Saturday, October 29, 2016
Fighters win 2016 Japan Series, continuing Pacific League dominance
The 2016 Nippon Series ended with a 10-4 victory by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters over the Hiroshima Toyo Carp on Saturday night. In what was a dramatic series, it would be the Pacific League once again getting it done for the fourth straight year.
Coming into this matchup, it was considered to be even with the talented Carp entering their first Japan Series since 1991. They had some of the best offensive numbers and the greatest run differential in 2016. The Fighters also had a strong year winning the Pacific League pennant after trailing the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks by as many as 11.5 games.
After going up 2-0 in the series, the Carp were initially cruising and led Game 3 in Sapporo through seven innings with Hiroki Kuroda leading the way. The Fighters were able to claw back in the 8th inning off Jay Jackson with a double by Sho Nakata that just fell and gave them the lead. While the Carp tied it in the top of the 9th, it would be Shohei Otani who delievered a walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th off Daichi Osera.
Game 4 was also a close battle with both teams tied 1-1 after seven innings. Jackson once again was the culprit to blow it with a two-run home run by Brandon Laird in the bottom of the 8th. To make matters worse with the bases loaded, Naoki Miyanishi struck out Yoshihiro Maru with a slider outside to end the game.
It would be a rinse and repeat performance by the Carp bullpen in games 5 and 6, where the relievers coughed up the runs. Shota Nakazaki gave up a sayonara grand slam to Haruki Nishikawa in Game 5 and a crooked six-run inning in Game 6 off Jackson sealed the deal.
What made the Fighters become the champions for 2016? Defense and next man up. Coming into the series, it was all about how Shohei Otani would be through both his pitching and hitting. He only pitched in Game 1 and wasn't even needed in Game 6 where they could have pinch hit him for Anthony Bass.
The defense for the Fighters has always been good due to the range from the infield and outfield. Speed has always been their specialty. Not only that, but the second half had the Fighters not pitch Otani for majority of it as the team stuck with a rotation by committee.
Hirotoshi Masui switching from being a closer to a starter was huge. Chris Martin took over the closer role for the regular season and helped take innings in the bullpen before he left with injury.
In the Japan Series, it was all about their foreign imports making waves. Anthony Bass, a pitcher who spent time in the rotation and bullpen throughout the season came in some high leverage situations in a tie game. He would earn three wins in the postseason with 6.2 scoreless innings and even had an RBI single in Game 6 with the bases loaded.
Brandon Laird literally proved to be a home run signing from 2015, where he was the Pacific League Home Run King in 2016 and hit three home runs in the Japan Series. He would win the Japan Series MVP title where he hit a grand slam in Game 6 and a game winning HR from Game 4.
The most unsung hero of the bunch was Luis Mendoza, who will be remembered for Game 5. He didn't appear in the Fighters rotation in September, but it was the game of his life on Thursday. After Hideki Kuriyama pulled the quick hook on starter Takayuki Kato in the 2nd inning, Mendoza took over and only allowed one hit and one walk through 5.2 innings.
Call it some terrible logic, but the Fighters were also battle tested unlike the Carp throughout the entire regular season. Facing talented lineups from the Hawks, Chiba Lotte Marines and Saitama Seibu Lions has made the rest of the competition stronger in the big picture. For the Carp, they would dominate the bottom class teams, but the Yomiuri Giants could have given them fits in a series.
In the 21st Century, the Pacific League has won the Japan Series 11 of a possible 16 times. They only years where the Central League won was 2001 (Swallows), 2002 (Giants), 2007 (Dragons), 2009 (Giants) and 2012 (Giants). With Central League teams going through a transition, it wouldn't be surprising if this trend continues in the next 2-3 years.
For MLB fans, this could be the start of something big as we could be on Shohei Otani watch sooner rather than later. It took a recruiting process to convince Otani to sign with the Fighters after he initially had intentions to go straight to North America from high school.
There were many promises left behind closed doors which drew Otani to the Fighters after he was drafted. One of the goals was most likely a Japan Series title, which the team now has. If there was a strict agreement to have him posted after a Japan Series championship, then there is a chance he could come to MLB in 2017.
However, this is still an unlikely scenario with how many years of control Otani has left. When the 2017 NPB season ends, the Fighters decision on Otani will be very interesting and it will be the most probable year he gets posted.
At the end of the day, the Fighters are champions for the first time since 2006, when Trey Hillman was managing and Yu Darvish was part of their rotation. Lots of questions remain on Daikan Yoh for next year, but in the meantime, they should enjoy the party and parades to come.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 10:04 AM