Welcome Back, Fans– NPB Season Update Week of 9/20

Photo of the Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants
Photo of the Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants. Fans are now allowed back at games. PHOTO CREDIT: 江戸村のとくぞう//Wikimedia Commons

Nippon Professional Baseball’s 12 teams have dug themselves into the trenches in recent weeks and the standings don’t seem to be changing

The Yomiuri Giants have stepped into a double-digit lead in the Central League. They will ascend directly into the Japan Series once playoffs start. 

In the Pacific League, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are holding onto first over the Chiba Lotte Marines by a slim margin. The Marines are enjoying a large gap between them and the third place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Barring a change in the standings, the Hawks and Marines will compete for the PL pennant after the season. The winner will move on to face the Giants in the Japan Series. 

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The league seems to have separated itself into three classes this year. You’ve got your good teams at the top: the Yomiuri Giants, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines. 

Then, there’s a class of mediocre teams: the Hanshin Tigers, Yokohama DeNA BayStars, Chunichi Dragons, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Saitama Seibu Lions. While these six franchises aren’t competing for anything, they’re floating around .500. They’ve pulled out respectable seasons despite the pandemic. 

At the bottom, you’ve got your stinkers. None of these three teams will be finishing with anywhere near a winning record and there’s a strong chance at least one of them will have twice as many losses as they do wins. Those teams are the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Orix Buffaloes. 

Here’s what else is happening in the NPB:

Welcome Back, Fans: The Japanese government lifted certain coronavirus restrictions this week, one of the biggest being the 5,000-person cap on event attendance. For the rest of the season, each ballclub will be able to decide how many fans will attend each game. 

The league will be adopting a new set of coronavirus guidelines depending on correspondence with local health authorities. However, we can expect to see stadiums at about half-capacity going forward. 

It’s a Pitcher’s World: The 2020 season has been marked by some incredible pitching performances and this week was no exception. The Yomiuri Giants are enjoying unprecedented success behind ace Tomoyuki Sugano, who tallied his 11th consecutive win this week. Sugano, the 30-year-old righty has a 5.5-1 strikeout to walk ratio and a 1.64 ERA over 93.1 innings pitched. 

A Round of Applause Please: The Yomiuri Giants also hit another milestone this week; with his 1067th win, Tatsunori Hara became the winningest manager in Giants history. He passed Tetsuharu Kawakami for first all-time. 

Hara was a star infielder for the Giants during the 1980s and early 1990s and has won three Japan Series titles as the Giants manager. This year, Hara hopes to lead the NPB’s winningest team to another title, which would be the team’s 23rd. 

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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