Okay, so now that the regular season is in the books, let's take a look and see how my Central League and Pacific League predictions played out. We'll take a look at the Central first and do the Pacific in the next post.
(listed in order of actual results, my predictions are in parentheses)
1. Yomiuri Giants (2) - I picked the Giants to finish second. In 2008 Hanshin led for most of the year, before choking down the stretch, and I thought they'd make it this year. I was dead wrong about that, and the Giants wound up dominating from wire to wire. I thought someone from the secondary group of pitchers would have to step up, but the guys who did weren't among my three breakout candidates (Kentaro Nishimura, Shun Tohno, and Takahiko Nomaguchi) - they were Yakult castoff Dicky Gonzales and Dominican prospect Wirfin Obispo.
2. Chunichi Dragons (5) - I was way off here. Chunichi put up a mediocre year in 2008, and lost three key contributors (Kenshin Kawakami, Nori Nakamura, Tyrone Woods) and I thought we'd see them slip further this year. Turns out I didn't respect the Dragons' depth highly enough. I did, however, correctly identify two of the key players for the Dragons this season, choosing Tony Blanco and Kazuki Yoshimi along with rookie Kei Nomoto. Nomoto was a bit of a disappointment, but Blanco and Yoshimi were outstanding.
3. Yakult Swallows (4) - Yakult took a step forward in 2009, sneaking in to the playoffs despite finishing one game under .500. Norichika Aoki overcame a horrific first half to finish at .303, and Aaron Guiel bounced back from a sub-par 2008 to hit 27 home runs. Two of my key players - Jaime D'Antona (.276, 21 hr) and Yoshinori (121 IP, 3.50 ERA)– were solid, while the other Tatsunori Masubuchi (one game, 12.60 era) was not. Yakult did get outscored by their opponents by 48 runs this year.
4. Hanshin Tigers (1) - My key players, Takahiro Arai and Kevin Mench, failed to meet expectations, and so did the Tigers. Mench's time in Japan was particularly disastrous, flaming out after only 15 games. Hanshin's trio of veterans Tomoaki Kanemoto, Akihiro Yano and Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi started to show some signs of aging as well.
5. Hiroshima Carp (3) –The step forward I envisioned after a solid 2008 season didn't materialize for the Carp, despite the good vibes from the beautiful new Mazda Stadium. The rotation was solid 1-3 and the Carp added American sluggers Scott McClain and Andy Phillips mid-season, but it wasn't enough to win consistently. My key player, Kenta Maeda, was better than his 8-14 record would indicate.
6. Yokohama BayStars (6) - The one prediction I nailed, except that I thought they'd be a little more competitive this year. Wrong. Yokohama was again a doormat, suffering to the tune of a .354 winning percentage, getting outscored by 188 runs and losing it's manager in the process. My key man, Hayato Terahara, was limited to 83 innings of work.
Synopsis: I guess I was close enough on everything except Chunichi and Hanshin.I thought the league would be a little more competitive, but the way things played out Yomiuri and Chunichi were way ahead of everyone else.