Don’t look now, but the Saitama Seibu Lions of the NPB have come roaring to the front half of the Pacific League. The Lions are sitting in 3rd place, just 3 games behind the Chiba Lotte Marines.
A few weeks ago, the playoffs looked set. But with around 15 games left, the Marines aren’t doing themselves any favors. This week, they went a measly 1-6-0. Meanwhile, the Lions dominated going 5-2-0.
However, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks couldn’t care less about what’s going on behind them. They’re not only on pace to win the Pacific League pennant, but have been picking up steam as the season winds to a close. This month, the Hawks are an astonishing 16-4-1. It’s still a long shot, but if the Marines keep dropping and the Lions stay on track, the last Pacific League playoff spot may change hands.
Moving over to the Central League, where you have the Yomiuri Giants getting closer to clinching every day. Their lead is sitting right around 10 games, and they have been playing consistent ball. Unfortunately, their star pitcher, Tomoyuki Sugano, lost his first decision of the season this week. With 13 wins, Sugano wasn’t able to break the Giants record of 14 straight wins set in 1966 by Tsuneo Horuchi. But, once playoffs begin, he still gets to help the Giants chase their 23rd Japan Series title.
This week, we’ll close out our examination of the best players on each non-playoff team. In the past 2 installments of this series, I’ve discussed the middle of the pack teams from both the Central League and Pacific League. Now, we’ll go over the 3 teams at the bottom of the pack: the Carp, Swallows and Buffaloes.
Hiroshima Carp: Seiya Suzuki, RF
Suzuki is a 26-year-old Carp utility player who the team can use on the left side of the infield or the right side of the outfield. His .301 batting average is nothing to scoff at, and neither is his home run power. With 24 dingers so far, Suzuki is tied for 3rd in the Central League. He also has 77 runs, 70 RBI and a .553 slugging average. Look for another big season out of this kid next year as he inches closer to his prime.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows: Munetaka Murakami, IF & Norichika Aoki, OF
These two Swallows stars are currently sitting in 4th and 5th, respectively, for the Central League batting championship. Murakami is a rising star, the 20-year old batted .315 this season, slugged .591, drew 74 walks and went yard 24 times. His .430 OBP is one of the best in the entirety of NPB.
Aoki on the other hand is a seasoned vet. The 38-year old started his career with the Swallows back in 2004, and from 2012-2017 bounced his way around MLB. He came in just behind Murakami, with a .313 batting average, .562 slugging and a .416 OBP.
Orix Buffaloes: Yoshinobu Yamamoto, P & Masataka Yoshida, OF
It truly is shocking that the Buffaloes put together such a poor season with all the talent at their disposal. Not only will Orix win the Pacific League batting championship, but one of their pitchers has the lowest E.R.A of Pacific League starters as well.
That pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, is 22 years old and outperforms his competitors by a country mile. He leads the Pacific League in innings pitched, with 126.2. He also holds a 2.20 ERA, while the Pacific League’s 2nd place starter holds a 3.20 ERA, and has the most strikeouts in NPB with 149. For comparison, Yudai Ohno of the Chunichi Dragons has the most strikeouts in the Central League this season, with 137 on the season. Simply put, the kid is a force to be reckoned with.
The Buffaloes batting leader, Masataka Yoshida, holds the highest batting average in NPB by a long shot, with a whopping .355 average. Yoshida isn’t the game’s greatest power hitter: he only has 13 home runs this year. But, he makes up for that with his consistency. He had 52 runs, 61 RBI and 65 walks on the season, as well as a .518 slugging percentage and a .452 OBP.
I also want to extend an honorable mention to the Orix Buffaloes manager, Satoshi Nakajima. After a 16-33-4 start to the season, Orix fired manager Norifumi Nishimura and promoted Nakajima from the farm team. Although the Buffaloes lost their 60th game of the season this week, ending their hopes of a plus .500 season, they’re 24-27-2 under Nakajima and trending up. I’m hoping this scrappy team can string together some wins in these last few weeks of the season and put everyone on notice for next year.
Just wait for 2021: Orix means business.