The Chiba Lotte Marines are in, the Seibu Lions are out and the NPB postseason is set.
Lotte punched its ticket with a win over the Lions on Sunday afternoon in what was essentially a playoff game before the playoffs.
Needing a win to secure second place in the Pacific League and the Climax Series spot that comes with it, Lotte fell behind early Sunday afternoon, with starter Daiki Iwashita allowing a pair of runs in the second inning.
It was all Marines from that point on.
They got on the board thanks to an error in the third, and Tsuyoshi Sugano tied the game with a single later in the inning. Yudai Fujioka put the team ahead with a solo homer in the fourth, and the Marines went on to add three more runs in the sixth and padded the lead with two more in the eighth for an 8-2 win.
“It was a curve that I got a really good swing on,” Fujioka said. “I ended up with the best result.”
With the win, the Marines, who had 11 players and staffers infected with COVID-19 in early October and were passed in the standings by the Lions last week, secured a spot in the Pacific League Climax Series.
“We had a lot of difficult things to deal with, but right now I’m really happy that together with the fans we’re going to the Climax Series,” Fujioka said.
A 3-3 week was enough to give the Marines a 1½-game lead over the Lions, with both clubs playing their final game of the year on Monday. Seibu was 2-3-1.
The Marines will end the year in the second place in the Pacific League, their best finish since 2007. The club is returning to the postseason for the first time since 2016.
Lotte will take on the PL champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the PL Climax Series beginning Friday. Because the Climax Series was shortened to a single round in the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the winner of that series will advance to meet the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series, which begins Nov. 21 in Osaka.
Both teams should enter the series with something to be confident about. The Marines won the season series between the two teams with a 12-11-1 record, while the Hawks won seven of their last eight meetings.
While the Marines and Lions battled for a postseason berth, the rest of the league worked toward wrapping up the season. The Hawks won two of the three games they played last week, the fourth-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were 2-2-1 and are done for the year, the fifth-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters lost all four of their games and the Orix Buffaloes finished their season with a 3-2 week.
In the Central League, the league-champion Giants saw Hayato Sakamoto reach 2,000 career hits as the highlight of a 1-3-1 week.
The Hanshin Tigers secured the second-place spot with a 3-1 week. The Chunichi Dragons gave retiring pitcher Kazuki Yoshimi a nice send-off on Thursday and went 3-1 to make sure they returned to the A-Class in his final season.
The last time the Dragons finished in the top half of the league was in 2012, when a younger Yoshimi went 13-4 and finished with a 1.75 ERA to help the club finish second.
This generation’s Chunichi ace, Yudai Ono, went off on a winning note and bolstered his case for the Sawamura Award with seven shutout innings against the BayStars on Thursday. Ono ended a career year 11-6 with a 1.82 ERA and 10 complete games.
In the bottom half of the league, the Yokohama BayStars lost all three of their games last week, the Hiroshima Carp were 2-1-1 and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows went 3-3 in a busy week.
Be seeing you: Foreign players
With the season down to a couple of games, many foreign players on teams without any meaningful contests left started to head home. The Orix Buffaloes’ Adam Jones, the Hanshin Tigers’ Justin Bour and many other foreign NPB stars got a few days’ start on the offseason. Some will be back in February for spring camp, while others may have spent their final days in an NPB uniform.
What a start: Masato Morishita
The Carp rookie is likely done for the year, with the club opting not to add to his workload in his first season. If he is indeed done, he finished with the type of year that is usually rewarded with hardware during awards season.
Morishita made 18 starts and was second only to Yudai Ono with a 1.91 ERA. He was easily the bright spot in a difficult season in Hiroshima, finishing 10-3 with a 1.09 walks plus hits per innings pitched and 124 strikeouts.
It was a good week for: Hayato Sakamoto
The Giants star reached 2,000 hits for his career in the first inning on Sunday and connected on a homer and single in his next two trips to get the ball rolling toward 3,000.
It was a bad week for: the Lions
Seibu made a spirited charge up the standings in the final weeks, but the rally fell just short of a spot in the postseason.
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