Tokyo Swallows in the Playoffs?

So here we are: half a game out of third place (one game ahead of fifth), and 15 games remaining in the 2009 regular season.

The tears-inducing freefall of the last eight weeks notwithstanding, the birds are still in the playoff picture due to the blanket of mediocrity covering every team in the Central League, save Yomiuri and Chunichi.

But even if the Swallows do rediscover the form that had them 14 games above .500 earlier in the season, they have some stiff competition to deal with from here on out.

That said, Tokyo does have a good opportunity to put together a well-timed string of long-overdue wins. Here’s an abbreviated view of the pros and cons of the situation:

Why Tokyo will make the playoffs:

  1. The top team roster is loaded with pitchers who have a lot to prove. Next year’s paychecks are on the line right now.
  2. 13 of the team’s final 15 games will be played at Tokyo’s home park, Jingu Stadium.
  3. The third place Hanshin Tigers have only 11 games left on their schedule.
  4. Six of Hanshin’s final 11 games are against the Swallows, and five of those are at Jingu.
  5. Tokyo has five games coming up against the Yokohama BayStars. While the Stars have largely dominated the birds this season, the Swallows weren’t able to beat them until late in the season last year as well. The series win earlier this month might be viewed as evidence that the Swallows are beginning to regain the upper hand.

Why Tokyo won’t make the playoffs:

  1. Pitching. The Tokyo Swallows starting rotation and bullpen are in disarray. The team ERA is second worst in the Central League at 4.08. The team’s pitching has also given up 554 runs so far this season. The only team in the league that has surrendered more runs is the Yokohama BayStars. If you do the math, the team deserves to be in fifth place.
  2. Hanshin are playing much better baseball than the birds right now. They are 11-10 in September while the Swallows are a dismal 5-15-1.
  3. Marty Brown and his Hiroshima Carp (11-9 so far in September) are very capable of late season charges (a la 2008), and they could pose a problem for both the birds and the Tigers. They have 11 games left to go: four of those games are against Yomiuri, and another five are against Yokohama. As the Giants have already sealed the pennant, Hara will be looking to save arms for the Climax Series, and the “Yay, We Bought Another Championship!” hangover could well provide an opportunity for the Carp. Yokohama, well, is Yokohama.
  4. Shigeru Takada. Like his counterpart, Hara, over at Yomiuri, Tokyo’s manager is prone to making “creative” player changes when it’s a close game. The big difference between the two, however, is that Hara’s bench is about three times deeper than Takada’s. If the Swallows can’t put a bevy of runs on the board early in the game, Takada will do his best to squash late-inning opportunities.

Verdict:

It’s the Swallows to lose here, really. If they can at least split the six games with the Tigers, then they have a reasonable chance of sneaking into the Climax Series in the final couple games of the season. If they do make it, look for a margin of one game over the fourth place team. A record of 9-6 might just (barely) do the trick.

The biggest concern here is pitching, and this is where the team ultimately lives or dies (stating the obvious, I know). There are enough games left for Takagi and Yuki to get three starts each, but who else is prepared to fill in at this point? Everyone else has been shamefully second/third-rate since the break. Tateyama, Ishikawa, and Yoshinori are due for a memorable start, and the team desperately needs them to throw well enough to make sure that Muranaka stays on the bench.

In the end, I like Tokyo’s remaining schedule, but evidence suggesting that the team is capable of  a season-ending rally is scant. Furthermore, if Hanshin’s middle relievers can hold up during the final two weeks of the season, then the birds will watch the playoffs on TV like the vast majority of us.

However, if the starting rotation snaps back to life, anything is possible.

Please feel free to post your predictions/observations in the comments section.

About Christopher Pellegrini

Christopher is a budding sabermetrician and long-time supporter of Tokyo’s more lovable team, the Swallows. He has publicly volunteered, several times, that he plans to buy the team at some point in the future. When he finally runs the joint, it is likely that he will fine any player who swings at the first pitch or sac bunts (unless it’s a pitcher, of course). Follow him on Twitter: @chrispellegrini

  • I’ve given up predictions/lost the will to predict, so I’m just going to watch how it all unfolds.

    Whichever team does end up making it, they should be rather embarrassed entering the playoffs with what will likely be a sub .500 record.

    But then again that would prove hilarious if that 3rd placed team ended up doing over the Giants (if they managed to get past the Dragons of course). Not that will happen anywhere other than in my dreams though.

  • Okay, I’m a total novice at this stuff, but I’m gonna take a whack at it and say….

    2-1 in the first BayStars Series
    2-2 facing the Tigers
    0-1 to the Carp
    0-1 to the Tigers
    0-2 to the Giants
    2-0 to the BayStars
    2-0 to the Tigers (The Tigers will have clinched at this point, so they’ll be resting)

    Leaving us at 8-7, and probably not enough to make the playoffs. It’s still very possible, but I’ve only begun to follow since the beginning of August or so, and I’ve seen only horribleness. So, forgive me if I’m too pessimistic. And, I’m a total noob, so this is educated guessing and probably totally wrong, heh.

  • Christopher

    To my mind it depends on how the Dragons and Giants play. Do they try hard or do they let the lesser three beat them? Dragons have owned Tigers this season but do they want to play anymore? Second place is theirs and given their playoff record against the Tigers they might favour this option.

    Tigers have the talent but a coaching team unable to exploit this fully. Middle relief is good but the starters can be dodgy and with only one starter with a winning record and Andoh failing with every start it is not so good for the Tigers.

    Carp are playing at full ability, they can’t get any better so they will depend on how people play against them.

    Swallows can improve considerably but will they? Yokohama have the tendency to be tough towards the end of the season when they try to salvage some pride from yet another abysmal season. They aren’t likely to be a pushover.

  • Andy

    Big problem is that Swallows will have to go through their rotation as they have a game almost every night (only one day off from 2nd to 11th October). The teams coming to Jingu can just field their star pitchers, as they only have 1 or 2 games left in October. Makes it a lot tougher for the Swallows I guess.