Last week, we talked about the playoff picture as though it were a done deal. We must apologize to one team in particular, who insists that they still have a shot at squeaking in. Somehow, despite looking like fish out of water until about a week or two ago, the Hiroshima Carp have gone on a tear. Also, the Yomiuri Giants have fallen completely off the map. Details below as we talk about each team’s week in just a sentence or two.
Yakult Swallows: Their three-game lead over the Tigers leaves them with a magic number of 4 with 8 games left to play. The odds are highly in their favor to get the pennant back for the first time in six years.
Hanshin Tigers: For the first time in 14 years, they have won their season series with the Yomiuri Giants, going 13-9-3 against their oldest foes. This included a 6-1-3 stretch over the past six weeks.
Yomiuri Giants: It is simply inexplicable that a team that looked this good until the middle of September could suddenly experience such an epic collapse. They are 2-15-3 in their last 20 games and are now just 3 games ahead of the Carp for the final playoff spot.
Hiroshima Carp: On the flipside of the Giants’ collapse, the Carp are on a 9-1 tear heading into Monday’s action. Superstar right-fielder Seiya Suzuki is playing on a different level, hitting .381 in September with 13 home runs, and is currently .349 in October with 6 home runs. He is reportedly prepared to ask the Carp to post him to MLB this offseason.
Chunichi Dragons: Manager Tsuyoshi Yoda is stepping down at season’s end and will be replaced by legend (all-time doubles leader) Kazuyoshi Tatsunami.
Yokohama DeNA Baystars: One of two teams who had to pull ballots for their first-round draft choice, they won the rights to sign high school stud pitcher Kenta Kozono.
Chiba Lotte Marines: Despite being in second place until tonight, they have a magic number of 6 for the pennant because they had (have) games in hand on the Buffaloes. The two teams are now tied for first, with the Marines just percentage points ahead.
Orix Buffaloes: They have just four games left to pull off a worst-to-first miracle season, as the Swallows are doing in the Central. Ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto remains undefeated since May 19, and is a shoo-in to win the Sawamura Award.
Rakuten Eagles: Tonight they were mathematically eliminated from the pennant, but will almost certainly make the playoffs. Despite a respectable 3.11 ERA this season, Masahiro Tanaka is just 4-8 in his return to NPB.
SoftBank Hawks: Manager Kimiyasu Kudo, who has led the team to five Japan Series championships (including the last four in a row), is expected to step down at season’s end. The team will likely miss the playoffs, and while it is hard to blame the manager for all the injuries the team has endured, someone has to take the fall…
Saitama Seibu Lions: The other team who won its draft-day lottery, the Lions got arguably the best pitcher out of university in Chihiro Sumida.
Nippon-Ham Fighters: Not only is long-time manager Hideki Kuriyama stepping down, but high school legendary pitcher Yuki Saitoh (Tanaka’s rival at Koshien) announced his retirement at season’s end as well. Saitoh, who was known as the Handkerchief Prince at Koshien, never panned out as a professional.
Just over a week left in the regular season! By next week, the playoff picture could be completely decided! But knowing how this season has been going, something might still be up for grabs! Stay tuned!!!