While the MLB postseason is ready to come to what will certainly be a dramatic end, the NPB playoffs are just about to begin. The Climax Series opens for both leagues on Saturday, October 29 (JST), with the third place and second place finishers squaring off in the opening round. As a refresher, here is the format of the NPB postseason:
- Climax Series, First Stage: best of three series between the second place and third place finishers.
- Climax Series, Second Stage: best of seven series between the league champion (first place finisher) and the First Stage winner. The league champion is automatically credited with a one-win advantage.
- Japan Series: best of seven series between the Central League Climax Series winner and Pacific League Climax Series winner.
Pacific League First Stage: Seibu vs Nippon Ham
I'm going to credit Nippon Ham with with an immediate win because of the presence of Yu Darvish, and then a second one because of their superior pitching and defense. Pick: Nippon Ham, 2-0. Key player: Yu Darvish.
Central League First Stage: Yomiuri vs Yakult
Though the Swallows and Giants finished a game apart in the standings, they went in opposite directions this season. Yakult got off to a hot start and faded down the stretch, while Yomiuri had to claw their way into contention after a sub-par start. Yakult won the season series 12-8-4, but Yomiuri has stronger pitching and most offensive threats overall. Pick Yomiuri, 2-1. Key player: Hisayoshi Chono.
Pacific League Second Stage: Nippon Ham vs Softbank
Softbank has every edge here: a deeper rotation, a better lineup, a 16-7-1 regular season record against Nippon Ham, more rest, and a one-game advantage for finishing first. Softbank has also been on their game recently against Nippon Ham, with an 8-1-1 record against the Fighters in September and October. Pick: Softbank 4-1. Key player: Seiichi Uchikawa.
Central League Second Stage: Yomiuri vs Chunichi
This is a close call. Yomiuri has a narrow regular season 12-10-2 edge over Chunichi, and both teams prevented runs this season at about the same pace. Chunichi lineup is weak, the worst in the CL this year, but they have been bullpen options than Yomiuri. So a series of close games probably favors Chunichi, and of course they have the rest and automatic wins advantages, plus the Ochiai destiny. My gut is saying Chunichi, but my brain is saying Yomiuri. Pick Chunichi 4-3. Key player: Takuya Asao.
Japan Series: Chunichi vs Softbank
Maybe it's bland to predict a Japan Series between the two league champions, but that's what I see. It's probably equally bland to pick the more statistically dominant team to win as well... but it's hard to pick against Softbank. They allowed 59 fewer runs than anyone else in Japan, with a 2.30 team ERA. Offensively they finished second overall to Seibu's Okawari-kun-fueled lineup, but their 550 runs was 66 better than third place Yakult. Chunichi has enough pitching to keep the games close, but ultimately suffers with a big disadvantage at the plate.
Pick: Softbank 4-2. Key player: Tsuyoshi Wada (with wins in games two and six).