The Yomiuri Giants have been the Central League’s top team for three years running.
Throw in last season’s Japan Series title, and the target on the Kyojin’s backs couldn’t be any bigger.
Even so, knocking them out of the top spot will be easier said than done.
From the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ returning core of playoff-tested stars, to the Hanshin Tigers and Yokohama BayStars’ offseason improvements, the Giants can see the Central League getting better around them.
“One of the things that we have to do is keep our heads up, keep playing hard and keep playing the same way we have been playing the last few years,” outfielder Alex Ramirez said. “Because every team is getting better and better.
As kings of the mountain, the Giants are expecting to take every team’s best shot beginning on March 26 against the Swallows in the season opener.
“A lot of things people don’t see, is when we face a lot of those teams, we’re facing the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers,” Ramirez said. “Those guys are going to try and do their best to beat us. “We know those things. We have to keep focused and keep being positive. Because it’s not going to be easy. But we have what it takes to take it to a different level. We’re going to try to do our best to win the championship.”
The Giants flexed their muscles in a 15-2 exhibition victory over the Yokohama BayStars on March 20 and finished 7-6-1 during the spring.
“I think we had a beneficial preseason,” third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara said. “But the same thing can be said for the other teams. I think it’s important to play games in March with the purpose of improving your condition for the season.”
The Giants head in to the season loaded and oozing talent at nearly every position.
Ogasawara and Ramirez will help make sure the runs keep coming while being aided by a supporting cast full of players who could be headliners elsewhere.
“I think everyone has performed satisfactorily to this point,” Ogasawara said. “Whether it leads to positive results is uncertain. Because you have to deal with your opponents which makes it’s hard to predict.”