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Road set up for Hawks to make run at title

by Jason Coskrey

There are no more excuses for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

The most disappointing postseason team of the short Climax Series era made an improbable late-season surge to capture the Pacfic League pennant and now everything is set up for the Hawks to reach the Japan Series for the first time since 2003.

Softbank has two of the best pitchers in Japanese baseball, homefield advantage and an automatic one-game lead over either the Seibu Lions or Chiba Lotte Marines in the second stage of the PL Climax Series.

Not only has the path been cleared, it’s essentially been strewn with rose petals in the form of the, quite frankly, unfair one-game advantage given to the pennant winner.

So there are no excuses for the Hawks this season. Even if the wheels have fallen off each time they’ve been in this position before.

Softbank has a painful history in the Climax Series since the format was introduced in 2004.

The Fukuoka club went into the playoffs as the regular season champion in 2004 and 2005, only to lose the deciding fifth game of both series despite having home-field advantage.

Softbank was the third-place team in 2006, 2007 and 2009, failing to reach the Japan Series all three times.

This year the Hawks roll into the playoffs with a chance to do some damage.

Southpaw duo Toshiya Sugiuchi (16-7, 3.55 ERA) and Tsuyoshi Wada (17-8, 3.14) are two of the top pitchers in the game, and the Hawks have gotten a lot of mileage out of their bullpen.

At the plate, Hitoshi Tamura had a renaissance year hitting .324, with 27 home runs and 89 RBIs, Roberto Petagine — acquired during the season — dusted off the cobwebs to turn hit 10 home runs and drive in 41 runs, and golden oldie Hiroki Kokubo still has a lot left to give.

Additionally, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki bounced back from a subpar 2009, to hit .316 and drive in 53 runs. Not to mention the second stage of the playoffs won’t begin until Oct. 14, which gives Jose Ortiz (.270, 24 home runs and 81 RBIS in 117 games) a little more time to rest.

Softbank has a decent offense and has the potential to be lethal on the mound with a one-game advantage to fall back on.

The Lions were the PL’s best team for most of the season, but the opportunistic Hawks took advantage of Seibu’s late-season collapse.

Injuries and inconsistency took the bite out of the Lions late in the year and the Marines are fortunate to be in the postseason.

The Hawks have everything set out for them.

Now the only thing left to do is harvest the fruits of their labor by reversing their woeful Climax Series history.