The Japan Series, which kicks off tonight at Nagoya Dome, is an intriguing battle of two well-balanced clubs.
The Chunichi Dragons won the Central League pennant with solid pitching and defense, some potent offense and a winning record in close games.
"They are a superb team, a club with great pitching, great fielding, great balance," said first-year Chiba Lotte Marines manager Norifumi Nishimura said Friday as the team's worked out.
The Marines, who finished third in the Pacific League pennant race but caught fire in the postseason, had the PL's best offense this season by a wide margin. Only injuries to the starting rotation and to No. 1 catcher Tomoya Satozaki kept the team from being as good defensively as it might have been during the regular season.
"One has to respect what he [Nishimura] has done and what his team has done," Chunichi skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai said.
The Marines' team ERA of 4.10 was fifth in the PL, an amazingly high figure for a team that plays in a pitching-friendly park.
The Dragons, whose 3.29 team ERA was best in the CL, benefit even more from their home park.
Although the starting pitching was the Marines weakness for much of the season, Nishimura's starters have run up some impressive numbers in the postseason.
In eight games, all on the road, the Marines starters are 3-2 with a 2.17 ERA. The Marine with his own personal October highlight real has been Yoshihisa Naruse. The lefty allowed two runs in six innings in his first-stage start and followed that with a pair of complete game victories, including a shutout in the second-stage clincher.
"Our starters were very good in the Climax Series, and have continued to work hard since," said Nishimura, who was asked the obligatory question of whether he had a starting pitcher in mind for Game 1.
"If I didn't, I think that would be a problem."
While the Dragons wrapped up the CL's Series berth here last Saturday, the Marines have not played since Oct. 19.
"I'm eager to play, everyone on the team is," Nishimura said.
The Dragons layoff was just right, according to star middle reliever Takuya Asao.
"My arm is rested and I'm ready to go," he said.
The right-hander, who had a 12-3 record with a Japan-best 47 holds, would like to turn things around after his last outing, when he blew a two-run save but ended up the winner as the Dragons clinched the CLCS.
"The thought of getting hit is scary, but you have to go out there," he said. "Sometimes you can pitch well and still give up a home run. That's one of the lessons I learned this year."
Dragons left fielder Kazuhiro Wada, who led the CL in both on-base percentage and slugging, said now is the time to get it done.
"This is what we play for," the MVP candidate said. "Whatever you do [in the regular season], you want to win this, or it feels like you did nothing."
The Dragons are playing for their third Japan Series title and second since 2007, while the Marines are taking aim at their franchise's fourth. They last won in 2005, when they swept the Hanshin Tigers in four games.
A Marines victory would mark the second time that the Japan Series champion was not a league champ. The first team to do it was the Dragons, in 2007.
At the time, Ochiai said his club's feat was less special by not having won the CL in the regular season. Asked how he felt having arrived as league champ, the skipper was philosophical.
"At that time we took what was in front of us," he said. "The rules put us in the Japan Series. This time is not really any different."
Meanwhile, Ochiai showed no concern about the approach of a typhoon that is threatening to disrupt the Series schedule.
"What good is it to think about that?" Ochiai said. "I can't do anything about a typhoon."