The interleague schedule begins tomorrow! There will be three weeks of action between the two leagues, with each team hosting nine and hitting the road for nine. Let’s save that for next week, though. There are plenty of stories to explore from the past week of “regular” action!
The Mysterious Hiroshima Carp
After finishing last season in fourth and losing Seiya Suzuki to the majors, it is hard to find anyone who predicted the Carp to experience a resurgence in 2022. That has been the case so far, though, thanks in large part to a CL-best .261 team batting average, a solid rotation that averages a league-best 6.57 innings pitched per start, and a league-best RISP of .299 and BABIP of .307. It also helps that they are 7-0-1 against the Hanshin Tigers and 8-1 against the Yokohama DeNA Baystars. (This also means they are a combined 10-18-1 against the rest of the Central.) They are worth watching in interleague as they face relatively unknown opponents.
The Fall (tenraku) of Rakuten
Through 31 games, it looked as though the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were going to run away with the Pacific League. Their 24-6-1 record was way better than the rest of their league. Everything seemed to be going their way, as they pulled 13 comebacks while only surrendering their leads three times. However, the past two weeks have seen them fall mightily to earth, going 2-9 including a weekend sweep at the hands of the Orix Buffaloes. They scored just one run in three games.
Professional baseball does not make its way down to Okinawa too often, but when it does, the local fans appreciate their homegrown talent. The Saitama Seibu Lions hosted the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the capital city of Naha for a pair of homecomings. The first game featured native Okinawans on the mound as Nao Higashihama (Hawks) followed up his no-hitter from last week with seven more shutout innings. His counterpart, also a graduate of the same high school as Higashihama, was Kaito Yoza, who for his part threw eight shutout frames. The Hawks entered the ninth down a run, but put up five against Lions’ closer (and Okinawan native) Kaima Taira. The Hawks won 5-1 and then took the second game 3-2 as well. The lone Okinawan position player, Hotaka Yamakawa of the Lions, went 2-6 in the series with a pair of walks.
Clash of the Titans
The most anticipated game of the week was not by any means the best one, but it is still newsworthy. Potential future MLB aces Kodai Senga (Hawks) and Roki Sasaki (Chiba Lotte Marines) faced off in Fukuoka on Friday night. It was not Senga’s night, though, as he lasted just four innings and gave up four runs. He has been de-activated since then because of discomfort in his elbow. His ERA now sits at 1.74, good for second in the Pacific League. In first is none other than Sasaki, who saw his ERA go up just a couple of ticks (to 1.47) as he allowed a single run in six innings of work. He is now 5-0 on the year in eight starts with 87 strikeouts in just 56 innings of work. The Marines won handily, 8-1.
Two-Way Player Alert!
The pitching outing of the week has to go to 20-year-old Hanshin Tigers hurler Junya Nishi. The third-year righty not only went the distance against the Yakult Swallows on Wednesday, but he also hit his first career home run in the top of the second. He became the first pitcher in 38 years to record both his first career complete game and home run in the same game. The last to do it was also a Hanshin Tigers pitcher back in 1984, Chikafusa Ikeda. Nishi’s gem on the mound helped the Tigers to an 8-1 win and stretched their streak of games allowing 3 or fewer runs to 20. Two nights later, that streak ended in an extra-innings loss (they had only given up two runs through nine frames) but they were right back at it the next day, allowing just 1 run in two weekend games against the Yomiuri Giants.