The Yomiuri Giants don’t have an unassailable lead in the Central League, but they’ve got a pretty big cushion.
After winning six games last week, the Kyojin have a 9½-game lead over the second-place Hanshin Tigers with fewer than 50 games remaining for each team in the CL.
Barring a total collapse, or the players deciding they don’t actually like baseball that much, the Kyojin are probably going to win the pennant. Which is great for the Giants and their fans, but has probably set the stage for an at least somewhat unsatisfying finish.
There’s over a month of season to go, but with no Climax Series because of the coronavirus, everything has almost been decided already.
The league sacrificed its postseason for the sake of getting as much of the regular season in as possible amid the pandemic. So the CL pennant winner will advance directly to the Japan Series.
League officials made their decision in the middle of a raging pandemic with the information they had at the time. Considering we’re approaching the homestretch of a 120-game season that’s been largely without issue and has fans in the stands, it’s hard to go back in time and nitpick.
It still means, though, the season will end without much drama if Yomiuri keeps rolling. Instead of the final weeks being filled with teams jostling for postseason spots, there will only be a long march to a Yomiuri coronation. You’ll sometimes see seasons like this in soccer — the most recent Premier League campaign, for instance. Many soccer leagues, however, have other midseason competitions that give teams something else to play for.
While there’s pride to be had in a strong finish to the season, that’ll be the only reward for the other five CL clubs this year.
There also isn’t the possibility of a dramatic Climax Series Final Stage upset like the Tigers pulled off against the Giants to reach the Japan Series in 2014, or the BayStars against the Hiroshima Carp in 2017.
It’s undeniably fair, however. If the Giants hang on, representing the CL in the Japan Series is the most just outcome and they’d be free from the danger of a playoff series against a team with some momentum behind it.
Playoffs are fun though. They keep more teams and fans engaged and have become the accepted way to crown a champion. Even the CL finally came around in 2007 and added postseason play (the second-place Chunichi Dragons reached — and won — the Japan Series that year). A postseason can also be quite profitable, hence why MLB bent over backward to add more teams to its playoffs this year.
Again, it’s hard to blame the CL. With four of six teams playing in open-air parks, the makeup game situation was a major issue — although they could’ve also committed to some doubleheaders.
The Pacific League cut its own postseason from three teams to two, so there is still a race to follow there. That overall pennant race is also tighter, with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks holding a one-game lead at the top.
In the CL, barring something drastic happening quickly, things are as sewn up as they can be at this point. The teams are still going to play hard, but there’ll be something missing down the stretch.
While the Giants solidified their spot at the top, the second place Tigers were 4-2-1 last week.
Jerry Sands’ recent surge continued with 12 hits, three homers and six RBIs for Hanshin. Sands, in his first NPB season, is hitting .302 with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs.
As for the rest of the league, the third-place BayStars were 2-3-1, the Dragons were also 2-3-1, the Carp were 2-3-1 and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows went 0-5-1 and replaced the Carp in last place.
Like the Giants, the Hawks looked like the class of their league last week, finishing 5-1, with a Sunday loss to the Seibu Lions preventing a perfect week.
As usually, Yuki Yanagita was at the forefront for SoftBank. Yanagita had eight hits, a pair of homers and seven RBIs in his team’s six games.
The second-place Chiba Lotte Marines bolstered their ranks by trading for former Giants reliever Hirokazu Sawamura on Tuesday. He’s made a good first impression, striking out four of the six batters he’s faced.
Lotte, meanwhile, finished the week 4-1. The third-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who started this week 5½ games behind the Marines, were swept by the Hawks to start the last week and finished it by beating the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters twice.
The Lions were 3-3 last week and nearly got a no-hitter from Kona Takahashi, who didn’t give up a hit until the top of the ninth against Orix on Tuesday. The fifth-place Fighters were 1-4 and the last-place Orix Buffaloes were 1-4.
A sinister sixth for: Yudai Ono
The Dragons ace extended an impressive streak Sept. 8 against the Giants with his sixth consecutive complete game.
It wasn’t an entirely happy circumstance, however. Ono pitched well, but took the loss after allowing a pair of runs over the distance.
Ono also had his streak of complete-game victories end at five and missed out on a third straight shutout. His scoreless innings streak was snapped at 28 during that game as well.
Just waiting around: in Sendai
The Hawks and Eagles found themselves with a lot of time to kill Thursday when rain fell on Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi in Sendai.
The rain kept falling, too, and in all the two teams waited out a 92-minute delay, which, according to Nikkan Sports, was the Pacific League’s longest since 1970.
The longest delay in PL history was 2 hours, 14 minutes during a game between the Nankai Hawks and Hankyu Braves on Aug. 29, 1963. The NPB record is 2 hours, 29 minutes, which, per Nikon, occurred during the Carp-Tigers game on June 30, 1964.
Giant among giants: Tatsunori Hara
On Friday, the former Yomiuri star player became the franchise’s winningest manager, earning his 1,067th victory when the club beat the Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
Hara broke a tie with Tetsuharu Kawakami, who famously led the “V9 Giants” to nine straight Japan Series wins from 1965 to 1973, to claim sole possession of the team record. Hara is 1,069-798-62 with Yomiuri. His teams have won eight pennants and three Japan Series.
The club held a ceremony for him after the game that featured video messages from former Yomiuri star and manager Sadaharu Oh and also former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre.
It was a good week for: Alfredo Despaigne.
The Hawks slugger only recently returned to the team but was in midseason form last week with seven hits, three homers and six RBIs.
It was a bad week for: Shintaro Fujinami
After allowing 11 runs — seven earned — in 4⅔ innings last week, the Tigers pitcher gave up five runs in 3⅓ on Sunday against the Carp.
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