Covid-19 continues to make the headlines as another team gets hit hard with a bunch of positive tests. This time, it involves a team that is fighting for a playoff spot and possibly a pennant.
Chiba Lotte Marines’ pitcher Daiki Iwashita tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday, and after the entire team got tested, 10 more players were found to also have Covid-19. The list included several players who were getting major playing time, including 2019 Best Nine member Takashi Ogino, plus Katsuya Kakunaka, Ikuhiro Kiyota, legend Takashi Toritani, outfielder Tsuyoshi Sugano, and speedster Koshiro Wada.
Still, the Marines managed to compete for much of the week, even pulling into a tie for first after beating the SoftBank Hawks on Friday night. Unfortunately (for all but the Hawks), the rest of the weekend went to the defending champs, and the gap is now two games. The Marines hold a five-game lead on the third-place Rakuten Eagles, and should qualify for the playoffs, even if they are unable to finish in first.
Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Giants find themselves with a magic number of 12 with 24 games left on schedule. There is almost no way they will lose their hold on first place, which means they will advance to the Japan Series and face the winner of the mini-playoff series that the PL will hold in mid-November. The Giants, who will host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the Japan Series, will play those games at Kyocera Dome in Osaka, since their regular home, Tokyo Dome, is being used for other baseball games. The Giants do not own their stadium, and sharing it with other organizations means even a Japan Series appearance does not grant them dibs on the field. Though this normally does not happen, NPB changed the Japan Series schedule this season in order to ensure a 120-game schedule, so the Dome is unavailable.
The only stories left for fans of other clubs to follow are the home run, batting and ERA titles. In the CL, Kazuma Okamoto of the Giants and Yusuke Ohyama of the Tigers are tied with 25 home runs apiece. If Okamoto wins, he becomes the first Giant to win the title since Alex Ramirez in 2010. If Ohyama takes it, he becomes the first Tiger since Randy Bass in 1986 to lead the league in home runs. In the PL, it’s a three-horse race. Hideto Asamura of the Eagles is on top with 30 right now, but Sho Nakata of the Fighters is just two behind him.
As for pitcher ERA, the CL has an interesting race with four pitchers within a half-run of each other. Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants) is ahead of the pack with a 1.89 ERA (it has risen the last month), but defending champion Yudai Ohno (Dragons) is breathing fire down his neck with a 2.07 (including 24 straight shutout innings). Yuki Nishi of the Tigers sits at 2.18, while rookie Masato Morishita of the Carp is at 2.28.
When pennant races stop being a thing, individual title races keep us entertained.
Good week: Lions (3-1-1), Dragons (4-1)
Bad week: Swallows (1-4)