Down the Stretch in Japan

We’re a couple days into September,and about a month left in the season, nine of the 12 NPB have a chance at making the playoffs.

Before we delve into the standings, here’s how the playoff system works.

Nippon Professional Baseball has two leagues, the Central and the Pacific, each of which consist of six teams. Each year, the top three finishers from each league advance to the playoffs, known as the Climax Series. The Climax Series is split up into two stages, which break down like this:

1st Stage: 3rd vs 2nd, in a best-of-three series. Winner advances to the 2nd stage.

2nd Stage: winner of 1st stage vs the league champion, in a best-of-seven series with a twist*. Winner advances to the Nippon Series.

* The the 2nd stage is formatted like a best-of-seven series, but the league champion is automatically credited with a one-game advantage at the start of the series. So a maximum of only six games is played, and the league champion only has to win three games to advance to the Nippon Series, but the challenger would have to win four. Since this format was introduced in 2008, there have been no upsets in the 2nd Stage. Prior to 2008, the 2nd Stage was a standard best-of-five series.

In both stages, the team ranked higher in the standings gets home field advantage. The first place finisher is considered the league champion, even if they fail to reach the Nippon Series.

Make sense? If not, let me know in the comments.

After the jump, you’ll find the current (as of September 3) NPB standings, borrowed from NPB’s official site.

(both the Central and Pacific Leagues play a 144-game schedule)

Central League
Team G W L T PCT GB
Hanshin 117 65 50 2 .565
Chunichi 124 67 55 2 .549 1.5
Yomiuri 120 65 54 1 .546 2.0
Yakult 118 58 57 3 .504 7.0
Hiroshima 119 47 70 2 .402 19.0
Yokohama 118 40 78 0 .339 26.5

Yokohama has been a doormat for years, and despite a number of roster tweaks, 2010 has been no exception. Hiroshima, with the loss of Colby Lewis, has taken a step backwards and never really been a contender this year. Yakult got off to a horrid start, but played themselves to a .500 record after their manager stepped aside in May. Conversely, Yomiuri had been dominant early in the season, but has slumped with sub-.500 records in both July and August. Yakult finishing in a playoff spot would require one of Hanshin, Chunichi or Yomiuri to collapse, but I wouldn’t have expected them to be in this position a month into the season.

Pacific League
Team G W L T PCT GB
Seibu 126 69 56 1 .552
Softbank 127 66 56 5 .541 1.5
Lotte 124 66 56 2 .541 1.5
Nippon-Ham 124 62 59 3 .512 5.0
Orix 125 61 60 4 .504 6.0
Rakuten 122 52 67 3 .437 14.0

The Pacific League is a little more interesting, with only Rakuten really out of the hunt for a playoff spot. Like Yakult in the Central, Nippon Ham and Orix both climbed into contention after rough starts, though neither team lost a manager. Both teams’ chances are hurt slightly by the fact that they play a four-game series against each other from September 18-22. Still, Seibu, SoftBank and Lotte being in a rather tight race makes things interesting — if any one of them falters, Nippon Ham and Orix are poised to jump into the mix.



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Patrick Newman is a veteran enthusiast of Japanese baseball who happens to write about it at npbtracker.com, and on Twitter @npbtracker.


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Dudley
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Dudley
6 years 26 days ago

strange playoff system–but i think i like it–the regular season should count for a lot.

Rod M.
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Rod M.
6 years 26 days ago

Patrick, thanks for such a great explanation.

My question actually concerns the dates of the NPB playoffs. Specifically, I’m going to be traveling to Japan for a couple of weeks starting 2 November and am wondering how likely (if at all) it is that games will still be ongoing then.

Thanks again for the article, and for any help you might be able to provide.

William
Member
William
6 years 26 days ago

it would be better if 1vs2 was normal best of 7, but a 1vs3 would have the 1st team up a game

Thomas
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Thomas
6 years 26 days ago

This system would never catch on in the US – we like the underdog too much and this would crush them. Look at the 04 ALCS for example. The comeback never would have happened.

My echo and bunnymen
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My echo and bunnymen
6 years 26 days ago

Why is it called Nippon P.B. instead of Nihon P.B.?

Kampfer
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Kampfer
6 years 26 days ago

Either way is right, but Japanese ususally uses Nippon.

pinball1978
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pinball1978
6 years 26 days ago

It’s the most exciting season, in both leagues, in my 15 years following NPB. ANYTHING could still happen, and some amazing games have been played.

Sean
Guest
6 years 26 days ago

I think the pennant races would be much more interesting without this system. You’d have 3 teams fighting for one spot in both leagues and Yomiuri’s potential collapse would be more meaningful. Teams that are just a game above .500 shouldn’t be involved in playoff talk this late in the season either.

JustSayMets
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JustSayMets
6 years 26 days ago

Honestly the First Stage makes great sense, since the difference between second and third is so small, but it would be nicer if the series was a bit longer considering how any flukey short series are. What if the second team is 10 games better but the pitchers just bomb two games?

Getting to the playoffs means a lot less in this system, since half the teams make it, but getting first in any league means a lot due to the game of advantage.

I like this a bit, but the period of inactivity for the League #1 seed, and the very short series between #2 and #3 is what I really don’t like at all. Getting to the playoffs should mean more.

jimmy1138
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jimmy1138
6 years 26 days ago

Actually the league champion does not have to win three games to advance to the Nippon Series, they could possibly advance without winning a single game. As draws (after 12 innings of play) even exist in playoff games and the league champion owns the tiebreaker in a tied series. Two years ago the Giants needed only two wins (and a draw) to clinch the series.

Although the system makes some sense (more teams are involved in the playoffs and playoff races respectively, the league winner gets a real advantage in contrast to mere homefield advantage) there should be some fixes, especially getting rid of draws in the playoffs.

dorasaga
Guest
6 years 26 days ago

“there should be some fixes, especially getting rid of draws in the playoffs,”

Then there won’t be Wa! Ha.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
6 years 25 days ago

Pretty interesting playoff system.

The more years that pass (I get older), the more I realize that baseball had it right when I was a kid. 2 division per league. Only LCS and WS.

But, MLB wanted to be like other sports where playoffs equal more excitement and more money. The difference is that no one pays attention to NBA and NHL regular seasons. People pay attention to the NFL regular season because [1] football is tremendously popular and [2] every game means a lot, and there’s only 16 games.

Baseball has such a long season that the cream will have risen to the top. There’s no need to have 3 divisions or to have 4 playoff teams.

MLB had something special with a regular season that was so important and decided so much. Now, the whole 162-game thing boils down to 4 teams in each league in a short series in a sport where randomness and upsets occur more often than the other 3 major sports.

I think an organization has to decide what it is going to focus on the most, an long and thorough regular season, or an exhaustive and inclusive post-season. You can’t do both (well).

Anthony
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Anthony
6 years 25 days ago

I disagree. I think that it only worked back in the day with a LCS and a WS because there were so many fewer teams. I LOVE what the NFL does. More equal revenue sharing, salary cap and minimum, a very fair playoff system. Football is popular because of the “any given sunday” thing, people love unpredictability, football has that because of the way it’s run. Baseball sucks, Bud Selig is a moron. The MLB even has a ridiculously unbalanced schedule If you’re the Mets, you play the Yankees 6 times, why? Because they’re “natural” rivals. The cards play the Royal 6 times, why? Same reason. So let’s say the Mets lose to the Cards by a game, don’t you think they have a pretty strong argument about an unbalanced schedule? I say 1 month of playing quick 2 game series against each team from the other league. The league with the most wins gets home field advantage. Only in the case of a tie (a very unlikely scenario) does the All Star game decide home field. I’d like to see the leagues equal too. Having only 14 teams in the AL is mathematically part of the reason the rich Sox and Yanks are typically one of the wild card winners.

I think the MLB needs to add 1 more team in each league and they have a quick 3 game series to decide which wild card team gets in the playoffs. You could start the division series of 2 vs 3 seeds the same day you give the wild card teams a day off. basically smoosh everything in closer so that there aren’t big layoffs. This means more teams have a shot at making the playoffs which means more cities give a crap about baseball in August and September.

I really don’t like the idea of only 4 teams making it total with 2 division in each league. The popularity of the sport would dwindle because the yanks and sox, 7/10 years would be the only ones in the running with maybe the Angels or some other rich team and in the NL, even though there’d be more parity, you’d still have many teams so far out of reach that nobody cares.

To try to stay on topic, I would like to get into Japanese baseball. I plan to somehow watch their playoffs and hopefully the Asia series too. Does anyone know the time difference between Japan and Missouri? I know you can find it online but I’m lazy.

Bob Timmermann
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Bob Timmermann
6 years 24 days ago

The Central Time zone is 14 hours behind Japan.

Blake
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Blake
6 years 24 days ago

When did this system start? I lived in Japan in the ’90s and back then, the league champions went directly to the Japan Series.

Planedoc
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Planedoc
5 years 10 months ago

I’m in Nagoya as I type this. The 6th game of the Climax series ended just a few hours ago in a 2-2 tie!! According to what I’ve read here and there the game will be made up at a latter date. Game 7 will be here in Nagoya tomorrow. Should the Dragons win the series will be tied at 3 games each. I’m not sure yet how this is going to play out! The Dragons are not playing up to their potential and the Marines seemed to have peaked at the right time!

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