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.
Japan’s Central League resoundingly rejected a Yomiuri Giants proposal to adopt the designated hitter rule on Monday.
The Yomiuri idea is interesting because it’s novel. The Giants, Japan’s oldest existing pro baseball team, although not its first as Yomiuri likes to pronounce, have a history of pretty much doing whatever they want.
When Yomiuri thinks change is in its selfish best interest at the expense of its business partners, then it’s time to be progressive. Whenever a change threatens the team’s monopoly on power or influence, then Yomiuri falls back on how baseball is all about tradition.
Twenty-seven years ago, Yomiuri forced the other teams to adopt free agency because the Giants wanted to skim off other clubs’ veterans, never mind that it would cause other clubs’ salaries to jump. Free agency destroyed the Hiroshima Carp’s dynasty, but that was a price Yomiuri was willing to pay for the sake of giving players their just desserts.
The proposal stated three reasons: 1) the extra stress imposed by the coronavirus, 2) CL pitchers got hurt more this year, and 3) fans don’t want to see pitchers giving away their at-bats by swinging fruitlessly or keeping their bats on their shoulders. This last one, the proposal said was unacceptable from the standpoint of a professional organization.
No. 3 is probably the most likely, and for the reason Hara suggested–that the Giants, having not won a Japan Series for eight straight seasons, a franchise record, need to get away from tradition in order to rectify that situation. The DH, I would argue, is a small part of the puzzle, but far from the only one.
The idea that a DH would make Japanese professional baseball stronger is probably true. But there are other things that would make pro baseball stronger that the Giants are dead set against, such as joint licensing and marketing, because they would diminish the Giants roles as the kings of Japan’s small pro baseball hill.
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.
Tuesday saw another attack on Alex Ramirez’s managing, this time from Nikkan Gendai, which claimed it was appropriate to fire the DeNA BayStars skipper at the conclusion of this year’s one-year contract.
The article claimed people within the team are now talking about Ramirez being out, and that former ace and current minor league skipper Daisuke is the logical choice to succeed him
The article argues that Ramirez is the reason that the BayStars have scored fewer runs than the Giants despite similar offensive numbers.
“The (BayStars) batting average tops the league, and they are second in home runs. Yet they are fourth in the league and have scored 27 fewer runs than the Giants. One cannot argue with the reasoning that the difference is down to the managers.”
–Unnamed former BayStars player
As I’ve written before, whenever one sees an article by a former player for a team arguing that the manager should be fired, one should consider the possibility that the player in question is ripping the manager so that the new regime will hire coaches including the former player himself or former teammates who desire coaching positions with the club.
In regards to the logic, the data bears up under scrutiny. The BayStars are essentially as good as the Giants at getting runners on base and advancing them and have scored fewer runs. But saying the difference between the two managers’ skill IS the difference and saying that conclusion is arrogant beyond words.
Let’s look at this in a different context. Let’s say we have two batters. Over five seasons, Player A has batting averages of: .289, .330, .307, .319 and .275. Player B’s averages over the same period are .248, .290, .270, .265 and .295.
In the current season, Player A bats .275 and Player B bats .295. What person, with any understanding of the randomness of batting averages, would conclude that Player A is batting .275 because he is an inferior hitter? No one, that’s who. Yet that is essentially the argument against Ramirez, that everything he has done the past four years is irrelevant and ONLY this year’s offensive underperformance is the true indicator of the manager’s quality.
That is analogous to the BayStars’ offense this year. They have underperformed their projected runs scored by one run, while the Giants have overperformed by 31 runs. But calling it Ramirez’s fault is stupid because over the past five seasons, his teams have outperformed expectations more than any in the CL.
Since 2016, when Ramirez took over, the BayStars’ offense has averaged scoring 27 runs per season more than its Bill James Runs Created projections. Over the last two seasons they are an average of 20.5 runs above expectations. This is exactly the same figure for Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara.
5-year average above RC
Teams sorted by their average Runs Scored – Runs Created
The thing is the BayStars’ have an active analytics department, and unless their boss is as ignorant and or politically motivated as the former player who contributed to this story, then they will look at Ramirez and see they have something special.
Ramirez’s problem is compounded by a poor win-loss record relative to their actual offensive and defensive results. Given the runs they have scored and allowed, the BayStars should be 48-45-5 this year, five fewer wins than they have actually managed.
If you look at the team’s underlying credentials, what they actually do, and how their talent base has actually expanded under Ramirez, then claiming he should be fired is just an appeal to populism without logic.
The same player argues that Miura is a credible candidate because his team is second in the Eastern League, which I will admit is a positive. The other argument given is that the BayStars farm team is leading the EL in sacrifice bunts. This is an opaque attack on Ramirez, who bunts less than any other manager in the CL.
Yuki Nishi (7-3) threw his second-straight four-hit shutout as the Hanshin Tigers bedeviled Angel Sanchez (4-3) in an 11-0 Central League win at Tokyo Dome on Thursday.
Koji Chikamoto launched a high-straight fastball from Sanchez to open the game and the Tigers simply overran the Giants. Sanchez issued a two-out bases-loaded walk in the first and then caught a break with a doubtful interference call when second baseman Akihiro Wakabayashi cut in front of the runner from first to get a slow chopper and clipped him with his hand.
In a three-run second, Tigers captain Kento Itohara scored from first on a single to center, speeding home from third when center fielder Yoshihiro Maru made a lazy lob of his throw to the infield.
The Tigers win snapped an eight-game losing streak at Tokyo. Chikamoto homered again in the sixth for his second two-homer game of the series and Justin Bour homered in the seventh to make it 7-0.
“Yano wasn’t really at his best. He worked really carefully. When he doesn’t have a lot of room for error, that’s when you see his real skill,” said Tigers manager Akihiro Yano, who was also asked about Chikamoto’s success at Tokyo Dome.
“Does he do well in this park? Is that really a thing?”
Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, who stirred a national debate on Aug. 6 by using utility man Daiki Masuda as an emergency pitcher–something rarely seen in Japan–sent his top pinch-runner to the bullpen late in the game to warm him up but he didn’t take the mound.
Rookie Taiki Hamada homered in a three-run fifth inning to chase Michael Peoples (2-2) as a pair of 2018 Yakult draftees took center stage in a 9-0 win for the Swallows over the DeNA BayStars at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
The hosts got on the board in the second when 36-year-old Tomotaka Sakaguchi singled and scored on a throwing error when shortstop Tatsuhiro Shibata airmailed his short throw to second on a force play.
The 20-year-old Hamada, a fourth-round pick, homered to open the fifth. Alcides Escobar followed with his second double and scored on a double by his former Kansas City Royals teammate Norichika Aoki.
Sakaguchi plated Aoki with a sac fly to close the book on Peoples, and 23-year-old Shota Nakayama, the Swallows’ second pick in 2018, homered off nominal closer Yasuaki Yamasaki with one out in the sixth. Nakayama tied a 44-year-old team record of three pinch-hit home runs in a month set by Hall of Famer Katsuo Osugi.
Osugi is best known for a home run that ignited the most famous protest in Japan Series history.
The 1978 series MVP hit one down the line in the sixth inning that saw Hall of Fame manager Toshiharu Ueda pull his team off the field at Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium, delaying the game for 1 hour and 16 minutes. This led the Pacific League to punish teams pulling their players off the field with a forfeit–a rule that was not adopted in the Central League or in the Japan Series–where Chunichi Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai did it in Game 1 of the 2004 series.
Hawks get emotional
Akira Nakamura, who along with superstar Yuki Yanagita is now the second big wheel in the SoftBank Hawks’ offense, singled to help break up a scoreless tie in the ninth inning of a 2-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome.
The Hawks are now mourning Wednesday’s death of longtime conditioning coach Takashi Kawamura at the age of 55. The 30-year-old Nakamura, who has spent much of the last two years with the team’s rehab group where he worked a lot with the trainer, was asked to take part in the postgame hero interview, where the interviewer did what “hero” interviewers tend to do when a team or a player is dealing with a death, ask the player over and over about the deceased.
Nakamura sounded both heartfelt and patient dealing with the incessant badgering.
“Kawamura-san helped me from the time I came out of high school. He invited me to train in the offseason with him and he taught me what it means to be a pro,” Nakamura said. “I owe him so much. Extending my career as long as I can take it will be my way of repaying my debt of gratitude.”
The game was tremendous pitchers’ duel between natives of Urama, Okinawa Prefecture (population 121,843), Nao Higashihama (4-1) the Hawks’ Opening Day starter, and Kenta Uehara (0-1) of the Fighters.
The Hawks defense turned the Fighters back in the third and the sixth. Higashihama made a great play on a safety squeeze in the third to cut down a runner at the plate. In the sixth, Christian Villanueva was out trying to advance from second on a foul fly by right fielder Ryota Nakamura.
Uehara threw 90 pitches through eight innings and came out in the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk, and Nakamura singled only after fouling off two attempts.
“I felt like I had to gain some redemption after being unable to get a bunt down,” Nakamura said of his 1,000th career hit on a ground smash fumbled at third.
Yurisbel Gracial singled in one run, and the second run–the one Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo had not been playing for–scored on an error. The two-run edge allowed closer Yuito Mori to overcame a tremendous opposite-field homer by Sho Nakata to record his 22nd save.
Graceless under pressure
The postgame interviews following a death can be awfully trying. Generally, the questioner isn’t satisfied until he gets some grand emotional response and hopefully tear. This happened famously when current Eagles pitcher Yuya Fukui was a rookie with the Hiroshima Carp and was asked to comment on the death of his brother.
These pitiless interviewers typically ask, “Don’t you think the deceased is looking down on you from heaven now and smiling?”
The nadir came after one player’s wife died after a long illness, that those around him said was exacerbated by his womanizing and shabby treatment of her. In his first hero interview that spring, he was asked the routine interview questions, the tears flowed, and the fans were pleased.
Marines maul Lions every which way
The Lotte Marines bunted the Seibu Lions senseless in a two-run second inning and Leonys Martin hit his 21st and 22nd home runs to back Daiki Iwashita (5-5) in an 8-1 win at MetLife Dome.
Ikuhiro Kiyota opened the second with a double off 38-year-old lefty Tetsuya Utsumi (1-2), who then nearly collided with catcher Tomoya Mori as they both chased a sacrifice bunt that Mori fumbled for an error.
Kiyota held at second on the play, and when the Marines tried again to bunt him over, Mori’s throw to third sailed and a run scored. The second run came home on a safety squeeze and the Marines never looked back.
Iwashita, who struck out Lions cleanup hitter Hotaka Yamakawa three times, allowed a run in the ninth, giving up four hits and a walk while striking out five over eight-plus innings.
Matsui wins duel of former closers
Rakuten Eagles lefty Yuki Matsui (2-3) allowed two runs over five innings to beat Hirotoshi Masui (0-2) in a battle of former closers in a 5-4 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Hotto Motto Field Kobe.
Eagles first baseman Daichi Suzuki made the play of the day diving to catch a foul pop and end the bottom of the first. He then singled with two outs in the third and scored on Kazuki Tanaka’s sixth home run.
Alan Busenitz allowed an unearned run in the ninth, and wrapped up his 11th save when Suzuki made a good play in foul territory to end it with two runners on.
Adam Jones was deactivated with a stiff lower back, and was replaced on the active roster by Aderlin Rodriguez, who singled in a run in the Buffaloes’ two-run fourth.
Carp ace Osera has surgery
Daichi Osera, the Opening Day starter for the Central League’s Hiroshima Carp the past two seasons, has undergone right shoulder surgery the team announced Wednesday.
No timeline was given for the 29-year-old right-hander’s return, but he will likely miss the rest of the season after having arthroscopic surgery to clean out the joint at a hospital in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture.
Osera opened the season with back-to-back complete games for first-year manager and former Carp pitcher Shinji Sasaoka. He has twice been deactivated for “poor form.”
Marines’ Hermmann out of action
Lotte Marines reliever Frank Herrmann was deactivated Wednesday after he was diagnosed with tendon damage in his right index finger. He reportedly will refrain from throwing for two weeks.
Tomoyuki Sugano equaled a team record set by Hall of Famer Victor Starffin by winning 11-straight decisions from Opening Day in the Yomiuri Giants’ 6-3 come-from-behind win over the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday.
Sugano (11-0) allowed three runs, all scored by Tigers leadoff man Koji Chikamoto on seven hits and a walk while striking out five over six innings. The Giants ace’s command was not up to his usual high standards, and though his fastball was occasionally untouchable, he had to work extremely carefully to get out of a couple of tight spots.
Tigers lefty Haruto Takahashi (2-3) allowed single runs in the second and fourth before his command deserted him in the bottom of the sixth and the Giants began taking advantage of his mistakes to overcome a 3-2 deficit.
Kazuma Okamoto singled in the tying run with no outs. It seems clear that the Tigers bench was taken by surprise by the lefty’s 10-pitch meltdown since no one was ready to replace him until Yuta Iwasada took over with no outs and the bases loaded.
Iwasada surrendered a two-run single to Takumi Oshiro, who added another RBI single in the eighth, and the Giants cut it close in the ninth with Rubby De La Rosa on the mound.
With two on and one out, second baseman Naoki Yoshikawa robbed Chikamoto of his fourth hit of the game with a diving stop and a force at second.
The Tigers, who left the bases loaded in the fourth, wasted a two-on no-out opportunity in the seventh, running into an out at third base on a broken buster-and-run when they trailed 5-3.
Instead of two on, no outs and a 2-0 count to one of the Tigers’ best hitters, catcher Ryutaro Umeno, the Tigers had a 1-1 count, one out, and a runner on second after Umeno swung at a pitch nowhere near the strike zone and the lead runner was out at easily at third.
Sugano’s streak is the longest for a CL pitcher to start the season after throwing on Opening Day, matching the 1982 run by Hiroshima Carp Hall of Famer Manabu Kitabeppu. The Giants franchise record was set in 1938 by Russian Hall of Famer Victor Starffin.
The Giants win gave them a magic number to clinch their second-straight CL pennant of 38 with 48 games to play. This is a Japanese magic number, mind you, a mind-numbing formula that requires knowing the number of games your closest rival has remaining with you. It’s fairly complicated math. Teams who meet the criteria have their magic number “lit up.” Fans celebrate it and the media never shuts up about it.
Should the other CL teams improve relative to the Giants, Yomiuri’s magic number, 38 after the win with 48 games left to play, can disappear. Teams can win pennants without ever having a magic number.
Asked about it after Tuesday’s game, Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said, “It’s something that has nothing to do with me.”
Seiya Suzuki capped a four-run first inning with a three-run homer off Yudai Ono (5-5) whose six-game complete-game streak came to an end in the Hiroshima Carp’s 6-3 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Ono settled down after allowing the first four batters to reach, retiring 12 of the last 14 he faced before being pulled for a pinch-hitter. Carp right-hander Allen Kuri (4-4) allowed a run over six innings to earn the win. Geronimo Franzua worked the ninth for his ninth save.
Soto sparks Stars
Two-time Central League home run champ Neftali Soto hit his 15th home run and drove in three runs off 40-year-old lefty Masanori Ishikawa (0-4) in the DeNA BayStars’ 8-3 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Tatsuhiro Shibata came off the bench for the BayStars and doubled in three runs in the eighth to complete the rout.
Must be the shirt
Seiichiro Oshita, whom Orix added to their 70-man roster on Monday after taking him in the sixth round of last year’s developmental draft, broke a 1-1 second-inning tie with a three-run homer in his first career at-bat as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Rakuten Eagles 5-1 at Hotto Motto Field Kobe.
The Buffaloes, formed out of the 2004 merger of the Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes, wore BlueWave uniforms at that club’s old home park in Kobe. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes didn’t have a special uniform available with Oshita’s new No. 40, so he wore the No. 102 of batting practice pitcher Yukihiro Yamaoka.
His feat mimicked that of Lotte Marines right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura, who was activated the day of his trade and struck out the side in order that night wearing the shirt of longtime batting practice pitcher Akihiro Fukushima.
Orix ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto (5-3), the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in Japan, allowed Hideto Asamura’s 23rd home run to lead off the second, but only two other hits and two walks while striking out nine over eight innings.
Fighters get past Senga
Haruki Nishikawa drove in three runs against SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga (6-4) in the Fighters’ 3-2 win at Sapporo Dome as veteran lefty Naoki Miyanishi again cut it close before recording the save.
Fighters right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa (6-3) threw eight scoreless innings as the hosts took a 3-0 lead into the ninth. Miyanishi, filling in for regular closer Ryo Akiyoshi has now escaped with two-straight saves after opponents’ trimmed the Fighters’ lead to a run in the ninth.
He surrendered solo home runs to Yuki Yanagita, his 23rd, and former Fighter Keizo Kawashima, his fourth.
Senga struck out 12 but walked six and gave up nine hits in his 148 war of attrition with the strike zone.
Spangenberg rescues endangered Lions
Corey Spangenberg’s 11th home run, a two-run eighth-inning shot off veteran right-hander Frank Herrmann brought the Seibu Lions from a run down in their 4-3 win over the Lotte Marines at MetLife Dome.
Marines starter Ayumu Ishikawa left with one out and a man on in the eighth. Herrmann retired Sosuke Genda before he missed a pitch that Spangenberg didn’t.
Lions starter Kona Takahashi, who lost a no-hit bid in the eighth inning a week earlier, allowed three runs, two earned over seven innings. Tatsushi Masuda worked the ninth for Seibu to earn his 18th save.