By Carter Cromwell
With the final ten days of the truncated 2020 Major League Baseball season now completed, Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs and Kenta Maeda of the Minnesota Twins appear poised to continue leading their teams in the playoffs.
Darvish and Maeda were the clear standouts among the nine Japanese imports to MLB this season.
Darvish is an obvious Cy Young Award candidate after posting an 8-2 record, 2.01 earned-run average, and 0.96 WHIP to helped spark the Cubs to the National League Central Division title.
He tied for the major-league lead in victories with Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians, was fourth in ERA, tied for sixth in WHIP (0.96), and was 13th in batting average against (.211). He walked just 14 batters in 76 innings while striking out 93.
In the regular season’s final ten days, he lost to Minnesota on September 20 but came back with seven shutout innings and a victory against the Chicago White Sox on September 25.
As of Sunday evening, the Cubs had not announced their starting pitcher for their playoff opener against the Miami Marlins on September 30, but Darvish will have had four days’ rest by then.
Maeda is not as strong a Cy Young Award candidate as Darvish, but he’s matched him in consistency.
His most recent effort was six innings of four-hit, no walk work in a win over the Detroit Tigers on September 23. He walked none and struck out nine, though he did give up a home run. In fact, seven of the ten home runs he allowed all season came in his last six games.
For the season, though, Maeda was 6-1 with an outstanding 2.70 earned-run average and a major-league best 0.75 WHIP. He gave just 40 hits and ten bases on balls in 66.2 innings. In addition, he was fourth in the majors in batting average against (.168)
Maeda is scheduled to be the Twins’ starter in their playoff opener against Houston on September 29.
Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees is the announced starter for Game Two of the Yankees’ opening playoff series against Cleveland on September 30. He finished the regular season with a loss to the playoff-bound Toronto Blue Jays on September 23, allowing eight hits, three walks, and three earned runs in four innings.
Tanaka’s season record finished at 3-3, a 3.56 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
The lone remaining starting pitcher among the Japanese imports, Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi, closed an underwhelming season with a good performance against the AL West Division winner Oakland Athletics. In that outing, he pitched six scoreless innings, giving up four hits and three walks.
He left with the score 0-0, so he got a no-decision. Kikuchi’s final season record was 2-4, with a 5.17 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP.
The two relievers in the group of imports did not fare well at the season’s end.
Shun Yamaguchi of Toronto had three successful outings to begin the final ten days but crashed and burned in his last two against the Baltimore Orioles. In a combined 2.2 innings against the Orioles, he gave up seven earned runs on eight hits. The Orioles hit three home runs off him in just two-thirds of an inning on September 25.
Yamaguchi’s final season totals showed a 2-4 record, 8.06 ERA, and 1.75 WHIP. In 25.2 innings, he allowed 28 hits and 17 bases on balls.
Yoshihisa Hirano of the Seattle Mariners also ended the campaign on a down note. He appeared four times in the final ten days, giving up ten hits, four walks, and five earned runs in 3.1 innings. His overall marks consisted of an 0-1 record, 5.84 earned-run average, and bloated 2.11 WHIP.
On the hitting side, there was continued positive news from Shogo Akiyama of the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds’ outfielder was 6-21 at the plate during the last ten days, continuing his climb from below the Mendoza Line.
Akiyama batted just .192 in August, and his average stood at .196 on September 7. After that, he batted .339 (18-53) to finish at .245. During that same period, Cincinnati was 13-6 and earned a wild-card spot in the playoffs. The Reds won 11 of their last 14 games.
Elsewhere, infielder Yoshi Tsutsugo of the Tampa Bay Rays was 7-32 during the season’s final ten days and finished the year with a .197 average, eight home runs, 24 RBI, and a .708 OPS. Designated hitter Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels completed a disappointing season by getting four hits in his final 21 at-bats, though two of his hits were home runs. His overall average was .190, and he hit seven home runs while driving in 24 runs.
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