NPB playoff format less than ideal


There’s nothing like October baseball. On a given day in Japan, fans with cable or satellite TV systems can watch games — sometimes non-stop — from the wee hours of the morning until late at night. American and National League Division Series and Championship Series and the Japanese Climax Series offer top-caliber playoff baseball, each in their own way.

It is a TV-viewer baseball fan’s dream.

Reader Hiro Ota in Tokyo wrote, asking: “What I’d like to know is your thoughts on the expanded MLB wild card and the opening of the Division Series on the road, as this is such a contrast to the Japan playoff format.

“At the same time, do you see changes coming anytime soon to the current Japan playoff format? I can live with the No. 2 team hosting all games against No. 3, and I can even grudgingly accept the No. 1 seed playing all games at home, but plus a one-win advantage is too much.”

Hiro, I like the MLB expanding the playoffs to include an extra wild card team but, at the same time, it must have been tough for the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves who toiled all season long, only to be eliminated with just one loss. I also have no problem with which teams open on the road.

As for the Climax Series in Japan, I’m with you and believe the majority of followers of Japanese baseball agree the one-game advantage should not be included in the final stage of the playoffs, making it essentially a best-of-six series.

Japanese professional baseball is the only sport I can think of where a team or player gets a one-win advantage prior to the start of a tournament or series. A first-round bye for the pennant-winning team and having all games at home for the higher seeded team in both stages is enough of a break.

Also, the first place club gets all the favor in case games that end in a tie after 12 innings are played with the score deadlocked. There is no indication any of this will be changed any time soon.

Prior to the start of the Central League Climax Series final stage last week, Chunichi Dragons infielder Masahiko Morino offered his thoughts on the one-game advantage rule, saying, “It helped us last season against the Yakult Swallows when we were the pennant-winning team, but it works against us this season as we are the challengers to the Giants.

“Generally speaking, I don’t like the rule, but NPB decided on it, so we just have to live it. One good thing about it, though; I think it makes the visiting team, going into the series already down by a game, more determined to win the first game because that effectively ties the series at a game apiece.”

That is exactly what Chunichi did on Wednesday, defeating Yomiuri 3-1 in Game 1, and Morino’s manager, Morimichi Takagi, emphasized the importance of that initial victory, saying after the game, “This is huge because it wipes out the one-game advantage and gives us some momentum, especially since we beat (Tetsuya) Utsumi, the Giants ace.”

Some players, apparently, are not even aware of the special benefit. Asked what he thought of the one-game advantage policy, Dragons relief pitcher Jorge Sosa responded by saying, “The what?”

Another thing I dislike about the CS is the fact the Central League abandoned the “yokoku sempatsu” (announcing the starting pitchers in advance) rule adopted during the regular season.

If they’re going to change the rules for the postseason, how about using designated hitters in the CL Climax Series?

The Pacific League rightfully continued to announce starters 24 hours in advance each day, but the Central League is going the opposite way, plus the fact NPB umpires working the CLCS games were wearing caps with the old CL logo instead of the NPB one, indicates there is still some separation among the leagues.

So, for the CL, it was back to the righty-or-lefty guessing game and possible pitchers instead of definite pitchers or at least probable pitchers. On Oct. 17, the morning of Game 1 of the Yomiuri-Chunichi CS finals, the Chunichi Sports newspaper predicted the starters would be right-handers D.J. Houlton for the Giants and veteran Kenshin Kawakami for the Dragons.

The Nikkan Sports figured on lefties Tetsuya Utsumi for the home team and Yudai Ono for the visitors, and it turned out the Nikkan had it right on both, but media members are having to go through the same thing every day, trying to prepare to cover games when they don’t even know for sure who will pitching.

Some old ideas just never die.

There was also a chance to further stagger the starting times of the Central and Pacific League First Stage Climax Series games on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13-14. Both games each day were played during the afternoon, with the Saitama Seibu Lions against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks at 1 p.m., and the Chunichi Dragons hosting the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at 2 p.m.

In order for NPB to give full exposure and showcase its product to the TV audience, one of the games each day should have been played at night, leaving aspace between the starting times, as MLB does when scheduling its playoffs.

For the weekend of Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 20-21, there were scheduled day games and night games. The Pacific League Climax Series games those days were to begin at 1 p.m. at Sapporo Dome, and the Central League CS at 6 p.m. at Tokyo Dome.

That is assuming Games 4 and 5 of the series were necessary.

Having the Climax Series adds a lot of excitement and is much more interesting than the days of the straight pennant run with the Japan Series as the only postseason play. It just seems to me the CS format needs some tweaking.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com