The regular season ended on Monday when Tokyo came from behind to beat Yomiuri, and the Swallows’ resulting 71-72-1 record earned them praise for a modest improvement over last year and the team’s first ever advancement to the Climax Series.
The team’s solid play at the end of 2009 was a refreshing bookend to a season that saw a strong first half (14 games above .500 at one point) followed by a very deep canyon during the summer.
Throughout the season, a few players were able to soldier on rather consistently and help give the birds a shot at the playoffs. In fact, three players were so good at performing their roles that they ended up at the very top of the league.
Shohei Tateyama (no. 25) with 16 wins (an honor he shares with Chunichi’s Yoshimi). 2009 was the first year that he led the league in wins. Tateyama threw 188 1/3 innings for the birds which was good enough for fourth in the Central behind Yoshimi (189 1/3), Yokohama’s Miura (195 1/3), and Tokyo’s Ishikawa (198 1/3). He also tied Yoshimi for the league lead with three games in which he didn’t concede a walk. Tateyama tied for ninth in the league with 126 strikeouts (Hiroshima’s Lewis took the honors with 186 K’s). He finished out the year with a 16-6 record, and a 3.39 ERA. Look for the Tokyo ace to be on the mound tonight versus the Chunichi Dragons in game one of the first round of the Climax Series.
Kazuki Fukuchi (no. 3) with 42 steals. This is the second year in a row that Fukuchi has come out on top in the criminality department. Like his victory in 2008, Fukuchi swiped 42 bags. This year, however, it took him 137 games to do so as opposed to 131 last year–possibly due to a drop in production at the plate (.366 OBP in 2008; .310 in 2009). Hopefully Fukuchi can get on base a little more often in the playoffs and give the opposition catchers some headaches.
On Base Percentage (OBP):
Norichika Aoki (no. 23) led the league with a .400 OBP this season. This is absolutely phenomenal when you think about the start of the season when he could only get to first care of walks or beanballs. He didn’t really start hitting until July! Aoki carried the team during the final two months of the season, and they wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs without him. His ability to get on base naturally led to him ending up at the top of the runs scored standings. Along with Yomiuri’s Sakamoto and Chunichi’s Blanco, Aoki crossed home plate 87 times this season. He also notched 66 rbi’s this season while improving at hitting with runners in scoring position (.277 BA in 2008; .307 in 2009). Accordingly, don’t be too surprised if you see him batting fourth this evening. In 16 games at cleanup this season, Aoki hit .429 and amassed 12 rbi’s (3 home runs). He is, without a doubt, the most dangerous bat in the Tokyo lineup. If Aoki hits well at Nagoya Dome, the team should have a good chance of making it to Yomiuri Land next week.