Barring some major hiccups going into the home stretch, the NPB playoff picture appears to be more or less set, with one big exception.

The Pacific League pennant is still out there for the taking as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters race to the finish line.

The teams began the week separated by a half-game in the standings. Each played Monday afternoon, with the Hawks playing to a tie against the Orix Buffaloes, and the Fighters beating the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Those games were the precursor to a huge two-game series between the teams that begins in Fukuoka on Wednesday. The Fighters are expected to pull out the big guns, with ace Shohei Otani, who set an NPB speed record by touching 164 kph in his last start, set to take the mound on one of the two contests.

Nippon Ham leads the season series 13-9-1.

The two-game set won’t resolve things by itself, but at this point in the year, the pressure surrounding every game is magnified, especially when the two teams vying for the prize get to square off.

Looking ahead, the Hawks have a slightly harder schedule on paper the rest of the way, courtesy of a three-game road series against the third-place Chiba Lotte Marines. The Fighers won’t face another A-Class team after their two games against SoftBank.

The Hawks, however, have gone 14-7 against Lotte this year and 7-2 at QVC Marine Field.

Almost second to none: Tokyo Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada is a couple of home runs away from making history as the Swallows wind down their season.

Yamada currently has 38 home runs, putting him in a tie for second on the all-time single-season list among second-basemen according to the numbers compiled by Baseball King. Yamada also hit 38 last season, which matched the total reached by Hankyu Braves player Daryl Spencer in 1965. The single-season leader, for now at least, is former Carp player Greg LaRocca, who hit 40 in 2004.

Perfect 10: When the Yomiuri Giants officially punch their ticket for the Central League Climax Series this year, it will mark the 10th consecutive season the CL club has participated in the postseason format. The CL began the Climax Series in 2007, and so far the Giants have qualified in every season, including six times as the pennant winner.

The Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers are closet to Yomiuri in terms of appearances with each qualifying six times, though neither will make the cut this season.

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