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John E. Gibson

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CL armed for interleague title run

by John E. Gibson (May 25, 2012)

The shift of frontline starters from the Pacific League to the Central League, combined with the loss of a couple of top PL arms, has raised possibilities that the senior circuit will produce its first interleague title winner this season.

The CL has finished with more total wins in only one season (2009), and PL teams have had the best interleague record every year since the leagues began playing regular season games in 2005.

Free agency cost the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the offseason as Tsuyoshi Wada went to the major leagues, while Toshiya Sugiuchi and D.J. Houlton joined the Yomiuri Giants.

Sugiuchi--who last week became the first pitcher to record 300 interleague strikeouts--and Houlton bolster the CL's starting pitching, while the PL also lost a big-time arm in Yu Darvish, who was posted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and went to the Texas Rangers.

"I hadn't really thought about that, but the Pacific League has lost a lot of starters and even [Tohoku Rakuten Eagles ace Masahiro] Tanaka is hurt right now," Houlton said Wednesday, when the Giants blanked the Saitama Seibu Lions 2-0 to become the first CL team to win its first six interleague games.

"I think we are all seeing a difference--the Central League's becoming a little stronger than the Pacific League has been the last few years, but I guess time will tell."

Hisayoshi Chono hit .326 against the PL last season and said the Giants aim to end the dominance.

"The Pacific League is tough. They have some pretty strong pitchers over there," he said. "Personally, I hope it's the Giants who win it all. After that, if the other Central League teams do well, that'd be all right. But we're going to do what we can to try and break that streak."

Run production in Japan has been low this season, and last year's PL home run leader jokingly took responsibility for the scoring drop-off in his league.

"I think the CL teams are progressing each year. But maybe the reason runs are down is because I'm not hitting," quipped Seibu cleanup man Takeya Nakamura, who has just four homers and is batting .229.

Nakamura, who has 42 career interleague homers, hasn't been able to get the Lions going. They are 2-4 so far against the CL. Still, the PL already leads overall at 20-13-1 after six days of interleague play, and looks to be headed down a familiar path. As Orix Buffaloes lefty Evan MacLane put it, there is no PL pitching drop-off.

"I feel like the Hawks haven't really missed a beat since they lost their guys," MacLane said. "I guess this next month will tell us what's going on."

MacLane didn't point to one standout pitcher in the PL, but praised the league's depth. "I feel like everybody is good. Everyone that I've seen--everyone can locate; everyone can throw all of their pitches, and all these pitchers are really tough," he said.


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