The Pacific League is balanced. In fact, this is probably the first time I can say that I think that every team in the league has a chance to finish first. That makes it difficult to pick winners this year, so I'm going to try something different. I've got the teams ranked not by where I think they'll finish, but by how likely I think they are to finish first.
6. Orix Buffaloes (offseason summary)
High-risk, high-reward rotation; new suketto question marks; counting on lots of guys who had their first success in 2010; thin bullpen; Chihiro Kaneko injured
5. Chiba Lotte Marines (offseason summary)
Absence of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Kobayashi; lineup is due for some regression; not quite sold on starters not named Naruse or Karakawa
4. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (offseason summary)
Strong front rotation; better lineup with the additions of Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura; lots of righty bullpen options; new manager
3. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (offseason summary)
Yu Darvish; steady rotation; great defense; a few break-out candidates; good 2nd half in 2010; Darvish
2. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (offseason summary)
Additions of Alex Cabrera and Seiichi Uchikawa; strong lineup 1-9; good 1-2 starters; lights-out bullpen; backed into 2010 title; emerging starters; lots of injury-prone players
1. Saitama Seibu Lions (offseason summary)
Productive lineup; talented core; interesting young pitchers - Yusei Kikuchi, Tatsuya Oishi, Kazuhisa Makita; stalwart ace in Hideaki Wakui
It was tough putting Orix last, since I'm such a big fan of their approach, but everything needs to go right for them to win. Similarly it's hard having Lotte fifth after a Nippon Series win, but I think their lineup is likely to fall back to earth in 2011. Rakuten in fourth is a bit of a leap of faith for me; last year Chunichi won with four good hitters and a good group of pitchers. Rakuten has the starters (but not the bullpen) and with their additions they might have the offense they need to contend. As for the other three... well, it came down to a toss up between Softbank and Seibu for first. I think I just have a preference for Seibu's lineup, and more confidence in their ability to remain healthy.
The point is, any one of these teams can win in 2011. It should be a great season.