Eye of the Tigers: Hanshin Shakes Up the Standings- NPB Season Update Week of 9/5

Hanshin Tiger catcher Yuya Katayama during an at bat in 2019. PHOTO CREDIT: Poootaro//Wikimedia Commons

We’re past the halfway point in the NPB season and it’s a bad time to be a Baystar. 

In their last 6 games, Yokohama is 1-4-1 and it’s fallen out of 2nd place in the Central League. 

The Hanshin Tigers took 2nd after a series of wins against Chunichi, Hiroshima and Yakult. They’re now facing the 1st place Yomiuri Giants. The two teams split their first two games.

Hanshin’s next two series are against Yokohama and Hiroshima, before it plays Yomiuri once again. If the team can carry its recent success through these three series, Yomiuri’s 7.5 game lead will be in jeopardy of shrinking. 

I personally haven’t felt that Yomiuri is as strong a team as its position implies. Despite Tomoyuki Sugano’s dominance on the mound, the Giants have struggled with sustained success this season.  

If only to keep things interesting, I’d like to see Hanshin close the gap this week and start contending for 1st place in the Central League. Hanshin isn’t anywhere near taking the lead from the 22-time champs. But coming from a horse racing background, I prefer to throw out the frontrunner and hope for an upset. 

In the Pacific League, the defending champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks continue to lead. A few weeks ago, it looked like a four-team race for first. Fukuoka, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Chiba Lotte Marines and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters were all contending for the lead. But that has since ceased to be the case. 

Chiba Lotte briefly surpassed Fukuoka for the lead, but have since fallen to 1.5 games back in 2nd place. Rakuten sits in 3rd at 4 games back and the Ham Fighters are in 4th, 6 games back. 

Here’s the rest of your weekly roundup: 

The Few, The Proud, The Chiba Lotte Marines: The Marines haven’t done themselves any favors this week. With a chance at a series sweep of the last place Orix Buffaloes, their bats fell stagnant and they lost 5-0. Then, they lost two out of three games to the second-to-last place Saitama Seibu Lions. However, Chiba Lotte seems to be closing in on Fukuoka once again. The Marines won the first two games of their current head-to-head series against the Pacific League leaders. 

Buffaloes buffalo Buffaloes: The verb, “to buffalo,” means to outwit or confuse. That seems to be what Orix has done to itself this season. The Buffaloes cannot remember how to play good baseball. At this point in the season, they have almost twice as many losses as they do wins with an overall record of 21-41-4. However things seem to be getting better under their new manager, Satoshia Nakajima, but only marginally. Since Nakajima took over, the team is 5-8-1. 

Oof: The Yakult Swallows lost a heartbreaker this week to the Hanshin Tigers after Yakult reliever Scott McGough’s error. This particular play lit up the r/NPB subreddit when it happened. With a 3-2 lead and 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th inning and runners on second and third, McGough spun around and threw a pickoff to first base. With no one covering the bag, the ball rolled all the way to the foul wall. Both base runners scored, giving Hanshin a 4-3 lead and the eventual win.

Writer, filmmaker, long-suffering New York Jets fan. Yes, I was watching when the butt-fumble happened. No, I don’t want to talk about it. Big chicken salad sandwiches guy– come to think of it, big all kinds of sandwiches guy. Reporting on the intersection of politics and sports, and international baseball leagues. Journalism master’s from the University of Oregon (Sco’ Ducks), undergrad at Binghamton University. Learned critical thinking by reading the racing form, won my first ever bet at the age of 7 on a 36-1 wire-to-wire winner. Post-pandemic you can catch me at the fronton throwing bread down on jai alai.

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