Rakuten Golden Eagles (22-9)
The Eagles have not really contended since the departure of Masahiro Tanaka. They have started the 2017 season off strong. In his second season 23 year old Eigoro Mogi is the straw that stirs the drink for this offense. He is hitting .313 with seven homeruns. Last year he hit seven homeruns in 117 games. Eigoro has only stolen one base but he has scored 23 runs. Carlos Peguero hit some early season homeruns before slowing down. He leads the team with 8 and his 25 runs driven in are tops on the team.
Where the Eagles shine is their starting pitching. Takahiro Norimoto has taken over the ace role once held by Tanaka. He is 4-1, 2.72 with 56 whiffs in 43 innings. Manabu Mima has also equaled his record (4-1) but his 2.51 record is slightly better. Manabu is not as overpowering with the K’s. Yuki Matsui has bounced back from a down season last year, leading the Pacific League in saves with 14 and allowing just 9 hits in 21 innings. His 0.43 ERA is about 5 runs better than last season. The foreign face Frank Hermann (1.98 ERA) is tied with Kohei Morihara (1.00 ERA) for the team lead in holds with 12. Hiroyuki Fukuyama has 10 holds in 15 appearances and has yet to give up a run. That is a potent bullpen.
Softbank Hawks (23-13)
The Hawks have been the top team of this division over the last couple years. They pulled a coup signing Alfredo Despaigne as a free agent, stealing him from the Lotte Marines this year. Alfredo has not been dominant, hitting just .240 but his 9 homeruns and 30 RBIs lead the team. Seiichi Uchikawa is their most consistent hitter (.346, 6, 27). His 20 runs scored is tied with Kenta Imamiya (.274, 1, 13) for the team lead. Seiichi also has a 22/14 walk to whiff ratio. Yuki Yanagita (.252, 4, 15) is scuffling. When he gets hot the Hawks will take off. Yuki is one of many WBC players who are struggling early in the season.
Kodai Senga is the ace with his 5-1, 3.21. His 55 whiffs is one short of Norimoto for the league lead. The 24 year old pitcher had a breakout season last year with his 12 wins. Nao Higashihama (3-1, 2.52) is a solid number two starter. Rick Vandenhurk (3-2, 2.52) is having success as a starter in his second Asian country after pitching in the KBO. This is his third season with the Hawks. Dennis Sarfate is tied with Matsui for the league lead in saves with 14. He has yet to give up an earned run in 16 appearances.
Seibu Lions (16-16-1)
The veteran Takeya Nakamura is again sending balls over the fence with 9 in his first 32 games. His 30 RBIs is tied for the team lead. Nakamura had 330 career homeruns coming into this season with two years of 48 homeruns and a year with 46 homeruns. Last year was an off year with 21 homeruns leading to talk that at 33 years of age his bat had slowed down. Ernesto Mejia (.291, 6, 21) is the foreign power source. This is his fourth season with the Lions. Last year he slugged 35 homeruns and reached triple digits in RBIs (105) for the first time. Shogo Akiyama (.323, 5,11) benefits from the power hitters with his 29 runs scored tops in the league. Hideto Asamura is having a career year with his .350 average.
Yusei Kikuchi is living up to his number one pick status with a 4-1, 1.08 ERA. He has struck out 53 in 50 innings and has only allowed 24 hits. At 25 years of age he probably has some major league scouts looking at him. Brian Wolfe has equaled his record with a 2.13 ERA but has been less dominant.
Orix Buffaloes (17-17)
Like Seibu Orix has been mired in mediocrity. They lack star power in their bats. Their foreign presence Brent Morel has only been able to play 8 games and their other foreign bat Stefan Romero (.281, 5, 12) is rather ordinary. Takahiro Okada (.339, 9, 19) is probably their best hitter, leading the team in RBIs and runs scored (21).
The Buffaloes rely on their starters to win games. Chihiro Kaneko (5-1, 1.70) and Brandon Dickson (4-2, 2.80) have combined to win more than half their games. Neither pitcher is overpowering, but they know how to elicit soft contact with the bat.
Nippon Ham Fighters (14-21)
The defending champions are struggling since an injury to Shohei Otani has knocked his bat from the Fighter lineup. He was hitting .407 with two homeruns in his first 8 games before his injury. An ankle injury prior to that prevented him from taking the mound. He has yet to pitch in a game and should miss most of May before his return. Brandon Laird has been hot (.246, 11, 25) hitting homeruns in four consecutive at bats. Kensuke Kondo has a nice average (.426) but not a lot of production with just three homeruns and 22 RBIs. Veteran Sho Nakata (.217, 3, 12) is another WBC performer who is struggling. Last year Sho drove in 110 runs, his third straight season driving in 100 or more runs. Once the Fighters get Otani back and when Nakata gets his bat working the Fighters should rise to the top.
Takayuki Kato (3-1,1.93) has been their top pitcher. This is only the second season for the 24 year old. The Fighters need Otani back to anchor this rotation.
Lotte Marines (9-25-1)
This has been a horrible season for the Marines. Jimmy Paredes (.130) was a failure as a foreign signing and sent to the minor leagues. He has recently returned. Matt Duffy (.218, 3, may be the next to go if his bat does not get hot. Daichi Suzuki (.270, 4, 12) is probably their best player. No player on this team has more than 12 RBIs.
This is the 10th year for Jason Stanridge in Japan and it could be his last. His 5.34 ERA is his second worst of his NPB career. Given his history the Marines may give him some rope to bounce back. The pitching has been about as ugly as the hitting. It will be a long year for Marine fans. Bring back Bobby Valentine.