The teams have now all faced off against each other, and while one team in each league has started quite strongly, there is still too much baseball to be played to call anyone the clear-cut favorite to run away with their league.
The Chiba Lotte Marines looked like one of the best teams through nine games (8-1), but won just one against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles this week, and now find themselves looking up the standings at the Eagles, while feeling a faint bit of heat from below as well. The Eagles continue to destroy pitchers at a record pace, torching their opponents for 15 on Tuesday. Later in the week, they let their pitchers flex their collective muscles, limiting the Marines to just a run in each weekend game.
Most of the rest of the Pacific teams split their series fairly evenly. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks edged their hosts, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, in a six-game series that saw the defending champs win three, lose two and settle for a draw in one. Those Hawks received some good news during the week, though: injured superstar pitcher Kodai Senga is expected to make his first start of the year tomorrow, and 2018 PL MVP reliever Dennis Sarfate is back in Japan and practicing with the Hawks’ farm team. Meanwhile, their two Cuban import sluggers, Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial, should be arriving in Japan in mid-July as well.
The two-time PL pennant winning Saitama Seibu Lions struggled this week, as the Orix Buffaloes (who were 1-8 heading into this one) to narrowly take this series after going 2-0-1 on the weekend. Veteran slugger T-Okada hit a pair of homers and hit .304 on the week, while Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles) hit a respectable .320 on the week.
In the Central, the Chunichi Dragons surged some, sweeping the Hanshin Tigers in the early part of the week before losing two of three against the Yomiuri Giants over the weekend.
The Hiroshima Carp looked plenty dangerous through nine games, lost a pair to the Swallows on the road, and then dropped another pair – both blowouts – to the Tigers). The earlier part of the week saw them get walked off thanks to a mammoth grand slam to 20-year old (2019 rookie of the year) Munetaka Murakami. They also served up a grand slam to Justin Bour on Sunday, which made him the fastest Hanshin import to hit a grand slam (50 PAs). This came after he went 0-18 to start the season. He has since righted the ship and is 11-29 (.379) since busting out of that slump.
The Yokohama DeNA BayStars seesawed their way through the entire week, alternating losses and wins against the Giants and Swallows. They boast one of the best offenses in the Central, hitting a collective .297 (top) with 17 home runs (second to Yomiuri’s 20).
As for fan participation, despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Tokyo area, the league has determined that allowing up to 5,000 to attend games is still permissible through the end of July. They hope to make an informed decision about August and beyond on July 20, after meeting with medical experts.
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