The reigning Pacific League champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters didn't just stumble out of the gate, they tripped and fell.
They didn't win a series until April 10 and 11, when ace Yu Darvish and No. 2 man Masaru Takeda pitched them past Fukuoka SoftBank on the road.
And they've have just begun to crawl back into contention, moving up to fourth in the standings for the first time this season after topping SoftBank with a late rally Wednesday at Tokyo Dome.
Most of these Fighters were on the teams that won three PL titles the past four seasons. But injuries--and there have been plenty--aside, Nippon Ham just hadn't been in a fighting stance. That was until June 18, when it was boosted by a 13-3 stretch that included a recent six-game winning streak.
"In April and May, it was really like, 'What's going on here?'" Atsunori Inaba said Thursday before the finale of a three-game series at Tokyo Dome.
"We had errors that led to us giving teams too many extra runs," in his 16th season and sixth with Nippon Ham. "We couldn't find a rhythm. But it seems like we're back now," said Inaba, a career .292 hitter who is batting .262 with 13 longballs.
Inaba's explanation for the poor start: "We're human. And there are many things we can learn from this."
Makoto Kaneko, Nippon Ham's veteran shortstop, said the Fighters lack game-changing power and that can make them inconsistent.
"[Our lineup] is all Japanese players and we don't have a big slugger who can change things with one swing," said Kaneko, who has played in 49 of the team's 81 games, having missed time early with a ribcage injury.
"We have to string hits together. If we do that, we win games. If we don't we lose. In that respect, we can win a lot of games in a row, but we can also lose in bunches.
"Right now, we are meshing."
The injuries have slowed the Fighters, but Kaneko said it's no excuse.
"When someone goes out, we can't say, 'Oh, that guy's not here.' It means one of our younger players has to think of it as their chance to make an impact," he said. "And if that leads to a victory, then it makes us a stronger team.
"And we can build off that. The next time someone gets injured, we have an experienced player waiting to fill in."
The Fighters have had to fill in quite a bit on the mound. Pitching had been a constant for Nippon Ham in its three PL-winning runs, but this season the rotation has been more like a revolving door.
The Fighters have already called upon 13 starters, the most of any PL team.
Darvish (8-4) has finally looked like the man with 58 wins the previous four seasons, and first-year righty Bobby Keppel 10-1, who can become the third foreign pitcher to win 10 straight with a victory in his next decision, have been the mainstays. But inconsistency has plagued just about every other spot in the rotation.