Watch out, champs. A team mired in last place as recently as late June is now just 4 games back… and this weekend it will be up to you to end their 17-game home winning streak!
The Yokohama DeNA Baystars finished the 2021 season in last place, and although they were filled with hope in the spring, very few took them seriously. When they slid down into last place around the end of interleague play in June, precious few fans and critics were surprised. However, a 14-4 record in August so far, as well as no home losses since the end of June, give them a legitimate shot at their first Central League title since 1998. The Yakult Swallows, meanwhile, continue to struggle, particularly against the last-place Chunichi Dragons, who beat them twice over the weekend and lead the season series 10 games to 8.
Speaking of last place, the Dragons are now just 1.5 games away from escaping the cellar. The team in danger of falling to the bottom? None other than the Yomiuri Giants, who are riding a six-game losing streak after being swept by the Baystars and Hanshin Tigers this past week. If they do hit rock bottom between now and season’s end, it will represent the first time in 25 years that they find themselves in last place after the 100-game mark of the season. For the record, the Giants have only finished a season in last place once, all the way back in 1975.
Though the Swallows have been performing poorly of late, their MVP continues to put up numbers unlike any we have seen in a generation or more. Munetaka Murakami currently leads the Central League in all three Triple Crown categories, with a .327 average, 44 home runs, and 107 RBIs. He could probably sit out the rest of the year and still win the latter two categories. In fact, he is on pace for 57 home runs in 142 games (assuming he misses no more games this year), which would be good for the second-highest total in NPB history.
Still just 22 years old, Murakami could threaten a bunch of NPB records if he stays in Japan and continues to produce, but he has expressed an interest in someday playing in MLB. Another slugger in NPB reached an impressive milestone this past week, though. Hideto Asamura of the Rakuten Eagles clouted his 250th career home run on Friday night against Chiba Lotte Marines ace Roki Sasaki. Asamura’s team is starting to show signs of life again after a prolonged slump, winning six of its past seven. The Eagles are in third place but are just two games behind the first-place Saitama Seibu Lions.
Much of the upper echelon in the Pacific League remains tight, with the Orix Buffaloes getting a complete game performance from ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto on Friday night to down the Lions. They took two of three to close to within 2.5 games of the Lions. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, meanwhile, swept the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters on the weekend to diminish the Lions’ lead to just a half-game. The PL race promises to be a good one right down to the final week!
Finally, in high school baseball news, the annual Summer National Baseball Championship just wrapped up at Koshien Stadium today. For the first time in the history of the tournament (and even the spring tournament, for that matter), a team from the Tohoku region has claimed victory. Sendai Ikuei High School (Miyagi) defeated Shimonoseki Kokusai (Yamaguchi) 8-1 to capture the title. This was the 13th time that a team from Tohoku (Miyagi plus Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Fukushima) reached the finals. As for Yamaguchi, their one and only national title was back in 1957, so both teams were vying to make history. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner… but it is always a joy to watch those young men playing their hearts out at the most iconic stadium in Japan!
Good Week: Baystars (6-0), Eagles (5-1)
Bad Week: Giants (0-6), Fighters (0-6)