Last month, I previewed the pennant races in Japan. The Central League is still winding down, but the Pacific League’s season is in the books, so let’s take a look at how things shook out.
Here are the final standings:
The first thing you’ll notice is that the League Champion, the Softbank Hawks, won fewer games than the second-place Seibu Lions. Softbank won the title by virtue of out-tying Seibu, thus losing fewer games and having a higher win percentage. In this case, “win percentage” is defined as “percentage of games not resulting in a tie won” rather than “percentage of games played won”. I must say, I don’t mind the presence of ties but I’m not crazy about the team with the most wins finishing second.
The pennant race was somewhat of a battle of attrition, with neither Seibu nor Softbank really putting the other way until the end. Seibu maintained a comfortable lead until mid-September, when they were swept in a three-game series by Softbank as part of a larger five-game losing streak. Softbank continued winning, and took the league lead on September 25, with Toshiya Sugiuchi out-dueled Yu Darvish with a masterful 1-0 shutout. That game not only put Softbank into first, but bumped Nippon Ham out of the third and final playoff spot. Lotte won its last few games against Orix, hanging on to the third spot and relegating the Buffaloes to a just sub-.500 record. Despite finishing outside of the top three for the first time in five years, Nippon Ham picked up the most ground in September, finishing a half game behind Lotte after being five back at the time of my earlier post.
The also-rans were interesting this year. Orix finished fifth, but put up a real fight in a rebuilding year, that included the unfortunate suicide of outfielder Hiroyuki Oze during spring training. And Rakuten took a big step back after a second-place finish last season, a result that cost first-manager Marty Brown his job. Rakuten boasted a respectable rotation, led by MLB-bound Hisashi Iwakuma, but a shallow bullpen, an anemic offense, and, ultimately, Brown took the fall for it. Despite that, Rakuten could have a strong draft and find a couple of import sluggers and get back into reasonable contention next season.
The Pacific League plays begin on October 9, with Seibu and Lotte playing a three-game set. A three-game series can obviously go either way and the teams are pretty evenly matched, but I’m giving Seibu a little bit of an edge. I think their top three starters are a little better than Lotte’s.