NPB Pacific Update

Softbank Hawks (21-15-2)

It is unusual when the Softbank Hawks are not at the top of this conference. They have been the Japan Series champions in four of the last five years. Yuki Yanagita may be one of the better players in the NPB. He hit 30 plus homeruns in three of this last four seasons and stolen over 20 bases in four of the last five years. This year injuries have limited him to nine games. In those nine games he hit .355 with four homeruns and 14 RBIs. Kenta Imamiya has replaced his offensive production (.336, 8, 22), which if he can keep it up would be career numbers. The big difference is his walk to whiff ratio (13/19), which is also the best in his career. Nobuhiro Matsuda (.279, 9, 26) leads the team in homeruns and RBIs. This is his 14th season with the Hawks where he has slugged 253 homeruns.

Two Cuban players have also been providing excellent production. Alfredo Despaigne (.250, 8, 20) and Yurisbel Gracial (.345, 5, 11) have been providing the Hawks some excellent offense. The two combined to hit homers in three consecutive games last week. Despaigne has been the Hawks slugger for the last three years, but his skills have been declining. Gracial is in his second season and his stock is rising, despite his 33 years of age.

On the pitching front Kodai Senga (4-0, 1.26) may be the top pitcher in Japan. His fastball has hit triple digits and he has struck out 71 in 50 innings. He would like to play in the major leagues but the Hawks do not post players so he will have to wait for free agency in a couple years. Kotaro Otake (1-1, 1.02) may not be getting the wins or the whiffs as Senga, but his ERA is better. This is his second season in the NPB after pitching 11 games last year. One of their traditional aces, Nao Higashihama (2-1, 6.16) has really been struggling. Rei Takahashi (4-0, 2.10) is another second year player who the Hawks have been relying on for the rotation.

Rick Van Den Hurk has been a starter for the Hawks the last four years but has not made an appearance yet this year. Dennis Sarfate has been the Hawks closer, saving 54 games two years ago. He has yet to make an appearance this year because of injury. Ariel Miranda (2-2, 4.94) has not matched Van Den Hurk in the rotation as a foreign pitcher. The Hawks continue to rely on Yuito Mori (1-2, 2.60, 10 saves) to be their closer. Last year he saved 37 games when Sarfate had his season end early because of injury after 18 games.

Livan Moinelo (0-1, 0.56) has been the setup man. The Cuban was to be made available by the Cuban Baseball Federation for major league baseball but Trump has nixed that arrangement. So Japan will continue to benefit from his services. At 23 years of age he still has a lot of future. Robert Suarez (0-1, 21.00) may have seen his last games in the NPB.

Nippon Ham Fighters (18-17-2)

The two big bats are Sho Nakata (.237, 8, 23) and Taishi Ota (.318, 6, 24). At 40 years of age Sho can not be counted on to be a regular producer. Last year he drove in 106 runs with 25 homeruns but at some point he will run out of gas. Ota appears to be coming into his own at 28 years old. The Fighters got him from the Giants for the 2017 season and he has hit double figures in homeruns his first two years with the Fighters. He was a bench player in his eight years with the Giants. Po-Jung Wang (.277, 1, 16) was the big name the Fighters got from Taiwan. He was a big homeruns hitter in the CPBL, but in Japan he only has one. Haruki Nishikawa (.287, 2, 13) stirs the Fighters offense from the leadoff spot and leads the team in runs scored (30). He has stolen 40 or more bases in three of his last five seasons. This year he has six, but he has also been caught three times.

Kohei Arihara has been the ace of the staff (4-1, 1.54). This is his fifth year with the Hawks and appears to be his best as far as the numbers go. The Fighters need him to keep it up because he is the only effective starter they have. Chihiro Kaneko (1-2, 3.94) who was once posted to the major leagues but could not agree on a contract, was acquired by the Fighters from the Orix Buffaloes, but he has not been impressive. His best seasons appear to be behind him. Naoyuki Uwasawa (3-1, 4.54) won 11 games last year but has faced struggles this year.

Other than Wang the Fighters foreign contributions have all been from the pitcher’s mound. Nick Martinez has yet to make an appearance this year after winning 10 games in 2018. Justin Hancock (0-1, 9.00, 2 saves) was used in the pen as the closer but was not reliable. Johnny Barbato (2-2, 3.52) has been unimpressive in the rotation. Bryan Rodriguez (2-1, 3.58) has bounced from the pen to the rotation. This is his second season with the Fighters. So no real superstars from outside Japan.

Lotte Marines (18-17-1)

The Marines have traditionally not been a baseball power. Brandon Laird (.308, 13, 28) has been changing that equation. This is his first season for Lotte after four seasons with the Fighters. With the Fighters he had hit over 30 homeruns and driven in more than 90 his first three years, but last year slumped to 26 homeruns and 65 RBIs, resulting in his release. The Marines took a chance on him and are getting paid in big dividends. They have not been getting much in the first year from Kennys Vargas (.203, 1, 6).

Seiya Imoue (.276, 4, 14) has been the most consistent Japanese bat. Last year he hit 24 homeruns in his first year making the starting lineup. Shogo Nakamura (.200, 7, 20) is three homeruns shy of reaching a career high in his fifth season with the Marines but the hits have been few. Last year he stole 39 bases. This year he has 9.

The veteran Hideaki Wakui (3-1, 3.25) has been the Marines most effective starter. Foreign pitcher Mike Bolsinger (1-3, 4.73) was their ace last year going 13-2, but in just the first few weeks of the season already has one more loss than he put together all of last season.

The bullpen has been the strength of the Marines early in this season, led by closer Naoya Masuda (2-1, 1.00, 10 saves). Last year Masuda was their setup man. Takahiro Matsunaga (1-1, 0.79), Yuki Karakawa (2-1, 2.70) and Yasuhiro Tanaka (1-0, 0.00) have been solid in the set up role.

From the mound on the foreign side, Brandon Mann (0-1, 13.50) has been absent and Josh Ravin has yet to make an appearance in his first season in the NPB. Kuan-Yu Chen (0-0, 0.00) has been good in his eight appearances from the bullpen.

Rakuten Golden Eagles (18-17-1)

The Eagles rely on the foreign bats of Zealous Wheeler (.271, 7, 31) and Jabari Blash(.269, 10, 28) for most of their offense. Wheeler is a veteran of the Eagles, in his fifth year. Last year was a down season for him because of injuries limiting him to 106 games. For Blash, this is his first season in the NPB and he has been worth the effort to acquire him. The bat of Luis Jimenez, acquired from Korea, is still stuck in the Japanese minor leagues.

The Japanese bats lack the power but hit the gaps. Eigoro Mogi (.313, 4, 15) has been getting on base from the leadoff spot. His 19/25 walk to whiff ratio has been the best in his four years in the NPB. He leads the team in runs scored with 30. Hideto Asamura (.292, 8, 25) is the big power bat acquired in free agency from the Seibu Lions. Last year he hit 32 homeruns and drove in 127 runs in his most productive NPB season.

Historically, the Eagles have been known for their starting pitching, providing the major leaguers with Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka. Takahiro Norimoto has had four seasons of 200 or more strikeouts, but this year he has yet to make an appearance. He has had double digit victories in his first six seasons in the NPB but that streak appears to be in jeopardy this year. There is no solid starter on the mound who has an ERA under 4.00.

The bullpen has been their strength led by closer Yuki Matsui (1-1, 1.69, 9 saves) who may be small in stature but he piles up the saves. In his second through fourth years he picked up 30 or more saves but last year yielded to Frank Hermann (3-2, 6.23). This year it has been Hermann that has struggled, yielding the closer duties back to Matsui. Chia-Hao Sung (0-1, 2.00) appears to have taken over the setup role from Hermann. Alan Busenitz is a foreign pitcher on the roster who has yet to make an appearance. He has been very effective in the minor leagues with three saves and a 0.75 ERA.

Seibu Lions (16-19-1)

Last year the Lions were the class of the Pacific Conference. Losing Asamura to the Eagles via free agency put a dent in their offense this year. Hotaka Yamakawa (.270, 15, 42) continues to bash homeruns for the Lions. Last year he slugged 47. There lacks a second bat to protect Hotaka in the lineup. Shogo Akiyama (.290, 5, 15) prefers to spray the gaps with doubles, hitting over 30 in his last four seasons. Tomoya Mori (.306, 5, 28) is perhaps the best hitting catcher in the NPB. Takeya Nakamura (.241, 5,20) is 10 shy of reaching 400 homeruns in the NPB. He should reach that this year.

No one in the starting rotation to brag on. Most of the pitchers in this rotation have ERAs over 5. The bullpen also sucks. That brings us to foreign pitchers. Zach Neal (1-1, 5.95) has not held his own. Deunte Heath (0-1, 3.60) picked up 13 saves last year but is limited to one save this year. This is his fourth year and most ineffective. Fabio Castillo has yet to pitch in the NPB and Jen-Lei Liao has made three appearances.

The one big foreign bat, Ernesto Mejia (.143, 3, 9) has had a wasted year. This is his sixth year and he has had two good seasons with 35 and 34 homeruns. Last year he hit only .212 with 9 homeruns. They need to go scour the minor leagues to find a foreign bat to bring some power into this lineup.

Orix Buffaloes (14-20-3)

The Buffaloes, who had Ichiro Suzuki in their outfield when they were the Buffaloes have been absent any glory since then. The last time they were in the playoffs was in 2014 as a wild card team. The last time and only time they won a Japan Series was in 1996. They have nothing this year.

Masataka Yoshida (.271, 8, 21) is their only big bat. Last year was hit first year in a starting role and he slugged 26 homeruns. After him no player has more than four homeruns. Foreign hitter Joey Meneses (.206, 4, 14) is that bat. This is his first and possibly last year in the NPB. Chris Marrero (.167, 0, 0) hit 31 homeruns in his first two years but in 14 games this year has not hit a homerun. Stefen Romero (.304, 1, 5) bat has been limited because of injury.

The pitching has been decent. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (2-1, 1.37) has been moved to the starting rotation of the Buffaloes. Last year he pitched 53 innings. This year he has already accumulated 46. Taisuke Yamaoka (4-0, 3.00) has been racking up the wins in the starting rotation. In his first two seasons he had a losing record. Rookie Tsubasa Sakakibara (1-3, 2.09) has not been racking up the victories but he has been effective. Hirotoshi Masui (3.60, 11 saves) is the closer in his second season with the Buffaloes. He saved 35 games last year for Orix and prior to that was the closer for Nippon Ham.

Andrew Albers (1-2, 6.11) has been a big disappointment in the rotation. Last year he was 9-2 with a 3.08 ERA. Brandon Dickson has been a starter for Orix for six years. He has yet to make an appearance in his seventh year with the team. Tyler Eppler has seen minimal time (3 appearances).

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