Teams in the Pacific League seem to be changing spots in the standings so often, it's hard to tell who's coming on and who's falling out of the race.
The Chiba Lotte Marines, who spent much of the first half of the season near the top of the standings, dropped their season-long seventh straight game on Thursday at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi.
The Orix Buffaloes, who spent much of the first half kicking around the PL cellar, moved into the third and final Climax Series spot with a Thursday night victory and are now kicking around the idea of grabbing a spot in the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Saitama Seibu Lions, who were snacking on PL teams in the first half of the season, have been beset by injuries that now have them rummaging for victories.
They'd lost six of their last eight, including a beating for ace Hideaki Wakui who got lit up for for 12 hits--three homers--and eight runs in 5-1/3 innings in a 9-7 decision against the Hokkaido Nippon Fighters on July 31.
Still, the first-place Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks went into Friday night's action merely 6-1/2 games ahead of fifth-place Nippon Ham, a .500 team.
The Lions, who despite recent hard times are still in second, say they have to manage the dog days of summer.
"This is the part of the season where things aren't going our way, and now it's up to us to battle through it and get going back in the right direction," said Seibu closer Brian Sikorski.
"Hopefully we can catch a few breaks and some of those ground balls will not get through and get caught. And some of those bloopers or line drives will get caught or won't fall in.
"It's just the grind of the season and you have to battle through it."
All-Star shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima said no matter how bleak things can be, without starters Takayuki Kishi and Kazuhisa Ishii and cleanup man Takeya Nakamura, the Lions have to stay primed and ready to scratch and fight.
"We have games every day. So win or lose, we have to forget about it and prepare for the next game, and that's what's important," said Nakajima, who is fourth in the league with a .326 average.
"Once the game starts, you just have to go out and play," said Nakajima, who is trying to lead a mix of fill-ins and youngsters sprinkled throughout the lineup.
"The younger players are focused on themselves and what they have to do. If they just go out and play hard and play their game, that's all you can ask for."
SoftBank's 16-year veteran Hitoshi Tamura, in the midst of one of his best--and healthiest--seasons in years, said it's still no time to think about the standings.
"From one to six, you just don't know how it's going to go," said Tamura, whose 17 home runs already matches last year's total.
"We have pressure to win every game, so it's still not the time to think about the [league] championship.
"We have around 40 games left to play, we can't worry about that. We have to focus on avoiding losing streaks and making sure we win series openers."
Nishimura slapped with fine
Chiba Lotte Marines rookie manager Norifumi Nishimura was hit with a 150,000 yen fine for shoving an umpire in Thursday night's loss to the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi.
Nishimura charged out of the dugout after Toshiaki Imae was ruled out on a close play at first base in the third inning. The 50-year-old skipper grabbed the arms and bumped umpire Masao Yanada, leading to his first ejection.