NPB news: July 4, 2024

On Thursday in Japan, the results of NPB players’ all-star voting were released, which predictably added a bunch of players to the PL team, five in total, which is not a record, and which I write about at some length below.

On the field, the Carp and Tigers played another doozy and we had a pair of shutouts, one pitcher’s first career complete-game shutout in a game when Yakult was traumatized by the second base bag. One rookie went eight in a duel between two starters with 5-0 records, and Hirokazu Sawamura even got a save, so it was a fun night even with just four games.

Thursday’s games:

BayStars 3, Swallows 0: At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA’s Kentaro Taira (2-0) threw his first career shutout, a seven-hitter in which four of the seven Swallows batters to reach were put out on the bases, one on a double play, two trying to stretch singles into doubles and the other caught stealing.

While second base proved an offensive stumbling block for Yakult, DeNA rode Toshiro Miyazaki‘s second-inning leadoff double to the game’s first run off Yakult’s Miguel Yajure (4-7). Two more doubles, from Keita Sano and Shugo Maki, made it 2-0 DeNA in the sixth. Sano singled in an eighth-inning insurance run, and Yakult finally succeeded in getting a runner in scoring position in the ninth moments before Taira ended it with his fifth strikeout.

Marines 3, Fighters 1: At Kitahiroshima Taxpayers Burden Field, Yuji Nishino (6-5) worked seven innings to earn the win, new import Jimmy Cordero worked a scoreless eighth in his Japanese major league debut and Hirokazu Sawamura earned his first save of the season for the Marines.

Nippon Ham struck for a run in the first after a Shun Mizutani leadoff walk and a Franmil Reyes double, but Lotte, which had three first-inning singles off Kenta Uehara (0-4) and two more in the third without denting the scoreboard, scored twice after the first two batters were out in the fifth.

Kyoto Fujiwara singled, Akito Takabe, who went 4-for-5) doubled and Ryusei Ogawa doubled both home. Gregory Polanco walked to open Lotte’s sixth and scored on a Hisanori Yasuda double.

Lions 4, Hawks 0: At Fukuoka “Your company’s name can go here” Dome, rookie lefty Natsuki Takeuchi (5-0) struck out six without a walk, while allowing four hits over eight innings as Seibu won a battle of unbeaten starters, handing Tomohisa Ozeki (5-1) his first loss.

Seibu scored twice in the third. Manaya Nishikawa singled, Seiya Matsubara walked, Sosuke Genda singled and Shuta Tonosaki broke the ice with a two-run single.

Matsubara singled in a ninth-inning insurance run and the other one of the two Lions “Boys of summer” – having the kanji character for summer included in their first names — third baseman Natsuo Takizawa singled in another.

Carp 7, Tigers 5: At New Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, six Hiroshima relievers did a better job than the trio Hanshin sent to the mound as the league-leading Carp avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of the second-place Tigers.

Hiroshima’s Shogo Akiyama singled in the first, stole second, took third on a throwing error and scored on a Masaya Yano single before the Tigers took a 3-1 lead in the second after back-to-back no-out walks from Makoto Aduwa, the second when one pitch was thrown behind Kairi Shimada. A sacrifice and a Ryuhei Obata single tied it, and Shoki Murakami‘s single, and his first career RBI put Hanshin up by a run.

Shogo Sakakura singled and scored on a wild pitch in the fourth, and Yano tied in the fifth. He walked with one out and scored after Kaito Kozono‘s one-out double. Hiroshima’s Takuya Yasaki, who saved 24 games last season when Ryoji Kuribayashi was injured or ineffective, worked two scoreless innings of relief, before two pitchers allowed Hanshin to load the bases in a scoreless seventh.

Murakami went seven, but three relievers combined to allow five runners in a four-run Carp eighth, with the go-ahead runner scoring on a wild pitch before Shota Dobayashi doubling in two. Yusuke Oyama’s solo homer made it a 7-5 game, and created a save situation, which Kuribayashi converted by striking out Teruaki Sato on four pitches.

Players fix PL all-star team                  

As predicted, the results of the players’ voting leaned away from pork. After the fans selected nine Nippon Ham Fighters to the two-game summer series, the players added five more to the PL squad. The players validated the fans’ selection of three Fighters, pitcher Sachiya Yamasaki, catcher Yua Tamiya and outfielder Chusei Mannami, and Hawks outfielders Kensuke Kato and Yuki Yanagita, who is expected to be out for the remainder of the regular season.

Kondo, who finished a half-million votes behind Mannami in the fans vote, led the players’ voting by being named on 449 of the 737 votes cast. Thursday’s five new PL all-stars are first baseman Hotaka Yamakawa and third baseman Ryoya Kurihara of the Hawks, second baseman Shuta Tonosaki and shortstop Sosuke Genda of the Lions, and designated hitter Gregory Polanco of the Marines.

I thought five “corrections” by the players might be the most ever since the players vote began in 2009, but players have added six to a team four times before, twice in the last three years. Let’s go over them:

  • 2010 PL: There was no rhyme or reason to this one. Unlike this year’s fan vote, the 2010 ballot showed no obvious direction for any one team. Except for the DH, the Fighters’ Tomohiro Nioka won the fan ballot but was not among the players’ top three. Nioka at the time was playing regularly for the first time in three seasons after Hayato Sakamoto took his job from him at Yomiuri and an unfortunate story about him meeting an actress – at least I think it was an actress – in love hotels for “conversations.”
  • 2012 PL: This was a foreshadowing of this year’s vote, with the “Handkerchief Prince” Yuki Saito voted in by fans along with seven of his Fighters teammates. Ironically, the players added Fighters second baseman Kensuke Tanaka to the team, while Masahiro Tanaka was added by his peers.
  • 2021 CL: This was also a bit of a mixed bag, with no obvious pattern of fan behavior, and the winners of the fan vote were well represented in the players vote.
  • 2023 CL: The year of the Tiger. When the Tigers do really well in the first half and haven’t won a pennant in ages, they tend to be over-represented in the fan ballot, which is not all that surprising since the theme of every season for Japan’s most popular team is more or less “We’ve got some possibilities this year, so how are we going to screw it up.” In 2003, Tigers won eight of the 11 spots on the CL fan ballot. In 2005, fans only voted six players to the CL all-star team.

In 2023, Tigers filled all but one of the 11 spots with Shogo Akiyama of the Carp being the lone outlier. The published players’ ballot results give the top three at each position except for the outfielders, in which we get the top 10. The players last year seconded pitcher Shoki Murakami and outfielder Koji Chikamoto, with no other Tigers even making it to the page. Still, the Tigers had the last laugh, so I’m sure they’re not crying about it.

I’m not complaining about the fan voting. It is what it is. It could, of course, be made much, much better, but since nobody in charge seems to give a shit, I can’t really be bothered. Congratulations to all the all-stars. A baseball career is short, and I hope you can savor whatever time you get in the limelight.

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