NPB Review - Central League

The more popular league in Japan with two of the older teams in the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers. Many compare their rivalry equal to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Hanshin Tigers (23-12)

They have a number of stars on this team but their most consistent hitter is probably Yoshio Itoi. Last year Itoi stole a career high 53 bases at age 35. The stolen bases have slowed but his bat continues to glow with a .323 average, 5 homeruns and team leading 28 RBIs. Takashi Toritani found no major league interest in his services last year, slumped to a .236 average and was asked to move from shortstop. This has created a resurgence in his bat with a .325 average and one homerun. The power is gone but he can still get on base. Ex-major leaguer Kosuke Fukudome continues to shine with the bat, hitting .306. His five homeruns is tied with Itoi and Masahiro Nakatani for the team lead and his 23 RBIs is second to Itoi. Eric Cambell (.227) has been a major disappointment as a foreign bat.

Many feel Shintaro Fujinami will be a better pitcher in the long haul than Shohei Otani. He was the ace on the 18 and under team with Otani the number two starter. Otani is on the disabled list while Fujinami is 3-1, 1.67. The down side is the strikeout numbers are down for Fujinami (15) while the walk numbers are up (25) in just 32 innings. Randy Messenger is in his eighth year with Hanshin and continues to shine (5-0, 2.38). Rafael Dolis failed as a closer with the Cubs, but his 15 saves leads the Central League. Marcus Mateo (3-0, 2.04, 12 holds) is the main setup man.

Hirshima Carp (23-15-1)

The Carp have cooled off since sitting perched at the top of the standings early in the season. Brad Eldred (.327, 10, 29) hopes to have a healthy year where his power bat leads the Carp. In his first five years with the team Brad has played in more than 100 games in just one season. At 22 years of age Seiya Suzuki (.303, 8, 31) is one of the shining stars in this league. His 31 RBIs lead the Carp. This is his second full season in the NPB. Yoshihiro Maru (.322, 6, 22) gets on base for the sluggers where he has scored 31 runs. Tomohiro Abe (.371) is another table setter.

Yusuke Nomura (3-1, 1.91) has been their most consistent starter. Last year was a breakout season for Nomura with 16 wins. Akitake Okade (4-1, 3.56) is picking up the wins in his second year but showing some inconsistency and command issues. Jay Jackson has picked up 11 holds and has yet to give up a run in 17 appearances.

Yomiuri Giants (19-17)

The Giants best player is shortstop Hayato Sakamota (.362, 6, 20). Watch for him jumping to the major leagues in a couple years. Casey McGehee (.315, 6, 24) has been the most productive foreign bat for the Giants. Veteran Shinnosuke Abe (.292, 8, 33) started the season strong but has slowed a bit. His 33 RBIs is tops on the team. Abe has 381 career homeruns and needs two more to reach double digits in homers for 17 straight seasons.

Tomoyuki Sugano (5-1, 1.78) has been the ace. Last year he was 11 whiffs shy of 200. Miles Nikolas (4-2, 2.74) is the top foreign pitcher in the starting rotation. Two foreigners close out the games. The high 90s heat of Arquimedes Caminero (0-1, 1.59, 10 saves) closes out the games. His stuff fits well in the NPB. Scott Mathieson (0.98, 11 holds) is the set up man for the Giants pitching in his sixth season. In 2014 he accumulated 30 saves. Tetsuya Utsumi (1-3, 5.54) continues to struggle and the Giants may need to look for an alternative for the veteran.

Yokahama Bay Stars (16-19-2)

They have not been getting a lot of production from their young superstar Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (.278, 3, 18). Last year Yoshitomo hit 44 homeruns and drove in 110. He is one of the many WBC performers struggling early in the season. Making up for the sleeping bat of Tsutsugo is Jose Lopez (.333, 7, 28). Lopez is in his fifth NPB season, his third with the Bay Stars. Last year he had a career year in the NPB with 34 homeruns and 95 RBIs. Takayuki Kajitani (.255, 7, 21) also has seven homeruns.

Pitching has been the trouble spot for the Stars. Joe Wieland (3-0, 2.63) is the only starter with an ERA less than 4. Yasuaki Yamasaki (0-1, 1.02, 2 saves) may return to his role as the closer with the struggles of Spencer Patton (2-2, 4.15, 6 saves). In his first two years Yasuaki converted 70 saves, though last year his ERA was at a high 3.59.

Yakult Swallows (15-22)

The highlight to their season are the two walkoff grand slam homeruns. No team in the history of the NPB has blasted two walk off grand slam homeruns in the same season. And they still have 100 games to go before the 2017 season is done. Like the Bay Stars the Swallows are getting very little production from Tetsuto Yamada (.233, 4, 14). The last two years Yamada has hit over .300 with 38 homeruns in each season. He was a 30/30 man in 2015 and 2016 but only has four homeruns and six stolen bases this year in a quarter of the season. Wladimir Balentien (.290, 5, 16) is another bat that needs to start hitting for the offense to thrive. In 2013 he broke the NPB record for homeruns in a season with 60 but injuries have limited him. He has hit 31 homeruns in four of his other six NPB seasons but the fans expect more.

Yasuhiro Ogawa (3-2, 1.98) and David Buchanan (2-2, 2.40) are having solid seasons but are not being supported by an anemic offense.

Chunichi Dragons (12-23-3)

The only good thing the Dragons can say about their season is they are better than the Marines. So far. They have the troubled Alex Guerrero (.256, 7, 19) who finds the uniform he is wearing very similar to his old team in Los Angeles. At least with the Dragons he has found a position he can play. Dayan Viciedo (.271, 6, 21) is his Cuban mate. The duo are about the only offense on this Dragon team. Yohei Oshima (.327, 1, 11) hits for average but his run production is unimpressive.

The starting pitching has Katsuki Matayoshi (2-0, 2.16) and foreign contributors Jordan Norberto (2-0, 1.76) and Raul Valdes (1-1, 1.98). Raul is another Cuban connection. The Japanese have always had pretty good success against the Cubans in international events. Having too many Cubans on your professional team may not be an advantage. At least not for the Dragons.

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