The Pacific League always seems to be the more competetive league. Below is a summary of the season a little past the All Star break.
Chiba Lotte Marines (41-33-11)
Overview: This is Bobby Valentines old team. He took them to a surprising NPB championship, but the team had progressively worse years after that until the team fired him. The fans didn’t like it but the team finds themselves in first place. To help them compete they have signed two American players Wil Ledesma and Doug Mathis to help their pitching staff. Hayden Penn went back to the United States to get his elbow looked at and Josh Whitesell is not hitting. So they have plenty of available foreign spots among their allocated four.
Top Hitters: They have no players in double digits in homeruns, but many may remember Tadahito Iguichi, who played second base for the White Sox a few years ago. With the Marines he is hitting .276, 8, 43. The 43 RBIs are tops on the team. Katsuya Kakunaka (.308) is one of only seven players in the Pacific League hitting over .300.
Top Pitchers: Yoshihisa Naruse (10-4, 1.88) is one of two pitchers who has had quality starts in all of his 17 starts. Masahiro Tanaka is the other pitcher. Naruse is second to Tanaka in ERA and he has five complete games with two shutouts. Yasuhiko Yabuta (1-3, 3.00) leads the Pacific League in saves with 17 while Naoya Masuda (0-1, 2.20) leads the Pacific League in holds with 27. Tatsuya Uchi (1-1, 0.76) has done a little of both with 4 saves and 8 holds.
Foreign Aid: Josh Whitesell has been a real disappointment with his offensive production (.218) and has been up and down the minor leagues, spending more time on their minor league roster. He has hit more catchers on his back swing than homeruns. Seth Greisinger (6-4, 2.65) has provided the Marines with solid starts as the number two starter. Hayden Penn (1-2, 3.98) is back in the States to get his elbow examined. That is the reason for the Marines to sign both Wil Ledezma and Doug Mathis.
Nippon Ham Fighters (44-37-7)
Overview: They allowed Yu Darvish to leave for the United States and he has struggled more than he did in the NPB. While he is not as talented a pitcher and stands six inches shorter, the Fighters have an ample replacement to draw the crowds in Yuki Saito (5-7, 3.40).
Top Hitters: Kensuke Tanaka (.313, 3, 28) and Atsunori Inaba (.309, 8, 42) are second and third in the NPB in hitting. Sho Nakata (.205, 11, 41) is the only player in double figures in homeruns, but needs to improve that average. Despite the homeruns he only has a .631 OPS, but he is second to Inaba in runs driven in.
Foreign Aid: Dai-Kang Yang (.281, 5, 35) put up numbers good enough to make the All Star team. He was born in Taiwan. Micah Hoffpauir (.292, 6, 13) has not driven in a lot of runs with his six homeruns. Judging by his at bats and games played most of his action is being seen as a pinch hitter. Termel Sledge (.232, 5, 23) is out for the year with knee surgery, as is Bobby Keppel (0-1, 9.00) with shoulder surgery. Brian Wolfe (5-7, 2.60) has been providing some quality starts, despite his lack of wins.
Seibu Lions (40-38-5)
Overview: The Yankees did not sign Hiroyuki Nakajima (.326, 9, 40) but he has been one of the hottest hitters in the NPB. He had four straight games of three hits or more and now leads the Pacific League in hitting. He will be a free agent next year. There is bound to be a team in the major leagues looking for a shortstop (at best) or utility player (at worst). Next year he won’t be limited to just the Yankees to sign him. Myworld bets the Orioles will snag him for second base.
Top Hitter: Other than Nakajima you have Takeya Nakamura (.238, 15, 48), who only had one homerun entering the interleague play and then slugged 13 or so homeruns during interleague play. An injury slowed the homerun pace and his average needs some uplifting. Takumi Kuriyama (.302) is one of the seven players hitting over .300 which has resulted in him scoring 44 runs, second only to Nakajima.
Top Pitchers: Ex-major leaguer Kazuhisa Ishii (7-3, 2.30), Takayuki Kishi (7-8, 2.29) and Kazuhisa Makita (8-5, 2.45) make for a formidable troika. Ishii is the only lefthander among the trio. The two top bullpen arms seem to be Shuichiro Osada (1-0, 1.88, 12 holds) and Randy Williams (1-2, 1.69, 9 holds).
Foreign Aid: Esteban German (.271, 1, 39) has been a pretty good tablesetter with 24 stolen bases and a .349 OBA. Chris Carter (.297, 0, lost much of the start of the season to knee surgery. So far only three of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases, resulting in a rather vanilla .398 slugging percentage. Jose Ortiz (.244, 0, 12) is a recent June signing that has not provided much offense. With all those offensive players it doesn’t leave much for the pitching roster but Enrique Gonzalez (1-4, 6.91) was not putting up the numbers to stay on the roster. Randy Williams is their only foreign pitcher.
Rakuten Golden Eagles (40-41-4)
Overview: They lost one of their top pitchers to the Mariners in free agency. Hishashi Iwakuma has only recently been given some starts by the Mariners. Masahiro Tanaka (6-2, 1.81) had replaced him as the ace on the staff and is considered by many to be the top pitcher in the NPB with the departure of Darvish. They also started mining Mexico for their foreign quota allotment, but that has seemed to be a dud to date, with all the players signed underperforming when you compare their results against their Mexican numbers.
Top Hitters: Leadoff man Ryo Hijirisawa (.289, 0, 27) ignites the offense from his leadoff spot. His 35 stolen bases lead the Pacific League and his 44 runs scored leads the Eagles. Other than Ryo, their offensive production has been rather quiet. No player has hit over five homeruns or gotten an RBI production of more than 36.
Top Pitchers: Masahiro Tanaka is their ace and perhaps the top pitcher in the NPB. Back problems have forced him to miss a chunk of time limiting him to just 11 starts. A finger injury has limited Wataru Karashima (3-2, 0.86) to six starts, but he appears healthy now. Koji Aoyama (3-3, 2.45, 12 saves) appears to have taken the closers job away from a less effective Darrell Rasner.
Foreign Aid: The Mexican sluggers Luis Garcia (.238, 4, 17) and Luis Terrero (.153, 1, 22) have bombed. Terrero is no longer with Rakuten. The veteran Jose Fernandez (.246, 2, 36) has been their most effective hitter, but they want more than his .319 slugging average. They have had a little better success with pitchers Jim Heuser (1-2, 3.38, 12 holds) providing good relief in a set-up role and Darrell Rasner (1-1, 3.74) moving to the setup role after beginning the year as the closer. Kelvin Jimenez (5-7, 3.04) has been one of their more effective starters.
Softbank Hawks (39-43-8)
Overview: The defending champ Softbank Hawks were decimated with the loss of three of their starting pitchers, two going to the Giants and the other to the Orioles. They also lost their starting shortstop to the Mariners. They did pick up Terry Doyle after failing to interest Brad Penny in a career in the NPB. They also released Alex Cabrera, who spent more time on the disabled list than in the lineup and gave his uniform number to Brandon Allen, who hasn’t had a lot of success in the major leagues, but has been a minor league slugger. They have the Yankees to thank for releasing Hideki Okajima, who has yet to give up a run in relief.
Top Hitters: Nobuhiro Matsuda (.306, 8, 53) is still one of the big RBI producers for the Hawks. Most of those RBIs are a result of his 27 doubles. Wily Mo Pena (.244, 13, 45) is the only player with double figures in homeruns.
Top Pitchers: With the departure of their top three starters Kenji Otonari (7-4, 1.88) has taken over the aces role. He has the second lowest ERA in the Pacific League. Tadashi Settsu (9-5, 2.08) and Hiroki Yamada (6-7, 2.97) are two other starters the Hawks have relied on. Hideki Okajima has yet to give up an earned run after 36 appearances covering just over 30 innings. He leads the team with 18 holds. Brian Falkenborg (0-1, 2.12, 12 saves) has had some shoulder discomfort and Masahiko Morifuku (1-3, 1.02, 12 saves) has taken over the closers role since July.
Foreign Aid: Terry Doyle had an effective start in his NPB debut, picking up the win and giving up only one run in five innings of work. Much more effective than Brad Penny (10.80), who lost his debut, complained of arm trouble and then was allowed to bolt to the major leagues where his arm is suddenly healthy. Falkenborg has missed significant time because of his shoulder injury. Alex Cabrera gave the Hawks one homerun in his 29 at bats. Now they hope Brandon Allen can give them the power that was missing from Cabrera’s bat. Taiwan rookie Tu-Hsuan Lee (.385) is earning more playing time with that average. Korean Mu-Young Kim (1-1, 1.75) has been used in a set-up role.
Orix Buffaloes (35-46-6)
Overview: Orix has a large Korean population so when Orix signed Dae-Ho Lee it was met with a lot of excitement. That has not led to a lot of victories with the team established firmly in the basement. The Buffaloes are also taking a look at Italian Alessandro Maestri, who pitched in the Reds minor league system, but signed with a Japanese independent League team. The Buffaloes have nothing to lose to give him an opportunity.
Top Hitters: Dae-Ho Lee (.302, 15, 57) has not disappointed with his power and production. Hamstring problems have limited Takahiro Okada’s (.314, 2, 18) playing time. Not a lot of offense here outside of Lee.
Top Pitchers: Yuki Nishi (6-2, 2.78) has been their most effective starter. They hope to see Kei Igawa (2-3, 2.73) resurrect his career. He was also released by the Yankees, thankful to finally be over his albatross contract. Mamoru Kishida (2-2, 2.31, 16 saves) is their stopper while Yoshihisa Hirano (4-4, 2.89) is their set-up man with his 18 holds.
Foreign Aid: Aarom Baldiris (.275, 7, 39) provides what little protection in the lineup Lee has. Bobby Scales (.258, 3, 12) is a bat that has been low on offense. Evan MacLane (4-4, 2.79) has been good in the rotation. Alfredo Figaro (0-4, 2.70) has been going back and forth between the ni-gun roster and the major leagues.