Friday, October 14, 2005

Pacific League Playoffs - Go Marines!

Well, I said in my postseason predictions a week or two ago that the Chiba Lotte Marines were going to topple the Fukuoka Daiei Softbank Hawks and go on to beat the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Series. I wasn't kidding, and so far, they're one game away from the first part.

Last night, I couldn't fall asleep, so I watched the second game of the PL Second Stage playoffs over the net, and it was really awesome. For five innings, the Hawks' Saitoh and the Marines' Shimizu were locked in a scoreless pitcher's duel. It even felt sort of like a real duel, in some ways - in the first inning or two, a few people got a few nicks in, one or two scattered hits - and after that, they were more guarded. Shimizu struck out two in the bottom of the 3rd, so Saitoh struck out two in the top of the fourth. Shimizu got Tony Batista to ground into a double play and struck out Nobuhiko Matsunaka in the bottom of the fourth, so Saitoh struck out Seung-Yeop Lee and got Hashimoto to ground into a double play in the top of the fifth. And so on.

Well, not quite. Bottom of the 5th, ex-Mariner Jolbert Cabrera comes to bat, and whoooooooosh, he hits the first pitch into the left-field stands. 1-0 Hawks. Sort of surprising, actually... Matsunaka and Zuleta were the top two home run hitters in the entire Pacific League this year (with 46 and 43 respectively), and Jolbert Cabrera, um... well, he hit 8 all year. Yeah. But, so far he's hit two in the postseason - one in each of the games the Hawks have played so far. Yeesh. You'd think he was Podsednik or Burke or someone. And, oddly, nobody ELSE on the Hawks has hit a home run yet except for Kawasaki, the guy they have playing shortstop (Cabrera's been in the outfield).

Fortunately, in the 6th, the Marines came through with a brief rally, as the normally -invincible Saitoh got into a bit of trouble. Nishioka led off with a double, then Hori walked. Fukuura flied out to left, not far enough to sacrifice. Saburo laid off a bunch of bad pitches and also found himself walked. Bases loaded. Matt Franco comes up, and BAM, he hits the ball way back to the wall in left center. Nishioka scores. Hori scores. Saburo's on third. Next up is Benny Agbayani, who grounds out to third, scoring Saburo. Wheeee, 3-1 Marines. Seung-Yeop Lee strikes out again after that, ending the inning, but still.

I went to sleep at this point, figuring the Marines were pretty likely to hold onto the lead. (They did; Kawasaki's aforementioned homer brought it only to 3-2.) The Marines' closer Masahide Kobayashi led the Pacific League in saves this year, and has notched four straight in the postseason as well.

I really wish I could stay up all night tomorrow to see the next game -- it would be really amazing if the Marines managed to sweep both stages of the PL playoffs. If you happen to be bored and are up at 2am PDT Friday night / Saturday morning, you can watch the games over Yahoo! Japan from here - just look for a little TV icon, which will be there next to the game lineups if a game is currently being broadcast. Sadly, there's no game tonight. I also wonder... hmm. The Hawks and Lions are the only teams I know of that have been broadcasting their games on the net for free all year, so it's fortunate they were both in the PL playoffs. But when the Marines actually do make it to the Japan series, chances are I won't be able to watch, unless Yahoo decides to broadcast them anyway.

Something you have to understand is the way the Pacific League playoffs work, since they're a little wonky. There are only 6 teams in the league, and it's thought of as being the "lesser" league in Japan (probably because it doesn't have the Tigers or Giants, although the PL uses the DH, and the CL does not). So last year, they changed the postseason so that the entire top half of the league ends up in the playoffs. The first part is called "First Stage", where the 2nd and 3rd place teams play against each other, in a best-of-three series. Then whoever wins two games in that series goes on to play the first place team in "Second Stage", a best-of-five series. Whoever wins three games in that series goes on to the Japan Series and plays the Central League champion, who usually doesn't have to go through playoffs unless something bizarre happens.

Now, here's the best part. In the PL playoffs, the team with the better record has the home field advantage in every game in the series. So, this year, since the Hawks were first place, the Marines were second place (back 4.5 games), and (behind CLM by 18.5 games) Seibu was third. So the Marines beat Seibu in two straight games at Chiba Stadium. Now, the Marines are playing the Hawks at the Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka, and so far have won the first two games. They will not have home-field advantage in any of their games, and they're about to sweep. This is great.

So stay tuned. And かっとばせマリーンズ!

EDIT @ 2am 10/15: Shunsuke Watanabe is starting for Chiba in this game! He's an awesome submarine pitcher. You should watch if you're up and reading this! I'm going to sleep soon.

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