Have you ever seen a team “negative-one game behind” and sitting in third place in the standings? That is exactly the situation the Hanshin Tigers find themselves in. Their current 55-41-3 (.5729) record is just marginally behind the Yakult Swallows’ 47-35-11 (.5731) and the Yomiuri Giants’ 50-37-12 (.575). Here’s what went down in NPB this past week.
Tuesday: In a tight pitchers’ duel, the Yakult Swallows erased an early one-run deficit to take down the best-pitching (but also the poorest-scoring) team in the Central, winning 2-1 over Chunichi Dragons.
Wednesday: History was made as Yokohama DeNA Baystars infielder Shugo Maki became the first rookie in NPB history to hit for cycle. He doubled in the second, hit a home run in the third, singled in the fourth, and then in his final at-bat in the top of the ninth, he hit that elusive triple. His team drubbed the struggling Hanshin Tigers 10-2.
Thursday: Tomoyuki Sugano made his long-awaited return to the Yomiuri Giants rotation, but it did not go as expected. The Hiroshima Carp went yard on him three times in his 5 2/3 innings and added a couple more against the bullpen, trouncing the now-first place Giants 11-2.
Friday: Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Samurai Japan) was at his dominant best against the defending champion SoftBank Hawks and Nick Martinez (Team USA). Yamamoto went the distance, needing just 106 pitches as he scattered four hits and struck out nine. The Buffaloes won 2-0 and kept their stronghold on first place as the Hawks remained outside the playoff picture all week.
Saturday: Chiba Lotte Marines’ nineteen-year-old pitcher Roki Sasaki threw five shutout innings (three hits, five strikeouts) to earn his second career win. His mates scored in four of his five innings, including home runs from Takashi Ogino, Brandon Laird and Leonys Martin. For the Eagles, the 5-1 loss was part of a rough week for them. They fell into third while the Marines ascended into second place, 2.5 games behind the Buffaloes.
Sunday: In a battle between the two Pacific League teams that seem unlikely to make a playoff push, rookie Hiromi Itoh (Samurai Japan) threw a complete-game shutout as his Nippon-Ham Fighters defeated the Saitama Seibu Lions 5-0. Itoh threw 134 pitches, striking out nine while allowing just four singles and walking three. The gap between the two teams is now down to 2.5 but the Lions are six games out of third.
Good week: Carp (4-2), Marines (4-0-1)
Bad week: Tigers (2-4), Eagles (1-3-1), Lions (1-3-2)