Pressure on Yokohama DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez to deliver a pennant has been heightened since owner Tomoko Namba stepped into the center of a circle of reporters last year — about an hour after the team was eliminated from 2019 postseason — and essentially said 2020 was title or bust.
Plus, recently-retired Yokohama great Daisuke Miura is already on the coaching staff, and there's no manager more popular than the old legend who isn't actually managing the team.
That brings us to this past weekend. The BayStars were eliminated from pennant contention in the Central League on Friday. On Saturday, Ramirez announced his intention to resign after the season.
"Taking full responsibility," Ramirez said during a news conference Saturday. "The team put a great team in front of me. I (make) all my decisions based on numbers, and based on feeling. So, I'm leaving today with no regrets."
With Ramirez moving on, the BayStars will forge ahead in win-now mode without the manager who has won more than anyone else there in over 20 years.
Who knows if Miura, affectionately known to BayStars fans as Hama No Bancho, can manage on the ichi-gun level.
He's done well as the farm team manager this year, producing a 40-30-2 record, and has a wealth of knowledge to impart to the Yokohama pitching staff. His experience at ni-gun also gives him an intimate knowledge of what the organization has in the pipeline.
There is, of course, a chance the BayStars are victims of their own ambitions.
Maybe Miura sweeps in and wins a pennant or a Japan Series in the next few seasons. Or maybe the club is parting ways with a manager who had a down season in a year disrupted by a pandemic and with a team that's been hit by injuries.
It's also worth noting DeNA is two games out of third place, which in a normal year would have the club in the postseason hunt.
No Yokohama manager has actually won the pennant since Hiroshi Gondo's "Machine Gun" offense in 1998 — Miura pitched for that team and was 12-7 with a 3.18 ERA.
The closest anyone has come since then was when Ramirez engineered a second-place finish last season.
Basically, winning hasn't come easy for the BayStars.
The team managed only four A-Class finishes from 1999-2015. Ramirez, who took over in 2016, already has three and is still in the hunt for a fourth. In 2017, his BayStars were two outs away from forcing a Game 7 in the Japan Series.
DeNA has set aggressive goals since taking over the team before the 2012 season. Former president Jun Ikeda quickly set in motion an approach rooted in the analysis of marketing data, looking for any and every sliver of information that could help the team formulate strategies to connect with fans.
It worked, too, and the club experienced rapid growth in attendance and fan engagement.
But things don't always go according to plan on the field and, after five seasons without that pennant, Ramirez is the one taking the heat.
The 2017 team overachieved and the 2019 squad hit another level. This year, with power hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo in the majors, without pitcher Katsuki Azuma — lost to Tommy John surgery — and with pitchers Taiga Kamichatani, Shota Imanaga, Kentaro Taira and slugger Tyler Austin also having dealt with injuries, the club fell back to earth.
DeNA had better hope Miura succeeds — because even with the strides the BayStars have made with the fanbase, it won't be nearly as easy to sell a separation from Hama no Bacho to the fanbase if he matches Ramirez's numbers.
In non-BayStars news, the Seibu Lions are probably not going to win a third-straight Pacific League pennant, but are making a mad dash into contention for second place and a spot in the Climax Series.
The third-place Lions swept the second-place Chiba Lotte Marines to start last week, though they dropped two of three against the league-leading Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks over the weekend.
Even so, a 4-2 week has the Lions three games behind the Marines. Seibu has 13 games left, Lotte has 12, and they play each other once more.
Lotte earned itself a bit of breathing room with a win over the Orix Buffaloes on Sunday to finish off a rough 1-5 week.
SoftBank, meanwhile, wrapped one hand around the pennant by winning five of six games and dropping its magic number to two.
In the B-Class, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were 2-2-2 (and are a half-game behind the Lions), the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were 1-4-1 and the Orix Buffaloes were 3-2-1.
In the Central League, the Giants won just twice in six games but still have a magic number of four.
The upstart Chunichi Dragons remained in second place after a 5-1 week and the Hanshin Tigers were 3-3-1 and are in third place.
Behind the fourth-place BayStars, the Hiroshima Carp were 3-3 last week and the last place Tokyo Yakult Swallows finished 2-3-2.
Close the door: Hawks
On Oct. 9, the Hawks lost to the Chiba Lotte Marines to surrender sole possession of first place in the PL. What followed was SoftBank flexing its considerable muscle and reeling off 12 straight wins — including four straight to start last week.
The streak ended after Seibu's Takeya Nakamura hit a grand slam to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead in the eighth inning on Saturday. Still, the Hawks — who bounced back Sunday — made their point and are in position to clinch the PL title this week.
Mr. 2,000: Jose Lopez
The BayStars infielder recorded his 2,000th hit, combined between MLB and NPB, with a single against the Carp in the first inning on Saturday.
Lopez is the ninth foreign NPB player to reach 2,000 combined hits after starting in MLB, according to Nikkan Sports. The Buffaloes' Adam Jones reached 2,000 earlier this season. Alex Ramirez is the only foreign player to amass 2,000 NPB hits.
The single was Lopez's 995th hit in Japan, to go with 1,005 in MLB. Per Nikkan Sports, five more hits (in Japan) would make Lopez the first foreign NPB player with at least 1,000 hits in both MLB and Japan.
Lopez, who previously played for the Giants, has 200 doubles, two triples and 194 home runs among his NPB hits.
It was a good week for: Ukyo Shuto
Shuto reached base in all six of the Hawks' games last week (he was 10-for-27 with two walks) and managed to steal at least one base in all six.
With a steal on Sunday, he extended his current streak to nine consecutive games with a stolen base. He currently leads NPB with 44.
It was a bad week for: the Marines
Between COVID-19 and injuries the wheels are falling off the Lotte express near the endpoint of the season.
It went from bad to worse this week, with the team losing its first five games and also losing Leonys Martin to an injury on Oct. 21.
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