Dear NPB, thank you for setting up a playoff system a couple of decades ago that allow the end of the regular season to have some meaning for fans. Though the pennants are both clinched, the races for the remaining playoff spots could come down to the last games of the season for each team in the hunt! Here are the details.
First, in the Central League, there is a tie for second place at present. The Hiroshima Carp had a chance to lock up home field advantage for the First Stage of the Climax Series in their final game of the year with a win over the first-place Hanshin Tigers on Sunday, but dropped the game 6-5. The result is that the Yokohama DeNA Baystars have a shot at overtaking them. With one final game on their plates (Wednesday on the road against the Yomiuri Giants), they need to win to take over second place. A tie or a loss puts them in third place.
Meanwhile, the Giants failed to finish in the top half of the standings two years in a row under the same manager for the first time ever. They need to win both of their remaining games to finish above .500, though at this point that is just a cosmetic issue. Manager Tatsunori Hara has one more year left on his contract, though that does not mean anything, as managers in Japan often step down of their own volition to “take responsibility for the team’s failure.”
In the Pacific League, there is a three-way race for the final two playoff spots (the Orix Buffaloes are 15 games up on the next-closest team). At the end of play on Monday night, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks hold a half-game lead over the third-place Chiba Lotte Marines, who are a half-game ahead of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The teams have three, four, and five games left, respectively. The Hawks and Eagles square off two more times (once at each team’s home park), and the final game of the year features the Eagles and Marines facing off in Sendai. It is nice to see all three of these teams playing well of late, too – they have each gone 3-1 in their past four games.
Lastly, we should mention that the final game of the 2023 JapanBall tour took place on Tuesday night at EsCon Field Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (who have locked up their second straight last-place finish) shut out the Marines by a 7-0 score, thanks to outstanding pitching from starter Cody Ponce (7 IP 4 H 8 K) and a pair of home runs (Chusei Mannami in the first and Ryohei Hosokawa in the sixth). It was a wonderful tour and we had more local guides than ever before.
By next week the playoff picture should be clear, and in the next update, we’ll preview the showdowns that will determine which teams advance to face the Tigers (Central) and Buffaloes (Pacific).
For standings and leaderboards, check these links: