You know, I used to avidly follow Japanese baseball. I still do, but my favorite team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, has been doing atrociously this year. I mean, the only thing saving them from the absolute dead cellar is that the Rakuten Golden Eagles, the expansion team in the Pacific League, is sucking even more. So it makes it depressing for me to read about the games, because when both my local team (Mariners) and my overseas team (Fighters) are both suuuuuuuucking, it just gets to be too much.
But, I do check the Yahoo! Japan sports page fairly regularly to see what's going on and keep an eye on players I like and such. So, much to my surprise, I checked it and saw a familiar guy there...
横浜佐々木引退、9日仙台でラスト登板へ (Kazuhiro Sasaki is retiring, he will take the mound for the last time in Sendai on the 9th)
Yeah, it appears Sasaki has declared his intent to retire, at the Bay Stars vs. Giants game at Fullcast Stadium. Poor him. He pitched in only a few games this year and really kinda sucked it up, then was demoted to the ni-gun roster in April, then had surgery on his elbow in May, then underwent rehab... and it appears he's just decided to move on. Oh well. His mother can't make it to Tokyo to see him pitch his last game, so they decided to do the retirement up in Sendai. That's pretty cool.
Seriously, if you're a fan of any team in the Pacific League except the Hawks this year, it's pretty much a done deal. Surprisingly, the only team that might be able to topple them is the Chiba Lotte Marines, under the leadership of Bobby Valentine. It's so crazy, because Lotte was definitely in the lower division last year, only finishing above Orix and Kintetsu, which were so hapless they were merged before this year. This year their pitching is stronger, and Seung-Yeop Lee is still mashing away at the ball (22 HR), and Matt Franco is having a heck of a year as well (.320/.392/.516)... ahhh, I dunno, but they're sounding a heck of a lot better than the team I saw when I was in Chiba Stadium last year, that's for sure.
I wish I could say the same for the Fighters. Michihiro Ogasawara is still dependable if nothing else (.276/.352/.555, 26 HR, good for third in the league in HR's behind Nobuhiko Matsunaka's 35 and Julio Zuleta's 30). Yukio Tanaka is probably not going to get enough playing time this year to reach 2000 hits; he is currently at 1956, but only 35 of those are from this season. He's only 37 years old though, so there's a chance he might be able to stay on with the team for another year or two. It was a given that Atsuya Furuta of the Swallows would reach it (he needed 16 entering this season) and Kenjiro Nomura of the Carp (he needed 55), but poor Tanaka just isn't a regular anymore. He's sort of like the poor man's Dave Hansen. Actually, he's a lot like that. He really just plays the corners nowadays, and they already have a prime third baseman in Ogasawara and a decent first baseman in Oda, not to mention Seguinol getting time there when he's not DHing. Kimoto is maturing into the second baseman they need, though he needs to strike out less. I wish I could see the games, since I'm wondering how Kaneko's really doing as the shortstop (better than Narahara in the field, worse with the bat, I'm guessing?) I guess the problem overall is the pitching; what with Carlos Mirabal getting released due to his shoulder injury, and Satoru Kanemura imploding, they don't have a reasonable #1 starter at all. Yukiya Yokoyama also seems to have not become the closer they needed... not that they get many save situations these days anyway, but don't get me started on that. It makes me cry.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is still the unluckiest pitcher ever, except maybe Kevin Millwood. I ranted about him a month or two ago and everything I said there still stands. His team, Seibu, is also having a terrible year (they're lower than ORIX for crying out loud), and Nishiguchi is still posessing a much better win-loss record (13-3, 2.75 ERA, 117.2 IP, 90 K, 26 BB, 10 HR , 1 complete game out of 17) than Matsuzaka's (8-10, 2.21 ERA, 151 IP, 165 K, 33 BB, 7 HR, 13 complete games out of 19). For crying out loud, that's 7 home runs in... ah, it's like a home run every 21 innings or so!
Gah, I need to go to sleep. It's bad when I'm reading the Japanese baseball pages and realize the game is going to start soon and I could probably watch it...