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Tigers continuing to play well against Giants

by Jason Coskrey

Sorry Chunichi Dragons fans and condolences to supporters of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

But the only satisfying ending to the Central League season might just be a matchup of the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers — the league’s top two teams — in the second stage of the CL Climax Series.

If the current status quo holds, that’s how things will play out. And the Tigers would have to feel really good about their chances.

Hanshin showed its mettle over the weekend, marching into Tokyo Dome and taking two of three from the first-place Giants.

“They’re a good team,” CL batting leader Matt Murton said of the Giants. “Anytime you can come in here and win, it gives you some confidence.”

The Tigers have come together as a unit in recent weeks, which they hope bodes well for the future.

Ironman Tomoaki Kanemoto is adjusting to life coming off the bench after playing every inning of every game for 1,492 straight contests.

In his stead, Takahiro Arai has slotted into the cleanup role and is hitting .283 with 10 home runs.

Slugger Kenji Johjima and Murton are new additions, Craig Brazell is flourishing in his second year with the team — hitting .309 and tied for the NPB lead with 28 homers — and Takashi Toritani and Keiichi Hirano are both playing well.

“We have a lot of new faces on this team,” Murton said. “I think we’re starting to get used to each other and coming together as a team.”

There’s always an electric atmosphere when the old CL rivals get together.

During the grind of a 144-game season, and even during the dog days of summer, a Giants-Tigers tilt ramps up the intensity to levels usually reserved for the fall.

“If you can’t get up for this rivalry, you shouldn’t be playing,” Brazell said. “You never know what’s going to happen. It’s fun. Everybody’s intense.”

The balance of power between the teams this year lies with the Tigers, who are 8-4 against the Giants and have won five of their last six meetings.

When not facing Hanshin, the Giants are clearly the class of the league, owning an above .500 mark against the other four clubs.

Because of that, Yomiuri is favored to win a fourth straight pennant.

Even so, the Tigers will pose a legitimate threat to reach the Japan Series, given their success against Yomiuri.

For now, the Tigers can push ahead with the knowledge they’ve at least planted the seeds for future success.

“You can’t try to figure it out,” Brazell said of the Hanshin’s record against the Giants. “You just have to go out there and do it. I think this is one of the best rivalries in sports. So it does mean a little more. But at the same time, the main thing is that the team wins.”