One of the biggest surprises of the NPB season thus far has to be the play of the Orix Buffaloes.
The club is off to one of its best starts since being born from the merger of the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes after the 2004 season and entered Saturday’s games in first place in the Pacific League and tied with the Hiroshima Carp for the most wins in Japanese baseball.
Chihiro Kaneko, Yuki Nishi and Brandon Dickson have led the charge on the mound, while a healthy Wily Mo Pena is looking like an All-Star again for an offense that seems to be vastly improved over the woeful unit the club fielded in 2013.
Now, the next step for Orix is to entice more fans to actually come out and watch the new and improved Buffaloes.
The Buffaloes may have the best record in the PL, but sit fourth in terms of attendance, averaging 20,025 fans per game and 300,375 overall through Thursday, according to figures released by NPB on Friday. The team’s attendance is down 3.4 percent when compared to this point last season.
Those numbers include the four games Orix has hosted at Hotto Motto Field in Kobe, where the average attendance has been 19,975. The Buffaloes have averaged 20,043 fans through 11 games at Kyocera Dome in Osaka.
Orix is also in the unenviable position of playing in the heart of Tigers country — the Hanshin Tigers are averaging 37,075 per game at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
Perhaps things will get better for Orix as the temperature gets warmer and it’s possible a fanbase used to disappointment is wary of buying in too early and turns out in increased numbers later in the year.
Still, Orix can’t feel good about seeing attendance dip, even slightly, as the product on the field looks better than it has in years. Especially not with the Carp, who are in a similar position in the Central League, enjoying a 14.8 percent rise in attendance when compared to last season.
Looking at the rest of the PL, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks entered Saturday leading the way with an average attendance of 32,545 per game, followed by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (22,163), Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who have seen attendance rise 36.2 percent and are averaging 20,429 per game, the Buffaloes, Seibu Lions (17,748) and Chiba Lotte Marines (14,542).
The Yomiuri Giants led all teams with an attendance of 41,231 per game, followed in the CL by the Tigers, the Carp (22,114), the Chunichi Dragons (26,336), the Yokohama BayStars (up 23.6 percent and averaging 21,937 despite lagging in last place) and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (18,459)
How about a day off?: The Hiroshima Carp wanted to get rookie Daichi Osera the first complete-game victory of his career and by the looks of things were willing to let the 22-year-old pitch all night if that’s what it was going to take to get it done.
Osera took a shutout into the ninth, but labored through the frame and ended up throwing 148 pitches before finally nailing down a 6-1 win on Thursday for his first complete-game victory.
The rookie’s previous high had been 117 pitches against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
He’ll have seconds: The Seibu Lions recently got injured slugger Takeya Nakamura back into the fold and so far “Okawari-kun” has swung the bat well, hitting .304 with a pair of home runs and five RBI in seven games. The Lions slugger has also drawn nine walks over that period.