One league’s playoff picture is mostly clear (but still muddled at the bottom), while the other’s could not be much tighter. Check out all the latest news below!
If anyone had told you after the 2020 season that the Tokyo Yakult Swallows would win the next two Central League titles, you might have considered checking that person into a psychiatric ward. But sure enough, the Swallows, who had finished in last place in three of the previous four seasons (2017, 2019, 2020), clinched a worst-to-first story at the end of 2021, and outdid themselves by repeating as champs this year.
On Sunday evening, they needed a win against the second-place Yokohama DeNA Baystars to win the pennant in Game 137 of their schedule. The Swallows had struggled of late, even giving the Baystars hope of a miraculous comeback for their first pennant since 1998. Superstar Munetaka Murakami, who tied Sadaharu Oh with 55 home runs over a week ago, looked to be showing signs of fatigue as well. Facing lefty Shota Imanaga, the Swallows did not score in the first eight innings of the game. Fortunately for them, their pitchers held the Baystars off the board the entire way as well. Then in the bottom of the ninth, they won in true Japanese style: an infield hit, a sacrifice bunt, and a walk-off double that just made its way through a drawn-in outfield. The Swallows have six regular-season games left, but they are still meaningful, as no fewer than five of them are against teams that are vying for that third playoff spot.
Speaking of which, the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers, and Hiroshima Carp are all within a half-game of each other for that final postseason seed. The Giants will face the Baystars this weekend for their final two games. The Tigers have two (tomorrow and Wednesday) in the Swallows’ nest before they host the birds at Koshien on Sunday for their series finale. The Carp, meanwhile, host the Swallows on Thursday and Friday, and then welcome the last-place Chunichi Dragons to town on Sunday. (It should be noted that the Dragons are not 100% eliminated from the playoff picture yet but would need for everything to go perfectly.) Whoever wins more of their remaining games is likely to head to Yokohama for the first round of the CL playoffs.
The Pacific League is still entirely up for grabs, though two teams have guaranteed themselves playoff seeds. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have the upper hand, with a one-game lead over the Orix Buffaloes (and a magic number of 4) and five games left to play. The Buffaloes have just three games left so they will need to win them all and hope for some help from two Hawks’ opponents as well, if they want to win the pennant. The fight for third is still quite intense, with the Saitama Seibu Lions currently a half-game ahead of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and the Chiba Lotte Marines three games out (with four left to play).
There is still meaningful baseball left in the final week of the regular season! Hard to ask for anything more!
Playoff Bound: Swallows, Baystars (CL) / Hawks, Buffaloes (PL)
Eliminated: Dragons (CL) / Fighters (PL)
Still Fighting: Giants, Tigers, Carp (CL) / Lions, Eagles, Marines (PL)