Until Munetaka Murakami stops turning heads, we will keep talking about him. He will get mentioned no fewer than two times in this newsletter, but fear not! We have a lot of other excitement to share with you, including an almost never-before-seen tight race atop the Pacific League standings!
Tuesday: Let’s get the first one out of the way. Murakami (Yakult Swallows) had an on-base streak of 14 straight plate appearances heading into action against the Yomiuri Giants but in his very first at-bat, on the very first pitch, he fouled out and ended his reign of terror against other teams’ pitchers. He was one shy of the NPB record.
Wednesday: Yuma Tongu of the Orix Buffaloes hit two home runs (collecting 5 RBIs) to help lead his squad past the Rakuten Eagles, 8-3. Tongu, who played first base on this night but also catches on occasion, clubbed two more home runs later in the week.
Thursday: For the second straight night, the Chiba Lotte Marines blanked the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. On Wednesday, Ayumu Ishikawa threw six shutout innings, and on this night, Manabu Mima went seven innings in a 7-0 victory. The Marines looked good this week until the weekend, when they faced the Buffaloes. More on that soon.
Friday: There were four shutouts on this night, and the Hanshin Tigers were an inning from being the fifth. (They would lose their slim lead and tie the Giants.) Teams that succeeded to blank their opponents were: Hiroshima Carp (Daichi Ohsera 7 IP vs. Yokohama DeNA Baystars), Buffaloes (Sachiya Yamasaki 5 IP vs. Roki Sasaki and the Marines), Hawks (Nao Higashihama 5.2 IP vs. Saitama Seibu Lions), and the Swallows (Cy Sneed 7 IP vs. Chunichi Dragons). Also in this game, Murakami hit his 50th home run of the season. He is the first Japanese hitter since Hideki Matsui (2002) to reach the plateau. Thanks to his 51st round-tripper on Sunday, he is just four short of the single-season record for Japanese players. If he hits #56, a stadium sponsor has promised him a new home worth up to ¥100 million.
Saturday: Somehow, the last-place Dragons slowed the Swallows down the rest of the weekend. On this day, they won 5-1 thanks to the pitching of Shinnosuke Ogasawara, and on Sunday they rode the hot hand of rookie Hiroto Takahashi. They are now 12-9 against the Swallows, despite finding themselves 16.5 games behind the defending champions in the Central League standings.
Sunday: The Buffaloes were once 11.5 games back of first place in the Pacific. By defeating the Marines 6-2 on this day (and the Hawks losing to the Lions), they have (almost) completely erased the deficit. The Hawks are still in first because of having played fewer games. Their win percentage is .5339, while the Lions are in second at .5328, and the Buffaloes are sitting at .5323 – all three teams are 8 games over .500 on the year.
We would also be remiss to mention that in the CL, the Carp shut out the Baystars the entire weekend, winning 2-0, 4-0, and 7-0. The most exciting race in the CL is for third place, with the Tigers clinging to a 2-game lead over the Carp and Giants.
Good Week: Buffaloes (5-1), Giants (2-1-2)
Bad Week: Dragons (2-4), Hawks (2-4), Eagles (2-4)