Prediction: Pacific League
It’s much harder to predict the standings for the Pacific League as the teams are so evenly matched. But I’ll give it a shot.
1. Seibu Lions: I think we’ll see a little regression from Okawari Nakamura and Kazuyuki Hoashi, but a better performance from Hideaki Wakui. Overall it looks like the Lions have enough to repeat.
Key Players: Wakui, Hoashi, whoever gets the most at-bats at 1st base
2. Nippon Ham Fighters: Nippon Ham was actually outscored by their opponents last year. I’m putting them here because I believe that they have the pitching and defense to win close games, and that Sho Nakata will turn up at some point during the season and provide a little offense.The new additions to the bullpen have the task of replacing Michael Nakamura as well.
Key Players: Nakata, Ryan Wing, Masanori Hayashi
3. Chiba Lotte Marines: I didn’t think I’d have the Marines making the playoffs, but I’m putting them in third because they have a solid front four in their rotation, and no real holes in their lineup. Hopefully Bobby V can find a way to keep Tadahito Iguchi and Shunichi Nemoto both in the lineup, as Nemoto broke out last year with a .296/.369/.430 line.
Key Players: Bobby V, Yoshihisa Naruse, Yuuki Karakawa
4. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles: The Eagles have two WBC heroes at the top of their rotation (Hisashi Iwakuma, Masahiro Tanaka), a couple of solid mid-rotation guys (Darrell Rasner, Hideaki Asai), and some power in the middle of their lineup (Norihiro Nakamura, Fernando Seguignol, Takeshi Yamasaki). But on the other hand they have some holes in their lineup and bullpen.
Key Players: the bullpen
5. Orix Buffaloes: Manager Daijiro Ohishi took over in May of last year and lead the Buffaloes to a seemingly improbable playoff run. Looking back, the Buffaloes pitched better than I realized, with a 3.93 team era and four starters with sub-4:00 eras and at least 10 wins. If the pitching staff can repeat that performance, and the aging lineup of foreign sluggers holds up, they’ll be competitive. If not, look for a B-class finish.
Key Players: Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Cabrera, Jose Fernandez, Greg LaRocca
6. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks: It’s hard to pick the Hawks to finish this low with the amazing rotation depth they have — Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, Nagisa Arakaki, Shota Ohba, Kenji Ohtonari, Kameron Loe, Kazumi Saito (if he can come back from his injuries) and rookie Shingo Tatsumi. But on the flipside, their lineup just isn’t what it used to be. The Hawks hit just 99 home runs last year and haven’t added any significant bats. They’re hoping for a return to form from aging sluggers Hiroki Kokubo and Hitoshi Tamura, who have been shells of their former selves in recent years.
Key Players: Kokubo, Tamura
It was tough to pick any of these teams to finish last, because the league is so balanced and all the teams have strengths. It seems likely that Seibu will finish in the top 3 and SoftBank will finish in the bottom 3, but everything else is up for grabs. What are your thoughts?