As the playoffs get closer, NPB teams are putting on a show that rivals the one that went down in the final games of the MLB regular season. There are still three weeks of regular season ball here, but don’t let that fool you – the juicy stories are many! Let’s look at some of the key games and players from the past week. Shorter tidbits than usual but they all pack punch!
Tuesday: Thirty-nine-year-old Norichika Aoki lifted his Yakult Swallows to victory over the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, crushing a grand slam in the fifth inning of a 4-0 win. Not to be outdone, fourty-four-year-old Kosuke Fukudome crushed the go-ahead home run in his Chunichi Dragons’ 5-2 win over the Yomiuri Giants.
Wednesday: The Baystars exacted a little revenge on this day, ending their seven-game losing streak with a 7-5 win, thus terminating the Swallows’ 13-game undefeated streak. The Orix Buffaloes destroyed the Chiba Lotte Marines 15-2 on 21 hits, with all their runs coming in the second half of the game. Also, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks shut out the Saitama Seibu Lions, as third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda became the fifth player in franchise history to reach the 300-career home run mark.
Thursday: Once again, the lower-ranked team exacted its revenge the next day, as the Lions stoned the Hawks late. They put up three runs against Hawks’ closer Yuito Mori to win 8-7. Meanwhile, the Buffaloes completed their sweep of the Marines, also scoring three in the top of the ninth to win 4-3.
Friday: After dropping two straight to the Baystars, the Swallows went right back to their winning ways, sweeping the Carp over the weekend. On this night, they scored three runs in the eighth to snatch the opener on the road, 5-4. They remain a game ahead of the Tigers at the top of the CL standings. The Giants are in third, 5.5 out of first.
Saturday: Haruto Takahashi of the Hanshin Tigers delivered a masterpiece, needing just 97 pitches to complete a five-game shutout over the Dragons at Koshien Stadium. The Tigers had lost three straight against the Carp earlier in the week, but righted the ship by beating the Dragons in all three weekend games. Jefry Marte hit a home run in each game, which accounted for seven of his team’s nine runs. Across the Yodobashi River in Osaka, Yoshinobu Yamamoto two-hit the Hawks as his Buffaloes rolled over their weekend competition, too, and find themselves back in first place. Expect Yamamoto to become the first Eiji Sawamura Award winner since 2019.
Sunday: Only two pitchers took to the mound in Sendai, as Kazuya Ojima of the Marines shut out the Rakuten Eagles for a 2-0 win. The Marines trail the Buffaloes by 1.5 games and lead the Eagles by 3.5 games. The Eagles brought Masahiro Tanaka to the bump, and he allowed just two first-inning runs but was hung with the tough-luck loss. He now has thrown 2500 career innings in NPB and MLB combined, but holds a 4-7 record on the year despite a solid 2.91 ERA.
Good week: Buffaloes (6-0), Swallows (4-2)
Bad week: Marines (1-4), Hawks (2-4), Lions (2-4)