So what, if anything, are we to think of these Hiroshima Carp?
The Yokohama BayStars emerged from the season’s first two weeks as the candidates for biggest surprise out of the gate, but as the e_SSRqStars suffer their first swoon of the year, the Carp are showing some, albeit brief, staying power.
Statistically, the Carp are nothing special at the plate, hitting just .247 as a team.
That’s not to say they don’t have a few weapons as Jun Hirose is off to a blazing start, hitting .333 with 11 RBIs, and Eishin Soyogi and Kenta Kurihara can help produce runs.
Even so, on the mound is where the Carp have to find answers if they hope to still be in contention when the temperature begins to heat up.
The Carp more or less know what to expect out of reigning Sawamura Award winner Kenta Maeda, but it’s the supporting cast who will need to step up around him. So far, they’re off to a good start.
Junpei Shinoda had a hard-luck loss in a quality start on April 13, allowing one earned run over seven innings against the Hanshin Tigers, then followed it up with a shutout on April 20. Through two starts he’s 1-1 with a 0.56 ERA over 16 innings, while Bryan Bullington is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA and has the potential to be a real game-changer if he gets it going in his first year in Japan.
Bullington and Shinoda provide hope and could add much-needed depth to the rotation. Another sign of encouragement is the fast start rookie Yuya Fukui has gotten off to, going 1-0 with a 1.39 ERA in his first two pro starts.
The Chunichi Dragons have ridden pitching and defense to three appearances in the Japan Series and a pair Central League pennants since 2006. The Dragons also have the luxury of the best pitcher’s park in Japan in Nagoya Dome, meaning the Carp will have to work harder to make the Chunichi blueprint work at Mazda Stadium.
Hiroshima was among the better defensive teams in Japan last year, it’s just their pitching was so atrocious at times that it didn’t matter. So it’s on the mound, where there has to be improvement.
A nice record (6-4-2 and second in the CL) after 12 games doesn’t mean the Carp are destined for better things in the standings.
For one, the Yomiuri Giants don’t usually wake up until late April, the defending league champion Dragons should be better once star pitchers Kazuki Yoshimi and Chen Wei-yin are back in the fold, though there are issues at the plate, and the Hanshin Tigers and Tokyo Yakult Swallows will be in the mix as well.
Still, the Carp could be a surprise spoiler and a breath of fresh air in a CL race that all to often has been a stale rehash of the same three teams duking it out.
In order to do that, Hiroshima will have to conquer its demons on the mound. Maeda can’t lift this squad into the A-Class by himself and Hirose will have to slow down a little sometime this year.
In all likelihood, unless their pitching takes off, the Carp are still a year or two from mounting a real challenge.
Still, a mix of young studs in Maeda and possibly Shinoda and Fukui (not to mention brief appearances by Takeru Imamura), the experience the slightly older Bullington brings and a step in the right direction by the bullpen could make things interesting at least.