It's been a while since I've written any actual content about Japanese baseball... sometimes real life gets in the way. Let's see if we can fix that, at least for now.
- The surprise of the season so far for me has been the performance of the Chiba Lotte Marines, who are neck and neck and neck with the SoftBank Hawks and resurgent Seibu Lions for the Pacific League lead. Lotte is getting it done in style too, leading the Pa-League in team runs scored, runs allowed, batting average and era. Will it continue? You have to figure that Kim Tae-Kyun and Tadahito Iguchi will cool off at some point, but they have a decent lineup 1-9. The pitching is a little bit of a concern too, as new manager Nishimura is letting some of his starters go a bit further into games than Bobby V used to. We'll see if that turns into a problem down the stretch.
- Over in the Central League, it's nice to see the Yokohama BayStars competing with a respectable 16-18 record so far. Yokohama is getting good production from a number of pitchers, including newcomers Naoyuki Shimizu, Shigeru Kaga, and Shintaro Ejiri. The 'Stars are still struggling in spots offensively, but should be better over the course of the season by virtue of the sheer number of weak bats they took out of the lineup last offseason.
- Bridging the gap between those first two bullet points is the apparently impending trade of Yuji Yoshimi from Yokohama to Lotte. The big lefty was once a promising starter, but injuries derailed him for a couple of years and recently he's been more of a middle-of-the-pack long reliever. Lotte seems to want him as a starter.
- And more on Lotte: reliever Hiroyuki Kobayashi has qualified for international free agency, and is reportedly likely to seek a move to the majors. This has come up before with Kobayashi so it isn't exactly a surprise at this point. I could see him playing for the San Francisco Giants, if they have an opening for a righthander. Former Lotte man Shun Kakazu scouts Japan for the Giants, and Brian Sabean can be creative in putting together his bullpen.
- Former Hanshin lefty Jeff Williams wants to return to the Tigers as an active pitcher, but the Tigers want to bring him back as a scout. The idea would be for current scout Andy Sheets to focus on hitters, while Jeff would look for pitchers. Jeff certainly knows what it takes to succeed in Japan, but I would love to see him pitch for the Tigers again and eventually get a proper do-age send-off.
- Who will be this year's Junichi Tazawa or Yusei Kikuchi? Maybe it will be Chuo University pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura, who seems to be eclipsing Yuki Saito in terms of media ink. The Giants and Mets each had a scout at Sawamura's most recent outing, with Mets' Isao Ojimi saying that it would "be a waste for him to say in Japan", while the Giants' Shun Kakazu said that he hit 97 on his gun. Draft Reports has a quote from Sports Hochi from February saying that Sawamura is favoring playing in Japan.
- Moving along to Kikuchi, the young lefty now known simply as Yusei struggled with both his command and velocity in his first couple ni-gun appearances, but showed signs of improvement on May 4th, when he threw five scoreless innings and hit 147 kmph (92mph) on the gun. Seibu is saying he won't be promoted before the All-Star break, but could get a look afterward.
- Casey Fossum bought the PSP version of Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 for his five year-old son, but was annoyed to learn that Konami made him pretty bad in the game, and vowed to use it as motivation to do well and be a better player in next year's version of the game. Speaking of Fossum, he's blogging about his experiences in Japan.
- Off-topic bullet point: I came across this essay about the state of Japan's technology and IT sector (link to PDF file), and why it's in trouble. It makes some good points, but overall I found it disappointing as it covers the usual tired criticisms of over-reliance on manufactured consumer goods and an under-developed services sector.