Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2017 Climax Series: Pennant winners have high expectations


The 2017 Climax Series for the Pacific and Central Leagues begin soon. Here's how we see both sides. A reminder that the pennant winners of both leagues are automatically awarded one game for finishing in first, but we will write this as if there were 7 games to not confuse you. (Example: Eagles in 6 means they won four games and lost one on the field, Carp in 4 means they played three games on the field and won all of them).

Pacific League

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Hawks win the pennant after nearly missing a year ago thanks to a hot run by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. This year, they had a slow April, but went on a tear after interleague play. Yuki Yanagita will likely be hurt and not playing, but they have plenty of options and depth as a whole.

While Kodai Senga is arguably their best starter, he spent multiple stints off the ichi-gun and other young Hawks players would get playing time as a rebuild on the fly. Nao Higashihama carried the load of innings, Shunta Ishikawa and Yuki Matsumoto snuck in some starts with the former playing well. Seiji Uebayashi was a starting outfield and Takuya Kai will be the next catcher with the fast pop time.

The addition of Alfredo Despaigne gave them the pop they needed after missing Dae-Ho Lee from 2015. A good chunk of the year was also without Seiichi Uchikawa, but the Hawks managed to dominate the Pacific League anyways.

Closer Dennis Sarfate also set the new single-season saves record and continued his strikeout dominance when taking the 9th inning. Softbank has a hoard of depth at all positions if needed.

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Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

The Eagles outpitched the Saitama Seibu Lions in the opening stage of the Climax Series thanks to Takayuki Kishi in Game 2 and a combination of bullpen and Minabu Mima in Game 3. While they were shutout against the Lions in Game 1, the bats did just enough damage against Ken Togame and Ryoma Nogami before they were able to feast on the bullpen.

Eigoro Mogi and Zelous Wheeler were the two who rounded out the dangerous offense in the first stage. The bullpen did their jobs in Games 2 and 3, but going to Fukuoka will be a different animal.

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Outlook

Christian: The first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series has been viewed by spectators as the rights to lose to the Hawks. Not just because of the one-game advantage, but for how the Eagles have to put in a fourth starter to begin the next series. The depth is not there on paper and the Hawks are expected to cruise, but I think the Eagles pitching will prevent a shutout in the wins column.  Hawks in 5

(Wes pick to come later)


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Central League

Hiroshima Carp

The Carp won their second straight pennant and pulled away almost as early as last year when clinching it. While the talent is still there, the path was different than expected. Seiya Suzuki had an MVP caliber season prior to his injury while Yoshihiro Maru and Ryosuke Kikuchi were able to put two consecutive strong years together.

Their largest surprise was the production they got out of their young starters. Kazuki Yabuta was a reliever converted to starter. Yusuke Nomura led the team in innings while former first round picks Daichi Osera and Akitake Okada were not flashy, but solid. Kris Johnson had an injury prone season and down year after being the reigning Sawamura Award winner, but the offense was able to carry the team up to this point.

Hiroshima's biggest weakness is their bullpen, where Takeru Imamura, Shota Nakazaki and Jay Jackson have had their ups and downs. Jackson in particular lost playing time in the middle of the year, but regained his setup role at the end.

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Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars made it through the first round after controversially playing a second game in the puddles of Koshien Stadium against the Hanshin Tigers. Despite all the weather issues, Game 3 did not have a problem where Joe Wieland and the bats all showed up at once.

Consider the rainy game a bad outlier, where the ball took some strange bounces in a missy field, but the Baystars pitching was solid otherwise. Hitting is still a slight concern, but it was important that Jose Lopez got the big home run in the Game 3. This is a rematch of last year's Climax Series with Wieland, Haruhiro Hamaguchi and Spencer Patton being the new additions while the Carp rotation is different.

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Outlook

Christian: The Baystars took another step forward from last year's team that didn't have to see Tomoyuki Sugano. However, they still got the benefit of playing in a muddy field which changed the complexion of the series. With the Carp being a little raw in comparison to last year combined with an improved Baystars team, I think this can be competitive. I'm still sticking with the odds and the favorite, but the Baystars have a fair shot at this considering they went 12-12 against the Carp (Not counting a final regular season game that was pointless for Hiroshima).  Carp in 6

(Wes pick to come later)

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Kikuchi and Yamakawa win final monthly 2017 MVP award


The final monthly awards for NPB were announced by the league on Tuesday night. From the results, the Saitama Seibu Lions swept the Pacific League as Hotaka Yamakawa and Yusei Kikuchi were named hitter and pitcher of September/October, respectively. 

To end the regular season, Yamakawa hit .326 with 10 HRs, 19 runs, 30 hits, 68 total bases and a .739 slugging average. In 10 of those games, he recorded multiple hits.

Yamakawa won this award for the second consecutive time as he was named the August 2017 recipient last month. He became fourth player in league history to win the monthly award in back to back months. The other three are Doug Jennings (July and August 1995), Ichiro Suzuki (June and July 1998), and Yuki Yanagita (August and September 2015), according to YakyuDB (Gen).

"I made my presence known and I felt a lot of pressure a little being the Lions cleanup hitter," Yamakawa said in a statement. "When I got up to the ichi-gun, at the beginning, I wasn't hitting well and at that time I've been putting pressure on how to do better if I do not hit well today. As the cleanup hitter, I firmly have confidence of going out with absolute results." 

Kikuchi earned his first career monthly MVP award with a 3-0 record, 0.29 ERA, 31 IP, 37 strikeouts and one shutout in four games through September and October. On September 7, he pitched a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts.

On September 14, he went into Sendai and earned a win over his senpai and predecessor ace Takayuki Kishi. 

"That game was purely enjoyable," Kikuchi said.

Including this month, the Lions officially earned five monthly MVP honors in 2017. Ken Togame (June 2017) and Shogo Akiyama (July 2017) were previously winners in the summer while Yamakawa won his first award in August.

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Central League monthly MVP winners:

OF Ryuhei Matsuyama (Carp)

P Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants)

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Seibu Lions 2017 playoff digest: Season ends in Climax Series


The Saitama Seibu Lions season ended against Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the first stage of the Climax Series. Here is how it all went down:

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Game 1 would have Takahiro Norimoto against Yusei Kikuchi. Hideto Asamura drew first blood with a two-run HR in the bottom of the 1st after Sosuke Genda was hit by a pitch. After Kikuchi drew multiple double plays, the Lions erupted in the bottom of the third.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and Ginjiro Sumitani hit a two-out double to make it 5-0. Shogo Akiyama and Sosuke Genda slapped timely singles to add two more runs.

Kikuchi escaped a bases loaded situation in the top of the 4th and it was smooth sailing from there. Okawari-kun crushed a three-run HR off Koji Aoyama to make it 10-0.

It wasn't dominant, but Kikuchi earned the shutout victory with nine strikeouts and good defense behind him.

Lions 10, Eagles 0

Game notes:

-With the HR, Okawari-kun tied the league record for most home runs in the Climax Series with 8.

-Every Lions starter had a hit or got on base. Sumitani and Yamakawa had modashos.

-Including the postseason, Kikuchi went 9-0 against the Eagles in nine games, earning a win in each of them.

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Game 2 had Ken Togame facing Takayuki Kishi. The first pitch of the game was sent to the stands thanks to a leadoff HR by Eigoro Mogi. After Kishi worked through giving up a double, the Eagles added two more runs with a base hit by Shintaro Masuda and a safety squeeze from Motohiro Shima.

Despite the slow start, Togame put in a quality start and kept the Lions in the game with 6.1 innings and one strikeout. He did this with only 87 pitches.

Shogo Noda came in with the hopes to retire two left handed batters, but walked two and later gave up an infield single to Mogi from a full count, scoring a run from second base to make it 4-0.

Kishi dominated his former team, with 6.1 innings, eight strikeouts and only three hits allowed without a walk. The Lions scored a run in the 8th inning off an RBI groundout, but that was as close as it got.

The Lions had one final chance off Yuki Matsui in the 9th inning, but came up short when Shuta Tonosaki and Okawari-kun struck out with two runners on base.

Eagles 4, Lions 1

Game note:

-Masatoshi Okada started at catcher and went 0-2.

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The elimination game featured Ryoma Nogami facing Minabu Mima. Nogami would start the game on a slow note, where he walked three batters and gave up an RBI infield single to Zelous Wheeler for a 1-0 Eagles lead. Mima earned a hard shutdown inning where Shogo Akiyama was stranded at third base and two batters struck out.

Wheeler singled to leadoff the 4th and advanced to second base on a bunt. Nogami threw a wild pitch and Wheeler scored from second base. His night ended after 3.2 innings, where he struggled to get the leadoff batter out in three out of four tries. Noda retired Eigoro Mogi with a runner on second to end the top of the 4th.

The Lions chased Mima in the 5th inning after two runners were on base and Ginjiro Sumitani hit a sacrifice fly. The tying run was on third base again, but Akiyama struck out against Yuhei Takanashi. 

Offensively, the Lions blew multiple chances despite only having a few hits. There were runners on base in particularly the 6th inning, but failed situational hitting left a dismal result.

Brian Schlitter came in the top of the 8th and retired the first two batters. However, he gave up a solo HR to Wheeler and a two-run HR to Masuda for the killer finish.

Asamura hit a solo HR, but it was too late. The Lions bats weren't going to score for the rest of the night as their season ended.

Eagles 5, Lions 1

Game note:

-This is the first time in Pacific League Climax Series history where the winner of Game 1 of the first stage did not advance to the next round.

-The Lions have lost in the Climax Series for the third straight trip. Last two outings were in 2012 and 2013, both at home.

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As the season has finished, we want to say thanks for joining us on social media and on our blog. More analysis and coverage to come in the future.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Five Lions named to Samurai Japan for Asia Professional Baseball Championship


Five players from the Saitama Seibu Lions were announced as players for Samurai Japan for the Asia Professional Baseball Championship on Thursday night.

Katsunori Hirai, Hotaka Yamakawa, Sosuke Genda, Shuta Tonosaki and Shinsaburo Tawata will be representing Japan among the Lions. To be eligible, a player had be born after January 1, 1993 or be with their professional team for three years or less. This counts as a U24 baseball event.

Genda and Tawata are both 24 while Hirai and Tonosaki were drafted in 2016 and 2014, respectively. Samurai Japan was also allowed to have three older players who can fit the overage bracket. Yamakawa would be one of the three as he was drafted in 2013 and will turn 26 in November.

Yamakawa, Genda and Tonosaki all received significant playing time with the ichi-gun in 2017. Genda was second in stolen bases with 37 and had tremendous defense. Tonosaki became a starting outfielder for majority of the season and also had his share of stolen bases while maintaining that he belongs with the ichi-gun. He is the only player on this list to spend the entire 2017 season at the ichi-gun level.

Tawata spent the first half of this season with an injury, but came on well in the second half as a starter. Hirai would be a medium leverage pitcher to take innings in middle relief. Yamakawa had the strongest season of the bunch, where he hit 23 home runs after being called up in the second half.

Nien Ting Wu will also be participating in this tournament representing Taiwan. With the Lions, he appeared in 15 ichi-gun games batting .231/.295/.333. He practiced playing multiple positions, including the outfield at the ni-gun level. 

The APBC begins on November 16 with all games taking place in Tokyo Dome. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are the three participants as they'll play each other in a round robin format. The top two countries after all the games will play a championship deciding game, meaning a team will play three games at most.

Best of luck to all Lions players involved next month.

Here is the remainder of the Samurai Japan roster:

Pitchers:

Taisuke Yamaoka (Buffaloes)
Katsuki Matayoshi (Dragons)*
Yasuaki Yamasaki (Baystars)
Taisuke Kondo (Buffaloes)
Shota Imanaga (Baystars)
Kazuki Yabuta (Carp)
Tsuyoshi Ishizaki (Tigers)
Mizuki Hori (Fighters)
Kazuto Taguchi (Giants)

Catchers:

Kensuke Kondo (Fighters)
Tatsuhiro Tamura (Marines)
Shingo Usami (Giants)
Takuya Kai (Hawks)*

Infielders:

Yota Kyoda (Dragons)
Shogo Nakamura (Marines)
Ryoma Nishikawa (Carp)
Go Matsumoto (Fighters)

Outfielders:

Louis Okoye (Eagles)
Masayuki Kuwahara (Baystars)
Seiji Uebayashi (Hawks)

*Overage bracket


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

2017 Central League Climax Series: Hanshin taking on streaky Baystars


While we already previewed the Pacific League's first round of the Climax Series, the Central League also has an intriguing matchup of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars and Hanshin Tigers. Here is our breakdown:

Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars came into this season with higher expectations after finishing in A-class for the first time in the Climax Series era. They were able to repeat this success with a third place finish, but some will argue that they were the beneficiaries of the Yomiuri Giants underachieving. The Giants had a poor 6-12 stretch in interleague play with an overlapping 13 game losing streak and a stretch of 1-15 when it ended.

DeNA clinched A-class on the last week of the regular season as the Hanshin Tigers knocked out toe Kyojin. This year's team had some down seasons offensively with some inflated numbers due to their hitter's ballpark. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo only had 28 home runs and Takayuki Kajitani wouldn't get on base as well for a leadoff hitter. It took a batting title season from Toshiro Miyazaki and a tremendous rebound year from Jose Lopez to do enough with the bats.

Starting pitching continued its upward trend, where Shota Imanaga avoided a sophomore slump, Shoichi Ino carrying the innings and Joe Wieland being a solid foreign import signing. Middle relief and inconsistent hitting has been the Baystars weakness as they've been dependent on the home run. Spencer Patton, Tomoya Mikami and Kenjiro Tanaka were all shaky, but Yasuaki Yamasaki had a better season and re-earned the closer spot in the middle of the year.

At 73-65-5, Alex Ramirez's (Rami-chan) Baystars had a winning record for the first time since 2001.  The Baystars will probably use Imanaga, Wieland and Ino in this series.

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Hanshin Tigers

Tomoaki Kanemoto entered his second season as the team's manager and with the trend among the Tigers, this year determines a make or break scenario for the long run. The Tigers started slow out of the gate defensively with plenty of kids in the field.

Hanshin's ultimate strength was pitching with Randy Messenger, Takumi Akiyama and Atsushi Nomi being the mainstays in the rotation. Messenger spent the last two months injured while others had to step it up. Their bullpen took the biggest leap with Rafael Dolis closing, Marcos Mateo as the setup man, while supporters Akifumi Takahashi, Kentaro Kuwahara, Suguru Iwazaki and Kyuji Fujikawa all had roles in middle relief.

The only disappointment in all of this was Shintaro Fujinami spending most of the year in ni-gun as he struggled with control. He is slated to not play in this series.

Offense has been up and down, where free agent signing Yoshio Itoi spent a chunk of the season injured, but was solid in the second half when healthy. Takashi Toritani kept his iron man streak intact with a decent year at the plate, but some positions would change from opening day. Like last year, it was all about getting experience for players and a few were able to step it up.

Masahiro Nakatani, Shunsuke Fujikawa and Hiroki Uemoto were all decent in perspective with Nakatani leading the team in home runs. Kosuke Fukudome is getting up there in age, but he still had a role with 18 home runs. An aging Takashi Toritani had a rebound season playing 3B. Even Hayata Ito, an outfield viewed as a first round bust, has become a solid pinch hitter.

Shun Takayama, the team's 2015 first round pick, was disappointing and was sent to ni-gun, Fumiya Hojo would lose his job at shortstop and foreigners Eric Campbell and Jason Rogers only provided a short term solution for a handful of games.

Like Rami-chan, Kanemoto doesn't have a  track record and this will be his first postseason as manager. It's likely the Tigers will have Messenger, Akiyama and Nomi taking the three games.

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History

As earlier mentioned, this is only the second time the Baystars have played a postseason game in the Climax Series era with the first being last year. Prior to 2016, their last playoff game was in the 1998 Japan Series.

Hanshin missed the postseason after a poor September in 2016 in Kanemoto's first year. They were an A-class team from 2013-2015 and made the Japan Series as a second place team in 2014.

The Tigers won the head to head series 14-10-1 in the regular season. Strangely enough, the road team would do better when these two teams played, where Hanshin dominated Yokohama Stadium going 8-3-1.  This means DeNA won the games at Koshien going 7-6, but this record shouldn't mean too much.

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Outlook

Christian: I think the Tigers rotation and bullpen will be no match for the Baystars, but anything can happen. DeNA needs to get to the starter early, because if Hanshin goes to their bullpen, it's over on paper. The Baystars starting pitching can keep them in games, but I don't trust their pen, nor their streaky bats who live and die by the home run. Kanemoto's inexperience could hurt them in the series as Rami-chan is one who has strong preparation skills. However, I'm picking the team with more talent and stronger pitching over an intriguing rotation, but no middle relief. Yokohama's team won't be as lucky like last year when avoiding Tomoyuki Sugano.  Tigers in 3. 

Wes: Like Christian, I see this series pretty similarly. I can see the Baystars matching the Tigers in one game, but not two, which is why it's hard for me to find a path for the Baystars to steal another Climax Series. I think the venue of Koshien not only favors the Tigers because of the home field advantage but more so in the fact that it's a pitcher's park which will play into the strengths of the Tigers and less so for the Baystars. If Rami-chan does get it done, there has to be something to be said for his motivation skills but I just don't see in this series. Tigers in 2.

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For more in-depth Tigers coverage, The Hanshin Tiger can take you there. 

Follow @TheHanshinTiger

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Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 21


This is the 21st Episode of the Saitama Seibu Lions podcast.  Christian and Wes discuss the team as a whole, previewing the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for stage 1 of the Climax Series and more!

Other topics include retiring players, new managers and even a few general national headlines.


We apologize for any errors or mistakes that may have happened.  Click here to download. Click here if the embed doesn't work.

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As a bonus, Christian and Wes ranked all 6 NPB playoff teams in a game format. Here were the results:

1. Softbank Hawks
2. Hiroshima Carp
3. Seibu Lions
4. Hanshin Tigers
5. Rakuten Eagles
6. Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Why are they ranked like this? It's explained in a bonus podcast episode below. Listen to find out.



Click here to download. Click here if the embed doesn't work.

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Special thanks to Max G. for the graphic. 

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Monday, October 9, 2017

2017 Climax Series: Previewing Seibu and Rakuten


The Saitama Seibu Lions will be facing the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at MetLife Dome from October 14-16. For the first time 2013, the Lions clinched A-class and finished second place in the Pacific League. This is also Rakuten's first postseason trip since 2013, when they won the pennant under Senichi Hoshino as the manager and Masahiro Tanaka as the ace.

In our preview we'll break down each position and history on both teams leading up to this point.

Background:

As earlier mentioned, the Lions are in the postseason for the first time in four years. The Lions longest stretch of finishing in B-class (Bottom 3) prior to 2014-2016 was 1979-1981, where it was the first three years as Seibu Lions in Tokorozawa. The 1979 Lions were an inherited mess, coming from a team with no identity, scandal and multiple sales in the previous decade. It was also the last year they came in dead last place in the Pacific League.

Coming into the year, Seibu was not a popular pick for A-class under new manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji. There were pitching question marks as well as a poor defense in 2016 that Tsuji needed to fix. The consensus feeling on the Lions was that the could hit at will, but not out-hit their pitching staff.

In the era of the Climax Series (since 2007), the Lions have only advanced to the final round twice in 2008 and 2011.They come in second place three times in 2010, 2012 and 2013, but came up short each time. The Lions did advance as the second place team when the Pacific League exclusively had a playoff in 2004, where that team won the Japan Series.

Rakuten is a recent expansion team due to the merger of Orix Blue Wave and Kintetsu Buffaloes coming the Orix Bufaloes. This is only their third year in A-class and in their last trip back in 2013, they won the Japan Series.

The Eagles were a trendy surprise A-class pick among the three teams who finished in B-class for 2016. They added ex-Lion Takayuki Kishi in the offseason and manager Masataka Nashida had them trending up offensively based on his track record.

In 2009, the first Climax Series appearance for the Eagles, Rakuten came in second place and swept the Softbank Hawks to make the final round. Neither team has faced each other in a postseason series until now.

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Rotation

The Lions are likely to use Yusei Kikuchi, but the question of who comes afterwards is anyone's guess. Ryoma Nogami has done a good job to stay in the rotation for the whole year. Ken Togame was initially the team's 6th starter, but showed he belonged with the ichi-gun.

Brian Wolfe carried the load for most of the first half, but has fallen off on the second half. Shinsaburo Tawata is also intriguing after he had a slow start, but has been respectable in the second half. There are plenty of options, but the decision on who to play after Kikuchi is the question mark.

It was announced that Kikuchi will take Game 1, Togame will take Game 2. Nogami or Tawata could be going if there is a Game 3.

The Eagles three probable pitchers are clear cut in comparison. Takahiro Norimoto is the team's ace and Kishi is part of the 1-2 punch. A potential Game 3 could be an interesting decision for Nashida, but it will likely be Minabu Mima as the third pitcher.

Norimoto and Kishi are a better duo than the combination that the Lions put out on paper and have the experience as well when adding Mima. Eagles get an advantage given the Lions uncertainty.

Edge: Eagles

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Bullpen

It was Rakuten's bullpen as one of the biggest flaws in 2016. They would get quality starts only to have the bullpen crumble. This year, Yuki Matsui had a rebound season and Hiroyuki Fukuyama had an unbelievable stretch without allowing a run to begin the year. Frank Herrmann and Yuhei Takanashi are also intriguing options if needed.

Despite the quality and turnaround, the second half has not been kind to the Eagles where Matsui was injured. The rest of the team went through a funk which trickled to the bullpen. Do we get a first half or second half Eagles bullpen in the postseason?

The Lions also had a strong first half where Tatsushi Masuda has remained the closer where there were some hiccups. Tsuji rode Kazuhisa Makita and Brian Schlitter for the 7th and 8th innings where both were solid in the first half. Other options out of the bullpen include lefty specialists Shota Takekuma, Shogo Noda and Tomomi Takahashi, who is coming off Tommy John surgery.

Like the Eagles, the Lions had an awful second half in middle relief where Makita and Schlitter struggled to protect a lead. The Lions were able to win due to blowing out their competition in games, but when everything is on the line, the bullpen is more likely to falter.

Based on "What have you done for me lately?", both sides are an even matchup as they limp into the postseason. However, the Lions have better depth and more options compared to the Eagles.

Edge: Lions

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First Base

"Ginji" Akaminai has moved around the infield for his career but will likely start at 1B for the series. He was a clutch player from that 2013 team and has the grit for the postseason with his experience.

Hotaka Yamakawa burst onto the scene in the second half of the year for the Lions and has kept his job at first base. His defense and range aren't as impressive at Ginji, but he has the pop to do damage as he won player of the month for August.

Ginji is the more proven player, but Yamakawa's pop and recent trends give him a slight advantage for Seibu.

Edge: Lions

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Second Base

Hideto Asamura is coming off another solid season in his first year as the team's captain. Hovering close to .300 and coming just shy of 100 RBI and 20 HRs, Asamura continues to bat in the heart off the order for the Lions with adequate defense.

Kazuya Fujita is a defensive whiz known for his range and fielder. He has an above average bat for a second baseman, but hasn't been healthy for most of the year.

Asamura has the advantage based on the level of his bat alone. Fujita's only argument is what he does with his glove.

Edge: Lions

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Third Base

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura has been limited for most of the year and has dropped in the Lions batting order. His defense is decent, but he hasn't hit for average in 2017 with only pop.

Zelous Wheeler is having a good season bumping up his average above .270 while reaching the 30 HR benchmark for the first time in NPB. He's also versatile enough to play in the outfield if the Eagles need him.

Combining the pop that both players provide, there's no question that Wheeler has the edge comparing these two. His defense and batting average are better, no doubt.

Edge: Eagles

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Shortstop

Sosuke Genda is likely to win Pacific League rookie of the year by leading the league in stolen bases and having the third highest number of hits for a first year player. His defense has been magical, giving the Lions new life even though he has several errors.

Eigoro Mogi should have won the rookie of the year award last season and had an MVP caliber first half. However, injuries and platooning have limited Mogi's appearances as he wasn't in every game.

Genda is the faster player who is better defensively, but Mogi's bat is stronger without a doubt. When Mogi is healthy, he's a core-four player for the Eagles, giving them the advantage here.

Edge: Eagles

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Outfield

Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko and Shuta Tonosaki are probably the fastest outfield trio in NPB. All three of them have range, but not the greatest arms. Tonosaki earned his starting job after impressing in left field, which later became right field. Akiyama is coming off a career year with 25 HRs, even though he had 216 hits in 2015. Defending stolen base king Kaneko is still dangerous on the bases as Tonosaki joins him with great speed.

The Eagles used Hiroaki Shimauchi and Carlos Peguero for majority of the season in the OF. Takero Okajima was an all-star for 2016, but had fallen off in 2017. Louis Okoye has been the most intriguing position prospect as a raw talent, but injuries have made his ichi-gun season short.

While Okoye has a lot of potential to do damage, the Lions outfield is more well-rounded and balanced with a proven track record compared to Rakuten's.

Edge: Lions

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Catcher

Ginjiro Sumitani and Motohiro Shima have both played for Samurai Japan, where the former replaced the latter in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Shima has the better reputation, but had a poor season at the plate.

Sumitani has been smarter as a hitter this year while likely benefiting from BABIP. He hasn't been an everyday catcher with Masatoshi Okada getting some games, but his defense is unquestioned. Based on 2017. Gin-chan gets the nod.

Edge: Lions

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Manager

Hatsuhiko Tsuji entered his first season as a manager after spending several years as a coach. He made his goal simple, which was to focus on defense. Obviously has no track record or postseason experience being the man in charge until now.

Masataka Nashida has led the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to Pacific League pennants in 2001 and 2008, respectively. In both outings, his teams would lose the Japan Series. When hired, this was initially viewed as a retread, but it made plenty of sense for an Eagles team who struggled offensively in 2015 under Dave Okubo. Nashida was the predecessor to current Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama.

Under Nashida, the Eagles offense has taken off with less stolen bases, but stronger as a hitting team. Plate discipline and hitting were his strengths at improving the Fighters when Trey Hillman left and it has carried over to Sendai.

With Nashida being more experienced, he has a slight edge over Tsuji, but you can make a good argument for the Lions skipper.

Edge: Eagles

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History: 

The Seibu Lions went 16-8-1 against the Eagles in 2017, which included a 10-game winning streak in the midst of this. Kikuchi also has an eight game streak of beating the Eagles.

Rakuten was strong in the first half when playing Norimoto and Kishi, but the Lions emerged victorious against the bullpen and back end of the Eagles bullpen.

Nashida's last playoff game was in 2011, which was fittingly against the Lions. It was the last time the Lions won a postseason series and was also the final time Yu Darvish played in NPB for the Fighters. This record means all but nothing as the Eagles will put out their best pitchers and should be a challenge.

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Outlook:

The Eagles looked like a pennant winning team in the first half of the year, but fell off the moment Yuki Matsui and Carlos Peguero were injured and the bullpen regressed. The offense wasn't clicking like it was in the first half, while the Lions went on a surge with a 13-game win streak.

Norimoto, Kishi and Mima will still be a tough matchup for the Lions as it is arguably more talented. Does the first half Rakuten team show up or the one we've seen since August?

For the Lions, the bats have been red hot since Yamakawa emerged as the starting 1B and the pitching held its ground. While we can't predict what will happen, we'll find out if the Lions can hit on Norimoto and Kishi. If not, they'll be in for a low scoring affair as the Rakuten starters are capable of stealing one in Tokorozawa.

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