Fukuoka – The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks clinched their 21st league championship in franchise history on Tuesday and their sixth since being taken over by SoftBank in 2005.
The pennant is the Hawks’ first since 2017. Their next step will be to host the Pacific League Climax Series playoffs, abbreviated this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic to a single two-team, four-game competition between the champs and runners-up starting Nov. 14.
Manager Kimiyasu Kudo’s Hawks have dominated their league, particularly on the defensive side, while being on an offensive par with the PL’s other big-scoring team, the Rakuten Eagles. Through Sunday’s game, they had scored 496 runs while allowing a Japan-low 367.
“We started the season absolutely wanting to win the pennant, but things were difficult amid the coronavirus pandemic,” said Kudo. “The players did well to keep themselves fit, I’m not sure if we’d have won without those efforts.”
The Hawks are a hard-throwing, hard-hitting, hard-running, good fielding outfit with no real weaknesses.
The club is led on offense by 32-year-old superstar center fielder Yuki Yanagita, who will be an easy favorite to win his second PL MVP Award. Yanagita leads both leagues in runs scored and slugging average, and is among the PL leaders in batting average, on-base percentage, walks, home runs and RBIs.
Ace pitcher Kodai Senga did not make his first start until July 7, but he sets the tone for a pitching staff that strikes out batters more often than any other team in Japan. The bullpen is solid with a strong middle relief crew headed by lefty setup man Livan Moinelo in support of closer Yuito Mori.
The Hawks lead both leagues in triples and stolen bases. They have also been extremely good at staying out of double plays. Through Sunday they had grounded into 45 double plays in 110 games.
The pennant is the third for manager Kudo in his six seasons in charge. The club, founded in 1938, has now won the PL 19 times and has two titles from Japan’s single-league era before the Central and Pacific leagues opened for business in 1950.
“I’m only thinking about winning (the Climax Series),” Kudo said. “We’ll prepare for it once the season’s over, we’ll look to win all the games there to reach the Japan Series and also win it.”
“The fans couldn’t give us vocal support but their applause gave the players the power more than anything.”
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