2010 Interleague Preview

Tomorrow, weather permitting, the 6 Central League teams will play host to the 6 Pacific League teams, kicking off 5 weeks of Interleague play. This post will hopefully give you some information you will find useful.

What’s Interleague Play? How does it work?

During Interleague play each team will play every other team from the other league, twice at home and twice away. For those of you who aren’t good at math, that comes out to 144 games total, and 24 games per team. The DH rule will be in effect at all Pacific League parks, and all other Pacific League-specific rules (notably lineup reporting requirements) will not be used during Interleague play. The team with the best record after all the games have been played will be crowned Interleague Champion and will receive a cheque for 50 million yen (approx. 540,000 USD). A Pacific League team has been crowned Interleague Champion every year since the inception of Interleague play in 2005. The top player on the championship team will be named Interleague MVP and will receive a cheque for 2 million yen (approx. 21,500 USD). Two additional players, one from each league, who were not on the championship team will be recognized as valuable players. All wins and losses, as well as all individual statistics accumulated during Interleague play count in regular season totals.

How have the Swallows fared during Interleague play?

The Swallows have a total record of 79 wins and 65 losses during Interleague play since its inception in 2005. They have had a winning Interleague record in 3 out of the 5 seasons of Interleague play, coming in second in both 2006 and 2009.

Who are the Swallows playing?

What follows is a series of short summaries of all the Pacific League teams. I’ll tell you how they are doing this year, and throw out some players to watch out for during the game. They’re presented in the order we will be playing each team.

Orix Buffaloes
Last year’s Pacific League doormat, under new manager Akinobu Okada, are solidly in the race for 4th place with a record of 16-22-1. They come into Interleague play with a 2-7-1 over their last 10 games. Behind sluggers like Alex Cabrera, Greg LaRocca, and the young T-Okada, the Buffaloes lineup features some power but not much else. The Buffaloes also feature the worst pitching in the Pacific League with a team ERA of 4.55. Their best starting pitchers, Chihiro Kaneko and Mamoru Kishda, have been inconsistent both recording records of 2-3, with ERAs over 4.70. The Swallows have feasted on the Buffaloes compiling a 18-6 record against them in Interleague play, never failing to win the season series.

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
The always strong Hawks come into Interleague play with a record of 24-17-1, with a record of 6-3-1 over their last 10 games. The defending Interleague Champions, along with the Marines, are a half a game back of the league leading Seibu Lions, and are looking to use Interleague play as a springboard to the top of the league. The Hawks feature strong bats with Jose Ortiz leading NPB in homeruns with 13, and Munenori Kawasaki leading the Pacific League batting race with a .358 average. Hiroki Kokubo is also having a good season, hitting .300 with 8 homeruns. The Hawks are also aggressive on the basepaths leading the league with 59 stolen bases. In terms of pitching, Toshiya Sugiuchi just can’t seem to lose, racking up 7 wins in 8 starts, and closer Takahiro Mahara has saved 12 games while giving up only 1 earned run. In Interleague play the Hawks hold a 15-9 record over the Swallows.

Saitama Seibu Lions
Coming into Interleague play the Lions sit atop the Pacific League with a 25-16 record, with a 5-5 record over their last 10 games. The Lions sit atop the league on the strength of their pitching staff that boasts a league leading team ERA of 3.62. The rotation features Kazuyuki Hoashi with his league leading ERA of 1.27, 2009 Sawamura award winner Hideaki Wakui, and the reliable young Takayuki Kishi. Brian Sikorski leads the league with 13 saves. The Lions batters aren’t too shabby either, with sluggers Takeya Nakamura, Hiroyuki Nakajima, and Dermal Brown. The Swallows hold a 14-10 record over the Lions in Interleague play, but have split the season series every year over the last 3 years. Also, the Swallows have met the Lions in the Japan Series 3 times, coming away with the title twice, in 1993 and 1997.

Chiba Lotte Marines
The post-Bobby Valentine Marines came out of the gates swinging, opening the season with a 9-2-1 over their first 4 series. They’ve cooled down somewhat since then, mostly by being confounded by the Hawks, but they are still feature a dangerous team with a 23-15-1 record. The Marines feature a very robust offensive attack with 5 of the top 10 batting leaders wearing Marine colours. The Marines are the only team with a team OPS over .800, .820 to be exact, the next closest team is Seibu with a team OPS of .752. In layman’s terms, the Marines are patient at the plate, hit for average, and power. Former Major Leaguer Tadahito Iguchi is arguably having the best season out of the Marines batters, leading the league in doubles, walks, and OBS. Although hard slugging Kim Tae-Kyun, young captain Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and team batting leader Takashi Ogino, all have cases to make. The pitching hasn’t been too shabby either, with a team ERA of 3.97. However, beyond young ace pitcher Yoshihisa Naruse, all the other Marines starters have been somewhat inconsistent. Historically the Swallows hold a slight edge over the Marines in Interleague play with a record of 13-11.

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters
Last year’s Pacific League Champions have hit a serious snag in their quest to repeat, and are currently sitting at the bottom of the Pacific League standings with a record of 14-25-1. Things have started to look up for the Fighters as they have won 6 out of their last 10, and are on a 3 game winning streak going into Interleague play. The Fighters feature all-world pitcher Yu Darvish, who is leading the league with 78 strikeouts and who sports a health 1.79 ERA. Beyond Darvish, however, the Fighters have had trouble finding consistency in their starting pitchers. The Fighters feature 3 batters with .300+ batting averages in Kensuke Tanaka, Yoshio Itoi, and Tomohiro Nioka, but are having problems plating runners with only 145 runs batted in. The Fighters have only managed to hit 18 homeruns in 40 games, and their leading homerun hitter is former Swallows favourite Atsunori Inaba with just 4. The Swallows hold a 12-12 record against the Fighters in Interleague play, but that is distorted by the 5-1 record we recorded in the inaugural season of Interleague play.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
After losing manager Katsuya Nomura, last year’s Pacific League runner up are reverting back to their losing ways with a 16-23 record. Momentum is also not on the Golden Eagles’ side, with a 4 game losing streak coming into Interleague play. The Golden Eagles are like the Fighters in many ways, except instead of having one über pitcher in Yu Darvish, the Golden Eagles have three good, but sometime inconsistent, pitchers in Masahiro “Ma-kun” Tanaka, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Satoshi Nagai. Those three pitchers combine for 9 out of the Golden Eagles’ 10 league leading complete games. Unfortunately the Golden Eagles’ haven’t been able to score any runs just like the Fighters. But whereas the Fighters had three batters hitting .300+, the Golden Eagles only have one, Yusuke Takatsu. Catcher Motohiro Shima is the only other regular hitting above .300, but he hasn’t had enough at bats to qualify for the inclusion on the leaderboard. Veteran Takeshi Yamasaki, who lead the league in homeruns in 1996 and 2007, leads the team in homeruns with 4. Overall, the Golden Eagles have hit an anemic 16 homeruns in 39 games, and feature a league low .653 team OPS. The Swallows hold a 17-7 lifetime advantage of the Golden Eagles in Interleague play.

How do you think the Swallows will do in Interleague play?

I think if our pitching stays strong and our bats wake up like we saw in the last series, I think we have a decent shot at coming out of Interleague play with a winning record. If we can get lucky with some pitching matchups, I can see us going 14-10 by beating up on Orix, Nippon Ham, and Rakuten. But then again, seeing the kind of season we’ve been having so far, I can also easily see us going 10-14 or worse. I’m also curious to see how Takada will rejigger the lineup when we have the DH available.

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he's not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • Oh, been meaning to ask — is the Tsubamegun group coming up to Omiya for the game on the 18th at all? I was thinking to head up there and cheer for Yakult if I actually knew anyone going… I'll also be at the Fighters games at Jingu, but obviously on the wrong side. All of my Jingu trips this year so far have been for college ball — the timing has just been bad. I do hope to make it to section D again sometime soon though.

    • Deanna,
      I haven't heard anyone mention it, so it's somewhat safe to say that nobody around here will be making the trek.

      Probably see you at Jingu in the next couple of weeks.

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