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Japanese Baseball Playoff Preview - October, 8 2015

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Japanese Baseball News - May, 2015

Japanese Baseball 2015 Season Preview



Glenn Davies


         In an anti-climactic final month in the Pacific League (PL) the Softbank Hawks clinched first place with 2 weeks to go. Softbank improved upon their 78-60-6 record of 2014 by going 90-49-4 in 2015 and outscoring opponents a jaw-dropping 651-491. First year manager Kimiyasu Kubo has done well to improve an already solid squad, and with career years from Dae-Ho Lee (.282 31 98), Yuki Yanagita (.363 34 99), and Nobuhiro Matsuda (.287 35 94), paired with starters, Jason Standridge (10-7, 3.74), Tadashi Settsu (10-7, 3.22), Rick van den Hurk (9-0, 2.52), and Shota Takeda (13-6, 3.17), they look likely to clean-up in the playoffs.  The Nippon Ham Fighters improved upon their 73 win 2014 season with a record of 79-62-2 in 2015, but there was little chance they could catch the steamrolling Hawks. The Fighters went 11-11 in September, good enough to clinch second place with a week to play. Nippon Ham two-way star Shohei Otani (15-5, 2.24) did not really live-up to the billing with the bat (he only hit .202 5 15), but was the rock of the rotation winning 15 and continuing his strong performance from 2014 (11-4, 2.61). Many Fighters hitters appeared to take a step back in 2015 and they do not look likely to trouble the Hawks to much in October. 

          The Chiba Lotte Marines grabbed the final playoff spot in the PL by passing the Seibu Lions in the final week of the season. Chiba improved upon their 4th placed finish in 2014 and return to the playoffs after a one year absence. The performance of starters Hideaki Wakui (15-9, 3.39) and Ayumu Ishikawa (12-12, 3.27) being particular highlights this season.  The Seibu Lions outplayed expectations and finished  4th this season (after finishing 5th in 2014), but far from feeling like an improvement (63 wins in 2014 to 69 in 2015) the Lions will be bitterly disappointed in  letting the final playoff spot slip away. The Lions dismal efforts against the top two teams in the PL (15-33-2 against the Hawks and Fighters) being the most notable. The Lions certainly hit with power this season with Takeya Nakamura (.278 37 124) and Ernesto Mejia (.235 27 89), but lacked the pitching needed over the long haul. 

          Orix finished with a record of 61-80-2 and interim manager Junichi Fukura was unable to turn things around in the final three months of the season, and only managed .500 ball after taking over in June (and somehow turned that into a new contract). The Buffaloes won 80 games in 2014 and the drop from 2nd to 5th this season will leave many wondering whether last year was the aberration and 2015 the norm. Rakuten finished last for the second straight season since winning the Japan series in 2013 with now Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka. Rakuten only manged 57 wins in 2015 (64 in 2014), and manager Dave Ohkubo has already announced that he is leaving the club.  Rakuten went 7-15 in September and club-house divisions dominated the news.



·         Yuki Yanagita (SOF) of the Softbank Hawks took home the batting title with an average of .363 in 502 at bats. He also joined the Japanese ‘Triple 3’ club (Average over .300, 30+HRs, and 30+steals) with .363, 34, and 32 steals this season.

·         Takeya Nakamura (SEI) won the Homerun crown with 37 long balls in 521 at bats, and the RBI title with 124 (.278 37 124). Nakamura also shared the homerun crown in 2014 with 34. Hawks veteran slugger  Nobuhiro Matsuda finished second in HRs with 35, followed by teammate Yanagita with 34. Honorable mention goes to 1st year import Brandon Laird who hit 34 long balls in 498 at bats (.231 34 97).

·         Shohei Otani (NIP) of the Nippon Ham Fighters took led the Pacific League in Wins with 15 (15-5, 2.24), and ERA at 2.24. Otani pitched 160+ innings for the first time in his career, and improved upon his 2014 totals when he went 11-4, 2.61. His 196 strikeouts in 160 and 2/3 innings ensure that he is constantly followed by scouts and talk of moving to MLB.

·         Denis Sarfate (SOF) topped the Pacific league in saves for Softbank with 41 in 2015. Sarfate (5-1, 1.11 , 41 saves in 64 & 2/3 innings) saved 37 in 2014 with Softbank, and 10 in 2013 with the Lions.

·         Brandon Dickson (ORI) has re-signed for another two seasons with the Buffaloes. Dickson finished this season with a record of 9-9 and an ERA of 2.48 in 20 games with the Buffaloes.

·         Shogo Akiyama (SEI) of the Seibu Lions had 216 hits in 2015 breaking the Nippon Professional Baseball record previously held by Matt Murton of the Hanshin Tigers (Murton hit 214 in 2010 to break the record held by Ichiro Suzuki).


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