The NPB regular season is 20 games away from expiration, and I could not be more excited.
Despite a bout with coronavirus over the past few weeks, the Chiba Lotte Marines have managed to remain in second place in the Pacific League. With seven straight wins, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have extended their lead over the Marines and just about shored up the pennant. In the Central League, the Yomiuri Giants remain ahead by double digits.
Since coronavirus killed the All-Star game, we’ll be spending the last few weeks of the season presenting 2020’s best players from NPB’s non-playoff teams. Last week, we explored the middle-of-the-pack teams from the Central League.
This week, we’ll be discussing the mid-range teams from the Pacific League:
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles: Hideto Asamura, Infielder
It’s only Hideto Asamura’s second season with the Golden Eagles (he formerly played for the Lions) but the 29-year old infielder has made a huge impact so far. This year, Asamura is in the top-10 for Pacific League batting average at .288. It’s an impressive stat, but his real impact has been his power. He’s slugging .593 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI so far on the season.
Saitama Seibu Lions: Tatsushi Masuda, Pitcher
Masuda is a 32-year-old homegrown Lions prospect. The right-handed reliever has 27 saves on the season and an impressive 1.85 ERA. His career high for saves is 30, which makes his current success all the more substantial in this pandemic shortened season.
With a strikeout to walk ratio of more than 4-1 in 38 appearances, he’s been a consistent player on a Lions team who have needed just that.
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters: Kensuke Kondoh, Catcher
Catcher Kensuke Kondoh is a 27-year-old Fighters prospect who has been with the team since 2012. Kondoh is in second place for the Pacific League’s batting title, hitting .343 behind the Buffaloes’ Masataka Yoshida at .350.
With 54 runs and 56 RBI on the season, Kondoh has not only been consistent for the Fighters, but he’s also been trouble for opposing pitchers. He leads the NPB with 81 walks on the season.
A close second place for the Fighters is first baseman and left fielder Sho Nakata. Another homegrown player, “Sho Time” is slugging .512 with a .241 batting average on the season. Nakata’s biggest weakness is that he strikes out fairly often, with 95 on the season. But, he’s made up for it with 90 RBI and 27 home runs.