Tag Archives: Yomiuri Giants

CL simply inferior to PL

When the DeNA BayStars beat¬†the Hanshin Tigers on Friday, July 3, Japan’s Central League finished the day with each of its six clubs below .500.

The historic fluke is the result of the annual bashing at the hands of the rival Pacific League in Nippon Professional Baseball’s interleague play combined with an unusually tight CL race. The Tigers’ loss left the Yakult Swallows in first place at one game below .500 and the next four teams within a half game.

The CL’s inability to keep up with the PL has been masked by normal distributions in the CL standings and — until 2005 — the lack of interleague play. But this year, with no CL club able to dominate league play and the PL winning this interleague by a 61-44 margin, the blinders are now off.

But this is not something the media is keen to note. Aside from a brief mention, on Friday night, the story has been spun about the historic balance in the CL. Guess it’s probably better to bury the obvious conclusion — that Japan’s most popular circuit, the one that for years has held most of the power — can’t cut the mustard in head-to-head competition against the league it — or perhaps more precisely, Yomiuri Giants kingpin Tsuneo Watanabe — enjoys disparaging.

In 11 years of interleague play, the CL has led the competition just once and this year’s whipping left the PL holding an 865-774 edge for a winning percentage of .528. The chances of two equally balanced leagues competing, with each club having a 50 percent chance of winning any contest and league winning 53 percent of 1,639 decisions is 1.3 percent. Any assumption that the two leagues are equally strong has to contend with that. The PL has also won 7-of-10 Japan Series since 2005, with a .569 winning percentage in the 88 individual decisions.

The more popular of Japan’s two leagues since they were created by expansion after the 1949 season, the CL has long lorded it over the PL at the ticket gate, but the head-to-head competition between the leagues tells a different story. Until 2004, Nippon Professional Baseball’s two leagues only battled each other in the Japan Series and the summer all-star exhibitions — in which the PL has more than held its own.

For decades, the PL’s all-star success was attributed to CL squads being overloaded with players from Japan’s oldest franchise, the Yomiuri Giants, who would be overmatched against the PL’s best — leading to the phrase “Popular Ce(ntral), Powerful Pa(cific).”

Even when it came to player movement, the CL has long benefited from its clubs’ popularity. The current version of free agency was introduced in 1993 — by the Giants as a way of securing more big name talent — and until the end of the 2010 season, every star in his prime who switched leagues directly moved from the PL to the CL.

Although the Pacific League boasts more financial heavyweights among its clubs’ parent companies, Nippon Professional Baseball was thrown into crisis from the PL side in 2004, when the remaining two PL teams in the Kansai region, playing in the shadow of the better established Tigers, decided to merge. The announcement that the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes would merge due to the constant strain of red ink, and the question over what to do with a five-team league led to talk of contraction, reorganization and Japan’s first player strike.

Interleague play — something long rejected by CL owners — was introduced as a part of the labor settlement as was an agreement by owners to expedite the approval of the Sendai-based Eagles, owned by Internet market giant Rakuten. That spring, the Nippon Ham Fighters had moved out from under the Giants’ shadow in Tokyo to baseball-starved Sapporo. And in the autumn, telecommunications powerhouse Softbank take over the Hawks and add even more energy to the once lackluster PL.

Over the past five years, the Hawks and the new Orix Buffaloes have become two of the biggest free agent spenders, while the CL’s Chunichi Dragons, a powerhouse from 2002-2011, have scaled back on player acquisitions.

Groundhog Day II: Juan Francisco in Hiroshima

In three Central League games this week between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hiroshima Carp at the Carp’s Mazda Stadium, we saw:

A play few of us had ever seen before in the opener, a Groundhog Day inning which seemingly went on for ever in Game 2, and new Giants first baseman Juan Francisco doing his best Bill Murray impression by making his fielding a focal point of all three games.

The video above is from the bottom of the ninth inning of Monday’s game, with the score tied 2-2 and the Carp batting with one out and the bases loaded. Facing Canadian right-hander Scott Mathieson, pinch hitter Tetsuya Kokubo hits a high pop in front of home plate. Francisco and third baseman Shuichi Murata converge on the ball, while third base umpire and crew chief Koichi Tanba calls Kokubo out on the infield fly rule, although nobody seems to notice other than Carp third base coach Takuro Ishii.

Murata stabs at the ball after taking his eye off to ensure he doesn’t collide with Francisco, who picks up the ball, steps on home, where home plate ump Hideto Fuke calls a force out on the runner from third. Francisco turns his back on the plate to check the bases. Saying later he thought he was being forced at the plate, rookie Takayoshi Noma headed home.

After Noma crossed the plate, Ishii dashed down the line to inform the ump that the Carp had scored because Kokubo’s out had eliminated the force at home and Francisco had neglected to apply a tag to the approaching Noma. Ishii was soon joined by rookie Carp skipper Koichi Ogata, who said he’d once played in a game against Ishii’s old club, Yokohama, when a similar play had unfolded. They convinced Fuke to consult with Tanba, who informed him the run should count. The home plate ump signaled safe.

When Francisco stepped on home, Fuke had no business calling Noma out, which contributed to the Giants’ confusion.

So the Giants come out the next afternoon and after being retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first, they have two on with one out, when Francisco drops a foul pop behind first. He was not charged with an error, so the 10 runs that scored in that inning, starting with a two-run double, were all earned as batter after batter reached base against some poor pitching by southpaw Toshiya Sugiuchi, who was charged with six runs, and his successor.

“When you give up so many hits in a row like that, I think the pitches are a problem,” was Giants’ catcher Kazunari Sanematsu’s appraisal.

On May 6, the Carp scored twice in the first after Kosuke Tanaka reached on a leadoff double and Ryosuke Kikuchi reached on a bunt back to pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano. The third inning started the same way. With the infield playing in against the speedy Kikuchi, Francisco was left on his own to defend against the bunt and cover first. Sugano fielded the ball, Francisco retreated to where he could tag Kikuchi going by but dropped Sugano’s poor throw as he tried to apply the tag.

Francisco was pulled for defense after the top of the fifth inning, and was dropped from Yomiuri’s the 28-man active roster the day after the 4-1 defeat. In the video above, you can see the Shinkansen running just behind Mazda Stadium’s left field stands.