Thursday, October 29, 2015
CHawk championship: Fukuoka repeats as Japan Series Champions
The 2015 NPB season came to a close on Thursday night as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks shutout the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 5-0 in Game 5 of the Japan Series. It was their seventh title in franchise history and first repeat, being the first to win back-to-back since the end of the Saitama Seibu Lions "golden era" from a three-peat of 1990-1992.
Unfortunately for the rest of NPB, everyone is a loser unless you're a Hawks fan. This was arguably the easiest championship to predict since opening day. The talent was unmatched, their rotation was the best from top to bottom and their depth was also impressive.
No Seiichi Uchikawa? No problem. Expected Pacific League MVP Yuki Yanagita not hitting? Not an issue. This series was all about Lee Dae-Ho destroying the Swallows pitching which was represented one last time in Game 5 with a two-run home run.
The 3-6 part of the lineup with Uchikawa, Yanagita, Nobuhiro Matsuda and Lee was dangerous, but the Japan Series showed other parts of the Hawks lineup flexing their muscles. Shuhei Fukuda was getting on base, catchers Hiroaki Takaya and Toru Hosokawa were getting timely hits, Kenta Imamiya was a pest and the list goes on.
Kimiyasu Kudo was given the keys to an already loaded team and defending champion the Hawks were able to improve their regular season dominance with 90 wins. After beginning the season slowly through May, they would only lose a handful of games in the last four months.
The hangover was short lived and even when they lost, it would still be a tough outing because they would strand guys on the bases consistently. Seibu won a series in Fukuoka for the first time in seven years early in the season, giving us a tease. However, that series itself was full of Houdinis and no one was able to counter the Hawks in the end.
We thought the Lions could be the best answer to the Hawks with their lineup, but it wasn't meant to be. In the end, all 11 teams were playing for losing rights against the Hawks. No one stood a chance, as only the Hawks could beat themselves.
The Hawks don't have a true ace, but the balance in the rotation is unreal. From an undefeated Rick van den Hurk to a young Shota Takeda, they didn't need to shutout their opponent on a night-by-night basis. Their lineup would frustrate anyone and opponents would have to earn every win.
Before the season started, the Yafuoku Dome moved their fence in by 19 meters, making a "porch" for any power hitters to get a home run. Yanagita and Matsuda would have career highs as a result, but Hawks pitchers would also give up an amount as well.
While Lee and Yanagita won the Japan Series and will win the Pacific league MVP awards respectively, you could argue it was a team effort. Imamiya's defense was important while Matsuda proved extra pop. Even Takaya and Hosokawa were great at throwing guys out even though their bats are liabilities.
The rotation from top to bottom was stacked with balance, while Dennis Sarfate wasn't only the best closer in NPB, but can make an argument for being the best pitcher. He would always be good for one strikeout per outing.
The numbers don't lie: The Hawks were the best team in Japan and no one was stopping them. We could very well be in the midst of a dynasty because of how strong they are not only for the present, but the future as well.
Their ni-gun team also won this year's championship and they stock players for the long term. The rich are only getting richer as the Hawks had the highest payroll in Japan.
For everyone else, it's back to the drawing board. There can always be changes, but it doesn't look like there's an end in sight.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 3:45 PM