After the first full week of action in the pandemic-delayed 2020 NPB season, there’s no team riding higher than the 8-1 Chiba Lotte Marines.
This past week in Japanese baseball saw the introduction of six-game series in the Pacific League, a measure put in place to limit travel amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Lotte marked the occasion with an unprecedented six-game sweep of the visiting Orix Buffaloes.
The series may have been a rout, but it was an entertaining one, with five of the six games close on the scoreboard. The Marines actually needed an eighth-inning home run by Brandon Laird, and then for reliever Jay Jackson to get three outs in the ninth, to finish off NPB’s first-ever six-game series sweep with a 6-5 win on Sunday.
That a day after rookie Toshiya Sato notched his first career hit with a sayonara single in the 10th inning to secure a 2-1 victory.
“It’s fun, the atmosphere is great,” Laird said. “Everybody’s doing a good job. We’re hitting, pitchers are doing great, starting pitchers are doing good. To win six games at home early in the season, that’s good.”
The Marines lost their first game of the year, falling against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on June 19. Since then, Tadahito Iguchi’s team has put together its first eight-game win streak since 2013.
“I like the way our team is put together,” Jackson told The Japan Times last week.
“We’re really scrappy, we fight, we don’t give up. I think that’s really a testament to our manager and I think that’s a testament to the guys that played last year and saw how close they were to making the playoffs.”
Jackson, who joined the team this year, is excited by what he’s seen early on.
“I love the guys on the team,” he said. “I’m on a good team with a great group of guys, got some veterans and got some young guys with some talent.”
Laird’s homer on Sunday was the exclamation point on a big series for the Lotte infielder. He connected on four homers and drove in six runs to help corral the Buffaloes.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day,” Laird said. “Every day is a new day. I’m just not trying to do too much, just have good at-bats. We’re playing good baseball as a team and we’re having a lot of fun. That’s also helping me.”
While Lotte sits in the PL penthouse, the Buffaloes are stuck in the cellar after a disastrous week that could’ve gone a lot differently. Orix kept things close in nearly every game, losing four of the six by one run and another by two runs.
The other PL series weren’t quite as lopsided.
In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, the reigning PL champion Seibu Lions took four out of six against the reigning Japan Series champion Hawks.
The Lions were aided by a huge series from slugger Hotaka Yamakawa, who hit five home runs and finished with 12 RBIs.
In Sendai, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles also enjoyed a productive week, winning four games against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Among Central League clubs, who played three-game series as usual, the Yokohama BayStars had the best week, going 5-1 against the Chunichi Dragons and Hanshin Tigers. Yokohama was on top of its game at the plate and on the mound, outscoring its opponents 37-13 last week.
On the flipside, the Dragons managed just one win the whole week, while last-place Hanshin picked up two. For the other CL teams, it was a mixed bag.
It was a good week for: many of NPB’s new foreign players.
On June 22, Orix’s Adam Jones, a five-time MLB All-Star and the biggest offseason signing in NPB, hit his first home run in Japan. Cory Spangenberg of the Seibu Lions also got his first homer out of the way that night, connecting on a grand slam against the Hawks.
The BayStars’ Tyler Austin didn’t go deep on Tuesday, but he made his first start in style, finishing 4-for-4 with an RBI in a win over the Dragons.
Saturday night brought the debut of Hanshin’s Jerry Sands and he announced his NPB arrival with a three-run shot in the ninth that gave the Tigers the lead in an 8-6 win over Yokohama.
Among new foreign pitchers, the Fighters’ starter Drew VerHagen and Seibu reliever Reed Garrett notched their first NPB wins this past week.
It was a bad week for: anyone supporting a team from Kansai. No matter which team you chose, you couldn’t go right, with the Buffaloes and Tigers combining to finish 2-10 last week.
Overall, both clubs are on the bottom of their respective league standings after nine games. The offense-starved Tigers are bringing up the rear in the CL at 2-7.
The Buffaloes, meanwhile, are just 1-8 in the Pa. League, currently on a six-game losing streak and about to go into a six-game road series against Yamakawa and the Lions.