In each of the last years, players from the Central League champion Yomiuri Giants were required to walk across Japanese pro baseball’s busy postseason thoroughfare and for two straight years they were run over by a bus.
OK, it wasn’t a bus that hit them but the Pacific League’s Softbank Hawk. In two videos that @HinosatoYakyu uploaded to Twitter, ace pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano and the team’s captain, shortstop Hayato Sakamoto were asked what the difference was with SoftBank.
I guess when you get swept by the same team two years in a row after dominating your own league, it’s natural to ask what makes that other team so good, and find a simple solution. Giants manager Tatsunori Hara suggested that using the designated hitter would give the CL teams a fighting chance.
Here are my three most recent posts related to the gap between the leagues:
But hearing the Giants players speak almost makes it sound as if some people think the Hawks are the reason the Giants can’t win the Japan Series and not the general imbalance between the two leagues.
If you think that, then as Ray Charles sings in the Roy Alfred song, I’ve got news for you.
The Hawks, as the most dominant team in either league, are a reason the PL is stronger, but they aren’t the ONLY reason. How do we know? Because if we stripped the Hawks’ 214-126-14 interleague record, the other five PL teams would STILL be better in quality than the CL.
CL records vs the 5 weakest PL teams
“Pyth” represents the CL’s IL Pythagorean win pct. over each three-year period.
It’s not the bus that ran over the Giants that is the problem, but that the traffic in that road just moves too fast for CL teams to keep up, and if it wasn’t the Hawks, it would have been somebody else.
The SoftBank Hawks took a 14-game home winning streak in Japan Series games into Tuesday’s Game 3 against the Yomiuri Giants and extended it 15 with a 4-0 combined one-hit victory.
The Hawks have now won 11 straight series games after starting the 2018 series against the Hiroshima Carp 0-1-1. The Giants have lost eight straight, one shy of the series record nine straight they lost from 1958 to 1961,
Akira Nakamura, whose eight career Climax Series home runs tie him with a bunch of real home run hitters, hit Angel Sanchez’s worst pitch of the game through three innings, opening the scoring with a two-run, two-out, third-inning home run.
Nakamura, made it 3-0 in the seventh with an RBI single off reliever Yuhei Takahashi, who hit the first batter he faced and was charged with a run when Kan Otake surrendered an RBI single to Yurisbel Gracial.
That was enough for Matt Moore who pitched well and somehow managed to not surrender a hit through seven scoreless innings in which two runners walked and two reached on errors.
For the first time in the series, a Giants starting pitcher came out very sharp. Sanchez hit his spots, expanded the zone away to right handers with his cutter and threw some superb splitters and for the most part kept the Hawks from barreling up his mistakes. He survived a hard-hit first-inning single from Yuki Yanagita but an infield single and a hanging splitter to Nakamura gave away the lead.
Moore was not quite as crisp and seemed to have some trouble getting low strikes called, but he was helped out by some good fielding from his teammates — despite an ugly attempted rundown in the first inning. A big play at third base by Nobuhiro Matsuda turned a hard-hit ball into a force at second after Moore walked the leadoff man in the fifth.
Moore looked vulnerable in the sixth, after his own error allowed the leadoff runner to reach. He fell behind and two fastballs down the middle were hit to center field. Hayato Sakamoto, who’d barely failed to get all of a fat fastball in the fourth came to the plate.
After a meeting on the mound to make sure everyone was on the same page, the lefty unleashed his best fastballs of the game to start off Sakamoto before striking him out with offspeed pitches.
The Hawks held Sanchez’s feet to the fire sixth, when Nakamura, back in his groove after an uncharacteristically undisciplined first at-bat, drew a leadoff walk. Giants manager Tatsunori Hara issued an intentional walk to set up a double play against the hardest team to double up in Japanese baseball history, but got out of it when second baseman Naoki Yoshikawa speared a grounder headed for right and one or more runs.
The Hawks knocked Sanchez out in the seventh. With a single and a sacrifice and three lefties coming to the plate, the Giants went to lefty Yuhei Takanashi and things went downhill. Takanashi hit a batter, gave up Nakamura’s single. With one out, Kan Otake faced Yurisbel Gracial and gave up a single before the Giants finally got out of the inning.
Livan Moinelo opened with a strikeout and then worked around a one-out walk and a hit batsman by striking out two more. Yuito Mori allowed Yoshihiro Maru’s two-out single up the middle to keep the Giants from joining the 2007 Nippon Ham Fighters as the only Japan Series no-hit victims.
Wednesday’s Game 4 will put Tsuyoshi Wada in position to win his second straight Series clinching game. Wada, however, is the last Hawks pitcher to lose at home in the series, having dropped Game 6 in 2011 before he went to the majors and went through Tommy John surgery.
The Giants, who for some reason put their second best starter this season, Shosei Togo, in the bullpen, will start right-hander Seishu Hatake on Wednesday.
Game 3 starting pitcher profiles:
A pair of 30-something first-year imports get the starting assignments. The Hawks go with lefty Matt Moore, who suffered a hamstring injury early in the season that limited him to 78 innings.
Threw his fastball 61.3 percent of the time, the second highest figure for any pitcher with 70-plus innings behind the Hanshin Tigers’ Shintaro Fujinami. Moore also throws his changeup and–like every Hawks pitcher–a curve of some sort. Moore’s curve averaged 127.7 kph this year according to Delta Graphs, that’s third fastest this season behind Sanchez (129.8) and Nippon Ham’s Nick Martinez (131.3).
Among pitchers who threw their change at least 10 percent of the time, Delta Graphs valued Moore’s as being the second most effective behind far-and-away 2020 leader Yuki Nishi. Moore was in fairly elite company this year with his swing and miss rate of 11.6 percent.
Sanchez is only in his first year in Japan, but had good success with the SK Wyverns in KBO the past two seasons. Sanchez’s big pitch is his splitter, which he threw 21.8 percent of the time. He threw his cutter and curve a little less often.
Sanchez is good at getting guys to chase, which as I must have mentioned somewhere, seems to be the Giants’ team philosophy, but is not overly good at missing bats, which can be problematic against a hard-hitting team that makes good adjustments.
Setting the record straight
On Sunday, Nippon Professional Baseball announced that Yurisbel Gracial had tied a Japan Series record by scoring in nine consecutive games. On Monday, the body issued a correction, noting that the record is 12 games, set by former Hankyu Braves middle infielder Toshizo Sakamoto from 1968 Game 3 to 1971 Game 2.
A rare home run from Yudai Fujioka broke a 2-2 tie, and Yuki Karakawa preserved the lead with a big sixth-inning strikeout as the Lotte Marines exploited some Seibul Lions defensive lapses in a n 8-2 win that sent them into the playoffs for the first time in four years.
The Marines surrendered the lead in the second inning, when Kazuya Ojima walked a batter and the Lions put good swings on three pitches in the heart of the zone to go up 2-0. Ojima was pulled after two frames, beginning an impressive daylong bullpen car rally for the Marines.
After a great start to the game in which his fastball was absolutely hopping, Wataru Matsumoto couldn’t get out of a jam with one out and runners on the corners. Cory Spangenberg, whose RBI single opened the scoring, lost a smash to third base, by dropping it between his feet and then fell victim to Lindsey Nelson’s Law — which dictates that a player typically looks the wrong way first whenever a ball is dropped.
Spangenberg looked everywhere but down, allowing the runner from third to score and leaving him with no play at first. Tsuyoshi Sugano tied it with a two-out RBI single.
Fujioka put the Marines in front in the fourth when Matsumoto (6-7) hung a fastball. The Marines shortstop stayed back on it and smacked it over the fence in right and into the Home Run Lagoon seats.
Daiki Iwashita (7-7) normally a starter, came on from the top of the fourth and left after walking two in the top of the sixth. With two outs and the bases packed, Yuki Karakawa entered to strike out No. 9 hitter Wu Nien-ting.
After a tenuous outing from Lions reliever Reed Garrett, a pair of misplays in the bottom of the inning helped score three runs. all charged to Katsunori Hirai. The Marines then committed their bullpen cavalry to chase the Lions out of pennant contention, as Frank Herrman, Hirokazu Sawamura and closer Naoya Masuda worked one scoreless inning apiece.
Sakamoto milestone highlights loss
Hayato Sakamoto only needed one at-bat against Albert Suarez to become the second-youngest player with 2,000 hits in Nippon Professional Baseball, but he tacked on a two-run home run, an infield single and a walk before the Yomiuri Giants were sunk 5-4 by the Yakult Swallows.
With teams permitted now to admit up to 80 percent of capacity, the Giants welcomed Japan’s biggest crowd of the season, 31,735, to Tokyo Dome, where Yakult’s Kotaro Yamasaki put only the slightest damper on the day with an eighth-inning grand slam.
Sakamoto is the 53rd player with 2,000 hits in Japan, a list that includes neither Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui, who moved to the majors before they could get that many hits in their homeland.
The Giants captain is the seventh player whose career has been spent primarily at shortstop to reach the milestone, since the position tends to be filled in Japan with light-hitting sacrifice bunters who rarely play regularly past the age of 30.
With numerous supporters urging Sakamoto to aim for 3,000, one could apply Bill James career assessment formula to get an idea of his chances. The formula gives him a 35 percent chance of reaching 3,000, and a 28 percent chance of surpassing Isao Harimoto’s NPB record of 3,085
Active roster moves 11/8/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/18
Things went south in a hurry for Nao Higashihama, and the Lotte Marines exploited their advantage to pick up a crucial 6-1 win over the SoftBank Hawks on Thursday at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium to stay in the Pacific League playoff picture.
Higashihama (9-2) needed two big plays from Yusuke Masago. The Hawks center fielder saved two runs by making a catch against the wall in the second inning, but couldn’t quite haul in Hisanori Yasuda’s two-out fifth-inning fly to the gap in left.
The Marines came from a run down in the inning after Seiya Inoue, who was robbed by Masago in the second, got justice with a one-out broken-bat single. With first baseman Kenji Akashi holding the big Marine at first, Yudai Fujioka bounced one over his head to put two on. With two outs, a decent 0-2 fastball drifted into the heart of the zone, and the rookie Yasuda put a good swing on it, driving it to left center. Masago came up short and the ball bounced to the wall. Fujioka, who had to hesitate on the play scored on a close play at the plate.
Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, Higashihama gave up a one-out single and three two-out walks.
Manabu Mima (10-4) allowed an unearned run in the third. With two on and two outs, he gloved a liner from Yuki Yanagita but lost control of the ball. He retrieved it and threw wide to first, scoring the Hawks’ only run of the game. With the tying run at the plate in the form of slugger Alfredo Despaigne, Hirokazu Sawamura came in and struck out the big Cuban on four straight splitters. The Marines’ lucky two-run fifth snapped a 28-scoreless-inning streak since Lotte scratched him for a run in the Hawks’ 5-1 win on Oct. 10.
Eagles ride late rally
Thirty-two-year-old veteran Ginji Akaminai and rookie Hiroto Kobukata each doubled in a ninth-inning run off Taiwan right-hander Chang-Yi (2-4) as the Rakuten Eagles broke up a 2-2 tie to beat the Orix Buffaloes 4-2 at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Former Padre Kazuhisa Makita (2-2) earned the win, and lefty Yuki Matsui earned his second save as he transitions back to the bullpen after spending the first half of the season transitioning to the starting rotation. Longtime starter Wataru Karashima, who spent the first half of the season in the bullpen, allowed two runs over seven innings in which he struck out 10, walked one and allowed five hits.
Ono earns Dragons an ‘A’
Sawamura Award winner in waiting Yudai Ono (11-6) struck out seven and walked one over seven innings to pitch the Chunichi Dragons to a 2-0 win over the DeNA BayStars at Nagoya Dome. The win clinched the Dragons’ first top-three “A-class” finish since 2012.
That 2012 second-place finish came under the late Morimichi Takagi in the first year after the club fired their best manager ever, Hiromitsu Ochiai, for not being fan friendly, and three years after the team’s parent company began cutting spending in the wake of the downturn in Japan’s newspaper business.
Ono leads the CL with a 1.82 ERA, 148 strikeouts, 10 complete games, six shutouts and 148-2/3 innings.
Speedy Murakami swipes 3 in 1 inning
Munetaka Murakami raised his career stolen base total to 16 with three in the second inning of the Yakult Swallows’ 8-7 loss to the Hanshin Tigers.
The steals came in his 265th career game, as he became the 17th player in Japan to manage the feat. The 20-year-old cleanup hitter singled, took second on the next pitch, stole third as part of a double steal. He stole home when the Tigers tried to pick off his teammate at second.
The feat hadn’t occurred in the CL since 1953. It last happened in Japan when Nippon Ham’s Makoto Shimada did it in 1979.
The Tigers overcame a seven-run implosion by right-hander Yuki Nishi.
Chono leads Carp, Sakamoto inches closer
Former Giant Hisayoshi Chono hit his 10th home run and set up the winning run with a 10th-inning leadoff single as the Hiroshima Carp came from behind to beat Yomiuri 5-4 at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto belted his 18th home run in the sixth inning. The two-run shot tied it 2-2 and moved Sakamoto within two hits of 2,000 for his career.
Government slams ‘Tazawa Rule’
Japan’s government announced Thursday that it was a day late and a dollar short. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the fair trade commission said it suspected Nippon Professional Baseball’s Tazawa Rule was a violation of Japan’s antimonopoly act.
NPB gave up on the rule this summer, and the FTC said it has dropped its investigation. The biggest surprise is less that the FTC dropped its inquiry than the realization that Japan actually has an antimonopoly law.
The rule in question was created in 2008 in the days before Tazawa, a top amateur prospect with corporate club Japan Energy, signed with the Boston Red Sox. The rule was aimed at players who turned pro overseas, and prohibited Japanese clubs from signing them after they returned to Japan for a period of two-to-three years.
The whole thing was riddled with irony, no less because the rule was put into place about the same time that lefty reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi was named Central League rookie of the year. Yamaguchi had turned pro in the United States, where he played rookie ball in Missoula, Montana.
The rule may have influenced high school pitchers Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani as they chose to remain in Japan after declaring their intent to go overseas.
NPB did away with the Tazawa rule this summer when he returned to Japan and joined the Musashino Heat Bears of the independent Baseball Challenge League.
In retrospect, the rule negatively impacted Tazawa and NPB, while limiting the options of two other players who were keen on turning pro with a major league club, Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani.
The rule prevented Tazawa from choosing to enter NPB’s 2019 draft rather than accept a camp invite with the Cincinnati Reds. It also prevented Japan from selecting him in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The 2013 squad, Japan’s first not to reach the final, was prohibited from selecting Tazawa, despite both head coach Masataka Nashida and pitching coach Tsuyoshi Yoshida saying how useful his participation would have been.
By getting rid of the rule, it made Tazawa eligible to be drafted last October, but no teams even took a flyer on him–a common practice when a player has broken one of the owners’ unwritten rules. Players of known quality who leave their teams in contract disputes have historically been ignored.
Martin re-enlists with Marines
Outfielder Leonys Martin, who is currently out with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss most or all of the postseason if the Lotte Marines qualify, has agreed to a two-year extension, ESPN’s Enrique Rojas has reported.
The deal according to Rojas is worth $6 million. The 32-year-old joined Lotte just before last year’s July 31 new-signing deadline joined Lotte just before last year’s July 31 new-signing deadline. Since then, he has made a big contribution with his powerful arm and his home run pop.
Although his numbers have been remarkably consistent since he arrived, his on-base percentage has jumped in 2020 because he is leading both of Japan’s leagues in being hit by pitches with 17, in 448 plate appearances.
Active roster moves 11/5/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/15
Kodai Senga (11-6) got a late start to the season but qualified for the Pacific League’s ERA title with eight innings in the SoftBank Hawks’ 2-0 win on Wednesday at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, over the Lotte Marines, who fell into third place, a game behind the Seibu Lions for the final playoff spot.
The Hawks’ win left them tied in their season series against Lotte after the three-time defending Japan Series champs starting the season 4-11-1 against the Marines.
With nine strikeouts over eight innings, Senga now leads the league with a 2.16 ERA and is tied with Orix’s Yoshinobu Yamamoto for the strikeout lead with 149 and tied with Hideaki Wakui for the lead in wins.
The Hawks scored on solo homers by Alfredo Despaigne, his sixth, and Ryoya Kurihara, his 17th, off former major leaguer Chen Wei-yin (0-3), and have now beaten the Marines in seven straight games. Yuito Mori notched his 32nd save.
Spangenberg, Lions feast on rookie Yoshida
Corey Spangenberg homered for the second straight night and drove in four runs as the Seibu Lions tattooed rookie Kosei Yoshida (0-2) for eight runs over two innings in a 10-3 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at MetLife Dome.
Zach Neal (6-8) allowed three runs over five innings to pick up the win. Shuta Tonosaki homered, drove in two runs and scored three, and Reed Garrett worked a scorless inning of relief for the Lions.
Buffaloes bounce Eagles
The Orix Buffaloes broke an eighth-inning tie with two runs off Alan Busenitz (1-4) in an 8-7 win at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome over the Rakuten Eagles, who fell 3-1/2 games out of the final playoff spot with four games left to play.
Orix lit up Hideaki Wakui for six runs over five innings before the visitors came back to tie it.
Endo goes distance for Carp
Atsushi Endo (5-6) threw a four-hitter for the Hiroshima Carp in a 5-1 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Hisayoshi Chono went 2-for-3 with two walks a homer three RBIs and his first stolen base since he was with the Giants two years ago, while Jose Pirela had three hits for the Carp.
Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto went 0-for-4 to remain three hits shy of 2,000 in his career.
Fujinami goes 6 scoreless innings in Tigers’ win
Shintaro Fujinami overcame three two-out walks to go six scoreless innings in the Hanshin Tigers’ 3-2 walkoff win over the Yakult Swallows at Koshien Stadium.
Yusuke Oyama homered in the ninth off Yugo Umeno (4-2) to end it and make a winner out of closer Robert Suarez (3-1) after the Swallows tied it with single runs in the seventh, off Suguru Iwazaki, and in the eighth, off Jon Edwards.
Takahashi lifts Dragons over ‘Stars
Dragons captain Shuhei Takahashi scored twice and hit a tie-breaking eighth-inning home run in a 5-4 win at Nagoya Dome after the DeNA BayStars tied it on home runs by Neftali Soto and Jose Lopez.
Soto’s 25th made it a 4-1 game in the fifth and Lopez’s 12th, with two on, tied it in the sixth.
Kodai Senga fastest NPB starter to 1,000 Ks
SoftBank Hawks right-hander Kodai Senga, whose family name literally means “1,000 celebrations,” notched his 1,000th strikeout in his 855-1/3 inning on Wednesday night at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Only Kyuji Fujikawa, the longtime former closer of the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers, who will retire this year, reached 1,000 in fewer innings. Fujikawa notched 92 of his strikeouts in 102 career innings as a starter, but he was primarily used as a reliever whose 243 saves are fourth-most in NPB history.
Senga, however, took over the Pacific League record from Hall of Famer Hideo Nomo. Senga started his career as a reliever and has pitched 82 career innings out of the bullpen. Signed after being taken in the developmental draft, Senga notched his first strikeout on April 30, 2012, fanning Lotte catcher Tomoya Satozaki, who was working the game as an analyst on TV Tokyo.
Active roster moves 11/4/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/14
The Yomiuri Giants got exactly what they needed to clinch their second straight pennant on Friday after the second-place Tigers tied. Knowing Hanshin had been held to a 3-3 tie in Yokohama. The Giants began celebrating as soon as they held the Yakult Swallows scoreless in the top of the 10th at Tokyo Dome in their own 3-3 tie.
The Swallows tied it 3-3 in the eighth, and Scott McGough allowed the Giants to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth but kept them from scoring, which was pretty much the story of the game as both team had big chances to score but failed at the last hurdle.
Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, whose team remained mired in a five-game losing streak and who barely scraped out a tie, said the game was a fitting pennant clincher in a season that only barely happened and said he was proud of the effort baseball had made to get it in.
The Swallows tied it in the fifth but failed to break the game open, stranding multiple runners in scoring position in the fifth and seventh.
The Giants, turned away in the fourth by starter Hiroaki Saiuchi, took the lead in the sixth when Yoshihiro Maru doubled and scored on a Takumi Oshiro single but left the bases loaded against rookie Naruki Terashima.
Kazuma Okamoto put some juice with a one-handed swing on a low straight fastball from Saiuchi in the bottom of the third to raise his league-leading home run total to 29 and make it a 2-1 game after Taishi Hirooka homered off Nobutaka Imamura in the top of the third.
Hirooka singled in the fifth, stole second and scored the tying run on singles by 19-year-old rookie Hideki Nagaoka and Yasutaka Shiomi.
Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto, their 31-year-old shortstop, moved within four hits of 2,000 in his career. Giants flame thrower Thyago Vieira hit 101 mph on the gun in the Swallows’ scoreless 10th.
Jose Lopez tied it in the ninth with a two-run home run off Tigers closer and fellow Venezuelan Robert Suarez. Lopez’s homer was his 10th of the season and his 999th hit since coming to Japan in 2013 with the Giants. With one more hit he will join Hideki Matsui and former Seattle Mariners teammate Ichiro Suzuki as third player with 1,000 hits in both MLB and NPB.
Joe Gunkel started for the Tigers and allowed a run over six innings and got the Tigers first-run started with a third-inning leadoff single. Jefry Marte went 2-for-4 with a walk, two doubles and an RBI, while Gunkel sacrificed a runner to contribute to the Tigers’ third run. Jon Edwards pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the visitors.
Carp blow up Dragons
Rookie leadoff man Minoru Omori and No. 2 hitter Kosuke Tanaka each drove in four runs and Seiya Suzuki came off the bench to deliver a game-tying seventh-inning single before hitting a two-run homer in the eighth as the Hiroshima Carp flayed the Chunichi Dragons in a 17-3 whipping at Nagoya Dome.
Rookie catcher Ariel Martinez marked his first-team return after a 10-week injury layoff by coming off the bench to bat for Cuban compatriot Yariel Rodriguez and delivered tie-breaking pinch-hit double in the fifth. Rodriguez allowed two unearned runs over five innings.
More zeros for Higashihama
Nao Higashihama (9-1) threw eight scoreless innings and Yuito Mori closed it out for his 30th save after Takeya Nakamura’s two-run ninth inning homer made it a one-run game as the SoftBank Hawks held off the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome 4-3.
Higashihama, the Hawks’ Opening Day starter has now thrown 24 consecutive scoreless innings, and has allowed two runs over his last 39-2/3 innings. Ukyo Shuto extended his record streak of consecutive games with a stolen base to 13.
The Lions’ loss left them in third place, one game out of the second and final Pacific League playoff spot and only half a game ahead of the fourth-place Rakuten Eagles.
Eagles go back to basics with Matsui
Former closer Yuki Matsui struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth to preserve a 2-1 Rakuten Eagles win over the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium in his first save of the season after Takayuki Kishi (6-0) allowed a run over eight innings.
Kishi struck out 10 without issuing a walk while allowing four hits. Hideto Asamura drew a leadoff walk in the eighth and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by Hirokazu Sawamura (0-2). Matsui’s return to the starting rotation was a key part of the Eagles plans this season, but he moved to middle relief after making 10 starts.
Yamaoka goes distance
Orix Buffaloes Opening Day starter Taisuke Yamaoka (4-5) allowed two runs over the distance while striking out eight to outduel Nick Martinez (2-7) in a 3-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome. Steven Moya halved the Fighters’ 2-0 lead in the fourth with an RBI double.