Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It should all wrap up with the "Climax Series"

But the just-underway Japanese baseball season won't end with the newly instituted "Climax Series," a fact that seems like one of those "only in Japan" oddities.
The season-ending Japan Series will once again pit a Central League club against a Pacific League club. The "Climax Series" will be the playoff system used to determine those representatives.
The Pacific League has used a playoff system for three years -- and has produced the past three Japan Series winners. This year, the Central League follows suit with a playoff in a bid to redress the competitive imbalance.
In the "Climax Series," the second- and third-placed teams in each league will play a best-of-three series, with the winner advancing to a best-of-five series against the regular-season pennant winner. The Japan Series remains a best-of-seven affair.
1) Former Angels and Astros skipper TERRY COLLINS becomes the fourth active American manager in Japanese baseball. Collins takes over the helm of the Orix Buffaloes. Marty Brown (Hiroshima Carp), Bobby Valentine (Chiba Lotte Marines) and Trey Hillman (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters) are the other American managers. Valentine and Hillman guided their clubs to the past two Japan Series titles.
2) Tokorozawa's popular SEIBU LIONS are in trouble, caught in an under-the-table payoff scandal that could result in sanctions for the Pacific League club.
3) Major League Baseball scouts will keep their eye on NORICHIKA AOKI of the Yakult Swallows. Aoki batted .321 last season with 41 stolen bases and 112 runs scored.
4) The American scouts might want to watch KOSUKE FUKUDOME as well. Last year, Fukudome starred for Japan's World Baseball Classic championship team, then hit .351 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs for the Chunichi Dragons en route to being named the Central League MVP. Fukudome becomes a free agent after this season.
5) MASAHIRO TANAKA could help lead the 3-year-old Rakuten Eagles out of the cellar. Tanaka, 18, is a pitcher who led Hokkaido's Komadai Tomakomai to two of the past three Japanese high-school baseball titles. Tanaka was the top pick in the Japanese baseball draft.
6) NORIHIRO AKAHOSHI (pictured) will continue to pace my favorite team, the Hanshin Tigers. Akahoshi is known for his red wristbands and his speed -- he stole 35 bases last season.The Tigers finished first in the Central League in 2005 and second in 2006. This year, they will likely fight for one of three CL spots in the "Climax Series."


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