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Glenn Davies

       The Central League regular season finished up on Wednesday October 7th with the Yakult Swallows (76-65-2) crowned champions after completing a worst-to-first storybook season. Yakult could only muster a record of 60-81-3 in 2014, and when new skipper (and former player)Mitsuru Manaka was appointed in October last year few saw the Swallows as possible contenders for the CL title. In a large part the Swallows were powered by a near triple-crown season for Tetsuo Yamada .329 (2nd) 38 (1st) 100 (2nd), but well supported by stellar seasons from Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (.268 26 105), and pitchers Masanori Ishikawa (13-9, 3.31) and Tony Barnette (1.29 ERA, 41 Saves in 59 games).  Last year’s CL champions the Yomiuri Giants had and inconsistent season and finished in second with a record of 75-67-1. Manager Tatsunori Hara never found the right line-up or starting rotation, never settling on the two or three starters it needed to base a run on down the stretch. The difference maker here was first year import Miles Mikolas (13-3, 1.92), whose 13 wins in 21 starts helped propel the Giants out of the 4-team .500 quagmire that held firm for most of 2015.


       The Hanshin Tigers (70-71-2) did everything they could to lose the final playoff spot by going 9-13-1 in September and only managed to stay up due to a miracle win by the Dragons over the Carp on the final day of the season. Finishing third did not however save manager Yutaka Wada from being let go for next season. Their pitching did just enough to keep them in games with Shintaro Fujinami (14-7, 2.40) the only outstanding starter over the year. Randy Messenger (9-12, 2.97) and Atsushi Nohmi (11-13, 3.72) were inconsistent, and when they were on their game, suffered from poor run support. Veteran Kosuke Fukudome (.281 20 76) provided a comeback player of the year type performance, while foreign imports Mario Gomez (.271 17 72) and Matt Murton (.276 9 46) both had barren patches that did little to help a team that simply had no offense at times. Hiroshima were the unanimous pre-season choice to take the extra step from their playoff run last season and win the CL this year. However the pre-season darlings started poorly under rookie manager Koichi Ogata and remained in the cellar for most of the season. The Carp finished with a record of 69-71-3 (down from 74-68-2 in 2014), and only got to 74 wins thanks to a last minute surge of 6 wins in 8 to run it close for the last playoff spot. Most will feel that the Carp wasted strong seasons by Kenta Maeda (15-8, 2.17), Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 2.55), and Kris Johnson (14-7, 1.85).


       The Chunichi Dragons finished of their season by going 8-11-2 in September and holding 5th place in the CL by not being quite as terrible as the Yokohama Baystars. Chunichi managed 67 wins in 2014, and their 62 wins in 2015 show the exact amount of progress they have made under player-manager Motonobu Tanishige.  With around 10 of the current team retiring at the end of the season, it will likely be a very young and inexperienced team that takes the field next season. The Yokohama DeNA Baystars (62-80-1) were the talk of the CL in April and May, then fell gently down through June and July, before the total collapse in August and September. The Baystars could only manage a record of 8-12 in September. Media darling Baystars Manager Kiyoshi Nakahata managed 67 wins in 2014, and with only 62 in 2015 and a second half collapse for the ages, he has stopped singing around reporters(something he was apt to do when times were good in April), and has announced that he will not be back next year.






·         Shingo Kawabata (YAK) of the Yakult Swallows took home the batting title with an average of .336 in 581 at bats.


·         Tetsuto Yamada (YAK) took the Homerun crown with 38 long balls in 557 at bats (100 RBIs). He also became the 9th player in Japanese baseball history to join the 30-30-30 club by hitting .329 with 38HRs, and stealing 34 bases. Teammate Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (YAK) finished second with 26 Hrs, and Jose Lopez (YOK) in third with 25.


·         Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (YAK) took the RBI crown, driving in 105 in 512 at bats this season (.268 26 105).


·         Hiroshima’s Kenta Maeda (HIR) took home the Wins crown with 15 (15 -8, 2.09), numbers that may help him with his goal of moving to the majors.


·         The ERA title went to the outstanding Kris Johnson (HIR) of the Hiroshima Carp. Johnson had an ERA of 1.85 in 194&1/3 innings pitched this season (14-7 record in 28 starts).


·         Tony Barnette (YAK) topped the Central league saves list for Yakult with 41 in 2015. Barnette (3-1, 1.29 , 41 saves in 62&2/3 innings) came back from two average seasons to record his best saves total since 2012 when he saved 33 for Yakult.


·         50 year old Chunichi Dragons pitcher Masa Yamamoto retired after pitching to one batter in the Dragons final regular season game. Yamamoto has a career record of 219-165.


·         A few Japanese newspapers have reported that Hanshin Tigers skipper Yutaka Wada will not be offered a contract to return as manager next season. Former Hanshin and Hiroshima star Tomoaki Kanemoto is rumoured to be the front-running choice to replace him.



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