The Chunichi Dragons lack superstar fire power but have managed to blaze a trail leading right up to the doorstep of the Japan Series.
The Dragons this year won their first Central League title since 2006 with 79 wins--the same as the defending Japan Series champion Yomiuri Giants, whom they dominated by winning 11 straight at Nagoya Dome until that streak was snuffed out in a 3-2 Game 3 final-stage Climax Series loss on Friday.
The difference between the teams in the standings was two losses and that wasn't so much the Dragons' doing, according to Chunichi head coach Shigekazu Mori.
"We started the season figuring if we could reach 78 to 79 wins, we'd be in contention for the CL title," Mori said.
"If we could get to 80, we thought we'd have a chance at a title, but we thought 77 or so wins would certainly get us a spot in the Climax Series.
"But the pace the Giants started the season on, they were headed for 84 or 85 wins. Luckily, they fell back and we were able to put some winning streaks together and caught up to them."
The 55-year-old Mori said Chunichi's close, low-scoring games are hard to watch and even keep the coaches squirming.
"It's bad for my heart, bad for my stomach, my head hurts, I'm drinking too much and I'm not getting enough sleep," he quipped. "There's nothing good about it. We need to do something about that."
Mori said Chunichi, which outlasted the second-place Hanshin Tigers and the Giants to earn its eighth league title, uses every phase of the game to win. From having disciplined at-bats, to being solid in the field behind a strong pitching staff, Chunichi brings a refuse-to-lose attitude every day.
"For this club, that's what we have to do to win," Mori said of the way the Dragons compete under skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai. "We have to be relentless and determined.
"We don't have an American player in the lineup and our pitchers don't go out thinking they're going to throw complete games and shutouts every time. There are three good relievers behind them and they know that.
"We try to get it done as a group, everyone working together."
The biggest issue the Dragons were worried about coming into the CLCS, even with the one-win advantage before the start of play, was the 17 days off from the end of the season to the start of the second stage.
"We had that two-to-three-week layoff and we were pretty anxious about how we'd play after that break," Mori said. "I think that disappeared when we played well in the first two games, but you can't win all the games."