In just a few hours, the second round of the Pacific League playoffs will get underway at the Sapporo Dome. Game time is 6 pm local time, or 2 am PT or 5 am ET. The matchup will be between the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the hometown Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
The Hawks, skippered by interim manager Koji Moriwaki, will be starting lefthander Toshiya Sugiuchi, who was 7-5 with a 3.53 ERA this season in 22 games for 132 2/3 IP. The Fighters, led by manager Trey Hillman, counter with 20-year old righthander Yu Darvish. Darvish was 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA.
Nippon Ham won 12 of the 20 meetings this year against SoftBank and enter the four-game series with a one-game edge as a reward for finishing first in the Pacific League. Another aspect of this reward is that Hillman will be able to run out his pitchers in the order he wants them. Moriwaki had to use his ace, Kazumi Saito, in Game 1 of the opening series against Seibu. Saito lost a 1-0 decision to Daisuke Matsuzaka, although the Hawks bounced back to win the final two games in convincing fashion.
The Hawks faced the Fighters in two games in the final week and lost both of them at the Sapporo Dome, 8-0 and 4-1. If the Fighters can win the first two games, they could end the series and save everyone (including me) a trip to Fukuoka for the final two games.
Nippon Ham has an edge in runs scored (567 to 553) and home runs (135 to 82). Each time has a power-hitting, free swinging Panamanian slugger. The Hawks have Julio Zuleta, who led the team with 29 home runs, while striking out 112 and drawing just 47 walks. The Fighters have Fernando Seguignol, who hit 26 homers with 119 strikeouts and just 40 walks.
Hillman has wanted his team to emphasize OBP and power hitting as opposed to the sacrifice and other "small ball" tactics that are more popular in Japan. However, the most walks by any Fighters hitter this year is just 73 by Michihiro "Guts" Ogasawara. He also led the Fighters in homers and the Pacific League with 32 homers.
The Walking Man of the Pacific League is on the Hawks. Nobuhiko Matsunaka drew 102 free passes against just 37 strikeouts.
Other former MLB players who might play include Jolbert Cabrera for the Hawks and Jose Macias, Micheal Nakamura, and Tsyuyoshi Shinjo. Shinjo (who is listed on the scoreboard always as SHINJO) has announced his retirement at the end of this season.