On Sunday, the MLB season ended with all 30 teams in action, wrapping up the year in a nice and tidy 15-game bow as focus shifts to the playoffs.
Sunday in Japan marked the final day all 12 NPB teams took the field on the same day in 2017. It was not, however, the final day of the season.
Well, it was for the Hiroshima Carp. But the Yomiuri Giants and Tokyo Yakult Swallows finish Tuesday; the Yokohama BayStars wrap up on Wednesday; the Seibu Lions on Thursday; the Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers are done Friday; the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Sunday; the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Orix Buffaloes on Monday; and, finally, the Chiba Lotte Marines and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Tuesday night in Kobo Stadium Miyagi.
There’s nothing nice and tidy about that. It’s a disjointed, sloppy ending at a time NPB should be ramping up excitement for the postseason and sending the regular season out on a high note. Instead of going out with a bang, the NPB season will limp across the finish line, bogged down by the makeup games NPB insists on playing at the tail end of the season.
Japanese baseball can do better for its fans. Instead of the year ending with four straight days with no more than two games on the schedule, it would be far more exciting to end the year with games being played across the country — especially with the baseball-less winter months looming ever closer on the horizon. Not to mention the added drama there would be during years when pennant races and jockeying for playoff position goes down to the wire.
The Lions and Eagles, for instance, began this week with the No. 2 seed in the Pacific League still up for grabs. The Lions, who led that race by three games, had three contests left on their schedule. The Eagles had eight. That sucks some of the drama out that race. The Lions could potentially be sitting at home, while the Eagles play out a string of games that may or may not mean anything.
Wouldn’t it be more exciting if teams all ended the year at the same time? If the pressure were ramped up just a little more for the players in pennant and playoff races, and fans were not only watching their games, but keeping tabs on the other contests as well? Even if there were no playoff implications during the last week, having six games on the docket each night is still far better than one or two.
There are always a number of makeup games dotting the schedule at the end of the year, mostly because of Japan’s rainy season and NPB and the players’ resistance to scheduling doubleheaders. So NPB fans get teams playing here and there over the final week to make everything even.
While there probably isn’t an easy fix, NPB should try to find some solution.
Perhaps one way would be to set aside a period in the middle of September to make up games, and then end the year with two or three regularly scheduled series. Games would still get made up, but the year would end with a packed schedule. Is that a perfect solution? Probably not.
Of course, the league could always heed the advice of the late, great Wayne Graczyk, the longtime Japan Times columnist, who always suggested NPB just find a way to make up games during the season. The league could schedule a few doubleheaders or use some of the Monday off-days, or just get creative.
There are more teams in the majors and more games on the MLB schedule, yet that league manages to end its season in one fell swoop and even get the postseason started before NPB teams are finished playing. So Japanese baseball can come up with something better than it has.
As Wayne wrote in a 2009 column on the subject, “they may say they cannot do this, but I’ll bet they could if they really wanted to.”