Are you surprised at how easily the Chiba Lotte Marines and Chicago White Sox won, respectively, the Japan Series and World Series?

We had our first twin sweeps since 1990, when the Seibu Lions broomed the Yomiuri Giants in four straight, just as the Cincinnati Reds brushed away the Oakland Athletics.

International flavor: Ozzie Guillen, a Venezuelan, led the American League White Sox to the World Series title only about 14 hours after players, coaches and staff members of the Marines tossed American manager Bobby Valentine in the air in a traditional Japanese doage victory celebration.

Much of the talk at the Japan Series among players, media and the fans centered on the fact that participation in the Pacific League playoffs, playing seven extra games, kept the Marines batters and pitchers sharp, whereas the Hanshin Tigers, because the Central League has no playoffs, went 17 days between their final regular season contest and Game 1 of the Japan Series and got stale.

That layover, most everyone agrees, helped make the JS so one-sided.

As our talented new young baseball writer Stephen Ellsesser mentioned in his Japan Series between-games article on Oct. 25, the Tigers went into the Japan Series cold turkey.

Yes, and they played, at least in the first three games, as if they were suffering from bird flu.

Not only did Lotte outscore Hanshin 33-4 in the four-game series, but also the Marines out-hit their opponents 44-22 and out-homered them 9-0.

The Marines’ combined team batting average was .326 to Hanshin’s .190, and Lotte’s composite pitching staff ERA was 1.06; Hanshin’s chuckers checked in with a whopping mark of 8.63.

The Central League plans to start its playoff system in 2007, and it will be interesting to see what happens next season when a scenario similar to what happened this year could very well occur again.

Reader Roy Lew has an idea for an interleague playoff system. He proposes double best-of-seven playoff rounds with the Central League champion meeting the second-place finisher in the Pacific League, the PL champ facing the CL runnerup, and the winners going to the Japan Series.

If it had been implemented this year, we would have seen Hanshin vs. Lotte and Softbank vs Chunichi.

Lew says, “The advantage is that you will definitely have only winning teams in the playoffs, which would cut out Seibu squeaking in with a losing record, and you will definitely have the two best teams in Japan, regardless of league. There will be excitement with a longer series and no flukes will win it.”

One possibility I would have liked to see is the two leagues divided into East and West, with the winners of each division going to the playoffs to determine Japan Series qualification.

But, after checking how the teams would have fared this season if this system had been used, I now think it might not be such a hot idea.

The final standings would have looked like this:

News photo

As you can see, the only real down-to-the-wire pennant race would have been in the Central League East where the Yokohama BayStars would have made the postseason with a losing record.

After thinking about this a lot, I honestly think there is no ideal solution, and let’s see what kind of playoff format the CL will use the year after next.

If you have an idea on how a fair playoff system can be introduced in Japanese baseball, please drop me a line.

Meanwhile, back to the Japan Series, everything went Lotte’s way, from that mysterious pre-Halloween, ghost-like fog that suddenly rolled into Chiba Marine Stadium and cut the first game short, to the incredible hot streak enjoyed by Marines third baseman Toshiaki Imae who hit .667, the sudden slumps of Hanshin cleanup men Tomoaki Kanemoto and Makoto Imaoka (combined 3-for-27) and the inability of Tigers manager Akinobu Okada to get his “JFK” trio of relief aces into the games.

J (Jeff Williams) pitched to two batters in Game 4, F (Kyuji Fujikawa) worked two innings in Game 3 and an inning in the finale but was only so-so. K (closer Tomoyuki Kubota) worked a scoreless top of the ninth inning in the clincher but never got anywhere near a save chance.

Hanshin’s “winning pattern,” as the Japanese like to call it, was pre-empted by Lotte taking the lead, then adding to it in a big way, except in Game 4, the only close one.

For the Marines, it’s on to the Konami Cup Asian Series to be played Nov. 10-13 at Tokyo Dome. That four-team tournament will see Bobby V. and Chiba Lotte against the champion teams from Korea (Samsung Lions), Chinese Taipei (either the Sinon Bulls or Macato Cobras) and the Chinese national team.

The boys from Beijing are managed by Jim Lefebvre, first baseman on the Lotte Orions 1974 Japan Series champion club and a teammate of Valentine with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the early 1970s.

Lefebvre, former big league skipper with the Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, was the first one mentioned in 1994 when rumors surfaced the Chiba Lotte Marines were looking for an American manager.

Valentine ended up getting the job for the 1995 season.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wsgraczyk@yahoo.com

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