The Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks wrapped up the 2020 Japan Series with a 4-1 win over the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants on Wednesday at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome on the back of two-run home runs by Yuki Yanagita and Takuya Kai.
The Hawks’ fourth-straight title makes them only the second club after the Giants to post a winning streak that long. The Giants won nine straight between 1965 and 1973. The Hawks have now won a record 12 straight series games and 16 straight series games at homes — their last loss in Fukuoka coming in Game 5 in 2011, when Wednesday’s starter Tsuyoshi Wada took the loss.
The Giants, whose choice of starting pitchers has sparked questions, sent unheralded right-hander Seishu Hatake. The 25-year-old showed SOME tremendous movement on his pitches but also hung a few up in the zone, and the Hawks crushed them.
For the first time in the series, the Giants scored first on back-to-back no-out doubles by Akihiro Wakabayashi and Hayato Sakamoto. Wada bore down, working around a two-out walk by striking out Hiroyuki Nakajima on 14 pitches.
The Hawks needed just two pitches to take the lead in the home half. Hatake hung two splitters to Akira Nakamura and Yuki Yanagita. The first went for a one-out double, the second for a two-run homer.
Wada, who didn’t have his trademark command, gutted it through the second inning after surrendering a leadoff single, but two more mistakes from Hatake and merciless execution from the Hawks made it 4-1 in the bottom of the second. Taisei Makihara swatted a high slider for a single and with two outs Takuya Kai hammered a high straight fastball for his second homer of the series.
Giants right-hander Shosei Togo, who was mysteriously left out of the Giants’ starting pitching plans, came in as the visitors’ third pitcher with two on and two outs in the third. After issuing a walk, he retired the next seven batters. Brazilian flame thrower Thyago Vieira touched 101.9 mph in his 1-2/3 innings.
With the Giants trailing by three in the seventh, ace Tomoyuki Sugano began warming up in the bullpen, making some wonder that the Giants might bring him out for a farewell mound appearance, but he never did more than warm up and lefty Kota Nakagawa mopped up in the eighth.
With a three-run lead, Wada left after two, and hard-throwing 24-year-old Yuki Matsumoto allowed singles over 2-2/3 scoreless innings. Lefty Shinya Kayama retired Yoshihiro Maru to end the fifth. Submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi started a parade of three straight 1-2-3 innings from the bullpen with Sho Iwasaki pitching the seventh and Livan Moinelo electrifying the eighth.
Second baseman Tetsuto Yamada will stay with the Yakult Swallows, multiple news outlets reported Thursday, opting to sign a seven-year 3.5 billion yen deal ($30 million) that will keep him with the Tokyo-based club in Japan’s Central League until he turns 35.
The seven-year deal matches the length of the one the SoftBank Hawks gave to their centerpiece center fielder, Yuki Yanagita, last autumn.
Yamada might not be the best second baseman on the planet as one colleague wrote, but until a few years ago he had be considered part of that discussion with his combination of speed, power, and defense.
According to Sponichi Annex, an official of the penurious club said, “If he had filed for free agency, then it would have been a competition to see who could offer the most money. It seems he didn’t want to be a bother to the team.”
The Swallows have long been one of Japan’s thriftiest teams. They rent their homepark, Tokyo’s historic Jingu Stadium, which prevents them from making much if any profit from the ballclub.
The fate of the ballpark is a little up in the air right now. Until a year ago, it was poised to be replaced by a new stadium on an adjacent lot and then demolished but numerous snags have since o
It will be closed next summer — if the Tokyo Olympics go forward — to be used as a staging area for the new national stadium down the street, while the Swallows play home games a few miles away at Tokyo Dome.
Newcomers Tyler Austin of the DeNA BayStars and Masato Morishita of the Hiroshima Carp were honored on Wednesday when Nippon Professional Baseball announced its final monthly honors list.
The Pacific League’s honorees went to a pair of 30-somethings, center fielder Yuki Yanagita of the SoftBank Hawks and right-hander Takayuki Kishi of the Rakuten Eagles.
Austin led the Central League with 11 home runs and a .346 batting average in October. The NPB website lauds him for fighting hard to keep the BayStars in the “A-class” (top-three) teams, although the team finished fourth.
His selection marked the third straight monthly award to a BayStars hitter after Keita Sano‘s August award and Takayuki Kajitani‘s in September. The last team to win three straight was the 2015 CL champion Yakult Swallows.
Morishita, the Carp’s top pick in last autumn’s draft, went 4-0 with a 0.24 ERA over 37 innings. He became the first Carp rookie to win 10 games since current ace Daichi Osera in 2014. He’s the first rookie to win a CL monthly pitching honor since Hayato Takagi, then of the Yomiuri Giants won for March and April in 2015.
The 35-year-old Kishi, who won for the fourth time, made six starts, winning five, to tie for the league lead. He struck out 50 batters in a superb finish to a season slowed, like several of Kishi’s have been, by injury. The right-hander went at least six innings in each of his September and October starts.
It’s Kishi’sfirst award since May 2018.
The 32-year-old Yanagita, played in all 32 of his team’s games over the final two months, when the Hawks broke with recent form by not taking it easy after clinching. Instead, Yanagita led the team as they celebrated their first PL title in three years by throwing opponents into a wood chipper.
Yanagita led in batting average (.360) on-base percentage (.459) and tied for the PL lead with 22 RBIs as the Hawks set an NPB record for wins in a month with 22. It was his second monthly award of the year, having won the award for June and July.
Fighters to cut Villanueva
Christian Villanueva, who got a second chance in Japan this season with the Nippon Ham Fighters only to suffer through a series of small injuries and play just 54 games, will not be retained, the Pacific League club said Wednesday.
The 29-year-old Villanueva came to Japan last year with the Yomiuri Giants, but was a disappointment, hitting eight home runs in 73 games with a .325 OBP and a .386 slugging average. This year, his home run production dropped and he posted just a .351 slugging average.
With one big exception, another unbelievably home run from the amazing Yuki Yanagita, the Lotte Marines swung the bat better in their 3-3 loss in Saturday’s first game of the Pacific League Climax Series to the SoftBank Hawks.
Hawks ace Kodai Senga gave up three runs, the first two on decent second-inning pitches that resulted in a single and a Hisanori Yasuda home run. He gave up another in the third when he paid for mistakes to Tatsuhiro Tamura and Takashi Ogino. The Marines have done well all year to adjust to the Hawks and prepare for them, and this one looked it was going to be another one of those days.
Mima, too, made mistakes, probably more than Senga, but got away with them in the first inning, but not in the sixth, when the Hawks tied it on an error.
The Hawks should have scored a run in the first, but Ogino robbed them of a leadoff single before they loaded the bases with one out and ended it on a double play. Yanagita cut the lead in the fourth to 2-1 with a home run over the wall in center off an improbably low pitch.
Mima then got out of a jam in the fifth. Shortstop Yudai Fujioka tried to barehand a chopper and whiffed. The ball rolled toward left, and Taisei Makihara reached on a leadoff infield double. A walk on a dubious 3-2 pitch put two on, but Takuya Kai struck out foul bunting pitches out of the zone. With two out and two in scoring position, Akira Nakamura appeared to be the victim of makeup calls from the ump. He took a dubious 3-1 strike and another on 3-2 to end it.
The end for Mima came in the sixth. Yanagita and Yurisbel Gracial singled off mistakes and a sacrifice put the tying run in scoring position. Alfredo Despaigne singled off Taiki Tojo, and Makihara chopped one to second with Gracial at third. Second baseman Shogo Nakamura looked the lead runner back, tagged Despaigne for the second out, and threw to first, where Seiya Inoue dropped the ball.
Gracial, broke for home as Nakamura threw, and Inoue’s drop allowed him to score the tying run as he slid in head-first.
Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 eighth and got the win in relief after Hirokazu Sawamura surrendered the lead in the home half on two walks and two infield singles. Takuya Kai hit another chopper to Fujikoka, who fielded it but couldn’t nail the runner at first.
“Hey. A hit is a hit,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.
Yuito Mori then did the honors in the ninth with another 1-2-3 inning.
The Climax Series gives the league champs a one-win advantage in the final stage, while the home team wins all tie (games are tied after 12 innings), and all games are played at the higher-seeded team’s park. This year’s PL series was cut from two stages to one, with the final stage reduced from six games to four. The Hawks’ one-win advantage means they have a 2-0 lead and should the game be tied after the top of the 12th inning on Sunday, the series will be over.
There’s a lot to be said for foreplay
The series, as I’ve written before is closer to foreplay than climax, since it follows the pennant race, and only serves to pick a league’s team to the the Japan Series, where Nippon Professional Baseball’s championship is decided.
The Central League which looks on fun and a good time as some kind of threat to the purity of the game, used the pandemic as an excuse to get rid of its foreplay series, I mean CS, in a kind of return to the 2004-2006 seasons when the PL teams were playing meaningful postseason games and the CL champs were playing with themselves in intrasquad games.
Ramirez goes out with win against Giants
Alex Ramirez, who won both of his CL MVP awards with the Yomiuri Giants, finished his managing term with the DeNA BayStars with a 5-4 come-from-behind win at Yokohama Stadium against his former team.
Ramirez received flowers and hugs from his former Giants skipper, Tatsunori Hara, who urged him to make a comeback, “I told him to get back in the game.”
Active roster moves 11/14/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/24
The Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association asked Monday if NPB could revise its player-entry procedures to account for players who begin their pro careers abroad following the abolition of its awful Tazawa Rule.
According to the Nikkan Sports, the union wants Japanese nationals who turn pro overseas to be treated in the same manner as imported players, who can negotiate to sign with a team of their choosing for whatever they can get.
NPB rules require Japanese nationals and non-citizens who finished their amateur careers in Japan to sign their first NPB contracts only after being selected in the annual new-player draft.
Even players with extensive major league experience can only enter NPP through the draft and then are subject to NPB’s salary structure. These limit first-year player salaries to15 million yen, roughly $160,000, along with a maximum signing bonus of 100 million yen ($950,000) and 50 million yen in incentives.
A Japanese national, such as Gosuke Kato, who has never lived in Japan but has played pro ball in his U.S. homeland for years, can only enter NPB on the same terms as an amateur in Japan. The was true for Mac Suzuki and more recently Junichi Tazawa. Had the draft rules been different, and had he not been banned from playing in NPB because of the Tazawa rule, Tazawa could have picked up his career this summer in NPB instead of turning to an independent minor league team.
Fighters to talk posting Arihara, Nishikawa
A pair of the Nippon Ham Fighters’ top players, ace right-hander Kohei Arihara, and centerfielder Haruki Nishikawa, reiterated their desire to move to the major leagues this winter via the posting system, Sponichi Annex reported.
Arihara’s 2020 season was in many ways the same as his 2019 second half, after he was unstoppable in the first half. He posted an 8-9 record and saw his ERA rise by a run.
Nishikawa, the ultimate Japanese slap-hitting up-the-middle defender, posted a career-high .430 on-base-percentage, largely because his .372 BABIP was near his career high and his batting average rose with it to .307.
Hawks exploit Lions rookie to gift Ishikawa
Nobuhiro Matsuda and Yuki Yanagita homered off Seibu Lions rookie Hiromasa Saito (0-1) in a three-run third inning, allowing Shuta Ishikawa (11-3) the chance to earn his 11th win as the SoftBank Hawks won 6-2 at PayPay Dome on Monday.
Matt Moore allowed a run over three innings, while Seibu starter Kona Takahashi threw two scoreless innings he needed to qualify among the league ERA leaders. Matsuda then tied it by leading off the third and Yangita put the Hawks ahead for good with his 29th home run, a two-run shot. By preserving the lead for three innings, Ishikawa tied for the league wins lead with SoftBank ace Kodai Senga and Hideaki Wakui of the Rakuten Eagles. The wins title is Wakui’s fourth and his first since 2015.
Senga and Ishikawa both won for the first time and became the first NPB pitchers to lead their league in wins after entering pro ball on non-roster developmental contracts. Senga also tied for the league-lead in strikeouts, while clinching the ERA title. Ishikawa posted the PL’s best winning percentage, .786.
Ukyo Shuto became the first Hawk to steal 50 bases in a season since 2011, the year the Hawks won the first of their six Japan Series titles during the 2010s.
Fighters end with win
Catcher Yushi Shimizu homered and drove in three runs to help the Nippon Ham Fighters erase an early deficit in a 7-4 come-from-behind season-ending win over the playoff-bound Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
The Marines, who will open the playoffs in Fukuoka on Saturday, finished second for the first time since 2007.
Active roster moves 11/9/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/19