The Tokyo Yakult Swallows not only made a surprise run to the Central League pennant last season, the team capped off the year by beating the Orix Buffaloes in a wildly entertaining Japan Series to become the first CL team since 2012 to take the crown.

Yakult’s long climb from last place to first might have been the easy part, as the club will now face the pressure of trying to defend the throne from five challengers with ambitions of grandeur.

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