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John E. Gibson

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Giants hoping big bats can keep Swallows at bay

by John E. Gibson (Jun 26, 2009)

The Yakult Swallows have a chance to do some real damage as they chip away at the Central League's pecking order, while the SoftBank Hawks look to continue their surprising climb.

The front-running Yomiuri Giants open the return to league play today with the first of a three-game series against the second-place Swallows at Tokyo Dome at 6 p.m.

The Swallows, who were 15-9 during interleague play, finishing second to back-to-back champion SoftBank, have a chance to put pressure on two-time CL winning Yomiuri and stretch a season-high seven-game winning streak.

But Yomiuri cleanup man and former Swallow Alex Ramirez said the Birds might be headed for a rough landing.

"This year it's like they're doing everything they need to do. They have a good combination right now--I wish them all the best," Ramirez, one-plus seasons removed from a seven-year stint with the Swallows, said at a Thursday practice at the dome.

"But I strongly believe that after a winning streak comes a losing streak," he added.

"They're playing really good right now. They've got a seven-game winning streak, but we play them at our home. It's going to be exciting, especially to play those guys now that they're in second place. It's a different game now."

The Giants are 4-1 against the Swallows, who will see more ex-teammates in the form of starter Dicky Gonzalez, today's likely starter, and Seth Greisinger, Saturday's probable pitcher.

Ramirez, though, said the series will be decided with the Giants' big bats.

"It's going to be up to the hitters, I strongly believe," said Ramirez, who is batting .298 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs.

"I think the starting pitching--we've got the guys who can throw six, seven innings and give us the opportunity to give us to score some runs and win. Our guys are veteran guys."

The Hawks might lack veteran leadership, especially at the top under rookie skipper Koji Akiyama, but they are not short on results.

The Hawks, who won six straight to open interleague play, finished with a .753 winning percentage, the best since Hokkaido Nippon Ham had the same record in 2007.

An 18-5-1 interleague run boosted SoftBank from fifth place in the PL into a tie for first with the Fighters.

"I think we just started to click," starter D.J. Houlton, who posted a 3-0 record against the CL--identical to teammate and interleague MVP Toshiya Sugiuchi, said by phone.

But the Hawks are three games under .500 against the PL, and open the first of three against the reigning Japan Series champion Seibu Lions tonight in Omiya.

"I think we really just came together. Everyone really started producing--we hit, we pitched. Really, our bullpen has been really good--the seventh- and eight-inning guys," added Houlton, who is 5-3 in 11 quality starts.

"And I don't think things should change, I think we should do well against these guys--at least I hope so."

The Lions are 5-3-1 against the Hawks, who only have a winning record against the Lotte Marines (5-4).

Elsewhere in the PL, Nippon Ham plays at Lotte, while Rakuten travels to Orix.

In the CL, the third-place Chunichi Dragons visit fourth-place Hiroshima and the Hanshin Tigers host Yokohama.


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