The NPB kicked off koryusen (interleague season) this week with the first round of games taking place in Pacific League stadiums on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Interleague play is in its fifth season in Japanese baseball and the Pacific League is looking to go 5-for-5 against the Central League in the format.
The PL has won the battle between the two leagues in each of the previous four seasons, compiling a combined 360-348-12 record against their CL rivals.
Accordingly, PL teams have taken home every interleague title, with the Chiba Lotte Marines winning the inaugural championship in 2005 then repeating in 2006, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters winning in 2007.
The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks won last season after edging the CL’s Hanshin Tigers — via tiebreaker (2007 interleague record) — despite each finishing 15-9 and the Tigers having a 3-1 edge in head-to-head meetings.
As the NPB officially recognizes an interleague champion, though it ultimately effects nothing in terms of the postseason, the format is a nice chance for a team to build some momentum heading into the dog days of summer over the second half of the season.
The ’05 Marines and the Fighters used the title as a stepping stone to a championship treble as each went on to also win the Japan Series and Asia Series titles.
Things didn’t go as well for the 2006 Marines and the Hawks following their koryusen triumphs. The Marines finished fourth in the PL, while the Hawks slumped all the way to a last-place finish.
Things are more consistent in the other league, as no team to finish with the best IL record among the CL teams has gone on to win the Japan Series.
What an encore: Yuki Karakawa had a nice debut season with the Chiba Lotte Marines last year. As a rookie out of high school, Karakawa threw 81 2/3 innings for the Marines, going 5-4 in 15 appearances.
The way he’s started 2009, his second year will be better than the first.
Karakawa improved to 4-2 this season after a brilliant performance on Tuesday in a victory over the Yokohama BayStars. Karakawa allowed one run and struck out 10 in a complete-game victory.
He went the distance on May 10 as well, fanning 11 in a shutout of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Karakawa has won his last three starts, giving up four runs — three earned — and striking out 27 in 24 innings. Karakawa has walked just one batter during that span.
There is still long way to go this season, but it seems Karakawa has adjusted nicely to life as pro. Pitching has been one of the Marines’ weaknesses this season, making his continued improvement an important factor as the team moves forward.