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PL showdown to test depth of ailing teams

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PL showdown to test depth of ailing teams

by Jim Allen (Oct 17, 2008)

SAITAMA--The Pacific League's final showdown could easily be decided by depth.

Both the PL champion Saitama Lions and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters go into Game 1 tonight in Omiya without key offensive contributors.

"Ideally, both teams would go at it at full strength, without any injuries," said first-year Fighters skipper Masataka Nashida. "But what are you going to do? We have to compete with what we have and be healthy for the Japan Series."

The big-hitting Lions will be without two middle-of-the-order sluggers: first baseman Craig Brazell and outfielder G.G. Sato. The Fighters will start the series without key run producer Atsunori Inaba.

Brazell, who hasn't played since being hit by a pitch on Oct. 4, and Sato, who played just a handful of games after returning from duty at the Beijing Olympics, combined for 121 runs and 149 RBIs this season and hit 48 of the Lions' 198 homers.

Inaba, who hurt a calf muscle in Game 1 of the playoffs' first stage, was the second most productive Fighters hitter, hitting .301, scoring 71 runs and driving in 82 for the club that scored the fewest runs in Japan.

The Fighters may also be without shortstop and team leader Makoto Kaneko.

"He'll tell me tomorrow how he feels," Nashida said. "I hope he says, 'I'm fine and I'm going to play.'"

The Fighters will go with Ryan Glynn, who led the league with 14 losses.

"They've got a very strong lineup with a lot of power hitters," said Glynn. "My job is to make them hit it on the ground."

Although the 33-year-old finished the season 7-14 with a 3.63 ERA, he was dynamite in the second half, going 4-2 with a 1.92 ERA after July 9. He had four straight starts in which he went seven innings without allowing a run. He was 1-1 against the Lions this season.

His opponent tonight will be struggling Seibu star Hideaki Wakui.

"You can't say much about his season other than it wasn't very good," said rookie Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe. "But this is different from the regular season. This is a short championship series and his bitter experience in the Olympics will be a plus for him. I think it's toughened him up.

"We talked and I told him it was a chance to turn his year around by being a stud in the first game."

Wakui went 10-11 with a 3.90 ERA, but was 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA against Nippon Ham.

"I think he matches up well against them," Watanabe said. "I don't think there is a better guy to start Game 1 for us.

"We've played them plenty this year. We know what they've got. There won't be many surprises.

"They're going to do what they do, we're going to do what we do, and we'll see how things go once the games start."

The Fighters have the best pitching and defense in the league and scratch out runs through liberal use of the sacrifice bunt. With big power the most decisive factor in short series, the Lions come in with a big advantage.

"We have to keep the ball down against them, no fastballs up in the zone," Nashida said. "They're going to hit sliders at the knees. Heck, they'll hit sliders off their shoe tops."

Although the Lions are the PL's biggest power-hitting club, they also led the league with 107 stolen bases.

Despite their multidimensional offense, the Lions ended the season by losing eight of their last nine games and haven't played since Oct. 4.

"I think we will be OK," Watanabe said. "We didn't end the season well, and we might not have the playoff experience the other team has, but we know this first game is a big opportunity for us. We will go after it."

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