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Japanese Baseball Update, July 2011 by Glenn Davies
Japanese Baseball Update, September 2010 by Glenn Davies
Japanese Baseball Update, July 2010 by Glenn Davies
Japanese Baseball Update, June 2010 by Glenn Davies

Glenn Davies

Tokyo, Japan

With only a few games remaining in the 2011 NPB season the match-ups for the Climax series playoffs are set.

Central League

CL Champions - Chunichi Dragons

The Chunichi Dragons claimed their second CL pennant in a row with a solid September where they went 15 -5- 3 (3 Tied games). They easily eclipsed and passed the season-long CL leading Yakult Swallows who couldn't buy a win in the final 2 months. This was a bittersweet pennant victory for Dragons Manager Hiromitsu Ochiai, as he has already been informed by the club that his 4 pennants in 8 years would not be enough to keep him around next year. The Dragons will go into their playoff series with the winner of the Giants, Swallows, with a one game advantage- as the format gives the pennant winner a one game lead to start. They will also be hot favorites behind the veteran hitting of Tony Blanco, Kazuhiro Wada, along with the strong pitching of 17 game winning ace Kazuki Yoshimi (17-3 1.67) and 10 game winner Maximo Nelson.

CL Playoff First Round: Yomiuri Giants vs Yakult Swallows

The Swallows had the CL lead for all but the final 6 weeks of the season…losers of 15 of their last 25 games, including a four game sweep by the Dragons, saw them wave goodbye to the title.

The hitting and pitching that kept them on top throughout the season disappeared almost at exactly the same time, and most newspapers predict that it will be an almost impossible task to out it back together to overcome the Giants in a short series.

That said, there is always a little hope. They are 12-8 against the Giants this season, and 2-2 against them in September. Ace starter Shohei Tateyama (11-5 2.05) pitched well against the Giants earlier this year with 2 wins and a 1.38 ERA against them in 3 games. Masanori Ishikawa provides a slid #2 in the series with respectable a line of 10-9 2.73 this season. Yakult will rely heavily on the bats of 1st year sensation Vladimir Balentien ( .231 31 76) and Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (.272 23 84) who set career highs in almost all categories this year.

The Giants finished a strong third after seeing of the desperate challenge of the Hanshin Tigers through September and October. Manager Tasunori Hara has demonstrated the depth of the Giants bench and bullpen again and again over the past month and they look certain to trouble the flailing Swallows. 17 game winner Tetsuya Utsumi and up and coming Hirokazu Sawamura (11 wins) look likely to trouble anyone in a short series. The Giants boast 5 players with 15+ homeruns this season, led by Alex Ramirez with 23 on the season.

Verdict: Swallows likely to fall to the Giants in the short series. Chunichi look good to take the winner and claim their spot in the Japan Series.

Pacific League

PL Champions - Softbank Hawks

The Softbank Hawks claimed their 15th PL pennant at the start of October, and their second in a row under manager, and former Seibu and Hawks slugger, Koji Akiyama. With the best team ERA (2.29) and the best team hitting (.268), it difficult to see any other team troubling them in the playoffs. Standout ace D.J. Houlton looks untouchable , finishing the year with a record of 19-6 with a 2.19 ERA, along with fellow battery mates Tsuyoshi Wada (16-5 1.51), and Tadashi Settsu (14-8 2.79). The team doesn't hit a lot of homeruns, with Nobuhiro Matsuda (.282 25 83) the only player with more that 20 this season, but the team has the knack of coming up with the big hits when needed from its cast of veterans and up and coming young stars.

CL Playoff First Round: Nippon Ham Fighters vs. Seibu Lions

Cut adrift in the bottom half of the division for most of the season few could have predicted the sudden rise and resurgence of the Seibu Lions. Even now most are unsure how they actually staged this comeback with most sports reports having focused on the battle between Orix and Rakuten for third over the season. But, here they are. Seibu went 19-5-2 in September and 7-4-2 in October to claim third from an also surging Orix Buffaloes. Veteran Fumiya Nishiguchi pitched well down the stretch, winning 3 of his last 6 starts ( including 2 NDs where he pitched 7 & 8 innings giving up 3 runs in total) and finishing with 11-7 2.57. The star of the show and possible game changer in a short series? The Prince Fielder of Japan - Takeya Nakamura. Nakamura hit .269 48 116 this season and could do enough damage to get Seibu the extra win needed in a close series.

Nippon Ham finished 18 games out of first this season, and were 7-16-1 head to head against the Hawks. They fared better against the Lions, going 12-11-1 and do have the ultimate short series equalizer in Yu Darvish. Easily the best pitcher in Japan at the moment, Darvish finished 18-6 1.44 this season and never really looked challenged by any lineup he faced. He pitched his way to 276 strikeouts in 232 innings, and was combined 5-3 against the Hawks and Lions. Darvish will almost guarantee a win in each game he pitches in either series, and fellow starters Bobby Keppel (14-6 3.22) and Brian Wolfe (12-11 3.60) have been solid this season. Nippon Ham's weakness is their lineup, third in the PL in hitting, but few highlights with their top power hitters all batting below .240 with only Sho Tanaka hitting more than 15HRs on 18 for the year.

Verdict: Fighters may pitch their way past Seibu, but unlikely to trouble the Softbank Hawks in the final round. Hawks to go the extra step in 2011 and reach the Japan Series.

Japan Series Verdict: Hawks to overpower the Dragons 4-2 , dejavu for the Dragons loss to the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japan Series last year.

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