The NPB season has reached the quarter-mark, and it’s time to quickly look at the week that was, plus the current standings.
The last-place Orix Buffaloes spend their week up in Sendai to face the top-ranked Rakuten Eagles, and did a number on them. In fact, it took late-inning heroics from shortstop Eigoro Mogi on Sunday to prevent the sweep. His eighth-inning triple completed the Eagles’ comeback. Before that, the Buffaloes spanked the Eagles 10-3, 11-7, 6-2 and 6-3 with a tie thrown in for good measure.
Meanwhile the SoftBank Hawks hosted the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and the two teams exchanged blows the whole week. Only the finale on Sunday, a 6-1 Hawks win, was decided by more than three runs. With the Eagles losing, the Hawks’ 3-3 record on the week was enough to propel them to the top of the standings.
The Seibu Lions took four of six from the struggling Chiba Lotte Marines, moving themselves into third place. The normally high-powered Lions won games in a way they have not been able to do in recent years: stingy pitching. They gave up only 16 runs the entire week, while scoring just 19 themselves.
In the Central, the Yomiuri Giants continued their winning ways, beating the Dragons in two of three and then evenly dividing their series with the Yakult Swallows over the weekend. They have turned into the highest-scoring team with the strongest pitching in NPB, at least if you look at the numbers. Kazuma Okamoto leads the CL with 10 homers while his mate Tomoyuki Sugano holds a 4-0 record with a 1.77 ERA through 5 starts, including two complete-game shutouts.
The Hanshin Tigers also continue their charge up the standings, having produced the same record this week as the Giants. They split three with the Hiroshima Carp and won two of three against the Dragons in Nagoya on the weekend. Of note was prodigal ace Shintaro Fujinami’s debut, which ended in a loss after he served up a sixth-inning grand slam to Jose Pirela of the Carp. Fujinami won 35 games and racked up more than 500 strikeouts before his 22nd birthday, but has fallen on hard times in recent years. This season started with a positive test for COVID-19, then a demotion after coming to practice late, and then a chest injury. A win in his first game of the year would have been nice, but alas…
The Yokohama BayStars ended their season-worst six-game skid on Thursday with a win over the Swallows, and looked to be turning the corner until they blew a 6-0 lead against the Carp on Sunday. The Carp scored five in the each of the last two frames to leave a sour taste in the mouths of the hometown fans. Particularly alarming is the poor performance of closer Yasuaki Yamasaki, who has been in the role for all six of his seasons with the team. Until now, he has boasted three seasons with an ERA of under 2.00, and two seasons leading the league in saves. This year, however, he has an 8.74 ERA with three losses in 12 mounds. All of last season, he had 13 runs charged against him in 61 mounds, while this year, that number is already at 11.
The rest of the CL came out on the losing end this week, with the Swallows going 2-2-2, the Dragons going 2-4 and the Carp going 2-3-1.
The current standings in the PL and CL look like this:
- SoftBank Hawks 18-14-1
- Rakuten Eagles 17-14-1
- Seibu Lions 16-14-1
- Chiba Lotte Marines 16-16
- Orix Buffaloes 13-17-3
- Nippon-Ham Fighters 13-18-2
- Yomiuri Giants 19-9-2
- Yakult Swallows 15-12-4
- Hanshin Tigers 15-14-1
- Yokohama BayStars 15-16-1
- Hiroshima Carp 11-16-3
- Chunichi Dragons 12-20-1