Three weeks ago Our Marines looked to be dead in the water. Back-to-back losses with only 3 hits combined left the guys reeling at 6 games under – dropping out of 4th seemed more likely than seizing 3rd. 14 games later and Chiba’s racked up 12 wins and just two losses – by a combined 2 runs – and with the 2015 Regular Season calendar all wrapped up Lotte has booked a ticket to Sapporo and the first stage of the Climax Series.
What a truly an amazing turn of events!
The two wins necessary to secure a spot in the top half of the league came about in much the same way as the previous 8 wins – on the back of some fantastic pitching. Saturday’s tight affair with Rakuten was decided by the amazing work of Yuta Ohmine, Ohtani, and Uchi, who combined to give up just 4 hits, no walks, and no runs. Rakuten’s rookie starter Mori kept the bats guessing, but a lovely bases-loaded walk by Captain Daichi and a very helpful error by Sendai’s Wheeler gave the offense just enough to support that great pitching.
In Sunday’s decisive win, Chiba’s best starter Ishikawa was less-than effective, to be honest, leaving in the third inning after yielding three earned for a raft of relievers led by former first round phenom Fujioka. All Fujioka, Otani, and new closer Uchi did was completely, totally shut down the Fighters attack the rest of the way, leading to the inspiring moment when Saburo was wheeled out of the nursing room and to the batters box to deliver the game winning hit. Saburo! I’m not sure he’s had a meaningful hit since the 2010 Nippon Series so its especially bizarre – and wonderful – that he could clinch 2015 post season play.
The final two games were loose affairs that saw young Kota Futaki’s pro debut (he looked great), Ryo Miki’s first Homer (smash smash), and Ryoji Katsuki’s first career save. Oh, and for some reason essential post-season starter Wakui was allowed to go 10 innings on 137 pitches in the last regular season game in a successful attempt to tie for the league lead in wins. Yay?
Climax Series First Stage
It all starts today, folks! For game one we’ll see awesome Ishikawa, Chiba Goemon, reigning Rookie of the Year, rocker of spiffy facial hair, versus some young chap the Fighters are bringing in from right field. This Otani guy hit a monster homer at QVC earlier in the year but an outfielder is an odd choice to start a playoff game, no?
Kakunaka’s back in his first action in a month, he’ll push Ishimine back to the bench. Ishimine put on a bit of a crime wave in Kakunaka’s absence with several jaw-dropping performances over the past month.
After Ishikawa the next starter should be… Chen? Though Wakui could go on short rest depending on the situation after Game 1. The pitching is set up really well for a short series as Chen, Wakui, Ohmine, the (awesome, pitching-only, Chiba version) Otani, Fujioka, and Uchi sitting at their peak potency.
I like what those guys can do. I like that the bats have been so hot at the end of the season. I like that it is October, and October is Lotte’s month. I like that Our Marines have never dropped an opening round playoff series in the current format. Fighters are a tough squad, but my call is unsurprisingly: