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Embarrassing End for Hawks, Sweep Leaves Questions

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Embarrassing End for Hawks, Sweep Leaves Questions

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Were they playoff caliber? Absolutely.

Were they Japan Series Champion caliber? Absolutely not.

The 2009 SoftBank Hawks were caught in a year of transition of sorts. They had a new manager in Koji Akiyama, a lot of questions left about the bullpen, and a team that was largely unchanged from a year ago. What is a team to do when Son-owner has seemingly lost interest in creating a winning franchise?

For one, the Hawks were a much healthier and more capable team this year than last year. They won games while trailing. They didn't let too many losses pile up on them. This was a team that did not give up often, but for the third year in a row, they ran out of gas in September and October, again proving the old axiom in that it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

This is still a team that can't finish.

Sure, the tools were there. SoftBank got productive seasons out of Matsunaka, Kokubo, and a healthy Hidenori Tanoue. The signing of Jose Ortiz was a huge boost, and also having Hitoshi Tamura healthy was also a large boost offensively and defensively. Brian Falkenborg proved to be a crucial signing as he was the team's best reliever.

A couple players had breakout seasons, too. Yuya Hasegawa was nothing short of astounding with his contact hitting, and Tadashi Settsu proved to be an iron man in the bullpen despite my fears that he was going to hit the rookie wall and end up ineffective.

However, this was a team that was fatally flawed, which explains their embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Rakuten Eagles. The Hawks did not forge an identity for themselves and did not find a way to overcome the late-season adversity. Those intangibles count for a lot in baseball, and the Hawks intangibles were very poor. While they did not give up early in the season, they couldn't find it within themselves to dig out of their hole and put a lock on second place, which they needed.

Another flaw was that this team just could not win on the road. Usually one would expect a younger team to have trouble on the road, but this is a veteran club which still has a few members left over from the 2003 Japan Series champion club. Mentally, for 2010, this team has to get tougher and dig deep when they need to.

Starting pitching was largely inconsistent behind another excellent season from Sawamura candidate Toshiya Sugiuchi. It didn't help that Tsuyoshi Wada missed time with a bad throwing elbow and for many starters it was a revolving door of failure. Justin Germano was solid, but he was only good for 6 innings maximum, Yasushi Kamiuchi didn't know where he was going to be from week to week, Yoshiaki Fujioka was an enigma, and there seem to be no capable young arms at ni-gun.

This is a team that needs to make a splash in either trades or the free-agent market because this team can't continue on the road it has been following. A third-place finish was good, but not where this team could've gone this year. As a team that will be one year older next year, the Hawks have to look to the future and start getting young replacements for their aging core or risk not having a sniff of the Japan Series for years to come.
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