The Central League-leading Hiroshima Carp only have one more game remaining against the last-place Chunichi Dragons, inexplicably the only CL team with a winning record against Hiroshima, this season.
Which means the two-time defending champions can get back to the task of finishing off their CL threepeat. The Carp have a magic number of nine, so it shouldn’t be long now.
But even though the team’s run to the promised land is about to reach its payoff, pitcher Daichi Osera still has a little more work to do.
Osera is in the midst of a career year and has arrived at the season’s final stanza with the Sawamura Award well in sight. The race for the award, however, is not quite as clear-cut as the one for the pennant.
Osera could be penciled in as the favorite at this point, but there are others waiting to capitalize if he stumbles during the final few weeks.
If Osera does claim the award, he’d be the third Carp pitcher in four years, joining Kenta Maeda in 2015 and Kris Johnson in 2016, to be named the Sawamura winner.
Osera has built a good case for himself. The Carp right-hander is 15-6 and leads NPB both in wins and with a 2.37 ERA. He’s also held opposing batters to a .213 average against him, a CL best.
Osera’s main challenger for the crown might be last season’s winner, Tomoyuki Sugano of the Yomiuri Giants. Sugano (12-7) has had a slightly rockier season than usual, but has himself in position to take advantage of any slip-up by Osera.
Sugano is tied with a group of pitchers for the third-most wins in Japan and trails only Osera with a 2.53 ERA. Sugano has more strikeouts than Osera (169-133), has thrown more innings (167-152) and tossed more complete games (7-2) so far this year.
The Kyojin ace’s 3.19 fielding independent pitching average is the best in Japan, while Osera ranks ninth at 3.99. The Carp pitcher holds the edge in walks plus hits per innings pitched, 0.99 to 1.06, however.
There have been four players who have won the award in consecutive years. The Dragons’ Shigeru Sugishita did it in 1951 and 1952 and former Kokutetsu Swallows great Masaichi Kaneda won three straight from 1956 and Hanshin Tigers’ Minoru Murayama in 1965 and 1966. The last player to do it was former Giants star Masaki Saito, who won in 1995-1996 and is the only player to repeat since 1990, when Pacific League pitchers became eligible for the honor.
The Dragons’ Onelki Garcia (12-7, 2.82 ERA) is the only other player with at least 12 wins and an ERA under 3.00. The Seibu Lions’ Shinsaburo Tawata (13-5, 4.41) won’t have time to whittle down his ERA and the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Mike Bolsinger, (13-2, 3.06) would be an interesting candidate with two or three more wins, but will be lacking in terms of total starts, innings pitched and strikeouts.
Precedent would seem to be on Osera’s side — as long as he keeps winning games. Since the award was opened up to pitchers of both leagues, only Seibu’s Takehiro Ishii in 1992, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Yu Darvish in 2007 and the Carp’s Johnson in 2016 have won without having at least tied for the most wins in their respective league.
Osera is currently in the Sawamura driver’s seat. All he has to do now is avoid the remaining few potential bumps in the road.