Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2018 NPB Power Rankings: August Edition

With interleague play long gone, we're back to seeing some normal looking rankings after slamming the Central League last month.

Given how many teams currently have a losing record, this one was really hard to place. We've had some ups and downs, but here is how the power rankings stand after four months:


1. [^] (5) Saitama Seibu Lions: 53-35-1; 13-5 in July

The Lions take a surprise leap to first after we projected a freefall due to their bullpen woes. They've countered this with leaving the starting pitcher in longer and being dependent on offense. It's not the most orthodox path, but they're winning games with recent sayonara hits and the team being on a six game win-streak to end the month.

There's lots of potential here, but it still needs to get better. They're hoping Deunte Heath can take reins of the closer role and it's possible recent signing Kyle Martin will get a shot. Rotation depth isn't great, but it's adequate to survive. They've also become home run dependent in recent weeks, which can't be the only offense.


2. [^] (7) Hiroshima Carp: 52-35-1; 12-5 in July

The Carp are back after seeing the Central League again. At this point, you can all but have the magic number ready.  It's currently 37 at the time of this writing. Pitching still has its vulnerability, but Kris Johnson and Daichi Osera are both killing it. Having their catcher Tsubasa Aizawa with an unreal hitting slashline is icing on the cake to an embarrassment of riches offensively.


3. [v] (1) Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters: 51-39-1; 9-8-1 in July

Fighters take a slight fall after barely having a winning record for July. Everything looks decent on paper as Sho Nakata is rebounding well from a terrible 2017. Starting pitching is a slight concern as Nick Martinez has fallen a bit, but the bullpen looks stronger than the Lions unit. Of course it's also key that Kensuke Kondo is healthy in 2018.


4. [^] (8) Yomiuri Giants: 45-49-1; 12-11 in July

The Giants looked like a contender as the answer to the Carp, then they get swept in Hiroshima for three games. They're getting good contributions from imports who made their starts in July in Cristopher Crisostomo Mercedes and Taylor Jungmann with the latter suffering an injury. Those two carried the rotation when everything else remains up and down.

Bullpen is vulnerable as Scott Mathieson is hurt and depending on an old Koji Uehara won't get it done. Still, they're in A-class and should be in the hunt until season's end.


5. [v] (2) Tokyo Yakult Swallows: 43-45-1; 9-10 in July

The Swallows started the month going 0-7, but rebounded nicely in the middle after it looked like they would fall off Cloud 9. They also had a seven-game win streak where they swept the Giants away from Kanto. If anything, Junji Ogawa has this team competing, which is a huge step from last year's disaster and will pass their 2017 win total next month. Tetsuto Yamada is also back and it's only a matter of if he has enough stolen bases for the Triple 3.


6. [v] (4) Chiba Lotte Marines: 43-44-3; 7-10-3 in July

This was a strange month for the Marines with several ties, nearly going .500 initially. The rotation had some recent losses, but Mike Bolsinger continues to carry the team. Seiya "Aja" Inoue will finally get to the 20 HR club, something the team didn't have in 2017.

Unfortunately, Takashi Ogino's injury coming from a freak accident has hurt them a bit. They still have speed, but Ogino leading off was huge for the Marines.

7. [^] (10) Yokohama DeNA Baystars; 41-47-2; 9-11 in July

The Baystars continue to underachieve on the mound. Joe Wieland, Haruhiro Hamaguchi and Shota Imanaga have all been down and rookie Katsuki Azuma still leads the team in innings. It doesn't help that Jose Lopez is hurt, but this team still remains home run dependent with no balance in their offense. They remain inconsistent.


8. [^] (12) Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles: 39-51-1; 12-7 in July

The Eagles escape the cellar with their best baseball of the season under interim manager Yosuke Hiraishi. It's possible this month has all but secured his job for 2019. Their bullpen hasn't been great, but the hitting is showing better life with Kazuki Tanaka in their lineup. Don't look now, but the Eagles are suddenly 5.5 games out of A-class. There's a chance they can climb this uphill battle with August starting.


9. [^] (11) Chunichi Dragons: 42-51-1; 10-11 in July

The Dragons should be a last place team by far, but they're only in the Central League cellar by one game. Amazingly enough, by avoiding a disaster month, they could move up in the standings by not necessarily winning. Shinnosuke Ogasawara picked up a shutout despite the team being no-hit this month. Starting pitching is average, but the bullpen should further drop this team sooner than later. Hiroshi Suzuki is still very raw in this rebuilding season, but he has more upside than Koji Fukutani.


10. [v] (6) Fukuoka Softbank Hawks: 43-44-1; 6-11-1 in July

The Hawks have had their worst month of the season and are mired in mediocrity. They're still the Hawks and can't be written off, but the bullpen has continuing to rebuild all year. Hitting is the larger issue outside of Yuki Yanagita, where the offense has been limited. This is the latest in a season the Hawks have had a losing record since their last B-class season in 2013. They haven't struggled in the Kimiyasu Kudo era until now.


11. [v] (8) Hanshin Tigers: 39-46-1; 6-10 in July

The Tigers have no idea what hitting is and it remains disappointing like the Baystars. Yusuke Oyama is unclutch, while some pitchers have been up and down in the bullpen. They can say Randy Messenger is an ace and the starters are respectable., but can the bats wake up? It also doesn't help when Fujinami gets destroyed for five runs and can't make it out of the first inning in his ichi-gun return. Good thing for them is they still have two months to make a run, barely outside A-class.


12. [v] (3) Orix Buffaloes: 42-47-4; 6-13-1 in July

Both Kansai teams fall to the Power Rankings cellar as Orix is being Orix. A team with so much talent, but things are going backwards and taking a wrong turn. The Buffaloes suffered an eight-game losing streak in the month and have lost nine of their last ten. Offense is too dependent on Masataka Yoshida while it doesn't help when Takahiro Okada is hurt. Everything just doesn't come together with this team despite having a decent bullpen and a rotation that can hang tough. Could this stretch be the reason Junichi Fukura leaves?


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