For nearly a decade, it seems Central League teams have simply fought among themselves to see who would lose to the Pacific League representative in the Japan Series.

The Yomiuri Giants have been the “winners” the past two seasons and anyone wanting a shot at the PL this fall will have to go through them to earn it, writes Jason Coskrey as he ranks the CL teams in order of predicted finish ahead of Friday’s start of NPB action. He also singles out a few players that fans should keep an eye on in the CL.

For the PL, you can still write the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in as favorites — but in pencil. A returning Masahiro Tanaka, his Rakuten Eagles and the rest of the league should put up at least a good fight to prevent the Hawks from adding to their trophy case in 2021, says Coskrey in his PL rundown.

Japan vs. South Korea international friendly highlights | SAMURAI BLUE
[In Japanese] Japan vs. South Korea international friendly highlights | SAMURAI BLUE

Switching sports, there would have been plenty to cheer about Thursday night in Yokohama — if fans were allowed to cheer.

Instead, the 8,356 in attendance at Nissan Stadium — all masked and silent during play, as requested — had to make do with applause as the Samurai Blue defeated archrival South Korea 3-0 in Japan’s first home game since November 2019, reports Dan Orlowitz.

Meanwhile, in Japan’s national sport, Takayasu held onto his one-win buffer Thursday at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament after overcoming dangerous rank-and-file opponent Hokutofuji. Tune in to Monday’s T5 to find out if he can hang on to the lead and lift his first Emperor’s Cup on Sunday.