Tag Archives: Climax Series

Postseason split

The Central League is expected to cancel its Climax Series postseason playoffs in order to focus to allow for as many regular-season games, Sankei Sports reported on Saturday. The Pacific League is expected to stick with some kind of playoffs to choose its Japan Series competitor.

While virtually everything is new about the 2020 season because of the coronavirus, for stretches of their history the CL and PL have split on their approach to postseason baseball.

The PL, which has traditionally trailed the CL in attendance, has repeatedly tried playoff systems, a single-season trial in 1952, a 10-year stretch from 1973 to 1982 when the first-half and second-half champions played off, and most recently from 2004 to 2006.

The 1952 model consisted of all seven PL teams playing a 108-game season, and the four best clubs playing 12 more. The 1973-1982 format was filled with problems, primarily one of rainouts. Japan has not managed rainouts well, and first-half games rained out and made out at the end of the season, counted toward the first-half championship, not the second.

Teams that won the first half could go into the Japan Series uncontested by winning the second, but often they just fell flat in the second half.

I wasn’t around for those first two tries, but when the PL tried again in 2004, it was accompanied by a chorus of laughter from the old guard and the CL, ridiculing it for watering down the value of the regular season.

The new CL format would allow the third-place team to reach the Japan Series, prompting one of Japan’s biggest windbags, then Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe to spout some of the nonsense he was famous for.

“If the Giants win the CL and the PL champion doesn’t have a winning record, we’ll boycott,” he famously said.

Of course, the reason those playoffs only lasted three years was because the CL owners got jealous of the big crowds that second-division PL teams drew in the waning weeks of the season and wanted in. The PL playoffs were replaced by the Climax Series, which was modified so as not to offend CL sensibilities.

So if things go as the Sankei Sports reported, it will be a nice taste of nostalgia, with the CL owners getting once more to spout off about old-school family values or whatever, and very possibly at the end of the season wishing they had kept their damned mouths shut.

Time for the CL rerun season

The Central League may not be the strongest of Nippon Professional Baseball’s two top leagues, but it is the most dependable. Take any Pacific League innovation, and the CL will criticize it as a slap in the face of Japanese baseball tradition. Yet at some point, the CL will want to co-opt it.

This happened when the PL adopted Mizuno’s rabbit balls in 1978 and eventually four of the six CL clubs opted for it. It happened when the PL pushed to send pros to the 2000 Olympics and Yomiuri eventually took that push over and became an Olympic sponsor. It happened in 2004 with the PL’s expanded postseason, which the CL took over and called the Climax Series from 2007, and now it is beginning to happen with the designated hitter.

The DH advantage

After the Yomiuri Giants, who were easily the class of the CL this season, were swept in the Japan Series, manager Tatsunori Hara said the DH gives PL teams an advantage and said it’s time for the CL to break with tradition and adopt the designated hitter rule.

As these things do, it’s taken a while for CL teams to realize that while they may still draw more fans to their larger ballparks, they are now, if not a second-class league, weaker than the league they historically have loved to belittle.

On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, my co-host John E. Gibson argued that the Giants were hindered in the series by having to put their best pinch-hitter, Shinnosuke Abe, in the lineup as a DH, rather than keep him on the bench for use in an emergency. I found this a weak argument since players produce better results when not pinch-hitting.

The irony is that the big-budget Giants are one of those CL teams that have long stockpiled older sluggers acquired as free agents who were ideal DH’s.

In Abe’s case, using him as a DH instead of having him at first and regular first baseman Kazuma Okamoto at third, allowed the Giants to shore up their defense. The flip side of the coin was that in order to keep their DH in the lineup at Tokyo Dome in the Giants’ home games, the SoftBank Hawks had to use Alfredo Despaigne in left field.

Despaigne contributed on offense and did hurt the Hawks’ defense but with Tokyo Dome having no power allies to speak of, he is more suited to playing there than say Koshien or Nagoya Dome.

Does the DH really help the PL?

Central League teams have been able to use designated hitters in the Japan Series since 1985 and in interleague play, which kicked off in 2005. The following tables show how each league’s DHs have performed against each other in those games through 2019, and they present a stereotypical picture of one league relying on slow sluggers who draw walks, and the other on more rounded players with less pop in the DH slot.

DH batting results 1985-2013


Below are the basic results of non-designated hitters in all games played between the two leagues since the 1985 Japan Series. The gap between DH production and other hitters is not nearly as striking. Without the DH, PL teams are much faster, hit for more power and draw more walks. The PL non-DH hitters homer about 3 percent more often than CL hitters, while their doubles increase by 5 percent and triples by 26 percent.

Non-DH batting in all games


Perhaps someone pointed this out to Hara, but the PL’s success at in DH games, all at home except for the 2014 regular season stunt, when the DH was only used in CL parks in interleague, has been resounding.

Games results with the DH


Games results without the DH


The CL appears to have a normal home advantage without the DH, but is lost when they go on the road and have to use the designated hitter.

Another part of the issue has been that the PL’s larger parks — combined with their ability to have big hitters as designated hitters, has encouraged the use of faster more athletic outfielders. But with the the fences having been pulled in in Sendai, Fukuoka and Chiba, it will be less advantageous to trade power for outfield speed than in the past.

NPB games, news of Oct. 9, 2019

The final stage of Japan’s two misnamed Climax Series opened for business on Wednesday at the league champions home parks. The unorthodox format for the Japan Series tournament’s quarterfinals and semifinals is a best-of-seven

Central League champion Yomiuri Giants and the Pacific League champion Seibu Lions entered the six-game series with a one-win advantage.

Hawks 8, Lions 4

At MetLife Dome, the Hawks caught most of the breaks and now are three wins shy of knocking off Seibu in the final stage for the second-straight year.

Lions starter Zach Neal fell victim in the first inning to a lucky roll, when a little chopper stayed fair for a one-out infield single. That was followed by two very good swings from Yuki Yanagita and Nobuhiro Matsuda that produced two runs off low changeups.

Neal, who hadn’t walked a batter since Aug. 27, saw that streak end in the sixth, when he put Alfredo Desapaigne on after facing 125 consecutive batters without issuing a walk. With two outs and the bases loaded, Neal kept the ball down to Seiichi Uchikawa, and the two-time batting champ rolled over a two-strike sinking fastball for an easy groundout as Neal left the field roaring and pounding his glove.

After the Lions scored four runs behind him, the right-hander surrendered a solo homer to Yurisbel Gracial to open the seventh and promptly left the game.

The Hawks turned the game on its head in the eighth, when Katsunori Hirai, pitching in his 82nd game of the year, allowed a pair of one-out singles. Kaima Taira took over, struck out Matsuda but lost pinch-hitter Yuya Hasegawa on a good high fastball that he flared into left for an RBI single, tying it 4-4. Taira’s worst pitch, perhaps, came next and cost Seibu the lead. Catcher Tomoya Mori tried to catch a low slider about to bounce, but it hit off his glove, allowing pinch-hitter Ukyo Shuto to score the go-ahead run on a harshly ruled passed ball.

Hawks lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who has not been anything like the master craftsman he was in June, had little control or command and gave up a steady stream of fairly hard-hit balls.

But while the Lions’ pen opened the door a crack and surrendered three insurance runs in the ninth, the Hawks relievers allowed one run over five innings.

The game highlights are HERE.

Giants 5, Tigers 2

At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri snapped Hanshin’s final-stage win streak at four, taking an early lead behind 15-game winner Shun Yamaguchi and holding on to take Game 1 and earning a 2-0 series lead.

The Tigers last reached the final stage in 2014, when they swept all four-games played to advance to the Japan Series and a five-game defeat at the hands of the Hawks.

Yoshihiro Maru and Kazuma Okamoto homered for the Giants in the first inning. Hayato Sakamoto made up for grounding into a first-inning double play ahead of Maru with a two-run second-inning single.

Game highlights are HERE.

NPB games, news of Oct. 7, 2019

And it’s on to the final stages in each league as the PL’s third-place club, the Rakuten Eagles, and the CL’s second-place DeNA BayStars seeing their seasons end.

Each league’s Climax Series final stage starts on Wednesday in the Kanto area at the home of the league champs, the CL’s Yomiuri Giants and the PL’s Seibu Lions, who enter the ostensibly best-of-seven, six-game series with a one-win advantage. For the second-straight day, both playoff games finished with the same score.

Tigers 2, BayStars 1

At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin advanced to the final stage for the first time since 2014, when their 39-year-old closer Kyuji Fujikawa recorded a two-out save in a steady rain to end the season for manager Alex Ramirez’s DeNA BayStars.

For the second time in the series, the Tigers scored the winning run off lefty reliever Edwin Escobar again, although it was a tougher slog then in Game 1, when Escobar said, “that wasn’t me on the mound.”

—Here’s my chat with Escobar prior to Game 3.

With the game tied 1-1 in the eighth, a hit batsman, a stolen base by pinch-runner Kai Ueda, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly put Hanshin in front after former closer Rafael Dolis pitched out of a one-out, bases-loaded pickle in the seventh.

“I’d decided I was going to take off on the first pitch,” Ueda said. “I was out yesterday (trying to steal), but you want to get them back after they get you.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa, who in the second half has been reprising his role as Hanshin closer he held down pre-Tommy John and MLB from 2007 to 2012, retired the BayStars in order in the eighth. Pitching more than an inning for the second time this season, Fujikawa struck out captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, walked cleanup hitter and former Mariner Jose Lopez, before getting an infield fly.

After asking the ground crew to repair the mound due to the rain, Fujikawa faced Sunday’s sayonara hero, Tomo Otosaka, who was unable to replicate his two-run pinch-hit homer that won Game 2, tapping back to the mound.

Here’s my recent interview with Fujikawa for Kyodo News.

The two-inning save was the seventh of Fujikawa’s career and his first since Sept. 7, 2010.

“It was a very good game, all the way to the end We tried our best all the way with our best guys out there. Nothing to be ashamed of,” manager Ramirez said.

“We like to thank the fans for all their support. It couldn’t have been better. We did our best and they did their best. It was like a family. From now it’s only going to get better.”

The Tigers now head to Tokyo Dome, where they swept the league champion Giants in the 2014 final stage to advance to the Japan Series.

The game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 2, Eagles 1

At Yafuoku Dome, Seiichi Uchikawa drove in both runs for SoftBank in its first-stage-clinching victory over Rakuten, whose run came on Hideto Asamura’s fourth home run of the three-game series.

Uchikawa, one of only two players to lead both of Japan’s leagues in batting average and the first player in his prime to move from the Central League to the Pacific, further cemented his legacy as the key player in the Hawks’ second dynasty in Fukuoka.

The 37-year-old tied it 1-1 when he followed two-out singles from Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial with one of his own. He led off the seventh with a homer off Sung Chia-hao.

Side-armer Rei Takahashi got the win after allowing a run on four hits, two walks, and a hit batsman through 5-1/3 innings. With one out and two on in the sixth, reliever Jumpei Takahashi got Jabari Blash to ground into a double play to keep the game tied.

The next stop for the Hawks will be MetLIfe Dome. The Hawks are aiming to win three-straight Japan Series for the first time in franchise history. The Hawks won back-to-back series in 2014 and 2015 in addition to their past two years.

The game highlights are HERE.

Ramirez to stay, Tsutsugo ‘tsu go’

The last two years, there have been reports about the future of manager Alex Ramirez’s tenure as skipper of the Central League’s DeNA BayStars, but according to various reports, the team has decided to extend the former big leaguer’s stay in Yokohama after the franchise’s second-place finish. The club hadn’t finished that high since its 1998 CL and Japan Series championship.

Next season will be Ramirez’s fifth with the club, although a Japanese citizen, he is

The team’s chief executive also said that left fielder and team captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will be allowed to move to a major league club via the posting system.

There’s a brief look at Tsutsugo on my “Guess who’s coming to dinner” page.

“We’ve spoken at length about it (after the end of the regular season), and I’d like to let him realize the dream he’s held since he was little,” said Kazuaki Mihara, the club’s official representative to NPB.

Fighters skipper Kuriyama agrees to 1-year extension

Hideki Kuriyama, who reportedly told the Nippon Ham Fighters he’d like to step down after finishing below .500 for the second time in three years and watching his club collapse after pulling within a half-game of the Pacific League lead, has agreed to a one-year extension through next season.

The 58-year former outfielder, TV analyst and university lecturer, won the PL pennant in 2012, his rookie managing year, and captured the league and Japan Series championships in 2016 — when Shohei Ohtani was named the PL’s MVP, Best Pitcher, and Best Designated Hitter. Kuriyama has said it was his idea to offer Ohtani a chance to both hit and pitch as a pro.

This season, he adopted the use of a “short starter” a pitcher who would go through the opposing lineup either once or twice, and also experimented with various shifts, most noticeably against Orix Buffaloes left-handed slugger Masataka Yoshida. In the second half, he further experimented with an opener, using reliever Mizuki Hori successfully in that role.

When a team source revealed Kuriyama had informed the team he wished to step down, the same source said the team did not consider the team’s poor results a reflection of his managing effort.

The Fighters went into the season with most of their foreign-player capital invested in pitchers, but the quartet of Nick Martinez, Bryan Rodriguez, Johnny Barbato, and Justin Hancock pitched a total of 130-1/3 innings.

Giants meet with high school star Sasaki

Officials of the Yomiuri Giants spent 30 minutes on Monday meeting with hard-throwing right-hander Roki Sasaki, laying out their development plans as they try to encourage the youngster to sign away the next nine-plus years of his baseball life to a club that will not allow him to move to the major leagues.

NPB games, news of Oct. 6, 2019

Two streaks ended on Sunday, the second day of the Central and Pacific leagues’ Climax Series. In Fukuoka, the SoftBank Hawks defeated the Rakuten Eagles in Game 2 of a postseason series for the first time in three tries, while in Yokohama, the DeNA BayStars snapped the Hanshin Tigers’ win streak at seven.

That left both series tied 1-1 with Games 3 scheduled for Monday.

Hawks 6, Eagles 4

At Yafuoku Dome, Shuhei Fukuda hit a tie-breaking fourth-inning home run and uttered the required disclaimer, “I was the leadoff hitter so I was only trying to reach base.”

Yuki Yanagita and Alfredo Despaigne each homered as well for the Hawks, whose bullpen was solid after Shinya Kayama flubbed his lines in the fourth inning, allowing the Eagles to tie it after starter Rick van den Hurk was pulled.

Hideto Asamura drove in three of the Eagles’ runs for the second-straight day, but starting pitcher Manabu Mima allowed five runs over four innings to take the loss.

On Monday, the Hawks will send rookie side-armer Rei Takahashi against veteran Takayuki Kishi.

Game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 6, Tigers 4

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA once more blew a late lead only for Tomo Otosaka to hit a game-winning pinch-hit homer in the ninth to beat Hanshin. Otosaka showed bunt on the first pitch before driving the second pitch into the stands to even the series.

This time the hosts lost the lead with closer Yasuaki Yamasaki on the mound. A day after the CL saves leader was left in the bullpen as Hanshin came from behind with two outs in the eighth, Yamasaki was tasked with a two-inning save but surrendered a ninth-inning home run to 42-year-old Kosuke Fukudome.

“Unbelievable,” BayStars manager Alex Ramirez said. “Who was expecting that, especially after he showed bunt on the first pitch? He set the pitcher up. Incredible in that situation. Great job.”

“I wanted him to hit. What he did, he did on his own.”

Game highlights are HERE.

The BayStars will start Kentaro Taira in Game 3 against Tigers lefty Haruto Takahashi.

Masaichi Kaneda and Jim Traber

NPB’s all-time wins leader Kaneda dies at 86

Four-hundred-game winner Masaichi Kaneda died on Sunday at the age of 86 of acute cholangitis at a Tokyo hospital. Kaneda spent 15 seasons with the Kokutetsu Swallows after turning pro at the age of 17 in 1950. He finished his career with the Yomiuri Giants, who retired his No. 34.

Kaneda was a fiery competitor whose last five seasons — coincided with the first five years of Yomiuri’s V-9 dynasty under manager Tetsuharu Kawakami.

Kaneda was famous for mixing it up on the field with opposing players or even going after rude fans in an era when the game was much more violent than it is now. In the early 1970s when the commissioner at the time tried to curb fighting on the field and abuse of umpires, Kaneda argued that it would be bad for the game.

The skipper of the Lotte Orions for two stints, one incident I remember was his going after Kintetsu Buffaloes’ slugger Jim Traber and putting the boot in.

Here’s another where Kaneda instructs Mike Diaz in how to deal with inside pitches by giving the offending battery the old one-two.

NPB games, news of Oct. 5, 2019

Playoff baseball is underway in Japan, or rather the unfortunately named Climax Series — which represents the climax of nothing — is underway.

The rules are relatively simple. The home team wins all series that are tied. The first stage is a best-of-three set, with each league’s second-place team hosting all games against the third-place team. The final stage is a best-of-seven series in which the league champions host every game and begin with a one-win advantage.

On Saturday, both hosts lost meaning they are one loss or two 12-inning ties away from elimination.

Tigers 8, BayStars 7

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA hosted its first Climax Series games, the format having started in 2007 and both times the BayStars have reached the postseason since then, they have finished third and had to play all their games on the road.

The BayStars, managed by former major leaguer Alex Ramirez, opted not to bring closer Yasuaki Yamasaki in with two outs in the eighth inning. Fumiya Hojo, who had hit a three-run homer in the seventh off Edwin Escobar, tripled in two runs off Yuki Kuniyoshi to put Hanshin up for good.

Kenta Ishida, who had been coming out of the bullpen for much of the second half, started and went four innings before ace southpaw Shota Imanaga pitched two innings for the BayStars. Edison Barrios inherited a 7-1 lead. He surrendered a one-out double and an RBI pinch-hit single from rookie Seiya Kinami.

Escobar took over and gave up an infield single before Hojo took him deep, hammering a high straight fastball well back into the left field stands.

In the eighth, Kuniyoshi left a lazy cutter up in the zone and with the outfield playing in as Japanese teams do to prevent the runner from second scoring on a single, Hojo’s little liner just got over center fielder Kazuki Kamizato’s head for a triple.

“It was a very good game up until that point (when Barrios entered). ” Ramirez said. “Unfortunately, 7-1 until that point, and then Barrios and Escobar gave up a couple for runs. They kept the momentum and kept coming back.”

“I think there was no regret about how I used the pitchers today. That happens. They hit and sometimes they don’t hit. That’s part of the game.”

“To win two more games, we have to win tomorrow. So first tomorrow and we have to just focus on the next game and win tomorrow.”

Tomorrow will see Haruhiro Hamaguchi start for the BayStars against Koyo Aoyagi.

The Tigers’ seven-game win streak is their longest of the year.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 5, Hawks 3

At Yafuoka Dome, Takahiro Norimoto outpitched Kodai Senga and Rakuten regained the lead on its fourth solo homer of the game and manufactured an insurance run in the ninth with the help of some defensive mistakes by SoftBank.

In the third postseason series between the two clubs, the Eagles have yet to lose either a Game 1 or 2, which could prove problematic for the Hawks if that trend continues on Sunday.

Rick van den Hurk has been announced as the Hawks’ Game 2 starter, while Manabu Mima is set to start for the Eagles.

Game highlights are HERE.