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Climax Series Stage 2: They're rested, waiting but it's no guarantee

by Rob Smaal (Oct 21, 2009)

Now that some of the NPB playoff dust has settled and the Climax Series Stage 2 matchups have been determined, it's time to look ahead to what Japanese baseball fans can expect this week.

The Central League champion Yomiuri Giants have been twiddling their thumbs for the past several days waiting to find out who they would face in Stage 2.

Well, now we know and today they lace up their cleats and get back to business.

The Chunichi Dragons' 7-4 win Monday night in Nagoya over the Yakult Swallows in Game 3 of Stage 1 earned Hiromitsu Ochiai's club a matchup with the powerful Giants, who have been the class of the league this season. It's a rematch of a series the Giants won last year on their way to the Japan Series, where they fell in seven to the Seibu Lions.

To make things even rougher on Chunichi--as if that was necessary after playing three tough games against the pesky Swallows--all games in the second round will be played at Tokyo Dome and the Giants get a one-game lead heading into the "best-of-seven."

While the rest-versus-rust aspect may come into play, the break allows Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara to line up his pitching rotation.

The Giants dominated the season series between the clubs, going 16-8 against Chunichi, and they are expected to send right-hander Dicky Gonzalez to the hill for Game 1 tonight. Gonzalez, who went 15-2 this season, devoured the Dragons, going 4-0 against them in 2009. The native of Puerto Rico also went 8-0 in the friendly confines of Tokyo Dome, but he is taking nothing for granted.

"Their 3-4-5 hitters are among the best in the league so we have to be careful," Gonzalez said Tuesday at Tokyo Dome after the team went through a light workout.

Gonzalez was referring to the trio of Masahiko Morino, Tony Blanco and Kazuhiro Wada, who accounted for a total of 91 home runs and 306 RBIs in 2009.

After Gonzalez, Hara is likely to call on Wirfin Obispo, lefties Tetsuya Utsumi and Hisanori Takahashi, and young right-hander Shun Tono, if necessary. Another righty, American 13-game winner Seth Greisinger, is not available due to inflammation in his pitching elbow but he may be used if the club makes it to the Japan Series.

Ochiai will have to make it through at least a couple of games without his two aces--NPB ERA leader Chen Wei-yin of Taiwan and 16-game winner Kazuki Yoshimi, who both pitched against the Swallows--but his pitching staff is deep and Ochiai has several quality arms in his arsenal.

The Giants' potent offense features four players with 25 or more home runs--Alex Ramirez, Michihiro Ogasawara, Shinnosuke Abe and Yoshiyuki Kamei--as well as young shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who hit 18 homers and posted a .306 average hitting in the leadoff spot.

"We can't think about what a great season we had," said Ramirez, whose 31 HRs, .322 average and 103 RBIs make him a likely candidate to pick up his second straight CL MVP award. "We just have to think about (Wednesday's) game. They have a great pitching staff and if you don't stay focused you could end up going 0-fer-the Climax Series."

Hitting in front of Ramirez is Ogasawara, Rami's only real competition in the MVP race. "Guts" posted another superb year at the plate, matching Ramirez with 31 homers, while driving in 107 and hitting .309.

In the Pacific League, the Rakuten Eagles will look to build on the momentum of their two-game Stage 1 sweep of the Softbank Hawks in Sendai when they take on the pennant-winning Nippon-Ham Fighters in Game 1 at Sapporo Dome tonight.

As in the CL, the Fighters also host all the games in the best-of-seven and start out with a 1-0 lead.

Eagles skipper Katsuya Nomura is hoping to rub it in management's face by earning a trip to the Japan Series after being informed that he won't be back at the helm next season. He will start 13-game winner Satoshi Nagai tonight after both of his studs--Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka--threw complete games against the Hawks.

Nippon-Ham skipper Masataka Nashida will counter with 10-game winner Masaru Takeda. Nashida's top gun Yu Darvish, who won 15 games and posted a PL-best 1.73 ERA this year, will miss Stage 2 with back and shoulder problems.

The best-of-seven Japan Series is scheduled to start Oct. 31 at the home of the PL representative.


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