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And Down the Stretch They Come...

Baseball news from Japan and Asia

Welcome to the The SoftBank Source Blog

Featuring Jim (a.k.a. NipponHam11)

The title defense begins! Welcome to 2012, Hawks fans!

And Down the Stretch They Come...

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It sure doesn't feel like I've been away 13 days, but unfortunately a lot of things have happened. Sorry for not letting everybody know, but I took a leave of absence to focus on school and try to cope with the death of my 17-year old cousin at the beginning of the month.

Now that my excuses are out of the way, let's talk playoffs!

With five games to go in the regular season, it looks very likely that SoftBank will be returning to the playoffs. But the real question will be, in what position in the Pacific League? Since the beginning of the month, the Hawks have been jockeying with the first-place Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and third-place Rakuten Golden Eagles. First place has been within striking distance, but it seemed that when SoftBank got close, Nippon Ham would always win the games they needed to, and SoftBank's furious charge would eventually fall flat.

The real surprise has been the Rakuten Eagles. Since his return at the All-Star break, Kazuo Fukumori, fresh off his American excursion, has been the rock that the Eagles bullpen has been looking for since the beginning of the season. The hitting has also stepped up considerably, allowing the Eagles to pull away from the defending Japan Series Champion Saitama Seibu Lions, who sit four games out of the last playoff spot and are fighting for their lives.

With Nippon Ham already having clinched their playoff berth, they seem primed to win the PL pennant, but SoftBank is still lurking and Raktuen has a ton of games in-hand on both teams. So who are the favorites to finish?

First, the Lions. Seibu needs to win all of their games from here on out and they will also need help from Orix and Lotte, otherwise they will not even get the chance to defend their title in the post-season. The Lions are the ultimate long shot at this point.

Rakuten is actually in the best position out of all four teams. The Eagles have 10 games left, twice as many as SoftBank and one more than Nippon Ham. The chance that Rakuten could win the PL pennant is a slim one, but they stand a much better chance at beating out the Hawks for the second playoff spot in the league, and that would be crucial, as their likely opponent will be those same Hawks, but at Kleenex Stadium as opposed to Yahoo! Dome.

Now for SoftBank. The Hawks are in a precarious position as they need this second spot more than Rakuten does from a matchup perspective. Not only does SoftBank have a better record at home than away, but Rakuten has also been a pain in their side for two of the last three seasons. Three of their five remaining games are against Rakuten, and then they have two makeup games, one in Sapporo against the Fighters, and another at home against Orix.

A precarious condition indeed for the Hawks. Can they pull it off? They can, but they need to sweep the Eagles first and hope that Rakuten loses at least one or two more games beyond that.
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