Hawks on a Streak

The Softbank Hawks have been the top team in the NPB, winning five of the last six Japan series. In the last six years it was only 2016 they failed to win it all. This season it appeared the Hawks would be in a three team battle with the Rakuten Golden Eagles and the Chibba Lotte Marines in the Pacific League. An eight game winning streak has changed that narrative and stretched the Hawks lead to three games.

Hawks superstar Yuki Yanagita has led the charge during the streak. He is currently second in the Pacific League in hitting (.352), leading in homeruns (20), runs scored (60) and walks (51) and is fourth in RBIs (50). He has slugged four homeruns and driven in ten during the streak. He could start in any outfield in the major leagues, but don’t expect the Hawks to post their most valuable player. At 31 his major league window is closing.

The return of Cuban stars Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial has fueled the offense, though at this time only Gracial has been hitting. In 12 games Gracial is batting .341 with two homeruns and 5 RBIs. Despaigne has only appeared in three games since his return and has yet to have an extra base hit, batting just .250.

Catcher Ryoya Kurihara is having a breakout season in his first opportunity to start. He is hitting .261, with 11 homeruns and 45 RBIs. Those 45 RBIs put him second on the team. Last year he only played in 32 games. He would be the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the Pacific League if he is still eligible.

Wladimir Balentien, who holds the NPB record for most homeruns in a season has been a big disappointment (.196, 9, 22). He was a big free agent signing for the Hawks this year and could lose playing time with the arrivals of Despaigne and Gracial. His contributions have been minimal.

Kodai Senga is normally the ace of the staff, but he has had a disappointing season by his standards (5-2, 3.67). The Hawks have been relying on Shuta Ishikawa (6-0, 2.36). Last year Shuta only appeared in two games after showing great promise his first two years. The season is still early, but he appears to be having a breakout season as well.

The bullpen is where the Hawks reign supreme, even without their ace closer Dennis Sarfarte the last three years. Yuito Mori has taken over the closers role with 37 and 35 saves the last two years. This year he has 17 saves with a 1.82 ERA. The top setup man in the NPB could be Cuban Livan Moinelo, who at one point had interest in playing in the major leagues. He has 24 holds and carries a 1.45 ERA. Last year and this year he has virtually been unhittable, striking out almost two batters per inning. His first two years in the NPB his results could be described as vanilla.

The Giants used to reign supreme in the NPB. Since the Hawks have won five of the last six NPB titles that reign appears to be over.

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