Osaka – The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks aren’t playing the same game as everyone else.
How else to explain their domination of Japanese baseball — of the Climax Series and Japan Series in particular — for almost a decade? If everyone is taking the same test, SoftBank walked into the classroom with the answers in its back pocket.
The Hawks’ latest show of strength was a 13-2 demolition of the Yomiuri Giants in Game 2 of the Japan Series on Sunday night. They’ll head into Game 3 Tuesday with a 2-0 advantage.
SoftBank outhit the Giants 15-2 on Sunday, including slugging three home runs, with 10 different players recording a hit.
“There isn’t any better medicine than coming up with a hit,” SoftBank manager Kimiyasu Kudo said afterward. “So that was great for us and hopefully we can carry this to the third game.”
Sunday’s win was the team’s record 10th straight in the Japan Series, dating back to 2018.
Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne tied the mark for most RBIs in a game with six on an RBI groundout, a sacrifice fly and a grand slam. Ryoya Kurihara became the 23rd player to record four hits in a Series game.
It made for an easy night for starter Shuta Ishikawa, who picked up a win in his first Japan Series start. Ishikawa allowed two-runs over 5 ⅓ innings and struck out seven.
“It’s just like the regular season,” Ishikawa said of the SoftBank batters. “They’re so reliable and I just wanted to hop on board. I really appreciate them.”
SoftBank was a 5-1 winner in Game 1 behind seven scoreless innings from Kodai Senga and a 3-for-3, four-RBI night from Kurihara.
The Hawks are two wins away from a seventh Japan Series title since 2011. They’ve beaten the Giants so thoroughly thus far that “33-4” was trending on Twitter during Game 2 — a reference to the overall scoreline of the Chiba Lotte Marines’ four-game drubbing of the Hanshin Tigers in the 2005 Series.
It’s just more proof the Hawks are in a class of their own.
If the Giants are Japan’s version of the New York Yankees, the Hawks are Japan’s version of what the Yankees and Giants wish they were.
Money is one reason, and it’s a big one. But it isn’t only about signing big-ticket players. The Hawks have also used their considerable capital to build up their organizational infrastructure.
SoftBank has also hit the jackpot in the draft a few times.
Yuki Yanagita and Kurihara were second-round choices. Nobuhiro Matsuda, who has been a good offensive player but is more valuable with his glove and his boundless energy these days, is also homegrown. Senga, one of the best pitchers in the world, Ishikawa, Sunday’s winner, and Takuya Kai, one of the top catchers in Japan, were all developmental picks.
SoftBank also scouted and signed key players like Yurisbel Gracial, the 2019 Japan Series MVP, and dynamite Cuban reliever Livan Moinelo, and had the money to hit the market for proven talents like Seiichi Uchikawa and Despaigne.
Their baseball people have put together a roster with amazing depth. The Hawks are so loaded Uchikawa can’t get on the top team and Yuya Hasegawa is rarely in the starting lineup.
All-Star shortstop Kenta Imamiya battled injuries and only played in 43 games this year, Wladimir Balentein didn’t produce much and it simply didn’t matter. Not on a team so bursting at the seams with talent that Kurihara can come out of nowhere and hit 17 homers in regular season and be 7-for-8 with four RBIs after two games of the Japan Series, and Ukyo Shuto can steal 50 bases in a shortened season.
One of the triumphs of the franchise is that it managed to make a mostly seamless transition from the days of Toshiya Sugiuchi, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Munenori Kawasaki to the current era of Senga and Yanagita.
The other thing that helped create this monster is a Pacific League that has surpassed the Central League in talent and depth. SoftBank has to be this good. It’s easy to forget that since 2011, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Seibu Lions have each won the PL pennant twice and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have won once as well.
Pa League teams have been dominant during interleague play and have won every Japan Series since 2013. In building a team that can consistently reach the PL postseason — and then win there — the Hawks have pushed themselves up to a new level.
All that’s left in their way this year is the Giants.
If the rest of the Kyojin join Zelous Wheeler, who had a two-run homer on Sunday and a sac fly in Game 1, in the Series then maybe they can make things interesting.
Yomiuri has a day to regroup before Game 4 in Fukuoka — where SoftBank has won 14 straight Japan Series games.
“We have one day,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said Sunday night. “We’ll practice hard and get ready for the day after tomorrow.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.