Yesterday, NPB crowned two winners: Chunichi clinched the Central League title, and Seibu took the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific League.
My hat is way off to Chunichi, and manager Hiromitsu Ochiai for a well-deserved douage. I predicted before the season that this would be the year we'd see the Dragons finally stumble back into the B-class, but they proved me wrong, securing the first renpa (consecutive titles) in team history. Ochiai won with arguably less talent than any of his previous winners. The Dragons again sported a rather punchless lineup, but like the rest of the teams, the life was choked out of their standout bats by the new home run-limiting ball. Chunichi dominated on the mound though, and while the Dragons feature some outstanding pitchers, the supporting cast played an important role. Six Dragons pitchers who appeared in 30 games or more have a higher number of games than innings pitched, suggesting that Ochiai played matchups aggressively. It's a fitting, if unfortunate, conclusion to a remarkable eight-year run for Ochiai-kantoku.
The race for the third playoff spot in the Pacific League was the more compelling storyline for me, as it was the only thing that really amounted to a race down the stretch. Both Orix and Seibu played well enough in September to make things interesting, then cooled off a bit in October. Longer time readers of this site might not be surprised to find out that I was disappointed to see Orix lose the battle of attrition, choking away their hard-earned lead with a 3-9-1 October record. Seibu's 7-5-2 mark was solid enough to overtake Orix on the final day of the season. Looking back, the real pivotal point of the race was October 6, Seibu's 2-1 walk-off win over Orix. Had the Buffaloes managed to take that one, they'd be looking ahead to the playoffs rather than the offseason. Of course, there wouldn't have been a race at all had Seibu not played so horribly early in the year, and they have a much better roster and match up better with all of their prospective of playoff opponents.
The playoffs start on October 29. Bring 'em on.