There’s a decent chance that at some time this week no Central League team will have a winning record.
Heading into Tuesday’s games there’s only one, the Yomiuri Giants, and they’re teetering on the brink at 35-34. Meanwhile, the Hanshin Tigers are 33-33; the Yokohama BayStars are three games under .500 at 32-35-1 and riding a 12-game losing streak; the Chunichi Dragons are 32-36-1; the Hiroshima Carp are 30-35; and the 30-36-1 Tokyo Yakult Swallows bring up the rear.
It hasn’t been a banner year so far, to say the least.
The Giants, nominally the best team in the league, have a .507 winning percentage that would be good enough for only fifth place, right behind the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (.517), in fifth place if the Kyojin were in the Pacific League.
No team in the CL has looked great for much of this season. The result of six mediocre teams playing, well, badly most of the time, is a logjam where the clubs are separated by 3½ games from top to bottom.
The league hasn’t played well against each other, but a poor showing during interleague is the reason so many are languishing at or below .500.
Those games took a heavy toll on the CL — the Tigers finished 10-8 during interleague and were the only CL team with a winning record, while the Carp broke even at 9-9. This of course is nothing new, as the Pa. League, which romped to a 61-44-3 record against the CL this season, has been the better league in 10 of the 11 years the format has been in place.
The other reason for the CL’s ugly win-loss numbers is simply that no team has managed to be very good for very long.
The Giants are on top now mostly because no team played well enough to capitalize on the 2-10 record Yomiuri has in its last 12 games.
The Swallows and Dragons had surprisingly strong starts before the losses started piling up and they fell back to earth.
The BayStars were the toast of NPB for weeks, and at the top of the CL at the start of interleague play, but haven’t won a game since June 2.
The Tigers have expertly dodged the debris as the teams above them tumbled down the mountain and clawed their way into second place.
They’re also probably a little lucky.
Hanshin has the worst run-differential (-77) in Japan, and their Pythagorean winning percentage, an estimate based on runs scored and runs allowed that was created by Bill James, is .420. So the Tigers should probably have five to six fewer wins than their current total.
If the Tigers have been a little unlucky, fortune may yet shine on the Carp, who have scored the most runs (257) and allowed the second-fewest (226) in the CL, yet are in fifth place.
Applying the above formula to Hiroshima, expected by many to compete for the pennant when the season started, and the Carp should have a winning percentage of .532 instead of the .462 they’re currently saddled with. That doesn’t mean things will necessarily even out, just that the Carp may not be quite as bad as their record shows, and that a few breaks here or there could portend a big turnaround.
The entire CL could use a few breaks.
The first team to make a run would, in this environment, be in a great position going forward. It’s just a matter of which club can actually find a way to win consistently.