pennant did manage to achieve the feat in the waning days of the season, through a combination of a dominating second half of the season and the monumental Hanshin collapse (more on that later). Signing highly prized free agents Alex Ramirez (144GP 600PA 319/373/617 with 45 HR 125RBI), Seth Greisinger (31GS 206IP 3.06ERA 17-9), and Marc Kroon (61G 61IP 2.21ERA 41SV) from their poorer CL cousins turned out to be an absolute bonanza as Kroon had no injury problems and Rami-chan’s 2007 revival wasn’t a fluke. Well, these were gambles that the richest NPB club could afford to take. The Giants have an import conundrum as Lee Seung-Yeop came on hot coming back from the Olympic where he played hero with 7HR and 18RBI in September (including homering in 3 straight at bats against the lowly BayStars). But their pitcher from downunder Adrian Burnside had a decent season as well when given the opportunity as he had 3.48ERA in 75IP. Teams are allowed to carry 4 imports on the active roster, and the Giants will host the winner of the Hanshin-Chunichi series starting on the 22nd.
After it was all said and done, Michihiro Ogasawara (310/381/573 with 36HR) and catcher Shinnosuke Abe (271/350/502) had their usual productive seasons, and while Tetsuya Utsumi (184.1IP 2.73ERA) had yet another strong season and MLB bound Koji Uehara had a strong second half to make his record a respectable 3.81ERA in 89.2IP after a disasterous start to the season, Hisanori Takahashi returned to his pre-2007 form with 4.13ERA in 122IP and Hiroshi Kisanuki had similar numbers with 4.14ERA in 74IP. The Giants should prove to be a formidable opponent for either winner of the first round, as the team will be right at home in the homer-happy Tokyo Dome.
2. Hanshin Tigers
RS-RA: 578 – 521
The Tigers held the Central League until the 141st game of the 144 game regular season, at one point holding a 13 game lead over the Giants in the summer, but allowed Yomiuri to win the league in the 143rd game of the year completing the greatest choke of Central League history (previous record was the 1996 Giants overcoming a 11.5 game deficit to take the league crown). The Hanshin batters Kanemoto, Akahoshi, and Arai held the top 3 spots in CL OBP rankings with Toritani in 8th at the beginning of summer. But at the end of the season only Akahoshi and Kanemoto kept their spots in the top 10 with 3rd and 6th respectively, Arai and Toritani had just fallen out of the top 10, but Kentaro Sekimoto at .364 in 14th just below the former two means that this team should still know how to get on base and not make outs.
The team is driven by a trio of 40 year olds in Tomoaki “Aniki” Kanemoto (307/392/527, 62XBH 108RBI), Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (2.99ERA 162.1IP 11-6, most IP on the team), and catcher Akihiro Yano. The Tigers seemed to lose steam midway through the season when key cogs Yano, Arai, and Fujikawa were lost to the Olympic team in Beijing. But not being able to revive the team when these players returned after the Games was just sad. The vaunted reliever trio of JFK was less effective this season, perhaps showing the effects of their age and work over the past several seasons, with Jeff Williams (3.09ERA 55.1IP) and Tomoyuki Kubota (3.16ERA 85.1IP) more hittable than usual and only Kyuji Fujikawa (0.67ERA 67.2IP 38SV) posting his usual numbers. The emergence of Ryo Watanabe (2.67ERA 67.1IP) should take some of the load off the trio and the bullpen will be a key component in the playoffs as Tigers starters don’t go deep into games (as seen by Shimoyanagi’s 162.1IP being the team leader). The team will have to return to an earlier form of getting on base and shutdown bullpen to pull off some success in the postseason against defending Japan Series champs Chunichi and the red hot Giants.
3. Chunichi Dragons
RS-RA: 535 – 556
The defending Japan Series champions had to fight the upstart Hiroshima Carp hard at the end of the season to squeak into the playoffs. The Dragons were battling for the CL pennant until they quickly lost steam with the Olympics where the team lost NPB-high 4 players to Beijing in Araki, Morino, Kawakami, and Iwase, the latter blowing up badly as he was left in or brought into games he shouldn’t have been on the way to Japan’s 4th place finish. The Dragons have a great ace in Kenshin Kawakami (2.30ERA 117.1IP) and Masa Yamamoto had a revival season with 3.16ERA over team high 133.2IP. Closer Hitoki Iwase (2.94ERA 49IP 36SV) has become more hittable over the past two seasons and this may be a key difference with Hanshin.
4. Hiroshima Carp
RS-RA: 537 – 569
Marty Brown’s little team that could almost snatched a playoff spot away from Chunichi but just fell short by 2 games in their final season at the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium. The new Hiroshima stadium that will open next spring looks to be a beauty of a ballpark in the NPB filled with characterless multipurpose domes. The Carp were carried on the back of new import Colby Lewis (2.68ERA 178IP 15-8, 2nd in CL ERA and wins despite being on a losing team) and Kenta Kurihara continues to grow as an offensive force (2008 – 904OPS, 2007 – 873, 2006 – 837) but the team is in serious need other offensive parts to fill out the lineup. Yeah, it’s nice that Higashide hit 310, but he can’t draw walks or hit for power (678 OPS).
5. Tokyo Yakult Swallows
RS-RA: 583 – 569
The birds underperformed their Pythagorean expectations (based on RS-RA) despite having a capable bullpen stocked with Lim Chang-Yong (3.00ERA 51IP 33SV though it seems the league figured out how to hit the funky submariner as the season went along because he was unhittable early in the season), setup men Kenichi Matsuoka (1.39ERA 71.1IP), Takehiko Oshimoto (3.34ERA 72.2IP), and oft-injured Ryota Igarashi (2.47ERA 43.2IP). The emergence of Masanori Ishikawa (2.68ERA 195IP 12-10, after 3 seasons of 4+ ERA) as the staff ace was a bright spot of the pitching staff. On the hitting side, Norichika Aoki replicated his 2007 season with 347/413/529 further cementing his position as one of the best Japanese hitters. The emergence of Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (279/364/406) and Kazuki Fukuchi (320/366/449) as dependable bats is promising. And there is talk that Aaron Guiel will return to the Swallows next year after a miserable injury-riddled season (200/306/396), his age (36) is a worrying factor though for a three true outcomes (strikeout, homerun, walk) type player like him.
6. Yokohama BayStars
RS-RA: 552 – 706
The miserable season for Yokohama came to a thankful end, but not before the BayStars managed to become the only team to surrender over 700 runs this season. The only bright spots on the team were hitters Shuichi Murata who won the CL homerun title with 46 roundtrippers (though 29 were hit in his bandbox of a home park Yokohama Stadium), and the breakout season by Seiichi Uchikawa (378/416/540) who became only the 10th player in NPB history to finish the season with a batting average north of .370, can he be the second coming of Norichika Aoki?
Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: alex ramirez, aoki, central league, cl, climax series, colby lewis, greisinger, iwase, kanemoto, kawakami, kroon, kurihara, murata, norichika, playoffs, preview, regular season, review, shimoyanagi, uchikawa | 4 Comments »
Posted by simon c on 2008 October 9日 Thursday
The Central League still has a few rain out games to remake that will determine first place, and the huge one game advantage and home field advantage (all games at home), so I’ll leave the CL until next week.
The Pacific League has completed its regular season schedule and the first round of the playoffs (best of 3) begins this Saturday.
So, here’s the season review and Climax Series playoff preview.
1. Saitama Seibu Lions
The powerful team that ran with the PL lead all season backed into clinching the PL crown while losing 7 straight because 2nd place Orix was also in a losing skid. The team will be without GG Sato (105GP 432PA 30 2B 21HR 302/368/546) in the playoffs. GG was invaluable in the first half of the season until his Olympic blunder (though, he was playing out of position) and subsequent injury. Luckily for the Lions, they have a capable replacement in Taketoshi Goto who blossomed in GG’s absence with 49GP 184PA 14 2B 12HR 301/370/602. The big time slugging team just fell shy of 200 homeruns with 198 (in a 144 game season!), significant contributions coming from Takeya Nakamura’s breakout 46 homers, Hiram Bocachica’s 20HR in just 78 games, shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima who had an MVP season with 124GP 556PA 32 2B 21HR 331/410/527, and Craig Brazell’s 27 homers (though with a blackhole 294 OBP). The team struggled in September with a 9-15 record, but has a couple of weeks to prepare for their playoff appearance on October 17th and hopefully will be back in form by then, and the one game and home field advantages should help. But if the shutdown pitching of Fighters win the first round of the playoffs, the Lions will have a tough task at their hands, as pitching and defense are paramount in the playoffs, and slugging not so much.
2. Orix Buffaloes
The surprise team of the season, as most people had written them off far out of the playoff picture in their preseason predictions. American manager Terry Collins resigned in May with a 21-28 record, since then interim manager Daijiro Oishi directed the team to a great 54-40-1 (.574) record. The team definitely has more momentum than the Lions at the moment finishing off the season by sweeping the Lions in a 2 game series and capping it off with a win against the lowly Hawks. The Buffs rely on the power bats of NPB veterans Alex Cabrera (37yo 36HR 315/394/593) and Tuffy Rhodes (40yo 40HR 277/394/583). Word in the clubhouse is that Oishi had much better relationships with the sluggers than Collins, and they performed much better with the new manager after season opening slumps. Pitching on this team isn’t shabby either with the unheralded four Satoshi Komatsu (172.1IP 2.51ERA 15-3 3holds), Chihiro Kaneko (165IP 3.98ERA 10-9), Shogo Yamamoto (154.2IP 3.38ERA 10-6 2holds) and Kazuki Kondo (149IP 3.44ERA 10-7) anchoring the rotation. The Buffs will be a formidable opponent at home in the first round of the playoffs against the Fighters, as the only difference is in Darvish (though that’s a big difference) but the Fighters have absolutly no power and Rhodes and Cabrera can win the series for them in the non-Darvish games.
3. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
This low scoring team is built for its cavernous home, the Sapporo Dome, and rightly so as the team’s recent playoff success topped by being the Japan Series and Asia Series champions in 2006. The Fighters are, of course, led by the best pitcher in Japan in Yu Darvish (200.2IP despite going to the Olympics! 10CG 208K 1.88ERA 16-4). But one man can’t win a best of 3 series, and the rest of their pitching staff is not spectacular with Ryan Glynn (3.64ERA), Brian Sweeney (3.48ERA), Masaru Takeda (2.96ERA), and Shugo Fujii (3.25ERA) for getting to pitch half their games in a pitcher’s paradise. The Fighters hit a league low 82 homers during the season, but time and again over the years they’ve shown that they can win closely fought games, so as long as the team can hold a lead to its shutdown closer Micheal Nakamura (2.14ERA 46.1IP 28SV) the team will be able to win in the playoffs (reliable setup man Takeda Hisashi with ERAs in the 2s the last two seasons has been rather hittable this season with 4.40ERA). The power will be supplied by Kensuke Tanaka (297/379/451 32 2B), Atsunori Inaba (301/380/513 25 2B 20HR), and Terrmel Sledge (289/361/473). Hmm.. looking at this, I think the Fighters can take the first round of the playoffs against the Buffaloes. All they have to do is win one of the non-Darvish games and both teams equally rely on just a few power bats that can mightily swing the series.
4. Chiba Lotte Marines
Bobby Valentine’s team finished just half a game out of the playoffs in the fierce battle that lasted until the end of the season. The gaping hole in relief left open by the departures of Yabuta (Kansas City), Fujita (Yomiuri), and Kobayashi (Cleveland) were nicely filled in with Yusuke Kawasaki (3.00ERA 29holds), Brian Sikorski (2.23ERA 13holds), and the emergence of Tadahiro Ogino (2.45ERA 30SV) as the team’s closer. The team wasn’t short on power either with Shoitsu Ohmatsu (499SLG), Toshiaki Imae (509SLG), Jose Ortiz (454SLG from 2B), and Tasuku Hashimoto (404OBP and 536SLG as a catcher!). The team just fell short. Better luck next year, Bobby.
5. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
This mystery team posted a positive run differential all season but struggled to put together a winning season and was removed from the playoff race early in the summer. I’m sure losing their closer Fukumori (Texas) didn’t help, but the team needs more help in relief so that it can win close games, even though Tsuyoshi Kawagishi (1.94ERA 55.2IP) and Kanehisa Arime (2.05ERA 44IP) both put up impressive numbers in relief. As long as 40 year old slugger Takeshi Yamasaki’s performance (276/372/471) doesn’t fall off a cliff, the team should be able to expect better things next season. Hisashi Iwakuma had an incredible season (1.87ERA 5CG 201.2IP 21-4, a definite Sawamura (Japanese Cy Young) frontrunner along with Darvish) considering how incompetent his teammates were.
6. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
The living legend Sadaharu Oh’s team was in playoff contention until late summer, then had a disastrous Sept-Oct (6-21!) and ended up finishing at the bottom of the standings, even losing the final game for Oh in a “sayonara” walk-off fashion to nearly futile Eagles. 35 year old Nobuhiko Matsunaka’s slip in performance over the last several years (2004-1.179OPS, 2005-1.075, 2006-.981, 2007-.798, 2008-.871) is a concern as he’s not getting any younger. Fellow slugger Hiroki Kokubo is even older at 37, Hitoshi Tamura is always battling injuries, so the only bright hope is the up and coming third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda (279/322/468), his lack of ability to draw walks is concerning but he’s still 25. On the pitching side, Toshiya Sugiuchi had a great season (2.66ERA 196IP) and Ohtonari had a solid season (3.12ERA 155.2IP) but highly touted rookie Shota Ohba had a disastrous campaign (5.42ERA 78IP 14HR), he’ll have to cut down on the number of homers given up to improve his performance.
Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, NPB, opinion, statistics | Tagged: bobby valentine, buffaloes, chiba, climax series, CS, darvish, eagles, fighters, Fukuoka, golden eagles, hawks, hokkaido, lions, lotte, marines, nippon-ham, orix, pacific league, pl, playoffs, rakuten, saitama, seibu, softbank, tohoku | 5 Comments »
Posted by simon c on 2008 September 29日 Monday
When the Saitama Seibu Lions clinched 2nd place (and the right to host some of the Climax Series playoff games) earlier in the season they announced several efforts to ramp up their ability to draw larger crowds to the Seibu Dome, which due to its inconvenient location at the border of Saitama and Tokyo isn’t primed for big crowds, especially on weekdays when they’ve drawn only about 14000 people up until the recent potential 1st place clinching games which had drawn 26000-33000 people. The Lions backed into clinching 1st place recently when the 2nd place Orix Buffaloes lost enough games, this means that the Lions are going to host the PL finals (or Climax Series 2nd stage) with a 1 game advantage, and Saitama gets to host the entire series of up to 6 games (Oct 17-19, 21-23).
The two major efforts in their campaign are:
- Host Game 1 at Omiya Stadium. They had already hosted a game there on June 27, the stadium is more centrally located within Saitama and this was in line with Seibu’s efforts to more firmly plant its roots in Saitama. Hosting the first playoff game there was an unexpected surprise and should help the team in this endeavour.
- Lower ticket prices! Ticket prices have been dramatically slashed in an effort to draw strong home team support and to not be an embarrassment. The Lions have also designated much of the third base side (traditionally for the away team supporters) for Lions fans, they better turn up in droves though I’m sure other fans won’t shy away from buying the “Lions cheering section” seats on the third base side. Anyways, here are the prices.
- Regular season: Special S 10,000 yen, Infield S 4000 yen, Infield reserved 3000 yen, Infield unreserved 2500 yen, Outfield unreserved 1800 yen.
- Climax Series: Backstop Special 7500 yen, L Infield reserved 2000 yen, L Infield unreserved 1500 yen, L Outfield unreserved 1000 yen, Visitor outfield unreserved 1500 yen.
So, basically the team halved ticket prices and are trying to fill the stadium with Lions fans. I plan on being there to take in a few games. Despite these efforts though, tickets are still available for all 6 games.
Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, tokyo | Tagged: climax series, dome, lions, marketing, omiya, pacific league, pennant, pl, playoffs, saitama, seibu, stadium | 2 Comments »