Just when it looked like nothing could stop the defending Japan Series champs, Covid-19 reared its ugly head and slowed the team down. How they cope with this setback remains to be seen.
Between Friday and today (Monday), the Tokyo Yakult Swallows have had no fewer than 27 positive tests (players, coaches and staff combined) for Covid-19, including stars Tetsuto Yamada, Yasutaka Shiomi, Norichika Aoki, Noboru Shimizu, Kazuto Taguchi, and Yuhei Nakamura. Even manager Shingo Takatsu has been sidelined. The result is that they had to postpone their Saturday and Sunday games against the Hanshin Tigers, and will field a team with plenty of minor leaguers for the foreseeable future. Their 13-game lead over the second-place Yomiuri Giants is also safe for the time being, but (with no offense intended towards the other CL teams) this might be their most serious test of the season.
In a bit of good news, two Swallows have received the Central League players of the month for June. Third baseman Munetaka Murakami (22) took home the hitter prize with his otherworldly stretch (.410/.515/.940, 14 HR, 35 RBI). Righty Yasuhiro Ogawa won pitching honors, going 3-0 in four starts (29 IP, 5 R, 16 K = 1.55 ERA).
As for the upcoming All-Star Games, fan polls yielded the following results for the Central League:
SP = Koyo Aoyagi (Hanshin Tigers)
RP = Atsuki Yuasa (Tigers)
CL = Taisei Ohta (Giants)
C = Takuya Kinoshita (Chunichi Dragons)
1B = Sho Nakata (Giants)
2B = Shugo Maki (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)
3B = Munetaka Murakami (Swallows)
SS = Hayato Sakamoto (Giants)
OF = Teruaki Sato (Tigers), Koji Chikamoto (Tigers), Yasutaka Shiomi (Swallows)
Players also get to vote in their peers, and in the Central, the results were the same as the above selections, besides: 1B Dayan Viciedo (Dragons), OF Yoshihiro Maru (Giants), OF Keita Sano (Baystars).
As for the Pacific League, the two players of the month for June also came from the defending champs. Outfielder Yutaro Sugimoto, who to this point in the season was struggling mightily, righted the ship in June with a .282/.364/.538, 5 HR, 15 RBI line. His teammate and defending Sawamura Award winner Yoshinobu Yamamoto completed June with a 3-0 record, 32 IP, 2 ER, 33 K and a sparkling 0.56 ERA in four starts.
The fan voting for the All-Star Games for the PL are as follows:
SP = Roki Sasaki (Chiba Lotte Marines)
RP = Katsuki Matayoshi (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks)
CL = Yuki Matsui (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)
C = Koh Matsukawa (Marines)
1B = Hotaka Yamakawa (Saitama Seibu Lions)
2B = Hideto Asamura (Eagles)
3B = Yuki Nomura (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)
SS = Kenta Imamiya (Hawks)
OF = Yuki Yanagita (Hawks), Masataka Yoshida (Buffaloes), Go Matsumoto (Fighters)
DH = Brandon Laird (Marines)
When the players voted for each other, there were two different men elected: 3B Yuma Mune (Buffaloes) and DH Yurisbel Gracial (Hawks).
The games will be held on Tuesday, July 26 (Fukuoka) and Wednesday, July 27 (Matsuyama, Ehime).
Good Week: Baystars (3-0-2), Fighters (4-2), Lions (5-1)
Bad Week: Swallows (1-3, Covid ravaged), Hawks (1-4), Eagles (1-4)