If Orix Buffaloes fans are wondering how their team let Stefen Romero get away, you can't blame them.
Fans of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the main benefactors, certainly won't.
Romero signed with the Eagles as a free agent in January and he's been a hit in Sendai so far.
That was the case last week as well, as the 31-year-old helped Rakuten win four games in a six-game home set against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Rakuten and SoftBank have been taking turns in the Pacific League's top spot and ended the week tied atop the PL with matching 24-19-1 records.
As has been case in recent weeks, Romero played one of the starring roles for Rakuten.
Romero drove in a run in a win on Aug. 4, hit two homers in Friday's victory and had another on Saturday. He finished the series 8-for-19 with three home runs and seven RBIs.
"I just want to go up there and have good at-bats and let the results speak for themselves and just get good pitches to swing at and put my swing on it," Romero said after Friday's game.
Romero has the third-highest batting average in Japan (.348) and is tied with teammate Hideto Asamura for the second-most home runs (14) this season. With Jabari Blash off to a slow start — and deactivated with a neck ailment on Saturday — it's been Romero who has stood beside Asamura as one of the lineup's main offensive weapons.
Other than the batting average, his performance isn't too surprising.
Romero hit .268 with 69 homers in his three years with Orix. His main problem there was getting on the field. His NPB high in games played was 119 in 2018. He appeared in 81 last season.
If Romero keeps this up, though, he'll play a big part in helping Rakuten stay in contention for one of the two spots in this year's coronavirus-shortened postseason.
Romero isn't the only new Eagle flying high.
Pitcher Hideaki Wakui, acquired from the Chiba Lotte Marines in a cash trade, has emerged as the club's most reliable pitcher.
Wakui has been good all year, but took it up a notch on Wednesday, nearly tossing a no-hitter against SoftBank. Wakui struck out eight, walked two and allowed his only hit on a single by Keizo Kawashima in the ninth.
He's allowed three runs — two earned — over 29⅓ innings in his last four starts. He's 6-0 and his 2.33 ERA, in seven starts, is the lowest in the PL.
A former Sawamura Award winner who was essentially turned into a castoff, Wakui is rewarding the faith Kazuhisa Ishii (his former teammate and the Rakuten GM) had in him.
Takahiro Shiomi, isn't new to Sendai, but it's been awhile since the fans there have seen him win. That drought ended Friday, when Shiomi held SoftBank scoreless for 6⅔ innings in his first win at home since Aug. 9, 2017.
"Sorry for not winning at all," he said after the game.
He allowed three hits, stuck out six and hit a batter. Shiomi is 3-3 with a 3.67 ERA and, like Wakui, could be a surprise package going forward after some lean years.
"He looked like himself," manager Hajime Miki said. "He was careful and had good control and really pitched well."
While Romero's new team is at the top of the PL, his old one is at the bottom.
The Buffaloes won just one game in their series against the Chiba Lotte Marines last week at Kyocera Dome and remain stuck in sixth place.
Among Orix's myriad issues is an offense that's bringing up the rear in both runs and home runs and could probably use a bat like Romero's right about now. Masataka Yoshida has been hitting, which is no surprise, but production is lagging elsewhere.
Not to mention the Buffaloes have the second-highest ERA in the PL — a particular concern for a team that's having trouble scoring runs.
Lotte has had Orix's number this year — to say the very least. In 12 games, the Marines are 10-1-1 in this matchup, including a six-game sweep earlier in the season.
Seiya Inoue hit two homers and drove in five runs during the series, while Shogo Nakamura and Yudai Fujioka also spent their fair share of time on base.
In the other PL series, Kensuke Kondo helped the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters take five of six off the Seibu Lions. Kondo was 10-for-22, with a home run and five RBIs against the Lions, who have lost nine of 11.
In the Central League, Yokohama BayStars captain Keita Sano had another big week.
Sano hit two home runs and finished with seven RBIs in his team's six games, helping the BayStars rise to second place in the CL. Sano was also 9-for-21 at the plate. He's currently leading the league with a .355 batting average.
The outfielder tied Saturday's game against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows with a single in the third and added a tiebreaking two-run homer in the fifth. Yokohama won 5-4.
The BayStars were 5-1 last week.
The Chunichi Dragons began their week by getting swept by the BayStars but rebounded to take two and tie one against the first-place Yomiuri Giants.
Yudai Ono got that weekend series started with a complete-game victory, his second in as many starts.
On Sunday, the Dragons blew a 2-0 lead in the seventh but held on for a 2-2 tie.
With a shorter regular season and no postseason in the CL this year, the Dragons are already in a slightly precarious position. Even after winning the series against the Giants, the club is still eight games behind the Kyojin.
Elsewhere around the CL, the first-place Giants finished their week 2-3-1 after rallying to earn Sunday's tie with Chunichi.
The third-place Swallows were 2-4 last week. In fourth place, the Hanshin Tigers had a tough week that featured enough missed opportunities to fill Koshien Stadium and won just twice in six games.
The fifth-place Carp, meanwhile, were 4-2 last week.
Mr. 300: is what you can call BayStars manager Alex Ramirez.
Ramirez won his 300th career game as Yokohama manager on Tuesday night, making him the third man in club history to reach the mark.
Currently in his fifth season, Ramirez is 302-298-15 in charge of the BayStars after Sunday's game.
Ramirez took the reins in 2016 and has thus far guided the team to three A-Class finishes — three more than the club had in the 10 years prior — and an appearance in the 2017 Japan Series.
It's a rare sight: to see a position player pitch in Japan.
So fans at Koshien Stadium got a little treat when Yomiuri infielder Daiki Masuda took the mound with his team down 11-0 in the eighth.
While it happens during blowouts in MLB on occasion, position players pitching is a rarity in Japan. Per Daily Sports, Masuda is the first to do so since 2000.
He did well, retiring two batters and walking one without allowing a hit.
The last man standing is: Kyuji Fujikawa.
If Hawks reliever Dennis Sarfate has indeed played his last game, as was indicated by a post on his Facebook page Friday, then Kyuji Fujikawa is the only 200-save pitcher still on the mound — albeit not as the closer at the moment.
Only six players have reached the mark in NPB history.
Fujikawa is the leader among active players with 243 saves — nine more than Sarfate — and fourth on the all-time list.
Among active relievers, the BayStars' Yasuaki Yamasaki is the closest to 200 with 169 saves.
It was a good week for: The Fighters.
Nippon Ham made it back to .500 for the first time since June 25 with five wins against the Lions last week. The Fighters are actually on a nice run right now, with a 9-2 mark in their last 11 games.
It was a bad week for: Hayato Sakamoto.
The Giants star, and reigning league MVP, managed just two hits last week, though one was a homer. He ended his week by going hitless in his final 17 plate appearances.
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