Tag Archive > Okawari-kun

Playoff Picks

» 28 October 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

While the MLB postseason is ready to come to what will certainly be a dramatic end, the NPB playoffs are just about to begin. The Climax Series opens for both leagues on Saturday, October 29 (JST), with the third place and second place finishers squaring off in the opening round. As a refresher, here is the format of the NPB postseason:

  • Climax Series, First Stage: best of three series between the second place and third place finishers.
  • Climax Series, Second Stage: best of seven series between the league champion (first place finisher) and the First Stage winner. The league champion is automatically credited with a one-win advantage.
  • Japan Series: best of seven series between the Central League Climax Series winner and Pacific League Climax Series winner.
And on to my picks…

Pacific League First Stage: Seibu vs Nippon Ham

I’m going to credit Nippon Ham with with an immediate win because of the presence of Yu Darvish, and then a second one because of their superior pitching and defense. Pick: Nippon Ham, 2-0. Key player: Yu Darvish.

Central League First Stage: Yomiuri vs Yakult

Though the Swallows and Giants finished a game apart in the standings, they went in opposite directions this season. Yakult got off to a hot start and faded down the stretch, while Yomiuri had to claw their way into contention after a sub-par start. Yakult won the season series 12-8-4, but Yomiuri has stronger pitching and most offensive threats overall. Pick Yomiuri, 2-1. Key player: Hisayoshi Chono.

Pacific League Second Stage: Nippon Ham vs Softbank

Softbank has every edge here: a deeper rotation, a better lineup, a 16-7-1 regular season record against Nippon Ham, more rest, and a one-game advantage for finishing first. Softbank has also been on their game recently against Nippon Ham, with an 8-1-1 record against the Fighters in September and October. Pick: Softbank 4-1. Key player: Seiichi Uchikawa.

Central League Second Stage: Yomiuri vs Chunichi

This is a close call. Yomiuri has a narrow regular season 12-10-2 edge over Chunichi, and both teams prevented runs this season at about the same pace. Chunichi lineup is weak, the worst in the CL this year, but they have been bullpen options than Yomiuri. So a series of close games probably favors Chunichi, and of course they have the rest and automatic wins advantages, plus the Ochiai destiny. My gut is saying Chunichi, but my brain is saying Yomiuri. Pick Chunichi 4-3. Key player: Takuya Asao.

Japan Series: Chunichi vs Softbank

Maybe it’s bland to predict a Japan Series between the two league champions, but that’s what I see. It’s probably equally bland to pick the more statistically dominant team to win as well… but it’s hard to pick against Softbank. They allowed 59 fewer runs than anyone else in Japan, with a 2.30 team ERA. Offensively they finished second overall to Seibu’s Okawari-kun-fueled lineup, but their 550 runs was 66 better than third place Yakult. Chunichi has enough pitching to keep the games close, but ultimately suffers with a big disadvantage at the plate.

Pick: Softbank 4-2. Key player: Tsuyoshi Wada (with wins in games two and six).

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NPB At The Half

» 21 July 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

We’re at the All-Star break, and NPB’s 12 teams have played through just about exactly half of their schedules. I’d like to take a few minutes to share some observations on the season so far.

I want to start with something about the Great Tohoku Earthquake, but I can’t think of anything particularly profound to say about it. The season opened about a month after the quake, but what I’ll always remember about the opening of this season was the persistent presence of it: Rakuten opening its season on the road, the day games in the Tokyo area, things like that. But what sticks out the most is the memory a Yokohama BayStars game I was watching early in the season that was delayed for a few minutes because of an aftershock. That just felt… ominous. I guess I probably perceived the earthquake differently because I live in the US, but it was the only extended period over the last three years that I really didn’t feel like writing about baseball. Just thinking back to it now has dampened my enthusiasm for writing the next few paragraphs…

The other obvious observation is the affect the new ball has had on the game. Numerous pitchers are posting career-best numbers, and only a few batters, notably Okawari-kun Nakamura, seem capable of cranking out the homers at their respective established paces. Nippon Ham has an absurd 2.08 ERA, while Softbank has a 2.31 mark. I didn’t see that coming for Softbank at all, considering that they didn’t actually have a rotation last year. The new ball’s diminishing effects have been felt around the league, but guys with mid-range gap power seem most greatly affected: Eiichi Koyano, Teppei, Yasuyuki Kataoka, Takashi Toritani… perhaps most concerning is Norichika Aoki, who is still getting on base but has seen his slugging percentage drop to .363 this season after hovering around .500 for the last several years.

Another item of note is that Yu Darvish actually had a bad game this year, giving up seven earned runs in seven innings pitched on opening day. He hasn’t had one since though, rattling off a lengthy scoreless streak (mostly) during interleague play, and showing perhaps the best stuff of his career. Maybe it’s the new ball, but Darvish seems to be throwing harder this season, routinely over 150 kmph (94 mph) with his four-seamer, with some movement on it. He’s also shown a little more polish on his cutter, so combining that with his shuuto he has three pitches with 145+ kmph (90+ mph) velocity that move in different directions. Throw in a power slider and a slow curve that is basically an automatic strike when he gets it over the plate, and you have a completely dominant pitcher. This is first season I’ve ever really wanted to see him against more talented competition.

The pennant races are proving interesting through the first half. Yakult has impressively clung to first place in the Central League, somewhat to my surprise. I saw them taking a step forward this year, but I thought the title would come down to Yomiuri or Hanshin. It still might. Hanshin has the only positive run differential in the CL, and Yomiuri leads the league in ERA and home runs, though has scored the fewest runs. The surprise of the season so far is that Yokohama, despite sitting in their typical last place, leads the league in runs scored.

The Pacific is again the more interesting of the two leagues, but it’s race is shaping up differently than I had anticipated: it’s a two-horse race between Nippon Ham and Softbank, the league’s two pitching powerhouses. I had Seibu at the top of my projections, but last year’s runners up are in last place, and digging themselves in. I don’t see anyone catching up with Softbank or Nippon Ham at this point, but the race for third place should be interesting, as Chiba Lotte, Orix, and Rakuten are on fairly even ground. Personally, I’ll be pulling for Rakuten. They have the pitching, and besides, who wouldn’t want to see a Cinderella run in Sendai?

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