This year’s 120-game NPB season is 1 week away from ending, and the Central League and Pacific League pennants are finally set.
With a 2-0 win over the Chiba Lotte Marines, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks finally clinched the Pacific League pennant Tuesday. It’s the Hawks 21st pennant in franchise history as they continue in pursuit of their 11th Japan Series. If they win it all, it would be the Hawks 4th consecutive Japan Series Championship. Keep an eye on Shuta Ishikawa, Koudai Senga and Yuki Yanagita in the coming weeks. I’m also adding ace pitcher Kodai Senga to that list as the Hawks try for another championship.
The Hawks Climax Series opponent is still to be decided. The Chiba Lotte Marines are in 2nd place, but as we discussed last week, they’re sliding. The Saitama Seibu Lions were streaking, but stalled after a few off-days. There’s still a shot for the Lions to make the Climax Series, as they’re only 2 games behind, but they need a strong finish and some help from other teams in the league. Also in favor of the lions, is the fact the Marines have the harder schedule to close out the season.
In the Central League, the Giants clinched the pennant. They beat the Yakult Swallows by a score of 6-4 Saturday night. The Central League doesn’t have a Climax Series this year. So, the Giants will be playing the winner of the Pacific League in a few weeks’ time.
Looking ahead to 2021, the Hanshin Tigers and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles came up big in the NPB draft. Hanshin landed infielder Teruaki Sato. He’s a left-handed slugger who grew up going to Koshien Stadium, which is where the Tigers play. On the mound, the Golden Eagles landed pitcher Takahisa Hayakawa. The 22-year old’s fastball has already been clocked above 96 MPH. Watch out for these 2 budding stars in the coming NPB seasons, as they could be big difference makers for their teams.
Surprisingly however, Junichi Tazawa went undrafted. The 34-year old who made headlines when he spurned NPB for MLB was attempting to make an NPB comeback. There actually used to be a rule named after Tazawa, called the Tazawa rule, which the league abolished last month. It aimed to prevent players from following in Tazawa’s footsteps and going directly to MLB without spending time in NPB first. The Tazawa rule mandated a 2-year delay before players could participate in the NPB draft upon returning from MLB. There’s a chance that Tazawa’s poor luck stems from his age. But, there’s another, more sinister, possibility: owners are still upset with him for choosing MLB and aren’t feeling very forgiving.
On the coaching side of things, this week Yokohama DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez announced that he’d be resigning at season’s end. It was his 5th year in the position, and although the BayStars appeared in 1 Japan Series, they didn’t manage to win any pennants. Former BayStars pitcher Daisuke Mirua has been managing the team’s farm squad and is the likely candidate to take over for Ramirez next year.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming NPB season-recap video. It’ll feature highlights, lowlights, and oddities from an already odd coronavirus-shortened season.