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The Hot Corner: Japan Series going as expected

by Jim Allen (Nov 6, 2008)

Other than Kazuhisa Ishii's stunning postseason lapse in the second inning of Game 3, the Japan Series has gone according to form.

No one should have been surprised by both teams' ability to hit the ball over the wall. Although with the Central League taking the lions' share of media attention during the year, there are always a few who can't fathom how a Pacific League club could even put up a fight.

Every time the Lions hit a home run, some broadcaster will say, "Well they hit 198 in the regular season, so it's to be expected." Except it comes out sounding as if no one really expected it all. When Alex Ramirez or Michihiro Ogasawara homer, THAT is expected, when Hiroyuki Nakajima hits one out, its more like, "Oh, I guess he can hit, after all."

The real surprise is that after Ramirez and Ogasawara homered on Tuesday, they tied Nakajima for career Series homers: In 36 Series at-bats, Nakajima has four--in 54 at-bats Ramirez and Ogasawara have hit four, combined.

Power can be a critical factor in a short championship series. The good pitching and defense that top teams bring takes a huge bite out of the chances of getting one base runner after another. This puts teams relying on long rallies at a disadvantage.

From their regular season numbers, one could expect the Lions to hit 13 percent more home runs in the Series than the Giants. But without two of their better power hitters, G.G. Sato and Craig Brazell, much of Seibu's slugging edge is lost.

Power isn't everything, though. Teams can overcome a missile gap if their opponent is unable to get outs. This happened in 2001, when Ramirez and Ishii were Yakult Swallows teammates. The Kintetsu Buffaloes had a sizeable home run edge, but Kintetsu's pitching and defense was perhaps the worst of any Series team ever.

With no real power advantage, what separates these two clubs?

The biggest difference between them during the season and during the Series has been their ability to get runners on base.

The Lions had a .330 team on-base-percentage during the season compared to the Giants' .322, but the edge here goes to Yomiuri. The PL champs put runners on more often their CL counterparts, but one has to consider the other side of the equation--runners allowed. The Giants were good at keeping opponents off base; the Lions allowed more runners than their league average.

The biggest component here is walks and hit batsmen. Lions pitchers issued 449 walks, fifth worst in the league, while their batters drew 378--also fifth worst in the PL. In the Series, the Giants have drawn walks, the Lions haven't.

In the first three games, the Giants had 18 hits and four homers, the Lions 16 hits and four homers. The difference is the 13 extra Giants batters who have reached after being walked or hit--compared to five for the Lions. This is where G.G. Sato's absence hurts. Even when Sato doesn't hit, he walks.

One other big gap is between the bullpens. When the Lions' starters left the game in the regular season, their opponents' chances of scoring increased. When Giants manager Tatsunori Hara called for relief, he got it.

The Giants' bullpen may have been the second best in Japan this season behind the Hanshin Tigers', but there wasn't much separating them. Seibu's relief corps, on the other hand, was fairly ordinary. In the first three games, Lions relievers allowed three runs in 7-1/3 innings, the Giants guys one run in 9-1/3.

The Giants' final advantage, albeit a small one, is on the bench, with Yomiuri's subs easily the most productive in Japan this season. With all the injuries the Giants suffered in 2008, Hara's club wouldn't even be here without the 68 runs scored and 58 driven in from guys who entered games as substitutes.

Yoshiyuki Kamei, who came off the bench 37 times this season, entered Game 2 as a defensive replacement and was a key to the 3-2 victory. His sixth-inning double tied it 2-2, and he robbed Nakajima of another swing with a great catch in foul territory in the ninth.

"I work on those catches in practice so it shouldn't be a surprise," Kamei said Tuesday.


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