Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Japan Series: One drought is guaranteed to break

The Japan Series begins on October 22 where the Hiroshima Carp will face the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Both teams won the pennant in their respective leagues and were able to use the one-game advantage to propel them to where they are.

We will break down both teams and give you our picks for the seven-game series to end the year.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Fighters needed the one-game advantage more than anyone else among the six teams who made the postseason. They were able to secure the pennant on the final week of the regular season and play in the comforting home of Sapporo Dome. It wasn't an easy path, but they were able to get the job done with both hitting and enough pitching to move on.

Sho Nakata was the MVP of the Climax Series against the Fukuoka Softbnak Hawks and it was their offense which carried them when their pitching behind Kohei Arihara and Shohei Otani wasn't the greatest. Brandon Laird would hit an important three-run home run in the third game to give them a 3-1 advantage while Game 6 saw the team overcome an early 4-0 deficit.

Hirotoshi Masui's revival as a starting pitcher helped the team in the second half, but it was their band-aid rotation/bullpen as a whole with guys like Hirotoshi Takanashi and Anthony Bass who contributed. Speed and defense has been their specialty with Haruki Nishikawa, Daikan Yoh and Takuya Nakashima leading the way.

It doesn't hurt to have pop in the middle of the lineup behind Nakata, Laird and even Otani to balance things out. There's question marks about their bullpen, but their unorthodox managing and strict commitment to bunting has given them the result of wins.

This is the first time the Fighters have been in the Japan Series since 2012. Their last Japan Series championship was in 2006 under Trey Hillman and a very young Yu Darvish in their rotation.


Hiroshima Carp

The Carp steamrolled through the Climax Series where their pitching behind Yusuke Nomura and Kris Johnson took the first two games with shutouts. It was an insurmountable lead for the Yokohama DeNA Baystars as they only mustered up one win against Hiroki Kuroda in the third game. Despite having a close 8-7 affair in the clinching Game 5, the bullpen of Takeru Imamura, Jay Jackson and Shota Nakazaki shut the door and the Carp were sent to their first Japan Series since 1991.

Kosuke Tanaka was the MVP of the series getting on base and even hitting a home run to seal the deal. There is plenty of depth from Ryosuke Kikuchi, Yoshihiro Maru and Seiya Suzuki in their lineup.

The question mark is, have they been tested? The Yomiuri Giants were the only threat in the Central League and they failed to make it to the final stage.

One thing that's overshadowed is that the Carp have the longest Japan Series championship drought, stuck on 1984. Maybe there's no Colonel involved to make a curse story, but they also had the longest Japan Series appearance drought until now.


The Picks

Christian: The Carp are the more talented team based on numbers and their lineup. However, I like what the Fighters have gone through, which is slay the rest of the Pacific League and dealing with stronger competition throughout the course of the 143 game season. While I'm not impressed with the Fighters pitching depth behind Otani and Arihara, I still think they will be able to hit on the Carp rotation which also has its question marks with Kuroda and others.

This should be a classic series that will go down to the wire and I think the Fighters bats will wake up and make it tough on the Carp pitchers, both rotation and bullpen.

Fighters in 7


Wes: To take a line from my favorite baseball analyst Joe Sheehan, "the least important words in a playoff preview are the last ones," and that explains my thoughts on how even this matchup on paper seems to be. And just going through all the statistical categories, there aren't any that are glaring.

Here's what we know, the Carp and Fighters have similar contact rates see below.

NPB Playoff Teams:
Carp: 80.9%
Fighters: 80.6%
Hawks: 82.7%
Marines: 82.4%
Bay Stars: 80.4%
Giants: 82.0%

And on the pitching side, they Carp have a 10.2 K-BB ratio while the Fighters check in at 10.3. And on defense, they're both quite solid with both teams being up there in team UZR and defensive efficiency. And even baserunning-wise, both teams led their respective leagues with stolen bases. Where are the differences? The Carp hit more home runs than any team in NPB with 153, while the Fighters finished with 121.

With all that noise up above, it's time to look at x-factors and here's why I like the Carp, their bullpen trio of "IJN," is one that is a push button bullpen that makes it quite difficult for Carp manager, Koichi Ogata can screw up. The Fighters are having their own issues with their closer, Chris Martin who's not the guy from Coldplay. As a result, they responded by doing a little "bullpenning". As much as I like bullpenning as a strategy, it can also lead to unpredictable results because you just don't know which relievers just don't have it on that night.

I also like the Carp because "ball go far, team go far," and they still advanced to the Japan Series without a long ball explosion which could be on its way. All of this, of course, can be a moot point if Hideki Kuriyama rides Shohei Otani hard and Otani looks as unhittable as he did as a closer, but I still got the Carp ending the drought.

Carp in 6


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