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Dragons veteran Wada Central League’s top player through first half

by Jason Coskrey

The 2010 All-Stars Series is over and all six Central League teams are back together and gearing up to make a run for the pennant.

While the All-Star weekend isn’t exactly at the halfway point, it’s as good a place as any to stop and take stock of the first few months the year.

Central League MVP:

Kazuhiro Wada

Defending two-time MVP Alex Ramirez of the Yomiuri Giants has more home runs and Hanshin Tigers slugger Craig Brazell has more RBIs, but the Chunichi Dragons’ Wada is having the best overall year.

One of the few constants for an up-and-down Chunichi squad, Wada has turned back the clock and is putting up numbers reminiscent of his vintage days as a star with the Seibu Lions.

The Chunichi outfielder entered the All-Star break hitting .348 with 25 homers and 60 RBIs. He’s leading the CL with a .443 on-base percentage and .665 slugging percentage. He’s also fifth in the league in hits (109) and tied for seventh with 20 doubles.

Despite a number of good years, Wada has never won an MVP award. If he can keep up his current pace the rest of the way that should change this year.

Recent history suggests Wada has a good shot at a strong finish to the year. Over the past three seasons, he’s hitting .282 with six homers and 24 RBIs in August and .312 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs in September.

A case can be made for:

Shinnosuke Abe

The Yomiuri captain caught fire during the latter half of the interleague schedule and has been among the upper echelon of Japanese baseball batters ever since.

Abe entered the break hitting .301 with 30 homers and 56 RBIs. His .383 on-base percentage and .657 slugging percentage put him right behind Wada in both categories.

If Abe stays at or close to his current level — and the Giants go on to win the CL title — don’t be surprised if the Yomiuri star becomes the team’s fourth-straight MVP winner.

First half’s best pitcher:

Kenta Maeda

Toiling for a team headed nowhere, Maeda has a shot at becoming the first Hiroshima Carp pitcher to win the Sawamura Award since Shinji Sasaoka won in 1991 and the first CL winner since Chunichi Dragons hurler Kenshin Kawakami in 2004.

Maeda has been dominating this season compiling an 11-4 record, a league-low 1.81 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. He leads the CL with 116 strikeouts and opponents are hitting just .210 — another league low — against him.

The Carp ace is also tops in the league with 139 innings pitched, and three complete games.

Maeda’s accomplishments stand out even more when contrasted against the dullness of another disappointing season for the Carp.

A case can be made for:

Shun Tono

Yomiuri Giants hurler Tono has had a superb first half, going 11-2 with a 2.68 ERA, and has the numbers to be considered among the best.

The argument for him over Maeda gets weaker when considering Tono’s 1.22 WHIP and that opponents are hitting .248 against him.

Also, compared with the support Tono receives from the Giants’ powerhouse offense, Maeda has simply done a lot more with a lot less.

First half’s top rookie:

Hisayoshi Chono

The Kyojin rookie has had his ups and downs, but has firmly rooted himself in the Giants’ starting lineup and has come up big in key moments.

Chono entered the break hitting .292 with 15 home runs and 40 RBIs. Only five players have hit more homers for the Giants in their rookie year.

He also has a .338 on-base percentage and is slugging .503.

Chono was mired in midseason slump during June but rebounded in July with his best month of the year, hitting .371 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 16 games.

A case can be made for:

No one

It would be surprising if Chono doesn’t follow in the footsteps of teammates Tetsuya Yamaguchi (2008) and Tetsuya Matsumoto (2009) and is named the league’s top rookie.

Keep an eye on:

Race for the CL home run title

The buildup to the All-Star break set up what could turn out to be an epic race for the home run title between Yomiuri Giants Alex Ramirez and Shinnosuke Abe and Hanshin Tigers slugger Craig Brazell.

Ramirez leads Japanese baseball with 32 long balls, but Abe and Brazell are nipping at his heels with 30 apiece.

Brazell has even already begun to face questions about whether the single-season record of 55 is within reach, with all three on pace to make a run at the hallowed mark.

Both teams are likely to be in contention for the regular-season pennant, so all three will keep slugging away in order to push their squad to the top.

Which could make for an historic summer as the trio make an assault on the record books.