The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have won seven of their first eight games of the season. That’s made the Eagles the early surprise of 2017, especially as they, and not the reigning champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters or the powerhouse Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, currently sit atop the Pacific League standings.
Of course, it’s only April, but that’s no reason to rain on Rakuten’s parade.
The Eagles put away the Chiba Lotte Marines in a wet game on Sunday afternoon to notch their second series sweep (although it was just a two-game series) of this young season. Rakuten began the year by sweeping past the Orix Buffaloes on the road and then took two of three from the Hawks at home.
This past weekend’s games in Chiba made Rakuten a perfect 5-for-5 on the road. It’s also the first time in team history the Eagles, who began play in 2005, have won their first three series to open a season.
“We’re not going to change our feeling of taking it one game at a time,” manager Masataka Nashida told reporters on Sunday.
It’s still too early to really get an accurate gauge of just exactly what the Eagles are this season. But that doesn’t mean the team and its fans shouldn’t be enthused by the fast start.
The club has one of the league’s most fun players to watch in second-year shortstop Eigoro Mogi and a slugger in Carlos Peguero who can knock the cover off the ball. Those two, who have been hitting 1-2 in the lineup, have combined for six home runs and 20 RBIs in the Eagles’ eight games.
Peguero has three home runs, including monstrous shots on back-to-back nights to start the season, to go with his 10 RBIs. Mogi reached 10 RBIs by driving in a pair of runs on Sunday, including one with the first leadoff home run of his career.
“I wasn’t really sure if it would go out,” Mogi said of his homer. “Because (Takayuki) Kishi was pitching, I thought it was important for us to score first, so I’m happy.”
Zelous Wheeler and Japhet Amador, off to slow starts, may yet join the offensive party and really make the Eagles a tough group to handle going forward.
The Eagles haven’t pitched particularly well overall, which will have to happen when the bats cool off, but can be confident in their top two hurlers, Takahiro Norimoto and Kishi. Both had steady first starts and come with the pedigree of many past successes. The team has also gotten nice productivity out of a few young arms in the bullpen, which should provide at least cautious optimism about the future.
Cautious optimism is all you really have this early, but that’s enough right now. Rakuten has been starved for success since wining it all in 2013, and a positive start is good for both the players and fans. They should enjoy the good times while they last.
The other side of the coin is that the Eagles were fifth in the PL last season. So it’s not a stretch to imagine a nosedive once the other PL clubs get up and running. It doesn’t mean that will definitely happen, it didn’t in 2013, but it could.
Although the club does have a little history on its side. Nashida has managed two other Pacific League clubs in the past, and led both, the 2001 Kintetsu Buffaloes and the 2009 Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, to the pennant in his second year.
But the Eagles aren’t close to thinking about that yet. What they and the Sendai faithful can do, however, is celebrate the present, enjoy the team’s early success, and keep their fingers crossed as the season progresses.