Edit: The game was in Nagoya. I must have been worn out when I wrote this.
In my grand tradition of starting a post and then taking forever to finish it, I’m wrapping this up in just the nick of time.
So this year’s Nippon Series opens later today (JST) in Nagoya Chiba, weather permitting. I’ve given the matchup a good look and I’m ready to share my pick.
Lotte’s ace, Yoshihisa Naruse, is good but home run prone. Number two starter Yuki Karakawa is supposed to come back for the Series, but after two long disruptions this season it’s hard to know what to expect from him. The next three starters, Shunsuke Watanabe, Bill Murphy and Hayden Penn are all capable of having good games,
Chunichi leads off with lefty ace Wei-Yin Chen, who is a contract in styles to Naruse. Kazuki Yoshimi (a personal favorite of mine) and Kenichi Nakata are both solid pitchers who struggled to absorb innings this year, though that shouldn’t come into play in a short series. No 4 man Daisuke Yamai has eight innings of Chunichi’s 2007 Nippon Series perfect game to his name. A fifth option, Maximo Nelson, was effective in the nine starts he got this season, but he could be used in the bullpen.
Edge: I prefer Chunichi’s starters, but it’s a bit closer than I originally perceived.
Hiroyuki Kobayashi made a successful transition to the ‘pen in 2010 for Lotte, and leads a solid bullpen that features four pitchers who appeared in at least 57 games in 2010. Yasuhiko Yabuta posted solid numbers in his return to Japan, though nine home runs in 65.2 innings of work is problematic for a reliever. Yoshihiro Itoh (64.2 IP, 3.58 ERA) and lefty Takuya Furuya (55.2, 2.91) round out the group.
Chunichi’s bullpen is led by longtime closer Hitoki Iwase, but the real relief ace in 2010 was Takuya Asao. The hard-throwing Asao appeared in 72 games, threw 80.1 innings, posted a 12-3 record and 1.68 ERA, and set an NPB record with an astonishing 59 “hold points” (holds relief wins). Masafumi Hirai had one of his good years in 2010, and Akifumi Takahashi posted perhaps the best numbers of any lefty reliever in the Central League this season. Nelson will provide extra depth if he doesn’t start.
Edge: Chunichi has a big advantage here.
Lotte’s run production was tops in the Pacific League, with 708 Marines crossing the plate in 2010. They did it with a remarkably balanced lineup. While Lotte only had one player top 20 home runs (Kim Tae-Gyun at 21), they had eight players who hit at least 10. Lotte scored by keeping runners on base: Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.423) and Tadahito Iguchi (.412) finished 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific League in OBP. Among their regulars, Shoitsu Ohmatsu had the worst OBP at .339, and even that was good enough for 21st in the Pacific League.
Chunichi has more of a “three-run home run” kind of lineup, with a menacing mid-order presence in Kazuhiro Wada, the steady bat of Masahiko Morino, and a proven power threat in Tony Blanco. After that, they’ve got slap-hitting top-order man Masahiro Araki and not much else.
Edge: Lotte. They are simpler better one through nine.
I’m saying Chunichi in six games. I think they have enough hitting to hang around, and the pitching to ice leads when they get them.