Sunday, June 28, 2020

2020 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Late heroics lead to wins


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Pacific League to limit travel as much as possible, having bunched six-game series in the front half of the 2020 season. For the first six-game series of the year, the Lions took four out of six against the Softbank Hawks and have a 5-4 record through two weeks. They currently sit in third place behind the Chiba Lotte Marines and Rakuten Eagles.


Game 1: Kona Takahashi vs Matt Moore

Cory Spangenberg had four hits, including a grand slam which was good enough to defeat the Hawks in a laugher. Takahashi went 5.1 innings and the Lions combined for 11 hits. Moore struggled with location and allowed six runs, with four of them earned over four innings. The bullpen didn't allow a run while the Lions made this one an easy 11-3 win.

Game notes: 

-Seiji Kawagoe made his ichi-gun debut as a pinch runner.

-Shota Takekuma was deactivated in place of Ryuya Ogawa


Game 2: Tatsuya Imai vs. Shunta Ishikawa

Imai allowed two crucial three-run home runs to Seiji Uebayashi and Kenta Imamiya in the first and sixth innings. Hotaka Yamakawa hit a three-run home run adn the Lions even had a 6-4 lead at one point, but Imai's hard contact early on proved to be fatal when Imamiya's home run put the Hawks ahead for good.

Tomoya Mori and Spangenberg had multi-hit games, but it wasn't enough. In the end, the Hawks also added insurance runs off the Lions bullpen for a 9-6 defeat.


Game 3: Keisuke Honda vs. Rick van den Hurk
Honda gave up two solo HRs to Wladimir Balentien, but the real story was Rick van den Hurk's performance. He threw seven no-hit innings and it wasn't until Hotaka Yamakawa had an infield single in the 8th to break it up.

The Lions made the score respectful with two runs, but it wasn't enough when Shota Hamaya also gave up a solo HR and Tetsu Miyagawa allowed another run in the 9th for a 4-2 loss.


Game 4: Zach Neal vs. Nao Higashihama

Hotaka Yamakawa hits two HRs and it looked like Neal would cruise to an easy win. However, with a 3-1 lead,. an error from Yamakawa helped load the bases in the 7th inning. With Ryuya Ogawa in, he allowed all three inherited runners to score on base hits by Ryoya Kurihara and Yuki Yanagita as the Hawks went ahead 4-3.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Lions found a way to load the bases off Sho Iwasaki with two outs. Fumikazu Kimura was the hero, hitting a grand slam, giving the team a 7-4 win in the process.

Game note:

-By striking out the side in the 8th inning, Reed Garrett recorded his first career win.


Game 5: Wataru Matsumoto vs. Tsuyoshi Wada

Matsumoto didn't have a chance from the beginning, as he gave up two-run HRs to Yanagita and and Kurihara in the first two inings. In total, he allowed seven runs through three innings as his day was done early.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura hit a two-run HR to start a comeback and Shuta Tonosaki added a two-run triple. The Lions bullpen didn't allow a run when they came in, whether it was Miyagawa or Ogawa pitching.

Against Iwasaki, the Lions had a rally going in the bottom of the 7th. Yamakawa hit a three-run HR into the batter's eye to give them the lead for the first time all day. Garrett had a clean 8th inning while Tatsushi Masuda had some drama. Seiji Uebayashi hit a triple with two outs and Kenta Imamiya was up with the tying run on base. A short flyout to Sosuke Genda ended the game, giving the Lions their second win in a row by a score of 8-7.


Game 6: Kaito Yoza vs. Akira Niho

Yanagita did damage again with a solo HR to start and a timely from Kurihara made it 3-0 Hawks. The Lions battled back with a timely single from Takumi Kuriyama. Sosuke Genda was able to steal second base in the third inning and advance another 90 feet thanks to a wild pitch. An RBI groundout brought the Lions within one.

Yoza went six innings with the last four frames being scoreless. The Lions made sure he had a no decision whenYamakawa hit a solo HR off Niho. In a game where the Lions continued to strand runners, Seiji Kawagoe made his first plate appearance as a pinch hitter for Yuji Kaneko while Fumikazu Kimura came in off the bench for Shohei Suzuki.

Reed Garrett and Tatsushi Masuda had scoreless 8th and 9th innings and the bottom of the latter frame had the drama. The Lions loaded the bases and didn't have an out against Keisuke Izumi. Tomoya Mori came through with a base hit to end the game on a sayonara as the Lions took the series with a 4-3 win.

Game note: 

-The Lions and Hawks combined for 10 consecutive strikeouts in the 7th and 8th innings with Hirai, Shinya Kayama, Garrett and Livan Moinelo contributing.


While the middle was ugly, the Lions ended on a strong note against a Hawks team missing some of their players. They needed to win this series in order to have any edge going forward.

Imai and Matsumoto had some dud outings, but at least the offense woke up late. What's most encouraging is how Reed Garrett looked, missing bats and striking out opponents. He's not just a fastball pitcher and it's clear he'll take the 7th or 8th inning with Katsunori Hirai for now.

It would have been nice to take five out of six, but the comeback on Saturday could go a long way towards a successful season.


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Sunday, June 21, 2020

2020 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Neal wins Opening Day, series lost


Game 1: Zach Neal vs. Kohei Arihara 

Neal threw six shutout innings while the Lions offense caught several breaks to score. From a bases-loaded infield single by Hotaka Yamakawa, Shuta Tonosaki being hit by a pitch and a fielder's choice, the three runs were enough for the night.

Katsunori Hirai, Reed Garrett and Tatsushi Masuda completed the shutout for a 3-0 victory.

Extra notes: 

-Neal was the first foreign born pitcher to start on Opening Day for the Lions since Tai-Yuan Kuo (Taigen Kaku) in 1995.


Game 2: Wataru Matsumoto vs. Takayuki Kato

Shuta Tonosaki's second-inning HR was the only offense for the Lions, in a game where the Fighters bullpen shut them down. They scattered a combined seven hits through nine innings.

Sho Nakata's two-run double in the fourth inning was enough for the Fighters to win this one. Matsumoto went 6.1 innings, but was unable to have run support in a 2-1 loss.


-Haruki Nishikawa's 4th inning hit was his 1,000th in his career. He scored on Nakata's double.

-Tetsu Miyagawa made his debut in the 8th inning. He gave up two walks and a hit, but no runs.


Game 3: Kaito Yoza vs. Toshiya Sugiura

Yoza went six innings in his NPB debut, giving up three runs with two of them being solo HRs to Sho Nakata and Taishi Ota. It was the third straight day the Lions offense had a poor showing, not scoring until the 8th inning. Two bases-loaded opportunities were wasted as the Fighters bullpen succceded again.

Shota Hamaya made his debut in the 7th inning and also gave up a solo HR HR to Yushi Shimizu, but the real damage happened in the 8th when Shota Takekuma took the mound. The Fighters pulled away to take the series in a 12-2 Lions loss.


While this wasn't the result any Lions fans want, remember the team started 0-3 in 2019. Offense didn't look good, though they still got on base. Unfortunately, they were unclutch for most of the weekend and the bullpen had their moments. However, take the last game padding the ERA with a grain of salt as Ichiro Tamura and Takekuma won't be getting meaningful innings anytime soon.

What is encouraging is how the starting pitching didn't allow more than three runs and all had outings of at least six innings. It's not a time to panic, though it wasn't the greatest weekend for new leadoff hitter Cory Spangenberg. Let's hope for a better week ahead.


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Thursday, June 18, 2020

2020 NPB Power Rankings: Opening Day Edition

It's officially Opening Day in Japan after a long wait. From COVID-19 taking over the world, Japan was no exception with several delays and a cancelled 2020 Summer Olympics announced. Both the Spring and Summer Koshien tournaments were also cancelled.

For those who watch college (NCAA) football, preseason rankings usually come out every August. In the big picture, it's meaningless as it's more of a perception for what people think of each team.

Carefully calculating this, these rankings will be more reflective of what the media is saying and predicting, though the first ranked squad will be by default rules.

Here are your power rankings at the start of the season:

1. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Hawks will be missing Kodai Senga to start the year, but the depth is still great. They'll remain contenders as long they're run properly and continue to develop youth. Carter Stewart Jr. will be a fun prospect to watch while Jumpei Takahashi, Hiroshi Kaino and Kotaro Otake will be the three younger names to look at as they should be better. New addition Wladimir Balentien doesn't even need to be a star, yet he joins the Hawks in hopes of finding a championship ring.

Some old guard players like Seiichi Uchikawa and Nobuhiro Matsuda are aging, but others can pick up the slack the way Yurisbel Gracial did in 2019. Does the dynasty continue? Even without the roster knowledge, they get a first place ranking by default as defending Japan Series champions.


2. Saitama Seibu Lions 

The Lions lose Shogo Akiyama and are expected to take a step backwards, but they also have teh youngest ichi-gun Opening Day roster. There's a slight rebuild in the pitching staff, but the potential is there with Tatsuya Imai, Wataru Matsumoto and Kona Takahashi all being intriguing.

Can the recent draft picks also contribute and Zach Neal show last year was no fluke? Offense should still be good with a balance of speed and power, but the leadoff position without Akiyama will take a change. They're expected to contend while getting worse than last year. 


3. Yomiuri Giants

The Giants are favorites to repeat the Central League again. Biggest key for them is having the best depth in their league. Expect a rebound season for Tomoyuki Sugano and there's even speculation that he'll be posted. The only flaw that holds them back is 2B. As long as Tatsunori Hara is the skipper, they'll stay relevant and be a contender.


4. Rakuten Eagles

The media thinks the Eagles are an A-class lock in the Pacific League. This team made the most changes with additions by General Manager Kazuhisa Ishii. The free agent signings (and compensation/trade picksups) of Daichi Suzuki, Stefen Romero, Kazuhisa Makita, Hideaki Wakui and Tomohito Sakai should be a mixed bag. Even with these veterans, what is their identity? Adding straight up talent with a new skipper in Hajime Miki can't guarantee success. Miki has a lot of decisions to make on who play and not with a crowded group, but expectations are high with how they flexed their high-priced signings and even tried to get another outfielder.


5. Hanshin Tigers

The Tigers came into A-class on the final day of the regular season and won a playoff series last year with a matchup in their favor. Manager Akihiro Yano's honeymoon period is over and the expectations are high. This year will hinge on Yusuke Oyama if he can take that next step. He's shown flashes of power, but not consistency.

It's not a young team by any means with plenty of aging players like Yoshio Itoi, Kyuji Fujikawa and Kosuke Fukudome around, but they'll be dependent on their imports more than anyone else for offense as they oversigned above the 5-man ichi-gun cap. If the imports contribute, they're guaranteed A-class. 


6. Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars are the hardest team to predict in the Central League, but most of the media has them in A-class after a second place finish in 2019. Here's the catch: That second place standing was being the best of a mediocre and forgettable Central League pack. Gone are Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Tampa Bay) and Katsuki Azuma (Tommy John surgery), but the bigger issue is an inconsistent offense. One week they can look hot and win eight in a row, while the next can be followed up by a long losing streak.

Pitching should be good even without Azuma, but they'll need Haruhiro Hamaguchi to have a rebound season to complement Shota Imanaga. Manager Alex Ramirez is also not safe from the hot seat just yet. Call it irrational, but one awful season and the pressure is on again.


7. Hiroshima Carp

The Carp's poor start to 2019 hurt their A-class hopes at the end when came up one game short. Depth is the issue for this squad after Seiya Suzuki and Daichi Osera carry the team. New manager Shinji Sasaoka should be better at handling the pitching staff, but what kind of offense will this team have outside of Suzuki? Talent is still there, but their window from previous seasons likely closed. The media thinks this is the team who can turn it around coming off a B-class season. They should be in the hunt.


8. Chiba Lotte Marines

The Japanese media is overlooking the Marines, but the English-speaking ones have the opposite. No manager has more pressure to win now than Tadahito Iguchi after two B-class seasons. The Marines were only a few plays away from A-class in 2019. If they correct the defensive mistakes from September 2019, they'll be right in the hunt. Minabu Mima provides some rotation stability while Shuhei Fukuda is supposed to upgrade their outfield. Atsuki Taneichi will be the X-factor to this season as he's thought to be the future ace. In the long term, several high school prospects should emerge, but no one has more hype than Roki Sasaki.


9. Chunichi Dragons

The Dragons started their open rebuilding in 2017. Now that it's Year 4, the excuses become thin for second-year manager Tsuyoshi Yoda. While prospects like Akira Neo and Takaya Ishikawa are raw, there's enough talent to compete for 2020. Shuhei Takahashi's injury hurt while Yudai Ono has a revival 2019. If they can close games and have a stable bullpen, their chances of A-class goes up as it drew them back last year.


10. Orix Buffaloes

Orix has the talent to compete. However, their biggest weakness is themselves in self-inflicting mistakes. Masataka Yoshida, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Taisuke Yamaoka are all solid Core-Four players to hang with the best of them. Their offense is the other hole that needs to be fixed. Adam Jones will keep them interesting and it will be key to see if he can carry a unit that struggled as a whole.


11. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Fighters enter this season with no expectations. There's discussions about Kohei Arihara and Haruki Nishikawa being future MLB players, but on the field for 2020, they need to rebuild their position players. This group has several light hitters, but a lack of pop though it wouldn't hurt if Kotaro Kiyomiya takes a step forward. When one of your foreign signings is Yomiuri Giants castoff Christian Villanueva, that's not a good sign from thee surface.

In the long term, does manager Hideki Kuriyama want to retire and ride off into the sunset? That's also a question mark that looms after 2020 as it took the Fighters management to convince him to stay around.


 12. Tokyo Yakult Swallows

The Swallows came off a forgettable 2019 and it looks to be a rebuilding 2020 season on paper. Shingo Takatsu comes in with a lot of holes and question marks in both the pitching staff and offense. What's worse? Star player Tetsuto Yamada is a free agent after this season. While this isn't LeBron James watch, several will be thinking about where he lands in 2021.



For now, the Pacific League gets bonus points as they are the better league of the two. Of course this will change over the course of the season, but each team's expectations varies. We have 120 games of action ready to go. 


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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

NPB 101: Differences between baseball in Japan and MLB Part III

With the 2020 NPB season upon us, I figured it was time to challenge myself and find more differences since the last time I wrote something. You can see Part I and Part II  here.

MLB and NPB have their share of differences that goes beyond language itself. Here's what is noticeable or unmentioned from previous posts:


For 2020 only, games will end after 10 innings

With the recent social distancing protocols taking place around the the world, NPB will call a tie game if 10 innings are concluded. In a normal year, 12 innings was the limit.


In a 2020 special, the ichi-gun roster will expand to 31 with a  foreign player cap at 5. 

NPB usually allows four players at the top team, but with COVID-19 happening, more can travel and accrue service time. This year, five foreigners can be on the roster at once, but only four can be active in a single game with no boundary crossing of four pitchers or four position players.

The total roster will increase from 29 to 31 and the active can go from 25 to 26 in 2020 only. Compared with MLB, there is a larger number, though their agreement could be coming soon to change as that story develops.


It is easier to buy visiting team merchandise at ballparks in NPB than MLB

Japanese usually believe in the fair opportunity for things as it shows in the draft. However, if you're a displaced fan in another market, you'll have no trouble finding goods from caps, jerseys and more from the ballpark stores themselves compared to MLB. That being said, the selection of goods is limited compared to buying at the home team's stadium.

In any stateside sports scenario, you're better off buying things online as a displaced fan as most stores will only sell the home team or market's gear while only a handful of sports stores in malls will be expensive and overpriced with hard to find stuff. The only exception to this is the Seattle Mariners when going to T-Mobile Park, who are fittingly owned by Nintendo. Other teams may capitalize only on certain opponents if they have a large visiting fanbase.


There are more fans of individuals in NPB than MLB 

It's easy to like a star player such as Mike Trout or Aaron Judge, but how about Brock Holt, Brad Miller or Gregory Polanco having his own fanbase? Japan will have fans of individuals following someone in a larger quantity than what you'd see stateside. While it is easy to find uniforms of great players, you'll also see the random ones of role players, bench players and even farm players depending on who they followed.

Some will have a larger following if they did something at the high school Koshien tournament, putting them on a national radar. Others may have come from an industrial league or a college out of the way, but they'll have a following beyond family and friends.


Teams in Japan will not trade a player for his high value or expiring contract

The trade deadline in MLB will always have some intrigue on players who could be rentals or sold high because they have years of control. Japanese teams don't see the same reason of letting go of a star while in his prime in the same way, as it would be a loss of an asset and investment.

It's clear NPB teams will market and invest in their stars at least through their seven years of service time at minimum before they could hit domestic free agency. The last trade of someone being sent off in their prime was Yoshio Itoi, which had a complex contract negotiation situation. Of course the compensation in free agency also makes it easier if someone walks in comparison.


For some players, there is no offseason or time off. They continue to train at the team facilities

Players under control can stay in the area and still train in the offseason. Many will become workaholics when at the weight machines or batting practice cage besides extra hours before and after a scheduled session. In the States, players are usually on their own living elsewhere until Spring Training.


You cannot keep a ball from batting practice, but only in-game in NPB

During batting practice when a home run or foul ball happens, several stadiums have ushers ready to take the ball from you. In the States, the rules are more loose with some ballparks/players able to give a ball away without issues. Even then, the practice baseballs are not the same depending on the park you go to. Getting a home run or foul ball in Japan becomes even more rewarding if you get it. Fans can also buy baseballs at the shop without issue, including some autographed baseballs already on the shelves since it may not happen before an actual game.


Excluding foreigners, an agent isn't doing contract negotiations in NPB. It's face to face. 

In November and December, it's the time of the year to come to an agreement (assuming he's under control) for the following season and deciding a salary. Foreigners will usually have the agent represent them, but domestically each players is scheduled to talk to team representatives to discuss everything. It is a cultural thing to meet face to face in Japan more times than not, though social distancing has loosened up some restrictions.

Teams usually have a baseball analytics expert with someone in charge of financial operations with all the data, factoring in what the player did the previous season and an offer is presented based on results. The player then takes the offer or tries to appeal and make a case, but more times than not, they have no choice but to sign the dotted line. There have been holdouts and it can cause some tension, but usually the team has leverage when looking at the work the player did to come up with a number. When the agreement is reached, the player has a formal press conference discussing the reported salary (never 100% accurate) and talks about their goals for next year and more.

There are exceptions and times a lawyer/representative could make a case, but more times than not, it's a face to face meeting. 


The minimum wage for a minor leaguer in NPB is higher than someone in MiLB away from the 40-man roster. 

If a player is under a developmental contract (iksuei), then his reported wages are around ¥3 million ($28,000) at the lowest. He also receives a place to stay as well as being fed without trouble. In the States, minor leaguers are dependent on their signing bonus and depending on what level you're at, it's likely they make less than $10,000 in a season while also not making anything extra in the playoffs.

In the event someone is on the 70-man roster, but stays in ni-gun, the reported minimum salary is about ¥5 million ($46,600). For stateside players, the ladder is tough, but making it to MLB on a 25-man roster means a minimum wage of at least $563,500 (¥60.3 million), though it's prorated if a player is called up midseason.  Being on a 40-man roster is around $40,000 a year, if they make it there.


Are there more missed things? Be sure to click around Part I and Part II for other details missed.


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Monday, June 15, 2020

2020 NPB fan guide Part II: Pacific League

The Central League has the history and popularity, but the Pacific League has owned the 21st Century. As you probably read the Central League portion, the Pacific League has its own contrast. 

Once again, here are the guidelines for each team getting their own section: 

Ownership: Every NPB team's corporate owner and each company is known for something. 

2020 Payroll rank: Because people are curious who can spend money and who can't.  Remember, there are 12 teams.

Location/Stadium: Each team has its own region or city represented in an area of Japan. Some teams have a nicer stadium than others, while a few represent more square miles (or kilometers) than others.

Mascots: Every team markets mascots like crazy. There's even prefecture mascots which are at games, but we'll focus on the team ones with a photo. Mascot culture is a huge thing in Japan beyond sports. 

Cheer song: Seventh inning stretch in MLB is usually a singing of "Take me out to the ballgame" and sometimes adding "God Bless America", but in Japan, they sing their cheer song or "fight song" during this break. Most of the teams feature balloons. If the team is on the road, the visiting crowd will hear their cheer song at the end of the sixth inning.

Ōendan Songs: Thanks to the internet, people film or record the songs fans will sing while their team is batting. Players have their own songs being sung when at the plate, but there are also "chance" songs when there is a chance (aka guys on base). 

They also have scoring and victory songs.  An Ōendan roughly translates into cheer section. Like college football, there are visitor's sections which allow fans who root for the road team to be together and sing the songs. This will show their songs from 2019.  

MLB Comparison: This is an estimated equivalent of what the NPB team could be viewed as for an MLB fan. Nothing can be exact, but based on history, coaching philosophy and fundamentals, I will compare to the best that I can. Keep in mind, don't pick the team just because yours is listed there. 

Legendary players: While it would take too long to mention everyone involved, some names from each team deserve recognition.

Notable foreign players: This will show players who came to their NPB team on the ichi-gun and made a career from North America. My listing will be incomplete, but a handful of names will be shown.  

Notable players who played in MLB: These are players who came from their NPB team who were significant enough to be remembered in MLB (Hiroyuki Nakajima will not be listed due to being only in the minors). A few players won't make the cut. Keep in mind, I don't want to list a few players twice, so I'll put them on their most significant team, unless they had a large impact on both. 

Verdict: We give reasons why to like and dislike the given team. There will always be pros and cons. 

2020 Core Four: Just to get an idea who is the core entering the 2020 season. 

2020 Foreign players: Some names may be familiar expats out of North America or Taiwan. A * indicates a first-year player. 

Long term future player: Who is viewed as the long term option? NPB has some obvious names, but there are some guys under development hoping to make an impact down the road. You could see a glimpse of him in 2020. 

MLB Potential: Everyone has a player with potential, but some may not choose to go or are already past their prime/peak years. 

2020 Expectations: I'll go over some strengths and weaknesses of the current product for each team. Who are stars worth tracking? Where do most people think they'll finish and where do I have them finishing? A-class and B-class are the Japanese terms that will be used to label a playoff or non-playoff team. 


Why choose a Pacific League Team? 

Access to Pacific League games are both legal and easy to get to via Pacific League TV. An instruction on how to use and sign up can be seen here. While the Central League is more conservative, the Pacific League has been progressive not only with PLTV, but even expanding to the current playoff system known as the Climax Series.

From 2004-2006, the Pacific League had a postseason while the Central League did not. It wasn't until 2007 when both leagues had a universal Climax Series, allowing the top three teams of both clubs to get into the postseason. If you're a fan of the Designated Hitter in baseball, the Pacific League is also an easy choice.

There will also be a playoff with the two teams making it to a final stage. In comparison to the Central League, it's a best of five format between the first and second place teams. The first place team will be given a one game advantage. 


Why avoid a Pacific League team? 

You dislike the DH because it's not pure baseball. Finding fans of Pacific League teams in Japan will be harder to come by for some clubs, at least in comparison to Central League teams. Going to games can also require some travel, given they have a far distance apart from each other and nothing close by. The two closest teams (Lions and Marines) are two hours apart from each other by train.

It won't be as easy if someone is stationed directly in Tokyo to go to a Pacific League compared to how the Giants and Swallows have a Central location.


Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (福岡ソフトバンクホークス)

The Fukuoka Softbank (ソフトバンク) Hawks were originally owned by Nankai electric railways in 1938. Their most famous title was as Nankai Hawks from 1947-1988 and they were based in Osaka before their move to Fukuoka. When moving to Fukuoka, their ownership changed and they were called the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks from 1989-2004. Daiei is a famous supermarket chain in Japan. The Hawks were then-sold to Softbank to become the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, a title they've held since 2005.

Ownership: Softbank Corporation

Softbank is not a bank, but a telecommunications company that also specializes in e-commerce, media, technology internet services, phone services and more. The title of "Softbank" is more a reference to a bank of software and technology, hoping to continue to develop electronics in the future.

They are in partnerships with Yahoo!, E-trade, Ustream and other companies. In America, they are the parent company of majority of newspapers as Gannett is under umbrella. Previously, they were under the name GateHouse Media under the merger in 2019. Softbank's subsidiary Fortress was in charge of this, but it all points back to them owning Gannett as a whole. Safe to say, Softbank has control in the stateside journalism industry. Of course they've been in the news for other reasons, but it won't affect the baseball team.

Softbank also gives their employees jerseys of the Hawks and they can wear them at work in Japan. (Sorry, they don't do the same for USA employees, per source, but they are aware of the baseball team).


2020 Payroll rank: 1

The Softbank Hawks have invested in their baseball team in more ways than none. Not only do they keep their players when successful, but they will sign an extra developmental squad to create even more depth and hierarchy among their players. This payroll rank doesn't even include an extra coaching staff to watch over these players.  

In some slang terms, we say they have a factory of players, coaches and more ready to go. It's like a production line. 


Location/Stadium: PayPay Dome in Chuo-Ku, Fukuoka, Fukuoka

Fukuoka is the northern part of Kyushu Island, the most southern and western among the four major islands of the country. The climate of this area is tropical, but being on the coast, it is a getaway spot to avoid some of the humid heat in comparison to Tokyo.

This is also a decent tourist side of Japan for Eastern tourists coming from Taiwan and South Korea given the close proximity. International ferries can go to Busan, which is the southeast corner of Korea. Fukuoka is home to several cultural festivals and is famous for a Hakata (tonkatsu) style ramen.  

PayPay Dome was built in the 1990s and is the only retractable roof in NPB. However, they do not open the roof for a game often, unless it is a pre-scheduled situation. It does open after games, especially after a Hawks win. 

For baseball, this became a home run-happy park with a terrace of private seats added and the HR fence being moved in and shorter. FIP stats for a pitcher will be deceiving, needing xFIP to adjust the numbers. Access to this building is at Tōjinmachi Station on the Kuko Line using the Fukuoka City Subway. 


Mascots: Harry the Hawk

The Softbank Hawks have a family of Hawk mascots and even have player-specific ones, but Harry is the primary mascot. 


Cheer Song: Izayuke Wakataka Gundan (いざゆけ若鷹軍団) "Let's Go Young Hawks"

This song has been around since the Daiei era of the 1990s


Ōendan Songs: Chance Songs begin at 8:07.  

What's notable here is how many different Chance songs they have based on where they're playing. If they're in Osaka, you could hear a different set. Their fans are also known to "dance" or make motions with their cheer sticks.  


MLB Comparison: Post-2004 Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Softbank Hawks were a middle of the road team with lots of games and history, but only a handful of titles to show for it. When the Hawks won titles as Daiei Hawks and broke a long drought, it was a feel-good story let alone they did it again in 2003. 

Today, they're a juggernaut having won six Japan Series championships in the last decade alone. They even defeated each Central League team in the process. Some can argue the St. Louis Cardinals are a comparison with homegrown talent, but they have the resources financially like the Los Angeles Dodgers while also having success like the Boston Red Sox. Safe to say, there isn't much sympathy for them today like it was in the 1990s. 

Both the Dodgers and Hawks have a great investment to both their payroll and developing players from within to stay on top.

Their early Nankai Hawks years are similar to the Red Sox having championships, but just not as long as 1918-2004 separating their years of drought. 


Legendary players: 

Kazuto Tsuruoka was a great player and later turned manager during the early Nankai Hawks years. 

The recently deceased Katsuya Nomura had a long career with the Nankai Hawks being an MVP, RBI leader, Home Run King and having several Best IX awards over his lifetime. 

Mitsuo Minagawa was the top pitcher for the Hawks in the Nankai era. 

Hiromitsu Kadota was a slugger in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Koji Akiyama spent the later years of his playing career with Softbank, only to carry them to a title in 1999 as if it was Mark Messier with the 1994 New York Rangers. He later won two more Japan Series championships as a manager before retiring. 


Notable foreign players:

As Fukuoka Daiei/Softbank Hawks: C.J. Nitkowski, Dennis Sarfate, Jason Standridge, Rick Van Den Hurk, Goose Gossage, Chris Haney, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Thigpen, Dae-Ho Lee

As Nankai Hawks: Don Blasingame (as both a player and later manager), Don Buford, Carlos May


Notable players who played in MLB: 

Munenori Kawasaki, Tadahito Iguchi, Tsuyoshi Wada, Kenji Johjima



Why you root for them: You love being the villain. The Hawks are the class of NPB and model franchise on what it is means to be successful as shown in the 2010s decade. They're structured to keep winning too as they're in the midst of a dynasty. Fukuoka is also a great outside tourist destination if Tokyo and Osaka are too much for you. 

The Hawks also hang onto their players when they reach free agency for the most part. They don't even let them go to MLB until they hit international free agent rights, so you'll be able to enjoy these guys for a long time. 

Why you avoid them: Bandwagoning. Picking the Hawks in times like these wouldn't have the same rewards as compared to someone else. While bandwagon fans are great for the economy and a necessary evil for owners, you can never experience true joy when jumping on a winning team so quickly if you didn't see the bad or forgetful times. 

Like the Golden State Warriors before Steve Kerr, if you weren't there for Baron Davis and Mike Dunleavy, why join only when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are there? The Hawks are coming off a three-peat and have won the Japan Series in five of the last six years. It's currently too easy to be a fan. 

With the Hawks hanging onto players, the odds of you seeing your favorite Hawk going to MLB while in his peak or prime becomes limited, because they must have nine years of service time in order to leave. The Hawks are the only team in NPB to never post a player and it's unlikely that policy changes. 


2020 Core Four: C Takuya Kai, OF Yuki Yanagita, P Kodai Senga, OF Yurisbel Gracial

2020 Foreign players: OF Yurisbel Gracial, P Livan Moinelo, P Matt Moore*, P Dennis Sarfate, P Carter Stewart Jr., P Rick van den Hurk, DH Alfredo Despaigne, OF Wladimir Balentien


Long term future player: P Kotaro Otake (Ohtake)

Otake was a developmental pitcher who was able to work his way up to the main roster in the same year he was drafted. Last year, he doubled his inning count and if healthy, he should be a rotation arm for years to come. 


MLB Potential: P Kodai Senga

No question Senga is the best pitcher with MLB potential in NPB, but his odds at coming in his prime are very slim. He still has another 2-3 years to serve in order to hit international free agency. Senga was able to showcase himself in the 2017 WBC, but by the time he comes, he will be 30. Not ancient for a pitcher, but not in his 20s. An honorable mention is Carter Stewart, the former first round pick of the Atlanta Braves. If anything, he will be in his mid-20s by the time he's a free agent and develops.  


2020 Expectations: 

The rich get richer as the Hawks added Stewart in the middle of last year while Balentien joined them to an already loaded import squad with Despaigne and Gracial. Balentien also doesn't count against the foreigner cap. 

Some previous core players are a year older like Nobuhiro Matsuda and Seiichi Uchikawa, but this team is still loaded from top to bottom when someone else can go next man up. 

In the pitching department, they've only just begun with Hiroshi Kaino earning his way into the bullpen whileYuki Matsumoto and Jumpei Takahashi got their share of ichi-gun taste in 2019. Expect these three pitchers to be important and improving for 2020. 

Like any championship team, there is always a hangover coming into the new year. However, they've shown they can win in the postseason if they pace themselves correctly. With Balentien adding even more pop, they're expected to win and come in first place for the first time since 2017. 

Personal Expectation: First Place


Chiba Lotte Marines (千葉ロッテマリーンズ)

The Chiba Lotte (ロッテ) Marines were originally called the Mainichi Orions in 1950 as one of the early Pacific League teams. After a merger with Daiei (and another team), they were Daimai Orions and later Tokyo Orions. Lotte eventually owned the team in 1969 and they were Lotte Orions from 1969-1991.

Their geographic location has varied from the ancient Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo to even spending years in present day Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi up in Sendai from 1973-1977, which is the current home of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The last years as Lotte Orions were in Kawasaki Stadium, once home of the Taiyo Whales, which was in Kanagawa prefecture (near Yokohama). The Orions would become Marines and move to Chiba prefecture in 1992, keeping the present name Chiba Lotte Marines.  


Ownership: Lotte Holdings

Lotts is a conglomerate that is known for confectionery around Asia. This company has both a Japanese and Korean branch for several products. Choco Pie is one of the famous products of Lotte Korea. From gum, ice cream, cakes and other candy, Lotte likely makes whatever sweets you're thinking of as they're the third largest in Japan, but the top brand in Koera. They also own shopping malls, movie theaters, hotels, amusement parks, housing, finance and more.

Besides the Marines, Lotte also owns the Lotte Giants in KBO. Both teams have the same mascot give they're next to the water. 


2020 Payroll rank:

The Marines are usually a middle of the road team and they're right at the bottom of a cluster, where only ¥400 million ($4 million) separates 5th from 11th in payroll. Recently, they lost some players to a trade and free agency even though they made some notable additions. 


Location/Stadium: ZOZO Marine Stadium in Chiba City, Chiba

Chiba prefecture is East of Tokyo connecting to the Pacific Ocean. If you flew into Narita Airport instead of Haneda when going to Tokyo, you were in Chiba Prefecture to start your journey. This prefecture is also home to Tokyo Disney Resort, which is home to the parks of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea in the city of Urayasu. 

The farther East you go, the more rural and scenic it gets and becomes of more a country side.This area is known for peanuts, clams and certain species of fish. 

ZOZO Marine Stadium as shown above is right on the water, hence the Marine Layer giving a chilly atmosphere from the bay. Recently, they added extra seats and moved the fence in for a home run lagoon, making it easier to hit the long ball. It's a cookie cutter stadium built in the 1990s. Access can be attained by Kaihimmakuhari Station on the Keiyo Line via JR East. 


Mascot: Mar-Kun 

Mar-kun is a seagull given they're right on the beach. Lately, their fish mascot (Nazo no Sakana) has received plenty of attestation in the western media. 


Cheer song: We Love Marines

If anyone likes something reflective of the 1990s, this is it. 


Ōendan Songs: Chance Songs begin at 12:36

What should stand out is how they don't need trumpets and are usually loud in decibels with their voices. Lots of jumping too, but they're greatly in sync. Lots of songs I can't describe and include, but when you hear it enough, you'll know when they come. 

Another notable thing is how they previously had a different style of music in the 2000s when Bobby Valentine was their manager, but the Oendan group left and their songs weren't allowed to be used again minus a short stretch of 2016-2017. Ironically, they won a championship the year after Valentine was run out of town, but the talks of their former manager can be a sensitive topic.

The number 26 is also an honored number for the fans, since there's normally 25 players on a roster, though that has expanded recently. 


MLB Comparison: None

There's nobody like the Marines if we're gonna be specific. Some can make an argument for the San Francisco Giants because their last two Japan Series championships happened in years they didn't come in first place for the regular season. Another reason for this comparison is how they're in an old looking stadium while having a cold atmosphere, reminding some of Candlestick Park. However, making this direct comparison is an insult to Marines fans because they're in a unique situation while being loud. 

When the Marines won their first championship in the 21st Century back in 2005, it broke one of the longest droughts as they were previously stuck on 1974. Given they're in a Bay Area, maybe you can combine some success of the SF Giants while having noise of Oakland Athletics fans? Technically this wouldn't be true enough. While winning two Japan Series titles as playoff team, they haven't come in first place since the aforementioned 1974 season. 


Legendary players: 

Masaaki Koyama spent the middle years of his career with the Orions and was a wins leader in the 1960s. 

Kazuhiro Yamauchi was the first player to hit 300 career HRs and saw the early days of professional baseball for the Orions in the 1950s. 

Choji Murata was a dominant pitcher in the 1970s. 

Kihachi Enomoto was a star second baseman for the Orions for 16 years and was part of their championship seasons in the 1960s.


Notable foreign players: Bobby Valentine (as a manager in two stints), Leon Lee, Leron Lee, Benny Agabayani, Julio Franco, Jim Lefebvre, Darryl Motley

Notable players who played in MLB: Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Close your eyes Twins fans), Hideki Irabu, Masahide Kobayashi, Tadahito Iguchi (returned from MLB now serving as manager)



Why you root for them: Because you appreciate noise and how loud their fans are in decibels. Marines fans are also known to show up on the road, sometimes even more than at home games and those who attend will make their presence known. The Marines are a good underdog story for those who enjoy not pulling for a juggernaut while also showing to be competitive. 

For a team with a middle of the road budget, they're still competitive. Chiba knows how to make the most of their playoff appearances, advancing in the climax series in 2013 and 2015 as the No. 3 seed. With a lack of talent compared to other teams, they are a scrappy bunch.

Why you avoid them: Marines home games may not have the same electric atmosphere when there's just the home Oendan. Access to the Stadium is rather poor with a 20 minute walk from the station, though it's possible to take an extra bus to save time. Zozo Marine Stadium can be freezing cold and on the edge (literally), making it an unattractive place to see a game, as it resembles a standard boring appearance.


2020 Core Four: P Ayumu Ishikawa, OF Takashi Ogino, IF Shogo Nakamura, P Atsuki Taneichi

2020 Foreign players: P Jay Jackson, P Frank Herrmann, Kuan-Yu Chen, Jose Flores*, IF Brandon Laird, OF Leonys Martin


Long term future player: IF Hisanori Yasuda

The Marines are hoping Yasuda will be a long term option on the infield when Brandon Laird's time is done. Several high school prospects were taken in recent years and Yasuda is one of many with high expectations.

MLB Potential: P Roki Sasaki

This is an unfair mentioning because Sasaki has yet to play a game with the Marines, but he's had the most hype thanks to this past NPB Draft. He can throw 100 mph and there was speculation if he would take an opportunity with an MLB team at first. The Marines won his rights and he's supposed to be an ace. Once again, this is unfair and none of us know what he's going to be, but there's potential here 5-7 years from now.


2020 Expectations:

No one is on the hot seat more than manager Tadahito Iguchi in 2020. After two forgettable seasons, a third would be unacceptable for most.

Last year, the Marines were never good, but never awful by staying alive. However, when the lights came on, they laid an egg on the big stage against the Eagles when fighting with them for a postseason spot. For the final game of the regular season, which could have been a potential playoff clinch scenario, they were embarrassed by the Lions with the opposition celebrating a pennant in front of them while being eliminated at the same time.

It took a handful of fluke errors in the outfield that hurt the Marines in the standings. If the defense can be corrected, this team has a good shot at A-class given how many changes they made.

In particular, the Marines will be compared with the Eagles not only for last year, but how many players have swapped teams via trade, free agency and compensation. Former Eagles from last year include Frank Herrmann, Minabu Mima and Fumiya Ono while they lost Daichi Suzuki, Hideaki Wakui and Tomohito Sakai.

Jackson and Herrmann bring experience to the bullpen and should be an upgrade while the rotation is full of younger options including Kazuya Ojima, Daiki Iwashita and Atsuki Taneichi.

Offense has already taken a leap thanks to the home run lagoon and the addition of Brandon Laird last season, but he can't do it alone and mostly fed off a strong first half while cooling down in the latter half. If we're relying one man to be the make or break for the offense, it's Shogo Nakamura, who came off a forgettable 2019. It's also going to be key of new acquisition Shuhei Fukuda makes an impact after they signed him in free agency, beating out the Eagles in the process.

Even with all the question marks of youth and defensive mistakes, the Marines should take steps forward and with Iguchi's back against the wall, I'm expecting a surge when no one else is picking them to go as high.

Personal Expectation: 2nd Place


Tōhoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (東北楽天ゴールデンイーグルス)

The Tōhoku Rakuten (楽天) Golden Eagles were formed in 2005 after the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes merged into Orix Buffaloes at the end of 2004. A new location and region would have its own baseball team as a result.

Ownership: Rakuten, Inc.

Rakuten (pronounced Rock-U-Tin) is an E-Commerce company who can help in banking, brokering, travel and more. It's also one of the most useful internet shopping websites in Japan, where it can ship internationally. can be the Japanese equivalent of Amazon for buying goods. They also sell plenty of NPB merchandise for those who want it.

You're likely familiar with Rakuten by seeing their name on the uniforms of F.C. Barcelona and the Golden State Warriors, let alone their logo all over Camp Nou. Rakuten also owns a baseball team known now in Taiwan as the Rakuten Monkeys, formerly Lamigo Monkeys as well as J-League Soccer team Vissel Kobe.

Livedoor came in second place as the potential owners of the new baseball team in Sendai and their title would've been the Livedoor Phoenix had they won the rights.


2020 Payroll rank: 3

The Eagles have been spending money in the last five years when picking up highly priced free agents. This number could have gone up by even more had they landed Shuhei Fukuda in free agency when reportedly giving a high offer.


Location/Stadium: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi in Sendai, Miyagi

Sendai was the largest city affected by the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. It's the biggest city in the entire Tōhoku region, which is the northern part of the Honshu island. Tōhoku (東北) actually translates into "Northeast". Hot springs are also a big deal in Tōhoku, if not the more basics food in the North. It's a very earthy part of the country and they even promote being green in their alternate uniforms. 

Tōhoku covers a total of six prefectures with Miyagi being the primary home of the Eagles. The other five prefectures are Aomori, Iwate, Fukushima, Yamagata and Akita where all of them have their own identity. In a normal year, the Eagles will play at least one game in each Tōhoku prefecture barring no rain.

In particular, Sendai is famous for beef tongue (gyutan) and zunda. Other prefectures like Aomori have apples or Iwate known for Wanko Soba. 

Rakuten Seimei Park was once a home to the Marines in the 1970s as said above. Recently, they've added a Ferris wheel and carousel in the left field area. It has been renovated in recent years. 

This place is accessible through Miyaginohara Station via the JR Senseki Line. It's a 20 minute walk from the central Sendai Station. 


Mascots: Clutch and Clutchina

The Golden Eagles are named after a species of eagles that live in the Tōhoku mountains.  


Cheer song: Habatake Rakuten īgurusu (羽ばたけ楽天イーグルス) "Flap your wings, Rakuten Eagles"


Ōendan Songs: Chance Songs begin at 7:48

A thing to keep in mind is that their home games require everything to be done in acapella with only one drum assigned to each oendan due to the proximity to a hospital. Trumpets are only heard for the away games. Both the Eagles and visiting teams adjust their songs accordingly so it can sound natural in acapella or built for one drum. 

The Eagles also have number 10 retired, like how Texas A&M and the Seattle Seahawks honor the 12th man and 12s for the fans. 


MLB Comparison: Arizona Diamondbacks / Los Angeles Angels

The Eagles had early success as a franchise by winning a Japan Series in their 9th season of existence (2013). While it's not as close to the Diamondbacks and 2001, it is a solid accomplishment. 

What has stood out in recent years, is how Rakuten is spending money loosely like the Angels after they won their championship in 2002. There are no Albert Pujols and Vernon Wells contracts, but they've signed several high-priced free agents as earlier mentioned, which indicates they're gonna spend and not be concerned over expenses. 


Legendary players:

Masahiro Tanaka should be a familiar name for stateside fans. In his final season in Japan, he had a 24-0 record. 

Senichi Hoshino, mostly famous for his time with the Dragons and Tigers, won his only Japan Series as skipper of the Eagles. He's the only retired number (77) regarding a person who worked for the team. 

Notable foreign players: Andruw Jones, Casey McGehee, Kevin Youkilis, Marty Brown (as manager)

Notable players who played in MLB: Masahiro Tanaka, Hisashi Iwakuma, Takashi Saito (returned from MLB), Kazuo Matsui (returned from MLB)



Why you root for them: 

Because Sendai is outside the box and the Tohoku region is the one of the least visited tourists areas among western visitors. The Eagles have shown good fan service over the years, including a free game day promotion for anyone with a foreign passport. 

This team has shown a commitment to winning when signing players and spending money. They're not penny-pinchers. 

Why you avoid them: 

They may try to be the new Giants or Yankees of old, throwing money at anything that moves. There's question marks about their new regime of leadership since a change in guard took place. Are they committed to developing their draft picks / prospects or obsessed with free agency? You don't like cheer songs without trumpets half the time.


2020 Core Four: IF Hideto Asamura, P Takahiro Norimoto, IF Eigoro Mogi, OF Jabari Blash

2020 Foreign players: P Alan Busenitz, P Jon Thomas Chargois, P Chia-Hao Sung, IF Zealous Wheeler, OF Jabari Blash, OF Stefen Romero


Long term future player: OF Ryosuke Tatsumi

The Eagles see Tatsumi as a long term outfielder and he saw a significant amount of ichi-gun time in 2019. He hopes to take the next step with a crowded unit of players, but it's clear they like his athletic abilities.

MLB Potential: P Yuki Matsui

The passive answer would have been Norimoto, but he recently signed a long-term deal and is committed to staying in NPB. Matsui has been the team's closer since 2015, but recently will take on a starting role to prove his worth. Depending on what happens, he has the build to be a reliever in MLB, but it will be interesting to see him as a starter in 2020.


2020 Expectations:

No team has made more changes in the offseason than GM Kazuhisa Ishii's Eagles. At the top, manager Yosuke Hiraishi was let go in favor of Ishii finding his own guy in Hajime Miki, promoting the farm manager from within.

After the aforementioned swapping of players with the Marines, they also added Romero and former Seibu Lions pitcher Kazuhisa Makita, who spent most of the last two years in the San Diego Padres system.

This team has a load of veterans acquired, but what do they do with them? Daichi Suzuki was their big domestic free agent pickup as he should be fine on the infield, but Asamura and Mogi are already solid in their roles. Wheeler likely gets bumped around from his OF and 3B role, though that unit is also crowded with players.

It's going to be a puzzle how the Eagles handle their position players this season with even the catcher position being a revolving door.

As for the pitching, it should be a strength with Norimoto back, Takayuki Kishi healthy and the addition of Hideaki Wakui helping the depth. Bullpen was solid last season with Busenitz and Kohei Morihara being back end guys.

There's a load of veteran talent all over the board, but the question lies with how the identity of this squad is. Too many additions, yet uncertainty and not many signs of commitment to build from within. This team shouldn't be awful, but could come up short when last year they had enough breaks to get into A-class.

Personal Expectation: 4th place


Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (日本ハムファイターズ)

The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham (日本ハム) Fighters have had multiple titles in their 60 years of existence. They were Tokyo Senators in their inaugural season in 1946, as well as having multiple "Flyers" titles from 1947-1973. These names include Tokyu, Kyuei, Toei, and Nittaku.

Nippon-Ham became the owners and 1974, where they became "Fighters" and it hasn't changed since. The Fighters name came from a "name the team" contest when Nippon-Ham took over and the reasoning originated from then-Flyers 1B Katsuo Osugi, who was a hard worker and had a "fighting spirit", making him a Fighter.

The Fighters played second fiddle to the Yomiuri Giants for years in Korakuen Stadium (with other stadium homes prior), but both teams moved to Tokyo Dome in 1988. The Fighters represented the Pacific League while the Kyojin were in charge the Central, being the main attraction. In 2004, the Fighters moved up North to Hokkaido and the region/prefecture/island was added to the team's name.


Ownership: Nippon-Ham Foods LTD. 

Nippon-Ham is a food processing conglomerate which makes several meats from ham and sausage while also making frozen foods, seafood, dairy and more. They also have a partnership stake in the soccer J-League team Cerezo Osaka. A more slang way to say their name is Nichi Ham.  


2020 Payroll rank: 8

The Fighters don't keep as many pending free agents as other teams. They're rather tight with their budget and in the past, they once traded a player in a contract year when negotiations were getting tricky. It forces them to come up with other ways to compete and stay creative. 


Location/Stadium: Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, Hokkaido

Sapporo is the northern most prefectural capital in Japan while Hokkaido itself is both a prefecture and region. Despite lots of land covered, the island's total population is around 6 million with Sapporo itself being about 2 million. In contrast, Tokyo prefecture alone has a population north of 14 million while being small in area.

While being home to beer of the same name, Hokkaido is a northern getaway for the snow and ski resorts. It's also famous for crab, corn, miso ramen and being responsible for the dairy from milk and butter.


Sapporo Dome was originally built for the 2002 World Cup, but it currently occupies both a baseball and J-League team. The Saitama Seibu Lions were the first team to play a home game in this building and tried to block the Fighters from moving.

Fans can go this Dome by Fukuzumi Station on the Toho Line via the Sapporo Municipal Subway.

The Fighters plan to leave this venue for their own retractable roof stadium in the East suburb of Kitahiroshima. Due to the poor revenue situation and a good portion of it going to the city of Sapporo itself, the Fighters have felt the need for their own stadium.

In another fun note, the Fighters farm team is the farthest from their ichi-gun squad. This facility is Kamagaya down in Chiba prefecture, forcing a flight if someone is called up for a home game.


Mascots: Brisky the Bear (B.B.)

His hair will change colors, beware.


Cheer song: Faitāzu sanka (ファイターズ讃歌) "Fighters Hymn"

In recent years, the Fighters have used this song in the 8th inning instead of the 7th with balloons. Here's the evolution of this song over the years.


Ōendan Songs:  Chance songs begin at 11:41

A thing to note is how, like the Hawks, will change their song style if playing a home game in Sapporo vs Tokyo Dome or an away game. Quite a few different scoring songs and chance songs take place.


MLB Comparison: Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals

This comparison is not reflective of history or championships won, but how the team is currently run. Like the Rays, the Fighters are not scared to be progressive, active or creative in trying to find edges as they operating like a small market team. They're crafty when wanting to micromanage players and specifically, weren't scared to experiment with openers, or even a few pitchers to start three innings instead of aiming for five.

In a similarity with the Royals, the Fighters value speed and defense as it reflects their position players. Typically, they've emphasized both when having light hitters.

The Texas Rangers have also partnered with the Fighters in an alliance to share scouting information and more. They also helped the logistics in planning for a new ballpark.


Legendary players:

Atsunori Inaba saw the second half of his career with the Fighters and was a durable position player. He's currently managing Samurai Japan.

Yukio Tanaka reached 2,000 hits and spent 22 years with the team.

Michihiro Ogasawara was a consistent hitter during the late 90s and 2000s.

Masayuki Dobashi was an ace during the Flyers era. 

Isao Harimoto is the all-time league hits leader with 3,085.


Notable foreign players: Trey Hillman (as a manager), Brandon Laird, Luis Mendoza, Bobby Keppel, Fernando Seguignol, Brian Wolfe, Nigel Wilson, Sherman Obando, Chris Martin

Notable players who played in MLB: Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Kensuke Tanaka, Yoshinori Tateyama



Why you root for them: Because you're not scared of risks. The Fighters have shown they're ability to adapt and adjust to the times. They also aim to take the best player in the NPB Draft no matter what, even if the odds aren't in their favor. When Shohei Ohtani was drafted, no team tried to take him because they were scared he wouldn't sign, but the Fighters took the risk and reaped rewards when they convinced him to join the team.

Soon, they'll have a new stadium to themselves, which alone should be an attractive option in the future. It's also possibly you like the cold and side with the north, enjoying the dairy and nature, where Hokkaido as a whole is rural.

Why you avoid them: Being bold is not your thing. Besides Ohtani, they once tried to draft Tomoyuki Sugano even though he stated he wanted to only play for the Yomiuri Giants. They won his rights and he refused to sign, sitting out a year only to be taken by the Giants the following draft.

The Fighters have made numerous trades in a league that doesn't do it often, reshaping some parts of their roster. If you thought you knew the team, you never will when it comes to their plans and how secretive they are.

They don't have the greatest history at keeping free agents. You also have to deal with "Ham Fighter" jokes by the Western audience and have no way to escape it.


2020 Core Four: P Kohei Arihara, OF Kensuke Kondo, OF Haruki Nishikawa, P Naoyuki Uwasawa

2020 Foreign players: P Nick Martinez, P Bryan Rodriguez, P Drew VerHagen*, IF Christian Villanueva, OF Po-Jung Wang

Long term future player: IF Kotaro Kiyomiya

This is an easy answer for even the most casual NPB fan. Coming in with a lot of hype, Kiyomiya has all the tools to be a slugger, but there are question marks beyond his ability to play first base the whole time. On paper, he's the successor to Sho Nakata at 1B.

MLB Potential: Kohei Arihara

MLB scouts have been eyeing Arihara in recent years and last season he had a breakout year, living up to his first round billing when drafted. It's unclear if he wants to go, but he can project as a mid-rotation starter if he came to North America. What is likely to come is OF Haruki Nishikawa being posted, as he expressed his desire to play stateside.


2020 Expectations:

This is likely a rebuilding year. The Fighters lack pop and will be dependent on unproven foreigners Villanueva and Wang to help fill the void. There are plenty of light hitters, but the projects on the field are still raw.

The good thing for them is Nick Martinez and Naoyuki Uwasawa will be back after coming off injuries as the latter suffered a major one during the 2019 season. If healthy, they should be a competitive group with Arihara already at the top of the rotation.

Will openers and part time starters work? It looked good through July in 2019, then the offense fell flat and the month of August was their downfall. They're going to need a lot of out their infield as Taishi Ota, Kondo and Nishikawa can only do so much in the outfield.

It isn't the most attractive roster from top to bottom, but if the development of some younger players continues, their defense should keep them in games and they have an outside shot at A-class.

However, I don't see this happening. This could also be skipper Hideki Kuriyama's final season, as it took a meeting with team officials to convince him to return for 2020. Does he want to ride off into the sunset soon? There's no hot seat, but Kuriyama may want to enter another chapter in his career soon.

Personal Expectations: Sixth Place 


Orix Buffaloes (オリックス・バファローズ)

The Orix (オリックス) Buffaloes were the result of a merged team in the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes. Both teams were in the Pacific League and this merger proposal led to a strike in 2004, pausing the season. There was debate on how the league would operate with only 11 teams, let alone how schedules could work. Eventually, one expansion team was born as the only one in the 21st century thus far, better known as the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

The Orix BlueWave played in Kobe while the Kintetsu Buffaloes were in Osaka. Prior to being named the BlueWave in 1991, they were remembered as the Hankyu Braves from 1947-1988, while having the name "Orix Braves" for two seasons from 1989-1990. Their first name was the Osaka Hankyu Baseball Club in 1936. Hankyu is the same parent company today as the one who owns the Hanshin Tigers (Hankyu-Hanshin Holdings).

Kintetsu (a railway transit corporation) owned the Buffaloes and they were initially called "Kintetsu Pearls" from 1949-1958. They briefly were "Buffalo" before the plural name came about in 1962. They were eventually sold to Orix and the teams were merged into one.

Ownership: ORIX Corporation

Orix is a financial service group that helps with loans, bonds, leasing, equities, mortgages and investments. They're also involved with real estate, life insurance, banking and brokering.

Language note: Orix in Japanese is pronounced "Oreeex" except the "r" does not have heavy emphasis. With an accent, you would say "Odekes". However, an English Orix is acceptable.


2020 Payroll rank: 9

Orix has spent on free agents in the past and paying players is not an issue. The last few years have looked fruitless, making it easier to lower the payroll, but this team doesn't have problems with pending free agents when it comes to financial offers. Players could walk for different reasons.


Location/Stadium: Kyocera Dome in Osaka, Hotto Motto Field Kobe in Kobe, Hyogo

Osaka is the hub we're all familiar with as head of the second highest populated region in Japan. From the street foods of Takoyaki, mixed Okonomiyaki and Kushikatsu, the options are endless. Like Tokyo, there's plenty to do, but little time. 

Kyocera Dome was home to the Kintetsu Buffaloes before the merger as it was built in 1997. The Hanshin Tigers will occupy this structure for home games when both Spring and Summer Koshien are ongoing. Other teams will play a home game for their Kansai-based fans.

What makes this building helpful is the access of several train stations nearby, making it easier to come from any direction.

Dome-Mae Station can be reached on the Hanshin-Namba Line.
Dome-Mae Chiozaki Station can be reached via the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line on Osaka Metro.
Taisho Station is reached through the Osaka Loop Line via JR West.
Kujo Station is north of the Dome and fans can take the Chuo Line on Osaka Metro.
Even Shiomibashi Station is within a reasonable distance via Nankai's Koya Line.

Hotto Motto Field Kobe is the alternate stadium the Buffaloes use, as it was once home to the Orix Blue Wave. However, the Kobe location isn't convenient for most fans with access having only one station nearby. Fans taking a train must go to Sōgō Undō Kōen Station on the Seishin-Yamate Line on the Kobe Municipal Subway.



Buffalo Bull and Buffalo Bell


Cheer song: SKY


Ōendan Songs: From 2018, Chance songs begin at 12:06

While some of these player songs are retired, the big song that should stand out is the Towel Chance song (Chance #2 at  12:52)


MLB Comparison: Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners

With the Hanshin Tigers being the main baseball attraction in Kansai, the Buffaloes are an afterthought and little brother sharing the market. Makes a perfect comparison between the Cubs-White Sox, though there is no serious rivalry in Japan.

Like the Mariners, their on-field success since the merger has been lackluster with two post-season appearances. Both of them were nearly first place finishes, but they came up short by 2.5 games in 2008 and on percentage points in 2014, leading to a first round exit in the Climax Series. The Mariners are also an afterthought in baseball for their on-field issues.


Legendary players: 

Yutaka Fukumoto was a great leadoff hitter in the Hankyu Braves era and stole plenty of bases.

Takao Kajimoto was a great pitcher for 20 years in the early Braves era.

Hisashi Yamada was an ace throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Tetsuya Yoneda won at least 20 games for eight seasons in his career.

Toshiharu Ueda was the manager during the Braves glory years of the 1970s, winning three consecutive Japan Series

Keishi Suzuki was the star pitcher for the Kintetsu Bufaloes throughout the 1970s.

Ichiro Suzuki needs no introduction, but of course he has more legendary stats in MLB than NPB. Still an iconic name for what he's done for the game of baseball in the modern era.


Notable foreign players (all eras):

Chan-Ho Park, Dae-Ho Lee, Charlie Manuel, Tuffy Rhodes, Greg Wells, Daryl Spencer, Brad Lesley, Adam Jones (2020), Karim Garcia, Terry Collins (as a manager), Wily Mo Peña

Notable players who played in MLB: 

Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, So Taguchi, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Yoshihisa Hirano, Hisashi Iwakuma



Why you root for them: Because they're nearly anonymous and it goes against bandwagoning. Orix is a team in desperate need of fans when overshadowed by the Tigers on a daily basis. If anyone takes a trip into Kyoto, Osaka or even Kobe, getting to a game is easier than anyone else combining the train access and ticket availability. Maybe you're also loyal to Ichiro Suzuki and want to follow where he was before the Mariners. For 2020, you could also be following Adam Jones.

Why you avoid them: Losing, losing and more losing. For a team who has only been around as a merged team since 2005, it hasn't been easy. Even in their first postseason as Orix Buffaloes in 2008, it's remembered as a year where then-manager Terry Collins resigned in the middle of the season.

Orix has made questionable decisions both on the field and off the field which can lead to frustration. Recently, they had a power struggle among executives in Orix and with the whole team (players and coaches) aware of it, the direction of the baseball team felt lost. It has since been resolved at the end of 2016, however, the Denver Broncos are still going through this problem.


2020 Core Four: P Taisuke Yamaoka, P Yoshinobu Yamamoto, OF Masataka Yoshida, OF Adam Jones

2020 Foreign players: OF Adam Jones*, OF Steven Moya, IF Aderlin Rodriguez*, P Brandon Dickson, P Andrew Albers, P Tyler Higgins, P Yaku Cho


Long term future player: IF Keita Nakagawa

An underdog when drafted, he's a light hitter who helped spark their dismal offense in 2019. Given the age and outdated players who've come and gone, Orix is hoping for stability on the infield with Nakagawa.

MLB Potential: P Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Yamamoto is only 21 and is likely to take the ace role this season. After a year of devlopment, he already had an intriguing 2018 season as a setup man before he became a starter in 2019. While still young, there's a chance he can develop into something special. Time will tell.


2020 Expectations:

Orix is a team that can look like fool's gold at times. If we're going off talent and starting pitching, they're capable of making the postseason and competing like anyone else.

What is their drawback? Themselves. On the field, Orix lacks attention to detail when making plays. They won't show up as errors in the boxscore, but taking a bad angle to fielding decisions to general fundamentals can be lacking at times.

Offensively, Orix has several holes in their lineup and they're too dependent on Masataka Yoshida. It's very rare to include a first-year foreigner in the Core-four, but Adam Jones signed a two-year deal and is one of the highest paid players on the team as a result as they hope he can give them a jolt.

Despite a last place finish last season, Orix kept manager Norifumi Nishimura around saying he can help develop the team. It's very possible he's viewed as a caretaker to overwatch some rebuilding as coach So Taguchi is a name to be promoted down the line.

The pitching and bullpen should keep this team competitive, but do the self-inflicting mistakes and poor offense hurt them again? It will be up to Adam Jones and others to step it up. If they can reduce the errors and mistakes, this team will be right in the hunt for as high as second place. My problem is that they still make Orix mistakes.

Personal Expectation: Fifth place. 


Saitama Seibu Lions (埼玉西武ライオンズ)

The Saitama Seibu (西武) Lions were originally in Fukuoka (Kyushu island) as the Nishitetsu Clippers in 1950 for one season. Nishitetsu is an electric railway in Fukuoka which still operates today. After a merger with the Nippon-Nishi Pirates, they became Nishitetsu Lions one year later in 1951.

There would be a Black Mist scandal involving players fixing games from 1969-1971, similar to the Black Sox scandal from 1919. Nishitetsu would sell the team and they would be Taiheiyo Club Lions from 1973-1976, which is named after a golf course and resort developer. They would then be sold to Crown Lighter Gas, to be called the Crown Lighter Lions from 1977-1978.

Eventually, they were sold to Seibu Group and they moved to Tokorozawa in 1979, a place they still hold today. Their title would be Seibu Lions until 2008, where they added the prefecture name "Saitama" to the front.

Ownership: Seibu Holdings

Seibu Holdings is a large conglomerate in charge of several companies. Their most notable stateside property is the Prince Hotels out in Hawaii, a chain they own and operate throughout Japan. They own tourism agencies, trains (railway), buses, golf courses, ski resorts, taxis, amusement parks and more. 

Train stations in the area will often be decorated with Lions related colors. The name "Seibu" (西武) derives as an abbreviation from it's kanji title of west Musashi, which was the old title of where present day Saitama prefecture was located. 西 (Nishi) means West in Japanese, fittingly the same character used during their Nishitetsu days.


2020 Payroll rank: 7

The Lions are right in the middle of the pack. However, they're notorious for not keeping some players when they reach free agency. They're also known to using the posting system aggressively if someone wants to leave. Among all NPB teams, they've used the posting system the most for a combined seven times, including Koji Mitsui twice. 


Location/Stadium: MetLife Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama

Tokorozawa is part of the suburbs for West Tokyo, though it is slightly north into Saitama prefecture. Lions fans mostly come from West Tokyo, where all the tourism and city metropolis disappears. In general, it's normal life to commute into Tokyo, but the scenery becomes larger the further west you go. 

It was also home to one of the first airfields in Japan down in Kokukoen. Today, it's part of a park holding an aviation museum as Yokota Airbase is south of it. This area is also famous for the site of Totoro's forest. Whether it's the preserved park under the same name or the real life Hachikokuyama Park, both are in Tokorozawa and it's likely the main attraction for Western tourists seeking the real life anime locations.

MetLife Dome has been the home of the Lions since 1979 and it was originally built as an outdoor stadium with astroturf. In the 1990s, a roof was added, but it functions more like an umbrella than being a truly closed dome. With Daisuke Matsuzaka's posting fee money, the Lions used it to renovate the restrooms and add extra bullpen box seats besides the turf changes. It's located next to two lakes in Sayama and Tama.

Access by train can only be attained through Seibu Kyujo-Mae Station as it's part of Seibu's business model to build property around their train lines. You can take the Ikebukuro or Sayama lines to get there. Otherwise, the Leo Liner (Yamaguchi Line) can also reach this area. Crazy enough, this station has the name "Seibu Stadium" still on it since it takes too much legal work to change a train station's name.


Mascots: Leo and Lyna

They are based off Kimba the White Lion. The owners of this cartoon tried to sue Disney over the Lion King controversy, saying they stole material from it. 


Cheer song: Hoero Lions (吠えろライオンズ) "Roaring Lions" 


Ōendan Songs: Chance Songs begin at 8:02 (Flags to Victory) though a few inbetween are irregular songs.

The Lions are the only fanbase to use flags when cheering. Two of their chance songs are also based off songs from Kimba the White Lion (Chance #1 at 11:03 and Chance #4 at 12:54)


MLB Comparison: Oakland Athletics

The Lions have similarity in history to being the A's with past history of Nishitetsu like Philadelphia days, while the Taiheiyo Club/Crown Lighter era were like the Kansas City era.

They had a Golden Age from 1982-1994, winning eight Japan Series titles in this span, but because they played in the Pacific League, it was an afterthought like how the A's 1972-1974 dynasty happened.

Both teams struggle with players becoming free agents and play in an old Stadium combined with postseason losing. The Lions have not won a playoff series since 2011, though they have won an elimination game in the 21st Century with both the 2004 and 2008 Japan Series titles happening. Still, the similarities are just endless with both clubs. Arguably the best player for both franchises wore #24 and both have it retired.


Legendary players: 

Kazuhisa Inao is the only retired number (#24) from the franchise. He's remembered for being the best pitcher, often called a "god" during their Nishitetsu history. In the 1958 Japan Series, he pitched all four games when coming back from a 3-0 series deficit and hit a walkoff home run in one of those wins.

Futoshi Nakanishi was the star position player of the 1950s three-peat.

Osamu Higashio saw the end of the Fukuoka era, but was rewarded as the main pitcher during the early 1980s as the main pitcher.

Tsutomu Ito saw the entire golden age as the catcher and even managed the team to a Japan Series title in 2004.
Notable foreign players: This will show players who came to their NPB team on the ichi-gun and made a career from North America. My listing will be incomplete, but a handful of names will be shown.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura leads the franchise in home runs and will go down as part of the all-time greats in history.

Several players from the Golden Age can be cited from Koji Akiyama, Kimiyasu Kudo, Hatsuhiko Tsuji, Hiromichi Ishige and more. 


Notable foreign players: Orestes Destrade, Alex Cabrera, Phil Paine, Tai-Yuan Kuo, Alex Graman, Ty Van Burkleo, Mateo Alou, Steve Ontiveros, Terry Whitfield

Notable players who played in MLB: Kazuo Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yusei Kikuchi, Kazuhisa Makita, Kazuhisa Ishii (returned)

Shogo Akiyama recently signed with the Cincinnati Reds.



Why you root for them: Because they do a good job competing on a tight budget. Despite the penny-pinching reputation, they still care about winning and will invest in other ways. They have the second-most amount of Japan Series championships (13) with two coming after the Golden Age. You may also like traveling off the beaten path as it's not close to the heart of Tokyo itself.

You can also get coverage on this blog, as we cover the Lions on Twitter and via writing.

Why you avoid them: Postseason failure since 2010. As already mentioned, they've struggled once it's October despite plenty of Climax Series appearances. They also let free agents walk and post players aggressively, seeing the financial savings in it.

They're far from Tokyo and play inside an old stadium that's outdated compared to the rest. The Lions are in a position where they won't relocate, given Seibu sees the financial double dipping in the trains being next door.


2020 Core Four: C Tomoya Mori, IF Sosuke Genda, IF Hotaka Yamakawa, P Zach Neal

2020 Foreign players: P Zach Neal, P Reed Garrett, P Sean Nolin, OF/IF Cory Spangenberg, IF Ernesto Mejia


Long term future player: P Kaima Taira

Taira recently made it to the ichi-gun in 2019 and is a hard thrower drafted out of high school. The Lions are hoping he can be a closer or established reliever for years to come with his velocity.

MLB Potential: P Wataru Matsumoto

Matsumoto had a decent rookie year and has shown good command. If his continues to develop and progress, he'll be considered for posting. Keep in mind this is a long term choice for something 5-7 years down the line.


2020 Expectations:

The Lions are coming off their second straight pennant, where last year, everything went right in the second half of 2019. This year, they're expected to stay competitive with their offense, even with the loss of Shogo Akiyama. Spangenberg has utility abilities and if he can get on base, he could be a useful position player who won't be judged by the number of home runs he hits.

Pitching is young and raw, but the expectations for Neal couldn't be higher after he signed a two-year contract through 2021. The Lions are hoping Kona Takahashi, Tatsuya Imai and Matsumoto can all grow quickly and stay in the rotation. As for the bullpen, it's a contract year for closer Tatsushi Masuda, so the team will need a long-term option from within. Taira and recent draft picks Shota Hamaya and Tetsu Miyagawa are among the candidates.

While the offense should still be good, the pitching could make or break them. With the combination of other teams as well as not having much to go up from, they're likely to take a step backwards. How far is the question.

Personal Expectation: Third Place. 



Here are the expectations from thee media / former NPB personnel. Once again, scroll back to memorize the kanji/katakana used, which will be handy for scoreboard graphics and more.

For an English speaking guide to NPB, you can listen to Japan Baseball Weekly's Pacific League podcast here where I make a guest appearance with Steve Novosel (@LoveloveMarines) and Claudio Rodriguez (Beisbol Japones) as John E. Gibson and Jim Allen are the hosts.

For the Central League Portion, click here.


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