Monday, October 16, 2006
Japan Series Preview
CL Winner) Chunichi Dragons (87-54-5) (All other stats for CL as of Oct. 10th)
653 RS, 482 RA (.647 pyth %)
Team Avg: .270/.333/.409
Team ERA: 3.10
PL Winner) Nippon Ham Fighters (82-54-0)
567 RS, 452 RA (.611 pyth %)
Team Avg: .269/.323/.418
Team ERA: 3.05
Defeated Softbank Hawks 3-0 in the second stage of the PL Playoffs
Based purely on momentum, this series looks to be the Fighters for the taking. Nippon Ham came into the last week of the season in second place by one game against Seibu, and with Softbank just two games behind facing them in a huge three game series. The Fighters plugged Softbank, sweeping them and taking first place after Seibu faltered against Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines. After a pitching-dominated two game sweep of the Hawks in the second stage (The #1 seed gets an automatic win in the PL playoffs) in which they allowed just one run, Nippon Ham will look for more of the same against the Dragons.
Chunichi came into September with a nine game lead on my beloved Hanshin Tigers, and despite a 16-4 record put up by Hanshin (who have the coolest curse in baseball), still managed to wrap up the season early last week with a five-run twelvth inning on the Yomiuri Giants.
The Pacific League winner has won the last three Japan Series, with the last CL title coming by Yomiuri as a four game sweep back when they still had Hideki Matsui in his prime. However, two of the last three series have gone to seven games.
Dragons Regular Lineup
Masahiro Araki (R) 2B, .297/.337/.355, 2 homers, 28-35 SB
Hirokazu Ibata (R) SS, .280/.353/.363, 8 homers, 17-29 SB
Kosuke Fukudome (L) RF, .351/.436/.648, 30 homers, 11-13 SB
Tyrone Woods (R) 1B, .312/.403/.640, 47 homers, 143 RBI's
Alex Ochoa (R) CF, .278/.345/.429, 15 homers, 77 RBI's
Kazuki Inoue (L) LF, .308/.338/.475, 11 homers (263 AB's)
Masahiko Morino (L) 3B, .278/.319/.390, 9 homers, 50 RBI's
Motonobu Tanishige (R) C, .229/.343/.343, 9 homers, 70 BB's
The Dragons are led by former Red Sox farmhand Tyrone Woods, who won the CL HR (47) and RBI Titles (144) hitting behind Kosuke Fukudome. Before getting into Japanese baseball, Woods was a firefighter in Tampa. Fukudome, probably the crown jewel of the Nippon League after Daisuke Matsuzaka gets posted this offseason, won the batting title at .351 and also led the CL in OBP (.436), SLG (.648), doubles (46), and runs scored 115).
Another key player is Alex Ochoa, who was the man Chunichi signed after the ridiculous voiding of Kevin Millar's contract. Ochoa, however, has gotten old enough that Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai loves to put him in LF through double switches that involve CF Hidenori Kuramoto (.215/.266/.237) when the Dragons have the lead. Chunichi has no real bench hitters to throw out there when the series shifts to Hokkaido and allows the DH, look for Kuramoto to get some starts in center at that point.
Araki and Ibata, despite their mediocre bats (especially Araki's), have both won back-to-back CL Gold Glove awards and back-to-back CL Best Nine (think Sporting News All-Star nomination, except voted on by over 200 people and people give a shit) appearances. Inoue is ancient, so he may very well be the DH in Hokkaido. Tanishidge is also pretty old, but he's had a long and established career (177 homers and 1406 hits, 1 Best Nine spot in 1998).
Fighters Regular Lineup
Hichori Morimoto (R) LF, .285/.343/.413, 9 homers, 13-22 SB
Kensuke Tanaka (L) 2B, .301/.358/.415, 7 homers, 21-28 SB
Michihiro Ogasawara (L) 1B, .313/.397/.573, 32 homers, 100 RBI
Fernando Seguignol (B) DH, .295/.356/.532, 26 homers, 77 RBI
Atsunori Inaba (L) RF, .307/.355/.522, 26 homers, 75 RBI
Tsuyoshi Shinjo (R) CF, .258/.298/.416, 16 homers, 62 RBI
Jose Macias (B) 3B, .229/.264/.344, 3 homers, 21 RBI
Shinji Takahashi (R)/Shinya Tsuruoka (R) C, .258/.289/.363 and .241/.251/.340
Makoto Kaneko (R) SS, .254/.300/.380, 6 homers, 7-8 SB
The Fighters lineup is keyed around a deadly 3-4-5, with Ogasawara, Seguignol, and Inaba all being equally dangerous. Ogasawara led the PL in Home Runs (32), RBI's (100), and extra-base hits (64). He has a couple of years experience at third base, so manager Trey Hillman (rumored to be a possible managerial candidate for the Texas Rangers) may play him at third while they lose the DH so that Seguignol can stay in the lineup. Ogasawara also won back-to-back Best Nine awards at third before Bobby V's club swept the voting last year (even Matt Franco won a Best Nine in 2005!). Another reason to do this is because Jose Macias can't hit. Even in the Nippon Leagues.
Seguignol put up solid numbers again in his third season for the Fighters, he's now over 100 homers in the Nippon League. A fun fact about Fernando is he was once traded straight up for John Wetteland, and that his son is named "Kendall". Inaba had one of the best seasons of his had an exemplary career, which even had included a workout to judge potential MLB interest at one point. The 26 homers this year is a career high.
Morimoto has had a career season for the Fighters, mostly fueled by his batting average (career .231 coming into this season). Kensuke Tanaka, his fellow twenty-five year-old tablesetter, got his first chance to play this season and came through with a huge year. Kaneko is a pretty solid shortstop overall, with no real strengths and no real weaknesses. Takahashi had a HUGE year in 2004, hitting .285/.345/.535 with 26 homers, but since then has battled injuries and ineffectiveness. Tsuroka is a pup.
Tsuyoshi Shinjo is one of the most popular players in Japan thanks to his wacky antics, and this will sadly be his final year as he has announced he will retire after the year. Shinjo has 3 Best Nine Appearances and 8 Gold Gloves, including 6 in a 7 year span. He is also probably naked right now. Or dressed as Darth Vader. My favorite Shinjo antic is that for a few games late in the season, he had a scrolling LCD belt buckle and put messages on it. I only wish I knew what they said.
Kenshin Kawakami (R) 16-7, 2.55, 189-39 K/BB in 212 innings
Kenta Asakura (R) 12-6, 2.83, 103-33 K/BB in 149 innings
Masahiro Yamamoto (L) 11-7, 3.38, 121-36 K/BB in 167 innings
M. Soto (R) 9-3, 2.25, 81-23 K/BB in 125 innings
CL Hitoki Iwase (L) 2-2, 1.33, 40 saves, 42-8 K/BB in 54 innings
Masafumi Hirai (R) 5-3, 2.32, 22 holds, 43-16 K/BB in 62 innings
Katsunori Okamoto (R) 4-1, 3.46, 18 holds, 55-25 K/BB in 52 innings
Yoshihiro Suzuki (R) 1-0, 1.71, 8 holds, 54-15 K/BB in 52 innings
Yuichi Hisamoto (L) 2-2, 1.76, 3 holds, 19-12 K/BB in 30 innings
You couldn't ask for 3 more experienced starters for a playoff series. Kawakami is only 31, but has already shown that he is an elite pitcher, he's never had a "dominant" season but he's very consistent. Twenty-five year-old Asakura broke through in a big way this year, as his career ERA before this year was 4.18, most of the improvement came from cutting his walks. 41-year-old Yamamoto became the oldest player in Nippon history to throw a no-hitter this year, and has been a franchise icon for the Dragons since joining them in 1988. He also pitched in America briefly for the Vero Beach Dodgers, where he acquired the screwball. I have next to no information on this Soto kid, but his numbers are threatening enough that I might start him ahead of Yamamoto.
Iwase has won the saves crown the last two years, and is as good as it gets in the late game. The rest of the pen is the class of the CL, but not quite up to the Nippon Ham pen. Hisamoto is the only lefty, which limits the matchups that Ochiai can play late in games.
Tomura Yagi (L) 12-8, 2.48, 108-51 K/BB in 171 innings
Yu Darvish (R) 12-5, 2.89, 115-64 K/BB in 150 innings
Satoru Kanemura (R) 9-6, 4.48, 57-43 K/BB in 143 innings
Naoyuki Tateishi (R) 3-2, 2.72, 26-15 K/BB in 49 innings
CL Michael Nakamura (R) 5-1, 2.19, 39 saves, 67-20 K/BB in 65 innings
Hirashi Takeda (R) 5-3, 2.09, 40 holds, 61-8 K/BB in 81 innings
Hideki Okajima (L) 2-2, 2.14, 20 holds, 63-14 K/BB in 55 innings
Yoshinori Tateyama (R) 3-3, 3.06, 8 holds, 30-10 K/BB in 47 innings
Oshimoto 5-0, 1.50, 6 holds, 30-16 K/BB in 36 innings
The Nippon Ham resurgence can be traced directly to their top two starters, rookie twenty-two year-old Tomura Yagi and sophomore twenty-one year old Yu Darvish. Darvish, best known for being caught smoking at age eighteen and being sent back to the Hokkaido training complex, won Game 1 of the Second Stage with a complete game 1 ER gem. Yagi won Game 2 with a shutout. Kanemura was actually banished for the Second Stage because he called out manager Trey Hillman after he was not allowed a chance to win his tenth game of the season, saying that a foreign manager doesn't care about his players stats. They have kissed and made up, but look for him to be on a short leash anyway as he is by far the worst starter in this series for either team.
Mike Nakamura (former Blue Jay) dominated in his first season in the Nippon Leagues, leading the PL in saves. Takeda actually was better last season, when he had a 0.79 ERA in 34 innings. Okajima has closing experience with Yomiuri, and rebounded after a couple of poor years in a row. The other two aren't as good, but lets face it, if we get to those two, the game probably isn't close.
Chunichi has the clear advantage in the rotation, Nippon has the clear edge with the bats, and a slightly better bullpen. Last year, Bobby V demolished the overmatched Tigers in the JS, 4-0. I like Chunichi a lot, but I think the Fighters bring Hokkaido it's first Nippon League Title.
Fighters in 6.