/ |

Iwakuma, Tanaka give Eagles a real 1-2 punch

by Jason Coskrey

Masahiro Tanaka was electrifying during his Pacific League Rookie of the Year season in 2007. In 2008 his numbers dipped while he took a back seat to teammate Hisashi Iwakuma, who embarked on a Sawamura Award-winning 21-4 campaign.

In 2009, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles fans are experiencing the perfect storm — both hurlers are playing at an elite level at the same time.

Rakuten opened Thursday1 1/2 games behind the first-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the PL. The main reason being that they have a pair of pitchers, who could both be considered aces.

Tanaka has raced out of the gates this year, going 7-0 with a 0.92 ERA in his first seven starts. The hard-throwing righty has thrown a Japanese baseball-leading five complete games and three shutouts.

He’s been equally stingy against hitters on both sides of the plate, with right-handed batters hitting .141 against him with lefties batting a mere .138.

While Tanaka has started at a Sawamura pace, last year’s MVP Iwakuma is continuing to impress.

On the heels of a heroic performance at the World Baseball Classic, Iwakuma is 5-2 with a 2.25 ERA through his first eight starts.

For the Eagles those numbers are adding up to a lot of wins as they seek to make their maiden voyage into postseason baseball.

Over their last 13 combined starts the duo is 11-1 with Iwakuma not factoring into the decision on April 25 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks after throwing seven scoreless innings.

The season is young, but if the Eagles’ pitching stars have indeed aligned, Rakuten is a legitimate contender in the PL. If a third solid pitcher appears on the horizon then the Eagles become a dangerous team.

For now Rakuten can be content that it’s packing the league’s top 1-2 punch with Ma-Kun and Iwakuma both dealing every time they toe the rubber.

Going streaking: A pair of streaks went toe-to-toe when Hiroshima Carp pitcher Kan Otake and Seibu starter Takayuki Kishi met on Tuesday night at Mazda Stadium.

Otake pitched a brilliant game, allowing five hits and striking out two in seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory. In the process he lowered his NPB-leading ERA to 0.67 and, more importantly, extended his club-record scoreless innings streak to 38.

Kishi meanwhile allowed three runs, giving up five hits and striking out five in the loss. The defeat ended Kishi’s personal winning streak at 12, handing him his first loss in his last 13 decisions.