April is here and we got our first full week of regular season baseball this past week. It was not without its great games… but instead of just giving you results, I will give you the top story for each team, as well as their current record.
Yomiuri Giants (8-1): A perfect week has them sitting high and mighty in the Central. They have already hit 14 home runs this season, including three apiece from Kazuma Okamoto and Gregory Polanco.
Hiroshima Carp (6-3): After six straight wins, they flopped over the weekend against the Chunichi Dragons. During this stretch, 2021 rookie of the year Ryoji Kuribayashi blew his first career save (that’s right – he was perfect last year) and ace pitcher Daichi Ohsera reached the 1000 career innings pitched milestone.
Yakult Swallows (4-4): Slugging second baseman Tetsuto Yamada hit his 250th career home run on April 2 against the Baystars. He is the 66th player in league history to reach the mark but the very first second baseman (though technically, he hit one as a shortstop). At age 29, he is the 12th-fastest to get to 250.
Yokohama DeNA Baystars (4-4): For the first time under manager Daisuke Miura (who took the job before the 2021 season), the team spent a day over the .500 mark, beating the Swallows on Friday night to get to a 4-3 record. This could be a dangerous team later in the season once slugging foreigners Tyler Austin and Neftali Soto make their return to the lineup.
Chunichi Dragons (4-5): Best Nine winner Yuya Yanagi recorded the first complete-game shutout in NPB this season, going the distance on 133 pitches against the Carp on Sunday. This atones nicely for his rough start against the Giants the previous week. Also making brief headlines was Akira Neo (high school ace pitcher but shortstop and outfielder since turning pro) warming up in the bullpen on Saturday as the game went the full 12 innings. He did not get to take to the mound, though.
Hanshin Tigers (0-9): Congratulations, we have a new Central League record for the poorest start to a season! The Tigers lost another in the ninth inning on Tuesday, got blown out on Wednesday, then lost three straight one-run affairs midweek. Injuries and Covid have weakened their pitching staff. Their 5.85 ERA is a run and a half higher than any other team’s.
SoftBank Hawks (7-0): For the first time in history, a new manager (Hiroshi Fujimoto) has started his career 7-0. Unfortunately, a serious injury to budding superstar Ryoya Kurihara is cause for concern. He tore the ACL in his left knee and is expected to miss a couple of months.
Rakuten Eagles (4-2): One reason the Hawks are still undefeated is that eight members of this team tested positive for Covid-19. As a result, they used an emergency starter on Friday night (Hideaki Wakui gave up just a solo homer to Yuki Yanagita in 6 innings), and had to postpone the rest of their games over the weekend.
Chiba Lotte Marines (4-4): The talk of this team all season will likely be flame-throwing Roki Sasaki and he showed why on Sunday night. The twenty-year-old righty threw eight innings of one-run ball, allowing just three hits, striking out 13 and walking no one. He is the real deal, and while MLB fans keep asking when he will be posted, to them I say, “Just enjoy him here in Japan for now.”
Orix Buffaloes (4-5): Another ace worth watching is Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who won the Sawamura Award in 2021. On Saturday afternoon he continued his shutout streak, throwing seven more shutout innings. He has only allowed 11 base runners in his 15 innings this year, while striking out 17. He is the real deal.
Saitama Seibu Lions (4-5): This team can’t catch any breaks. Or should we say, they break easily? They have lost both slugging first baseman Hotaka Yamakawa (four homers in the first five games) to a right thigh injury and catcher Tomoya Mori (2019 PL MVP) to a broken finger. The latter suffered his injury by throwing his mask against a locker after being swapped out of Sunday’s game. He is expected to miss two months.
Nippon-Ham Fighters (1-8): Though they did get their first win of the season on Thursday, “Big Boss” Tsuyoshi Shinjo has taken heat from sports commentators for some of his decisions (lineups, using an opener in Game 2, intentionally walking the batter before two-time batting champ Masataka Yoshida late in a game). That said, his grand entrance into Sapporo Dome for the home opener on Tuesday will be spoken about for years.
The fun has just begun. See you all again in a week!